Friday, May 29, 2015

The Keystone State Part 3- May 24th and 25th, 2015

The Petting Zoo. The Wall. The easiest place on Earth to herp.

After our Everglades trip (her birthday present), Andrea asked me where I wanted to go for my birthday, I said without hesitation, "the petting zoo". Not too far and a place so easy to find multiple snake species, many local herpers think it is cheating to go there. As a New England herper, living in a place where every Redback is fought for, the sound of this appealed to me greatly. Could it be as great as they say?

We got a little bit lost finding the entrance to the place but found a Northern Flicker grazing on a lawn with some Robins on our wrong turn. I still needed it for my count, so that was nice.
Northern Flicker #81

We got to the place by 10, the magic hour, and it was crowded already. Many humans come here. No worries... if it is as herp heavy as they say, everyone knows it and is OK with it. We had rocky walls to our left...
and a running river to our right.
We were gonna destroy it here!

We explored the rocky area closely, noticing that it was damn hot already. Whereas the first two days were cooler, this day it was steamy. Already over 80°. We were hoping we weren't too late for things to be warming up. We got to the wall, which is right along a bike path and started going very slowly. I shined a light into every crevice and bent over for about a mile, trying to miss nothing. And that's what we saw... nothing.

For about 2 hours, we explored every nook and cranny and got nuthin'. People were riding past saying "there's tons of snakes in there", but we weren't seeing the proof. Admittedly, I was half expecting snakes piled deep, maybe in tanks with their Latin names on them. I certainly didn't expect to have to work here! We started to wonder if we would be the first people to get completely skunked by The Wall. Finally, Andrea spied a 5-Lined Skink, a nice male.
I couldn't even find him in my camera's screen I was so out of it.

Finally, after the two hour mark, Andrea saw a group of Northern water Snakes spilling out of the wall.
Then a train came and they all retreated back to the inside. OK, at least we had snakes, however fleeting it was.

I got super excited when I saw this viper head peering out of a hole.
Rock snake
Yup, this fucking rock still looks like a snake noggin to me.

Andrea was able to photograph another Skink that I couldn't find.

We were toasted after three hours. We went to the water and cooled ourselves off.

We were a bit worried. How embarrassing to be the first people to fail at The Wall! Then again, how many people publicly disclose their failures? Well, I do. After resting, we started forward again and then just said "fuck it"! It was a beautiful day and we were missing better places while we walked along this parched, barren wasteland. Our legs were tired and we were cranky. So we turned around. Fuck this place.

Walking back, we saw this.
Blimey! That's a Black Rat Snake... impossibly rare in Massachusetts.
It was one of our targets for the trip. Yay! The Wall redeemed itself for a moment.
He had probably just filled up on water as there was a wet spot nearby. He spit up some on Andrea's shirt. I made her turn around for this shot.

We put him down and got a wonderful display of the great Rat Snake ability of climbing.
And then he was gone.

Suddenly, I wasn't as tired anymore. I even got my camera on a Skink!

Our searching for coil-muffins on the way in had our eyes trained for such things, so I don't regret doing it, even though we had come up empty; our eyes were trained and ready when we saw this:
Finally, our other target... a grumpy little Copperhead.
This wee nipper moved us (in our minds) from failure to hey, we did OK.

Another trio of Nerodia cemented that.

So, the hour and a half going back was far superior to the three hours going in. At any rate, we were toast and wanted to check some other places out again. This place had become ridiculously crowded by now anyway. So, we got some ice cream (instead of water) and headed over to the Wood Turtle spot from the day before. We wanted some cool stream herping.

Having changed into water shoes and boots, we settled in for cooler herps.

A few Dookies greeted us.

Andrea found our first Wood Frog of the weekend.

Saints be praised, I got a Spring larvae.

Best of all, we were cool and happy... and away from humans.

We weren't exactly racking up a high species count, though this little Redback helped.

A Dookie:

A wife:
This is all stuff I love.

We went up to peruse the field for a while, secretly hoping for a Wood Turtle or a Boxie. A hot rock in the middle had a perfectly fitting Garter curled up under it, taking a snooze.
I poked him to make sure he was alive. He was.
No dorsal stripe there, buddy.

