Monday, April 6, 2015

Sly2K and Midnight in the Haunted Swamp. 3-31-2015 thru 4-4-2015

We were told by a certain mystic that we would indeed find a snake in March. At least I thought that's what she said. But on March 31st, time was running out and it was still pretty damn cold. I took my usual peeks through snakey places but came up empty. (I did, however, find this plump Redback in my friend's yard.)

So while others might complain that listening to some swami bullshit is a sure way to disappoint oneself, I took it as my own misunderstanding. Perhaps she meant "within a couple of weeks"... I don't know. The truth of the matter is, Thursday, April 2nd, it was somewhat warm (almost 60°) but more importantly, it was sunny. So I ditched work a bit early and got to a local herping spot to try my luck. The snow and ice has been melting rapidly. The ponds were looking ready for salamanders to frolic, should the nighttime temps stay high enough. A flip of the rock I call Old Reliable got me a four-pack of Redbacks!
Not a bad flip at all! Look at the tailless one heading down the hole!

My point of interest was over where we found Sly in 32° temps a couple of years ago. We know there is a den there. I also knew the sun would be hitting the side. So at 3:30 PM, I looked at the mound and saw... this:
First snake of 2015!
Wha... wha... What?? That's a Garter Snake! First of the year!
First snake of 2015!

Well, I'll be honest. I was herping without Andrea and I felt bad, so I put him into a pillowcase and brought him home for the night so she could enjoy him. He musked her on my side of the bed. Oh well.

So, I brought him back to exactly where I found him at about 11 AM the next morning. I named him Sly2K. I know Sly2.0 makes more sense, but I like 2K better so shut up. It was cool and drizzly and he just sat there for a bit, then poked his head in between two leaves and disappeared like a string of spaghetti. He knew exactly where the opening to his den was.

On the night Sly2K spent with us, the temps never got below 40° and it was going to rain off and on all day Friday. And be mild. This meant it was optimal conditions for salamander migration! We had volunteered to go to a spot that gets horrible migration roadkill and help the amphibians cross the road. I even bought a new bucket. But the person in charge of the whole thing was a bit flaky and couldn't decide if it was going to be Big Night or not. Further confusing things, Gone Herping Steve noted that some sperm packets had been dumped in a couple of vernals nearby on Thursday night. It became clear that there probably wasn't going to be an actual Big Night this year... it was going to be sporadic... it will come in spurts, so to speak.

So, we made last minute plans to meet our friends in Bristol County again, since we had a productive night the week before. We were heading right into the heart of the famed, haunted Bridgewater Triangle. Our meeting time was 10 PM on the foggy, drizzly night of April 3rd... Mwahahaha!

To add a few more sets of eyes, Teá, Matt S and Jess joined us this week. Good friends... good herping... good protection should Bigfoot and UFOs show up. We hit the trail by the light of our headlamps and flashlights... and the occasional spooklights.

The path had not cleared completely, but it was far better than 8 days prior. The pools along the side had filled and become more active as well. We checked out one not too far in and saw a bunch of Wood Frogs waking up for the season. 
No calling at all yet. Haunted Wood Frogs? Perhaps... but "first of year" at any rate!

The coolest thing happened then... this little thing came swimming up at me... a red thing!!! What was it?? I was a Redback! Man, they swim really well!

Leaving the pool (I was lagging behind due to a tender back and that Redback!), I heard Andrea exclaim "Spotted!" Sure enough, a large (female, Matt checked... the brute!) Spotted Salamander sat half way up a snow bank.
First of year!

The best thing about herping on a warm, drizzly night is seeing common species like Redbacks out and about, motoring along the path with you!

We started to hear a distant growling sound and kidded ourselves that it must be ATVs driving around in the dark. Just to humor ourselves, we got off the road for a moment. It was then that I snapped a photo of Andrea from the other side of the path. Through the fog, you can just make out a humanoid creature standing right behind her. A Pukwudgie? I don't know... I didn't see anything until I uploaded this chilling picture.

