Monday, April 29, 2013

Boyden puts us in a world of herp! 4-28-2013

The Springtime is finally seeming more like Springtime, with temps at least hitting the mid-60s, but we had already made plans for this mild Saturday (April 27th) to attend the Chiller Theater show in Parsippany, NJ, in order to meet some entertainers who mean a lot to us. BUT, we also had to herp a bit, so en route to the highway, we stopped by Brook Farm to see if Sly was up.

Well, it was still pretty cool at 8 AM; we could see our breath. But still, we walked and flipped for an hour, getting some much needed leg-stretching before our 4 1/2 hour drive. We managed to come up with one shy Redback Salamander, which is nothing to sneeze at!

Somewhat herp related, at Chiller we met Akira Takarada, one of cinema's greatest herpers...
Akira Takarada
He herped Godzilla!

So as exciting as that was, we were equally as excited to get to Boyden, one of our favorite spots, for the first time this year! We roused ourselves from an exhausted sleep early, hit 50's Diner for a big stack of pancakes and got to Boyden at roughly 9:45 AM.

The house is loaded with no-trespassing signs which, while they didn't deter us, made us blow through quickly. Not long after, however, a rock flip produced a familiar (and grumpy) face... this American Toad.
He was in this spot all last year and it looks like he's going to be there this year too!

Surprisingly, we didn't see any snakes in the first half-hour or so. The temps were already nice- we expected to see some on the run (crawl?) but you just can't predict herps! Near the water, there was a flash of red, and we both called "Wood"! A brick red Wood Frog had jumped into a tangle of prickers. I needed a pic of this guy and with the good camera still in the shop, it would have to be a capture. So I plunged my hand in...

Well, I missed him, but scraped up my arm pretty well... as expected. But I had made him move just out of the thorns, enough to grab him and calm him down on a piece of skunk cabbage...
Wood frog
These photos barely hint at the beautiful color of this guy, but you get the idea... a gorgeous specimen!

Naturally, some Redbacks were soon found. Lots of them, in fact! Here are a few.

As crappy as the little camera is for close-ups, it's even worse with distance! We knew going in that the many Painted Turtles that would be basking on this sunny Sunday would be tough to get. We were everso right.
Hang it all... chelonians would be too tough to get any good shots of today.

Andrea shows what she thinks of you arseholes that stack rocks... rocks that could be perfectly good homes for... ermmm... under-rock-dwellers.

OK, well we got to our half-way mark and relaxed for a moment. Gee- it seemed like a good day for snakes! Just not here! So we carried on.

A peek into a mucky stream showed us this...
We were afraid that we'd come upon a deceased Snapper. I took the photo just so we'd have a record of him. Andrea poked his noggin with a stick and it swayed in the current, proving that we were right... he must have gotten tangled and drowned...

The his eye opened. And his head jerked in! He was alive!!!! I stupidly decided to reach in, hoping he hadn't turned around, and pull him up for a better shot. It turns out he was much bigger than I originally thought!
Snapping turtle
Snapping turtle
Quite a few pounds of agitated Snapping Turtle there!
He was snapping back at me over his shell, so we decided that we'd gotten enough photos and released him. His bulk just disappeared into the muck of the shallow stream, like he wasn't even there. Totally cool.

Well, that was exhilarating!

We got to another small stream with plenty of flippable rocks next to it. This was a place we wouldn't be able to access in another month, so we dug in. I tired before Andrea and got ready to move on. She persisted, thus coaxing me to flip on the water's edge myself. I found what she had been looking for! A couple of Two-Lined Salamanders!
A third one scurried into the stream.
This is a very exciting find for us... the first 2-Lined Salamanders that we've ever seen here!

So, we got to our favorite spot of the second leg of the hike... the appliance graveyard. About 25 feet in front of us on the path, a fairly large (4 1/2ish feet) Black Racer scooted by. We were unable to find him, or anything else for that matter. But, having missed a Racer before in this spot, we knew which direction he had headed, so we went that way.

We got to some debris and hoped that he had decided to hide under some of that. As I stepped into the area, I heard Andrea make a guttural exclamation-noise. I turned quickly and almost was decapitated by a russet colored bird streaking past my head! Andrea had almost stepped on a Woodcock! (Goodness knows how I avoided the ground-nest!) Not only that, but there were three babies there as well! I'm glad the Racer didn't find them first!
If these aren't the cutest, most fluffiest things you've ever seen, then you're just a sick bastard!

