Monday, March 31, 2014

Little Days and Big Night... ending March with a bang!

What an interesting week it has been! It has remained fairly cool but things looked right for the Big Night to happen over the weekend! It's about time! But before that, let me indulge myself with some other stuff.

While driving home from work on Wednesday (March 26th), I saw an odd looking duck in the pond that I pass. Hmmph... I didn't have my pocket camera. No fear, we were heading out to dinner shortly, so we packed the camera in case said ducks were still there after a couple of hours.

They were! And they were #35 of the Big Year, Hooded Mergansers!
 #35 Hooded Merganser ( Lophodytes cucullatus)
I love these guys!

Friday morning (March 28th), while I was off from work but diligently working on writing projects (or goofing off, more likely) I heard some chirps outside the window and saw a need-it bird. I stealthily went down and got the camera and, through a dirty window, got #36, the Tufted Titmouse!
#36 Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)

I had to put the hard work aside for a bit and do some errands. It was fairly warmish (Mid-50s) so I thought I'd swing by a nearby wooded area to check on the vernals and snake dens. It was till pretty icy in the ponds, but movement wouldn't be out of the question, with a little rain. Some logs still wouldn't flip due to being frozen in place. A usually reliable rock (The Family Stone) did flip, however, and this Redback was under it.
I'm 99.9% certain that this is the same Redback that Andrea flipped under this very rock last week!

It was cool, but in the sun, it wasn't too bad. That's why I wasn't horribly surprised to look down and see this.
A lovely, Slim Jim of a Garter Snake!

Well, that certainly made me happy! I continued on, looking for stripes and checking vernals, but when it got cloudy, it got cold. I didn't see anything else, even as it started to sprinkle.

After dark, Andrea and I decided to go check out Hoar Sanctuary to see if the slight rain awoke any Ambystoma. It hadn't. We looked around by headlamp for an hour or so but nothing was moving there. Our friends Steve and Matt M were looking at our Big Night spot that we were going to hit Saturday night and encountered a few early risers but we pussed out and decided to stay local for the night.

Saturday morning (March 29th) we headed back over to the nearby wooded area to see if the previous night's  light rain had produced any action. The ponds looked free of Salamander packets, but we could only inspect the edges. A rock that we have named "Old Reliable" (because sometimes it is...) lived up to its name... two Blue Spotted Salamanders were under it!
These dusty devils scooted back into the hole as we photographed them. Hopefully, they'd be out that night, should the rain come.

As we walked along the trail, I heard Andrea give an "ahem"... at her feet was a small Garter sunning himself!
We moved him off the path which turned out to be a very good idea. Within minutes a very loud group of people and their dogs came ripping through and they said the dogs catch snakes when they see them! Close call, Sir Tallis!

We explored further, and I showed Andrea some more potential vernals that I has seen the day before. All the while, a Cardinal was calling and driving me nuts, because they're still on my Big Year need-it list! Finally, I found him and the zoom-lens on the camera earned its keep.
#37 Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis )
#37, the Northern Cardinal!

I found this Redback atop a hill. I named her Springfield.

On the way out, we flipped one more Blue Spotted... getting ready for his Big Night!

For many people, the weekend weather turned nasty and gave them something to complain about. For us, the gentle pitter patter of rain hitting the roof was a welcome sound. And it got harder... a soaking rain. Exactly what we wanted. We planned to meet Steve and Matt C at 8 PM to go see if this Big Night thing was really goin' down!

We met up and headed over to our spot in Middlesex County. It didn't take long for us to discover that, yes... Big Night was indeed upon us. Rather than recount the whole thing (like the 5 year old precocious kid who wanted to handle every animal we saw and the two adults that would rather we kept an eye on her than them), I will let the pictures show you what we saw on Big Night. Mind you, we saw way too many Spotted Salamanders to count and I'm not posting every picture I took, but these are some of my favorites.

This guy had made it to the water, but it was fast moving water, so he held on and tried to figure out where to go from there!

This slightly smaller guy was also having a time of it!


Steve found this super-cool (nearly) spotless one!
Here's a comparison shot, as if it's really needed...

The pond water was murky from the rain so it's hard to tell just how many guys had made it there, but it was fun watching them swim around the edges in excitement!

And the parade continued...

It was pouring and we all started to get concerned about our cameras, so we tucked them away, vowing to only photograph special sights. Of course, I saw some special sights!

This guy was so straight, it looked like he though he was a pen.

This guy was huge! Probably about a size 9!

And lastly, how can you not be charmed by the determination of a guy dragging himself across the ice to go lay down some serious sperm?!

What an exhilarating night! We were soaked and freezing and really uncomfortable, but really happy! All four of us got some great shots and a lifetime of memories! Steve's pictures will be found here soon.

We went back to the Blue-Spotted place Sunday afternoon, once the rain stopped but saw nothing. My guess is that they moved, but we just couldn't see any evidence. Our friend who is with the DCR found many ponds on Monday that had their salamander "party packets" so now we get to look forward to egg masses and larvae before too long! The cycle of salamander life!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mad Marchness 3-22-2014

So, it was supposed to be fairly nice on Saturday, with things turning to rain by evening. Good! We're ready for migration! Bring on the Spotted Salamanders! We decided to go poke around Borderland, to see if any of the vernals showed any signs of being ready.

