Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Petting Zoo and Other Delights. Pennsylvania Day 2. 6-4-2016

This was going to be a big day. We were meeting up with friends to herp. Thankfully, some of our favorite people were able to make it on short notice. Our friend Dave was going to meet us near our hotel and we were to follow him to... the Petting Zoo. At first I was disappointed that we were going to have so many eyes at this place. I mean, it's easy to find animals here; Andrea and I could handle it on our own on Sunday. We needn't waste such herping talent. But, oh, how wrong I was. We had what many of us consider one of our all time top herping days. Alone, we would have missed a great deal of the amazing finds we made.

We got to the place a little after 8 AM, after Dave pulled over to look at some rocks on the way in and we almost had a Racer. I had it by the tail but dared not pull back any more than I had... he was heading into rocks. So, I reluctantly let go. He shot a load of musk all over my hands as a thank you. Off to a good start.

The parking lot was full of friends... Bob and his kids Wes and Nate, Tom, Kyle and his friend Christina, and John and Tim, two Facebook friends who I had never met in the real world before. Sadly, the son I never wanted, Matt, was unable to make it. So, the 11 of us headed in. This Black Rat looked down upon us with awe.
Our first of the year.

It was warm and cloudy... perfect weather for our pursuit. It didn't take long to start seeing plenty of snakes. This Copperhead was laying out, looking like a pile of leaves. Another FOY.

Next up? How about a Hognose?
This was Christina's lifer, too!
The blue "in-a-shed" eyes were to be a common sight.

John, Tim, Kyle (and his amazing body), Andrea (ditto!) and Tom were peeking in at something...
What could it be?

Another Copper!

Dave had told me of a special rock that usually has a Timber or two. He asked me to go to the rock first, so I could make the "discovery". Well, my old eyes weren't as good as some of my companions... but this large Timber was out getting some sun anyway.

Around the side of his rock, a Copperhead was poking around.
This was all in about 20 minutes. And it didn't let up.

How did I know I was among my kind of people? Because, despite seeing Hogs, Coppers and Timbers, we were all completely blown away by this giant Garter Snake.
The biggest sirtalis I had seen in many decades. We all clamored for a chance to get a look at her. 37 inches from nose to tail tip. Bob offered anyone $5 to lay her across their face. Christina gladly took up the challenge.
The musk happened, but not until it was away from her face, mercifully!

At this point, our group fragmented a little. I shot some birds and meandered a bit. Andrea was still with Kyle and Christina and they found a (blue eyed) Racer.

Dave and I got to talking and walking and I was way up ahead when I heard Andrea call "Timber"! By the time we got back there, I heard her say "Hognose". Which was it? It turns out that they had seen a Timber, and while photographing it, Andrea noticed a Hognose just above it.
Again, both were in the blue.

While everybody took their turns photographing those beauties, somebody noticed a Racer laying in the leaves about 10 feet away.
Unlike any other Racer I've ever seen, he was content to just hang with us. I took a sit-break with him.

What is this quartet of fine, fine butts looking at?
A Copper, illuminated by Tom's flashlight.

Andrea made friends with a large American Toad.

Living in lizard-less Massachusetts, 5-Lined Skinks were on our target list. I think it was Tim who presented us with our first one.
He (the lizard) gave Andrea a little nip... the only bite of the weekend.

John is a herper like me. It's not just about the snakes, he wants to see everything. He was flipping stones in a seep and came up with this Red Salamander larvae.
Another species we don't get in MA.

Right around now, Kyle and Christina headed back. They were out of time and had to go. It was great to herp with Kyle again, however briefly. Every time I'm in the field with him, I learn a lot. He's an excellent person to spend time with. It was very nice to meet Christina and herp with her, too. She doesn't get a lot of field time and it was a treat to share her enthusiasm. Both she and Kyle  do excellent work for the PARS Project, to which Bob also contributes a lot of data.

I was lagging behind now... probably went to "look for Wood Frogs" or something. They had found another Hognose up ahead, and a beautiful one it was.

On his way back to see the Hognose, Dave stopped at a rock, stood on it, and surveyed the area. He'd found another Copper. When we all got to that spot, it took some of us quite a while to find it. A live game of Find the Snake.
I can't tell you just how much I love this species. The most beautiful snake of the Northeast, in my opinion.

