Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The test in the West 6-8-2013

Tropical storm Andrea (!) had been pummelling the area for a few days and was expected to go until noonish on Saturday. This, of all days, was when we decided to go check out a new place (to us) in Franklin County... in the Western part of the state! A friend has had some recent luck finding herps that are at the top of our need-it list there. So we headed out at roughly 7 AM for the two-plus hour drive. It was pretty crappy out, but way off in the west, it looked to be clearing.

After what seemed like ages, we got more or less to our destination. "Go straight... road turns into dirt road". Well, the road was a dirt road... let's go in!

The sun had started to peek out, but the puddles on this dirt road were formidable! You just couldn't tell how deep they were going to be. We scraped the bottom of the Corolla a few times. At one point, the water started running, like a stream, right down the road. It was also up to the car doors. Sandy bottom. My nerve ending were stinging and zinging, knowing we were going to get stuck out here in the middle of nowhere. We finally pulled over and I went ahead on foot to see what was going to happen. We couldn't turn back, that was for sure.

OK... we were about 1/4 mile from an actual parking lot. The one we'd been looking for, but were supposed to approach from the other side!!! A few more harrowing moments and we parked the soggy Toyota on dry land. *whew* We set about herping immediately.

Herps were tough to come by, but Andrea got this fab shot of some caterpillars!

We followed the directions generously given to us by our friend and finally found what appeared to be the right area! We found some of his boards that he put down. This Redback was our first herp!

A well placed door netted us this Ringneck!
From what we've been told, this is his home... he's been in this spot for a while now!
Pretty decent size!

The habitat looked perfect for our target snake and turtle species, and indeed they've both been found here in recent weeks, but we were striking out! A few more Redbacks soothed our souls, if not our soles.
franklin county pleth

We explored many miles of paths, in and out of the sun, but came up short. Before I go into my patented "target species disappointment" and "no ponds means no herps" rants, let me just say that time really flew. Despite not finding what we drove hours for, we were really having a good hike.

We found this snake jerky.
dead snake Franklin County MA
Smooth scales and small... Green? Ringneck? The color confused us. With a little help from friends, we've decided it's Black Racer jerky. A small fella who had gone prematurely black. And prematurely dead.

We walked on and on...
and found no more herps. We were both, however, breaking records with ticks! We had dozens on our clothes and in our legs! We even had do do a tick check out in the wild... both dropping trou for those secret places! What a nightmare!!

So, after just shy of 5 hours, we got back into the car, who had only just dried out, and went to look for chow. That took a while, too. This place is really in the middle of nowhere and we got... well, not lost, but... misplaced. We wound up going over to Northampton for some Mexican food.

After regrouping, we decided that, since we were still in the Connecticut River Valley, we might as well look for someplace else to herp. There's stuff there that we can't find closer to home! I tried to remember some place that we have passed in the past, but I was in the wrong area. Instead of belittling myself or Andrea rolling her eyes at me, we kept driving and saw that Holyoke was coming up. And Mount Tom, home of herps. That became our next stop!

Things got off to a good start when this Green Frog jumped across our path!
He was massive and spectacularly patterned... I wasn't even sure it was a Green at first!

We stayed close to the main pond here... we only had a short time and were light on energy. Some Painted Turtles were up enjoying the post-storm sun!
mt.tom picta 1

This family of Geese were the quietest and best behaved family there!

A couple of Redbacks...

Wannabe birder than I am, I'm quite pleased with this shot of a Red Winged Blackbird nom-nom-nommin' on a caterpillar.

Painted butt...

Check out this swampy goodness!!

Mt. Tom is supposedly a really good place to see hanks. This Red Tail was swooping overhead and being harassed by Orioles. One is still in the tree to the left, ready to defend it's nest!
Red Tailed Hawk being watched by Oriole

OK, last bird picture, but come on! They're ducklings!!!!

So, being in Hampden County, we were thinking of Northern Dusky Salamanders... a species rare in Massachusetts... and non-existent in the Eastern Part of the state. So, we got excited at these dark guys... all of which are Redbacks (Leadbacks).
mt.tom pleth

Andrea flipped this little guy and we were pretty sure we had our Dusky!!!
Small, but look at those beefy back legs! 90% sure!

But her next flip left nothing to chance:
That baby is full-on Northern Dusky! These are lifers for us, too!

Who says target species can't be found??! Oh, right... I always say that.

Back on the move, I saw a medium snapper hunting just under the water. I couldn't get a pic as he took off quickly. Maybe he saw those ripe ducklings swimming about! (Just kidding... they were in another part altogether.)

I did get shots of five more Painteds, though!
mt.tom picta 2

One more Leadback for the road!

So in about an hour and a half here, staying mainly on the well-worn paths, we did OK. We''ll definitely be coming back. We'll be going back to the Franklin County spot as well. The long drive home was a happy one... a new species and, once again, a lot learned.


  1. It was a pretty good day, all in all. I think we need to spend more time exploring that part of the state. We can always reward ourselves with ice cream at the Creamery on Rte. 9 in Cummington.

  2. So fab! I love sharing your adventures. Don't get upset, but I found a Northern Redbelly Cooter laying eggs at Myles Standish SF today. Here's a pic (hope the link works):


    Also, I think that the caterpillars may be the rare Barrens Buck Moth caterpillars in their young gregarious stage. If so, great find since they are listed as a threatened species in the MA Heritage and Endangered Species Program, as only fourteen state occurrences have been verified and documented since 1978!

    1. The link didn't work, but I saw your FB page and have sent you a friend request! That Redbelly is a monster!! Just as cute as can be! Of course we're jealous, but not upset!! We'll get back to MS on the first week of July (if not sooner), as we both have ther week off.

      That is very interesting about the 'pillars. I have asked a friend about them, too. That would certainly make up for the lack of herps that trip!

      Thank you again for reading and for your help!