Monday, July 14, 2014

It Isn't Easy Seeing Green 7-9-2014

While on vacation (i.e. unpaid work shutdown and Andrea taking some time off to spend with me!), our only solid plan was to go to try to see Diamondback Terrapins in Wellfleet. We enjoyed ourselves immensely last year (read all about it here) and were hoping for a Terrapin sighting again. In a rare moment of intelligent planning, we thought about swinging my Myles Standish State Forest on the way back... for some evening road cruising. So we headed out for our looong day at about 6:30 AM, arriving at Wellfleet Audubon a bit before 9... we were right on schedule.

While waiting for the show to get going, we poked around outside. For the first time ever, our first three animals were Mammals! A Red Squirrel, an Eastern Cottontail and an Eastern Chipmunk.

While the presentation was going on, I was talking with a birder as we looked out at the feeders. (That's there the Chipmunk was). I was telling her about my "Big Year" when all of a sudden, 6 Wild Turkeys sauntered in like they owned the place and started pecking around and taking drinks!

Andrea enjoyed the presentation, which included this young Snapper.

Once the walk finally started, we could hear Green Frogs calling from a nearby fresh-water pond. That is why I was surprised when the frog I shot a photo of was a Bullfrog!

In a brackish pond full of various birds, Andrea photographed a swimming Painted Turtle!

Then our Big Year got incredibly cute, as seven #73, American Black Duck, ducklings swam past!
#73 American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)

But we were here for Terrapins. When we got out to the marsh, I scrutinized an area where we saw some basking last year... with binoculars. Sure enough, I saw a couple of white noggins poking up... one small (which disappeared) and one large. The large one was a big female, probably looking to nest after the group of humans moved on. The best pictures I could get from that distance were these:
More or less identifiable but no great shakes.

Andrea got a shot of some Terrapin Tracks, which is not an ice cream flavor... yet.

Also right out there on the marsh was #74, a Willet!
#74 Willet (Tringa semipalmata)

And #75, a Snowy Egret, who obviously bested me... but I got those little yellow feet, so I can make a positive ID! Take that, you avian tease!
#75 Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)

This Fiddler Crab wanted to be a dastardly villain, but he forgot his cape. Funny thing is... we were on the Cape!

Way back at Big Year #8, we got a Green heron. This picture is far superior to the earlier effort, though.
#8 Green heron

#76... all new... a House Finch back at the feeders.
#76 House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)

Here's a Catbird that I got a good shot of mid-song. Yeah, it was an earlier Big Year entry (#63), but this photo is better, I'm sure!
Catbird singing

But we were there to herp and herp we did. In fact, we were determined to find a Box Turtle. We even had a DCR guy say where they see them "all the time". We spent close to two hours perusing his spot, a field and the clumps of thickets within, but never spotted a Boxie. Andrea found this predated nest, though. Not sure of the species.

Finally, we got back to the wet...

There we were able to see a few Bullfrogs, if not the Painted Turtles that plopped into the water at our approach.

But our day at Wellfleet was done. We decided to check out a road that our friend TeĆ” had suggested for possible Terrapin viewing. Well, the hour wasn't right but we found the right road, at least!

So, we drove around the Cape for a while, looking for a CVS or a Bank of America or ice cream. Eventually, we got to the Pilgrim Heights park and decided to see if there were any good trails to peruse. For snakes and stuff. When we pulled in, even before turning off the car, we noticed that every car in the lot had a single, silver-haired gentleman in it. And one shirtless guy in a lawn chair outside his car. It looked odd... it looked shady. We walked around a bit, but my Spidey Senses were tingling and I felt just wrong there. We made hasty tracks and left.

It turns out that yes, this is a place for illicit hook-ups. You know, so close to P-town, where everything is celebrated and right out in the open, this secret forest meeting spot just seems unnecessary. But what do I know.

So we headed back to "civilization" and got ice cream. Then headed to Plymouth for dinner. Because that's how we are... dessert before dinner! Then we headed to Myles Standish at about 7:30... dusk was imminent.

We were driving slowly, so we pulled into (the now blocked off) Electric Toadland to let someone pass us. We flipped this sleepy Fowler's!

A young kid drove by and saw us pulled over and asked if he could help. I told him we were looking for Toads. He laughed his approval and drove off.

We decided on a favorite pond area to end the daylight. We had seen a Hognose there last year so it's a favorite spot by default. There were some neato Fowler's Toads there.

This guy was interesting. We'd noticed that some of the toads had one dark eye-bump... kind of charcoal colored while the other one looked normal. We captured this guy to look and, by pure coincidence, he has a little parasite, making his right pupil dialate.
half black eyed toad
Of course it had nothing to do with the two colors of eye bump (we checked out others as well and their pupils were fine) but it's an interesting malady. Poor guy... I hope he gets rid of that thing soon!

So, I was walking along, scoping out the right side of the path (my side... Andrea, a lefty, gets the left side) and I got up past where we saw the Hoggie last year. I was looking down in the fading light and saw a piece of grass. A long blade. I actually said to myself, "that's exactly how a Green Snake would look"... I mean it was the right color and size. Upon closer scrutiny, that single, lonely blade of grass had a head. Oh man! "I got a Green!"
This is our first ever live Massachusetts Smooth Green Snake! In all these years of herpong, they have always eluded us!
Needless to say, we were thrilled and charmed by this beauty! He has some scars along one side but it does nothing to detract from his beauty!

We released him and figured he'd be gone in a flash but it wasn't too bad... he posed for many more nature shots!

OK, so the whole day was worth everything. Slim Green said hey to us and the world was great! Plus, we had a beautiful sunset!

Gray Tree Frogs started calling and the darker it got, the louder they got!

We started a slow cruise along the roads, heading specifically towards where we saw a mashed Milk Snake last time we were here. No luck there, but with the windows down, we heard plenty of Grays, Whip-poor-wills and the occasional hilarious, obnoxious sheep-bleat of the Fowler's Toad! (We had no ideas what that screech was at first, then we remembered... Fowler's are super-obnoxious!)

Eventually, we started seeing shapes in the road... including our first Gray Tree Frog of the year!

The next sighting was called a Fowler's by me, even though I heard it and saw it calling right in front of me. Add it up to a long day, too much sun, my natural confusion and the anuran madness going on, but this is clearly our second Gray of the night!

A couple of small Green Frogs joined the melee.

Here's a pretty Banshee Toad, aka Fowler's!

Heading out (after explaining to people offering help that no, we're just looking for frogs and toads) we saw this young Bullfrog hopping along.

We finished the night with another Fowler's.

So hot damn, that was a long day of herping! But I've got to say that every minute was worth it, even the fruitless search for turtles in Wellfleet. I mean, at least we saw one Terrapin... and the first Green in Massachusetts made the day. But perhaps the most fun was the Anuran craziness after dark. I don't know... I was wasted tired but exhilarated all the same.

Would I do it all again? In a heartbeat!