Monday, April 28, 2014

Urban Nature Walk at Ponkapoag 4-27-2014

Our friend Jef is not only a zookeeper, a naturalist and all around great guy, but he has been organizing and leading a monthly gathering of nature lovers called the Urban Nature Walk. He asked if we'd like to participate in the April walk and we happily said "ummm... us? Are you sure?" But he was serious, so we suggested Ponkapoag Pond, one of our very favorite places, rich in herpetofauna and an easy enough 4 1/2 mile hike. Unfortunately, the weather for our chosen Sunday was raw, wet and crappy. Oh well, reptiles were doubtful, but we knew we could score everyone some salamanders, at least!

There were 10 of us when we started. Who would survive and what would be left of them?

I was very happy that our friend Teá was able to join us. We have become good "internet" friends but being able to herp together is far more satisfying! Also very satisfying are the specialties and knowledge that every member brought to the proceedings! Usually, I flip a log and if there's no snake, frog or salamander, that's that. But this crew was pointing out interesting bugs and fungi and other things. So much to learn out there!

Herp-wise, we flipped a few Redbacks pretty quickly.
Redbacks are common and many herpers take them for granted but being with a group of people that have not necessarily ever flipped for salamanders before was a different ballgame. Our new friend Keith, an experienced and well traveled nature buff, had never seen one before. That made coming out in the cold, wet weather worth it right there!

A favorite vernal pond of ours was a real treasure. We missed a few frogs diving into the drink but there were egg masses galore... in fact, a mess of Wood Frog eggs were popping open with tadpoles as we stood there! We scooped up a tank-full of life to watch up close.

That was cool enough to make our day!

We went along the dam and, of course, no Water Snakes or turtles were up. Still, there is so much to look at and enjoy that we took our time. I was hoping the Cormorants would come a bit closer as I still needed them for my "Big Year". Not yet...

After the dam, we sadly lost two of our crew but the rest of us pushed upward and onward. Mostly onward.

We all managed a few more Redbacks...

We got to the bog, which we had hoped to explore, but the boardwalk went underwater pretty early on, so we bagged that idea.

Sadly, here is where we lost our fearless leader Jef. He had to get to work. So, left to our own devices, the Soggy Seven (as we would never really become known as) forged on, intent on finding more fun stuff!

It wasn't until Mike (the other Mike, not me) flipped a Two-Lined Salamander by a stream that we added another species to our list!

I played in the water while Andrea, Teá, Mike and the others flipped for Ringnecks. I figured that if I procrastinated long enough, my old man back wouldn't have to flip much. I was right!

Andrea found the smallest Redback of the day!

Teá flipped this stunning speckled Leadback!
It's good to see her hands were as dirty as my own!

Right around here, Keith flipped his own Redbacks and photographed them. This was the high point of my day, seeing him flip his first herps and the joy it gave him!

We pushed on and while on the last leg of the hike, we dipped into a stream in hopes of some Two-Lined larvae. We managed to procure one!

While some of us were gathering and photographing that little bugger, Andrea flipped a sleepy Pickerel Frog nearby!
The weather has definitely confused the wildlife as much as it has confused us. This is the third Pickerel we've seen this year, but none of them have actually been awake yet. This weather makes me want to hibernate, too!

Before hitting the parking area, we flipped one more adult Two-Line.

We all congratulated each other on a hike well-done and made our teary farewells. I wanted to go back to the pond just to see if I could get a shot of a cormorant if they were still there. Keith and I went down to look things over.

There was a bird there all right. A diving bird. But this wasn't a cormorant. It was a  Loon!
#53 Common Loon (Gavia immer)
No way!! Less than an hour ago, we were talking about loons and how we never see them very much, certainly not here! There was a local guy with his kid watching it too... a loon fan (they exist!) and he said he's never seen one here! So, here is #53, the Common Loon.
#53 Common Loon (Gavia immer)

That was a very nice capper to this rewarding day! So the weather didn't let us see many herps (it never did hit 50°, I don't think) but I think we all learned something and we had fun. I look forward to the next Urban Nature Walk that we're able to attend!

Jef's write-up of this day can be found here!
Teá's write-up can be found here: Eumorpha Dream
Elizabeth's write-up is here: Still Life with Redhead

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Weekday herpin' April 22- 25th

What's a person to do? Weather forecasts for the upcoming week and weekend were looking dire, so I wanted to take a quick walk after work on a Tuesday, while the temps were still in the 60s. I drive past Lost Pond Reservation in Brookline, MA everyday after work, so I thought I'd stop in for a peek. We had only visited here once before and hadn't really seen much of it.

