Monday, April 28, 2014

Urban Nature Walk at Ponkapoag 4-27-2014

Our friend Jef is not only a zookeeper, a naturalist and all around great guy, but he has been organizing and leading a monthly gathering of nature lovers called the Urban Nature Walk. He asked if we'd like to participate in the April walk and we happily said "ummm... us? Are you sure?" But he was serious, so we suggested Ponkapoag Pond, one of our very favorite places, rich in herpetofauna and an easy enough 4 1/2 mile hike. Unfortunately, the weather for our chosen Sunday was raw, wet and crappy. Oh well, reptiles were doubtful, but we knew we could score everyone some salamanders, at least!

There were 10 of us when we started. Who would survive and what would be left of them?

I was very happy that our friend Teá was able to join us. We have become good "internet" friends but being able to herp together is far more satisfying! Also very satisfying are the specialties and knowledge that every member brought to the proceedings! Usually, I flip a log and if there's no snake, frog or salamander, that's that. But this crew was pointing out interesting bugs and fungi and other things. So much to learn out there!

Herp-wise, we flipped a few Redbacks pretty quickly.
Redbacks are common and many herpers take them for granted but being with a group of people that have not necessarily ever flipped for salamanders before was a different ballgame. Our new friend Keith, an experienced and well traveled nature buff, had never seen one before. That made coming out in the cold, wet weather worth it right there!

A favorite vernal pond of ours was a real treasure. We missed a few frogs diving into the drink but there were egg masses galore... in fact, a mess of Wood Frog eggs were popping open with tadpoles as we stood there! We scooped up a tank-full of life to watch up close.

That was cool enough to make our day!

We went along the dam and, of course, no Water Snakes or turtles were up. Still, there is so much to look at and enjoy that we took our time. I was hoping the Cormorants would come a bit closer as I still needed them for my "Big Year". Not yet...

After the dam, we sadly lost two of our crew but the rest of us pushed upward and onward. Mostly onward.

We all managed a few more Redbacks...

We got to the bog, which we had hoped to explore, but the boardwalk went underwater pretty early on, so we bagged that idea.

Sadly, here is where we lost our fearless leader Jef. He had to get to work. So, left to our own devices, the Soggy Seven (as we would never really become known as) forged on, intent on finding more fun stuff!

It wasn't until Mike (the other Mike, not me) flipped a Two-Lined Salamander by a stream that we added another species to our list!

I played in the water while Andrea, Teá, Mike and the others flipped for Ringnecks. I figured that if I procrastinated long enough, my old man back wouldn't have to flip much. I was right!

Andrea found the smallest Redback of the day!

Teá flipped this stunning speckled Leadback!
It's good to see her hands were as dirty as my own!

Right around here, Keith flipped his own Redbacks and photographed them. This was the high point of my day, seeing him flip his first herps and the joy it gave him!

We pushed on and while on the last leg of the hike, we dipped into a stream in hopes of some Two-Lined larvae. We managed to procure one!

While some of us were gathering and photographing that little bugger, Andrea flipped a sleepy Pickerel Frog nearby!
The weather has definitely confused the wildlife as much as it has confused us. This is the third Pickerel we've seen this year, but none of them have actually been awake yet. This weather makes me want to hibernate, too!

Before hitting the parking area, we flipped one more adult Two-Line.

We all congratulated each other on a hike well-done and made our teary farewells. I wanted to go back to the pond just to see if I could get a shot of a cormorant if they were still there. Keith and I went down to look things over.

There was a bird there all right. A diving bird. But this wasn't a cormorant. It was a  Loon!
#53 Common Loon (Gavia immer)
No way!! Less than an hour ago, we were talking about loons and how we never see them very much, certainly not here! There was a local guy with his kid watching it too... a loon fan (they exist!) and he said he's never seen one here! So, here is #53, the Common Loon.
#53 Common Loon (Gavia immer)

That was a very nice capper to this rewarding day! So the weather didn't let us see many herps (it never did hit 50°, I don't think) but I think we all learned something and we had fun. I look forward to the next Urban Nature Walk that we're able to attend!

Jef's write-up of this day can be found here!
Teá's write-up can be found here: Eumorpha Dream
Elizabeth's write-up is here: Still Life with Redhead


  1. We missed the loon? NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

    1. We saw him from the canoe launch right at the beginning (well, end really) of the trail! I wish everyone got to see it!

  2. The loon was definitely a nice capper to a great day!