Monday, August 31, 2015

Fitting in Herping 8-27 thru 8-29, 2015

I was a great honor to be asked to be a guest at the 2015 Fantacon in Albany NY! I went there to do a panel on horror comics and sell some books that I have written. I was truly thrilled to be a guest. But it was going to cut into our herping time. We had to think outside the box.

After work Thursday the 27th, we made plans to hit a nearby Suffolk County spot where one year ago (to the day) we had seen many hatchling Snapping Turtles. Of course, we'd be getting there much later in the day but it was still very warm (about 81°) when we arrived at roughly 6 PM. We saw no turtles, though. In fact, we saw no herps at all on the whole way in. Ah well, you takes yer chances. We headed back.

About halfway back, we saw a small Garter in the path. He wasn't in a good position to photograph, so I caught him for photos. He calmed down very quickly.
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This bright, beautiful specimen was missing his left eye.
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Yet another example of just how resilient these animals can be.

A bit further down the path, this little sirtalis was poking his noggin out...
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Another bright, young guy.
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I was following Andrea, which isn't always the best idea (I tend to look at her butt instead of for animals), when she lunged into the grass. She came up with what might be the most stunning DeKay's Snake I have ever seen.
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Red sides with a racing stripe. What a gorgeous snake!
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Things had certainly picked up once dusk set in. We were almost back to the car, wondering why we hadn't seen any toads yet. In response to our thoughts, this small American Toad made his presence known.
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Not bad for a couple of hours after work.

The next day, Friday, I had a doctor's appointment in the morning. I would be going to work late. But the company party was in the afternoon and Andrea was attending with me so she took the day off. I didn't make it to work (with Andrea in tow) until about a half hour before we were to leave for the party. Well-timed, huh?!

My boss has a koi pond in his yard and often speaks of a Garter Snake that lives under an ornamental house on top of his waterfall. My herp friend Ryan, with whom I work, waited for us to get there, then we went and looked under the waterfall house...
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A real beauty.

Andrea, Ryan, his girlfriend and I all took a short drive from the party to a nearby pond that our boss had told us about. We got there and noticed that is was a member's-only kind of place so I didn't explore it. Ryan said fuck-all with that and went in. He saw some frogs jumping in and a Painted Turtle poked its head up. While he was in there, we waited outside. There was a bird-of-prey chasing a red squirrel all around a tree. Fascinating. When the squirrel dropped to the ground and the hawk followed, I thought it was all over for it. But the hawk flew off to a rock wall to perch, empty handed.
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It is a Cooper's Hawk, a species we have seen before but not since I've been keeping count, so I dub him Lifer #134.

We left the party not long after 4 PM because I still had plenty of preparation for the weekend in Albany. When we hit the road, however, we realized we were pretty close to our favorite Leopard Frog spot. So we accidentally missed the on-ramp to home and wound up at one of our favorite haunts.

We had never been there this late (pushing 5 PM) so we figured turtles wouldn't be basking. (We were right.) But frogs wouldn't be a problem. This Pickerel was our first.
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The grasses were filled with Northern Leopard Frogs. They were jumping out every step we took. Getting pictures was another story.
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This guy jumped out, bounced off of a reed and landed in the safety of my instep.
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We saw no snakes or turtles but the Leopards were plentiful.
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When the shadows are getting longer than the frog, the sun is certainly getting low.
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On the way out, I got this swell shot of a Pickerel and have determined that it is the very same one that we photographed on the way in.
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We got up very early on Saturday morning to get on the road to Albany and get set up at the show at a reasonable hour. It was an uneventful drive. We were within a few miles of our destination when... hey. I had to find a bathroom. We pulled off the highway and found a small gas station where I did just that. After, while Andrea was doing the same, I flipped some rocks out back. When she emerged from the powder room, she saw me taking this photograph.
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It was still 59° and this guy was in the blue. He wasn't too thrilled with us.

So we got there on time, set up and had a very good day, having fun, talking a lot and hanging out with our good friend Craig Yoe. After, we had some dinner and then made our way to Latham, NY where our hotel was located. While we parked and got ready to check in, we noticed plenty of wetlands around the hotel.

You can take the herpers out of the field but you can make us not herp. It turns out that our hotel was located in superb Green Frog habitat! We donned our headlamps and explored the periphery of the grounds. Here are some of the many Greens we saw:
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^This guy was massive... one of the largest I have ever seen.

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This guy is a real stunner...
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There was a bunny up and hopping around, too.
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(I couldn't get close enough for a better picture.)

But what a joy it was to be able to herp outside the hotel. These are bonus herps in our eyes.
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And yes, we got some strange looks from our fellow hotel patrons.

