Friday, September 9, 2016

Sometimes a Stick is Just a Stick. North Carolina, Sept. 10th and 11th, 2016

Sunday the 10th was when the parks would be reopening. Tropical Storm Hermine had moved North (towards home in drought-riddled Massachusetts... go for it, H!) and the sun would be out all day. Somehow still, I managed to wake up in a bit of a mood. I couldn't decide on our itinerary and wanted to make everyone happy. Such is life.

We headed to the Croatan first, hoping to flip some resting Narrowmouth Toads or other noisy night-time amphibians. We went to a place that has piles of roof tiles, hoping it had dried out since Friday. It hadn't dried much. An ominous sign warned us...

The wet tiles managed to produc a couple of Southern Toads, one of which looked like this:

We'd searched high and low for a while when we finally flipped a small Eastern Glass Lizard. I gently moved him from the wet mattress that he was under.
Next to the Worm Snake, this guy was the toughest to photograph. He kept turning away when we put him on the top of the mattress.
Notice the re-growing tail.

Yeah, well when we handled him to put him back, he did his twisty thing and before we could make it stop, he broke off another 3 inches. I felt just horrible. His tail danced on top of the mattress while we helped the rest of him down to go back underneath. That kind of set the tone for the day.

We checked the roads and many different inlets along the dirt road. No animals were present. One inlet, clearly labeled "No Hunting" had this set up along the path.
You can hang bird-print curtains all you want, we still know this ain't no bird blind. Hopefully unrelated, a dead deer lay in a ditch near this tower, deceased for a few days and smelling none too pretty.

We left the dirt road after too much cruising and headed towards a park that had been closed for the storm. It was reopened, we were eager to hit the trails. It is s lovely hike, above the shores of the Neuse River.
^ These purple things are a helluva lot of fun to throw at each other.
The Neuse is massive. No Waterdogs were seen, nor were they even looked for.

Green Anoles were present, but quick. This guy found some sun and took advantage of it.

I was getting whiny when Andrea pointed out a beautiful surprise... a sweet Mud Turtle next to the path. Second one ever.
What a face!

Not 15 minutes after that, we saw some downed trees next to the path, dappled with sunlight. I said "that is the perfect spot for a 5-Lined Skink." Andrea, on fire, pointed out that I was right. This is probably my best shot of the weekend.

This hike was wearing me out and it seemed long. Andrea even grew a Spanish Moss beard while we were in there.

The only other herp we saw in the park was this bright green Green Anole.
Living up to his common name.

A few other critters delighted us before we departed... this spider was absolutely massive... probably 4" across. My thumb is in the foreground for scale.

Here's a Tersa Sphynx Moth hangin' outside the hoppers.
Tersa Sphynx Moth

So that was it for a while. We left to pick up my Mom and Step-Dad to go get some early dinner. We'd planned to be back out cruising at dusk, so we had a couple of hours to spend with them. It didn't feel like enough. We had a lovely Italian dinner and when we headed back out on the road, I felt like a horrid son.

We headed to the dirt road we'd been on earlier. For all of the road cruising we'd done, both day and night, we still hadn't seen a snake. Just after hitting the dirt road, we saw the distinctive squiggle of a small snake heading to the shoulder. Andrea leaped out of the car to get in front of it. Much to our surprise, it was a very familiar species to us... a Garter Snake.
Lots of gorgeous red on this guy.
OK, so the snakes were OUT!!! Let's cruise!

That was it. We spent hours, stopping for every stick, every piece of bark... every pebble. Something finally moved in front of us. I thought for sure I'd hit it. Mercifully, I'd missed this young Bully who made a last minute dive across the road.

After not seeing anything else for a couple of hours, we went back to Mud Snake Flood Spot to inspect it closer. Andrea was determined.
Obviously, we came up empty. The flood had receded and though it was still water-filled on the side of the road, we saw no animals. A couple of flattened baby Racers brought us down a bit. (We peeled them off of the asphalt so whatever might want to eat them wouldn't in turn get mashed.)