We got there a bit before noon, with my prediction of "3 herp species". That would be Two-Line,  Redback and... what?

It was warm in the sun... definitely over 50°. We checked all of our Water Snake and Garter Snake places to see if any noggins were poking out, but no such luck. Until we got to the spot where we saw a couple of Garters basking last year on March 24th... a mere 363 days ago. While peeking over a log into a pond, I saw some movement and we'd found our first snake of 2014! A slim but beautiful Eastern Garter Snake!
First Northeast Snake of 2014!

Of course, we saw and photographed many snakes during our trip to Florida earlier this year but frankly, that was cheating. Finding snakes in Florida in January is like finding cold up here in January. This Garter is our first snake in the Northeast, and we love it to pieces!

The water level was pretty high, as you can see here at our favorite Nerodia place at Borderland.
It's nice to see the water running, but it was going to be tough to make good on our Two-Lines in these rapids. Flip a frog? Forget about it! It would be gone with the current! Also, many other spots looked like this:
And when the sun went under and the sprinkles started, it got damn cold!

I was having a helluva time with birds too. It was very windy so there was a constant whoosh in my ear. That didn't help. We got pretty chilled and headed out. I wanted to take a peek for a Two-Lined Salamander in the stream on the way out, rushing water or not. There were two possible stones to flip in the water. The first had nothing, but the second had this Stubby Malone!
I'm glad I was able to procure him because a crowd had gathered to see what the crazy bald guy was doing on his hands and knees at water's edge. We showed off our Two-Lined Prize. This shot shows his beautiful, delicate markings.

The sun had come out again and it warmed back up, so we decided to go check out the mansion on the grounds, in hopes of finding good places to seek herps in the warmer climes. We also wanted a Redback! They were absent this day and I can't figure out why! They've been tough this year!

This "pool" area holds promise for frogs!

Rocks in the sun... always a promising sight.

This cool bench looked way better once Andrea sat on it!

On the way to the car, I finally added a bird to my Big Year- #34, a Black-capped Chickadee!
#34 Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)

So, I guess my third species had to be a bird because nothing else was up this day! But we found a Garter and that makes the winter wait worthwhile. It had been 5 months and one day since I last saw a wild snake up here. (But who's counting?) The upcoming week looks cool, but we're hoping for Salamander movement next weekend... the official start of the herp season! But thank you, Sir Talis, for helping us out of our funk a bit early!

Friday, March 21, 2014

March Madness

I refuse to let this shitstorm of a winter beat me, though it's doing a very good job of doing just that. Friends who live a few states to the south of us have started finding herps, but it's still the land of ice and snow up here in New England. This winter has been a major test and I'm afraid I've been failing.

I have, however, been trying. Why, just last week... Tuesday, March 11th, to be exact, it got over 40° and it was sunny, so I headed over to Cutler after work. I got there at about 4 PM and it was sunny, but still pretty icy. Racer Alley and the tracks were in the sun, so I went on. To be truthful, it was warm when the sun was hitting you and I wouldn't be at all surprised if some squamate noggins poked out of the rocks to sniff the air, but I saw none. I did, however, get Big Year #32, the Eastern Bluebird.
#32 Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis )
It was pretty exciting, as I don't think I've ever actually seen one before, despite how common they supposedly are!

I heard zillions of Red-winged Blackbirds, too. I finally got a couple of decent shots, making them #33.
#33 Red-winged Blackbird ( Agelaius phoeniceus)
My favorite sound of spring!

So, I saw a bunch of birds, but no herps.

The next day (March 12th) , it was again over 40°, but cooler and rainy. I thought I'd swing by Brook to see if there were any confused salamanders. It was still super-icy, so I doubted any Ambystoma would be up. I was right, but I did see one brave Redback!

Over the weekend, we had a pretty busy schedule. We got our new Herp-Mobile (thanks to the generosity of our friend Dave Z!) and had little time to herp. But, we swung by Brook anyhoo. It was chilly and nothing was out. Over by Sly's home, Andrea flipped a Redback who skittled down a hole in quick order.

Thursday, March 20th was a warm day. I was stuck going to the dentist after work but when I got home, there was a frantic message from Andrea... someone had seen a Garter at Cutler, so she wanted to head right over to Brook ASAP! We hooked up quickly and headed over. Alas, it had become fairly cool  and sunless by the time we got there (about 6:15 PM.) Happily, Andrea flipped the same rock as the previous visit and the Redback was there, waiting for its photo!
That is her first official Redback of the year, so that is awesome!

We also saw the remnants of a Garter Snake, probably from before the snow really hit last year.

Sadly, this pond is indicative of how much of the place still looks. (That is, in fact, Sly's pond... and Redback Rock's pond!)

Today, Friday March 21st, it is cold and windy. Roughly 40°- 45° at best. I had many errands, but I stopped at Brook on the way out just to be sure. Nuthin'.

On the way back, at roughly 1:30 PM, it was a bit sunny, so I stopped by again before going home. No snakes out (I'm really not surprised) but Redback Rock had these two twins under it...a Red and a Lead!
These guys were teeny tiny and cute as salamander shaped buttons!

So, there are thoughts of "Big Night" this weekend, where Salamanders might move. Maybe a 50- 50 chance on the weather cooperating. We're VERY ready. This winter has been brutal and the only cure for these housebound blues is HERPS!