Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Riding the Storm In. North Carolina Part One... Sept. 2nd and 3rd, 2016

It had been since April, 2013 since we last visited to North Carolina. I have been itching to go back for well over a year now, to see my Mom and Step-Dad Jim and to get better acquainted with the Croatan National Forest. I have been thinking about how much we must have missed by not road-cruising the Croatan the last time we were there. So, we made our plans, flew in Friday, September 2nd, and it went off without a hitch- except for one. Tropical Storm Hermine was going to be arriving in the area around the same time we were.

We landed fine, got our rental car just fine and headed towards Mom-land. Along the way, there is a rest stop that we'd hoped to hit (where we'd found our lifer... and to date only... Eastern King Snake) but it was closed for renovations. Strike Two. (Strike One was not being able to find the Shoney's that we wanted to have breakfast at.) We were making good time, so we made a little pit-stop in the Croatan before hitting Mom. We had a little trouble finding some of the spots we remembered and when we found them, we saw nothing. (Well, not true... one spot produced a Southern Toad and a Little Grass Frog but I couldn't get a photo.) It was lightly raining and windy. Hermine was comin' in. We went to the ranger's office and they said all of the public parks in the Forest were closed until Sunday. We couldn't catch a break. We poked around the ever expanding puddles around the station. We could hear Narrowmouth Toads and another, unidentified anuran calling but I'll be damned if I could lay eyes (or camera) on them. Andrea got a phone-shot of this Green Anole.
Of course, he eluded my fancy camera like a pro. It's fair to say that frustration was setting in early.

We got to my Moms and hung out and caught up. She has a new kitten that captured Andrea's heart instantly. Me? I was in love with the guests on the porch.
Oh, and maybe the kitten, too... a little.

My Mom's yard has been getting cleaned up and redone so it isn't the herp wonderland that it used to be. I blame the feral cat's sleeping under her house a little more than clean-up, though. At any rate, we searched high and low in her yard for reptiles and amphibians, but came up empty. We decided to ask if we could go check out my Step-Dad's property out by "the creek". To our surprise and delight, they both wanted to go with us. We packed into my rental and we drove a few miles to his beautiful, secluded land... in a tropical storm. I never claimed to be sensible.

Most wildlife was hunkered down. Our first sighting was a yearling Racer, very in-the-blue, who was under a board.
My Mom petted his head.

It was toad weather, so we got our Southern Toad fix. This red guy is quite a looker.

My Mom told me to check the cracks in between the door and jamb; there is sometimes anoles and tree frogs popping out of them. A Green Anole did indeed pop out, posed, and I pointed the camera up... and rain dropped onto the lens. After wiping it off, he was gone. I managed a Squirrel Tree Frog, though, and held on while we got it's photograph... alongside a tiny Southern.

By now, we two "adults" and two people in their 80s who should know better were all soaked through to the skin. The rain was heavy, the wind was heavy and we had to hit the road. Last herp was another nice looking Southern Toad.
Weather warnings were up all over the area, with tornadoes becoming possible. We made it home safely, dried off and waited. I still wanted to cruise the Croatan at night, thinking of Mud Snakes and Amphiuma. My Mommy said no. (My wife agreed... there is a long bridge going over the huge Neuse River and we didn't know what might happen while crossing that, if it even stayed open.)

The night was filled with rain and wind pounding the house. A weather advisory was to be in effect until 5 PM on Saturday. Our timing couldn't have been worse. But it gave us more family time. And kitten time. In fact, when I woke up Saturday morning, this is the first thing I saw.

It wasn't really too bad by late morning and we started making outdoor plans. The weather advisory had been lifted early. We called our friend Conrad, who lives in the area, to see if he wanted to hitch up and herp together. We checked my Mom's yard again before heading out. This Black and Yellow Garden Spider survived the storm... the web was just a bit lower than the day before.
Black & Yellow Garden Spider

We were to meet Conrad and his daughter a bit later so our first trip took us back up towards my Step-Dad's place to check out some game land that we'd seen signs for. On the way, I thought I'd seen a snake on the side of the road. I turned back, and it was still there. Sadly, it would have been our lifer Red-bellied Water Snake, a gorgeous 3+ foot one, but it had been clipped by a car. Not a fun way to start the day. The main spot we wanted to get to was closed off... strike two, three, or whatever we were up to. We did find a few hiking spots open, however. The second one had plenty of frogs jumping away from our approach but I managed to get a shot of this small Southern Cricket Frog.
It was about an inch long and was by far the largest Cricket Frog we saw all weekend.

We finally got to meet up with Conrad and his daughter Alyssa. We met him last time we were down there and have remained friends via Facebook in the interim. (He was witness to my getting us stuck in the mud last time...) He asked us to follow him to a spot that I was unable to find our last time here. Our two vehicles puttered down the dirt road. Along the way, we saw a car stopped. A guy was there helping a Spotted Turtle across the road!
Check out the scars on this old fella.