All the while, we had photographed enough Redbacks to make another nifty collage!
plethodon fun times

So, on the way back... still snakeless in the photo department... we decided to double back on some of our favorite spots, since a couple of hours had passed since we last hit them. One pond that is good for Green Frogs and Ribbon Snakes got a good goin' over. We decided to check out the back end of the pond... something that we hadn't done in a few years. (Might as well now, before it gets too grown in!)

An Assassin Bug nymph stopped by to say hi and inspect my Sly Scar.

The back corner of the pond was filthy with tadpoles!! This is (I believe) a Wood Frog tadpole!

I had my sights set on the big guys, which I was calling Bullfrog tadpoles, but which I now say are Green Frogs!

Standing ankle-deep in the muck-water was totally worth it to get this shot of a photo-bombing Wood Frog tadpole!

This beautiful Green Frog was back there, too!

There was another pool about 50 feet behind this pond... one we'd never seen before. As we approached it,  large Bullfrogs launched into the water. Having a serious double-soaker already, I was ready to go in if the need arose. I gingerly walked around the edge and heard a slither... a gorgeous orange Garter Snake was a few feet from me! My full lunge procured him for pictures!
Like the Wood Frog, the pics just don't capture this guy's beauty...
Orangey yellow sides, brick red flecks, olive noggin, this was a stunner!
He bit me pretty good, too. We finally had our snake!

We also decided to explore along the far end of the river, closer to the parking area. We were finally able to get some better (if not good) Painted Turtle shots!

There was a lot of Painted Turtle action going on, in fact. I tried to film it, but it was just too far away, but dozens of turtles were swimming and chasing each other in a section of water. It was Chelonian Sexy Time, methinks! They were downright frolicking!

Fun, fun, fun.

On the way out, I saw a very yellow Garter and lunged for him. Laying on my stomach, I checked under my hands and didn't see him! I shifted my weight to get up and he streaked away... I think I had him pinned with my torso! I saw him shoot into a pile of branches. My pursuit was cut short  when my feet got tangled in some vines and I slowly fell forward.

The bigger they come, the harder they fall... and I'm a big guy. I fell hard. Andrea asked "are you all right?" I had to wait to answer; I had to wait until I knew the answer! Well, I was fine... just banged up my knees and shin a bit. But I was beaten badly by this lil fella. Even an old man chasing Garter Snakes has to admit defeat and lick his wounds from time to time!

But hey! Not a bad day at all! And if I'm only going to get pics of one snake, a Garter at that, then I'm glad it was such a beauty! Add to that the Snapper and the Wood Frog and I think we found some unique stuff today!

Friday, April 26, 2013

One Froggy Evening 4-25-2013

We once again decided to try something new...

We got a message from our friend Steve (whose essential herp site is called New England Herps) asking if we'd like to join him at his go-to place in Worcester and Middlesex Counties. We've heard great things about the place from him, so we agreed! The trick? It was going to be at night!

It was an official Peeper search and we'd be joining Photographer Paul Nguyen (whose amazing work can be seen here) and a small group of other photographers and herpers to try to get some Spring Peeper shots. Of course, with our good camera in the shop, we were kind of crippled, but we made the best of it. Steve was nice enough to let us borrow an extra camera of his as well.

So, we arrived at dusk and met everyone and hit the trails!  In the waning light, Steve pointed out spots of interest for when we come back in the daylight! Even with a bit of sun in the sky, the Peepers were calling. It soon became deafening!

We could also hear the occasional Pickerel Frog and Gray's Tree Frog calling.

But actually seeing the frogs was quite another thing! We could see some (like this Bullfrog), but we couldn't get my inferior camera to capture them!

Eventually, I crawled about 8 feet out a log to small clump of trees protruding from the water...
to get this blurry shot of a Bullfrog!
Peepers were calling all around me, sometimes actually making my ears hurt, but I just couldn't see any!

We found another Bullfrog...
And then Steve caught one and brought it up for us all to photograph.

And I mean ALL of us!!

One photographer had settled in to get some great shots of a Pickerel Frog, so we went to see how he was doing. While at that part of the pond, we heard the Peepers calling like mad and Steve , Andrea and I waded into the muck, up to a tuft of weed and... saw a Peeper!
Hallelujah!! Finally, persistence paid off!

A nearby Bullfrog sat there, wondering what the fuss was all about!