Dave had been on a recon mission... he told us that up ahead, there was a party waiting for us. As if we hadn't been partying our asses off already! Eagerly, we headed to The Wall. Dave was right. A Timber party was in full swing.
Bob got some beautiful shots of the yellow one until it hypnotized him and he nodded off.
Right about here, a woman rode by on her bike and yelled out "Antivenin is getting hard to come by" which I thought was as rude as hell. We all are careful and know what we're doing. It pissed me off and I muttered some obscenity that ended with the C-word. Bob's kids were right there. Oops. I'm a pretty bad person.

There was a younger Skink below, still wearing it's brilliant blue tail.

Hmm... maybe I should be less concerned with the skink when there was a third Timber just a few feet away, sunning like a cow-flop. I hear antivenin is getting hard to come by.

A nice Black Rat was poking his noggin out and we got a decent shot.
I reckon Tom got a better shot, though.

John pointed out this sunning skink to us.

Since we had other places that we wanted to hit, we all started to head back, even though this particular hike goes on for many more miles. It had taken a while but we finally scored our first Nerodia right about then.

An American Toad was hiding in the brush.

Again, our troops split up. Some wanted to take the high road, some the low road. Dave and I got talking and walking again and found ourselves way ahead. No problem... with our two sets of eyes, we still managed to find plenty of snakes. Next up was another chubby Garter gal.
Her under-bite makes her look like me when I don't have my teeth in.

This gorgeous leaf-pile was getting some sun.
When Andrea and Tom got to this snake a while later, Andrea got a nice shot of her with some flowers.

Some other animals that Andrea, Tom and Bob's kids found... (what a lovely family they made! Why aren't the kids ginger?) A lazy 5-Lined Skink.

A Copper noggin. (A ginger!)

A curious Rat. (This could be my favorite picture of the year.)

Dave and I didn't do too badly either... it was Copperhead City. This guy was right off the path.

This one might be my favorite snake of the day... a stunning Copper just spilling out of the rock crevice.
He deserves a close-up.

Our final snake for this spot was a curious little Copper that I didn't see at all... Dave had to practically boop it in the nose before I saw it. It was resting in a hole in the rock.

So, we finally all met up in the parking lot, giddy with our success. We made plans to get some lunch but figured we'd hit a couple more spots before doing so. Before getting back on the road, I got a shot of a 17 Year Cicada resting on a leaf. These guys were quite plentiful.
17 Year Cicada

After some driving, we got to another spot. We had one target... more Timbers. Somebody had seen one here before and with so many eyes, we thought we had a decent shot at it. Turns out it was pretty easy... Bob saw one... then amended his announcement... "it's a pile of Timbers".
It was near impossible to get a decent shot of these guys but there are 5. I'd love to get a better look at that velvety black specimen!
That was all we saw there but hell, it was more than enough. Breathtaking.

Our next stop was a small dribbling stream next to a parking area. Everyone knew Andrea and I wanted a Red Salamander (and we didn't know that larvae was one at the time) so we made a stream-herping pit stop. Under a board on the way to the water, Tom flipped a Slimy Salamander, another species we don't have in MA. It was dirty so I sacrificed my water bottle for a salamander bath.

The stream as clean and refreshing. We didn't find a Red but John flipped a Redback...

Tom nabbed a Dusky, too. It gave us the stink-eye.

By now, our Slimy was clean and ready for a photo. The little guy posed like a champ.

OK, now we had definitely earned food. We all greedily chowed down. Sadly, John had to depart after lunch. We made our farewells and headed to our last spot of the day. While it was still warm and cloudy, we made a last minute decision to go to an easy spot rather than a spot that required a lot of time and hiking. It turned out to be an excellent choice because as we were en route, the skies opened up and it poured. We got to the last spot of the day, which was Andrea and my first spot from the day before. Let's see how much difference a few more sets of eyes can make.

To be honest, it was pandemonium. There's no way to keep track of everyone's finds and I didn't get pictures of everything. It would have been impossible. But, here's what I managed to get my lens on...

Dave started with his first Redbelly of the year.

I got a wee in-the-blue Ringer. After a 21 Ringneck Friday, it was nice to see the first one of the day.

A decent sized Pickerel was posing beneath a Purple Iris. Thank you, Mr. Lithobates, for a colorful shot.

I grabbed a cluster of Ringers that were behind a tarp. Most slithered away but I had two in hand.

