Thursday, March 31, 2016

Ending March Alone 3-31-2016

I had a friend at work today... a Varied Carpet Beetle.
Varied Carpet Beetle

Since the temps had hit the 70s and it was supposed to be cold with possible snow this coming weekend, I decided to hit a local spot on the way home from work on this windy Thursday. And windy it was! Branches were bending and breaking and leaves were swirling all over the place. But I had gone to look for turtles so I couldn't be swayed, not even by winds strong enough to actually sway me.

I kept an eye out for little striped squamates as I walked along as it was warm enough but this place has been tough for snakes for the past couple of years. Likewise, Redbacks and Spotted Salamanders haven't been as plentiful as in the past. Rocks and logs were flipped but herps were not present. The pond came through, though...
That chorus line is a slider with a six-pack of Painteds! Right behind them was another pair of Red-ears.
Evidently, this is a popular pond to dump your sliders in. Humans, as I often say, suck. These three look like they're doing well, though.

The other side of the pond had some small Painted Turtles owning the big logs by themselves.

Mission accomplished, I moved on. I kept flipping and watching for herps but I saw none until I got to our favorite Two-lined stream and immediately started seeing quite a few of that species.

I have to idea what this weekend will bring but my ride home from work was pretty satisfying today. I also got a cherry Slurpee. Good times.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Last Weekend, We Herped. 3-25, 26 and 27.

I'm all out of clever titles. I'm so sorry.

Anyhoo, with a rainy, mild Friday night in the forecast, we planned on heading south after dark to check out the vernal pools that we had seen some action in a couple of weeks before. Planned isn't really the right word... more like, "I don't feel like cooking... let's go get some grub and while we're out, do some after-dark herping." It planned itself.

So, we got to our spot in Bristol County some time after 9 PM, and were serenaded by Peepers almost as soon as we got out of the car. The rain had let up and it was breezy. As we stepped into the woods, the trails were alive with the sounds of Peepers, Wood Frogs and American Toads, though seeing them wasn't as easy. When we got close to a vernal, the sounds would stop. We managed to find an egg mass pretty easily, though.
I'm not sure on the ID of this blob... I'm open to suggestions.

We walked along the trail knowing we probably wouldn't see anything on the move. We were able to flip a young, maybe second year Spotted Salamander, though.

A vernal that we had seen a lot of action in two weeks earlier was the spot we most wanted to see. Sure enough, right where we had seen a Spotted Salamander spermatophore garden, there were healthy egg masses present.

Nearby, a Wood Frog mass was incubating, too.

This is Andrea, herping the haunted swamp in the pitch dark.

We heard a few Woodcocks buzzing and I even startled one and saw it fly off, illuminated by my headlamp.

We walked along, keeping our eyes open and our brains alert. This is why... a Four-toed Salamander was crossing the path.

We headed back toward the vernals, hoping to spy some of the noisy anurans before we left. They were tricky but we finally saw a couple of American Toads at the edge of a pond.
Here is a video of the second one swimming off amid the calls of the three noisy species of the night...

It was obvious we'd never see a Peeper but we finally scored a couple of Woodies!
That second guy had been sitting there unnoticed while I struggled to get the underwater shot of the first one.

So we called that a successful night and headed home to get some sleep. Our plans for the next day were to hit a Norfolk County spot to check those vernal pools. Saturday was supposed to be partly sunny was warmish. That was a lie.

We got there at about noon, which the forecast said would be prime-time. It was raw and cool. Still, we paid our parking fee and headed in. We scored some Redbacks, a species that had eluded us the night before, right away.

The vernals were indeed very full of eggs, both Wood Frog and Spotted Salamander.

But otherwise, herps were going to be tough. We warmed up while we hiked and flipped but it was cold. Just plain cold. 41° cold. This nuthatch playfully hopped around, giving us some entertainment.

Our flipping got us a Four-toed Salamander, our second one within 24 hours. Always a welcome sight.

Andrea wasn't feeling well, so we decided to cut the day a bit short. We got a few more Redbacks...
... and turned back.

