Friday, April 22, 2016

Andrea Saves the Day 4-18-2016

I was tired but we made it out the door on time and embarked on our fourth straight day of herp adventures. Thanks to a Massachusetts Only holiday (Patriots Day), we were both off from work and, as always, we headed South on this day. The Boston Marathon ties up the city, so we head in the opposite direction. This year, we chose Plymouth County.

Our destination was a State Forest where we have seen Milks, Racers, Greens, Redbellies and Hognoses, as well as Garters, Ribbons and Water Snakes. We were hoping for a first-of-year on any of the first ones mentioned. We got there at about 10 AM and hit the trails... a cranberry bog was our first hike. Oddly enough, the first "herp" encountered was a few Spotted Salamander egg masses...
Interesting but when we stopped to think about it, not all that surprising. Pretty good spot, really.

Frogs and turtles are common in the bogs but there was not yet any lily pads or other cover available so the sightings were relatively sparse. A few Bullfrogs braved the open areas.

The bogs were red with cranberry blossoms.

We went up and away from the bog after exploring it thoroughly and started to look around an open area with a rocky road going through it. The road is dotted with small flippable stones and I was hell-bent on finding a Redbelly. I spotted some AC; a mattress, sofa, and a chair. As I approached it, something big tore out and sped under the sofa. I called out "something big" but Andrea didn't hear me over the wind. I flipped the couch and saw about 4 feet of black coils unraveling and going under the upright portion of the couch. "Racer!" I dropped the couch down and it raced over to get under the chair. OK, now I knew exactly where it was and I could catch it and impress Andrea, restoring her faith in my waning abilities.

Let's just say I got a finger on it but it was way too fast for me. He escaped into the field and was gone. First Racer of the year and it wouldn't count. I was immediately crushed and I cannot lie... it ruined the whole day for me. I looked all over and found no Racer. I'm getting super bummed out here 4 days later just recalling how shitty I felt.

We moved on. In a hot, dusty field, we flipped a consolation herp... an unexpected Spotted Salamander.

We drove on to the next spot. The wind was blowing much harder there and it was pretty cool. We flipped a rug that was in sandy soil and there was a Redback under, trying to burrow back into the sand.

I looked next to my foot and saw another Redback, smooshed into the sand. Oh no... had I stepped on him? No, the carpet had... he pulled himself out and walked off.
Redbacks are weird. They can be found in so many different habitats. Here is a pair or more normal acting ones who were flipped under a log in mossy soil.

By now I was having camera problems. I still can't explain it. I just couldn't get it to focus and the settings were weird. While driving to the next spot, we saw a pile of Painteds from the road. We pulled over and it took a lot of frustration and swearing before my zoom would focus on this group.

Our next destination was a more public spot in the forest. We've been pretty lucky here before, though. In fact, right away, we saw a Red-bellied Cooter who was up basking about 30 feet out. I snapped a safety shot.
Good thing, too. Right about here, a huge pack of screaming kids and their hippy caretakers walked by. Amid piercing shrieks of TUR-TOLE, the terrified animal  slid into the drink, fearing for it's life. Of course, I had just focused in on a decent shot at that point. On top of my self-loathing, and camera problems, I was adding extreme hate for the human race again. And the male hippy actually said, "I guess it doesn't like the kids..." or something. Ya think, asshole?

So, I was even crankier. Imagine poor Andrea having to put up with this. We hopped into the car and headed over to the next spot. I was hoping it would be the last spot. I wanted the day to end. We hopped on to the trail along the side of a pond. There was a long stack of Painted Turtles on a perch on the other side of the pond. As I stood there fighting with my camera, they all slid in with a synchronized sploosh. While it might have been funny at any other time, I actually felt the sting of tears building up behind my eyes.

On we went. We saw nothing along the trail. No toads, which was very weird. This is one of the toadiest places in the state. I flipped a Leadback, though.

We had been hearing Chipping Sparrows all day and I finally got a usable shot of one, my 83rd bird species on the year.
Chipping Sparrow #83

On the way back, many of the Painted Turtles had replaced themselves on the log but the damage had been done to my psyche.

Right around there, Andrea expressed interest in a trail that met up with the main path. Since she hadn't been feeling great the past few weekends, I wanted her to enjoy herself as much as possible this weekend, especially when her herping partner was in such a bad place. We went up the trail for a bit and she explored a sunny field while I sat on a log wondering how to die without hurting Andrea. Then we went further on.

We explored more sunny fields and flipped many logs and stones and thoroughly combed the area. No toads, no snakes... I was failing badly. That Racer was my albatross. We had decided we'd had enough (rather, Andrea did... I'd quit an hour earlier). Heading back, I was about 10 feet in front of her when I heard, "Mike..."



"... really?..."

Yes, really.

On the previous trail, while chastising myself, I had said in my head, "well... she hasn't found anything either..." Well, now she sure as hell had. Our first Hog of the year. Andrea gently brought her out and placed her in the path so we could photograph her.

I got in front of her to try to corral her. It sort of worked. She crawled in between my stretched out legs and stayed there. Evidently, I was a warm and comfortable resting spot.

I wanted to move my camera strap away from her. It bothered her a bit.

After sitting there for a while, I also wanted to move my stiff right leg. That sat even worse with her.

OK, I couldn't sit like this all day!

I finally moved myself away and we had a typically assertive Hognose... flat and hissy.
We didn't detain her as she crawled into the brush and disappeared.

I had said earlier in the year that I'd love to get some Hognose pictures where the snake isn't agitated. I'd have to say we accomplished that. And what a beautiful specimen. The marking on this one are exactly like the very first one that we saw here a few years ago... one that got away with no pictures. That made this one doubly rewarding.

So, did that help my frame of mind? Of course. Having a Hognose get comfy in my lap was an awesome experience. I'm not going to lie and say that I'm not still trying to recover from the internal verbal self-bashing that I do so well, though. But Andrea certainly saved the day.

We moved on, still hoping for toads. Even Electric Toadland was empty.

So, there you have it. A first-of-year Hognose and an almost first-of-year Racer. Oh well, we'll get one next time. Until then, keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars. This has been American Top 40.


  1. telling you..... they know their peoples............

  2. I can't wait to get back outside with you, my love. <3

  3. National Forest? There aren't any in Mass.

    1. My bad... State Forest. Thanks for keeping an eye on me.