Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Herping 10-31-2015

It was going to be pretty cool but we had made plans to meet Teá and her friend Paul to explore a nearby spot on Saturday morning. Our targets? Ambystoma. Both Blue-spotted and regular Spotted Salamanders. Our meeting time got pushed back a bit but by around 10:30 AM, we were all together and ready to herp. Sadly, It was still about 45°F. Some of the logs we flipped in the all-but-dry vernal had frost on top of them. Not a good sign.

It took a little while, but we eventually flipped a couple of cool Redbacks.
I use the term "cool" literally, as well as thinking they were pretty nifty.

Another splendid Redback.

So, not every animal was frozen solid. That's a relief. As I always say, thank goodness for Redbacks. Andrea flipped the next one, a plump Leadback...
and exclaimed "there's a frog under here, too".

Sure enough, there was a Peeper all hunkered down in there as well.
Not the greatest place to spend the entire winter, I'm sure.
Bleary eyed.
I made a deep thumbprint in the soil under the log and he leaped into it... Bullseye!

Well, that was unexpected!

I told Teá and Paul about a dream I'd had the night before where I had flipped a neonate Garter Snake. I offered up one whole dollar to anyone that could present me with such a sight. We were heading over to a sunny, rocky spot to poke around so my request wasn't completely off base. It was pretty comfortable in the sun, though the temperature was well below 60°.

I saved myself some cash when I flipped a rock and saw this:
A dream literally come true. Not quite neonate but a young-of-year. His little body was pretty cold. We tried to warm him up.
We kinda wanted to keep this little guy for the Winter but since we're not poachers, we let him go back to his wild-snake ways.

We enjoyed the colors of the season as we walked along, wondering if he would be the last snake of the year.

Andrea soon saw some more colors, even if they were a bit subdued by dirt. She spotted this Northern Water Snake who had come out of her den to warm up in the sun. Her bottom half was still in the ground.
Two snakes on October 31st?! Wow.

Teá and Paul decided to go on to the other side of the river on foot, which meant traversing a train trestle. We decided to double back and look some more in the sun, then meet them there after driving over. We checked on our dirty little Nerodia on the way by... she was completely out and basking by now.
Even her right eye-cap is covered with dirt. Nice Halloween costume.

We kept going up the path, looking at the sunny rocks but flipping few. We figured if there were any more snakes, they would be like our Nerodia friend: simply basking. We walked past a guy with binoculars trained intently on the trees over the marsh. I tried to not bug him as we walked by. When we were about 20 feet away, he called to us... why didn't we ask what he was looking at?! It seems he had been watching a Red-headed Woodpecker, not the most common bird in the area, and he was excited to share it with someone. We went and talked with him for a while and saw the bird, grabbing acorns from the woods and bringing them to a hollow tree. Getting a picture was another story.

He had seen 31 species of bird while there in just a couple of hours. His #32 was a need-it on the year for me, though not a lifer. But I'm happy enough with this shot of an Eastern Bluebird to post it here.
Eastern Bluebird #92

We saw a Red-shouldered Hawk being chased by a Red-tailed Hawk, too. No pictures, though. I finally got a couple of usable photos of the Red-headed, though.
Red-headed Woodpecker #93 Lifer #135
Red-headed Woodpecker #93 Lifer #135
This youngster is #135 on my life-list.

We spent entirely too much time birding with this guy. Fun as it was, we had to head back to the car and get across the river. Teá and Paul had found a Dekay's Snake over there, making it three species for Halloween. While on the path back to the car, they contacted Andrea and said they too were heading back already.

We went up to explore a sunny hill that had been in the shade earlier. I had seen a Garter there two days earlier and decided to press my luck. I flipped a pair of Redbacks.

We explored every nook and cranny and decided that it was snake-free. But walking past a mound, I heard a sound and looked to see some moving stripes. We had just found a Halloween Ribbon Snake!
Super pretty despite a still-healing scar on the side and some scrapes at the end of the tail on the underside. But just look at that red stripe.
We held on to it while we waited for Teá and Paul to get back to this section. I'm glad we did; it turned out to be Paul's lifer Ribbon. We released it and watched it slowly make its way around the mound, enjoying the sun.