We slept soundly that night and had a fun, if not profitable, day at the show on Sunday. We found ourselves with no time to herp on the way home (well, I flipped a few things outside the diner we ate at) but we're still very grateful for the chance to see a few animals while on the road for non-herp reasons.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

12th Anniversary Box Social. 8/22 and 8/23, 2015

For our twelfth anniversary, we wanted to do something special. We were trying to think... is it gold? Silver? Paper? I thought no... it is lifer. So I booked a hotel on Cape Cod and made an itinerary to Audubon-hop... hit as many Audubon sanctuaries as we could on Saturday. Then, wake up on the Cape on Sunday morn and get deeper into it at a reasonable hour. Ah, the best laid plans...

Like most couples, we prayed for rain all weekend. I mean, what good is the Cape in the sun? Since our targets were Spadefoot Toads and Box Turtles, we wanted it cool and rainy. The beach goers can kiss my ass. We got our wish for the most part. But before we left, we saw bloody paw prints all over the kitchen floor. Our cat Gibson had had a claw grow back into his paw, so we took him off to the vet pronto. He is fine; he got some drugs and a clipping. Now, 4 days later, he's back to his version of normal.

So, we got to the Cape later than planned, around noon. Many cars were going back due to the overcast, drizzly weather. We were thrilled! We got to the first place, supposedly a Spadefoot place, and explored the many trails. There were a few ponds present and this Bullfrog greeted us.
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The habitat sure looked good for Spadefoots... sandy, cool and plenty of water, both standing and vernal. That Bull was, oddly enough, the only herp we saw there.

The next place had a ton of water and online research showed a slew of Water Snakes in the area. We saw none but the pond was full of happy Painted Turtles.
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It was very warm and about 98% humidity while on these trails. We had a quick moment of "be careful what you wish for"... maybe right about now some sun would burn off the misty air. We explored this place fairly thoroughly but came up with no other herps.

We stopped for lunch. I had some pizza, one of my most craved foods since getting new teeth. Cut very small, it presented no problem and was divine.

The next place overlooked a salt marsh. I'd had hopes of sighting Terrapins out in the distance but really, there wasn't much view beyond the overgrown brush. We saw some predated nests and wondered if these were terrapins. Hopefully not. We soon found a freshwater pond complete with lounging Bullfrogs to set our minds at ease.
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We had walked miles and miles of this type of path for hours and were just not seeing the herps.
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The hour was getting late too, since most of my pre-planned directions were completely wrong. We grudgingly blew off the last spot in the plans and found our hotel.

On the good side, we went out for Mexican food and I learned a bit more about how to eat with my new teeth. I even enjoyed some tortilla chips. I can chew, but not bite. But I made all-gone with my dinner. We stepped outside after our meal and it was raining. "What do you want to do?" "What do you want to do?"

We decided that, since is was raining, we'd drive back to our first stop of the day (which we had reconned just in case we came back at night). It was about 17 miles away. For some reason, we had renewed vigor. It must have been the food. We got back there at about 8:30 PM. It was dark and the rain had stopped but the road was wet. We cruised a short street that we knew was pond-side. After a half dozen runs, I thought I saw something on the side, so I turned around quickly. Sure enough, a toad had made its way into the road.

I threw on the hazards and jumped out to encounter an American Toad!
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Not a Spadefoot but Americans aren't super common on the Cape (mostly Fowler's in our experience).

The road wasn't as abandoned as I had originally thought. A few cars had to dodge my blinking Corolla. We decided that, after a half hour or so of cruising, that we'd just go into the sanctuary for a bit and look around with headlamps. That was fun, though we saw no animals. We knew it was a dawn to dusk place but we walked a couple of hundred yards in. I mean, it doesn't actually post anything about that until it appears on a kiosk way in. In the end, we saw no more animals and drove the 17 miles or so back to the hotel.

Was driving over 30 miles just to see one American Toad worth it? We both agreed... yes, it was. We slept like the dead that night.

We awoke later than planned on Sunday morning but got in gear quickly and hit the road. We held off on breakfast until we got to a place we had enjoyed a couple of years ago, much further up the Cape. We gorged ourselves merrily and then went to our planned destination. We got there a bit after 9 AM. It was cloudy and drizzly. Perfection.

The guest center had some hatchling Terrapins (saved from fox predation... the mammal got half, the rest were saved!) on display... this is what we were hoping to see here.
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The cuteness...

We headed out. There were not as many birds as we'd hoped, except for right here... some Crows and Greater Yellowlegs.
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(The crow on the left... hahaha!)

