Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Arid Experiment. 8-6-2016

The drought goes on. We've had a few showers here and there but streams are dry, ponds are low, and animals are thirsty. The heat has been up and down, but mostly up. We took our usual Friday night stroll through the recently decimated Norfolk County park just to keep an eye on it. Dry, yes. Receded river, yes. Fossorial snakes or Racers, no. We did see a pretty young Garter on (formerly known as) Racer Alley, however.
Baby steps. The vegetation is doing pretty well at bouncing back. Our goal is to flip a fossorial or see a Racer on the Alley. Then we will believe that the park can survive.

We had a late afternoon engagement on Saturday, so we decided to keep it fairly local. Our old favorite pond in Norfolk County was our place of choice. It's about 4 1/2 miles around a pond that is often bursting with wildlife. How would the dry spell be treating it? We tried to get there early to find out.

There had been one of the pitiful light rains during the night, so the grassy areas were holding some moisture. The underside of logs and rocks were dry, which isn't good for salamanders, but fine for snakes. We stayed positive. Especially when we saw a couple of frogs fairly quickly... a speedy Pickerel and an equally fast Wood, both in the damp grass alongside the trail.

The open dam area that is often good for frogs, Water Snakes and turtles was a challenge. The pond waters had receded quite a lot and water close enough to inspect was very low. We saw nothing until the end, where Andrea found this lovely Wood Nymph caterpillar.
Wood Nymph Caterpillar

We went on and were having a lot of trouble seeing reptiles and amphibians. It wasn't until a cool wooded area that we got to see another... a little speckled Leadback. Not what we expected to find on a 90° day but we were quite pleased.

Our first snake was seen at the hobo camp. We noticed that a reliable rock was not in place, in fact it was standing up. As I bitched about that,  Andrea noticed a gorgeous Garter in the brush. He started to crawl away so I had to capture him. He calmed down quickly.
We're calling this color the brown-sugar-cinnamon morph for no other reason than to be assholes.
Purty lil snake.

Our reliable Two-line stream was dry, but still had some mud. I managed to flip a few salamanders but they wiggled away without a picture time and time again. While I was struggling with the Caudate cuties, Andrea found a nutzoid Ringneck.
Don't let the calmness in the picture fool you. This blue-eyed snake was out for her blood.

I decided to let sleeping salamanders lie and joined Andrea on Ringneck Hill. We eventually scored two more small, sleeping coils of Ringer.

Unable to admit defeat to a two inch long animal, I finally flipped and successfully photographed a Two-lined Salamander. He thought he was hidden when he stuck his head under a leaf. I focused the camera, removed the leaf and... SNAP!
Haha! You thought you could outsmart me...

We got down to the side of the pond and found a long rocky beach that is usually submerged. We took advantage of the extra land and walked the pond's edge for a while. This young Pickerel was enjoying a foam bath.

Next to the trail alongside the pond, a full Garter was digesting its lunch.

In the hot weather, we expected the dock/ swimming area to be full of humans and we were correct. We are on good speaking terms with many of them... they are seasonal campground occupants and we are "the snake couple". I'm still reluctant to blatantly flip the stone wall with a crowd around, though. Kids might try it and squish snakes or we could have a repeat of the Milk Snake incident of a couple of years ago... where a small life was lost due to kids not being able to keep their damn hands off of it.

So, we pulled up a spot where there were a ton of skins... Garter, Water and Milk, and relaxed for a bit. While sitting there, we lifted a rock and quietly observed a Garter popping out and crawling away.

We explored the wooded area around the beach for a while but it was snakeless. This large, plump Pickerel was making a racket in the leaves, though.

I went to the other side of the dock and walked the rocky "beach" alone and while doing so, I saw a beautiful high-red Water Snake crawling along, eventually going under a large rock. I reached under the rock and touched him but he shot away. I thought he went deep into the rocky bank. I called to Andrea. She came over and I showed her where he had been and she said "well, there's a Water Snake right here near my feet."

Sure enough, my red fellow hadn't gone deeper into the rock, he had shot out into the surf. I couldn't get a photo because he swam off, going underwater. I went in and was walking alongside him as he swam, a treat I don't get to have too often. I picked him up for pictures.
After a quick nip and a lot of musking, he calmed down and was a wonderful display snake for the kids gathered there. I told them to "mind the business end" but urged them to feel his skin. We gave a quick talk about snakes, Water Snakes in particular, and their importance in the world. I mean, who wouldn't listen to a scabby, sweaty guy with a Nerodia musk bracelet dripping from his wrist?
Sorry, girls. He's taken.

We released him and he swam away in the waves and foam.
Gorgeous animal.

We got home in time to wash up and make a rare party appearance. It was a good day. We got to see a few animals, teach a few people the importance of snakes (it doesn't hurt when you have a beautiful specimen to display) and in the evening, hang with some good friends that we don't get to see too much.

That's a good Saturday.

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