What an unexpected adventure this turned out to be. Of course, we saw no Ambystoma, which had been our goal, but four species of snakes?! Unreal. (Andrea and I looked for Dekay's at our friends' house later on but came up empty... we had to "settle" for just three snake species... on October 31st!!!) This was just crazy. The ambient temperature never hit 60°, either.

That, my friend, was a Happy Halloween.

Friday, October 30, 2015

I have heard no fat ladies singing... 10-29-2015

Despite a few nights of frost, the mention of a 70° day gets me ready to take a walk in the woods. Thursday the 29th was such a day. While at work, I learned that it was sunny and just over 70° so I made plans to ditch early and go to my favorite haunt on the way home... just to look around the dens. Someone might be poking their little noggin out.

I got there a bit after 4 PM and sure enough, according to my car's thermometer, it was 72°. I hit the trail and the first herp I saw was under a rock next to one we used to call Old Reliable. (We have since started thinking of Old Reliable as pretty damn unreliable.) It did my heart and my eyes good to see a stub-tailed Blue-spotted Salamander.

Next, over in Sly's pond, I found a couple of Redbacks (one was under Redback Rock, which is still quite reliable).

Walking over Sly's den-mound got me no glimpses of coil but walking around the edge of it was another story. It seems this den isn't just a Garter Den... this young, vibrant Water Snake was (literally) hanging out right near where Sly2K was seen earlier this year.
I got to walk around him without bothering him.
I just had my pocket camera but I got right up in his grille. This finally made him jump back.
This is, I believe, the latest date that we have seen a Nerodia.

I walked further up the path, exploring den areas as I went. I was skulking around off trail, looking at the ground for coils when a guy and his kid passed me. I got a pretty strange look. I'm sure they thought I was looking for a place to pee. Haha... the joke's on them. I already did it in Sly's vernal!

I was reaching the end of my expected hike when I saw a slim Garter about 5 feet off path, poking his way through the leaves. I made my last unnecessary, overly dramatic lunge of the year and had the sleepy Slim Jim in hand. He was calm enough for some fake in-situ shots.
I put him back into the leaves where he continued on his way as if I had never picked him up.
And then, he disappeared into the leaves.

Could it get any better? Well, it did. I was heading back and decided to go up a hill that has never had a snake, but has been good for salamanders. Much to my surprise, periscoping right out in the open, this small Garter was up.
I wanted to get a nice through-the-plants shot from the front, not really registering what those plants are around him. I got the shot...
and then my hands started burning thanks to the... oh yeah! that's what it looks like... stinging nettle.

Worth it.

Hands aflame, I found this would-be Leadback that is actually a lovely solid maroon.

I went home after that and waited for Andrea to get home. I was embarrassed by the riches I had seen without her and wanted to head up the street to see if any Dekay's Snakes were up in my friend's garden wall. She wanted to, of course, so we strapped on our headlamps and went up to look. We saw no snakes but the wall was super-healthy with Redbacks. Here is a big example.

The Dekay's might have been out and about and hopefully hungry. This tempting snail might have been on the menu.

So, in the end I am a bad husband but a happy herper. We have plans to get out salamandering this weekend so until the singing is loud and clear, I hear no fat ladies at all.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Crawling past the finish line Oct. 17-22nd.

Long time no blog. It has been cold. In fact, since my last entry, the temps dropped considerably and never got back up, really. Never fear, it takes a lot more than cold to keep us from herping. We have no sense, you see.

On Saturday. October 17th, I had made plans to drive to Wilmington, MA to buy a Beta VCR. We did that and realized that we were in Essex County, not far from a place where we have had sickeningly good luck with Garters in the past. It was a cold day but the sun was shining and... you just never know. So we went over to walk the rail trail.

Sunny, yes, but the wind was blowing and no snakes were dumb enough to be peeking out. We managed a few Redbacks, one of which looked remarkably like this.

Andrea, proud of her amphibian find, declared herself the shit.

The next day, Sunday, it was damn cold. In fact, while doing errands, there was some snow swirling around in the wind. We turned our noses up at such a scandal on October 18th and went to a sanctuary in Norfolk County to look for salamanders. I was getting over a cold and this was probably not a great idea.

We did, however, find a bunch of Redbacks. Take that, snow.