Andrea flipped a couple of Redbellies.

Tim scored a Green Snake that was super-light. It was in the blue and very pale. Interesting.

We had seen some turtles in the water but were unable to get any decent shots. This female Painter was looking for a place to nest and made it easy on us.

Everyone was combing through an old foundation and pulling up snakes. It was quite mind-boggling. I couldn't even begin to get photos of them all. I had to content myself with just this picture of Andrea triumphantly holding up a Ringneck.

Some nearby, small vernals had tadpoles and Green Frogs present.

I flipped a shoestring Garter under some bark. It had no interest in cooperating for a picture.

Later, I flipped a large, round rock and saw this tiny Ringneck.
I moved him out before returning the rock to it's place. As I was putting the rock back, Tom stopped me... I hadn't seen this teeny wad of Ringneck.

A cool non-reptile sight... a Bold Jumping Spider was noshing on a dragonfly three times its size.

Around now, Tim remembered that he'd put a couple of Redbellies into his backpack to show us. He dug them out. We had only seen brown backed specimens so far, no charcoal ones. One of these guys was both... charcoal with a brown racing stripe. Too cool.

This place is usually pretty Water Snakey but we were having a tough time this day. Finally, Bob and Tim spied a couple, but they were on to us. Andrea managed this shot of one in the process of handing us all our collective asses.

Up ahead, Bob's son Nate was gesturing to us. His arms were out at the side and he was clapping them together. What the hell? Did he have a Gator up there or something? We got up to where they all were and it all made perfect sense. Tom had caught a wily adult Snapper.

Sadly, the meet-up was just about over. Everybody (but us) were running late. We gathered for some group shots. This (and me, of course) is the crew that made it to the bitter end.
Tim, Andrea, Dave, Bob, Tom (in back), Wes and Nate. Damn good group of people. We made our tearful farewells and hit the cars.

Except wait a minute... wanna flip some rocks on the way out?

There were a couple of pull off spots that had worked for us the day before, so we hit them again. The first one yielded a Garter. I love this action shot... Andrea going into flip mode and Dave waving goodbye!

The next pull off got us another Ringer.

And Bob found a Green. A very photogenic one. One that "threatened" with an open mouth, too.
I wish I could have gotten a better open mouth shot but at least it's documented.

The next pull off just proved that the day refused to stop... Garter and a Ringer and a Ringer and a Garter.

OK... ENOUGH!!!!

We made our final farewells. Sad to have this come to an end. What an amazing day we'd all had. The only thing that could have made it any better was if Matt was with us. Andrea and I looked around for a place to eat and settled on a pub that had perogies. We ate and relaxed as the sun went down.

It was now raining. And dark. It was road cruisin' time.

We started down by the place we'd discovered the night before. Peepers were calling and Green Frogs were in the road.

Andrea had done some pre-trip research and came up with a couple of roads that might be worthwhile. We passed one before noticing it and had to turn around. In the turn-around spot, a large American Toad was watching us.

We got on to that little back road and were pleased with the 20 MPH speed limit. We did a solid 10. And saw lots of animals.

A Pickerel.

A soggy little Garter.

Plenty of Toads...

A Wood Frog.

We had to move lots of stuff out of the road.

I was starting to obsess on seeing a Peeper. We heard them all over the place but couldn't see one. But, here's a gorgeous little Wood.

Hey look... a plump Eft!

This Green was a stunner and deserved a decent photograph but frankly, I was toast and it was pouring. Squint your eyes and imagine his majesty.

Finally, just before succumbing to pure insanity, a Peeper hopped out into the road and gave us our 23rd species of the day.
Don't let that innocent face fool you... he was pure evil.

What a day. Non-stop action. Good friends, tons of snakes, lots of fun. This was just about the best day I have ever had in the field. I have to thank everyone involved for making it so special. I shall never forget it.

I slept like the dead that night.


  1. Jesus Christ man... I see Massachusetts' prettier younger sister has delivered again. I didn't even see that many Crotalus in Arizona this past weekend (although it was pretty damn hot there).

    Maybe if that woman was so worried about you guys she should've stepped in herself, eh? Antivenin shortage- she was certainly rearing to sound smart to someone that day.

    1. Her ignorance has given us a funny story, at least!

  2. Well done, great to see you guys again!