So, I got there around 4 PM and it was just 60° still. Good enough for me. I immediately flipped three different styles of Redbacks!

Being without Andrea, I was going to turn this into an exploratory hike and check the place out for future excursions. One place we had seen before was Lost Pond itself. It was very deep and full. Birds were buzzing about and I could hear a few Gray Tree frogs calling. I looked closely at the surrounding tree limbs to see if any were hiding there in plain sight. Nope. I stepped off the boardwalk for a bit to look closer and noticed this Garter Snake snoozing!
Cool! Unexpected snakes are the best kind!

So, I went up the trail (instead of turning the way we did before) and found lots of interesting terrain. The place is much bigger than I thought and there are some good looking spots, including a lot of stone wall!

I didn't stay too long, but I flipped another nice looking Redback before I left.

So, work has been picking up a bit and we were told we'd be back to full weeks again... meaning I'd have work on Friday! Cool, because my wallet is feeling the pinch. Sadly (well, not too sad here) I finished all of my work and had none left for Friday, so I didn't go in after all. That's OK, because the temps were supposed to be hitting 60 again, after all! So, I went to the Blue Hills to explore a trail that we had turned around on a few weeks ago. I wanted to see where it went if we had forged forward!

So, I got there at about 10:30 AM and it was still pretty chilly. I heard a few early turtles plop into the water as I walked past but saw no herps until this Garter crawled by:
A real beautiful one, who was nice enough to let me catch him and pose him for a picture.

This place has super habitat for Spotted Turtles and we had seen a few last time, so I took a look for some. This guy thought he was giving me the slip!
But he did come out for a close-up or two.

At a very wet spot between two ponds, where a wooden walkway was rotting away, I flipped a piece of the wood and saw a nice Two-Lined Salamander!

Nearby, I flipped a couple of Redbacks.

I got to the place we had turned back before and forged on. It was foresty and dry, with a covering of pine needles. I didn't encounter any animals but I was on an exploratory mission, dammit! I reached the end of the wooded trail and came out to concrete. Civilization, of a sort. It was a work area and in front of me, at the other end of a long drive, was a steam shovel and dump-truck working. I poked around and flipped a bit and got skeeved out by a Raccoon carcass with the bony ribs gleaming in the sun. Yeech!

I went far to the right where there was another long drive, with a building but no-one working at the end. The hiker a few weeks ago told us this was a legal hike. I wasn't so sure.

But there was lots of AC (artificial cover) for animals! A large piece of plywood got me a small, coiled shoestring garter
and his mousy roommate!

As I neared the building, there was a massive black bird atop the apex of the wide roof... lording over what turned out to be two deer carcasses rotting below. I snapped a shot of the impressive bird, what I'm calling a Common Raven instead of a crow. Ruffled chest feathers, size and long, fat beak (which can't be seen well in this shot) have me calling this our #51!
#51 Common Raven (Corvus corax)

I continued on, wanting to get away from the dead deer and went around the other side of the building and could see the highway. The building was one of those massive salt storage units. I walked along the edge of the driveway as I made my way towards the road and I could see where it hooked up with the original path, like I was expecting it to (and hoping it would). Then a cop drove in and I got a bit nervous. They didn't call to me or anything and I just kept walking (and flipping) as if I belonged there, and nothing happened.

But I was really happy to get my arse back onto the trail where I knew I was legal and safe!

Knowing I had a dentists appointment in a couple of hours and not really wanting to have a great trip without Andrea, I picked up the pace and headed towards the car, which was 2 1/2 miles away at the other end of this trail!

On the way out, I saw another Spotted Turtle, this time basking on a log.

And a small Painted Turtle doing the same.
Evidently, it's a Metal turtle... he seems to be throwing the devil-horns with his left hand!

So that was a nice, long exploration! But I wanted to herp with Andrea! It's more pleasant and far easier! So, when she got out of work, I picked her up at the train station and we headed over to a favorite spot near home. We got there at about 6 PM and the temps had definitely dropped a bit. It was barely 60° now. But we were hoping for some frogs and sals, anyway.

