Sunday, February 23, 2014

February herping in New England. 2-22-2014

In the weeks since our return from Florida, there has been a large snowstorm every three or four days. Seriously. You just can't make this shit up. That and temperatures well below freezing. We have done what we can to deal with such torture, including getting Andrea a Western Hognose to take care of...
but field herping is pretty much out of the question in these climes.

Well, a thaw out for the weekend had us chirping! It was going to be in the high 40s! Would we be stupid enough to head into nature? Well, since we had Saturday plans to meet some friends in Northampton, a swing by Mount Tom to look for Dookies and Two-lines seemed like a decent idea!

We headed out knowing full well that, even though we got huge amounts of snow in Boston recently, the Western part of the state got even more. And they did. We could barely find the rippling stream that we sought, in fact we drove right past it at first. We found a place to pull over and explore a stream further up. But getting to it required some fancy foot work. The snow was up to (and over) my knees.

But we found some trickling streams and seeps.

Before too long, we found some Two-Lined Salamander larvae.

The edges of the stream would trick you and fall into the water... thin ice covered with snow. Soakers and wet legs soon followed.

I was able to capture two adult Two-Lines at the same spot.
That one certainly looks to be in a family way!

I flipped a few more adults, but was unable to secure them for photos, including one whose tail I might have injured. I felt horrible, so I was very careful from there out.

Andrea managed a good water shot when she returned the two adults to the stream.

We got back into the car and headed back to the spot we had sought in the first place. We found it but there was no place to park, so we put on the hazard lights and I went in alone. I threw all caution and sanity to the wind and waded right into the ice water to make flipping easier. Unfortunately, the current was too quick and the two or three adult Two-Lines I flipped drifted away, vent over teakettle!
Why do all new jeans come only in low-rider, making a plumber's crack inevitable?? Fuck that!

Well, I got pretty damn frozen pretty quickly, so we dried off, changed and went to meet our friends. I kept my camera at the ready in hopes of adding to my Big Year, but didn't see any birds at all.

Finally, at a rest stop on the Mass. Pike on the way home, I got Big Year #22... a male and a female House Sparrow!
House Sparrows ♂ and ♀

So, while this might not seem like a very big deal in the grand scheme of things, these photos of Two-lined Salamanders represent our first ever February Herps in New England. And that makes all the frozen toes in the world worth it!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Displaced New England Herpers: Florida Day Three 2-2-2014

Up at the crack of dawn after 4 1/2 hours sleep, we were bleary eyed as we hit the park... even after a big breakfast and tons of caffeine. But we knew this might be our last herp day for a while and we had the added bonus of meeting our friend and fellow Massachusetts herper Steve, who would be on his first day of his annual mid-Winter Everglades Thaw Out. His enthusiasm was much needed as, admittedly, I was toast.

We were to meet him at Royal Palm. Now, the lot at Royal Palm is pretty straight-forward; they tell you to be careful.
They provide tarps to cover your car.
The vultures, however, are not impressed. When they want to rip the rubber and wiper-blades from your car, they'll do it. I must admit... it made me chuckle to see them destroying a Lexus!
Black vultures Vs. Lexus
It seems the high end cars use a fish-oil in their rubber to make it more supple. I felt pretty secure about my rental Corolla, but covered it anyway.

We found Steve and we hit the EDB road to cruise a bit in his vehicle. There is a nice canal along the side of the road there, so every once in a while, when the trees and bushes cleared, we decided to hop out and inspect the water closer. Eagle-eye Steve saw this little Florida Banded periscoping up at one of these stops!

At another stop along the road, we saw some turtle faces peering over the side, but they had plopped away by the time we got out. Still, Steve (who I was so grateful to be with... my eyes were crusty and bloodshot!) saw this large Florida Redbelly a few feet under the water nearby.
Thinking about getting a closer look, both of us tried to reach it to pull it up. I manged only to push him down  deeper into the muck and weeds to swim away. It was a few minutes later that we both realized that we were reaching into water that has Moccasins and Gators in it... that could have been hiding in the weeds. Oops.

