Saturday, November 21, 2015

Never say never say never again... Late November, 2015

Not much to update, really. We are in preparation for Sea Turtle rescue so we went to an on site meet-up in Dennis MA on 11-15-2015 for last minute tips. There are many of us ready to help, though the warmer climes have kept turtle strandings to a minimum thus far. While we were down there, we walked the beach and saw no turtles, but added a couple of birds to our year and lifer counts.

This is a scene I will be seeing a lot of over the next month... Andrea vigilantly patrolling the beach.

We spotted a Snow Bunting, lifer #137. Despite being fairly cooperative, I just could not get a clear photo. Oh well, I'll probably get another shot sooner than later.
Snow Bunting #95 Lifer #137

While the "class" was going on, I noticed some smaller birds running around near some gulls and got #96 on the year and Lifer #138, Sanderlings.
Sanderling #96 Lifer #138

One other notable sight was a couple of globs of Squid Eggs, or ocean ooze as I called it.
Squid eggs

We are headed back for beach patrol tomorrow (Sunday Nov. 22nd) but we wanted to look for salamanders close to home on Saturday. It was surprisingly sunny during the late morning hours though it was only about 49°. We went to a nearby place to look for Ambystoma, though we found none.

Truth be told, we thought we had a shot at our Ribbon friend from two weeks ago and we were right. Sitting just outside of his den was Robles, the Ribbon Snake.
Hey, Robles... it's November 21st! OK, OK! You're our latest snake ever up here... go underground!
The sun was warm but not that warm!! Get thee into hibernation, sauritus! We really don't want to see you up again this year.

The only other herps we saw were Redbacks, like this single flip beauty.

I got a triple flip with a Leadback, a Redback and a Goldtop.
That Goldtop is a Deluxe and bears closer examination...
Quite an interesting color phase.

So that's what we've been up to.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Snakes of November 11-08-2015

Sunday was cold. Surely too cold for snakes. It was 52°. Yet we headed over to a place in Norfolk County to look for snakes. We wanted to set a new record for ourselves... our latest snake ever (in MA) was November 7th, last year. The sun was going to be on our side. We just had to be tenacious.

By 10:30 AM, we were at our destination, walking the chilly trails. Of course, any potential snake would be barely poking his noggin out of a den, testing the warmth of the sun. Still, we couldn't resist flipping a few logs. This got us a Redback or two.

A rock strewn hill... this was where we wanted to be. We herped side by side, we herped spread out, we even herped up and down.

The rocks were plenty warm. We cursed the limitations of our vision. Why, just 3 inches out of our line of focus, a snake pate could be out. Luckily,about an hour in, a slim Garter Snake made it easy for us ... he was stretching across a rock for maximum basking power.
I broke my rule of "no need to handle it if you got a decent picture"... he might be our last snake of 2015 and, well... he was just so cute.

Mission accomplished. We took that trail to the end, and in fact saw another Garter sliding off into the bushes. The ambient temperature had soared to around 55°. We walked back to the car, happy with our success. We headed toward home, intending to stop at one more place. A place that we know where the dens are.

On the way, we did a little birding. Here are 28 Rock Doves.

We got to the second spot at about 1 PM and I'm not going to lie... it was cold. Still, we headed to the sunny dens. I was poking around an area when I looked back and saw Andrea in mid-lunge. She had found our Halloween friend, the Ribbon Snake!
Definitely the same guy... you could tell from his scars. The healing injuries on the ventral part of his tail had improved a lot in the last 8 days.
You can see Andrea reflected in his eye.
We let him go and he slid into the mound and was gone.

We went to the adjoining park to see if any more snakes would be up basking but many of the rocks were in the shade already. These short days are killing us. We decided to climb the hill and look for a bird that our friend Bob said we should look for. Besides, there's a bathroom up there. The view was nothing to sneeze at.