Keeping with the herps of the day before, we saw some Painteds and a Bullfrog.
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The bullfrog did an amusing walk along the shallow water instead of swimming. I wish I had filmed him.

The sandy dunes and salt marshes yielded no terrapins and few birds. As always, crabs were everywhere. Even some teeny-tiny ones.
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We spent quite a while out poking around and checking nest cages to see if any had sprung up hatchlings yet but we saw none. We took a short rest before starting our next endeavor... searching for Box Turtles.

During the break, we were talking to a gent who was telling us that the Orioles there like grape jelly. That is what attracted a few of them and I got this shot of two females.
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So, we then embarked on a journey we had started quite a few times in the past... scouring the fields for Box Turtles. The weather was right. Rain was gently falling. We scoured inch by inch. At one point I snuck down to a nearby pond and shot some Painted Turtles that were desperately seeking the sun.
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Not our target, but a chelonian delight none the less.

Our scouring took us on either side of a "turtle crossing" road. To be honest, we were just about getting ready to give up and go try another place entirely. From behind, we heard a man ask, "what are you looking for?" We told him what and where we'd been looking. He paused for a moment and asked us,"What's it worth to you?"

He was joking but I told him later he shouldn't have tipped his hand right away... I'd have slipped him a $20 no problem.

It turns out, this was the "Box Turtle Guy", Jim. He took us to an area not 100 feet from where we were scouring and showed us our White Whale, an Eastern Box Turtle.
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This was an old female that he had found and was in the process of heading back to his office to get new batteries for his scale. Every weekend, he and his wife find, weigh and collect data on the Box Turtle population here. We were honored to be left in charge of this grand girl while he went for his gear.
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Box Turtles had been a real monkey on our backs for years. We know the habitats, the preferred climate, their habits... but we could just never come across one. It was starting to get really embarrassing. Could we really call this, a gift turtle, our lifer? We didn't have to...

Jim very generously asked us if we'd like to help him look for the turtles and assist him in gathering the data. Ummm... YESSS! We all spread out and the scouring continued. We were doing the same thing as we had put a couple of hours into earlier, but doing it with renewed vigor. I was trailing, as I so often do, when I saw one hiding in a bush. I called out "I got one!"
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Jim laughed, as he had just walked past that spot and didn't see the camouflaged animal. To prove his point about how hard they are to see, Andrea nearly stepped on another on her way to see my guy.
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There we were, about 30 feet apart, with Box Turtles in hand. Jim came over to see my stunning male... "ah, number 79!" This guy was good! We stayed with our finds while he went back to retrieve his wife and more data sheets. My guy was very strong and he fought me as I held him. I put him down, hoping he wouldn't truck it away.
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He didn't... he quietly buried himself in the leaf litter.
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Meanwhile, Andrea's female got cantankerous.
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She had an interesting shell deformity that looked like a second little tail on her carapace.
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Jim wasn't familiar with this specimen. Her notches weren't easy to read either, if they were there at all.

These two were weighed and measured and  all of the data collected. The female was let free but the male had to go back to the office to complete his check-in. It had started to rain too much for the sensitive equipment. We took some photos before they were gone.
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This male was a locomotive... he would not stop for a respectable pose...
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We stayed in the field for a bit longer on our own, now that we were having the kind of success we had been hoping for for many years. We had begun to think that Eastern Box Turtles were some cryptozoological hoax. Florida Boxes? Yes. Desert Boxes? Of course. We have seen those. But Easterns? No way. How nice it is to learn that there has been no conspiracy against us.

We uncovered one more small male before heading back. He was under a pile of pine needles, all hunkered down.
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He looks like Sargent Schultz.
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I put his puff of pine needles right back on top of him and he never moved.

We got back to the office and gave Jim the GPS coordinated of Sgt. Schultz. Not a bad day, after all. He took us back into his work space. There were many tubs of freshly hatched terrapins there, still absorbing their egg sacks. They were quarter sized and would be released soon. My heart melted just a bit...

We thanked Jim profusely and told him that we'd be happy to come and "intern" for him any time. He knows that our interest in purely conservational and we love the animals. Hopefully, he'll ask for our help again some day.

Before we left, we checked the bird-feeders.
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Everything was normal.

So, despite the sometimes frustrating day we had Saturday, it turned out to be a memorable anniversary. Spadefoots remain a need-it but getting to spend some quality time with Box Turtles, and actually actively working with them (helping to monitor the population, however briefly) is unbelievably rewarding. We can't thank Jim enough and we feel honored that he saw something in us that made him think we were worthy (and trustworthy) enough to assist him in his important work with this species of special concern in Massachusetts.