Steve struck again with another new species for us this weekend... a Southern Leopard Frog!
Up North, I'd have called this a Pickerel Frog all day long but they're not in the 'Glades (yet) and the white dot in the tympanium proves it to be a Southern Leopard. Very cool!

Another stop was pretty exciting because we saw this:
Whazzat? Let's look closer...
This youngster was pretty adorable, and still fairly small. Was Mom hiding in a nearby culvert? Probably not but we gave it a pretty wide berth.

Steve admitted that he was going to just kill time until dark and road-cruising time so he was up for whatever. I expressed interest in going back to Anhinga Trail to try to get a photo of a Florida Softshell and try again to see a Pig Frog. So that's what we did.

The car was still intact when we hit the trail. Steve's amazing eyes caught sight of a Florida Redbelly hatchling at water's edge.
This little fella had better watch out... he'd be a tasty morsel for anything from a gar to a heron to a frog!

I finally got a decent shot of Big Year #17, the Purple Gallinule!
Purple gallinule

I needed a dramatic "herpers herping" shot, so Andrea and Steve sprung into full photographer pose!
They are aiming at absolutely nothing.

There's always room for more Alligators, a common sight on this trail!

Heading back, Steve again amazed us with his eyesight... there was a turtle poking around near the water's edge. We thought we were photographing a Musk Turtle of something but then it revealed itself to be a young Florida Softshell!
I wont win any awards for these photos, but it was what I wanted to see, so I'm happy!

While photographing the turtle, there was a Swedish man talking at us and he kept coming back to tell us about a fish in a nest. To humor him (and shut him up) I went over to see what he was yappin' about. Actually, it turned out to be pretty cool.

This is a Tilapia fish guarding the nest she has cleared... a male is patrolling above it. Or vice verse...
Tilapia guarding nest
We saw another one with a female shooing away an Oscar who was too close. Pretty cool, indeed.

Hey look! A Florida Red Belly giving me the side-eye from a distance!

I tried to add to my Big Year with a Tri-colored Heron, but it lunged for prey just as I snapped the picture.
Tri-colored Heron lunging

Finally, Big Year #18, the Tri-colored heron.
Tri-colored Heron

Andrea spotted another Florida Softshell surfacing and I made good with my one second chance at getting a shot!

I could hear those damn Pig Frogs, but I'll be damned if we ever saw one!

So, Steve's plan was to be south in Flamingo around dusk, so we headed down, hitting many different spots and exploring along the way. We found two secluded limestone ponds off of dirt roads but they, while picturesque, yielded no animals. Still, it wasn't killing us hiking around these beautiful places.

It was the heat of the day and the only snakes we would see were on this sign...

We were driving up one road (in two cars now) and I saw a gator from the car. Figuring that if there were gators here, there could be Moccasins and other stuff, too. So we pulled over and ran back to the gator spot. Steve and I saw what was there and yelled back to Andrea... "Gator with babies. Baby-babies!"
Andrea arrived in true Presidential fashion.
Damn, they're cute! I thought I had counted 6 babies, but could only photograph 5. At any rate, the mom was pretty good about not getting upset with us photographing her offspring.
We got to hear that adorable baby gator sound but since it is a distress call, we left them alone after a short while.

Up the road, I got my #19, the Wood Stork
Wood Stork

Some birds tipped us off to another watery spot on the road, which we explored and saw nothing. Crossing the road, Steve stopped in his tracks and gasped. This guy was right there outside a culvert, not very far from where he stood. It was a pretty big gator!
We had been discussing getting a "sea of grass" shot and this guy provided us with a prefect opportunity for a animal and habitat shot.

This is around where we split up... Steve headed South and we headed back North. We were just dead and needed to get back to the car place and stuff and get to the airport. We had plenty of time, though, so we checked out a few things on the way out. Andrea found a DOR Florida Chicken Turtle on the road, picked clean by Crows. Sad, it would have been another lifer.

