Monday, December 29, 2014

The last weekend of 2014

The temps have been unseasonably mild. It has been rainy, not snowy... warm, not cold. So while we wouldn't be finding any reptiles, there has been no reason to forgo looking for amphibians. So we headed over to Ponkapoag on Saturday afternoon (December 27th) to get some exercise and take a look around. It was in the high 40s when we got there.

Deciding to dig right in, we hit a quietly running stream and flipped a few rocks. Let us all praise the dip-net; we had two species in one wave of the wand; a sleepy Pickerel Frog and a wee (and I mean very wee) Two-lined Salamander larvae!

More larvae turned up in the area, like this netted mini-sausage.

We checked on some vernal ponds along the way, which seem to be holding their water nicely. We encountered a few Redbacks under our more successful log-flips.

The pond was quiet and beautiful, as was this naturalist that was photographing it.

Here's her shot!

We got to a favorite stream and were hoping to find an adult Two-lined Salamander to photograph before we left. We surprised a slumbering Green Frog instead.
This guy was good for teaching a young girl who was walking by with her family a little bit about stream "aminals" (yes, the dear thing actually said that!) and their habits.

I finally found an adult Two-line and got my favorite Salamander picture of the year.
Thank you, new camera!

We had no plans for Sunday, the 28th. In fact, Andrea had already committed to a knitting meet-up. But when our dear friend Teá asked if we wanted to look for salamanders with her for her birthday (the 28th), how could I refuse such a wonderful offer? I hoofed it over to Allandale Woods while Andrea was at knitting and met up with Teá and her boyfriend Mike for some 'mandering.

It took a while to strike red gold, but eventually, we saw this Redback!
This is a big fat, probably gravid, gal.

We heard from Andrea on the way to the Two-lined stream... she would be there soon. We found a larvae quickly enough...

We figured that, since we'd bepulling up many larvae, we'd hold them all together for Andrea to see and also, we wouldn't have a dozen photographs of single Two-lined larvae. It started to become crazy as we turned up a plethora of Eurycia! We even found two adults. This is what 16 larvae and two adult Two-Lined Salamanders looks like!
I call that a beautiful bowl of bislineata!

So while we await the spring, the real warm weather, and the return of reptiles, our Phibtastic Phriends will keep us dirty and wet and sweaty... the signs of herpers herping.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Respite from Holiday Madness. Christmas Eve and Christmas.

While some folks are upset by not having a white Christmas this year, we saw it as more of an unexpected gift. Rainy and mid Forties on Christmas Eve meant possible salamanders to us! We headed over to Brook Farm for a quick walk amid the holiday carnage. While we always hope for Ambystoma, we were thrilled to find a couple of Redbacks on December 24th.
Well, 1 1/2 anyway... that guy on the left hardly counts as a full one! I thought I had been responsible for the breaking of his tail because I saw some movement behind him, but then it crawled off. It was a centipede.

Even completely bundled, Andrea is so cute!

Christmas Day was even warmer... low 50s and the sun had even popped out. We went back to Brook thinking that a dumb Garter Snake was even possible in the balmy weather. Well, no... but we got three more Redbacks and they are our first ever Christmas Day herps!
^ Nice Fu Manchus going on...

Those pics were all with my "old" Nikon. But Andrea spoiled me good with a Nikon P600 for Christmas so, on December 26th (Friday), I took a cold morning swing by Forest Hills cemetery at 8 AM to try out that 60X zoom! There were a dozen Hooded Mergansers staying far away from me and they made the perfect test subjects.
Not too shabby!

This heron (GBH!) was on the shore as well...

So, yes... I think that this camera and I will become very good friends indeed!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Dookie Queen for a Day! 12-10-2014

We weren't sure about herping last weekend. It's winter, fer chrissake! But our friend Teá wondered if we wanted to go look for Northern Dusky Salamanders and we're never one to turn down a Dookie! We all decided that, since we'd have to drive at least an hour to get to Dookie Country anyway, we might as well double it and do some Mudpuppy recon in Western MA. There is an introduced population in and around the Connecticut River and we've been researching it and trying to pinpoint an area that would support these brutes. By the way, they have been here for 200 years now so introduced or not, they are part of our state's herps... so there!

