Friday, March 27, 2015

Nature Stick's Week of Worries

OK, Boston has broken records with snow and shitty weather... it's OK to stop now. But it wouldn't. Friends in states south of us have been out finding salamanders and frogs, happy in the knowledge that Spring has sprung. We, however, still have heaps of snow and ice.

On Friday, March 20th, I went to a nearby vernal pond to check out the progress.
Umm... nope. With a warm-up mid-next-week in the forecast, it was worth a peek but this pool wasn't going to thaw any time soon.

On the following Sunday, our good friends Teá and Mike once again invited us to join them on a search for birds, this time on the North Shore. With Matt S. also along for the adventure, we had a good group of people and many sets of eyes should anything be up and about.

When we stepped outside of our house to await our pick up (thanks, guys!), we noticed it was pretty fucking windy. Surely it wouldn't be bad up North... on the ocean! Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures and we all wanted some nature, dammit! Yeah, it was pretty damn windy when we hit Gloucester, but it was pretty.

Andrea stepped into the middle of The Evil Dead and barely broke free before being traumatized by these branches which were indeed... alive.
Why was she dressed like this? Because it was barely above freezing and the wind chill brought it down to "Holy Shit!"

There were a few birds around, some Buffleheads and this Scoter.

A female Red-breasted Merganser was floating by.

Tide pools provided us with a little bit of nature, like periwinkle shells. And yes, Teá was slogging through snow and ice and scaling rocks with her foot still in a boot.

After some lunch, we headed up to Halibut Point in Rockport. Our goal: Harlequin Ducks. We parked and headed toward the ocean...

When we got there, the wind was ferocious; biting cold gusts slashing right through to the bone. It was full-on painful. I hid behind rocks, trying to shield myself and I went into full-on pussy-mode. I tried to stick my head up and photograph far off dots in the water that may or may not have been animals. I finally went down to where the others had braved it, the wind cutting through me like a chainsaw. There were some Harlequin Ducks out there, I was told. So I steadied myself, with tears freezing to my cheeks, and tried to photograph the ducks that were bobbing up and down on huge, violent waves. My camera shook in the wind. These two shots are the very best I could get and I feel pretty good about getting them at all! Harlequin Duck, Life List #127...
Harlequin Duck #62 Life #127
Harlequin Duck #62 Life #127
To make me feel like even more of a weakling, these ducks are sleeping in the tumultuous water while I whine like a baby, dressed in layers.

We pretty much all agreed that atop that hill overlooking the ocean, we were the coldest and most uncomfortable we had been all Winter!! But we survived to tell the story and I wouldn't change anything about it!

So, that mid-week warm-up I'd mentioned? Well, after driving to work in 19° on both Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday showed signs of promise by the late afternoon. It had reached the mid-40s. I checked the local vernal again but very little had changed. Thursday, March 26th, however, was supposed to hit the mid-50s (!) and be rainy! Could some confused salamanders emerge, lookin' for love?

Some friends were thinking the same thing and asked if we wanted to join them for a moonlight hike through a spot in Bristol County. Our hopes were to see some Blue-spotted salamanders and/ or Wood Frogs... the former being a species that likes to come out a bit earlier than others. Driving an hour to see a salamander, in the rain, in the dark? You betcha!

We met up at about 9 PM and hit the trails. It was still about 50°. The trails, of course, were still covered with ice. Oops. Perhaps we came a bit early! Still, intrepid herpers that we are (read: insane animal lovers), we pushed on in hopes of something... anything!!!

There were a few bare spots where the sun had melted the snow over the past few weeks and these were inspected closely. Pools were forming below the trail. This would be a good place, eventually! I was exploring one of the clear spots when our friend spied exactly what we had come for... "Blue-spotted!"
This little beauty was trucking along the edge of the path in a clear spot... tiny and vibrant, he instantly made our wet clothes and cameras worth it!
Success felt great, if a bit foreign!

A bit further up, while getting out of the way of a possible ATV that never turned up (ghostly lights? This place does have a haunted reputation!), right at our feet was another laterale!
This cantankerous lil fella made it very hard to get a good shot as did the rain that then decided to pour down in buckets.
This is where we all started to get really soaked... the bag I had over my camera had filled with water, all of our clothes were drenched through to the skin... we'd found what we came for and we decided to turn back before pneumonia could get its icy fingers latched onto our spines.

But due to a very good set of eyes, a last Blue-spotted was found, swimming in a puddle on the ice!

So we consider the night a huge success! We saw exactly what we set out to see... some confused salamanders. Soaked to the skin, we said our thanks and farewells; we were all happy with ourselves.

Despite the snow and ice that makes in not seem so, Spring is definitely here.
Our first Massachusetts Spring!


  1. Man, you guys are hardcore! I actually got a chill reading this and looking at the pics. That blue-spotted salamander is a beauty. For a moment there, I thought this might be the first post without a true herp spotting. I thoiught you might just go with all the ducks! lol

    1. Thank you, kind sir! It HAS happened where we've had a herpless post, but we prefer to have at least one or two!! It's up to the animals, though!