Some White Ibises alerted us to another watery spot and we got this not-so-hot shot of our final American Alligator of the trip.

Speaking of which... #20, White Ibis.
White Ibis

Outside the park, we took a quick look at the spot where we had seen the first Yellow Rat Snake. We ended our herp trip with some stunning anoles... all of which I think are Browns. This shows how variable they can be.

We had a large buffet dinner and outside in the parking lot, I took my last gratuitous Big Year shot, #21, a Eurasian Collared Dove, eating garbage.
Eurasian Collard Dove

We noticed that it had gotten late, so I hauled it stressfully to Miami and got to the (extremely hard to find) Fox car rental place about 15 minutes later than planned, but with plenty of time yet. Except there was only one person checking in car returns and we were third in line. And the "every ten minutes" shuttle had disappeared.

I was very pissed and chased a House Gecko around a mailbox for a while but failed to capture him. The shuttle finally came and I knew we'd never make it on time. There were two other couples there who were about to miss a plane leaving 10 minutes earlier than ours. We bitched a lot in front of the shuttle guy. It was our only form of revenge, short of smacking him upside the head.

We took a cab from the car rental part of the airport to the American Airlines terminal, but it was too late. We missed our window of opportunity by 8 minutes. We had missed our flight. I was in melt-down mode, just spitting bullets. I hate when I lose control like that, but I did. Andrea gave me a tranquilizer that I happily took. Soon, I was slurry and dizzy and pissed.

We got on stand-by for a flight at 7:10 AM the next morning. But we couldn't go to the terminal until after Midnight. We fitfully slept and fidgeted for three hours and finally went through. We slept on the floor of the terminal off and on until roughly 6 AM. It was cold. We spooned for warmth. At one point, Andrea slept in a chair, sitting, while folded in half. I was impressed.

We got on the flight and almost didn't get to sit together. We threatened to remove our swamp-wet shoes. The seat next to me never became occupied, so Andrea moved away from a twat who smugly said she wouldn't move. We badmouthed her. Her kind husband was sitting next to me. Oops. Oh well, I have no doubt he understood what a twat his wife was. No wonder he was sitting across the aisle from her.

At any rate, we got home around 11 AM Monday morning, tired and stinky and gross. It was snowing.

But you know what? Despite the difficulty of the night at the airport and the cold weather at home (and the foot of snow that would fall in two days), we were thawed out and happy. We had seen 25 species, 12 of them being lifers. (Plus two more in each category if you want to count DORs, but I don't). It was February 3rd. This trip was just what we needed and thanks to Tim and Steve and each other, it is a trip that we'll remember forever!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Scarlet Fever: Florida Day Two 2-1-2012

We woke up a bit later than planned. It was funny to us just how much mud we had tracked in the night before.I'm sure housekeeping disagreed! We were meeting Tim in late afternoon, so we set about on our own to explore the natural beauty of the Everglades. What would be the first herp today?

We picked up where we left off with a Green Anole (a real speckled one) skittering about on the visitors center bridge (we had to pee).

One of their windows was where a Cuban Tree Frog had decided to sleep the day away.

So, we picked up a map and started exploring the park. We did a few laps of the EDB road, but saw nothing. Even the road kill from the night before had been cleaned up, thanks to the hard work of the local vultures. We found a spot to hike, parked, and walked along the edge of the trees. I figured I'd look around for lizards and Rough Greens. While looking up, I walked right past this, which Andrea spotted:
Our lifer Everglades Racer! I caught him for some close-ups (and a few nips)
Not quite as striking (visually... the biting was just the same) as our Northern racers, but still quite beautiful!

Howza 'bout the Gulf Fritillary Butterfly?

Our first Brown Anole of the day...

We flipped tons of limestone but saw no herps. I saw plenty of Tailless Whip Scorpions, though!

