Sunday, November 30, 2014

Like a Gall Bladder, November is gone. 11-30-2014

What a weird November this has been. Sure, herping ended for us early in the month but we are hardcore never-say-diers so it's always only a matter of time before we'll go out and poke around. We got sidelined this year because Andrea had surgery on Nov. 17th... she is now without a nasty gall bladder. So, she was bed-ridden for some time.

Not to say that she hasn't tested her own limits. On Saturday the 22nd, a mere 5 days after being sliced open, she wanted to try a short walk to look for birds. We went to the Arboretum because it is close by and well-birded. It was cold, however... mid-30s. Though she wasn't in pain, her endurance wasn't all it could be and we had to turn back fairly quickly. As for birds, I continued to master my "missed it by that much" technique.
That branch is in such good focus!

The next day, it was into the mid-50s. We went over to Brook Farm to poke around. We honestly thought that some of the sunny den sites might have a Garter out sunning... it was very nice under the rays. We encountered a few Redbacks... our first herps since the surgery.

This one wanted to go and say hi to Andrea who couldn't bend down. He got all familiar with her mittens!

We didn't get too far that day. After about a half hour, Andrea tired again. The stamina thing was going to take some time. I had to get some groceries, but Andrea could bird from the car while she waited. There were some House Sparrows in the bushes in front of the car, looking lovely in the late sunlight.

A couple of days later, we had another warm spell. Mid-50s again! I rushed home from work so we could see if anything was awake in our friends' yard. There was... another curious Redback!

Well, everything went to hell after that. Snow, ice, sub-freezing temps... what a horrible week! The good part of that is, Andrea stayed put and recovered more. On Saturday, the 29th, we drove to a couple of Antique Malls to practice some warm, inside walking. Then we figured we were ready for the Big Time on Sunday.

On Sunday, the 30th, we were trying to decide what to do... go birding or just stay close to home. We decided to stay nearby and check in on a vernal pool that we believe to be home to endangered salamanders. We have a lot of reason to think that we have pinpointed the correct area but last time here, it was still pretty dry.

So, we took the walk slowly but surely. stopping at stream areas to look for Two-Lined larvae. We found a couple with little effort.
That second specimen is probably in his last winter as an all-aquatic. He was getting pretty big and moved as fast as an adult and it looks like his lines are forming.

Thought he temps were again in the 50s, the main pond here still had ice. As much as I hate the cold, the design of the ice at the shore, where waves were pushing it in, was kind of cool.

We got to our vernal and we were extremely happy to see it filled!

We did some dipping and plenty of searching but saw none of the larvae we were looking for. A nearby log gave us a pair of Redbacks, though.

By now, Andrea was cooked but we were still pretty far from the car. We headed back and I vowed to find her an adult Two-Line while she rested for a bit.
I saw two and they both handed me my ass. I am a failure, albeit with just a lower-case "f".

So, a 2 1/2 hour hike after less than two weeks of getting sliced open and parts of her taken out ain't too shabby! I'm proud of her. We made it through November. Only a few more months to go before we can herp properly again. Oh man... I need to get planning that Everglades trip!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Dookie Game 11-15-2014

With winter firmly entrenched in the region (the calendar might disagree, but ice and snow means winter in my book), there's not much one can do with the herping. Some very cold-tolerate stream salamanders are all we can find at this time of year, and we'd have to drive 45 miles or so to get to the nearest Dookie (Northern Dusky Salamander). With that in mind, we decided to  play a game that we invented last year... the Dookie Game. The rules are simple. The first person to find a Dook gets lunch bought for them. The two times we have played, Andrea once once and the other time, we found no Dookies. The game was afoot!

We went to a place in Worcester County that we have found Two-Lines and Dooks and we swear it's gotta be good for Spring Sals, though we have not found them yet. With temps below freezing during the night, the cascading waters were icy and very chilly in the 38° sunlight.

I set to work looking on the sunny side.
That water just froze my fingers so fast they were numb. Kinda nice, really!

I finally saw a Two-Lined Salamander and had to wrestle with him to get a photo! I finally did... a real beautiful specimen!

The dip net came in handy for this wee Two-Lined larvae...

Why can't we find ice-encrusted sticks in the summer, when we need them?

The next find should have netted me a lunch but it was such an aberration, I was uncomfortable calling it in the field. This guy was in a seepy dribble right next to the stream, not in water per say.
It is in fact a Dookie larvae but his light coloring and translucence is very odd. 3/4" of cuteness at any rate!

