Thursday, July 30, 2015

Herping with false teeth. 7-26-2015

On July 22nd, I had every tooth pulled out of my mouth and rigid, plastic falsies jammed in there. Needless to say, recovery has been slow and painful... Vicatin and ice for a few days. But by that Sunday, July 26th, I had to get myself ready to get back to work the next day so I let Andrea convince me a quick walk would limber up the limbs. We chose a nearby, flat paved spot that would be pretty easy. I only lasted an hour, but we did pretty well.

It was mid-afternoon, fairly hot and overcast. I wasn't going to be able to flip so I followed Andrea to some rocks while she flipped a few. A wee American Toad was our first herp sighting.

Being in nature was indeed a great feeling. There was a decent breeze blowing through my scalp. As we walked past the river, I could see a Painted Turtle and a Green Heron enjoying the day.

A couple more Painters. (Yoga!)

Andrea pointed something out to me... a Garter I had walked past. Not quite up to my game yet.
She lunged for it.
Such a beauty.

A couple more Painted Turtles were basking.

We saw another Garter Snake lounging about  but didn't get a picture as it slowly unwound itself and disappeared into the thick grass.

There was some tarp. I though I'd do my part. I flipped an edge and this Dekay's Snake flopped out and lay there like a slug. She is so much in-a-family-way that it was her only defense.
It shouldn't be long before she pops.

The same tarp was hiding this cow-flop of an American Toad.

We got to a spot where Andrea saw another Garter retreating into the taller grass. There was no chance for a photo or catch, but as Andrea pursued, she saw this fattie nestled into the ground.
It seems like it would have been far too big for the Garter to attempt to eat but one never knows, does one?

I was getting pretty tired but I wanted to see a Water Snake before turning back. This place is usually pretty good for them. It wasn't long before I got my wish in full-Nerodia Glory!
This chubby beauty was 3 feet if she was an inch. I think she was asleep too as I could get right up into her face with no reaction or tongue flicks.
We were wondering if we should poke her so she'd move into cover; this is a busy walking and dog path and she was out in the open. Before we could make up our minds, a bumblebee buzzed next to her and she darted off into the cover. Thanks, bee! I was ready to turn back now.

I eyed a rock that had produced an ornery Water Snake before (a snake whose bite I still wear as a scar) and I wondered... I figured that if I was going to lift one rock, it might as well be this one.
Yup- same snake. I knew better than to poke her to ask her to move while I replaced the rock. But I did anyway. No slashing bite this time (though she struck) and she slid away while I returned the rock to position.

A beautiful woman among some beautiful flowers.
(She thinks she looks like a Golden Retriever in this shot.)

Walking back to the car, there was a movement in the brook that caught my eye. I looked and only saw a halved tree trunk.
But it kept jerking. If that was a Snapper, then it was a huge one! And sure enough, it was. We patiently waited for its head to emerge...
A beast! Gotta be 35 lbs or more. And a nice capper to a very productive hour. The walk was much needed.

That was 4 days ago. In the interim, my mouth has been feeling better (though I'd sure love to eat) and I've been back at work but there have been no more herp escapades. This weekend I'll be working at the Boston Comic Con so I'll be out of commission. But look for Andrea's adventures next week... she'll be hitting the weird wilds of Massachusetts without me (I'll be there only in spirit).

Sunday, July 26, 2015

July 23 (Thursday) - Unexpected Free Time (Guest Blogging)

Hi, it's Andrea.

I had an unexpected day off on Thursday, July 23. Mike had some major dental work done the day before, and had a follow up appointment the next day. There was no way he would be able to get there on his own (due to painkillers), and things were pretty slow at work. I had the PTO accumulated, and decided to take the day off.

Later on in the day, after he was home from his appointment and I had all the laundry put away, I decided to head out to a local place. I parked up top near the soccer field, and took a walk down toward the canoe launch, since I had seen some drainage ditches along the way with rocks in them.