A bonus... on the way to the car, we saw a bunch of ducks out in the pond and when we got a closer look, we saw they were Ring-necked Ducks... a need-it on the year.
Ring-necked Duck #78

Pretty much as soon as we got into the car, the sun came out. Oh well. Rubbing salt into the wounds of my bad timing, the son we never wanted, Matt, texted Andrea and said he had seen a Spotted Turtle at a place we had planned on going the next day. *sigh*

Well, the next day did come and it was Easter Sunday. It was cloudy. And cold. Fuggit. The sun wasn't supposed to come out until we were expected at Easter dinner, about 2 PM. The son we never wanted, Matt, PM'd and asked if we had headed over to the Norfolk County Spotted spot yet. I said no. He said the sun was out. So we got ready and went, knowing full well we'd only have about an hour to look.

It was cold but the sun was warm. Our spirits were lifted. Especially when in the 43° temps, we saw a speedy little Garter!
Making full use of the sun's rays, this little blighter had a warm belly. Go go Garter!

We kept our eyes open for more snakes along the path but our main goal was a Spotted Turtle. At one point, I saw a turtle slide into the water from a sunny branch. No idea what kind. I'd have said Painted from the size and shape. But who knows...

We had planned to go as far as "the crossroads" path and we finally reached it. In a pond, about 50 feet away, partially obscured by foliage, we saw a turtle.
A Spotted, but with the sun's angle, the distance and the stuff in the way, it was going to be a tough shot. I had my boots on so I sloshed through the pond to an "island" and got within about 30 feet; I had a slightly clearer view.
National Geographic isn't calling but I'm happy with our documentaion of the year's first Spotted Turtle.

We took the crossroad path for just a short peek as our time was tight. (It was actually way late but we didn't yet know that...) The path was decorated by gorgeous Garter coils, waking up and grabbing some rays.
It was only 43° but the sun was warm and the snakes were happy. I'll be damned if that last one doesn't have a snack in its middle.

Right around here, we realized how late it was and we called to let Andrea's folks know and we hurried back out. Except Andrea took a bad step and threw her back out. Ouch. Our exit wasn't as fast as we wanted. But we saw some more snakes, now on the move since they had warmed up.

I only had a brief moment to try for a shot of a second Spotted Turtle before it rolled off into the drink.

While I was trying for that shot, Andrea noticed this nice, orangey Garter.

That was that... 2 Spotteds and 7 Garters on a cold Easter Sunday. Not bad. The commute to Malden was pretty bad though and we were pretty late. I took some good hearted teasing from my father-in-law, all well deserved.

So far, 2016 has been a real mixed bag. April is almost upon us and we have had some pretty good luck but the weather can't seem to make up its mind. The forecast for the upcoming weekend, the first one in April, is calling for possible snow. I will never take any animal sighting for granted. Who knows what this year is going to do to us?!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Are we jumping the gun? March 12th and 13th.

Our friend (and frankly, the greatest person in the world) Bob asked us what our targets for the weekend were going to be. I had no answer. Sunshine? A turtle? The 2016 herp season has really been a continuation of the 2015 season. Some animals hibernated deeper than others, I guess. Still, we had an actual migration this week so we were primed to do a real herping weekend. With no tough targets.

For Saturday, the (supposed) sunnier day of the two, I chose a place in Bristol County that has a few turtle species, but is also a good, easy walk. We could more or less effortlessly do 4 or 5 miles. Sadly, we went there right after migration a couple of years ago and got nothing. We hoped for better luck this year. We got there at about noon... it was partly sunny and in the low 50s.

One thing that was up... honey bees. There were swarms buzzing all around the ground, paying us no attention. I couldn't get a photo... they didn't land for long. We hit our feeble target pretty quickly when we spotted the first Painted Turtle of the year, far away but visible.

Another one was nearby trying to catch some late Winter rays.
We could hear Peepers going off but never got our peepers on them.

It was cool, for sure. Some reliable turtle perches were empty or gone. (The water was quite high.) It was some time before we flipped a chubby Redback.

A nearby vernal pond was very noisy... a cacophony of Wood Frog calls, mixed with the occasional Peeper. Unfortunately, all of the frogs were way out in the pool and we couldn't see them. I saw a ripple and some movement and extended my 60X zoom all the way and captured this bored looking fella...
Yeah, yeah, yeah... mate all night, call all day... blah, blah, blah.

