Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Art of Garter 8-24-2014

We were still toast from the day before and I let Andrea sleep in a bit. We had planned on going to a turtle place, in hopes of seeing hatchlings. We chose Assabet, a good place to see the Chelonians that we saw so few of in Western MA. We got there after 10 AM, achy and tired. My head was still very fuzzy when we hit the trails.

Things got off to a frustrating start when Andrea flipped a shoestring Garter and it managed to elude both of us!! OK! I'm awake now!!!

She recovered quickly when, further up the trail, I turned around and saw this:
She had given me one of my favorite sights... my wife with a snake in hand!
A dark beauty.

Not much further in, we saw this little guy truckin' along!
All noggin and tenacity!

We looked around for deflated female Garters and took a path over to a pond where we had seen a girthy female last time here. We didn't see her but we spied our first Painted of the day, way way out there.

Closer in, some Bullfrogs were enjoying a bask on top of some lily pads.
Thank you, Bullfrogs... I love the classics!

Andrea pointed out some Painteds that were much closer.

Almost to our favorite spot, we flipped some Redbacks... one red and one lead!

Then we started seeing turtles... tons of Painteds! Large and small. Here are some of them.

I was considering using only this picture, because both turtles are visible...
But when looking at the close-up I got of the bigger guy, I see that there are six noggins poking up around him!
I'm in love with that picture!

Being a Bullfrog is SFB.

Walking up the trail, we were stealthy. Until Andrea saw a turtle on the path and burst into a run to see it! A young Painted was taking a stroll from one pond to another.

This threesome charmed us to death!

This wee guy is just being fabulous!!

A ride 'em cowboy Bullfrog!

Another Redback!

We were exploring a large field, hoping for some newborn turtles. I stayed near the edges because it was getting hot and I'm a pussy. But it paid off... I saw this Slim Jim Garter!
I thought I had a Ribbon for a second! He was so skinny, he could almost hide under a twig!

We decided to go further down the path, much to my surprise. But I sucked it up and went on like a grownup. And it paid off... another wee shoestring making his way through the day, obviously on a super serious mission.

This extended trail also got us a Pickerel Frog!

Andrea spotted an American Toad while I was enjoying a snack. Photos or it didn't happen!

Don't look now, but we were at 6 species! Only 8 shy of the day before!!

Hah! Yeah, right. We headed back. We saw this Bullfrog that I thought was a Green at first.

Then we saw a Garter relaxing in the afternoon sun.

I took ten shots of this Bullfrog before I got one I liked. Why? I dunno... I though he was cute!

Another Pickerel...

I saw a Garter... well, a bit of one. Just about 4 inches of neck and head coming out from the leaves.
She looked like she'd be big so I wanted to see if she was worth measuring or if she was deflated. It turns out, she had a big meal in her... I could feel it in her tummy. Needless to say, I left her alone.

Andrea finally found our real Green Frog: species #7.

Then, another big Garter with another big meal!

And our last herp? The eighth Garter of the day!

Not a bad trip for two tired souls! Good things come to those who herp.

That said, my work's summer party is today, Tuesday the 26th. I didn't want to go so when the place closed at noon, I hit Brook on the way home. It's 88° out there and it feels even hotter. But I made a quick trip out of it anyway. It was scorching in the sun and much of the water is dried up. I managed a few Green Frogs, though!

That's it until the weekend. The weekend that should blow my mind...

Monday, August 25, 2014

A 14 Herp Species Saturday! 8-23-2014

It's our 11th Anniversary weekend, so we wanted to make it special. Admittedly, herping in 2014 has been spotty. We haven't had much diversity. Thankfully, we adore Garter Snakes and we have been seeing tons of them but we haven't had many double-digit species counts, at least not here in Massachusetts. We woke up early to hit a favorite spot in Western MA (Hampden County) to try to see some of the out-of-the-ordinary (for us, at least) herps in our fine state.

We arrived at roughly 10 AM, ready to roll. We headed down to a vernal pool (that still had a good amount of water in it) to look for Ambystoma! Our last time here, we saw more Spotted Salamanders than we could count! (It was right before Big Night out there). We also got toasted by the mountain so we planned to take it a bit easier this time.

Andrea struck first. While I was "looking for Woods Frogs" (it was a long drive), she found a Wood Frog!

Next up was a couple of Redbacks.

Next, we lucked out and found one of our targets... a Marbled Salamander!
Endangered in MA, these are super-exciting to see!

Andrea found the first Eft of the day, a real brute!

Tiny Wood Frogs were everywhere! We decided early on to pick and choose who to photograph. This guy stayed still long enough, so he was immortalized!

Here's a super-spotty Leadback! Leads are pretty common in this population for some reason.

Here's a Wood Frog doing his Kilroy impression.

Right around now, I heard Andrea yell over "I got an Eft!" I said I'd be over in a bit and I chased after this Pickerel Frog for a while.

After a bit, she said "Do you want to see this Jeffs?" Huh? I thought she'd said "eft"!! No, she had found our first Jefferson's Salamander of the year!!
A species of special concern in MA.
That's our second target for the day... everything else would be gravy!

In fact, we had to start to put a moratorium on Wood Frogs and Redbacks, so prevalent they were! As soon as I did that, I flipped this Redback... his twisty-turney body just cracked me up!

Just as soon as I had said "you know, we should check out all of the tiny Woods that we see... some might be something else", we found this Gray Tree Frog!
These guys are always a delight!

