Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ending September in Style 9-28-2014

Well, maybe not in style but this was a pretty good Sunday. Since it was going to be well over 80° in late September, we were psyched. We also wanted turtles because we hadn't seen any for a while. So we headed to Great Meadows, a place with many chelonian possibilities.

Due to the expected heat, we got there early. This place is super sunny so we knew we would get roasted later in the afternoon. Historically, this is not a very good place for salamanders for us but our first herp was a Redback, found on the way to the bathrooms. (A quick pit-stop is always welcome before a day of herping)

As with every other place we've been to in the second half of this year, the water levels were very low. When we did find some H2O, it rewarded us. Here is my favorite shot of the year... Andrea got a great one of this Bullfrog swimming!
Here he is after he hauled himself up on to a lily pad.

Some people were sitting on a bench where we wanted to herp. It all worked out... they pointed out our first Northern Leopard Frog of the day!

No sooner had they left then a very young Northern water Snake slid out from some rocks!

That was it for a while. We reached a part that is usually under water and poked around. A nearby rock yielded a new Garter Snake!

Then another rock sent us the Twins of Sirtalis!
These two were definitely siblings... same stage of opaque, nearly the same length and similar markings.

Next up, a small and... let's be honest here... drab Green Frog.
But he's cute!

Another Leopard!

Now here is an odd and beautiful Green Frog...
Andrea named it Gold Dust...

Finally, through some bushes, I managed a shot of some Painted Turtles!

Andrea was in the lead now and she stopped to photograph something...
Her camera captured that latex grey house paint stripe along the back of this Garter! We had seen one with a similar colored stripe on our last visit here, though this snake is smaller.

Mammal time... a chipmunk with one cheek full of something.

Andrea stopped to look for Wood Frogs (and no, neither of us saw any this day) and I went ahead. I promised to hold on to anything I saw, even if it bit me. Not surprisingly, I saw a basking Water Snake.
He took off after that shot but was still within reach so I grabbed him to wait for Andrea. Yes, he bit but not badly. He also musked. I'll take the bites any day...
What a beauty this one is!!!!

Here's another beautiful Green!

Happy painted basking...

Along the path, we saw another Garter Snake and he didn't move at all. I was able to get right up in his grille for a good shot... a shot that captures all of the intelligence present in a medium sized Eastern Garter Snake...

Andrea spotted us a Pickerel Frog! Finally!

OK, indulge me here. I love turtles and we got some pretty silly shots of basking Painteds! And here they are...
That's a lotta yoga!

Here's yet another lovely Green Frog, making me feel bad that I called the first one drab!

A Leopard in the path...

This Leopard was great... we saw him lunge at a grasshopper, but missed.
I caught one and held it in front of him. He didn't budge. I set it in front of him, walked away and he snapped it up!! He didn't want hand-feeding but he did want some chow!

We got to a spot we sometimes turn around at but decided that we'd take the forest trail this time. Though people had said they had seen some Snapping Turtles on the main path, we wanted to stay to the shady forest for our return to the car. Our last turtle was this sun-happy Painted!

We flipped another Redback in the woods.

We got up to the bike path and it was crowded with bikes. There were dozens passing us in both directions as we walked along. No wonder we had seen a few mashed snakes up here in the past. Luckily, not today. But oh crap... it looked like a dead black snake on the side... must have been flung...

No! It moved!!! It was a very well behaved young Water Snake!
He made a stink at first, but calmed right down and was the most easy-going Nerodia that we've ever encountered!

Now that was a happy way to end this trip! I doubt we'll be hitting this place again this year and it was good to close out September with such a good snake! The first weekend of fall was in the books. It's almost October and within a few weeks, snakes will be gone until the Spring. But we're grateful for this weekend summer blast... and a few reptiles to keep us happy.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Westfield River Watershed Blitz! 9-27-2014

We were honored to be asked to be the "Newt and Frog" (herps) specialists for the Westfield River Watershed Blitz this year! How did that happen? Well, we ran into Bruce and Elaine earlier this year in Windsor State Forest (here) while we were herping and they were birding. We all hit it off right away and exchanged cards. Bruce kept us in mind for the Watershed Blitz, where groups of people would explore assigned parts of the Westfield River and report back on animals and conditions. It was a privilege to help out and teach a few people about herps, while learning new things ourselves.

