Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Keystone State Part 2- May 23rd, 2015

This was going to be our big day. Our big meet up. Plans had been made with friends with whom we have herped before and have become good friends with over the years... Kyle, Bob and Julie, Dave, Tom and our frequent herp-buddy Matt S. You know... people we like being around. We met up at a nearby Wawa (a wonderful convenience store/ gas station), made our teary hellos and got into carpool mode. In two vehicles, we headed over to our first spot.

Bob, Matt and Dave had hand-picked most of the spots for optimum herp encounters. When we parked at the first place, Matt was off flipping before I even had my seat-belt off, the impetuous son I never wanted. It paid off because before I had finished "looking for wood frogs", he had flipped a  Smooth Green and a Ringneck!

Off to as good start! Tom and I continued flipping in the vicinity and we got to see this tiny Ringneck together.

The others had moved across a small dam area while I was putting the Green back. As usual, I was lagging behind. I was half way across when Matt started running past me, saying "a baby and mom porcupine!" His camera was in the car. By the time my aging ass got there, the mom was in a tree but the baby was out and adorable... and is Mammal #8 on the year.

While we were  admiring the wee Porky, Julie flipped a gorgeous Green.
It made itself at home with Matt's wristband.

Bob, a superior birder as well as the herper, pointed out a Chestnut-sided Warbler to me, my Lifer #131.
Chestnut-sided Warbler #78 Lifer #131

I chipped in with a small Redbelly.

Dave flipped a Ringneck that was still very chilly... it stayed in it's coil to pose.

I wasn't sure where everyone was at this point but Andrea was deeper in the woods and found a Redback.

Tom and I happened on a small pool and a Pickerel Frog.

One more Ringer...
and we were off to the next place.

The next spot was near where we had been exploring the previous day. It had many good stones to flip. Kyle wowed us right away with this high-red Garter.
Nothing brings out the cameras faster than a breathtaking specimen!

Andrea surprised everyone with the flip of a Four-toed Salamander.
It was the last thing anyone expected to see here.

Our next spot was also near a place Andrea and I had been at the previous day. We all spread out and canvassed the area. As usual, I was lagging behind. But it worked to my advantage this time. I heard a familiar swoosh. I called out that I'd heard a slither (hopefully saying it like Barry White on the Simpsons' "Whacking Day" episode... "I hear the sexy slither of a female snake"). Bob came over to where I was as I saw a pattern and keeled scales going through a bush in front of me. I flashed back to the Hog that disappeared back in Standish 4 years ago, but Bob saw it coming out the other side, heading for a rock. "HOG"!!!! He got mustard-musked for his efforts.
She was a big, fat, beautiful in-the-blue gal and we all fell in love with her.

She's not the first Hognose to get comfortable with Andrea.
There's nothing like a cute Hoggie head sticking out from under a woman with a nice butt to attract photographers.

The crew all enjoyed the encounter with this big gal. (The snake). I had to expertly photoshop Tom into this shot.

And away she went.

Our next spot was a wonderful place even before we got to the "main attraction". A spot of Dave's, it has a lovely creek running through the low part. Kyle got out of the car and said, "I'm going to go find a Wood Turtle." No, he wasn't using a euphemism like mine. I tagged along, exploring the field along the creek. He said they might not be out yet, so he went to the water's edge. So did I. I moved downstream and flipped a Dookie.
I love stream salamanders!

Then I heard the call of the wild... "Wood"! Kyle had indeed lived up to his word. He found a Wood Turtle getting ready to exit the water!
This is the first Woodie Andrea and I had seen since 2009! What a beautiful treat.

While everyone lined up to photograph that beauty, I flipped what I thought was my Massachusetts nemesis, a Spring Salamander larvae.
Kyle pointed out some differences and it turns out I had a Red Salamander larvae. I hadn't seen one of these guys in two years, either. They are not in Mass.

I could have stayed in this spot forever but it was time to hike to higher altitudes. Along the way, I flipped a Slimy Salamander and paid the price while trying to pose him.
I had slime on me for two days.

The next couple of salamanders are familiar to us in MA... a Redback
and a Two-lined.

I was way behind everyone (again) but while bringing up the distant rear, I saw a small American Toad.

I was trying to move a piece of leaf from in front of this Two-Lined when it crawled up onto my finger.

