Monday, July 7, 2014

Gone Herping with Steve 7-5-2014

We hadn't herping with our friend Gone Herping Steve since Big Night back in March so Andrea tried to set up a small gathering of local herpers to explore the Wilds of Western MA. Our target was the incredibly rare (in this state, common elsewhere) Black Rat Snake, who reside in the Connecticut River Valley. Sadly, many people had to drop out and what was left was Steve, Andrea and myself. Steve kindly offered to pick us up and drive, so at 6 AM Saturday morning, we hit the road for the West!

We arrived on time, right around 8 AM and started up Bull Hill. The ascent wasn't too steep though the trail got a bit confusing at times. Right off the bat, we found a couple of Redbacks.

Sunlight was having a tough time fighting its way through the canopy but this place was beautiful and showed its potential right away.

The trail ascended, then descended and sometimes we wondered if we were following the correct trail at all. We did reach an expected "swamp" area, though it was dry. Not too dry for a flipped Two-Line, though. A gal bursting with eggs, at that.

And another nearby Redback... a brilliant king crimson one!

We got to an uphill area again and chugged our way up. We were greeted by a bright Red Eft on the way.

After about 3 3/4 miles up, Steve finally found our first snake... a plump, beautiful and large Garter Snake!
We should have measured her after she calmed down a bit! Well over 2 feet!
She too looks ready to burst!

Not far from there, Steve saw another Garter in the brush. I tried to move in front of it to head it off at the pass. It looked to be gone, but I flipped a log in between us and there it was... a bright coil of Garter! It was smaller but just as bright as the first one!
Then Steve said, "no... the one I saw was duller and bigger"! So, this presto-chango Garter was an interesting specimen!

Near the top of Bull Hill, roughly 4 1/2 miles up, Andrea stumbled upon this fledgling Blue-Jay.
Luckily, the parents weren't nearby so she didn't get the expected dive-bombing that many would in that situation!

At the 5 mile point, after our search for Obsoleta became obsolete, we headed back down. On the way, I stepped over a log and nearly on top of this in-the-blue gal.
I insisted on picking her up to measure as she looked really long but she was only 21".

So, we headed down and got to the car by 1 PM. Were we herped out? Hell no! We consulted our maps and stuff and decided to look for Cushman Brook, in hopes of some salamanders and maybe a Wood Turtle.

We never really found it but found ourselves heading to Puffer Pond, a public swimming place that Steve had seen before and that we were nervous about... it might be filthy with humanity. When we got the the water's edge, it wasn't bad. In fact, most humans were confined to one spot, leaving the rest of the place free for herping. And herp we did!

While I was trying to get a shot of Painted Turtles basking on a log and inspecting the shallows for potential hatchlings, Andrea saw a basking Water Snake!

And a fat Green Frog!

Meanwhile, Steve (who had in fact found a baby Painted at a different inlet) went over to where I was scouring 5 minutes previously and spotted a baby Snapper basking!
The sad thing is, I was not 3 feet from this guy and never saw him, or even scared him in! Man, I need new glasses!
Looks like he has a little leech on his shoulder.

What of my Painted Turtles? Well, 20 photos later, I finally got a decent one!

So, we headed along the trail that goes around the pond. We passed a few people but it was still pretty good. We saw a shell basking out on a stick about 50 feet in front of us. Early pictures revealed an interesting shell... not Painted. As we got closer it became clear... we had a basking Musk Turtle!
He looks to be in mid-shed and his flaking scutes are bone dry. But he's soaking up the sun and paid us no never-mind at all!

We walked up and found a Waterfall...
which made our hopes of a Wood Turtle diminish but the brook looked pretty good all the same!

We managed to flip a nice Two-Lined among the rocks.

Hunger made us consider heading back, so we did. Along the way, we met a guy from an Amherst newspaper who was talking to us and taking pictures. We might have a shot in an upcoming issue. But while talking, Steve saw a large Snapper swimming around!

Then, we saw another Musk Turtle (who was not far from the other, still-basking one!) crawl onto a log right in front of us!!  He didn't stay long, but we did... we waited him out and he came back, while we stood in front of him, cameras ready. Too damn cute!

Next up, a small Green Frog.

Our last Puffer Pond herp was found under a board laying under a dripping spout. It is a Dookie! A Northern Dusky!
He's small and I had ID trouble for a bit, but he's adorable!

So we took off, got some sandwiches and headed home. At one point, we took a wrong turn and needed to make a U-turn. Steve pulled over onto a side road and turned. Right next to us was a garden... with piles of wet cardboard laying there. We just couldn't resist. It turned out to be a Garter Garden!
We only got photos of three but what an exciting place!

Best U-turn ever!!!! This photo by Steve shows what every sane herper would have done in this situation! We saw a half-dozen Garters! I'm sure there were more!
herpers herping
Herpers herping... it's what we do!

Well, that was that... we headed back home, recounting the great day we'd had. Starting with nearly 10 miles of mountain hiking and finishing with a successful U-turn!! I can't thank Steve enough for the ride, for our new Gone Herping T-shirts (available at the link above) and for the good herpin' friendship we share! Good times, good herping and good friends!!

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