Saturday, May 31, 2014

Fast Saturday: No Fuss, No Musk 5-31-2014

Since my old bones have been getting worn out  the past few weekends, we were hoping to keep it local today. That is to say, herp for a few hours and still have enough time left after to get groceries and, with a little luck, nap. Well, I just woke up and thought I'd better get this logged while it's still May!

So, we went to Cutler. Best of all, some of our friends went with us! So there were 5 of us when we hit the trails at 10 AM! The weather exceeded our expectations. Cloudy was, in fact, sunny! One of our group, Teá, made a very good point. Even on days when you don't see much, hiking with friends  is fun, rewarding and you almost always learn something. How true!

We all have our strong suits and birds ain't mine, so I was happy to hear "do you have a Yellowthroat?" I didn't, so I was thrilled to have one pointed out to me! So, I present you with Big Year #68, the Common Yellowthroat!
#68 Common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)

Our first herp was a welcome one... a Leopard Frog!
Not the easiest frog to see here! It also turned out to be the only one of the day.

This wee Redback was flipped not long after...

We got to a sandy spot where we had hoped to see some nesting turtles, but all was bare. Well, not completely bare... this small American Toad kept us interested!

Soon, as we walked along the path, I heard the familiar call of the Massachusetts Herper from behind me...


It seemed I had walked right past one! It had slid down the hill so I headed down to cut it off... and got in front of it.
Whoa! Had this one just eaten? Or is it pissed? Maybe both, but there's no question about the pissed part!
A bright and beautiful specimen!

When we got to Racer Alley, the group split... Teá and I went up next to the train tracks while the others stuck to the low path. Our ascension paid off when we saw this gorgeous Garter sunning itself!
Mellower than mellow, we got right up in his grille for photos. He barely even noticed us!

We had a touch of tough luck soon after, though. Walking along, we both noticed a Racer slipping over the ledge. Oh shit!! We followed it over the edge to search the rocky side but realized that our efforts were in vain. Looking for it was akin to looking for the water that you just poured down the drain. It just disappeared. Like all Racers do... Oh well, at least we saw it.

We all met back up and took a breather at the river. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some movement far away in the middle of the Charles River. What was it? Muskrat? Cormorant? My handy-dandy binoculars gave us the answer... a Water Snake!
He zoomed in towards an outcropping of land, hopefully finding a snack worth traveling for!

Shortly after that, part of our crew had to move on so Andrea, Teá and I went forth in search of Ringnecks and Milks... neither of which we found. But we had a good time hiking and looking for them.

Our next herp find was another American Toad!

And our last of the day, despite much more searching, was a plethora of Plethodons... various colored Redbacks!

So we ended up back at the parking lot a bit before 3 PM, our snake itch satisfied! Plus, there was still some time for important stuff... like a short nap! Driving home, I had an inchworm boogieing across my leg so I pulled into a parking lot to release him. This Wild Turkey was walking around like she owned the place!

And that seems like as good a place as any to end this tale.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Memorial Day at Assabet 5-26-2014

We both had Memorial Day off so a rare Monday herp trip was in order. The problem was, it was rainy. No worries. It was supposed to let up before too long. We decided to hit Assabet Wildlife Refuge as we hadn't yet been there this year. We were hoping for some rare turtles to keep our weekend going. We found no rare things, but this is what we did see.

I thought I was looking at a Catbird. So I didn't try to get a good picture once it started hopping and being difficult. I wish I had stayed with it because it is, in fact, #66... a female Brown-headed Cowbird!
#66 Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
(Thanks for the ID help, Bob!)

We started up the trail, intent on getting to the ponds to look for Water Snakes and Turtles. Not too far in, we saw our first ever live Garter Snake! (First ever in this place, that is)
Decent sized and a little pissed; we tried to not stress him out much.

Not too much further, Andrea spied another!
This guy is bright! Look at his scar on his side!

So, now that we'd both been musked, we flipped a Redback!

Walking along the path, we turned to look up a connecting path... and saw a turtle!! Running like the paparazzi that we are, we came face to face with this Painted Turtle!
Judging from the dirt and pine needles on her butt, she had just laid her eggs!

So, we made it to the water and the Painteds were basking!
Of course, it wasn't super sunny, so there weren't many. In fact, it was clouding up and getting ready to rain some more!