I made good next time out, though... with a triumphant grin I said to Andrea, "Lunch is going to be so sweet!" I found a small adult Dookie!
Now, to most herpers, Northern Duskies are another throw-away herp... common and not really pretty. But we love them! The fact that we have to drive 45 minutes before we are in their territory... and we do! should prove our Desmog love!

Mission accomplished, we could have left. But we wanted to explore the place a bit more. There is plenty more to look at here, so we went UP!

The top was much swampier than we have ever encountered it before. So much so in parts that we wondered if we were seeing vernals. Should we also be looking for Ambystoma?

This spot was lovely... a bright yellow carpet of fallen maple leaves.
While snapping that picture, we heard some tapping from above. We searched the trees and found...

#107, a Hairy Woodpecker!
#107 Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)
All of our previous Hairys turned out to be Downys, so I threw it to the experts and they all agree: Hairy!! YAY!
Nom nom nom.

We continued on, exploring trails new to us. Tenacity paid off when we flipped a Redback!
Most of one anyway! With a smattering of snow and the ground starting to freeze, we're happy as pie with our 5/8 Redback!

We found another great trickling stream area and I had some Two-lines hand me my ass but Andrea found one under a massive rock that posed for a minute...

Seepy, with a light trickle... I still maintain that this place will get us some Spring Salamanders some day!
Just not this day.

But we had a great time and consider it a success! For winning the Dookie Game, I chose a wonderful gourmet pizza place that we found. Super-yummy!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

November Snake!!! 11-9-2014

After Saturday's bird-fest on Plum Island, you'd think we would have stayed in on Sunday! Well, we would have... it was going to be cold. But we hadn't seen a few of our friends for a while so I planned to attend a comic show in S. Attleboro and Andrea wanted to attend a nearby Stitch-n-Bitch. So, with a tear in my eye, I dropped her off and we parted our ways for the morning.

The comic show was fun and it was good to see some friends that I hadn't seen for a while. But driving back, I noticed that the sun was up and, while it was still cool, it was warm under the shining rays. So, I headed back home as quickly and dangerously as possible and packed up Andrea and we headed over to Forest Hills Cemetery to see if any turtles were basking.

Of course, there were none. BUT, we saw a pair of Buffleheads swimming around the pond!

Well, at least we tried for some reptiles.

We were also caring for our friends cats that day so we swung by there to peek in on the kitties. Hey, why not flip a few cold stones in their garden to see if any Dekay's are up?! Surprisingly enough, at 57°, there was one!
Our first November snake... ever!!!

There was also a Redback in the yard!

So, even though the herp season was already declared officially over, one young Dekay's Snake made us happy to never say die!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hitting the BIG YEAR Goal! 11-8-2014

The herping season is all but over here in the Northeast but I had a score to settle with the Avian crew... I still needed some birds to add to my Big Year. My personal goal, which became our goal, was to photograph and ID 100 species of bird in 2014. We got #97 last week (White-breasted Nuthatch) and we were planning a trip to the ocean for Saturday. Plum Island to be exact.

But first, lest you think this would be a herpless post, I went to my friend's yard on Wednesday (Nov. 5th) because the weather was decent. I was hoping for a late year Dekay's Snake. No dice, but there were plenty of Redbacks around, some pretty plump ones, too. Here are 5 of them!
suffolk redbacks

So on Saturday, it was windy and cold so we bundled up and headed to the North Coast of Massachusetts, ready to bird our little hearts out. It was in the low to mid-40s, even colder with the wind. We were a little confused about where to go, so we hit a Visitor's Center. The lady there was obviously irritated by our presence, so we headed straight to the beach. There wasn't much happening... we were in the wrong place. BUT, I saw a bird bobbing up and down in the surf, and diving under. I chased it down the beach as it kept submerging and finally got an IDable shot!
#98 Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus)
#98, a Horned Grebe!

But we were clearly in the wrong place, so we hit another visitors center to try to figure out what was what. While there, we visited the courtyard and watched the bird feeder. There was a lot of action! Like the "little blue guys", which turned out to be last week's Nuthatch, from a different angle. Here's one with a House Finch.

Here is a lovely tree decorated with Mourning Doves.

A male Cardinal is always nice...
But these were all "got its". The woman inside, who wasn't a twat like the one at the other place, very kindly showed us where to go to actually be on Plum Island. And off we went.

