Monday, June 20, 2016

Nature Strikes Back! 6-17 and 18, 2016

Friday the 17th was a hot one. A scorcher, as the kids say. I had the day off from work but I stayed in doing housework. I emailed Andrea during the day and asked if she had interest in going hiking after work; an outing until sunset. She said yes. I readied for my date by napping for about 3 hours. I picked her up at the train station at 5:30 and we headed to a formerly great spot in Norfolk County. This is a place that has recently been razed to the ground (read about that here). We wanted to see if they were done and if anything had survived the destruction.

We got there at about 6 PM and knew we had a couple of hours before the sun set. Upon first hitting the woodland trail, a dark Garter crawled out on to the path, took one look at the two large bipedaling mammals coming down the trail, and hightailed it back into the brush. No pictures were taken. Hell, I never even got the lens-cap off before he was gone. Up at a circular, sandy bike path, we saw this female Painted Turtle who had just finished her nesting for the season.
We're not sure where she laid her eggs. She covered them up nicely.

About 30 feet from her, just at the edge of the path, another Painted had just squeezed a few out.
I thought she was exceptionally beautiful with her face in the evening sunlight, an image I sadly could not capture photographically.

We braced ourselves as we got to the end of the woodland path and ready to head out to the devastated train side hill path, formerly known (to us) as Racer Alley. It was quiet and still bore scars from the machinery but at least said machines were not present. There are still massive logs stacked up, presumably for mulching. It's a very sad sight but some grasses and weeds were poking their way out of the razed ground. Regrowth has begun, hopefully not in vain.

Our hearts lifted a bit when we saw our third Painted Turtle of the evening, raising a middle claw to the powers that be and nesting right where she fucking wanted... at the edge of the path right next to a tire track.
Plow my home, will you. You go, girl. Nature is stronger than development.

I was walking about 10 feet in front (and to the left) of Andrea. When I turned to look at her, she was on one knee and... well, it sounded like hissing. It turns out that she was making the ol' "and the crowd goes wild" cheering sound. She had just found a Milk Snake.
One more animal undeterred by the leveling of it's home.
These gorgeous little buggers are always our targets when we come to this place. It's nice to know that at least one survived the flattening.

That was just about it for us for Friday night. We went into the woods for a spell and flipped a Redback but he showed me who was boss. This is the only picture I could get on this little speedster.

In keeping with the theme of going to places that have been destroyed, Saturday morning, we readied ourselves and left early to hit a place out in Franklyn County, MA that had been razed last year. A friend had told us that other parts of that refuge have been recently "cleaned up" as well. This place has famously handed us our asses over and over again as we search for Box Turtles and Hognose Snakes. Between the two species, we have seen one Hognose in the dozen visits here over the years. And no Boxies. And we chose a dry, hot day to try to change our luck. Hey, I never claimed to be brilliant.

Our trek started out in the grasses and shady woods surrounding a bullet-littered sand area. Our first finds were the sawed off butt of a rifle and a razor-sharp arrow. Nice.

The thing I detest about this place is that we never see anything. We search for our targets and don't find them, but we almost never see anything else during our search. This day, we got a little luckier. Heading across the dirt road was a large, female Garter.
She measured in at 29 inches and if I was a bettin' man, I'd say she was with-snakelet.
Maybe she was 6 feet, now that I think about it.

Nature had been striking back here a bit, too. A field that was flattened just last year was pretty hard to find... because it had been growing back, full and lush. We made our way in to it and poked around, getting ripped up by vines, branches and prickers. That is not a complaint. It is, in fact, happy words. We made our way out eventually and got back on a familiar path. We found some debris and flipped a couple of Redbacks.
Whereas that Leadback was only 3/4 of a salamander, that Red one is so knocked up that you can see eggs in her belly from the side. That's gotta count for an extra 1/4 at least.

We got to our supposed Box Turtle area and separated, scouring the shady woods with a fine tooth comb. Using our new Box-spotting skills, we still turned up nada. But, Mother Nature threw us a bone in the form of another gravid Garter girl crawling through the woods.
I picked her up to take her to Andrea and she (the snake, not Andrea) gnawed on my hand pretty good. I had it coming.

There were a couple of good signs there that day. Three of the four animals we photographed were going to be repopulating the place and some of last year's destruction has been showing positive signs of rebirth. I'll take it. On the way out, a sad looking Green Frog was in his mud-puddle oasis, hoping for some more rain.

We have a tradition. After searching through this place, we head over to a pond in the next county to actually see some animals. Since we had some decent luck in the 3+ hours we had just spent, we had less pressure on us this time. We had to park about a mile away from the pond, at a family park with a stream next to it. The stream connects to the pond area and there are trails along the side. It would have been an idyllic hike to the pond except for a family reunion at the park and their super loud DJ set-up. We could hear it going for most of the way there.