This Bullfrog didn't mind at all.

In a light sprinkle, we reached a favorite part... an area designated for turtle laying! They have cleared a patch of woods that gets a lot of sunlight now... just for turtles! This Painted Lady was utilizing the space!

Andrea pointed out a bird in the distance. I zoomed in and tried to get some shots, but was largely unsuccessful. She thought it might be a Killdeer. As I approached the area, it flew off, but not too far. Then we started to get the Killdeer show! They are ground-nesting and when a predator gets too close, the adult goes into the "broken wing" act to lure said predator away from the nest.
#67 Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)
It was very cool to see! By the way, #67... Killdeer!
#67 Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)

So, we hiked on despite the rain, which had become fairly heavy. Still worse were the mosquitoes that it brought out! We opted to switch into our 'skeeter jackets once the rain subsided.
Sure, we look dumb but those fuckers helped a lot!

This Bullfrog, however, laughed at us.

While looking for a Wood Frog, Andrea discovered some cool ruins of a 19th Century Tavern.
Herpless, but I'll bet it isn't always!

So, we headed back. Some intrepid Painteds braved the cloudy day!

At one point, I saw a small turtle slide into the water right in front of me. I couldn't see what it was as it made its slooow escape and I was tied up in my binoculars, camera strap and skeeter jacket! I couldn't extricate myself in time to grab it for a photo! ARRRGH!! I was trapped! Finally, I got free, but never was able to find the little guy.

Meanwhile, Andrea saw a Water Snake cruising in towards the shore, obviously on the hunt.
He was making a big circle, going back out to the middle. At one point we saw a splish behind some weeds... evidently he had struck at something. We don't know if he got it, but soon he was back on the prowl.

Then Andrea pointed something out to me... the little fella who had handed me my ass had reemerged not too far away!
Haha, my wee painted friend! I won this one!

Right next to here, I approached a hillock and saw a Garter Snake there. He started to flee and as I lunged, I noticed two other Garters right there! One went straight, one went right and one went left! They threw quite the curve ball at me! I ended up batting .333; this is the guy who turned right.

So, this was making up for our thus-far Garterless weekend. We saw another guy on the way out!

Satisfied (and eaten alive everywhere the jackets hadn't protected us), we got into the car to head home. On the drive exiting the park, we thought we saw something in the road... yes! Another turtle!
This, however, isn't a nesting female... this is a male! Just out for a walk?

We went and got some gourmet pizza on the way home. The place had a giant brass Alligator outside. 

We even herp when we eat.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Our first Double Digit Species count in the Northeast! 5-25-2014

We had been excited to get back to one of our favorite places in Bristol County. You see, this place has been good for Milk Snakes in the past and we haven't seen one yet this year. Not a one! That won't do. So we headed over fairly early this Sunday and set about righting this wrong.

We know the place had a clean-up a couple of weeks ago. We were in fear that our snake boards have been removed. We are in constant battle with bike-ramp-building cretins here so we never know what to expect. But first off, we took a peek at the bog next to the parking lot, and were greeted by this lovely, classic Fowler's Toad!

An Eastern Kingbird (already counted) was munching on a moth, too.

Upon our first glimpse of the water, we saw some Painted Turtles basking... a first for this section!

A Pickerel Frog was nearby!

Sadly, the clean-up hit our best snake area hard. In fact, all of the debris was piled high right next to the path, waiting to be hauled away. It's a real shame that the dunces who are doing the clean-up are so oblivious to the fact that some of the picnic-tables and boards serve a purpose. They are homes for animals. But Mr and Mrs. Privileged Redneck can't drag Junior there to see the beauty of nature with all of that animal habitat in the way. Let the little fucker play video games like he wants and leave the park to people who appreciate nature!

Anyhoo, I replaced some boards but it's really a losing battle. I mean, if they open this place back up for camping, I'm crossing it off of our list anyway. Humans... humans ruin everything. This fine Fowler's was the only animal we encountered at this formerly glorious spot.
He's looks like he's not too keen on letting the debris go, either.

As we moved on, we realized that toads were out in full force!

A huge Pickerel!

More Fowlers!
Yes, Andrea stacked them but we did not tell the big one to do his Olga Karlatos impression!

This next toad was the only identified American Toad of the day!

