Friday, October 31, 2014

Ending October... 10-31-2014

We were pretty sure that with the weather changing, last Saturday was going to be our last big(gish) herp day and, as of a week later, that has come to pass. We made an attempt at a confused Dekay's Snake in our friend's yard on Sunday, Oct. 26th, but found none. We did, however, find a six-pack of Redbacks!

I made some attempts after work on Monday and Wednesday but came up empty. I did mange a decent shot of a Song Sparrow (#60) that was hopping along the path at Cutler on Wednesday, though.

So, October is over and we're officially into "I hope we can see anything" season! On a good note, when tallying up my birds, I realized I had given #15 to two species. So, I sit at 96 rather than 95! Only 4 to go to reach my Big Year goal! With two full  months to go and, I'm told, some good winter birds here, I feel pretty confident.

Did you ever get the feeling that this post was a mere space-filler? You'd be right.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Is 2014 over in the Northeast? 10-25-2014

Well, even if the calendar says it's late October, I'm just not ready to give it up yet. Besides, there was a lot of rain all week and we wanted to see what sort of effect it had on the dry landscape of Norfolk County. Specifically, we wanted to see if certain vernals filled in. Plus, it was going to be in the mid-60s so there was the possibility of a late snake.

We met up with Matt S, Teá, and our friends R & R. With so many eyes looking around, we were sure to see whatever was out there. In truth, it was pretty chilly and we saw nothing for quite a while. Still, we had lots of fun and I always learn something with this group. (Our specialties are varied!) Finally, we started to flip a few Redbacks.
And a Leadback!

As hoped, our vernals were wet... maybe more soggy than filled, but it's a start.

We finally got to our Two-Lined spot and Matt found the first one.

I followed with another.

Everyone set out an a hill filled with rocks searching for Spotted Salamanders and Ringneck Snakes. We inevitably came up short. Andrea found a ridiculously small Redback though.
I wish I had a dime.

Frankly, I was disappointed that we only saw these two species on a whole trip around the trail. It was certainly warm enough form a snake (in the sun) and a Spotted Sal should have been easy! Oh well. R & R had to depart but the rest of us decided to double back and hit the sunny dam area again... just in case.

It paid off when we saw a 4-pack of Painted Turtles basking!
Another angle:

This duo wasn't far from them.

But no snakes were out, so we turned back... hungry and wanting to try the sub shop that was recommended to us!  Just back into the woods, not far from the sunny dam... we saw this:
Yay!! October 25th Garter!! When we first saw him, I thought he had something in his mouth like a Wood Frog but evidently, he had a leaf stuck to his chin. He was cool.
Knowing it was likely our last snake of 2014, we all gently handled him and got stinky musk-smelling hands for it.
He slithered off happily, hopefully to his den!

I knelt beside a seep puddle to rinse my hands and Teá noticed a frog plop into the drink. She expertly hauled it ashore for a photo... a wee Pickerel Frog!
He looked a bit bewildered but he hopped back in and forgot all about us.

So, it wasn't completely over yet! We went and got some chow (thanks for the tip, R! Delicious!!) and headed over to a place in Suffolk County to poke around during the last hours of sunlight. We had decided to head out to the sunny rocks first, in case any snakes were brave enough to be up (or under sun-warmed rocks). Matt was unable to hold off and flipped a Blue-Spotted Salamander, a definite target!

He stayed with his find to get a better photograph while we went out to flip. We came up empty... the shadows had become long and it was getting cooler. I started looking for birds. Matt, who had caught up with us by now, pointed out some Yellow Rumped Warblers. I stood there trying for 15 minutes to get a decent shot. I finally got one but have remembered since that I already have this in my Big Year... #59! Hey, I worked so hard that I'm putting this picture up!
Yellow Rumped Warbler

After finally getting that shot, I shot this yellow bird a few trees over:
#95 Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum)
Turns out it's #95, a Palm Warbler!!!  And it's eating a spider!

Dusk was setting in fast, so we headed out... hoping to flip some salamanders on the way. Matt and I simultaneously flipped Blue-Spotteds! Here's his:

And here's mine.

OK, so we broke our streak of double-digit species with only six, but we had a good time with friends and got to see some beautiful animals! Is that Garter our last of the year? I wouldn't be surprised. I'll admit, I looked yesterday and today and saw nothing.

But 2014 has been an extraordinary year for herps. We have made many new friends and seen many new animals. It's not over by any means. Insanity... I mean, a love of herping will get us out all winter. But the species counts will get lower and lower. Hmmm... can another Everglades trip be far behind?!

Monday, October 20, 2014

31 Snakes has October. (Saturday the 18th, anyway)

The nights hadn't been getting too cold and it was supposed to be fairly warm on Saturday (before a temperature drop that we might not climb up from) so we picked a pretty snakey place to poke around for our possible last snake of 2014. We chose a wonderful refuge in Worcester County, MA. Mostly a turtle place, we were really hoping for at least one more  snake for the year.

It was wet and cool when we got there (with Matt S again, the son I never had and never wanted) and it took some time to get a photo of anything. Frogs kept jumping away and no turtles were up yet. Our first herp was a welcome one... Matt flipped a Four-Toed Salamander!