But we were walking quite a lot and not seeing herps so we cut to the chase and hit Anhinga Trail. I wanted to see some Gators, dammit! The first things to notice about this place, besides the tons of birds, are the fish! There are many many huge Florida Gar here, a native species among the invaders!
Florida gar

Speaking of birds, Big Year #7- the Double Crested Cormorant!
Double-crested Cormorant

#8 Green Heron!
Green Heron

We could see a large Florida Red Bellied Cooter off in the distance.

But a trip to Florida is nothing without the American Alligator! Let us bask in their glory like they bask in the sun!

Andrea did the ol' thumbs up...
and dropped her water bottle! I took a picture of her retrieving it rather than get it for her.

This being called Anhinga Trail, it's only fair to now call Big Year #9... Anhinga! (There were tons here... cormorants, too!)

These two Cooters were hanging out, unphased by our presence. It looks like they have survived some serious gator bites! That's why they have shells, yo!

I need more Gators!

Here's a pretty good look at what is going on inside an American Alligator's mouth...

#10 Great Egret, walking among the gators!
Great Egret

A White Peacock Butterfly.
White Peacock Butterfly

This fella bid us adieu as we headed out to explore elsewhere.

#11, the road cleaners... Black Vulture.
Black Vulture

We went further south through the park and stopped at one point where a boardwalk jutted out through the swamp and into a wooded area. The swampy part was clogged with a white algae. Before becoming too alarmed, I learned that it was periphyton, which is food for fish and tadpoles and a refuge for insects and other little critters. Pretty cool stuff. Just as the periphyton ended and the water became clearer, we spotted this small Brown Water Snake at the base of a bush.

We walked through the trail under a canopy of trees and branches but saw no more herps. On the way out, in a bush about 4 feet above the water, another young Brown Water Snake was resting.
Once I knew nobody was looking, I picked him up... I'd never caught a Brown before!
Much like their Northern counterparts, he bit me and musked me. Oh well...
Lookit that belly!

An elderly British woman with whom we'd been talking along the trail wanted to sniff my hand to see what Water Snake musk smelled like. My kind of dotty old woman!

We started further south through the park and didn't see many herps, except this hiding gator.

One pull-off was a pond filthy with ducks!! I figured I'd work on my Big Year!

#12 Common Moorhen!
Common Moorhen

#13 American Coots
American Coot

Behind the Moorhens are #14, Green Winged Teals.
Moorhens and Green Winged Teal

So we got to the bottom of the park, in Flamingo, Florida. There were supposed to be crocs here, so it was definitely somewhere we wanted to be. There were also #15... Ospreys!
That's a massive nest!

Right near the Ospreys was our lifer target... an American Crocodile was swimming through the channel... being disturbed by an idiotic canoe person.
What a majestic animal!

Another one was basking just out of the water beyond the fence.

#15, the Spotted Sandpiper, in it's Winter plumage
Spotted Sandpiper

The mother Osprey was pissed at a nearby Crow who wouldn't leave.

On our way to grab some veggie-burgers, tons of Laughing Gulls (#16), also in their winter-wear, watched us pass. The juvenile in the background was very noisy!
Laughing gulls

We dined on Flamingo's finest fare and returned to flipping to digest our meal. I flipped a couple of those cement water-drain-ramp-thingies and all I got was ants. One also had a worm under it that I thought I should move. Then Andrea noticed the worm had scales...
We had found a Brahminy Blind Snake! I never expected such a find!
This little girl was very fragile and when we put her down, she slipped under a rock like a strand of spaghetti! This parthenogenetic snake is said to have established itself in Boston's North End, making an unofficial 15th snake species in the Bay State. Their other common name, the Flower Pot Snake, explains how they travel so far!

The basking Croc had since shifted and I was able to get a good shot of her chompers!

We met up with Tim who was still setting up to camp for the night, so we bummed some bug spray and 'skeeter jackets off of him and headed off to look around some ponds and get ready to road cruise at dusk. Our last critter before dark was a sturdy Brown Anole.

Even as the sun went down, it was still a beautiful place... as you can see, working by the light of the moon wouldn't be easy!

