Thursday, December 31, 2015

Finishing up 2015. Dec. 26th thru 31st

One couldn't be expected to top finding twelve snakes on Christmas day so we weren't even going to try. We had no plans etched in stone for the days between  Christmas and New Years so we wound up playing it by ear.

On the 26th, we slept in and puttered around the house for a bit. It was fairly sunny, however, and we decided to go out and look for salamanders. Though it was twenty degrees cooler than the day before, snakes were probably out at the other spot. So be it. We were going to look for salamanders.

We trekked through another nearby spot that has plenty of sals. Our goal was a Spotted. Our first amphibious friend was a gorgeous leadback Redback.

It dawned on us before too long that maybe Ambystoma aren't as dumb as snakes and maybe- just maybe... we weren't going to find any. We kept looking though and found a few more Redbacks, one of which looked like this:

Our usual Two-lined areas here were being finicky. Finally, I procured a specimen by hand and got him to pose for a few seconds.

So, two species of salamanders... I'm not going to kick about that. Most Christmas vacations are spent shoveling and freezing. The fact that we can get out and see herps is a gift.

The next day, December 27th, we decided to go to Norfolk County to a place that is also good for Spotted Salamanders and 4-toed Salamanders. We did our best but again turned up no Spotties. No 4-toed either. We got a lovely selection of Redbacks though.
Most of the ones we saw were plump and ready to be underground for a few months.

We took a break to warm by a fire.
Every place should have a herper's warmth-cabin ready for us in the cooler months.

On the way out, Andrea asked if I wanted to try for a Two-lined. There is a dandy Two-line stream near the entrance. I decided to search. I saw one. It got away. I saw another. It got away. But in a pile of leaves, I spied the second one's tail. The great hunter emerged with this photo.

Four days in a row of December herping. I could stand this every year.

The next day, Monday the 28th, was supposed to suck so we stayed home and tidied the house and stuff. It did suck out. That night, we got a call from the sanctuary. They asked if we could move four sea turtles from Wellfleet to the Aquarium in Quincy. Naturally, we said yes.

We got up on the 29th to the first snow storm of the year. There was snow on the ground and icy rain was falling, making it a winter wonderland of slippery, slushy shit. And we had to get to Cape Cod. We left at about 7:45 to get there by 10AM. Easier said than done. The roads sucked and nobody knows how to drive in a storm. We arrived a bit late. Not too bad, but a bit late.

One of the turtles had passed away during the night so we had only three Kemps-ridleys to drive North.
The fact that any turtles washing up this late in the year are still alive is a beautiful surprise. All three of these seemed to show at least some signs of life. This guy was practically dancing!

We hit a shit-ton of traffic going back. Accidents on black ice. But we made it to the aquarium with our guys. One was unresponsive and they rushed him in. Hopefully, he perked up. I'd be crushed if the traffic jam or my shitty driving did him in.

We saw some of the turtles that we had brought in the week before swimming and even eating. Tears welled up for both of us. We saw #218 (a guy we had driven in) swimming happily and healthily. He would be heading south to North Carolina when the weather cleared. (They had to cancel a "shipment" of turtles due to the icy roads.)

Well, that was a lot of driving in a short time. We headed home to relax.

We woke up on Wednesday the 30th and decided to go to Western MA. I just hadn't driven enough! But seriously, I had wanted to get back to a river in Western MA for a while. We were hoping to look for some Dookies and Springs. Andrea's favorite yarn store is out there, too. Win win!

We headed out and by the time that we hit Berkshire County, we realized the weather was even worse out here than it was in Boston. They had been hit with more snow, too. Oh well. We shopped for yarn (yes, I bought some too), then headed 25 more miles out to the river. As we drove into the wilderness, it dawned on us that our chances were pretty slim. When we saw the river, we knew we were screwed.

It was hard enough to walk across the ice on the road.

I went for it anyway. I mean, I was there and the water was running. I flipped plenty of underwater rocks, hoping to see something scurry out. The water was painfully cold. Just having my hands in the air warmed them; compared to the water, the air was hot. I started to concentrate on seeps and side-river rivulets. I missed a sculpin.

When all was said and done, I would up with two Two-lined larvae and they were a lot of work.

I also got a shot of the elusive Frosty Whore through the hoarfrost.
Sorry, but if they're going to call it hoarfrost... I'm only human. And barely that.

The less common salamanders proved to be pretty difficult for us in December. We realized by now that with the temp at 31° and the ice and snow, it had become a typical December. Five days ago, twelve snakes. This day, 2 Two-lined larvae... the typical Massachusetts December herp.

So, New Years Eve. 44° with intermittent sun. We had told ourselves that if there was any sun, we'd check to see if Robles was sticking his head out. So, we headed over to Robles' den. There was a lot of melting snow and ice but it was still plenty chilly. With the sun behind clouds, it was just plain cold. Naturally, Robles' ice-covered den was snake-free. Thank goodness. I'd have given him a good talkin' to and maybe a spank on his backside.

We went down to poke around Sly's den and the Valley just to see if the sun had hit them and maybe... just maybe... a noggin would be poking out. When we got down there, it was obvious there wouldn't be anything. The Nerodia den entrance was covered with snow. I had my boots on so I squelched through a little seep in the valley. It was right about then that I said "I don't fucking believe it."
This is the bruiser from Christmas Eve. She was moving very slowly, almost mechanically.
In the last week, she has developed some bumps under some scales. Frostbite? We're wondering if the rain and ice from the past week might have flooded her den and she was forced out.

Say what you will about ethics. She is now in a cool room in our house, slowly warming. I called the vet (though it's New Year's Eve and we had to leave a message) to get her in to have a look at those bumps. I mean, she's a big snake and might be pushing 10 years old. It might be her time. But I couldn't just leave her there freezing to death. We'll see.