We got up very early and hit the road at 6:30 AM, settling in for a 2 1/2 hour drive. We made it to the meet-up spot in Cummington, MA right on time!! Yay! My walnut bladder was well-behaved! We met our group, who were a great bunch of people; there were 10 of us total (including our leader Bruce and Elaine) and we hit the road to get to our spot. Our portion of the river was from about a mile up from our usual spot, down to the campground that we were familiar with.

We headed in and, after explaining and showing the safest way to flip rocks for salamanders, we set about gathering data. A nice woman named Susan struck first with a good-sized Two-Lined Salamander, the one species I could guarantee.

After that, the species became quite ubiquitous.

My only real contribution to this bislineata madness was a larvae, so we could compare this stage to the many adults we were seeing.

Some of the adults were fairly large.

Andrea broke the string of Two-Lines with a beautiful Green Frog!

I had hoped for a change of pace with some Northern Duskies but they never turned up in this part of the river. But the gorgeous Two-Lined Sals made up for their absence.

We realized that we were spending far too much of our allotted time in this one spot (so many rocks... so little time) so we headed down the road towards the old campground. On the way out, Andrea made a spectacular Redback flip... two normal phase and a coveted Erythristic phase!
We have marveled before at the ease with which we can find this rare color phase here along the river. We have speculated that it is natural selection; the erythristic gene gets passed on because those specimens survive. This color phase looks like the Red Eft phase of the Spotted Newt... a bright orange animal that is toxic to many predators.

Andrea also found our only American Toad, a charming fattie that really didn't want his picture taken! Patience paid off and I finally got a decent shot.

Finally down by the campsite, we all eagerly sought out herps. I can't believe I'm saying this, but we saw no Red Efts!! They are found all over this spot, but we struck out. As a "specialist", I wasn't feeling very special!! One of our crew, however, flipped another erythistic Redback.

Then I got one too.

Many more Two-lines were turned up and we finally flipped a very young Garter Snake.
Finally, a reptile representing!

Susan called me over to a shallow area on the side of the river (which, by the way, was extremely low. Small, enclosed "puddle" areas were all along the edge.) and asked what the creature was in there. It turned out that there were 4 or 5 sculpins in there! The largest one looked like this:

Time was coming to an end so I went off on a speed herping session to hit some of the wooded spots that were not yet looked at. I really wanted an Eft or a Pickerel Frog for the group... both are usually very easy to find here. I struck out on both. I managed a two species flip though, with two different colored Redbacks and a far-from-water Two-Lined.

Andrea got a couple more Redbacks of the normal color variety.

Here's another teeny Garter Snake, this time starting to go blue.

So, I was a bit disappointed to have not found many different species for our crew but we all had a lot of fun and we all learned something. Everyone had their strengths and were happy to share. We all met at the end back at a meet-up hall and exchanged data. It was a good day for everyone involved and a good day for the river. Many thanks to Meredyth, the person who organized the whole shebang! A huge job well done!

After saying our farewells, we went for ice cream and flipped the hell out of the walls behind the Creamery. We've seen many species back there (including Redbellied Snakes which we haven't seen any of this year!) but saw none this day. So, we drove back out and finally ended up at Notchview Reservation, still in Berkshire County. There was plenty to flip and plenty of trails, but we had to hurry... the shadows were getting long and we were still a long way from home.

Flipping produced nothing, not even a skin, but the trails had some frogs about. We heard Spring Peepers calling and got a shot of this gorgeous Pickerel Frog!

No other herps were spotted (pun not intended) but we saw some moose tracks! These look like they're from a big bull moose!
Moose Tracks
That's Andrea's size 7 for scale.

On the way out, we saw a family of Wild Turkeys grazing in the fading sun... a worthwhile way to end this exciting day.
Wild Turkey family

Exhausted, we got home well after 9 PM to three cats who wondered where their 4:30 feeding was. Needless to say, we hit the hay and slept like the dead. We needed to get some sleep. After all, we were going right back out early Sunday morning!! As the herping season comes to an end in the Northeast, we will try and try and try to be productive for as long as possible.

I'm not ready for a month where my only herps are Two-Lined larvae. I hate the winter!