Our road cruising got off to a great start when we saw a gorgeous Corn Snake!

I had never considered road cruising a bug but this mating pair of Two-Striped Walking Sticks strutting across the road caught my eye. They didn't bother spraying me with their musk, thankfully.
Anisomorpha buprestoides - Southern Two-striped Walkingstick

Moving on, as I was pulling over to let another car go past me I saw a wee snake squiggling in the road... I was terrified that I would run it over as I pulled off. I jumped out of the car and found a very feisty young Corn Snake, which I brought to the car for Andrea to see,
This guys saddles were so tight on his back half that he seemed almost striped. My favorite looking Corn of the weekend.

Our next two cruised snakes were freshly hit and dying. A Scarlet Snake and a Peninsula Ribbon. Heartbreaking. I moved them off into the grass.

This Cuban Tree Frog was up, wide awake and as cute as they get!

Heading back, we saw a thick bodied snake on the side of the road. When we approached, we saw it was another lifer... a Florida Banded Water Snake. We thought it might have been hit as there was a small blood stain and a drop on its mouth...
But as I touched it, we saw it was very much alive... maybe a bit stunned. It had some dirt-scratches on its neck and back... perhaps a car had sped by and blew it away in its wake? At any rate, this guy was moving just fine now.
It kept trying to go past me, back into the street, so I let it go... but I kept my eyes out for any cars on the horizon. In a very ungainly Water Snake fashion, he squiggled across the pavement and disappeared into the grass on the other side.

We met up with Tim at a preordained area to look for Scarlet Snakes, one of our most coveted targets. As we went along the trail, we had to keep an eye out for Scarlets and spiderwebs... the arachnids had built webs right across the path.

Andrea and I were thrilled when we found another lifer-target... a small Narrowmouth Toad. We had both thought they were bigger than they are, but this guy is fully grown.

Another web, complete with occupant!

As we shined our lights ahead to look for webs, we couldn't help but see eyes peering back. Cuban Tree Frog eyes. They were all over! We stopped to photograph a few, much to Tim's amusement. He said the line of the night... "You're only as good as your last Cuban"...
We eventually stopped and concentrated on the matter at hand... Scarlets.

It wasn't long before Tim said... "Look at the base of that tree"... sure enough, there was a Scarlet Snake there... a stunning lifer! He brought it closer for photos!
Wow. Just... wow.

As we walked along, I saw a dark snake coming into view over the side. I called out "some kind of water snake... black and red... wait... white speckles..." Tim came over to look... "Salt Marsh Snake! And it's a beauty!" He jumped over and grabbed it!
We're truly happy with this lifer, mainly because according to Tim, this is an especially fine specimen! I haven't seen any that look like it in my subsequent research, so color me thrilled!
What a memorable day this was turning out to be!

Next up, a Southern Toad! Our first in 3 years!

We followed that up with another Scarlet... one with interesting, broken up saddles. (I feel badly, I was walking in front of Andrea and saw it first... I should have been being a gentleman.)
Check it out... he has Mickey Mouse ears on the second saddle below the neck!

We said goodbye to Tim, gave him back his 'skeeter gear, and thanked him profusely for an amazing weekend! We learned so much from him, it was really so kind of him to spare so much time for us! A true gentleman and nice guy.

We slowly cruised back north, working our way up through the park towards Florida City and our bed. We saw a lot of DOR destruction, and I started getting very saddened by it. Two fresh but utterly mangled Moccasins and then 4 Florida Banded casualties right in a row. It made me very happy that just after midnight, Andrea spotted another one just off the road... and she added "and it's alive!"
This Florida Banded was crawling through the dewey grass and looked just as sleek and shiny as a babe!
What a beautiful snake!

Well, our heads hit the pillow at about 1:30 AM... it had been 15 hours or so of herping that day. We had to get up at 6 AM or so to meet our friend Steve by 8 AM the next morning! No rest for the wicked herpers!

So, we had upped our totals for the weekend thus far to 23 species, 12 of them lifers!