We had another chance at a Peeper a short time later... I went into the boggy water up to my knees and this is all I got...
I feel the need to post it simply because of the effort!

So, we headed out after about 2 1/2 hours, happy with our finds and ready to come back in the daylight for some serious herping! Oh, and now we had waders on our want list. And one of those handheld photo-lights that Paul was using! Night herping is still fairly new to us, but it's fun and you get a chance to see and hear things that just aren't happening in the sunlight!

Thank you, Steve and Paul!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Blue Hell (Sunday, April 21st)

Cold, windy and sunny. We went to the Blue Hills. You know what we went to look for. I figured it would be warm enough atop the mountains. And it was.

It was friggin' cold on the ground though, with a bone-freezing wind, but upon our arrival at about 11 AM, the Painted Turtles seemed to be enjoying the rays.
Check out these next 2 little guys... we didn't know they both had adults right behind them until we looked at the pics at home!
Nor did we have any idea that there was 6 in this shot!

We then saw a few Redbacks. I was actually photographing them with a photo collage in mind. Yes, I am that sad.

We then got to our first goal, the area we call Bullfrog Pond. There was indeed a massive Bullfrog right near the edge of the pool, but he submerged without a photo. A welcome sight, though... oddly enough, our first one of the year so far. But, no pic...

Unfortunately, there were also two unattended children there and they were throwing sand and rocks into the water. I suggested that they shouldn't as there were things living in there, to which one replied "I know" and I heard her say I was stupid. Oh well, we decided to move along before one fell in and it would become my responsibility to haul them out.

While we were carefully climbing off trail and searching every crevice, Andrea said she was sure we'd find something special! But she said that because our good camera had just shit the bed. I tried to calm her and say no problem... we still had my shitbox one just in case. Don't let it bring you down, girl!

Well, for 2 1/2 hours, we ascended one mountain and ascended the next, checking every sunny spot and nook and cranny for snakes. Nothing turned up. This is the only copper head I saw...

But don't let that smile fool you... on the way down the second mountain, Andrea said what was in my head (and we've both said before)... specific-species-searching sucks! But what also sucked was the fact that we didn't even see a Garter Snake or anything! In fact, maybe a Redback or two was all we saw in almost 3 hours! Shit, we hadn't seen any snakes and, despite the chilly wind, there was plenty of sun!

Right around here, I started getting grumpy about the camera and the herpless walk and had to heed my own advice: Don't let it bring you down, girl!

Well, we found our "dome", a place where we'd seen interesting eggs before and searched that, to no avail. But we were happy to have found it again. On the way back, we repeated the same thing we'd said at Rocky Gutter a couple of weeks ago... treks without standing bodies of water just aren't interesting to us.

No sooner did we say that, than we saw a pond! Miss Relaxey McRelaxington was hogging much of it, so we snuck to the edge a dozen yards away. Andrea noticed some Northern Water Snakes basking nearby. Worried about my shitty camera, I tried to sneak closer...

For a minute, I thought the smaller guy in the back was a Racer, but no... two Water Snakes. I got closer still and the big fatty (the one I might have had a chance to catch) suddenly struck into the air, practically flipped over and streaked toward the water- right over the smaller guy! Oddly enough, the smaller guy didn't move, enabling me to grab him.
Black and thin, thus my original confusion! He was a biter... he got his teeth stuck in my sleeve, but then he calmed down a bit.

I let him go before letting Andrea hold him and felt really bad for a while after. She wanted to get bitten by him. I am a bad husband.

So, those are the first two snakes we'd ever seen at this hike... in three tries. Not a good record.

On the way back to the car, the ponds almost made up for missing the massive Bullfrog earlier... this guy was large (enough for my crappy camera to capture), but not monstrous!

There were loads of Painteds trying to catch the last little bit of sun, but the camera just couldn't get them. I did get to enjoy seeing some slip into the water and swim away as I tried to get closer, though.

So, the good camera is in the shop and we decided that we will indeed come back, but not do the silly, useless mountain hikes, alongside yuppie hikers with $400 hiking sticks and immense backpacks filled with filet mignon, a tea service and a butler. I'm far happier being an old man chasing Garter Snakes and actually seeing animals. Bear in mind that we complained about Cutler a few years ago, cut out an extraneous portion of it, and it has become one of our favorite herping spots since then!

By the way, we were so burnt by the end of this grueling 5 1/2 hour climb/ hike that we were hallucinating! Pretty cool, really.