Monday, October 31, 2016

Are Our Legs, Backs and Brains Ready for This? 10-29th and 30th, 2016

We have officially moved into "the other" herp season. Animals should all be on their way to or at their places of hibernation, for the most part. A jaunty hike to look for snakes and turtles isn't going to produce too much anymore. That said, the colder climes will likely have the sea turtles washing up soon. As of this writing, only 4 have washed up so far; two were "lively Greens". We figured that the best way to spend our Saturday would be to condition our legs and brains for the upcoming season and maybe be on the big beach at the right time.

We aimed for high tide on Saturday, which was roughly 11:30, but were late. It was warmish in the early afternoon and we realized we had layered a bit too much on the heavy side. While removing a layer, I got bird #101 on the year, a Red-breasted Nuthatch.
Red-breasted Nuthatch #101
That officially put me over last year's mark of 100 even.

The waves weren't too choppy and in the sun, it was pretty nice on the beach. We doubted we'd see any turtles but the main focus here was to get used to walking almost 9 miles in the sand. Of course, there are many beautiful things to see along the walk, like this pack of snoozing Sanderlings.
They weren't even bothered by a nutty human walking nearby.

Andrea decided to look for Wood Frogs behind a sand-dune. I explained that the habitat is all wrong, but she went anyway. While I waited, I saw something bobbing way out there in the waves. Turtle noggin? No, too big. I got out my binoculars and the lenses were filled with a cute mammilian face. Andrea got back and looked too... my camera barely captured it, but it was our lifer Grey Seal!
Lifer Grey Seal

It's roughly four miles out to the tip of this beach (and 4 miles back, of course), but the reward is worth it. Gorgeous aqua water, tons of birds and peace and quiet... isolation from civilization.

There were loads of gulls, Brants, Sanderlings, Black-belly Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones...

The point is also the land of Eiders.

So, we made it. We were pretty toasted by the time we got back to the car. Just under 9 miles in the sand and wind, but at least it was mild. We won't be that lucky next month. My legs and ankles are still a little stiff two days later so I'm really glad we did it.

Sunday, the 30th, we'd made plans to take Andrea's folks shopping. We didn't have a heck of a lot of time to do any nature sticking but, since it wasn't too cold in the early afternoon, we decided to go to our nearby place and see if the snakes had made it back to their dens for the winter. If so, surely a couple of them would be out in the sparse sun. Also, with some decent rain of late, we were hoping some of the water has been replenished and salamanders would be present.

Our first find was on a log flip, where there was plenty of moisture underneath. It was a tail.
Imagine our elation when we removed some leaves and were presented with this stunner of a Blue-spotted!
That might be the prettiest one I've ever seen.

The main vernal didn't have standing water, but it was plenty muddy. I went out into the mud and flipped a few logs and soon had another Blue. And shit-tons of beggar ticks.
This is extraordinarily gratifying. Not only has this state been in a severe drought for most of the year but this pond area and the surrounding hillside had taken a hit by a nearby cemetery's expansion last year, and we've seen very few Blue-spotteds here since. These two looked happy and healthy.

A rock that we named "Old Reliable" a few years ago, and has been anything but for the last two years, came through with our first Redback of the day.
We saw a few more throughout the day but I got crappy pics of them so this guy stands as our only record of the species on the day.

Up by Robles' den, we saw no snakes. Stinging nettle is still plentiful, though. This guy was up there, too. We haven't ID'd this rock-eater yet.

Sly's den was barren but the Valley of Nerodia was a happenin' place. One guy was just outside the entrance while another was halfway up the hillside.
That second one sure looks like it has a meal in it. Couldn't be, could it?

At the top of the hill, Andrea spied this wee one stretching out.

We checked another den area on the way through, but it didn't have anyone out. It has been a tricky spot this year. We made our way to the Cottonwood Dens, though, and three slim Garters were catching some October rays.

Yep- looks like snakes have definitely gone back to their winter spots. This felt like cheating.

We headed along to the Rock Wall Dens. Along the way, I always say "I found a maculatum over here" and Andrea always pretends that she hasn't heard it a hundred times. Well, we checked the log where it had been, then put it back when it was empty. Walking away from it, we heard a whoosh and saw this...
This long, thin Ribbon was on the crawl and was 20" of perfection.

That was unexpected. So was this chubster Garter that was up on top of the Rock Wall Den... I don't know who was startled more... Andrea or the Garter.
She sure showed us who was boss.