That night, it dropped below freezing, giving us the killing frost that we had been warned of. I heard that some places hit 23°. That made it hard for me to get excited about a "late week warm-up" that was forecast. Well, Wednesday was 65° and Thursday, the 22nd, it was going to be 70°, so I put on my dunce-cap and decided to herp after work.

Unfortunately, Andrea had picked up my bug and was home sick. Would I be a bad husband and herp while she is sick in bed? Well... just a little bit bad. I stopped by a favorite Suffolk County spot on the way home to look around the snake dens to see if anyone was dumb enough to be up.

My beloved Redbacks were the first herps to be spotted.
I love the snuggle.

Near those two, I flipped a lovely Blue-spotted Salamander. This is one of my best shots on the year.

I poked around a few known Garter dens but really scored when I went back to the trail. Alongside a hillock that we had discovered early in the Spring to be a Water Snake den, two Nerodia were laying out in the warm air, pretending it wasn't October.
I would have freaked out had we not learned that this area was where they denned. What a wonderful post-frost sight this was. Thanks to a couple of cooperative Water Snakes, I didn't need to go further. I turned back into a good husband and went for groceries, then home to my ailing wife.

Oh, well... one more stop. But I had a reason.

I stopped by our friends' house, a house whose garden is also home to a thriving colony of Dekay's Snakes. Would one be up on this balmy day? First rock flip said "yes".
Since I was 2 minutes away from home, I wasted no time. I picked the little dickens up and brought him home for Andrea to see.
Good husband points back, I put him into a sock and walked him back up the street to his rock. He crawled back under, never knowing how happy he had just made my wife.

Last snakes of 2015? Maybe. 2013's last one was a Garter on October 21st. There won't be many more but we'll still keep looking for animals until we freeze.

2016's February Everglades trip seems like eons away, though.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Out on a Monday 10-12-2015

Columbus Day. Day three together in the field. It was going to be warm (low 70s) and we decided to stay close to home. To be honest, we were pretty tired. We went to a nearby park in Norfolk County just to see what was up. It was after 10 AM when we got there.

Walking through the sun, I said (more than once, poor Andrea), "even if we don't see any animals, this sun beating down on us feels so great. There may not be many more days like this." Prophetic? It has been cooler since and the threat of a killing frost looms over us this weekend. But this day was perfect.

Our first herp was a Leadback who confused my camera so I didn't get a great shot.

Walking along, we spied a slender Garter Snake warming up in a patch of sun.
Bright and beautiful.

We walked what we call Racer Alley, ofttimes climbing the rocky slopes, but saw no animals. It was downright hot on those rocks. Most of our squamate friends were probably off and hunting.

The trails on the other side of the Alley were cool and shady. We flipped a board on the path that is there for people and bikes to traverse a puddle (which was dry at the moment) and this plump Green Frog looked at us.

We made it deeper in to some more path boards and got this trio in Caudata... two Spotted Newts and a Redback.

We turned back after flipping in an open sunny area that produced no herps. Honestly, it felt so good to be out in the sun in October that we were completely satisfied. I'm not lying, though... we were pooped.

We got some lunch before heading over to a Suffolk County place on the way home. Andrea wanted to take some coordinates of the expansion of a cemetery that is encroaching into Blue-Spotted Salamander habitat. Blues are threatened here and the machinery have decimated much of what we believe to be a hill that serves as a hibernaculum for them and other species.

While Andrea was all professional, taking data and photos, I flipped at the nearby vernal, looking for said salamanders. I found none. Distressing.

After she completed her report, we moved on to look around. Our first herp was this nearly jet black Garter with a vivid white stripe! One of my all time favorite Garters.
If this winds up being our last snake sighting of 2015, we go out with a bang.

A different dried up vernal produced a lovely Blue-spotted Salamander. It's good to see a survivor.

Andrea did my heart a favor when she flipped our first Spotted Salamander of the year here. This species, while not rare, seems to have been affected even moreso than the Blues in this park.
It's a relief to see one.

This tubby Peeper looks about ready to hibernate.

We explored deeper into the woods than usual, poking into vernals that are inaccessible at other times of the year. This paid off with another Blue-spotted sighting.

That is where we called it a day. We saw some animals, Andrea did her presidential-type work (the data has been reported and passed on to the proper authorities to make sure the cemetery isn't destroying habitat that isn't theirs to destroy) and we got some much needed Vitamin D.

The impending cold weather is not thrilling me. At all.