Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Opacum Ye Faithful. 9-27-2015

It was time for our Third Annual Mountain trip to Hampden County in Western MA! Short on planning, most invitees couldn't make it but the only three of us who had made both of the first two trips, Andrea, Ryan and myself, were present and accounted for on this cool Sunday, ready to rip it up on the mountain. We picked Ryan up at 7:30 AM and never looked back.

We arrived at the vernal pool that always starts this adventure at about 9:30. Our main target? The threatened Marbled Salamander. This is a known breeding pond for these rarities and this is their time of year. Last year we struck out but we had high hopes this day. We started carefully flipping and noticed that it was fairly dry under the logs. So we moved closer to what was left of the pond and started seeing some salamanders. Leadbacks outnumber Redbacks two to one here, as this photo so aptly illustrates.

Newts were abundant, in both the Eft and post-Eft stage.


Less than a half hour in, I heard Ryan yell "Marbled"! I raced back through the brush and branches, really ripping myself up... and it was so worth it.
This has got to be the most stunning Marbled I have ever seen.
Totally worth the two hour drive already.

This Green Frog was flipped and looked quite surprised by the very idea.

A black Leadback.

One of the bizarre things we always see here on our annual trip is newly metamorphosed Spotted Salamanders. They still have vestigial gills and barely any spots. They're still very cute, though.

Some bright Redbacks. (A Leadback trucked off before I got the shot.)

This year's United Colors of Benetton ad...

A newt ready for some water and a twin-SQUEEs!
Millipedes were everywhere, too, it should be noted.

We headed up the mountain, finding Efts and Redbacks every so often. Andrea struck first in the snake department with this feisty little Garter.
He settled down for an in situ shot.

We had ascended the mountain a bit by this time, so it was a surprise when Ryan again called out "Marbled"! He certainly had his Marbled eyes on this day! The sight of a small Marbled cuddled up to a large Redback was an amazing thing to witness. Inter-species spooning.

Andrea got a nice Marbled solo shot before returning the log to its proper place.

I was flipping shale on the steep side of a hill, carefully I might add, when I noticed that about 2 feet in front of my face, this slim Garter was watching me plop rocks around.
I tried to grab him for the others to see but he made his way down a tiny hole in the rocks.

I made good with another wee Garter shortly thereafter, though.

And up we went. We ascended the mountain via a path that we had hoped to never use again. Straight up on slippery shale shards. Oh well, we made it and earned a short break.
We looked down on Turkey Vultures circling.

OK, so we had reached the top but there were no herps up there, so we made our way down... flipping likely places, hoping for snakes, frogs or whatever. There are, in fact, the state's two vipers here but we knew they were a long shot. In fact, it was quite some time before another steep, rocky hill got us a baby Garter.
Andrea is nothing if not classy.

That was our last snake of the day but we saw plenty members of the Caudata family. Here is an Eft with only one spot.

Ryan flipped this rope of Redbacks (and millipede).

We got some climbers to squee at this little guy we found on our descent.

These triplets were the last herps we photographed before hitting sea-level again.

I'm not gonna lie... we were very tired, achy and hungry by now.

We checked the vernal on the way back to the car. This large Crayfish wanted a piece of me.
Come at me, bro

We found three more of the Spotted metamorphs, the last of which had fused rear toes (and a bum leg). We called him Django.

Beaten, bruised and hungry. But we still wanted to squeeze in some quick stream herping before the gate closed. We drove 10 minutes into the park and pulled into a choice stream area. Dookies, and Two-Lines were our targets. Both came quickly and in quantity.

This Peeper hopped by giving us our 9th herp species of the day.

Andrea and Ryan found a Dusky larvae.


Some Dookies.

This was rapid-fire herping and it was getting very dark quickly. This stunner was the last Two-line I flipped.

10 minutes till we get locked in... the race was on! I headed to the car when I heard the other two call "Wood"!! They had spotted our 10th species, a small Wood Frog who had hopped into their line of vision.

Nice... we had finally hit double-digits. It was actually a pretty low count for this place but for late September, we're very pleased. Plus, Ryan found us two Marbled Salamanders, so he earned a free meal.

We got home very late, naturally, but regret nothing. I didn't even mind when I took some trash from the car over to the dumpster and put my face into this web.