So we headed out at about 9:30 and got to our destination in Franklin County, MA around 11:30 AM. Our goal was to visit a DCR place, look at maps and try to learn some more. And we did just that. We had a very helpful DCR staff member to talk with and she gave us some great tips, including volunteering next Fall when the nearby canal gets drained. They need folks to corral the 'puppies and fish. We are so there! She also pointed out a path that got us to the river's edge! Bingo!! We dared not dream! So, down we went!
Somewhere beneath this tumultuous surface, there are Mudpuppies!

We got to some more serene waters, just off the side of the main river flow so we set about some flipping. Mudpuppy larvae was always a possibility, though we never found one.

We found many Crayfish.

We all worked our way through very clear, thick ice at times.

The most ubiquitous creature living under the rocks were these aquatic isopods (so said Teá... I was calling them "little grey guys").
Aquatic Isopod

We had a very good look around, knowing that a Mudpuppy larvae could be under any rock but we never turned one up. So, we headed over to Mt. Toby in hopes of our goal... Northern Dusky Salamanders. Of course, on the way, we asked if Teá wanted to play the Dookie Game... first one to find one gets lunch bought for them. In a three-person game, the last person to find one would have to buy for the other two. The game was, once again... afoot!

Well, she showed us who was boss right away. There in the icy stream water, with an air temp in the mid-30s, she found her Dookie!
We felt swindled. Surely she played us!!

I had a Two-Line hand me my ass right after that. But clearing some leaves dislodged a skinny Pickerel Frog from his nap. He didn't look too pleased with me.

We moved further on and we got our Two-Lined Salamander revenge!

Teá found the next Pickerel, hibernating in plain sight, underwater in the shadow of a large overhanging rock.

I was upstream desperately trying to find a Dookie when I heard them call from below... she had just found a hibernating Green Frog!
Hey, we had four species on December 20th!! Hot darn!

Andrea discovered a successful way to herp in a rapidly moving stream (which it was): Set the dip net in the current and flip a rock. This beautiful Two-Lined larvae was pulled out in this manner.

This technique also worked wonders with this wee guy:
There's just no way anyone would have seen this 1/2 inch of Two-Lined Salamander larvae with the naked eye!

Admittedly, by this time our hands were numb and frozen and we were wet and dirty. We turned back, satisfied with our victories! I tried Andrea's dip net strategy a couple of more times on the way out and got a nice Two-Lined larvae and a small adult.

So, we crowned Teá Dookie Queen of the Day and Andrea and I both had to split the lunch tab. Luckily, she didn't take advantage of us. But it is only fitting as Teá was the person responsible for getting us up and out on this frigid Saturday! And we consider it a rousing success on every front. New Mudpuppy info and four herp species in late December! If it is the last day we get out into the field in 2014 (it hopefully wont be), then it is a fine ending to a frustrating but memorable year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A half hour on a Wednesday... 12-17-2014

It hasn't been sub-zero for much of this week and it has been rainy so I figured that if I had a chance  after work on Wednesday (forecasts were calling for 50°), I'd take a quick walk. Of course, the sun sets so early now that I'd have to hurry. I blew off the company Christmas party and decided to see if any salamanders were up at Brook Farm.

I pass a pond in Newton on the way home and I've been noticing what look like Hooded Mergansers hanging out there for a week or so. Sure enough, with my zoom lens, I was able to see that yes, they are indeed Hoodeds!
Of course in the setting sun, I couldn't get great shots, but it's still a thrill to see these guys among the Canada Geese and Mallards that are usually here.
That front guy was preening so much I'm surprised he has any feathers left.

As I pulled into Brook, I thought I should keep my eyes open for deer in the fields as it was dusk. Umm.. ask and ye shall receive! A White-tail Deer was grazing on the far end of the field.
Next year, I'll be trying to photograph and ID 30 species of mammal. Wanna bet I don't see one of these guys all year?!

But I was there for salamanders and I only had about 15 minutes before it would be past dusk and I'd be officially trespassing. The vernals are super-full right now so many of my pond-side flipping logs are submerged. But a rock I call Old Reliable was just that once again... a pair of skittery Redbacks were there, for a moment at least!

With that, I called it a success and headed out to get home and write this thrilling report.

You're welcome.

De nada.

