Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Hot Shells in the Summertime. July 15th & 16th, 2016

We didn't go out last Sunday. We spent the day around the house, not cleaning. It wasn't very late in the day when we were really regretting our inaction. It had been cool and rainy but we really should have gone out. Especially since it was supposed to get hot, hot... hotter than hell during the week. And it did.

Friday the 15th was one of those 90°+ days but after work, we wanted to go look at our local spot that had been decimated by train-track upkeep earlier in the year. Plus, it has been a good Milk Snake spot for us (in some non-leveled parts). It was still well into the 90s when we got there  at about 6 PM and our walk produced no animals for quite a while. The flattened area (formerly known as Racer Alley) is still showing signs of recovery; plants continue to poke up, making the dirt and mulch green again. But it wasn't until the tunnel leading from the Alley to the woods that we saw our first animal... a small American Toad hopping in the cool shade.

Our plan was to walk through the cooler woods while the sun was still burning, then walk the Alley as dusk hit. Andrea figured that even diurnal snakes like Garters would be semi-nocturnal on a day like this. So, we walked the wooded area all the way up to our old board-line. Our boards were moved years ago and I have been trying to rebuild but haven't seen any snakes there for a few seasons. Imagine how happy we were to see this huge Dekay girl up there, resting under a board.
This is probably the fattest Dekay I have ever seen. She couldn't even coil. There will be plenty of teeny, tan babies up there before too long.
Her encounter inspired a Helen Love-style song to write itself... "Bubblegum Racing-stripe DK Girl". It has been in our heads ever since.

The walk back to the tunnel and Alley was uneventful until a super-pretty Garter stopped next to the path for us.
Andrea was right. The shadows had gotten long and it had cooled down to the high 80s.

We walked the Alley, slightly encouraged by the plant growth. As we headed off-path to look under a railroad tie, we saw our first Alley snake since the destruction... a clean Garter speeding through the mulch.
This, obviously, is big for us.

We got back to where we came in and gave a good look around for Milks in an area that has become a kind of hot-spot. No Milks but this big, beautiful American Toad found its way into Andrea's hand, ending the night on a high note.

Our Saturday plan was simple... set the alarm for 5 AM, get up and out and down to Bristol County to hike before the sun got too hot. The forecast was for the mid-90s and not only is it uncomfortable for us but the animals wont be out either. For the most part, we were successful (though I slept like shit... my head was spinning like a top as I drove down good ol' death-trap Rt. 24!) and we reached our destination a little after 7 AM. Andrea struck first with a small stripe-less Garter under a piece of wood in the shade of an abandoned garage.

With this heat wave, we certainly didn't expect to see any salamanders, which is a shame. We hadn't seen a Redback since June 17th. This county had received a lot of rain during the night, however, and that was just good enough for us to see this unexpected stranger!
I've been told by friends that my claim to fame among other herpers is that I like "Redbacks more than anyone else". After the dance I did after seeing this guy, one day shy of a full month since the last one, it just might be true.

From the trail, we looked at our next target...

This area is lovely to look at, lovely to smell and a damn fine place to see animals. We saw just one here this day, a nutzoid Garter who would not stay still for a photo. He was a beauty, though. Blues and yellows and again, not much of a stripe.

The sun hadn't yet reached some of the reliable turtle-basking spots, so it was a little while before we saw our first, a Painted Turtle who decided to get up early for a choice basking spot on the river.

The haze was moving in as I inspected a drying vernal pool. There is still plenty of life in it (and luckily, much rain has fallen since then.)

A few more Painters emerged to utilize a sunny perch.

We decided to change our usual route up a bit, hitting some sunny flipping spots earlier, before the heat was full-on. Along the way, we saw a large, fully-loaded-with-babies Garter girl nosing through the grass. This gravid gal was beautiful and calm.

We got to our flipping spot and yes, the sun had become pretty toasty. We flipped discarded appliances and debris but the real draw here is old carpeting and blankets. Especially after a rain, snakes move into these to get their skin moist (sorry, Matt) to aid in shedding. The carpets yielded nothing but the ol' magic blanket was good for a Garter Trifecta.
And I thought a "wet blanket" was supposed to be a bad thing.