While I was taking his picture, Andrea pointed out a frog at my foot.
Conrad said this little nipper was a Pine Woods Tree Frog... our lifer.

We got to our parking spot (now how did I miss that humongous lake before?) and noticed another vehicle parked there... one with snake bumper stickers and a rattlesnake photo in the back window. We were not alone. We saw a trio of young men walking out as we were walking in, hooks in hand. They said they hadn't seen much. On we went. Southern Cricket Frogs were abundant, but hard to photograph. Here's one that was about 1/2" long.

As well as herps, Conrad is very gifted with dragonflies. He can spot a tiny needle on a piece of grass at 20 paces. Remarkable. His daughter Alyssa is no slouch either. They are both excellent naturalists and a pleasure to accompany in the field. Conrad spotted the next herp, our next lifer, one that we would probably have stepped right over... a small (yearling) Rough Green Snake.
It swayed in the grass, trying to look like... a piece of grass.
Be still my heart, that's a cutie.

The sun had tried poking out a bit. We walked along the canals, kicking through the high grass and unknowingly getting shit-tons of chiggers. But the grass held other, better surprises...
A perfectly gorgeous example of a Black Racer.
That black belly! Love!

A beautiful canal... what other wonders could it hold?

Alyssa spotted it first... our first ever Carolina Alligator!
Six or seven feet of smiling cuteness.

So, this was a great hike, for sure. I even (finally) managed to get a photo of a Green Anole that didn't suck completely.

We got back to the cars and the three young herpers had put a note on Conrad's vehicle... they'd found a rattlesnake about 5 minutes after they'd seen us. Timing is everything. They'd left their number in case we wanted to hitch up with them later.

Conrad and Alyssa had to depart (a pizza party... a worthy priority) but wanted to see one last spot on the way out. Alyssa has had very good luck with Marbled Salamanders in this one spot, so we eagerly went along. Andrea found the first animal... a large Wolf Spider sitting atop a leaf.

She then found our first Atlantic Coast Slimy Salamander in a few years.

Just as we were photographing that, Conrad came over to us with a Worm Snake he had found. We all agreed that Worms are the toughest snake in the world to photograph (that's only a slight exaggeration) but Alyssa managed to calm it enough for voucher shots. It was, obviously, in the blue.

The shadows were getting long, so we decided to just stay out. We had left our headlamps in our suitcases so we headed over to a dollar store to get some cheap flashlights and dinner... a box of Pop Tarts. Any port in a storm. We got back to the Forest at dusk, passing through a flooded spot in the road again, looking closely for any critters that might be crossing. We saw none until about a mile in, but it was a good one... another lifer... our first ever Eastern Mud Turtle.

We went down by the lake we'd been around earlier. It was an amphibian symphony there. Narrowmouth Toads and Cope's Gray Tree Frogs (which would technically be a lifer) were the noisiest, followed by the familiar banjo-twang of Green Frogs and a few unidentified calls. We couldn't, however, see any of these frogs. I got out and stood in the water in the dark (not the brightest thing, considering the gators and moccasins around), zeroing in, but I never laid an eye on a one, much less get a photo. Back the the road.

Cruising frogs can be rewarding. We hit a lot of side roads and came up with a few. Here's another Pine Woods, our second ever.

We saw a few Southern Leopard Frogs but this individual is the only one we got a shot of.

What's that ridiculous thing hopping down the center of a dirt road? It's a beautiful Bull Frog.

A Squirrel Tree Frog in action, not just stuck in a door jamb.

Last but not least, a small Bull Frog.

While leaving, we noticed a truck parked at the flooded area and a group of people standing in the water as it ran from one side of the road to the other. It was the three young herpers from earlier and they were with a gent who has a you-tube channel. He had a deceased Rough Earth Snake that had been run over. He had seen a Mud Snake in the area earlier (I knew it!) and they were searching and hoping another would come through. We joined them for a while but all we saw were crayfish and large leeches crossing the road in the current. The You Tube guy was very nice and we talked a while. This is his channel.

So, we got back almost 12 hours after we left the house, exhausted and filthy. I can't thank Conrad and Alyssa enough for meeting up with us. They are solid people. So is my Mum and Jim. Anyone who can put up with us deserve medals.

Would Sunday and Monday be days to remember?


  1. that squirrel tree frog is very interesting.......are his front feet different or am i seeing things?

  2. Hola amigos,Ese fenómeno de ver pequeñas cosas distintivas en los animalitos , es porque de tanto mirarlos uno va detectando , distintas formaciones dentro de una misma raza,... distintos comportamientos . miradas..gustos ..etc ..lo que gracias a que los amamos y Y VEMOS ,descubrimos que {ellos son distintos unos de otros , aunque sean hermanos y también de la misma raza,Son como los mellizos humanos, que aunque parezcan idénticos ,algo los delata para ser diferentes Un beso a todos .Martha

    1. Esa es la belleza de la naturaleza ... vistazo de cerca y verá la belleza en todo ... sapos, serpientes, un charco de agua. Todo es hermoso es que se mire con interés.

      Love Mike