Monday, December 15, 2014

December is for the birds! 12-13 & 14, 2014

Damn, it has been cold. I hate December. It is decidedly not the most wonderful time of the year. I am of the mind that the first snake of the year is the hap-hap-happiest time of the year. But that is a long way off so we must make do with what we have here in New England. So, we bundled up on Saturday the 13th and hit Allendale in search of Two-Lines!

We flipped plenty for possible Redbacks but came up dry. Not that anything else was very dry... we've been pelted with rain and snow of late. But flipping was fruitless. Andrea took a rest on an old, rusted something-or-nother and almost tipped backwards.
I looks like most or all of my boards in this spot have been turned to kindling. Oh well... Spotted Sals and Redbacks all seem to like charred wood. May this spot next year be a healthy Caudata hot-spot.

Two-Lined Spot #1 was a deep creek this time. Often, it is a damp creek bed that is easy pickings. This day, it was deep and cold and made me look bad! So, we carried on and got to Two-Line Spot #2, which looks like this:

The sunlight was going fast and the one larvae I saw squiggled away easily. I was starting to panic. I was soaked and muddy and it was getting very hard to see. I flipped a log that was half in the water and a cloud of mud swirled up, obscuring my vision even more. Damn it! I dipped the dip-net in and blindly gave a pass. Much to my surprise, an adult Two-Lined Salamander was in it when I pulled it up!
As this might be our only December herp (Gawd, I hope not!) we were pretty happy that we had accomplished this small but rewarding feat. We went home, dried up and warmed our bones.

On Sunday, the 14th, we had made plans with our fried Matt S. to go to Plum Island and look at birds. He is heading home for the holidays so we relished our last chance (for a while) to taint him with our elderly ways. We got up there a bit after 10 AM and were disappointed that the beach areas were temporarily closed, but our birding adventure was not to be stopped.

A pond that was good for us last time out was good again. Matt is a knowledgeable chap and he grabbed the binoculars and scanned the pond, which was full of ducks!

Intent on helping with our Big Year, he asked, "do you have Gadwalls?" Nope... but now I do! Thank you! Big Year #108, Gadwalls! A matched set!
#108 Gadwall (Anas strepera)

Andrea got a group of shots of more ducks arriving to this spot...
Coming in for a landing

Matt pointed out a Pintail but every time I looked, it was just a pointy butt in the air. Finally, I got Big Year #109... Northern Pintail!
#109 Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)

We hit #110 with a couple of Northern Shovelers, both females.
#110 Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
There was a group of 5 or 6 of these, all gals.

So, that was cool!

We went to another area and it was cold! The sun was up and it was supposedly 40° but it felt sub-zero! Andrea saw these weird water flowers.
In an amazing turn of events, three Mallard males swam up and must have eaten those flowers!! Weird!
We suggested that if Mallards weren't so common, they would be a huge birder target... they sure are beautiful!

We headed over to another spot and I got a crappy shot but it is our official #111, the Red-breasted Nuthatch!
#111 Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)

By this point, the beach wasn't yet open so we went out and got some massive, messy subs and ate greedily. Then we went back and hit the far side of the park, the only spot with beach access. (We didn't know at the time, but human bones had washed up on the beach, thus the closing!)

There wasn't a shit-ton of birds present but it was beautiful. The waves were crashing in... high tide was a'comin'!

There was some other life present... like a Sand Worm!

A hobo!

A Hermit Crab!

We also saw a few Sand Dollars, whatever they are, really.

So, we called it a day... not many water fowl were out and about and no shorebirds were present. On the road out, however, there was an interesting sight... a raptor was hovering over a marshy area.
#112 Rough-legged Hawk ( Buteo lagopus)
He never turned around, so we never saw his face. Is it sad that it reminded me of Birdemic: Shock and Terror? All of a sudden, it swooped down and out of sight. There was no explosion. We quickly drove to the next sighting area to see if we could see where it went. I did one of my patented Dutch parking jobs. The bird came back up and I got an IDable shot...
#112 Rough-legged Hawk ( Buteo lagopus)
#112, a Rough-legged Hawk!

So, five new birds ain't too shabby! While driving home, Wee Matt and Andrea fell asleep (Andrea with needles in her hands and yarn on her fingers, her knitting project jiggling with the motion of the car) while I responsibly carried on. Rest, kids. Old man Mike will see that you arrive home safely. And I did. Then I napped.