More cruising was fruitless. We weren't even seeing frogs. Well, one more wee Bull.

It dawned on us... when you're road cruising and not seeing animals, you're just driving. I hate driving. This wasn't much fun. We had become frustrated and it was reminding us of our less-than-dazzling Everglades trip from earlier this year. The capper on this day was when we were driving down a narrow dirt road off of the main road. We were winding our way along this barely one-lane road with swamp on either side when we saw a reddish form in the middle, in the grassy between-tires median. We didn't know what it was. We kept going. After turning around and heading back out, the form caught our eyes again. I passed it and got out to go see what it was. When I did, I yelled for Andrea to stay where she was.

It was a run-over Estern Box Turtle, a beautiful specimen. Probably decades old, having lived its life in this forest. One of the most noble, beautiful and peaceful animals that I have ever had the privilege to see (and even work with a little), and some fuck had actually swerved so their big fucking wheels would go into the median to crush this helpless animal. I was beside myself with sorrow, anger, frustration and exhaustion. That was all I could take that night. Crying, we drove back to my Mom's and went to bed. I was defeated. I just wanted to be home.

We woke up Monday morning. I can't say I was refreshed.

Our plane was going to leave  in the early evening, so we had some time to play around in the morning. Of course, I still had a very bad taste in my mouth from the previous night. We decided to stay away from the forest during the few hours we had to spend in nature. We instead went back to the road near my Step-Dad's place. Our first spot got us another Southern Cricket Frog... another looker.

Our destination was a small park that eventually goes to the "creek" at the end. We'd been there the last time we were in North Carolina; it had just opened. It has different habitats to offer... swampland, hardwood forest and river's edge. The parking area had some flowers that were riddled with Swallowtails (extremely common the whole weekend) and Sulphurs.

The swampland came up early on the trail. We started seeing plenty of Atlantic Coast Slimys.

Andrea got the flip of the day with this Wolf Spider and two Slimys. We wrote a song called "Slimy Slimy Wolf".

This Southern Toad was hopping through the leaves.

Ground Skinks had been a thorn in our sides all weekend. They would skitter away before you even got a good look at them. Finally, I saw one skitter under a log. I flipped it and grabbed a handful of leaves. This little guy was in the pile.
How little was he? Let's just say... little.

There are signs for snakes here... some venomous, some not. I'm not sure I can lend much credibility to their educational signage, though.

We reached the creek and walked the dock while vultures circled overhead.

We finally got our Yellow-bellied Sliders. They were basking way out but my zoom got IDable photos.

They were species #19 on the weekend. I'd hoped for 25 and when we were counting it up in our heads, we were surprised it was so high, considering there were so many more species around. We'd even heard many of them calling in the night.

It was time to head back. Hopping on the trail was a surprise. Now, I have seen hundreds of these guys and they're always welcome but this guy was extra-special. This Fowler's Toad was our 20th species on the trip.

We got to a bench to take a load off for a while. As we sat there in the breeze, surrounded by quiet green, we remembered that this is what we do this for. It's not the species count. It's not the trophy snake. It's not the bragging rights. It's about being one with the environment. Sure, seeing something new is amazing but you can't let the effort or failure take away the real joy of why we do this. We'll see Mud Snakes some day. We'll see a live Red-bellied Water Snake. We just have to relax and enjoy what is out there. Of course, I'd still love to murder people like the box turtle killer but I can't help that.

So, after restoring ourselves a bit, we flipped another Slimy, then headed back to Mom's.

We got home late Monday night, not sure that we'd had a great trip, but knowing we'd had a decent one, herp-wise. We got to see My Mom and Jim and spend a couple of hours with our friend Conrad and his daughter, all of which is very good. Things could be worse. Like going back to work instead of being immersed in nature.

1 comment:

  1. i hope your next outing has more live ones
    i am so sorry about the turtle