Along the river, turtles were basking in the reeds. They were totally on to me, though. As I got close enough for a photo, they would slide in. At one point, I was fiddling with the camera while 4 or 5 Painteds slipped into the water and a slim Garter Snake slithered away from me. Not my day. I managed to get one Painter photographed before he hit the water.

That Garter would have been our only snake, had we procured a picture. Oh well... there was still a lot of beauty to enjoy.

We managed another plump Redback before heading back.

Truthfully, being our first full-fledged nature walk of the year, we were a bit fatigued. We gave it our best on the way out but saw no more animals. No worries... I was ready for pizza anyway.

Andrea chose a closer spot for Sunday... a nearby stomping ground that is a good after-work place. It was supposed to be cooler than Saturday, but sunny. This place has a long, exposed, stone-strewn hill that gets hot hot hotter than hell, so we figured we'd be making the most of the weather. It was warm in the sun and we closely inspected the area. I took to the side of the hill and told Andrea to get action shots should I fall. She only got one because I miraculously did not.

We didn't see anything, either. It was, in fact, quite warm. We knew things were out, but we didn't encounter any. Twice we heard and saw a disturbance in the dry grass but came up empty. Frog? Mouse? Snake?

Just as we were starting to second guess our choice (why didn't we go to the dens, the obvious spots? Why did we actually challenge ourselves?), Andrea leaped, saying "DEE-kay". She saw a lil' brown friend jetting across the path.
Not what we expected... a fossorial, nocturnal snake? He must have just emerged.
First Dekay's of the year. We were now pumped and decided to stay, going into the wooded area to the trails.

It turned out to be a good choice as we quickly found a speedy young Garter zipping away. I brought him out to the path and he calmed way down easily.
He slithered away and into a beautiful periscope.

Going along, we spied this UFN... unidentified frog noggin.
UFN (Unidentified Frog Noggin)
I believe it's a Green but I'm not confident enough to call it as our first Green of the year so I'll just keep it as a UFN.

Like at the place the day before, the honey bees were up and buzzin' here. Andrea managed to get a shot of one this time!
Honey bee

We went our usual route and didn't see much... except for these two massive Leadbacks.

The place was more crowded than I ever remember seeing it. Humans were all over the trails. The temps had defied the forecast and it was about 65°. As we got back towards the hill, we saw another Garter.
Some teen aged girls (who had been busy photographing... themselves) were coming by and I asked if they wanted to see a snake. They did, so I caught it and held it for them (well, one of them) to touch. It was her first time. She actually gave it a good fondling! The snake kind of looked at her like, you havin' fun? She attempted to hold it solo and did for about one second. Oh well... I give her an E for effort. It was a pretty squirmy specimen.
While Andrea was holding the snake and showing it to a couple who were hiking by, another smaller Garter went boogying past, just behind Andrea. It disappeared into the leaves and was gone.

Back on the main trail, we met a guy and his elderly father walking along and I thought they might be talking about snakes. And they were! They lived in the area and the man used to see them all the time. We told him of the Garters we had just seen and he went to check the area out. Within a minute of them leaving, we saw a small guy go into the grass. We brought him out to hang for a while.
We picked him up when people were bringing their dogs by. He seemed to enjoy our company.

Heading back to the car, we saw another Dekay's lose himself in the grass... no picture taken. Speedy little devil. We were quite happy with our four and a half mile hike and our four photographed snakes. We weren't as tired as the day before. Building up strength already? Maybe.

It was still fairly sunny so before going home, we hit the nearby cemetery pond to see if any turtles were still up. We pulled in and from the other side of the pond, we saw a big guy out there on the shore, catching the last rays of the day. As we got closer, we could tell it was a large Red-eared Slider. He wasn't going anywhere, so I finally got close enough for a decent shot, despite the sun's angle.
I'll bet this is the same guy we see here every year. Probably a released pet, I'm happy to see him thriving here, possibly the only one of his species in this pond. He looks pretty healthy so good on him. First of year.

So this was officially our first full weekend of actual herping this year. It felt damn good. Also, since Thursday, we had photographed 13 herp species in Massachusetts... and its still early March. 15 MA species on the year so far. We are pleased. I can't wait until it's genuinely warm and the Milk Snakes and Musk Turtles are back.