This place is 10 to 1 Fowler's. We stopped counting them eventually but here's a few more shots.
This trio left a puddle of pee in Andrea's hands.

There are nine here, probably all Fowler's, but I didn't check them.

Where are all of these toads coming from?? Here:
The water was thick with tadpoles!

We were hoping to find some snakes and stuff that would munch on tadpoles. Meanwhile, I dug out my new binoculars to scan the far end of the pond for turtles. Andrea walked up to me and asked "how much do you love me?"

Trick question. Of course the answer is more than mere words can say. But I saw she was holding something in her hand. I asked if she'd found a hatchling, presumably a Painted. Nope...
We had often hoped we'd find a hatchling Musk Turtle but they're so small, we figured we never would! That's a DIME!!
How Andrea ever managed to see this little blighter I'll never know, but it's possibly the cutest thing I have ever seen!

OK, back to business! While Andrea was photographing her diminutive find, I saw a Green Frog!

We got to the wading part of the hike and took off our shoes and went into the flooded trail. Tadpoles were everywhere! At the end, I got to shoot the Painted Turtles that I'd seen!

As I turned to head back, I saw what I had hoped to see nearby... enjoying the abundance of tadpoles... a Water Snake!
Don't look now, but we're up to 7 species!

The binocs helped find these two Painteds.

Another fine Green Frog.

We got to a pond where we had never seen turtles, but we've seen snakes and frogs at before. I whipped out the binoculars and scanned the heretofore unseeable far edge of the pond. Bingo! And it's a big one!
With my 42Zoom fully extended and resting on Andrea's head for steadiness, we got this shot of a large Red Bellied Cooter, endangered in this state! Thank you, binoculars!

It should be noted that Ladyslippers were all over the place this day.

Binocs in hand, we spied more turtles!
Yep, that's another Redbelly, surrounded by Painteds! There was another big Redbelly up there, but a commotion on shore made a few chelonians dive in. The commotion was a couple, the woman of which was a turtle person, for Mass Wildlife. She thought that one looked different! She wasn't aware of the Redbelly population here. (We reported it last year and they already knew) We showed her this photo and told her all we knew. She had found a Spotted earlier...a species we still need here! Again, we've been meeting cool people this year!

So, we went down for better shots of all of the turtles. Here's a 5-pack of Painteds.

Lousy shot, but this is the only one I got of Species #9 for the day, a Bullfrog.

Here's another shot of our cooter friend, looking smug!

I'm not sure what the two guys on the left are... I'll just call them "turtles".


I love this shot... the guy second from left is fully supported by the stump and the shell of the guy next to him. There's nothing under him! If his buddy moves, he's going into the drink!

Further on, a Pickerel Frog did me a big favor by jumping into a pile of duckweed!

Nearby, I flipped a Redback, pushing us into double digits with our tenth herp species of the day!

We got to a spot where we like to look for Water Snakes, Bullfrogs and Musk Turtles, but it was filled with two large, horrible families, being loud and throwing rocks into the water (one of my big hates). I hated to see this here. Especially when about 20 feet from them, we saw this:

Since the humans were armed and ready with rocks, we decided to stealthily move the snoozing Water Snake further away. Andrea got thanked for her efforts with the foulest musking of all time!
He was a cute little fella, though, and he calmed down admirably!
We put him about 20 yards further down. At any rate, the Loud Family had packed up and left, deciding they'd destroyed enough habitat and serenity.

Picking up where he'd probably left off before the humans arrived, another Water Snake started skimming the edges of the pond, finally safe from stones and humans.
This was the biggest Nerodia of the three we saw this day, but was still only about 2 feet long.

So, we headed back, tired but more or less satisfied. We'd seen no Milks, but what can you do? We did peek back in to the formerly-good place on the way out. I climbed some logs and rocks around the back way and saw what might have been a Ribbon Snake's tail slip into a mound. So, hopefully, they'll adapt to the changes.

Andrea ended the trip with this plump Fowler's who was comfortable in her hand.

So, I call that a bittersweet day. 10 species is AWESOME! But the clean-up ruined a spot we've been cultivating for years, making it better for rock-throwing, noisy, inbred humans to abuse nature... that's just not an improvement in my book.

Oh well, if I had my say only Andrea, me and our friends would be allowed in there. And oh, can you imagine the board lines and sheets of tin we'd lay down!