The stream wasn't as clean as we'd hoped so we gave up looking for Wood Turtles and Spring Salamanders. I flipped a number of Two-Lines (they don't give a shit) and they all flopped away, pictureless. This one guy showed me some mercy.

We got to the waterfall below the pond and a large bird flew over my head. I got very excited when it landed and I saw it was a Pileated Woodpecker, a bird I have always wanted to see. Lifer #155.
Pileated woodpecker #91 Lifer #155

This place is lush and more-or-less natural, but it's filthy with humanity. Kids from the nearby college are all over the place. Still, we saw a few things along the pond's edges, like this bright green Green Frog.

We'd hoped for a Musk Turtle or two as we still haven't seen one this year. We didn't find one, though. In fact, probably due to the heavy human traffic here, we didn't see many turtles at all. I had a distant Painter in my lens but it slid off of its log before I could snap. This large old timer stayed up for me, though.

Right around here, we were warned about a crazy person up ahead... someone who might be having a bad trip. Sure enough, when we got to the road at the end of the trail, there was a young girl, matted hair and mud streaked, screaming and thrashing, being held by two people as another called 911. She was screaming things like "The ocean!" "Are you going to kill me?" and screaming for help. It was sad and scary. Frankly, there wasn't anything we could do where we wouldn't be in the way so we went on our merry way.

We crossed the street and hit the river trail down there. It is a lovely and tranquil place (except for the sirens and drug-fueled screaming).
This is the side that looks better for the Wood Turtles and Spring Sals, though we saw neither.

Andrea somehow spotted this young Nerodia in the river, swimming against the current, proud and zipper-lipped.
Damn tough photograph to get. Andrea tried to persue it to catch it for a close-up but the strong swimmer kept out of reach and disappeared under that log.

Hunger started to get the best of us so we turned back. Bad trip girl had been taken away. We hope she got some good treatment and hope she decides that her drug days are over. While peeking into the pond on the way back to the trail, Andrea saw a small Snapper. I stepped in to the muck and got him out for photos, much to his chagrin.
Some kids on the path saw us and came down to take a picture or two. They were in a clinging cloud of skunky smelling pot. They never offered us any.
I'll bet it was cool to see a Snapper while baked. By the way, his claws tore open my index finger. Again, I had it coming.

The last herp of the day to get photographed was this Bullfrog, who came to the edge and looked like he was rubbing his legs, getting ready for a nap.
We heard him calling when we were walking away. Brrrrrp...

We got back to where we had parked and the reunion was still blasting away. We could smell barbeque and pot. Maybe it was just the contact buzz but we were really  hungry now. We backtracked back to a town that we had passed through earlier. There was a sign for a restaurant and when we saw it, it was just a little hole in the wall. But it was open. Dare we?

We went in and asked to see a menu. An elderly woman gave us some and I saw it had pizza. OK, we're good. She seated us and asked where we were from. She hustled out our orders, bussed our table, pleasantly recommended stuff... and it turns out she is 97 years old. She's been doing this since they opened in 1976. This little hole in the wall was a total delight. Wood paneling, vinyl booth seats that have been there since the opening... and a picture of Liberace on the wall. Not only that, but the food was amazing. We tipped her heavily and left for the two hour ride home.

As we were pulling out, the cook came running out and said "You're from Boston? Cool! I hope you liked it here. You know, your waitress is 97. Check out the oldest tree on the East Coast right over there on your way down the street."

And we did. How utterly cool.

That was a nice capper to a long and strange day. The restaurant is Dimo's. (Yelp page here- don't listen to the uptight yuppies who think they're better than this place.) We got home late and were exhausted. But we have fond memories and we saw some wildlife. And lots of drug addled kids.


  1. and that green i shoulda painted that one

    drug-fueled screaming? yous have all the excitement....
    ok we're car shopping...
    if anyone really loved me they would shoot me so i never had to go car shopping again

  2. ps: i have turtle envy
    and a cut on my finger too but not from a turtle

  3. A tip when you guys are looking for boxies out western MA- as far as what has been told to me, the only populations left are relict. As you said, it was hot and dry as hell, but I'm not sure you would've had much luck even on a nice drizzly day.

    Always nice to see that old sycamore still standing. Gorgeous shot of that pileated, too! I have a close herp friend with pileated woodpecker socks.

    1. And yet we still go and try for the Boxies! haha... one day our luck will change.

      There have been youngsters found there and I believe a nest was predated last year so somebody in that population might still be gettin' it on.