Friday, March 11, 2016

Warm Days and Big Night. March 9th and 10th, 2016

It was tough going back to work after last weekend's whirlwind birding trip but we survived, more or less. Andrea has been battling a cold but she was even before we left. She is pulling a Mike this year... usually it's me who never gets better.

There was a real warm-up this week and Wednesday March 9th was forecast as possibly breaking temperature records! Mid-70s in early March? But, alas, I was at work. Which was slow. The sunlight outside the (basement) window of my office was taunting me. I suggested to my boss that I might leave early. We're so slow at the moment that he said it was OK. I headed towards the local dens and got there by 2:15. It was still sunny and in the high 70s. Record broken!

I headed straight to Robles' den to see if he was up. No, but a slim Garter was stretched out.

As I walked through the Valley of Nerodia with just a T-shirt (well, and pants and stuff) on, I saw no snakes but the warmth and dappled sun made all well. I wasn't at work, after all. I headed down the path and stopped over to scan the Cottonwood dens. Two slim Garters were enjoying a late winter bask.

Further up, behind the stone wall den was the longest Garter of the day... only about 20", but not bad.

Happiness achieved, I headed home but made a pit-stop in my neighbor's yard to see if any Dekay's had emerged. No snakes but there were plenty of Redbacks in his garden.

Not bad for a Wednesday.

The next day, Thursday the 10th, I was going to take a half day off from work because Andrea and I wanted to attend the wrap up party to celebrate the end of Turtle Stranding Season. She came to work with me (always fun... for me) and we hit the road at about 11:45 to drive to Cape Cod. We got there more or less on time, traded crazy turtle rescue stories, had cake, talked with friends (our pal Tim was present) and enjoyed ourselves. I got a decent shot of an Eastern Bluebird there.
Eastern Bluebird #77

Now, this day was supposed to be rainy. And it was. Many of us up here in New England were thinking about "Big Night"... the official start to the herp season... Salamander Migration. We had made plans to hook up with friends in Bristol County to walk some of the trails after dark and see if the vernals were hopping. We had some time to kill, though not as much as we thought.

We grabbed some dinner then decided to see if any Peepers or Grey Tree Frogs were out and about in Plymouth County. Our prospects looked good as we headed over... it was raining pretty hard. We got in, got ourselves into our rain gear, and slowly hit the road. Surprisingly, our first encounter was our first American Toad of the year!

Peepers were indeed out.

A little red squiggle caught our eye on the road. A salamander! At first I was thinking Redback but no, this was a large Four-toed on the march.
First of the year.

Another Peeper. Another Four-toed.
This was fun, although we had to drive very slowly. We had to stop every 10 or 15 feet and clear the road.

Then we started seeing Spotted Salamanders on the move.

And our first Bullfrog of the year.

We weren't making much progress down the road as we kept stopping to move amphibians!

This Peeper hitched a ride to safety on Andrea's boot.

The next road warrior was a new species for this park for us (I think)... an Eft!

Another American Toad...

Spotteds were out in force. We didn't follow any of them down to the vernals but I'll bet there was a wriggling mass of fun going on down there.

We actually had to put a moratorium on Spotted Salamanders and Peepers, they were so plentiful. This high-standing Eft caught our eye from the car.
(Almost a great picture... shame I didn't have the face in focus...)

A couple more Bullfrogs...

We realized by now that we were going to be horribly late getting a couple of counties over to meet our friends. Andrea had no phone service way out here either. We tried to hurry back but had so much road clearing to do. Luckily, there wasn't much traffic. Except with amphibians. This little Redback didn't care if we were running late.

I'd said no more pictures, unless it's a toad. This third American Toad was indeed... a toad. And a fine one demonstrating runner's lunge at that.
Funny... in the warm months, this place is 95% Fowler's but tonight, all three were large American Toads. Interesting.

Before breaking away to the highway, this last Redback flagged us down for a portrait.

We finally got service and told our friends to go along without us, we'd catch up. We did, eventually. We could see their lights in the distance. Or were they ghost lights. We were you-know-where.

The sound of Wood Frogs was deafening. A few Peepers too, and even calling American Toads. We caught up and they showed us a Wood Frog orgy.

They took us to a couple that had been doin' it on land for a while and were still at it.
Eventually, we witnessed these guys hopping past our feet and we even helped nudge them into the water... still engaged.

A few ride-'em-cowboy Woods.

Our friends had seen a few Spotteds in the vernals and we kept our eyes peeled for the tougher to spot Blue-spotted Salamanders. Finally, we saw our first.
And our second...

We moved in deeper. One person with our small group is from Australia so everything was new to her. Even this Redback.
It's such a joy to share new animals with people, especially when its a species that we encounter so often. Never take these guys for granted. I'll miss them when I move.

The other species we were trying for is the Four-toed Salamander. Contrary to the ones we'd seen in Plymouth County, the ones we saw here we teeeeeny!
So teeny and hard to see, in fact, that we turned back for fear of stepping on any. I mean, we're talking 1" to 1 1/2" long. We wanted to explore the vernals a bit closer, anyway.

We found our proof that it was indeed "Big Night"... a bunch of Spotted Salamanders... and their party packets!
Not a great shot but this is clearly a spermatophore garden.

The same pool was filled with baby Wood Frogs in the making.

We had all commented how we never see Blue-spotteds in the water. Well, now we all have.

My final shot of the night, a gorgeous orange-peach Woody on the path, headed down to the party.

OK, that was a long day but totally worth it in every way. Nine species on March 10th? Unheard of. We all made many interesting observations throughout the day and it was awesome to finally hang with some friends that we hadn't seen in a while, as well as make a new one. While the season never really ended from last year, Big Night is always the start of the new herping season. Who knows what weather is to come. Let's hope these animals are all successful in carrying on their blood-lines. The past two winters have been very weird as well as complete opposites.

Time will tell, but we're honored and excited to have been able to see a part of the process.


  1. yous are moving?
    oh and i am thinking everyone is waking up out back here as well

    1. If I have to keep living in the frozen North, I'll make sure the end is nearer than it will be if I move to the warmth!

    2. how far south are you folks going?

    3. We'll go wherever. I love Florida. Obviously, nothing planned yet.

  2. Mike,con imaginación ,éstos animalitos ,pueden protagonizar historietas de terror, ahora volviendo a la postura anteriór ,te digo que ésos animales son maravillosos , Yme encantó el zorro, Les mando un beso a todos Martha

    1. Estamos tan contentos de que el tiempo ha sido bueno! Es muy temprano para ver estos animales, pero la temperatura ha sido cálido! ¡Me encanta!

  3. You guys are killing it up there already!