Sunday, March 24, 2013

First Herps of the Spring! 3-24-2013

Well, we'd hoped to have a heatwave by now and have a Rattlesnake trek somewhere this weekend, but ol' Mother Nature has been a bint this year. So, we actually got excited for the predicted 46° for the day. We figured on hitting Borderland to seek out some of the other trails that we always ignore and hopefully see a Salamander or two.

We got there at about 12:30 and when we got out of the car, we were a bit worried that we'd see nothing. Pretty damn brisk, though there was no wind. Still, to be on the safe side, we shifted into birder mode and Andrea got this shot of a Tufted Titmouse at the feeder.
Has it really come to this?!

We went down to the pond where we often see large Water Snakes and Garters, but there was still plenty of snow and ice. The water, which is usually quiet, was raging!

So, we went along the usual trail, intending to branch off on to other trails when they came up. It wasn't long before I heard Andrea yell "Garter"! To my amazement, I turned around and she had a frisky little Garter Snake by the tail! She needed some assistance as he was wrapped around a stick.

Evidently, I'd stirred him up walking by! He was warm to the touch. Why am I not posting pictures? Because while I was getting him under control, Andrea was taking this in situ  shot of yet another Garter, two feet away, basking on the edge of a vernal pool!

These snakes are as desperate as we are for warm weather!

Here's the nicely checked first guy!

After making an attempt to get nearer the basking one (who was much bigger) only to have him slide into the icy pool and disappear, we released this guy and watched him slither off.

So, two Garters at 46°... these are not the Garters of my youth!! Maybe they're Robo-Thamnophis!

So, we stayed on the regular trail in hopes of finding more cold resistant snakes. But over the next 3 1/2 hours, we never did!

But Borderland is gorgeous and we saw many spots that we hadn't noticed last year.

This spot had always been dry in our experience. Not this time!

This babbling brook where we'd caught many a Water Snake before actually had white-caps!

It wasn't until we were on our way back to the car when a flip produced what we had come for in the first place... a Redback Salamander!

Unfortunately, we'll be missing next weekend's event...

But, we're happy to have seen two species and to have Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis be both our last herp of the winter and our first herp of the spring! Yay 2013!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Unexplained Mysteries... 3-16-2013

After the lovely salamander-filled Tuesday night we had, the temperatures dropped fast! Reports say that the female Spotteds didn't ever show up in force, so the "Big Night" will take place some time in the future! We got a tip that Blue Spotted Salamanders had been on the move in Suffolk County... at a place about 4 miles from our front door! I didn't know they were in this part of the state, much less that close!

Despite the icy weather (32° F), we went over to check out this place; new to us and close to one of our other favorite hiking spots! As soon as we parked, we noticed tons of great flipping rocks... even sheets of concrete!

This place was screaming SNAKE!!!!! 

There were stones not too tight to the ground, logs, AC... just a ton of great snake stuff! Unfortunately, we realized it was going to be far too cold to see any of the elusive Blue Spotted Salamanders... or probably any salamanders at all!

One stone flip made me come dangerously close to reenacting my stick-in-the-eye debacle of two years ago!
Stick in eye? Close!
(The stick-in-the-eye post is here)

There were many vernal ponds, though, and when the weather gets better, they will be full!!

I was flipping in one area and Andrea "ahem"ed me and I turned around and she had a snake. It looked like a deceased Garter.
Deceased Garter
He was gnawed off below the vent, but he wasn't stiff. I thought there was a chance that he was alive, so I put him down my shirt. Surely any snake out in 32° temps would be just about dead.

Well, as expected, he was dead. He never perked up. I figured it was worth a shot. I lay him out in the open for someone to eat. Poor fella.

We went down to a nearby vernal pond. I was peeking into the water when I heard Andrea say "I hope this guy's not dead"! She had another snake in her hand! And this one wasn't dead! His tongue slowly flicked in and out!
32°!!!!!!!!!!! What on Earth was going on?!

Garter snake at 32 degrees!!!

Well, I put him into my shirt to warm up and he was certainly alive! He was tickling and poking me.

There was some road work going on nearby and we figure that a den might have been disturbed. That sucks... I hope no other Garters were out and about in the cold! Damn, it has snowed a ton since then too!

So, yeah... I called it! This place in Suffolk County... this... this... farm-type place is going to be a heck of a snake hike! Plus, it's close enough to hit on week nights after work!

We still need to find those Blue Spotteds too...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Seeing Spots!

OK, we got over a foot of snow last Friday. But it had been warm over the weekend, so on Sunday (March 10th), we figured we'd go look to see if any amphibians were out. We went to Hoar, a good salamander place. Word from the South was that Spotted Salamander migration should be starting up soon!

OK, I'm an idiot. It never occurred to me that when I get a foot of snow outside the house, the nearby nature places do too! Flip? I could barely find stones and logs to flip!

The ponds were icy and slushy. Things were NOT yet ready for herping.DSCN3680

I snapped a picture of this woodpecker (a Hairy Woodpecker, I believe) and got bent out of shape when I was too slow for a Tufted Titmouse. Andrea asked, "has it really come to this?"

But two days later, on Tuesday March 12th, things had warmed up considerably! The past couple of nights had been in the 40s and the evening called for a lot of rain. Locally, we herpers started thinking about "the big night"... the beginning of salamander migration!

