Monday, April 27, 2015

SKUNKED! 2015 Limps On...

It is with heavy heart that I have to recap three days worth of herping in one post, but that is the case. And it's going to be a short post, too. The weather is... well... here it is.

We took Friday, April 24th off because we wanted to go check out the Chiller Theatre show in New Jersey that night. We decided to take a quick walk through Cutler on the way and be on the road by noon. Sadly, it was only 50°. But the sun was up and warm and we figured Racer Alley held some promise. On the trail along the way, we flipped a pair of Redbacks.

We made our way along the Alley but it was very cool, especially with the wind. We managed to unearth a wee Dekay's Snake, however.

That was it, but we felt very fortunate to have found anything with the short time allotted and the cool climes. We drove to Chiller, met some friends, saw some celebrities and had a lot of fun. I told Ann-Margret I loved her in Swedish. I almost added to my mammal list with The Hedgehog, but figured that was cheating.

The drive home was long and uneventful but I did it like a fucking champ! We got in after 3:30 AM... over 21 hours awake! All hail Diet Coke and excitement! Lights out by 4:30. And... out the door by 11 AM because we had to herp!!! We wanted to check out a nearby spot in the Blue Hills.

It was still cool, about 55°, but in the sun it was warm. This Painted Turtle was enjoying a Saturday morning sunbath.
Off to a good start!

Two and a half miles later, we finally flipped our next herps... a few Redbacks.

I mean, the sun was warm! But it just wouldn't stay out. We walked along forever, through such choice habitat as this:
... nothing.

This summed it up as we walked the two and a half miles back with no animals...

Oh well, I was completely spent anyway. I put out the light at 8:54 PM that night and didn't get out of bed until 9:07 AM Sunday morning. We tried to get ready fairly quickly; we wanted to make our first trip to Boyden of the year. Unfortunately, Matt and Teá were otherwise engaged, but Matt was whetting our appetites by PMing us photos of snakes they had seen. Dekay's! Garters! We hurried ourselves south to Taunton.

Boyden looked no worse for wear post-Winter. Surprisingly, the garage roof hadn't completely collapsed from snow. We'd have put money on it being flattened.
Flipping in there is an adventure.

Cool though it was, we were sure we'd find something. A glance at the sky told us there would be no sun, however... black clouds threatened. Andrea flipped a Garter in the Garden but it was able to sneak deep into the wall with no picture. Oh well. Where there's one, there's more. Except there wasn't.

No frogs, no turtles, no snakes, no toads. The sun that Matt and Teá had enjoyed in town was nowhere to be seen here. Boyden was barren. We are starting to wonder if some of our animal populations actually survived this harsh Winter. Great Meadows, Fowl and now Boyden have been conspicuously light on herps. Thank goodness for Redbacks. Anyone who isn't a fan of the most common land vertebrae in the Northeast US, turn back now.

Here are some of our Redback friends from the day.

As Maurice Chevalier once said, "Thank heavens for leetle Redbacks."

Another 4 hours of searching in the cold. (It never did hit 60°) We went to Mandarin Buffet (sorry, Matt) to eat the pain away.

While 2015 continues to suck, I'm starting to wonder if I'm just too old.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Earth Day, Hump Day, Herp Day. 4-22-2015

Last weekend was truly a disaster. We had to dump our herping plans due to family crises, hospitals, worry and driving. Lots and lots of driving. And worry. As much as we like to pretend otherwise, herping is not our top priority. But it makes us happy and keeps us sane.

The 10th day of non-herping was sunny and mild. A friend of mine had mentioned a place not far from our workplace that looked right up my alley. She had heard peepers and seen a smooshed Garter Snake. She gave me explicit directions and I decided to check it out after work. It turned out to be only 10 minutes away, in Middlesex County.

I hit the trail at about 3:30 under partly cloudy skies. The wind was picking up but it was still fairly warm. The place had survived the winter but was still barren and flattened from the weight of the snow. It will be lush before too long. This was a good way to see it and get the lay of the land. I went a bit off trail, attracted by a piece of debris. Under said piece of debris, a small, beautiful Garter Snake!
Non-smooshed and orangey.

Still off the marked trail, I flipped a Redback.

OK, this was already worth my while. I got back onto the main path and scared some deer that went flouncing away. I flipped as I traveled along the marked trail. This place was full of big Redbacks!

I took an unmarked trail that went around a vernal pool and I could hear toads and peepers calling. My time was up and as I pondered where would be a good spot to turn and get back on to the marked trail, I discovered that I was where I saw the Garter and first Redback! Ooh!! Loopy! That saved me some time.

As I took the trail out, I couldn't help but feel like I was being watched. It was uncanny.