We went on for a bit but to be honest, I was very tired and extremely thirsty. Remember, we'd opted for ice cream instead of liquid. We headed back. In a stream, I flipped a Wood Frog who sat there like nothing had happened.

I could flip no longer. I dragged myself along, staring at the ground. Was that a grasshopper? No!! A wee teeny Spring Peeper was hopping along in the grass.

Almost to the car, Andrea noticed some rocks we hadn't seen. No way am I going to flip any of those. But I did and under the largest one was our last herp... a tiny Ringer.

We headed back to the hotel to wash up and plan on some REAL food. We looked up restaurants in the hotel brochure. The restaurant in the hotel didn't seem to exist, though it was well advertised. An arrow pointed outside. Maybe the McDonalds across the street was what they meant. No thanks.

We headed out going the wrong way but figured we'd find something. We saw a place called Robert Christians... superb food at great prices. Sounds good. We went in and they had vegetable stir-fry on the menu! SCORE! It came and it was a bag of thawed out Stop and Shop Rancho-Fiesta drowned in soy sauce... not even remotely what it was described as. Upon seeing it, Andrea said "That looks horrifying". It was. I barely ate any. Oh well, I filled up on bread. Then we went back to the hotel and passed out.

We wanted to hit the road early the next day but we also wanted to revisit a place or two before we left. It was Memorial Day. We headed over to the Green Snake place that Bob had taken the group to. On the road in, I got Mammal #9, Eastern Cottontails.
Eastern Cottontail (mammal #9)

We didn't get any Greens but Andrea flipped a wee Ringneck and I got a red Garter.

The boat launch was filthy with horny Red-spotted Newts.
There were dozens as well as tons of (probably) Wood Frog tadpoles.

We headed to the path and Andrea spied this young Water Snake coming out of the rocks for the day. It was already warm.

In fact, many Water Snakes were warming up on the rocks next to the water. I can't believe we didn't see any here the other day.

Andrea found another Ringlet.

We finally found a Green Frog after hearing tons of them.

Unfortunately, we also saw a dead Nerodia... shot in the head. The murderer was an excellent shot. It was recent.

Before heading back, we saw some frisky Sunfish.
Sunfish doin' it

More Water Snakes had come out.

A guy fishing about 20 yards away (and knew we were looking for snakes) said there was one swimming near him so I ran over. As I ran over, I missed these ones that Andrea saw.
^Well, there's the tail of a big one!

My swimmer was still out.

We headed over to one last spot before the drive home. Happily, we found a brilliant Redbelly there.

Then Andrea got a handful of Ringnecks.

Our last herp of the trip was a gorgeous Red Eft who was under a moist log.

That's that! We headed home. We needed lunch before too long and I finally got my much-coveted Veggie Burger at a truckstop. I also got a Slowpoke for the road... a candy I hadn't had since I was a kid. Extra points for the turtle.

I'd love to say we had an uneventful trip home, but we hit a couple really bad patches of traffic and I started to lose my shit. (I had work the next day and wasn't happy with the wasted time). I put all of my energy into not blowing a gasket and wound up exhausting myself after a while. Andrea had to take over the driving. It was embarrassing, I hate losing control, even a little bit. It took a day or two to get over it. But getting home and editing pictures and writing these last three posts have been the cure I needed.

We had a fantastic time, saw 25 species of herps. I added a few birds and a couple of mammals and, most importantly, we got to spend time on Saturday with folks that I respect and really like a lot. I'd have to say that I had a kick-ass birthday weekend.


  1. Ah, Pennsylvania. The *other* Commonwealth.
    Looks like you guys had a fantastic trip. I've always thought of Pennsylvania as Massachusetts' better looking younger sister- most of the same species, just a hell of a lot more common.
    Hope you had a great birthday!

    1. Thanks, Dom! It was great. But yeah, out of the 25 species we saw, only the Slimy and Red Salamanders can't be found up here. No lifers this trip but a hell of a lot of fun and animals.

    2. Oh... and Skinks. I wish we had skinks...