At any rate, we have laid this "latest snake in Massachusetts ever" thing to rest forever. We've been called in for turtle patrol for New Year's Day so we won't be able to get a "first snake of 2016" tomorrow but hopefully we can save a few turtles. It's gonna be hard. It's damn cold out there.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Twelve Snakes of Christmas. 12-25-2015

For the first snake of Christmas, my true love (and I) did see
A Garter up near Old Reliable.

The second snake of Christmas, my true love (and I) did see
A Garter on the way to Sly's Den.

The third snake of Christmas, my true love (and I) did see
A sirtalis coiled atop Sly's den.

The fourth snake of Christmas, my true love (and I) did see
A wee Garter in the valley.

The fifth snake of Christmas, my true love (and I) did see
A large Nerodia.

The sixth snake of Christmas, my true love (and I) did see
A small Water Snake on the hill.

The seventh snake of Christmas, my true love (and I) did see
A speedy camera-shy Garter.

The eighth snake of Christmas, my true love (and I) did see
A periscoping Garter by the path.

The ninth snake of Christmas, my true love (and I) did see
A wee Garter stretching at the Eastern Cottonwood den.

The tenth snake of Christmas, my true love (and I) did see
Another Cottonwood sirtalis beauty.

The eleventh snake of Christmas, my true love (and I) did see
A Garter guarding the entrance to the Valley of Nerodia.

The twelfth snake of Christmas, my true love (and I) did see
Christmas Garter
Sir Musk-a-lot.

Sir Musk-a-lot
One Garter Guarding
Cottonwood sirtalis
Wee Garter stretching
Periscoping Garter
Camera shy sirtalis
Small Northern Water
A Large Nerodia...
Garter in the Vally
One atop the den
Garter on the way
and a Garter near Old Reliable.

OK, for the sake of the song, I left out a few things. It was 60° and sunny on Christmas day. We went to the obvious place to see Christmas snakes and, obviously, we weren't disappointed. Our first herp was an S-shaped Redback under Old Reliable.

But yeah, then it was hot and heavy with sirtalis. The first guy (near Old Reliable) was the earliest we'd ever seen a snake along this path. The large Water Snake was the same one that we had seen the day before. The Garter basking on Sly's den is a guy we've seen before. (Sly himself?)

Also of interest, Andrea fell on her bum before finding the periscope guy.

The Garter guarding the Valley wasn't really doing a great job as Andrea was able to pet his head.

Sir Musk-a-lot earned his name because I picked him up (kind of against my own rule for this time of year) to show a mother and daughter who were asking what we were photographing. He nailed me good... been saving that load since September, I'll bet. Worth it, as we had a nice talk with them and showed them the basking Water Snakes on the hill.

So, Merry Christmas. Best... Christmas... Ever!

We have decided to not herp at this spot anymore this year (unless it is viable on New Year's Eve) because, really... it kind of feels like cheating. That said, if we can get a New Year's Eve snake, it will put the "latest snake in the year ever" thing to rest forever.

2015 has had its ups and downs but it sure has been ending on an incredible note.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

'Twas the Day Before Christmas... 12-24-2015

... and all through the woods,
creatures were stirring.
The weather was good.

The temps were going to try for a new record today; it was pushing 70°. What could be better than a Christmas Eve hike through the local woods, taking a peek at the dens to see if we could extend our record for latest snake seen? Of course, we'd have to check for our pal Robles first.

Up near Robles' den, Andrea flipped our first Ambystoma of the month... a gorgeous Blue-spotted Salamander.
This protected species isn't tough to find here but thanks to the adjacent cemetery expanding beyond its range and destroying part of a hill (that we suspect is their winter home), there have been a lot less Blue-spotteds this year. This one was a sight for sore eyes. Big fella, too.

I walked right by but eagle-eyed Andrea saw Robles speed past.
He was looking good... alert and quick.
And derpy.

We headed down towards Sly's den. I had no sooner said that we hadn't seen many Garters at this spot since the Spring, then this lovely specimen was spied stretching out.
Another speed demon, he streaked off after this photo.

So, Christmas Eve was lookin' pretty good! Sly's pond got us a chubby Redback, too. Species #4.

Into the Valley of Nerodia we went. A small Garter was acting as the Gate-keeper.

The rest of the Valley was snake-free (that we could see) but as we ascended the hill, we saw a good sized Water Snake doing the same.
This was a cyclops snake that we have encountered many times before. Beautiful banding.

At the top of the mound was an unfortunate fellow. He's already missing one eye and the other one is crusty and ready to pop. Blind as a bat, he was still up basking and was filled with piss and vinegar as I passed by him.

We went on. We stopped by our friend Andrew's Eastern Cottonwood Den© and saw a young Garter stretchin' in a straight line.
Let's get a close-up of that little cutie's face, shall we?

Our new Rock Wall Den produced two more slim Garters that were up exploring.

At this point, we had to turn back as Christmas Eve celebrations were beckoning. The walk back, however, was not without squamate joy.

The cyclopian Water Snake had completed her journey to the top of the hill and she was enjoying a sexy bask atop a log. Her perfect beauty and position made for what I consider my best Nerodia photo of 2015. Shot on December 24th!!

Heading down into the Valley, we spotted this little Nerodia Nipper nestled in the leaves.

Well, that was just about it. I probably said something to the effect of "oh well, we fell short of double digits in snakes so the day is a complete failure." Then at about the same time, we saw this beast.
That is easily 3 feet of sirtalis... the matriarch of the Garter Clan.
She is a beast!! (The snake, not Andrea)
I love a big ending! What a beautiful gal. We had no tape measure on us but she wins the size award for Garters in 2015, I'm sure. Massive beauty.


Best Christmas Eve ever.