It was pretty warm out, so I didn't figure on anything being found under rocks. A piece of carpet on the top of one such drainage ditch intrigued me, so I flipped it.


Well, someone had been hanging out under said carpet, and left behind a nice, big shed.

A debris pile off the road also failed to produce.

The canoe launch is said to sometimes have water snakes basking, but today there were a couple of women down there whose dogs were swimming in the river. I figured that any water snake or turtle with half a brain wouldn't be sticking around. I went down the wooded paths to the other access points to the river, but each one had the same contents. I did hear something in the bushes that sounded like a slither, but whatever it was, it was long gone.  I went back onto the main path that went alongside a small brook.

I managed to work the zoom (I had borrowed Mike's camera for the day) through the foliage to score this photo of an immature black-crowned night heron doing a bit of fishing:

Immature Black-crowned Nigh Heron

I also got distracted by some birds in the tall grass, to the point where I decided to try to get a picture. I don't remember how many shots I got right after a frigging bird flew off, but I was getting pissed and just HAD to keep trying until I got a shot. This is how it begins, isn't it? Fucking birders.

Song sparrow

Yeah, it's a song sparrow. Everything is a song sparrow lately, but Mike keeps trying, because there are so many kinds of sparrows that look vaguely alike, so maybe he can add to his count. Me, I'm not even going to make an attempt at birding until I become better with my camera.

Enough with the avians, already...bring on the herps!

So, this place has like a million rocks alongside the paved path. These rocks are on top of gravel, and some of them are much larger than they look, and it's easy to end up dragging one instead of lifting it, and injuring a snake that is under it. For that reason, I don't flip much here, and just go for the "low-hanging fruit". Today, though, it was so warm that there was little chance of there being anyone under the rocks, except for maybe milks, hence the low-hanging fruit flips.

I expected there to be some basking, though, and I finally got my wish.


This was a decent-sized garter. I couldn't tell if it was awake or not, so I tried to get a bit closer. It was awake all right. I managed another shot before it disappeared.



Further down, there was a break in the foliage and I was able to see into the brook. There was a log, and I could see a small, rust-colored shell on it.


Another scan of the log showed that it wasn't the only one enjoying the sun.


My mere presence disturbed them enough to send them into the water, destroying their lovely basking. They hadn't come back up when I was on my return walk, so I guess I really did ruin their day.

Turtles can be such Debbie Downers.

Hey, check it out! I got a much better photo of a big garter snake, before I scared this one off with my mere existence!


I know that I've gotten pretty big on the in situ shot, and handling as little as possible, but I wanted to maybe get a snake in-hand so that people know I am capable of doing it, and don't just stand around letting the menfolk do all the work so I can pose with the snakes.

Of course, it was impossible to navigate some of the rocks due to my choice in footwear that day. Hey, this was an impromptu trip!


There were a few more skins about, confirming that, yes, there were garter snakes around.


I didn't see signs of any other species, though I have seen plenty of nerodia around here, and a couple of milks. Still, middle of a warm summer day -- they're probably off somewhere enjoying it.

I headed back up to the car, because it was getting late and, frankly, I needed to pee. I knew they had port-a-potties by the parking lot, and figured they were probably fairly well-maintained. I hit a couple of the drainage ditches to see if anyone was under any of the rocks. As I went into one to flip, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and made a grab.



Yeah, I got musked. Not really bad, but the snake wrapped its tail around me in order to wipe the musk all over me. I was pretty happy to hold one, though.

Now, I'll let you in on a secret: snakes don't really like being held, especially when most of their body is hanging like above. When you pick up a snake, their instinct tells them they are about to be eaten, which is why they musk, thrash, bite, poop, etc. One thing that I found helps them calm down a bit is to have their whole body touching a surface, so I will often drop down to the ground with a snake (especially a larger one), or offer both my hands. Some of the more arboreal snakes will calm a bit if you let yourself be a "tree" for them, and will climb up your arms.

