Monday, September 19, 2016

Am I a Trophy Herper? 9-16-18, 2016

Trophy herper (\ˈtrō-fē\ hər-pər \) n. 1.) A would-be naturalist to whom common species are meaningless (see: trash snakes) because they don't get big likes on Facebook. 2.) A would-be naturalist who will blast through even the most sensitive habitat with no regard for the animals living there, just to get a photo to brag about. 3.) Someone to whom conservation is only a relevant concept if they get something out of it.

Another tough weekend was upon us. No rain. Arid conditions continue. I took Friday, the 16th off from work. I had some errands to do and I found myself next to a former favorite spot in Norfolk County during my travels. It is the place that was razed to the ground earlier this year. Andrea and I have been keeping an eye on it since. She saw some crushed hatchling Snappers there last week so I thought I'd walk "Racer" Alley to see if anyone needed a hand. I saw none. I did see one work truck. It was depressing. On the way back to the car, I flipped this dusty Redback under a log.
Together, we prayed for rain.

That was all I saw on Friday. Saturday morning, we headed to Maine to see our Grandkids. It was Sebastian's birthday. Lilah made a wise move and stayed near me at a flea market. She made out like a bandit. After, Andrea and I took her to a nearby park to look for animals. Like Massachusetts, Maine has been having a serious drought. I wondered if we'd see anything at all.

We flipped for a while. Lilah learned how to flip carefully. Sadly, we weren't finding much, though Pill Bugs and Crickets were good enough for her. Finally, Andrea flipped a Redback.
This, dear trophy herpers, is what it's all about.

I flipped one, too and we watched it squiggle away.

Lilah became a flipping machine. We reminded her, these rocks and logs are animals homes... always be careful and put them back safely.

It wasn't long before Lilah flipped her own Redback.

We saw another hiker going in and Lilah explained how we had seen salamanders... "Wedbacks". Hers was the prettiest one, too, I might add.

We were toast after that long day in Maine and when we got home, we didn't last too long. We were filthy, sunburned and exhausted. It's no surprise that we slept in until a little after 7 AM on Sunday, the 18th. We barely heard the cats start caterwauling for food at 5:30 AM.

We wanted to get to our spot in Plymouth County because, well... September is a decent month for us with Hognose Snakes and we haven't seen one in quite some time. I hate going out with targets because if you don't see it, you're disappointed. So, I upped it to "we either see a Hognose, a Green and a Redbelly or we are total failures." Why not? All three are very difficult in Massachusetts, but all had been seen where we were headed. SPOILER ALERT: we failed.

It wasn't until about 11 AM that we arrived and we were detoured... a triathlon had shut down much of the place. We were forced to start our day backwards, hitting what would have been one of our last spots first. It had become quite hot in the sun already so this shady path was fine with us. First up was one of the many Fowler's Toads we saw on the day.

This first pond still had some water at least. The shore was about 15 feet wider than usual. The water's edge had a few quick frogs, probably warmed up in the shallow water. This small Bullfrog sat still long enough for a shot.

We cut through the running stage of the triathlon to look at a new trail we had never tried before. While we saw only a few toads on it, we noticed that there is (usually) a pond off of it and it might be worth exploring when there is no drought. Back to our other path, I fell in love with a Fowler's that was nice and cool-bellied.
A big and speedy Pickerel also jumped by, eluding our cameras.

We went up a path where Andrea had found a beautiful Hognose in April. But April was *ahem* moist and September surely is not. I didn't have much faith. That is, until Andrea pointed this out.
Dayum- she's good. I went through some brush to get in front of the snake.
Of course, upon seeing me, she flattened, but she didn't hiss or cobra-up, so things were cool.
She eventually crawled over my foot towards the woods. We decided to bring her out to the path to try for better pictures, but she hooded a little, hissed once and started to crawl away, so we let her go. Of course, we were elated with having seen this beauty. April Hognose Path became Andrea's Hognose Path. I said something like, "even a tough day is made great with a Hognose". Which got me thinking... was that a Trophy Herper thing to say?

My answer is... no. A Trophy Herper would have kept the snake until they got a great photo... obviously, I didn't do that. They also would have handled it until it played dead, which is something Andrea and I try to never do. We've seen it. It's amusing. But it must take a great deal of energy for the snake to do all that and they must have to get super-stressed. No, our goal is to see them without even a hood. Which we did, a little.

Admittedly, it was pretty good to see our first MA Hoggie since April.

Back up on the path (far from the toad-eating gal we had just seen), this haughty Fowler's was large and in charge.

Still blocked by detours, we went to the ranger's office part of the park. There's an excellent pond there that usually has turtles up basking, but none were present. This small Bull was there and completely unafraid of us.

A rock-pile that hasn't produced anything for us in years was hiding this beautiful Redback, the first one we have ever seen in this spot.
I feel sorry for the trophy herper that wouldn't think this was a great find!

We finally made it to our bog area, with the intention of seeking the large pond beyond it. It had clouded over and was starting to sprinkle so our hopes of seeing turtles was evaporating. No complaints... we need the rain so much! Bullfrogs in the bogs didn't mind. They stereotypically stayed atop their lily pads and looked cute.

On a small rocky hill that has produced small snakes before, I put my hand next to a rock, ready to flip, and this bright Green Frog hopped away.
This is important because early this year, we had seen dozens of almost ready to metamorphose Green Frog tadpoles dead in the bog. Possibly more important were the three Green Frog noggins poking out of the very spot where the dead tadpoles were 2 months earlier. This is one of the healthy crew.
So, that's a big relief. Some still live.

We found the pond but it had started raining a bit harder. No complaints. It was still beautiful and water was plentiful.

We managed to hit a couple other spots on the way out but saw no more animals. Still, even with just 5 species, we consider it a good weekend. We taught a 4-year old the wonders of nature and of the small things that live under logs, we saw Green Frogs make a comeback in a spot that I had absolutely no hope for, we saw Redback Salamanders resurfacing for the Fall despite subpar conditions, and we saw a Hognose, which always makes the weekend a special one. Am I a trophy herper? Nah, I don't think so. But that Hoggie was sure sweet.

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