Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Slogging through January. 1-18 & 19, 2015

Yup. It has stayed cold and I have stayed sick. I started some antibiotics on Monday the 12th and by the weekend, while not feeling perfect, I felt well enough to get out. Sunday the 18th was surprisingly mild but it was still frigid. We had other plans though.

The New England Herpetological Society was invited to visit an agricultural school in Bristol County, MA and take a look at their turtle head-start program. They have been head-starting our state's threatened and endangered turtles for a few years, providing an "endless summer" for their first winter in an effort to let them grow big enough to avoid easy predation. There were a few different species there, but the Blandings Turtle is arguably the most in need of their services. We were lucky enough to look at the turtles and their enclosures, which is very impressive, to say the least.

The turtles are housed in a temperature controlled greenhouse and all of the chelonians we saw looked very happy indeed!

We saw some of our nemesis species, the Eastern Box Turtle.

There are a bunch of active and entertaining Wood Turtles there as well... some of ours and some that are being head-started for a New Jersey population.
I was massively charmed by these little tanks!

There are even some Spotted Turtles getting a chance to grow before the Spring!

Of course, baby Blanding's are the star of the show. They are so personable and they just swim up and say hi. I was practically crying they are so cute!

Let's not forget the Red-bellied Cooters, of which there was a sizable group!

There were even a few Diamondback Terrapins present!

We left the greenhouse (reluctantly!) to make room for other members and went to check out the school's museum. In the lower level, there was a large tank with some local species, complete with a familiar sight to us... a Painted Turtle basking! It did our hearts a lot of good!

They also had some snakes on hand, so we got to see some large female Garters and some neonate and yearling ones as well, not to mention a few small Water Snakes! We talked for a while about herping with some of the students and our friend Kurt. It is exactly what we needed to make it through January! When we left, it was pleasant out but not enough to flip a salamander. We would do that on Monday.

Monday the 19th was Martin Luther King Day and thanks to the good Reverend, we both had the day off. We had made plans to go look for some stream salamanders with Teá. She too has been studying the habitat needs of our Massachusetts nemesis the Spring Salamander. We took all of our knowledge to a place in Worcester where Andrea and I believe the waters are perfect for them. It was going to be in the low 40s, so we thought our luck was going to shine through.

We got there at about 11:30 (thanks for the ride, Teá!!) and discovered right away that perhaps we had jumped the gun on the big Spring thaw...
The cascading water was barely cascading. We were able to get to some running water at a few spots but it was icy cold and many of the rocks were unflippable, still frozen in place. Andrea flipped one Two-Line larvae but we were unable to get a photo.The trail leading up the hill was an ice slick and we decided to instead go to a nearby wooded area with a stream running through it.

The stream was very frozen there too. Plus, I fell on the icy path. Oh, well... the best laid plans...

We got to a spot that looked like this:
Good enough. Teá and I started flipping rocks beneath the surface and skimming with dip nets. Teá nabbed this little larvae which she immediately noticed was lighter and more translucent than the average Two-Lined...
In the field, with my subpar eyesight, I wasn't ready to commit to it being a Dusky, but it showed  a few earmarks of one, like husky back legs and white gills.

She soon found a Two-Lined larvae and we were able to compare side by side.
Hellz yeah!

We stayed for a while longer, working in "never say die" mode, dipping our hands into the water and flipping until the pain from freezing was too much, taking them out to warm them, then putting them back in. We stupidly did that for a couple of hours and then we smartened up. We got two species. Springs will wait. Now that Teá had had a chance to see this place, she agrees that it could be Springey... the algae growing there prefers alkaline water, like the salamander.

So, many thanks to Teá  for getting us up and out and driving there! Hell, and for netting the two specimens we were able to photograph! It was a good day, if a bit chilling. Not bad for a Monday.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

What Herpers do when it's cold. 1-11-15

Happy New Year. I have had flu symptoms for the entirety of 2015. It has been brutally cold of late, as in -2° for my drive in to work last Thursday. So, just what does a moronic herper do when it's too cold to herp?

Well, one thing I have done is enter a Bird Count Contest. I will surely lose but it gives me a chance to practice my bird skills and add to my life total. I ended 2014 with 112 species and figure I'll just add on new ones from there. So, we went out on New Year's Day to find some birds. I wanted to get a head start, and I wound up with 9 species, all repeats from last year.

I did, however, get my new Big Year started. I want to photograph and ID 30 mammals and, not surprisingly, #1 is an Eastern Gray Squirrel!
Mammal #1 Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

We had a couple more trips, including a rewarding sea-bird one with Teá, which got my contest totals up to 16, but illness has kept me from getting out more often. Plus, it has been bone-chillingly frigid out. But news of a rare bird at Forest Hills Cemetery got us bundled up and out the door in the chilly 23° temps on Saturday Jan. 10th. I added a few more common birds but the guest of honor, a Black-backed Woodpecker, was absent. We saw signs of his presence, however... like peeled tree bark:

and a fuck-ton of birders.
One guy had come up from Long Island, even.

We spent the afternoon freezing ourselves to death but Mr. Woodpecker wasn't following his schedule. We resigned ourselves to look again Sunday morning. Andrea took some pictures of stone-work at the cemetery. This one reminded us of the keeled scales of a serpent. One track minds...

We awoke with the reptile lights (well, the hungry cats really) on Sunday morning and decided to head over to the cemetery to see if our Pecker Pal was there early. We got there a bit after 7:30 AM and were immediately greeted by a group of birders (many of whom were there yesterday) pointing their cameras up into the trees. I followed suit.

Now, we never got any great shots but it's nice to finally see the fruits of our patience and cold feet. This is our lifer #113, the Black-backed Woodpecker.
Black-backed Woodpecker #20 (Lifer 113)
I feel 3 pictures isn't so bad to put here as I'll probably never see one again!

So, we were chuffed with our success and headed over to Allandale Woods for a shot at our first herps of the year. The plan was to drag our icy bodies over to a familiar stream (if it was in fact still running) and dip-net some Two-Lined Salamander larvae for a photo, then head home and warm up. Unfortunately, we couldn't find our dip net! It seems I had lost it after our last outing (also at Allendale, on Dec. 28th). Oh well, it wasn't going to be as comfy or easy as planned, but we went in anyway.

I was kneeling into the stream (yay, new fleece-lined pants!) with a holder but couldn't find anything. I heard Andrea squeeee and I turned to see that she had found our net next to the stream!! Two weeks in the wilderness and it was back home with us!! We immediately dipped a net full of Two-Lined Salamander larvae!
FOY herps

Yay! First herps of 2015! Satisfied, we wrapped it up and headed back to the car. Just how cold was it? The wet net had frozen immediately.

But we had accomplished our mission.

Upon returning to the car, our frozen bodies found out why they had became that way... it was only 15° outside!! Damn!

So, while we await our trip to the Everglades, we have some January herps under our belts and a good start to the bird year. Now, I just have to get my damn health back to its usual 75%!