We got the second half of that wish right away. Redbacks were found under many a'flip!
brook redbacks

The birds were all very noisy as dusk was approaching. This Norther Flicker (Big Year #52) was banging on a hollow tree making all kinds of racket!
#52 Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

We got up to a rocky spot where the sun had been warming the rocks all day. We flipped a few but never really expected to see anything as it was becoming cool fairly quickly. But Andrea had a magic flip and there were two small Garters coiled up under it! One crawled away, but she caught this guy for photos!
I'm so happy she got to do this!

A few feet away, I flipped this calm guy!

It wasn't until I picked him up to put him back on the rock that he really took offense to being photographed!
Even while at his rock, he turned and once again flattened into a Garter Bookmark and threatened us before returning to the underside!
Yes, sir, Mr. Garter. I am sorry to have disturbed you!

Meanwhile, Andrea's wee one was cuddly.

But dusk was upon us and we headed back to the car. I'm so psyched that Andrea got to see a couple of snakes because we knew that the following day, Saturday, was going to be cold and rainy. Plus, we had family things to do.

The Red-winged Blackbirds tucked themselves into their perches and called it a day.

So we did too.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Patriot's Day Herping! 4-21-2014

We skipped herping on Sunday, because it was Easter and it was cool outside. I'm not sure it ever hit 50°. It did get sunny, but hey... we herped at home with Lilah!

But the next day, Monday, we both had off for Patriot's Day and we were in for some sunny and warm weather. We decided to go to another turtle-centric place, this time in Middlesex/ Worcester County. We ran into some Marathon traffic (which is why we usually herp to the south on this day) but still managed to get there at about 11:30 AM... just as the weather was getting good n' hot and things were starting to hop!

Right off the bat, we had a Ribbon Snake slide out of the path and into the water, out of camera sight. Not again!! But Painted Turtles were all over the place!

Right off the path, Andrea spotted this Garter Snake who was weighed down with a nice big meal!

Aaaand... turtles.

Heading down to the water to look for frogs, we instead found a Ribbon Snake, making up for the one we missed earlier.

Further up the trail, we flipped a pair of Redbacks.

Then our first Four-Toed Salamander of the year, who was but a shadow of his former self. The break looked somewhat new, maybe from earlier this year.

It's about time for some Painted Turtles, wot?!

While I was photographing a leaf that I was so sure was a turtle, Andrea spied our first (and only) Nerodia of the day! This place is usually filled with Water Snakes, but not yet this year. This familiar gal was catching some rays.
^The genius at work...

I need more turtles... it's just how I am! Deal with it!

This one sat tight while I got in really close for a front shot!

Then we met what we consider to be the most accommodating Garter Snake we have ever met. It started out tough, as I had to catch him for a photo. He went all flat and even bit me once.
Then he calmed down.
And we found we could put him in different poses!
We took about 40 pictures of him and then he slithered off.

We kept going on and eventually saw a Green Frog!

Then Andrea spied this Garter...

Then I saw a small Garter dart into some leaves. I was rooting around, looking for him and Andrea pointed to a small Garter about 3 feet away. Was it the same guy? Damned if I know, but this one was a beautiful young snake!

Another Green, this time photographed badly.

Then, Andrea almost stepped on this guy!

This was turning into a very Garteriffic day! And we had missed getting shots of a few fast ones that we saw too!

This wee Painted was just as charming as he could be.

We had started back around the trail again and got to our pre-planned turn-around point. Then Andrea said- "Look who's coming our way".
This Garter had a meal on his mind and was on a mission. He paid absolutely no attention to us as he scoured the area.

We watched him for a bout 20 feet, poking around the edges of the water, turning back and moving on. He made such a pleasant, whispering sound as his belly moved through the leaves. That's what it's all about.

Somehow, Andrea saw this teeny Ribbon Snake! Squeeeeee!

A couple of Painteds gave us the side-eye, in honor of our friend Terri!

We have finally reached the Big Year's half-way point with this, #50, a Tree Swallow!
#50 Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)

Then we added herp species #8 for the day... Bullfrogs!

Almost to the car, it happened again... in almost the same spot! A Ribbon slid into the water! Was this the same guy as before? Maybe, but he stopped long enough for us to get pictures this time!

So, shee-it! 8 species, about 10 snakes photographed (3 species)... this is the best Monday in a long while!!! And this treasure was all in roughly four hours!! What a wonderful day!