Our friend Steve (whose website I've plugged before and continues to be my favorite place to adore New England herps) decided he would be heading out to his annual vernal pond event, in hopes of seeing some Spotted Salamanders. He generously invited us to join him!

I picked up Andrea after her yoga class and drove to the spot (in Middlesex County) through the rain. It was wet but warm when we arrived... still in the 50s. We bundled up and got on our headlamps and headed out into the dark woods.

It wasn't long before the three of us encountered a large male Spotted motoring along through the woods!
A very good start!! Already worth the trip!

I will cut to the chase and say that we saw a lot more! Pools that in the past had been full of frolicking, mating Spotteds were empty, but one area had many many males making their way to it. The water was muddy, so we couldn't see in too deeply, but it must have been teeming! They were crawling over the snow and ice to get to the water! Here are some examples of the thirty plus ambystoma maculatum that we saw...

Taking a swim...

A guy without spots on his back! Steve's favorite!
Mr. No Spots!


A favorite sight of mine... herpers herping!! Our camera had some fog on the lens while trying to photograph the trio of sallys in the shot, but I got the two herpers OK!
Herpers herpin'


This guy was Andrea's favorite... standing very tall!

One of my favorites here... look how blue!

So, we moved on and checked out another vernal pond nearby, but it was empty. Not ready to get in out of the rain yet (it was finally subsiding a bit) we headed back to the hot spot.

Just off the path we saw this guy sitting there!
Green Frog
A Green Frog, our first of the year!

Here's some more Spotteds!
(this shot almost looks like it was taken in a terrarium!)

Watch yer step!

Finally, a female lumbered on to the scene!
She was large. This guy went over to check her out (with some coaxing on our part...)
She seemed more interested than he did...

These shots show the male-ness of the males. Pretty easy ID...

We saw one on the ice of the path.
We gently moved him off as there were other folks roaming around enjoying the migration.

So, this wasn't the BIG night... that might well be tonight (the next night) or it happened later on last night. But we saw over 30 Spotted Salamanders and that's more than the past couple of years combined! I can't thank Steve enough for showing us this miraculous sight! None of the Spotted Salamanders we saw were any shorter that 4 1/2 or 5 inches!

His website is here:
It's got the best pics of our local herps!

So, was it worth it, staying up late and getting cold and soaked at night? Hell yes!!!

Rock on to this bad ass's swagger...

Friday, March 8, 2013

Something new... and a big surprise! 3-3-13

Andrea has spent much of the winter sampling satellite views of local wilflife places. One location that looked promising from the map was a Wildlife Management Area in Plymouth County, MA. Of course, the thing that most excited us was a big pile of debris... visible from far above!

We wanted to scope the place out before committing a lot of time and energy to it in herp season. So, we headed on out on this cool Sunday.

We got there at about noon and had to drive very carefully up the access road... ditches and puddles were everywhere. An SUV in front of us had given up, but my Corolla was up to the task. I have nightmares about this very thing, so it felt good to not take the bottom of the car out!

So, would we be able to find the debris pile? Well, we never did, but just at the first crossroads of the first path, we saw abandoned furniture...
One person's trash is another person's epic flipping spot.
Rugs, chairs... this stuff could be great come snake season!

The path (road?) was about a foot deep with water...
Toads are going to love this shit!

The bowling ball yielded nothing...

The terrain is called "swampy" in online descriptions. Will these roadside pools last into the summer?

We walked along for quite a while, hopping over downed tree limbs and scuttling over fallen trees. The ground is very flat and the soil is sandy. This looks promising. But we weren't finding anything this day.

A couple of miles in, we saw some burned logs. Burned logs are always good to us... this time too!
A Redback!

That lone salamander was our only find for quite a while. After hitting a point a few miles in, we turned around. Andrea started to treat the downed limbs as an Olympic Obstacle Course...

I found a phone pole behind some bushes; it was buried half way deep. I flipped it and had a Redback... two... multiple... all told there were about 13 Redbacks and Leadbacks under there!
Corralling them was useless!

A nearby rock, also half embedded, had another dozen! They were falling from the dirt on the underside, so plentiful were they!

One of the stone's occupants of the stone was this very red (though not quite erythristic) fella.

Nearby, we flipped another rock... over a dozen more!! An embarrassment of riches was upon us!

We left satisfied, knowing we'd not only had a good and successful hike, but knowing we'd found a new place with great potential!

It wasn't until later, while watching a dull episode of The Walking Dead that I grabbed the camera to look at the tangles of Redbacks. I noticed that two little curly guys in the last picture seemed a little different! They are! They're Four-toed salamanders!
4 toes
They are almost in 4-toed defense position (tails curled over heads), the guy on the left has his tail-perforating joint visible, and the guy on the right has the jowly, squared off face of a male 4-Toed! YAY!!!

I had seen some white with black spot bellies when I was corralling them at one point, but whereas Redbacks have a salt & pepper belly, it didn't occur to me that I had another species. A species which, by the way, I'd suggested to Andrea on the previous day that they might be our toughest species-repeat from last year!

So, our third species of 2013, the Four-Toed Salamander, rare in Massachusetts, was found on March 3rd! We're off to a good start! Of course, we're in the middle of a blizzard that is supposed to drop 18" of snow on us as I write this, so...