It was still kind of cloudy, but it was warming up. Still not enough sun for the turtles but Matt was staying near the water as we went along (hoping for a lifer Leopard Frog which are supposed to be here) when he came upon our goal... a snake!! A cloudy-blue Garter Snake!
Garter 1

OK, so at least one was out!! We went along what is normally a very turtley trail but the logs were empty. I wondered if we should bother going down a side path to a bird-blind. It's usually a good place to spy on turtles but since none were up...  Well, Andrea said "oh, why not?" so we started in. About 10 feet in, we found this late-year Northern water Snake!
He took a small chomp on me (that's my blood on the wood) but overall was a pretty well behaved cyclops snake. (Had we seen this guy earlier in the year? We have seen a number of one-cloudy-eyed Nerodia here.)

So, yeah... this path was fine. We noticed a pond that is usually hidden by trees and it looked promising for Ribbon Snakes to be nearby, but we saw none. We started back and I saw Matt fall. As I asked "are you OK?" I realized he had thrown himself (as he does) after a snake! He had found a nice Ribbon!!

While he was spending some time with his find, Andrea found a Garter that I had stepped right over! Duh!
Garter 2

I went back to photograph the well-posed Ribbon again. You don't get many chances like this with such a speedy species!
So, evidently snakes were up! Let's just keep going up the trail and see what happens!

Well, we found another Garter who was super calm.
Garter 3
Garter 3

Then we saw two Garters hanging out in the bushes.
Garter 4 and 5

An old beaver dam that is usually draped with Water Snakes held two more Garters!
Garter 6
Garter 7

Our 8th Garter was digesting a meal.
Garter 8

Hey look! Another Ribbon, also digesting!

While I was photographing the Ribbon, Matt kept stumbling across more Garters, all within 15 feet of me! Here's #9
Garter 9

#10, with a neck scar.
Garter 10

#11, who was takin' no guff!
Garter 11

That was exhilarating! We went a ways with no more snakes for a bit. We were hoping to add species to keep our 3 week streak of double-digit finds in order. We hoped for some frogs. Greens came through in spades for us!
I love their variation!

Then Andrea spotted a spotted frog... was it? Yes! A Leopard! Matt made a very nice catch on his lifer!
Gorgeous specimen, too!

Keeping with the frog theme, Andrea spied this large Wood Frog that I must have thought was a leaf!

Matt found Garter #12 who didn't much care for being found.
Garter 12

Andrea, the frog queen, caught a Peeper who turned it around and caught her!

Now, where were we? Oh yes... Matt found Garter #13.
Garter 13

Here's #14...
Garter 14

Matt went off trail and saw a most extraordinary thing. He said "there are two Garters mating"! I said "Really??" He said "if they're not mating, they're doing something that looks just like it!"

I headed up that way and as I got to the top of the small hill, I saw entwined tails! Oh my!Matt got this phone shot:
Garter 15 and 16
The female took off and I was only able to get a shot of the hemipene-blocked male.
So sorry, dude.

OK, it was officially weird. It was as snakey as a late April day! I found this Garter, #17. a big one...
Garter 17
and my foot was almost on #18, which Andrea pulled out of my big shoe's way!
Garter 18
Unable to resist, we put them together.
Garter 17 and 18

We spotted a little vernal that was full of Green Frogs. Matt found this wee shoelace, who had a small meal in him.
Garter 19

Garter #20 (!) was spotted by Andrea, taking a snooze.
Garter 20

We had done a complete circle on the path and had come back to the beginning. But we had seen no turtles yet! So very strange at this place. I mean, this is a place where we can get 30-40 turtles in a single photograph! But not today. We started up the trail again, intent on at least getting to the beaver dam area for a second time. Sure enough, Garter #21 was stretched out on the path, looking for 4-leaf clovers.
Garter 21

I went to the water's edge in hopes of a Bullfrog... we were at 8 species! No, but I saw another Ribbon Snake!
Another miraculous healing job on this guy! I wonder what got him here!

I didn't have my binoculars on me. It made scouring the far off logs a chore. But, at last, we found one intrepid Painted Turtle having a cloud-bask!

Along the trail, we saw some garters that we had already photographed, still in the same places, enjoying the warm day. We headed back towards the car. Matt lunged into the bushes, barely missing a small shoestring Ribbon Snake!! He scoured the grassy area and came up with a Presto-Change-O Garter shoestring!
Garter 22

There were plenty more Garters looking for a bite to eat on the last stretch of trail.
Like #23...
Garter 23

and #24, who looks as though he had already found that bite to eat!
Garter 24

We got to the car and were sad that we had had such a failure of a trip. Only 9 species. So, we planned to flip a few railroad ties at the entrance of the place. I had seen Redbacks there before. Of course, I found Garters #25 and #26 instead. Wee ones, too.
Garter 25 and 26

Finally, with a stroke of luck, we flipped Species #10... a glorious Redback!

Our streak was intact and we had seen thirty snakes!!! That is probably the best snake day of the year! And it's October 18th!! So, if we don't see any more snakes this year, at least we , like the two mating Garters, went out with a bang!

Of course, a great day never really ends. We went to meet some friends at a pizza pub for dinner and at about 6 PM, we pulled into the parking lot, ready to go eat. There on a stone wall next to the car was a big ol' Dekay's Snake, getting up for the night to hunt.
doyle's dekay
I had to pose it on my light colored shoe as it was getting too dark for Andrea's phone camera to work!

31 snakes on October 18th. One for each day of the month. I hope to see more reptiles this year but if I don't, can I really complain?