Cheating by using an E-bird report, we found out that right near the bathrooms, a Dickcissel has been seen hanging out with House Sparrows. There was a group of House Sparrows there so I took a picture. That guy on the right is a young Dickcissel, giving me my #94 bird on the year (and a "rarity" point in the contest) and my Lifer #136.
Dickcissel (on right) RARE #94 Lifer #136

After we descended, we helped a group of young, college aged birders find the Red-headed Woodpecker that we saw here last week. It was good to see folks of this age enjoying nature. There is hope.

We headed back towards the car slowly, taking our time to enjoy beautiful sights. Like my wife.
This is the beautiful sight she was photographing while I was photographing her.
Mmmm... herp heaven. It's hard to believe that this sight is technically in Boston.

We gave "Redback Rock" a flip and there were three Redbacks under it. They were all too fast for our cameras and our hands. See?

We spent the rest of our time there in a waterless vernal pool looking for Ambystoma. We found none but Andrea found a lot of Beggar's Ticks, the most annoying plant seed of them all.
Beggar's Ticks

So, we had set a new record for ourselves... 2 snakes on November 8th. That makes nine herp species in November for me! Oh, make that 10. Monday, on the way to get groceries, I turned in to the nearby cemetery to see if any Hooded Mergansers were in the pond. No, just a hundred or so Canada Geese... and a hearty Red-eared Slider.
"Invasive" or not, this guy deserves to be here... he's a tough cookie! (Plus, he wasn't planning an invasion. He just sat there enjoying the autumn sun.)

If they're not hibernating, neither are we.

Monday, November 9, 2015

No- No- November The 4th thru 7th, 2015

Who knew "Indian Summer" (apologies to the easily offended) would hit so hard this year? After a great Halloween, we figured our days of warmth were a thing of the past, but Mother Nature was throwing us a bone and sending us some 60° and 70° days! The cruel joke was that she sent them on weekdays. Work days.

I tried my best to break out early on Wednesday, 4th. The temps were in the mid-60s all day and it was sunny. Sadly, by the time I got out and to a Suffolk County spot near home, it was 4 PM and the sun was going down. Thanks a ton, Daylight Savings Time. I managed to flip a pretty Leadback, though.
The next day was even nicer but I couldn't get out of work in time for anything. Blech.

Friday the 6th was the nicest day yet. I ditched work an hour early. Sadly, I got stuck in traffic getting home, so I pulled over to hike a place in Norfolk County. It was the place at which I'd had a disaster a few months ago. I wasn't sure I was ready to go again... I still haven't gotten over the incident or forgiven myself. But, I sucked it up and went in. It was about 3 PM and still in the upper 60s.

I love 'em... Redbacks. As is often the case at this time of year, that's what I saw first.

I saw a few of them and I heard Peepers calling from the wetlands. I never saw one, though. I (very carefully) flipped many rocks and logs and saw very little. A woman walked by me twice so I figured I'd tell her "I'm looking for salamanders, if you're wondering." She asked if I was going to eat them.

Anyway, after she went on her merry, psychotic way and wished me luck, I flipped a log and saw a brown tail fall out and go under a leaf. I moved the leaf and saw half of a wee Dekay's Snake making his way into a hole in the dirt. I gently excavated him. November snake, baby!
I was extremely grateful on many levels, mostly because this was about 100 yards from where my Garter accident happened before and I really didn't want to go that far. In fact, after photographing the Dekay, I went home.

I felt badly that I couldn't share that guy with Andrea. When she got home, we went up to our friends' house to see if any Dekay's were in their garden. (They often are.) No, but it was Redback friendly.
What a monster!

The weekend was going to be a tough one to gauge. Warmer but cloudy on Saturday, cooler but sunny on Sunday. We decided to go to a long time favorite pond in Norfolk County on Saturday to look for salamanders. We really wanted some Ambystoma. And a November snake. November 7th was, after all, last year's late-in-the-year record snake... it would be nice to tie it. We met our friend Ryan there and hit the trail.

Ryan scored the first herp with a... you guessed it... Redback!

It was 62° and cloudy. The wind across the pond was frigid. Therefore, the unexpected sight of a Painted Turtle up and "basking" filled me with joy.
Our latest-in-the year turtle encounter ever.