Our next herp, our FOURTH species, was the always adorable Four-Toed Salamander. This little guy was walking along the icy path. First of Year!

Further up, a relatively big specimen was walking the trail with us.

Bringing up the rear as I was, it was unlikely that I was going to find anything before anyone else. But, it just so happened that everyone had walked past this half buried Blue-spotted Salamander. My hunched back was closer to the ground, perhaps, but it felt good to find something for the team.

It is said that all of our Blue-spotted Salamanders in Massachusetts are mixed to some degree with Jefferson's Salamanders. To me, the Blues we see look like Blues and the Jeffs look like Jeffs. This specimen, however, looks like he has a bit of both.
Look at that long, flat tail.. his face looks slightly Jeffy too. At any rate, he's a big beauty and was a welcome sight.

Some salamanders are just not that bright. If I was a small, moist creature, I might not choose the sandiest route to cross a trail. But that's just me. That said, there is a Four-toed Salamander under all of this dirt somewhere.
Yes, this picture cracks me up big time.

A very handsome Redback walking the path...

This Blue-spotted was motoring along, completely oblivious to us. He was tough to photograph as he kept strutting out of frame.

We heard more ghostly sounds and started seeing spooklights getting closer. Just before they reached us, the demons turned into teenagers on ATVs who looked very confused to see 7 adults foraging through the haunted swamp after midnight.

We were heading back now. We had been having very good luck but it was getting late. This little Four-toed was walking along. He was too small for me to get a decent shot. Adorable.

I heard some squeeing further up. When I got there, this is what I saw.
What could be whipping the paparazzi into such a lather?

Why, this beautiful Wood Frog, of course!

A little further up, this fatty was out and about.

Our last herp of the night was this big Wood Frog found atop a knee-high snowbank.

So we spent about 3 hours herping in the darkness of a haunted swamp and had a blast!!! We didn't get to bed until after 2 AM and for an old man like me, that means something. But surely we'd just be sleeping all day Saturday... right?

Well, Saturday the 4th turned out to be a pretty sunny day! It was cooler and very windy but in the sun, it wasn't too bad. I figured that, since I had found a wild snake on the year already and Andrea hadn't been able to yet, I thought we'd go to see if Sly2K was around. Oddly enough, he was!
This is him... there's a cross-cut scar about 6 inches from his head. He had returned almost to the exact spot where I saw him two days earlier!

We had run into a couple of gents out birding and they said they'd seen "6 or 7" snakes over by Sly's Den. We only saw Sly2K, though a pup had just torn through while we were there. More interestingly, they had seen a "big black snake that struck and rattled its tail. Not a Water Snake, but all black". They showed us a picture they had taken. Sure enough, it was a gorgeous Racer. We tried like hell to find it but couldn't.

In fact, all we saw for a while was this one Redback!

Coming back, we got to Sly's Den again and saw this...
I caught him to see if it was Sly2K. It was not. No scar. Andrea took him and he promptly crawled into her sleeve. She had to take her coat off to retrieve him.

She put him down and he crawled away from the mound. I was saying aloud to him "you're going the wrong way!" Then I saw where he was heading... towards two other Garter Snakes!
Sly3K disappeared while we watched these two forage. This had turned out to be a very worthwhile trip!

Last herp of the weekend? This monster Redback!

So, while it's still somewhat cool, the ice is melting and the sun is trying its best. Luckily, we have some local herps that are as sick of winter weather as we are. Hopefully, we can get out to some other spots soon and really get this season started.


  1. Great to see some wood frogs! Heard a few chorusing, along with a bunch of peepers, at a pool I know in Plymouth County. A friend of a friend is starting to see brown snakes in her yard as well. Spring has come, the grass is ris, etc, etc.
    Pumped for the rest of April! Keep on herpin' and bloggin'.

    1. Thanks a ton, Dom! Your input means a lot to us!! See you in the field, my friend!!