I looked around the wetlands near the parking area and saw a toad go diving into the water and swim to safety beneath an underwater rock. No photo, so maybe it never really happened.

My time was short because I wanted to pick up Andrea at the train station so we could head over to Alandale to herp. She too needed some time in nature to wipe away the stress of the weekend. We got to the Woods at about 6 PM and hit the trails. It was down to about 61° and clouds had moved in. Still, it wasn't long before she flipped a beefy Leadback who would not sit still for the camera.

The streams were running strong so finding this Two-Lined Salamander was easier said than done.

We hiked for 2.39 miles through Allandale, flipping Redbacks and Two-lines but saw no signs of Spotted Salamanders (it's been about two years since we have here) or Garters (none last year here). The specimens we did see were gorgeous, though.
allendale redbacks
^This big Leadback thinks he's a Jeff!

allendale two-lines

We ended on a Redback note, near where we thought the Spotted vernal is. (We saw no egg masses but it was getting dark and rainy and we weren't thinking of tromping out into the middle of the pond.) The Redbacks did their finest ostrich impressions.

So, Wednesday Night Herping felt damn good and produced some fine animals. It dawned on us later that is had been Earth Day. We celebrated like we do as often as possible... enjoying the Earth and its natural beauty. Every day is Earth Day, is it not?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

In need of turtles... 4-12-2015

After two successful days of herping, we decided we needed some shells. Some chelonians... some turtles. We had planned to check out a wonderful spot in Middlesex County for just that. To our delight, Gone Herping Steve wanted to herp with us and that's always a pleasure. We got to the place a bit after 10AM. Steve had warned us that it was a bit flooded and animals weren't plentiful. (He'd arrived a bit earlier.)

I added a bird to my life count first... #129, Ring-necked Ducks!
Ring-necked Duck #67 Life List #129

Steve was right... not much was up yet. I figured that with the wide open spaces and direct sunlight, it would be hopping. But no, nary a frog was up. I got Mammal Year #4, though... a Muskrat.
Muskrat mammal #4

We finally scored some Painted Turtles, my first good look at them this year!

We walked along the path that is usually very Gartery but the river had swelled quite a lot and the areas that we often see snakes were mostly under water. I hope they didn't drown in their dens. We finally reached an impassable point and turned back. Andrea spied Mammal Year #5 then... an American Mink!
American Mink mammal #5
This little cutie put on quite a show for us.
American Mink mammal #5
American Mink mammal #5

We made up our minds (pretty early on) to head down the road a ways and check out a different place. On the way out, this handsome Painted Turtle bid us farewell.

We got to the next place, in the next county and hit the trails. Right away, there was a decent sized garter just off the path.

As the wooded area gave way to pond viewing, the magnificence of Painted Turtles filled out eyes, hearts and yes... souls.
Nothing soothes the pain and heartache of a long winter like turtle stacks. Added to these sights was the cacophony of Wood Frogs in the distance. Sublime.
(These last two males just had their nails did.)

The place was a bit flooded but we already had soakers so we didn't care. We headed toward the sound of the Wood Frogs. Steve flipped a nice Redback first.

The frogs were loud... Steve pulled an interesting one out of a puddle.

The nearby vernal was a mass of action and noise.
Ride 'em cowboy!

Back to the trail, more Painteds were seen.

A spot which is usually filled with dozens and dozens of basking turtles had just this one... the King of the Hood.

We had expected more turtles and snakes than we were seeing but to be fair, the place still had a lot of frozen spots.

But a sure-fire beaver dam delivered the squamate goods... a fiery bright Garter was poking around the top...
while a dusty, tannin dyed guy snuggled in the sun nearby.

The next dam had two more Garters sunning. Now that's more like it!
OK, that second guy is posed, but he was too tough to get a picture of otherwise.

We went on a bit but it was more frozen and we decided to just turn back and stick to the sunny trails. There was a ditch in the trail that had a small board placed over it. Surely that would hold my ever-increasing bulk. I swear I only hit the edge of it, but I went right in, water up to the knee!
Dumb lummox!

There was a couple hiking right behind us, so my embarrassment was shared among more than just our small group. On the way back, we all stopped at the dam and there was a third Garter exploring.
This little guy was on a mission... he paid us no attention and even crawled right over Andrea's feet!

The dusty guy from the first den had shifted into a better position to photograph, too.

Thus ended our first full herping weekend of the year. Three adventures in three days. It's really hard to explain how great this makes us feel. I mean sure... we've had some ticks, sunburn and musk but it's all a part of the experience. A nice burrito at Moe's on the way home didn't hurt, either. Happy Spring!