Monday, September 12, 2016

9/7 and 9/8 - Vacation, all I ever wanted

It was Wednesday, the middle of my vacation. We were back from NC, and Mike had to go to work, but I had taken the rest of the week off because I just needed to have a few days without having to be anywhere or do anything. I just wanted the freedom to lounge around in bed all day if I wanted to, or work on crafts, or go for a walk, whatever.

What I decided to do was catch a bus to one of our local-ish spots and enjoy the day. I got there around 1 p.m., and decided to walk in an area with an open field to see if I could discover any evidence of turtle nests hatching.  There's an old barn there.

I did discover evidence of turtle nests hatching, but not in the way I wanted to. In the driveway going in, I found three dead snapping turtle hatchlings. Their excellent camoflauge (basically looking like dark grey rocks) and small size worked against them. (I choose to believe that the majority of people would not purposely run over a turtle. Don't burst my bubble.)

I didn't see too many animals on my trek through the woods. I flipped a few logs and rocks, but with the area being in extreme drought conditions for some time, and the vernal pools long ago dried up, I was fairly certain that I wouldn't find any salamanders.

On the other side of the woods, with the brook has become some pools and a lot of mud, I did finally see one small turtle doing some yoga on top of the mud. Bear with me, I had my camera with me, rather than Mike's with the 60x zoom, so this is the best I could do.

That gave me a little bit of hope. An animal that was alive!

I of course kept my eyes and ears open for snakes. You know, my vision and hearing are both not the greatest, but they work well for seeing movement in my peripheral vision and hearing faint slithers through leaves and grass. It wasn't happening, yet.

Until it did. Garter!
Hey, it was warm out, the snakes were all very alert and fast, and I decided to get the picture before trying to get closer to get a better shot. That was a wise move. A crappy voucher shot is better than no shot at all.

I also managed to get a crappy photo of turtles without scaring them all in. I just assume they're all Painted Turtles.
There are six turtles in that shot. At least that's all I could count in it.

There are also six turtles in this shot, but they aren't all in the same positions the six turtles in the previous shot were. Would you like to go in and study the photos and make yourself crazy counting turtles?
I mean, you don't have to. I've already done it. There are six.

Oh, and I saw a young bullfrog, too.

It was a beautiful day, and the area (which gets busy at times with many locals walking their dogs, jogging, or walking with their families) was almost empty because it was the middle of the workday. My work week is filled with people - my commute, the mall beneath my office, everywhere! - and over the years both Mike and I have found that we seek out environments that tend to come with less human baggage. Some of our spots do get well populated, but we have a few where it could be hours before we see another human. For safety's sake, I of course tend to go to the most well populated spots when it's just me, but it's nice to have a little bit of quiet and solitude.

Okay, enough nature girl blather - I saw another snake!!! It was a Garter and it was big!!
I was able to get a little bit closer and get another photo before it disappeared under a rock!

Alright, alright...I gotta put in a little disclaimer here. I've been drinking some wine while I type this. I've had so much time to write this - over a week! - but I've been putting it off because of reasons, and now it's a week later and Mike has two - TWO! - blog posts drafted and waiting to publish, but wants this one to be published first, and I know that we see and post pictures of common stuff, but we do have a few very faithful blog readers and I really do appreciate them.

I'm just, like, hey, I went for a walk and I saw some snakes, doop-doo-doo. It's totally interesting and fun for me, and keeping the blog is great because we can go back and re-read it, and remember some awesome finds. I know it's interesting and fun for our faithful readers. I'm having trouble remembering some exact circumstances and thoughts that I had at the time, so I'm just showing you some mediocre pictures and telling you that I enjoyed myself. If you're bored, don't worry; Mike will be back soon with his much wittier words.

Back to me. I saw this snake next, and I just wanna brag a little here: If I say something is a Ribbon Snake, 9 times out of 10 it's a Ribbon Snake. I don't need to see the white scale in front of the eye for confirmation. Trust me, it's a fucking Ribbon Snake. I mean, there are characteristics to bring me to that conclusion at first sight, like the dark stripes on either side of the dorsal stripe are thinner and more sharply defined than on a Garter, and the particular shade of orange on the sides, and these sorts of things you learn by experience, and trust me. It's a fucking Ribbon Snake.
They are also much less commonly seen than Garter Snakes are. I wanted to get a better photo, but it turned towards the bushes as soon as I got the above picture. I did actually lunge for it, and scrambled around to try to get a hold on it, and saw its tail as it disappeared completely.

