Monday, January 4, 2016

Ringing in 2016... Jan 1st thru 3rd.

We cut our New Year's Eve festivities a bit short because we had been called to patrol the beaches of Cape Cod on New Year's Day. We were assigned the big beach for first light, then a shorter one for afternoon high tide. Unfortunately, we hadn't seen our friends in a while and we didn't stop the festivities quite early enough. But it was all good... we just didn't get much sleep by the time the alarm went off at 4 AM.

The drive was quick (just over 2 hours) and the traffic wasn't bad so we managed to reach the beach by first light. The wind was roaring in and we figured we were going to have a heavy day. The first sign of life (and death) was this juvenile Great Black-backed Gull munching on a (loon?) carcass.
Great Black-backed Gull #1
Since it was a new year, he was my #1. I managed 14 bird species this first day, some of which I will share.

It took some time before we saw anything chelonian. A hungry Gull alerted us to our first, very dead turtle.
We marked it and called it in but I didn't feel the need to dig a protective burrow for this poor fellow. I mean, yeah... treat every one like it is alive, but...

Strangely enough, that was the only turtle we saw on the way out; over 3 1/2 miles of beach. The tide had become pretty low by the time we reached the tip.

In an effort to get out of the raging wind more quickly, we decided to go up over the top of the peninsula rather than retrace our footsteps along the edge. The closest distance between two points is a straight line... Oddly enough, way up (seemingly above high tide, though deep tides can cover this bit) we saw another turtle.
He was pretty stiff and appeared dead but we were on our way back anyway so we called him in and brought him with us. I carried him... he wasn't bad.

Unfortunately, they wanted Mr. Bony brought back, too. When we got to our marker, we noticed that the gulls had dragged him about 15 feet away.

I had been carrying a sled that we bought for transporting turtles and this was a good time to use it. I wrapped up the guy I was carrying, then went to pack up Mr. Bony. He leaked all over... a fetid mess of rotted cranberry sauce. All of the glamour that anyone thinks comes with turtle rescue was dribbling down my coat in a red, chunky spew. Boy, was I glad to have the sled.

We saw no more turtles as we trudged along, but we saw some gulls going at a Harbor Porpoise carcass.
Ring-billed Gull #4
(That Ring-bill is #4.)

We took the turtles in. Both were quite dead. Mr. Bony went out in a flash of overwhelming stink, taking us and the poor woman checking his stats into the abyss with him. We can learn from all of them and Mr. Bony did his best.

We had about 4 hours to kill before high tide so we poked around the sanctuary, adding to the bird count. Some Blue Jays (#10) posed nicely.
Blue Jay #10
As we went up the trails, it dawned on us... we'd had less than 4 hours of sleep and had just walked over 9 miles. Why were we walking trails to kill time? We decided to bird from the car and get some chow.

We got to our high tide beach a bit early. They had called us and asked if we could head North on the same stretch after this patrol. Why not? We caught an hour long nap in the car, drove off to find a bathroom (Pilgrim Heights!! haha!) and got back as the sun was setting. We hit the beach as the high tide was coming in.

I tried way too long on trying to get a decent shot of Sanderlings and my camera's battery died. Never got a good picture of them, but my blurry capture made them #14. I managed a shot from the tip of the beach, just as a wave struck the rocks.

The sun went down completely and our headlamps came out. Obviously, pictures wouldn't happen, what with the darkness and a dead battery. I got enough juice from it for one final shot of the night...

No more turtles, no more energy... we headed home after a long day. 15 miles of beach walking, 4+ hours of driving... we slept like the dead. Only 3 turtles were found that day by everyone.

The next day, Saturday the 2nd, we went to look for herps. We hoped a Redback or two would be up. We were dee-nied! But we managed a couple of neat birds... a Red-bellied Woodpecker (#15) and a White-breasted Nuthatch (#16)
Red-bellied Woodpecker #15
White-breasted Nuthatch #16

That left us Sunday, our last day of vacation, to try for first herp of 2016. We went to our nearby place of choice. I mean, we had seen a snake on New Year's Eve... who knew what might turn up? But it was cold. 41°, but windy and when the sun went down, uncomfortable at best. We flipped a bit for salamanders but many of the logs still had snow and ice flush up against them. Off limits.

We got to the Valley of Nerodia and checked dens but saw no noggins. Snakes were very unlikely. We went down to the seep where we had seen the Garter 3 days before. It was wet and sals were possible. The impossible happened, however.
First herp of the year a Garter Snake?? I poked him to see if he was dead.
He got flat and feisty in quick order. I coaxed him toward the entrance to the den, hoping he would go in. I mean, I'm sure he came out when the sun was warm but now it was gone and it was chilly. He was only 2 feet away from the hole, so I moved him along. He eventually slid in like slurping up a string of spaghetti.

Mission accomplished. First herp of 2016. We turned back, got burritos and watched a movie. I took a nap. Great way to end my Winter Vacation. We herped all but two of our 10 days, technically. Only one herp to our name this year but it stands as earliest snake in MA ever.

Oh no... not that again!!


  1. sorry about your dead turtles...and getting slimed

  2. Your involvement in turtle rescue has been very, very interesting to read about. I had no idea the numbers that washed up down there.
    And a snake in January- imagine that, especially after LAST winter.
    Happy New Year indeed.