Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Blanding's Tour 2016! \m/ April 16th.

The son we never wanted, Wee Matty Cub Cub, will be finishing up his school year soon. His one wish was to get to photograph a Blanding's Turtle before returning to New Jersey. Being the Make-A-Wish-For-A-Herp Foundation, Andrea and I decided to take him on a tour of the three spots in Middlesex County where we have seen this species. At least one of them must have some turtles up.

We went to the place the furthest away first, deciding to work our way back. It was still pretty cold (roughly 50°) when we got there at 10 AM but the sun was warming things up nicely. It wasn't long before Andrea spied a speedy Garter sliding into the brambles. I crawled in and got a decent picture.
Yay for me... I remembered my camera that day!

Yay indeed. This is a superior turtle place and I'm a turtle fanatic. Turn back now if you don't want to see examples of chelonian beauty. The Painted Turtles were up early, worshipping the sun and looking fairly smug about it.

Andrea spotted a second Garter who made it into the brush with no photos procured.

Our search for frogs was still in full gear as well. Close to the first pond's edge, as I looked for frogs, Matt flipped an unlikely rock and made an unlikely find... a shoestring Ribbon Snake, our first for 2016. He was a snakecicle so Matt laid him out on the sunny bench seat.
Massive cuteness. He thawed out and slithered off to the safety of his rock.

Andrea and I walked back up to the trail and we turned back to see Matt scrambling in the grass. A wee Garter had popped out for some sun.

We took a look by the vernals for salamanders, frogs and even wayward turtles who might be munching on eggs, but we saw none. Heading back to the pondy areas, we started seeing loads of turtles again. These are all Painteds.

Matt spotted a need-it bird for me, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. They have been a nemesis of mine since I started keeping count of birds so it was nice to add it to my year (#81) and my Life List (#153).
Ruby-crowned Kinglet #81 Lifer #153

A Painted Turtle losing balance...

It is no secret that I am an obnoxious asshole. I like trying to make the people I'm with laugh. I rarely do that but oh, how I try. I had just said (fairly loud) "filmed in Twat-Vision" when we looked over and saw a person out in the water's edge, silent and not moving. The sun was in our eyes but it was definitely a person. We didn't know if it was a dead person or not. He was about 50 feet away and facing in the other direction. I decided to shut up and we moved along.

We reached the river and decided that our luck with Blanding's would be improved if we turned back and double checked the areas we had just passed. We had seen the species up to the river, but never beyond. Heading back, we saw a Garter Snake pop out from under a boardwalk.

Not much further up the trail, we saw that the dead guy had moved and was standing. The sun was in my eyes, so I called the the silhouette, "find anything good?" It answered, "A Mike Howlett."


I went closer and finally saw that the dead guy was in fact my friend Leo, who was very much alive. We had never met in real life, so this was a treat. Not only that, but he was there looking for Blandings with our friend Steve. Not only that, but they had seen some. In fact, as we approached, one was at our feet.

They had been observing a few (they had 7 on the day, one in the vernal we had checked!) just on the other side of a shallow, watery ditch in a pond. That's why Leo appeared dead... to not scare turtles. I sloshed through to get to the pond to see if anyone was up. While I watched, two Blanding's crawled up to bask with some Painters.

They were pretty close together... here they are, minus a couple of pictas.

While I was out there, Andrea and Matt were photographing the shore specimen.

Leo actually found another Blanding's in the pond, but I didn't get a shot of it. He said it didn't have notches in the carapace so it might be a turtle with no data on it. Pretty cool.

As I left the water, I spied a large, fat Garter Snake. She had probably just munched down one of those pesky frogs that I can't seem to find.

While huddling in a shallow muddy pool photographing the shore Blanding's, Matt scared up a wee Green Frog. Since we hadn't officially photographed one on the year, I went and got it from him while he soldiered on with the turtle. He is our first official Green Frog on the year. *whew* Long time coming.

The five of us headed back, talking and photographing turtles...

That was an amazing visit. We can't thank Leo and Steve enough for flagging us down and sharing the day's hot spot with us. Leo and Steve had to move on, unfortunately. We figured we'd hit what would have been our last spot on the Blanding's Tour 2016. There was still the question of frogs. Northern Leopards in particular. So we headed back East.

It was noticeably cooler by the time we reached the second place. The sun was still shining but this open pond area had a shit-ton of wind. Still, Painted Turtles were basking their little carapaces (carapii?) off.
An elderly lady had pointed one out to me, saying it was a Red-eared Slider. I gently corrected her. She said that most of the turtles here were Red-eared Sliders. I gently corrected her. In truth, we had only ever seen one RES here in the years we have been coming. One. The lady became the butt of my mean, sarcastic jokes for the next little while.

A big ol' Bullfrog warmed our hearts a bit.

Matt spied our first-of-year Leopard Frog sitting in the path. It was dark and still. I photographed it before Matt poked it to see if it was alive.
It was alive and it leaped into the brambles. I was unable to be a hero to the son I never wanted... I missed a grab at it. Oh well.

Some more Painters...

Another Bull... yes! Frogs!

Even a nice Green Frog!

Hey- more Painted Turtles! Oh, I mean sliders!!! Haha, you old bag! Haha.

The next two turtle stacks kind of made me eat my hat and proved what a total douchebag I am.
I didn't get a decent shot of the first stack but this one I did and yes, that is clearly a Red-eared Slider sitting with a Painted. Plus, I saw a third one. *sigh*

Oh, well... these are Painteds, you old coot! (I did see a pair of American Coots, too.)

I had also seen a tannin-covered, orange Garter Snake with a stubby tail slip into the brush. I was unable to grab it for a photo. Not my day.

It had cooled off considerably so we turned back after going what we considered was far enough. On the way back, a couple was looking out into the overflowed river, about 30 feet from the path. They were talking about a huge turtle. From their description, it must have been a Snapper... still a need-it on the year. Sure enough, this emerged in the distance...

It stayed in that spot for a while as we discussed dusk-time feeding and how the water didn't look deep enough for him to completely submerge. Then it started swimming closer, at one point almost jumping clear out of the water. This was a monster... one of the largest snappers I have ever seen.

He swam into a cluster of brambles. I saw waves come out the other side and sticks move. I said "I guess it's deep enopugh for him to submerge there." Matt said, "I still see his head and shell."

Huh? I clearly saw movement go forward but yeah, there he was still in the brambles. Then he left the patch and went toward the spot where the other movement ended and WHALLOMP!!! He dove out of the water again and right on top of what must have been a truly wonderful female Snapper! He wasn't feeding... he was... making baby turtles!
Absolutley fascinating to see. This was easily a 40 lb. turtle, just a massive beast. I pity the poor female who has this guy giving her a hickey.

We went back to the car, still herping, finding young Painted Turtles and a Muskrat who was eating the green bottoms of the reeds.

Not too shabby... four first-of-year species and, finally, some frogs. Turtle stacks... four turtle species, including the endgangered Blanding's. Chelonian whoopie. Spending some time with friends. Making fun of kind old ladies.

Surely a day to remember.


  1. i have envy.........sniff
    turtle envy
    sniff sniff......

  2. !Qué raros los caparazones coloreados por dentro!!! Y vos Andrea te ves linda con el cabello largo y mas delgada, Un beso para todos Martha

    1. ¡¡Eres tan dulce!! ¡Gracias! (Mi pelo no es largo ... el mío es ausente!) Jaja