We got there, paid our admission to the park and the gent at the gate gave us some birding tips. He said if you see a lot of folks pulled over, there's probably something good. Snowy Owls were in the area so we heeded his advice.

Our first pull-over got us our #99, a pair of American Widgeons!
#99 American Wigeon (Anas americana)

Our first place of interest was the Hellcat Interpretive Trail. We had been there before and it sucked it for herps but we remember birds being around. Well, there wasn't much to write home about this day. A Downy Woodpecker, some Canada Geese and some Mallards. All long time got-its. But coming out of a trail, there were a bunch of Wild Turkeys walking in the road, so that was cool!

We headed further in, not realizing that what we really wanted was to get back to the beach. Sure, I dissed it earlier but I was starting to change my mind. We got to parking area #7 and went to the ocean. It didn't take long to realize this was going to be good. I was eyeing a bunch of gulls and Andrea noted a huge swarm of black water birds sailing in for a landing off shore. We headed to the gulls first.

Our Big Year #100 was... a Great Black-backed Gull! Massive fella! Goooooaaaaal!
#100 Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)
He's got some tags on those pink legs of his!

There was a rocky island in the shallows right off shore. On some rocks jutting up next to it, we found two pairs of our #101, the Common Eider!
#101 Common Eider (Somateria mollissima)
The males were far too busy preening to get a decent shot, plus they were very far away. But I'm still happy that we got to see them at all.
#101 Common Eider (Somateria mollissima)

The island was covered with little brown fluff-ball birds. Whatever could they be? (Stick with me... we're getting there...)

We walked down the beach, towards those "black birds"that flew in. A peek through the binoculars told me that we had spied a target! I wanted Scoters and this was a huge pile of Black Scoters, both male and female! #102!
#102 Black Scoter (Melanitta americana)
What's that one in the front? Next to the gull butt. Hey... it looks like #103, the White-winged Scoter! Here's some more, mixed in with some more Black Scoters!
#103 White-winged Scoter ( Melanitta deglandi)

Without the good zoom, Andrea was exploring tide pools and getting excellent shots like this snail on a journey to meet his pal.

Meanwhile, this picture blows but it's our first sighting of #104, a Surf Scoter! (2nd from left)

Here is me and my sidekick, a lobster trap, trying desperately to hold still the camera with the fully extended zoom.

A bemused young Ringbill looked on...

I like this shot... some Black and White-winged Scoters (with a female Eider, to boot) all being photobombed by a gull with a crab in it's beak!

A beautifully composed shot by Andrea.

After dozens of shots trying to get a Surf Scoter (I mean, I had the backs of heads, butt-only... all kinds of bad photos), I finally had a nice looking male all in focus... in frame... and someone flew right into the water in front of him!
#104 Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)
The bewildered look on his face says it all. Those gals in the pic might be Surfs as well... I don't see white wings on them. So, without further ado, I call #104, Surf Scoter!

These could be more females. Again, no white wing-tips visible, though they could be hidden by the water. Note the one with a snail snack.

By this time, the tide had gone out considerably. Gulls were flocking all over, looking for tasty tidbits. Here's another Great Black-backed, this one with no tags.

Also looking for snacks were a couple of adorable #105s... Semipalmated Plovers!
#105 Semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)
This guy had only one leg, but it didn't seem to affect him much!
#105 Semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)
#105 Semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)

The shadows were starting to get long...
#105 Semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)

We headed back toward the rocky island to see what was happening over there in low tide. Andrea got some great shots of this young (probably Herring) Gull with a clam that he was trying to get open.

Meanwhile, we noticed that all of those fuzzy fluff-balls from earlier were all up and poking around for food!
#106 Dunlin (Calidris alpina)
They were our #106, a favorite of the day, Dunlins!
#106 Dunlin (Calidris alpina)
They were completely oblivious to us as they stalked their dinner.
#106 Dunlin (Calidris alpina)
#106 Dunlin (Calidris alpina)

So that's that... we broke out Big Year goal and even got a bit higher! There's no point in stopping now! We'll see how many more we can get (we still really want a Snowy Owl!) and then try to beat it next year! Birders have been born. (But let's face it, when herps come back out, I'll be looking at the ground again!) The ocean has never been so much fun.

Until next time...

Much thanks to Bob and Ashley for helping with IDs!!