I caught up a little, thanks to Bob pointing out some birds. I saw a distant blue speck on a tree that he'd mentioned. I fully extended my 60X Zoom and got Lifer #132, an Indigo Bunting.
Indigo Bunting #80 Lifer #132

We had reached the proper height and were told to watch our step. We were in Timber Country. Before long, we heard the holler... "Timber!" It wasn't like we could run right up to the spot... you had to watch every move here. But we slowly made our way to Tom, Bob and Kyle who had a Timber. We had to daintily step through a rattler rookery where Kyle had just seen a small Timber disappear into the rocks.

Tom had seen this: (it is his photo, too... all rights reserved)
Photo by Tom Ashford

By the time we got up there, the dark one was out and about... and gorgeous.
The light one made a brief appearance but I was too slow with the camera. But the dark beauty was a stunner.

We all poked around a bit more but found no more Timbers. Matt found a teeny matched set of Ringnecks, though.

I found an Andrea, which is my favorite find!

We made our way out. Bob found a beautiful Redbelly on the way.
Check out the silver speckled side.

Unfortunately, this is where Kyle and Tom had to leave us. They are two guys that I really enjoy spending time with. They made the day not only successful, but fun. The rest of us piled into Bob's car and headed to our last spot of the day.

Bob started things off with a tiny Ringneck with a beautiful belly.

Then Matt hit pay dirt. A gorgeous, big Timber.
A bit cantankerous but extremely photogenic.
Julie's selfie-stick found a new use. (And no, I still will never say the "S" word unless followed by a hyphen and the word stick.)

We kept an eye out for Copperheads as this was supposed to be a good spot for them. With that in mind, when I flipped a coiling, cataract-looking root under a big rock and noticed it had snakey patterns, I hooked it first to examine it. Definitely Milk. Bob was right there and took it, getting a pretty good nip as his thanks. Good thing it was a Milk.
I still have the record for flipping the ugliest Milks. This in-the-blue specimen is no great beauty... yet.

Matt came up with our first lizard of the weekend... a stunning male 5-Lined Skink that was biting him. I took it from him with no ill effects.
Andrea wasn't as lucky.
The little guy wouldn't let go!
It was pretty funny.

We had reached our turn around point and we headed back. Dave and I managed to get way ahead, taking the "we've gotta book it outta here quickly" suggestion to heart. From a distance, I heard Andrea shout a one syllable word. They had found something but I couldn't hear what. Eventually, we figured out she was saying "Hog!" Bob had flipped a flipping Hognose! And it was pissed!

This guy was not calming down and when it saw the selfie-stick in front of it... it died of embarrassment.
I had never seen a Hoggie play dead before. We got the whole show... mustard musk, drool, poop... it was disgusting but fascinating.

We flipped more cover while people photographed what was essentially a dead snake. We got another nice Skink, this one still with remnants of a blue-tail. It looked smug and quite pleased with itself with the "dead" Hoggie in the background.
I put him on Andrea's back.

We put the Hognose back. It's amazing, they even feel dead. Weird stuff. Now that I've seen it, I hope to keep future specimens  relaxed enough to not go through the whole show. It must be very taxing.

We were heading back, all together at this point. Matt was a bit to my left when he stopped and said "Timber", pointing to the ground in front of him. I didn't see anything. Until I got closer. There was a young, skinny Timber right there.
Probably a year or two old. He needs a meal.

On the way out, we needed one more herp for a collective 20 species. (My own count is lower as Matt saw a few frogs and newts that I hadn't.) There was a beautiful pool in a stream and we went looking for Springs, which Matt has seen there before. Dave got a Two-Lined...

I found nothing, but it was a beautiful place.

We went up to the car and Bob came up clutching his hands to his torso... he'd just barehanded a couple of Springs! We put the frisky guys into a dish for easier photographing.

They were our last herps of the day but sheee-it, can you say WOW? We hit almost all of our targets and then some. We all had a blast and saw some amazing sights. The group that we had all day was the best birthday present ever for me. There are a few people that I'd like to have been there as well but this group, that Dave dubbed The Dream Team, was a joy to herp with. I took this "who is taller, Bob or Matt?" picture to end the day.
And yes- Dave is so awesome, he makes a fanny-pack cool.

We got some food with Dave and then said our farewells until next time. Sunday, we would be on our own. Would we fail? Would we score? One thing is for sure... after so many hours hiking, herping and photographing 17 species myself, I slept like the dead.

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