Redbacks were the herp-du-jour.
I love this last shot. Blurry as hell but the little Redback all stuffed into the wood makes me happy.

I got another peek at the pond and saw this old-timer Painted up catching some UVB.

We finally scored a Leadback.

The ground was so littered with leaves that it made it hard to even find logs to flip.

We got near our (hopefully) Ambystoma spot and flipped a log that had nothing under it. Then a Redback fell out and scurried into the leaves. Then an Eft fell out. We tried to right him and pose him but he was having none of that. He was a whirling dervish, constantly on the move. This is the best shot I could get of him.
Luckily, Andrea decided to film him.

We found no mole salamanders despite the three of us searching high and low. Oh well, we moved on. My bounty was a dollar for either Ambystoma that we know are here or any snake, but I made no payouts.

Here's a super pretty Leadback, though. I hadn't noticed the Redback on the other end of the bark until Ryan pointed it out.

We got to a stream bed that was moist (sorry Matt) but had no running water. It was perfect for Two-lined Salamanders. Oddly enough, I flipped a Pickerel Frog first.

Ryan got our first, and only, Two-lined.

The Pickerel, who didn't look like he had been hibernating yet, was busy charming Andrea.

The next, and last, herp we flipped looked more like the Pickerels we see at this time of year... muddy and 7/8th asleep.

Not a bad start to November. I'd have loved to get Andrea a November snake but it just wasn't in the cards for that day. At least we got to see 5 species and watch Ryan show us how to get over a chain barrier when you're just too tired to step over.
Ryan is a goof

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

How did it get to be November already?! Nov. 1st, 2015

Saturday was cool but sunny. We had unprecedented Halloween goodies in the form of multiple snake species. This Sunday was supposed to be warmer but cloudy. As always, its a crap shoot. We hitched up with the son we never wanted, Matt S, and hit a Norfolk County stomping ground that might satisfy our salamander itch, if not snakes.

Our last time here, it was cool... less than 60°... but snakes were seeking out the sun. This Sunday, it was over 60 but the sun would not come out. It felt cooler than the day before so we quickly wrote off finding any snakes (though we never stopped looking) and concentrated on salamanders. Matt said his goal was to find a "big fat adult Spotted".

Our first herp came in the form of a small Redback who raced away, going straight over a beetle.

Down by a stream, a lot of rocks were exposed so I thought a Two-lined Salamander was a good shot. It was... under the very first rock I turned.
I picked him up to hand him up to the other two who and noticed his Fu Manchus (and a dirty chin).

Matt asked if I got a shot of the other one. What other one? It seems another Two-lined had come up and was laying on the rock I had just put back into place.
He must have been lurking in the leaves nearby and my footsteps had awoken him.

It was pretty chilly for sure. We didn't see a ton of animals. Redbacks, as they often do at this time of year, saved the day.

Water Snake Waterfall was pretty dry and, obviously, snake-free. Matt flipped a large rock and we saw some swimming in the puddled water underneath. I thought at first it was minnows but it was Two-lined larvae.
We'd never seen them in this particular spot before. Interesting.

We went some time without finding anything after that. A speedy Redback or two but nothing we got our cameras on. We were searching like mad for Spotted and Four-toed Sals. After a while, Matt called "I got one!" He came walking over with a hand full of something. When I got closer, I saw he had completed his quest...
That's a helluva handful of Spottie!
What an amazing specimen!

Best of all, while we were photographing him and flipping for other possible subjects, a couple came hiking by and asked what we were doing. We told them and showed them this big boy and he proved to be a great ambassador for salamanders everywhere. They were charmed.

Matt quickly struck again right after that with this smaller but more vivid Spotted Salamander.

Having made our trip worthwhile (and having received a phone call that gave us a time limit... we had some family business to tend to) we eventually headed back to the car. Along the way, Matt flipped this massive Redback.

November is upon us and soon it will snow and I'll be miserable and waiting for the Spring. But I'm not going to dwell upon that right now. There's still plenty of herping to do until then.