I sat down, and, with my purse on my lap, put the snake on my purse.


It stayed for a few moments, and I was able to stroke it a couple of times. All that moved was its tongue and tail.  I even managed a 30-second video:

I know, it was probably petrified. I soon picked it up and put it back on the ground, letting it slither away quickly through my feet.

One last flip before I left for the day yielded a small American toad.

DSCN1023 DSCN1024

I'm often tempted to take a toad home. I'm guilty of mistaking their cuteness as meaning they are personable, and think they'd make good pets. Maybe they would. Then the rational side of my brain takes over, and I tell myself that it's unfair to take an animal from its home and put it in a tank, even if that means it will get fed well and be safe from predators.

So I let the toads be.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Frog Days of Summer. 7-19-2015

Super hot and humid forecast. That used to mean we would get up at the ass crack of dawn and get ourselves to a selected spot by 6:30 AM and herp till noon when the heat would get too much for us and the animals. Not so today. We slept in. We might not have gone out at all except for upcoming weekend obligations that will keep us from our usual herping schedule. So, even though it was already 95°, we headed out to Essex County to see if anything would be up.

Upon pulling in, we saw no turtles up on the basking logs near the parking area. Uh-oh. But we did hear a few Bullfrogs. They never seem to mind the heat. Along the trail, I flipped quite a few logs as it was wet underneath them; there was some rain during the night. One flip looked empty until I started to replace the log and saw a small Garter shoot out. I had missed the coil! I had to flip a few more logs to find where he had gone...
A fine specimen!
He sped back to the cool safely of his log.

Andrea found a swell Stink Bug!

It became obvious that we weren't going to see any salamanders and that the snake was a fluke. It was super hot and sticky. Turtles weren't up in any of the ponds. Andrea flipped a Green Frog who was trying to beat the heat.

A mud puddle next to a pond proved to be full of life. Hey, maybe these frogs won't be so tough to see after all. Andrea soon spied two Pickerels...
and a Green.

The pond itself was covered with duckweed. This Bullfrog had pulled himself up to bask.

This place is usually very turtley, but this Painted was our one turtle score.

But the Bulls... they were everywhere! Almost every perch in the pond had one or more Bulls enjoying the afternoon.

At a beaver dam, Andrea saw a big fat Garter slither off. We soothed our disappointment with fresh raspberries, a rare treat in the wild.

There was a long patch of damp, cool grass in the shade along a path. This was a favorite hiding spot for the local frogs. This golden Green Frog really takes the prize for beauty!

Here is a normal Green...

A couple of Pickerels were chilling in the grass as well.
^ Lots of green on that guy, defying the field guides.

Andrea got this nice shot of a Bull having a soak.

Near a pond, a tree had shed a lot of bark so I thought I'd go flip through it a bit. Pretty soon, I saw about 3" of tail scooting away. It could have been a 5 foot Racer of a 6 inch Ringneck. I grabbed it and saw it was the latter... more like a 12 incher.
A very welcome find.

Andrea got a butterfly kiss from him.

Heading back, we decided to check out a path that would be new to us. Hey, why not. It was only about 100°! So we headed up the path and noticed that it spilled out into a powerline cut. Oh dear! A rock strewn powerline cut! OK, so in this heat, it might not pan out but for the future, this looks excellent. Still, we flipped a bit and headed up. We did find one small Garter...

Then Andrea found the most fierce snake in Essex County and it wasted no time taking a bite out of her.
What a 'tude!

So, we poked around and then headed back to the coolness of the trail. We saw one Garter on the move but he was so warmed up, getting a shot proved impossible. Heading back to the car, completely covered with sweat, we found one more herp... some Tiny Toads were hopping about, making us watch our step.

So, despite the beating our bodies took in the heat, we had a pretty darn nice hike. Plus, we more than earned ice cream. I'm not sure how much herping will get done in the next few weeks but I'm super glad we got out of the air-conditioned comforts of home and got out into the woods. Yay for frogs!