Not long after that I passed a mother and son who were looking at me strangely. I suppose they would have looked at me even more strangely if I had had a 25-inch ribbon snake in my hands.

Oh, yeah, I was on my way back to meet up with Mike, who was coming to meet me after work. I had also realized that I had a meeting and walk through with the condo board I'm on in less than two hours, and I hadn't showered the day before (shut up- I had a pajama day), was totally filthy and sweaty but at least didn't smell like snake musk for once. I really need to cut the trip short and get into the shower and look at least not feral when I met with the rest of the board.

But, Mike met up with me and he was cute and loving. He also found another species on the day, a Spring Peeper.
And, you know, this was with a tiny pocket camera that he keeps in the car in case he needs it, and he got that amazing picture with it. I don't claim to be a good photographer -- or really a photographer at all. When people compliment my photos, I thank them, but I know better than to quit my day job. When I get that **great** shot that people love, it's got nothing to do with skill and everything to do with luck.

Okay, there I go again, digressing (in my head I said "regressing", which could sometimes be applicable to me as well {makes fart noise into hand}).

I explained the shower/board meeting situation, and we headed back to the car. As we are driving out, I showed him where the hatchlings had been hit earlier in the day, and at the same time I spotted it, he said, "There's a live Snapper hatchling right now!"

This made me so happy! We were able to pick this little dinosaur up off the pavement and move it to the edge of the water, which it disappeared into immediately. It's great to be able to end the day on a high note like that.

The next day, I got up early with Mike, so I could drive him to work and have the car for the day. I didn't get everything ready that I needed, so I had to go back home after and pack a lunch and stuff, thinking I'd be gone most of the day. I changed my mind about where to go once I set out again, and ended up just in the next county, to the place that had been bulldozed recently to reinforce the train tracks and had been a place of heartbreak and triumph this year.

After scouring some typical spots for more evidence of turtle hatching (yes, I am obsessed, and yes, I am like this every year at this time. It's Baby Fucking Turtles and they are adorable and I feel so honored to be able to see them and help them not get run over or stepped on), I hit Racer Alley. There was a crew working there, not on the train side but on the wetlands side. I can't even begin to explain what they were doing, but they were there, and they had a section of the trail blocked off with caution tape. To make a long story short, while I was there trying to figure out if I could pass or not, I found a Snapper hatchling that had been either run over by their truck, or -- and I felt sick thinking this -- I had accidentally stepped on. It was not dead, but had definitely experienced some, um, trauma.  A few texts to Mike and our friend Kurt, who is pretty knowledgeable on turtle things, helped me to realize that I could not have inflicted the damage by mere walking, so the truck must have run over it. The poor little thing made its last movements in my hand, and I put it off the trail.

The workers asked me if I wanted to pass, so I did. There was another dead hatchling in the path, that I pointed out to them, and they seemed to feel really bad about it and said they would have to keep an eye on the path. I mean, you can't really help it in a truck, because it's a dirt path and they are low to the ground and look like rocks, but I appreciated them saying that.

So, I didn't find anything else along racer alley, but I went into the woods and got to some boards and when I flipped one, I saw a beautiful red and white saddled coil!



Milk Snakes are pretty much the crown jewel of northeastern snakes; I don't know anyone who is not thrilled to find one. The hatchlings and juveniles, like this one, are so vivid and gorgeous! I went live on Facebook with a video of it in my hand, and one friend, Eric, commented that it was the first time he had paid attention to someone's live video.

Like I said, the crown jewel. Everyone loves Milk Snakes!

On the way out, I found a really pretty Leadback. Redbacks and Leadbacks get pretty rare in midsummer, but usually show up when it starts to cool off and we get some rain. We had neither on that day, so finding a Leadback was pretty freaking special.

I'm going to review this later and check it for the spelling and grammatical mistakes that I'm sure I made, but I do want to publish this now. Feel free to call me out on any stupid mistakes I made or if I said something that was totally ridiculous!