Our eighth vernal poolside species (!) was a small Spring Peeper!

Right around here, we headed up, toward the sky. Andrea had a genius idea; since we always get lost here, we were cutting some pink yarn and tying it to conspicuous bushes and branches to find our way back. We figured that, even if we get lost, the local birds will have pretty nests. I'm pleased to say that it did indeed work!

Our first herps found on the ascent was a trio of Efts, up and about.
eft trio
The weather? Over cast and very very moist. Eft weather.

The way we went up, to avoid super steep, rocky climbs, took us on a new route. Unfortunately, we didn't get to hit many of our favorite flipping spots. But we found some new ones. We even flipped this super badass Garter youth!
Every inch a tough guy!
Needless to say, we loved him!

The higher we got (altitude-wise, that is) the more scarce herps were. We searched some ace spots but came up short. Of course, the cool, moist weather could be playing with us. We flipped a few Redbacks but overall, we were just hiking. This Peeper threw us a bone with a nice pose.

We reached what we would call our summit for the day. A lovely sunny perch overlooking the Connecticut River.
We found a large Racer skin under a rock but saw no snakes. It looked good for the three most endangered snakes in the state as well so as we poked around, we were very careful. Andrea found species #10, a dark American Toad!
Our first double digit species day in MA in a long time!

We rested a bit and headed back down, finding our yarn knots when needed. Efts were still walking around, though the sun had attempted to poke out a few times.

We were off trail flipping some flat rocks when Andrea said, "shhh... I heard a swoosh..." She had indeed... this Garter was between us!
He took off fast and I made a spectacular left-handed grab; I wanted a closer look.

Our last herp in this spot was a Wood Frog that had some lovely red dorsolateral stripes.

So, we got to the car, sat for a minute, and headed into the park proper. We had seen pictures of some hotel ruins and we wanted to find them. We parked in a spot that was buzzing with humans. Not our kinda place but we hit the trail to the ruins. Up. Up. Up. It was a paved road and we looked but saw nothing on the way. I spied a spot where grounds crews dump sticks and cut grass and it looked interesting, so we checked it out. It was good enough for a Pickerel and a Toad!

Frankly, I wasn't expecting another mile+ hike up a mountain but that's what we got! We saw a bunch of millipedes but no more herps. But when we reached the ruins, it was worth it. They're spectacular. I took the hard way up.
Of course, it looks snakey as hell!
But all we found was another beautiful American Toad, who was happy to pose in style.

The story of the hotel is here.

We explored the mountain top around the ruins, which was also lovely... especially when Andrea was in my line of sight!

We went towards the edge (Eastern edge?) and there are some sheer rock faces. This Toad was amusing us... he just walked straight up the walls like it wasn't vertical!

After that, we headed down. We spent a short while talking with a very nice and informative DCR officer at the visitor's center. It's great to meet someone who is interested in their job and doing it well... especially when said job is helping people to learn about nature!

We refueled (got more water from a fountain) and headed over to a favorite stream, hoping to find some salamanders. Dare we dream of a Spring? Well, we'd look but would be happy with Dookies and Two-Lines!

Upon stepping into the stream, Andrea flipped a massive Dook but we were unable to procure it for pictures. I had similar problems with a Two-Line! The DCR guy, who had just gotten off work, came by to see if we'd found anything and we had to disappoint him! Of course, within 5 minutes of his heading home, we found three photo-friendly Northern Duskys! (Or, Dookies as I like to call them!)

This is the setting where we photographed Species #12, a Two-Lined Salamander!

We weren't finding Springs, again, and we headed back on land, still peeking under logs and finding Two-Lines and Dooks.
Some of these Two-Lines are monsters! Almost 4 inches long!

So, while we were hungry and tired (we'd been there for roughly 7 1/2 hours) we still wanted to look at the pond. Species greedy? Perhaps. But come on... I could see distant Painteds through the binoculars!

As I was angling for a better picture, Andrea said she saw a Water Snake slide under a rock at water's edge. Could said rock be flipped? Yes, and I emerged with a handful of nippy, wet Nerodia!
Slightly in the blue but still beautiful. Species #14!
The bleeding on my wrist stopped fairly quickly.

I went in for a better shot of the turtles... another one had started to hoist up!
Of course, this upset the balance and only one was left when the dust settled.

Another flippable rock... right near a spillway. Sure sign of Water Snakes underneath. I flipped and saw a mess of Nerodia coils! I reached in and grabbed a handful. To my surprise, I only had one large snake!
Luckily, I had her nearish the noggin, which was good, because she didn't have enough neck length to perforate me. I gave her some more length and she kindly didn't nip. Musked the hell out of me though.
She was also in the blue. It matched my shirt. Then she whipped me in the face with her tail.
I had it coming.

We flipped a few stones away from the pond and it was sick with new Pickerel Frogs. They were just all over! This Eft was nearby, just walking along.

Our last photographed herp of the day, before we admitted that we were toast and needed food, was this lovely blond Peeper.

Sure, we over did it. Over 8 hours of non-stop hiking/ herping... but we got fourteen species! And get this... only three reptiles! That makes eleven 'phibs and not a single Bullfrog or Green Frog!!! I call that a successful and weird day!

We stopped for Mexican chow on the way home and only the burning of my tongue kept me from falling asleep at the wheel! But what a glorious day of herps!