Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Getting back on the bike. 9-19-2015

It was with trepidation that I readied myself to get back into the field after Wednesday's tragedy but I had received a lot of support from friends and especially Andrea (one friend suggested I sounded deranged, but still...). A while back, we had accepted the invitation to be "specialists" for the second year in a row at the Westfield River Bio-Blitz so I had to suck it up and do my job. (Enter Kim Davis joke here.) It was a good chance to stress safety above all else.

We got to Western MA more or less on time (9 AM) and I was delighted that a very dear friend and her husband were going to be in our group. Jen, who has been friends with Andrea since school, is one of the most sensitive, kindhearted people that I have the pleasure of knowing and spending some time with her and Dave would surely be a rewarding experience. Andrea and I headed up the "Newts and Frogs" group. (We really need to change it to "Reptiles and Amphibians" next year.) As an extra treat, our good friend Teá was heading up the Moths group and we hadn't seen her (or Mike) in forever. Our group of six herpers hit our designated spot along the river at about 10 AM.

Admittedly, I was a bit tentative at first, flipping rocks in the shallow water and river's edge. I had to tell my traumatic story from Wednesday as a warning that the animals living here and hanging out under the rocks are fragile!! Be careful with their homes and habitat. A few frogs hopped away and a few Two-Lined Salamanders swished off before we got any pictures. Finally, I got a (crappy) shot of a Pickerel that was quickly making his escape.

The water was cold and most of us were in it, working the edges from the river. We started flipping lots of Green Frogs who were pretty surprised to see us.
Bio Blitz Greens

Finally, we saw a Two-Lined that sat still for photos. Dave was manning the photo/GPS for data purposes.

One of the weirder things we saw was this Horsehair Worm (Nematomorpha). I poked it thinking it was just a root tangle and it started to move! We all had a few chills.
Nematomorpha (Horsehair worm)

The Two-Lines started turning up more frequently as we all got used to which stones were more likely to have one under it.

We netted a small Two-Lined larvae which helped show what the adults used to look like.

Andrea spotted (heh!) the first newt, a Red Eft phase, making the name of our group make more sense. It would not stand still for a photo.

I had offered a buck to the first person to find a Northern Dusky since one had escaped my camera. Matt (yes, another Matt!), a young guy with excellent herping instincts, though he'd found one but it turned out to be a larger 2-Lined larvae.

He and I took a small detour up a slow moving offshoot of the main river... I was really hoping for a Spring Salamander. Matt found this Two-Line in a leaf...

and I saved myself a buck by finding the first photographable Dusky!

Meanwhile, Andrea had seen some Redbacks, one of which was a little squiggle that looked like this:

This Eft was hanging out, hiding in plain sight.

This Redback was huge and beefy. I wish I had put some sort of measure down for scale.

Matt and I double-teamed for this big and beautiful Green Frog that I didn't want anyone to miss. Just beautiful metallic green.

A couple more golden Two-Lines...

and a lazy Dookie...

We got to a wonderful spot with slow running edges that were shallow and muddy. Perfect for Springs. I got pretty excited when I flipped a red salamander... small, but a Spring! I thought.
Well, upon getting the camera home and uploaded to a decent sized screen, it's obvious that it's a Dook... definitely has that goofy Dusky face. But what a stunning Desmog it is! Dave also flipped a red fellow.
There's an interesting Dookie gene pool in this area.

We flipped many more Dooks, the traditional mud colored ones. (I simply adore Duskys, regardless of color.)

We had been assigned about a mile of river and I don't think we'd even done half of that when we realized that it was time to get back to home base and report our findings. We paused for a group shot (minus me, the cameraman).
A very good bunch of people right there.

I saw one more Two-Lined on the way out.

Andrea, the leader of our group, had really stepped up. She did all of the data entry, coordinates and gave our group's presentation. Very impressive. Me? I wandered around, caught a Pickerel Frog, found a snake skin... but Andrea showed true leadership. That's why she's the Prez.

After the meeting closed up, we went for some food. Sadly, Teá was on a very tight schedule so she and Mike had to get back to Boston. We grabbed some take-out and headed over to Jen and Dave's gorgeous home nearby, aptly named Frog Hollow.

Frog Hollow is an idyllic little slice of paradise. Acres of nature and a perfect house set in the middle. It is like a dream. Nobody deserves a place like this more than Jen... her love of nature and animals is second to none. I was very lucky to have her and Dave nearby this day... it really helped me to get past Wednesday's heartbreak. (Of course, I will never forgive myself for it but this day and this group has been instrumental in helping me move on.) An example of Jen's creature-love: when we pulled in to the drive up to the house, she got out of the car to move any Efts that might be in the way.

After eating, we went out to see some of the animals that they call neighbors. First herp at Frog Hollow? A frog! A Wood Frog, playing peek-a-boo.

Andrea flipped a tiny coil... a Dekay's coil.
Jen positively squeed!

This Peeper peeped past. Jen had to practically touch it with her finger before I could see what she was pointing at.

Down by the river, we flipped this magnificent Redback. This photo is not enhanced in any way.

Two-Lines were also present at the Hollow.

We finished the night off with a couple of Efts.

What an extraordinary day. Although I couldn't bring myself to flip some of the rocks that last week I would have, I still felt a bit redeemed by sharing herp information and being around caring, nature minded people. Andrea is a godsend and the people that I spent the day with made my "ready or not" day in the field a success and a comfort.


  1. Well done, my friend. So glad to see you at it, if just a bit tentative.

  2. Replies
    1. With the help of wife and friends, all is easy.

  3. Mike,!JUERZA CANEJO!!!!!!"Diría un viejo gaucho argentino!!!! Les mando un abrazo Martha

  4. As someone who's earned the nickname "gyroman" among herp colleagues, I'm pretty sure those red duskies would have sent me into excited hysterics (normal for one of my gyro flips) immediately followed by frothing rage.
    Glad to see you back in the saddle.

    1. Thank you, Gyroman!

      No frothing rage here... I love Duskies and these guys were amazing! Only one MA Spring this year, though!

  5. I'm nearing my 13th birthday, hoping to get into a new hobby (Woodworking didn't work, too clumsy. Gardening... Bad idea. Much Poison Ivy) I love herps, getting my first reptile very soon. I really like finding salamanders and stuff under rocks, I just don't know where to look. Have any good spots in Southern Middlesex County? (Mass, obviously...)

    1. Just try anyplace with a pond or a stream... the best way to find herps is to just keep your eyes open. Turtles up basking, snakes sitting around a pond's edge. Be gentle flipping... remember, the animals are very fragile and that is their home!

      Look on Google Earth for spots near you... look for water or streams or even debris piles. It can pay off big time!

      Enjoy the hunt and be careful out there!