Another piece of debris that has been good to us in the past is a nearby deflated air mattress or raft or whatever. Yup... looks like it will produce again...
OK, let's cut to the chase. The Magic Raft was magic.

It's hard to say if these snakes would have still been there if we took the normal route, but the decision was looking pretty solid right now. Also solid were the pricker bushes. Andrea's legs took a beating.

While walking through more brambles, Andrea spotted our first Wood Frog in many moons. This, again, really excited us.

We got up to the waterfall, normally our half-way point. Of course, we were well past that now. We sat and looked out at the Painters basking 50 yards away.

We went to the bottom of the fall to poke around the rocks there. We have seen Two-lines there, Painters and even a small eel once. This time, Andrea spied a web with a packed cluster of baby Fishing Spiders.
Baby fishing spiders

Somehow, we were down there for a few minutes before we looked up and saw this:
Yes, there was a decent sized Snapper there... taking a shower! He kept dipping his head into the frothy bubbles.
It was a real privilege to encounter this animal in such close proximity. He didn't seem to care much about our presence. Here is some film of his departure.

What a fantastic sight.

Heading back now, the heat was on. Easily 90° already and it was only a little after 10 AM. We took a quick dip into the river before going too much further. Later, we inspected a dried up vernal area that still held some moisture. Moist or not I was very surprised to see another Redback.

We got back to where we had begun our hike and the sun had finally reached the basking spots. Not many Painters were up but a few were braving the rays.

We walked along the river for a while, hoping for more turtles. I saw a blob under the water on the far shore. Man, was I surprised to see what it was when I checked the camera.
That's a big ol' Snapper.

Some muddy-butt Painters had more or less found their light.

Our last animal here was a single Painter who chose a large tree as his own. I doubt he lasted long there... it's very visible from the path.

We were happy with our finds as we ate a Mandarin Buffet lunch. Plus, it was barely after noon. After eating, we headed over to Plymouth County (just over the border) to a spot where we could get wet while we looked for animals. We waded and noodled and got pretty wet and saw nothing until Andrea spotted this Water Snake coming out from under the falling water.
That's a pretty Nerodia, y'all.

Remember all of those baby spiders? Here's a big Fishing Spider, hanging on a rock as the water rolled by him.
Fishing Spider

A Painted Turtle was foraging in a tranquil spot of the river.

Getting wet once again (it felt good... it was in the mid-90s now and it was brutal in the sun), we found a small Snapper hiding behind a rock.

OK, that's a wrap. What a day. And by now, I was toast. Exhausted. Burnt. Running on fumes. We hit the highway and headed home.

Andrea's phone rang. It was our friend Sārah. She asked if we wanted to meet up with her and Charles to look for Musk Turtles. We turned right around and headed back. Darn right I want to look for Musk Turtles!

We had been to her spot before but hadn't really had much luck. Sārah  has very good luck because she is very thorough and very skilled. It wasn't long before she spotted a young Painted Turtle.

Andrea hit Musk first with this feisty little bugger.

Then Sārah found an even smaller specimen.

There were lots of cute animals in the water!
It's always so cute when just their little noggins are popping out.

I'll admit it, I had lost steam. I needed a soak, too. I went a bit ahead and waded into the lake. Dozens of small Sunfish nibbled at my feet and legs and it felt wonderful.

Our last animal of the day was a wee Painted Turtle who looks like he passed gas just as I took this photo.

OK, now we really had to go. I was out on my feet, but I regret nothing. It is always a joy to see Charles and Sārah and she sure made good on her enticement of baby Musks. But we were overdone by the sun and beat and sleepy and... well, we made it home safely and had a day of wonderful memories running through our brains as we drifted off to sleep that night.

A long day but a great one.


  1. TURTLES.......awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww
    even the one with the sun hat

  2. Beautiful musks! It's tough to find them reliably. Must be quite a spot.
    I also feel obligated to inform you, as some of the only people I know likely to be interested: I got my first Blue Hills rattler on the 17th. Yes Virginia, there is a Crotalus...

    1. Wow!! Congratulations!! I'm afraid a Norfolk County Timber is well beyond my means at this stage of the game. I'm just too old and creaky to keep trying!! I'm so glad to hear that they still exist!!! Well done!

  3. ¿Enfermo viejo y chirrianre?!Jaja,Mike , Qué exagerado !!!!!Martha