This was to be our last herping trip of September so I'm happy to say that it was a good one. How many more animals will we see this year? As I type this, tomorrow is October... traditionally the last month of the year to see snakes. I don't know what the last three months of 2015 will bring but if they are anything like the first 9, it will be weird and unpredictable.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Grampa plays with snakes. 9-26-2015

The herping year in Massachusetts is ending rapidly. Over the last week, we have seen evening temps getting into the low 50s... and even lower. This plays havoc with our herping plans. Even with a forecast of sun and warm, we have a tough time figuring out our timing, our layers of clothes and what places to hit and when to hit them. That said, I wanted to see my grand kids on Saturday, too. With them in Essex County, that seemed like a good place to herp. We hit our go-to place in Essex at about 10:30 AM.

We parked and peeked at a pond that sometimes has some turtles up basking, but it was dry. The sun was sure warm (despite it being only 62°) but no water meant no turtles. We wondered just how dry the ponds would be as we headed in.

I'm not going to lie- out of the sun it was cold. Having left our sweatshirts in the car, we just had to deal with it. Of course, no snakes would be out on the crawl in such cool temps. Or would there be one intrepid Garter, hanging out on the edge of the path?
I walked all around this orange beauty and he never even noticed me. He was a slim statue.
Andrea picked him up to look at his belly, which was a stunning orange, too.
That's a pretty snake! She released him and he went on his merry way... just in a nick of time. A pair of excited dogs came by just then, eager to see what we were doing.

We flipped plenty of Redbacks. They are back with a vengeance!

We got to the first edge of the pond (which is kind of an L-shape) and it was so low, we could walk out and not even get muddy. But along the edge, there were some rocks heating up in the morning sun and we found two young Water Snakes.
The guy on the left was pretty excitable, musking and biting, while the other guy just hung out, still half asleep. They switched sides for Andrea.
Mr. Bitey stayed for a solo shot before slithering off into the rocks again.

The reddest of the day's Redbacks.

We headed up a trail that we had discovered the last time here, one that goes up to a sunny power-line cut. We expected great things in this cut and we spent about an hour and a half exploring and flipping but were unable to see anything. We each got our eyes (or ears, in my case) on a quick snake but we never found them. Oh well, we stayed warm and enjoyed the beauty of the place anyway. We headed back down to look at a small pond. Pay dirt!
This young Painted Turtle had worked his way through the duckweed and found a nice basking spot.

We had also reached the Bullfrog portion of the hike. Hundreds of little Bullfrog noggins poked out of the water, almost unseen by us since they matched the color of the duckweed. Luckily, some of them were out further so we could get a few shots.

We peeked at the other side of the trail, where the pond drains through a culvert, and two completely adorable young Green Frogs were hanging out.

We had missed a chance to photograph three fast Pickerel Frogs while walking out on the dry pond earlier so when Andrea spotted (heh heh) another, I was going to get the shot, whether he made it easy or not.
Good enough.

This fat, green Bullfrog applauded our efforts.

Let me take a break to say hello to two loyal readers. Hi Stella! Hi Duck!

We headed over to the open part of the pond. It was low but not dry. The waves still crashed into the shore. So did the wind. In fact, it was darn cold!!! We shivered and flipped a bit but no herps in their right mind would be out in this freezing wind. We sat on a rock in the sun and nibbled on some snacks while we shivered. I enjoyed watching this Bullfrog tadpole foraging around at the edge of the pond, also taking a snack break.

We were freezing so we headed back. Once away from that part of the pond, it was warm again. The duckweed pond had a few more Painted Turtles up, trying to bask.
This little guy is just covered!

We went close the edge and started flipping some bark that had fallen from a tree. Andrea flipped a piece and we saw coiled perfection... a beautiful classic Garter Snake.
This snake had the most stunning eyes... like newly minted pennies. I hoped for a photo that would capture that but nature's beauty sometimes cannot translate to photos.
We were very taken with this beauty. He never musked or bit or seemed the least bit threatened. If we were ones to kidnap animals from the wild to keep as pets, this guy would be here with me right now. But we don't do that, so we let him go, to live the way he should. In the wild.

That was a beautiful way to end a tranquil and rewarding (if sometimes chilly) herping trip. We headed over to see the kids. Anything but tranquil, but even more wonderful in its own way.