There were no more snakes up at this site so we headed back. I asked if Andrea wanted to check the hillside along an adjoining path; we'd seen a few Garters over there before. She said sure. Almost immediately, she spotted these two hanging out about 10 feet up the hill, away from the path.
I looked up while photographing them and saw this guy stretched out.
It was like somebody had put up Garter garland on the hill.

Further up, there were more. These two were strewn about all Garter-like.

While photographing those two, I almost leaned on this guy, who gave me an indignant look.

I swear, it was like somebody had TP'd the hill with Garter Snakes.

Coming back down the hill, this Garter darted from the path and took refuge from my giant mammal feet in, then under, a log.

We went a bit further up the path but decided to turn back as our time was getting short. Two more on the way out... a guy with scarring on his lip and a skinny niblet.

We're not sure that all of these snakes call this place (christened the Hillside Dens) their hibernaculum or if it's a way station of sorts for some of them, but it's was a wonderful place to be this day.

We hit the sunny, rock-strewn other part before leaving. It is much more open and it was windier (thus cooler) but we eventually saw these two Garters up enjoying some sun.
Like the Copperheads a couple of weeks ago, Andrea thought there were more coils than just the two snakes could have. I didn't see what she meant until I shifted position... and saw this in a little, leafy cubby-hole behind their bodies.
Yes, there were indeed three Garters there.
That made 16, tying our Copper count from two weeks prior.

We couldn't resist walking through the Valley on the way out. No new Nerodia noggins, but the two larger ones were still out. I will end this day's adventure with a photo of the chubbier one, who has markings to make any Northern Water Snake envious.

Monday, October 24, 2016

October 22nd and 23rd, 2016

I had Friday the 21st off. I slept almost the entire day away. Andrea had work. It was pouring rain by the time she got home and it was still warm. More or less rested, I wanted to go out for pizza and road cruising. She did not. I lost. We had pizza delivered and watched a movie. Still, a good night.

Saturday morning, the temps had dropped to the 50s and it was still raining. With an 80% chance of rain continuing through the afternoon, we still headed out in the late morning to a nearby pond to look for Ambystoma. We bundled up and put on our useless $79 raincoats. We were soaked through to the skin almost immediately, and it hadn't really started pouring yet. We flipped some Redbacks.

After all of the bitching I have done about the drought for the last few months, there's no way I'm going to complain about the rain. To be honest, it was nice to see some standing water puddling up the paths.

We got to a Two-lined Salamander stream that had dried up months ago. It was still waterless, just a few puddles under some rocks, but it was muddy. We saw no salamanders. They either dried up and blew away or had moved to other spots. The nearby hill, named Ringneck Hill, was damp and a few Redbacks were present, but no Ambystoma or Ringnecks were around. We both decided to look in the valley behind Ringneck Hill. Andrea was ahead of me and saw this guy...
An intrepid knucklehead, for sure... 59° and raining, but this guy was up looking for something.
I held him for a bit and he crawled up my sleeve and out the armhole inside my coat. I had to take it off to extricate him. He crawled away with a piece of my flaking rubber lining stuck to his tail.

So, we were pretty happy. More happiness came a few moments later when we flipped a stone that had a this-year Spotted Salamander and a bonus Redback under it.
The "you sit here while I replace the rock" shot:

We made it up to a cabin area just as the skies opened up and it absolutely pissed  down for a while. We took some refuge but it was just buckets coming down.
We attempted to go down by the pond to flip some stones but it was a raw, cold wind pelting us with rain down there, so we said fukkit and went back.

The path back was interesting... spots had streams running down and the Two-lined area now had about 3 inches of water in it. When I say it was pouring, you'd best believe it was pouring, l-u-v. Oddly enough, even though the rain persisted, the sun poked through, making some sunny patches as we returned to the car. Make up your mind, Mother Nature.

We were happy with the few animals we'd seen on Saturday and we impressed ourselves with our tenacity. Sunday was going to be drier, sunnier and... colder. We chose a hike in Bristol County to test our skills. We knew the local hibernaculums would likely have animals to see, but we wanted to see this place in Taunton one last time this year. Since we saw nothing rare, I can say where... Boyden Refuge.

We got there at about 11:30 AM and it was still raw. Unsunny spots were very cool and the wind was a bastard. The abandoned house, which is barely standing, had been broken into.

I went around the back to "look for Wood Frogs" and found a spiffy Leadback.
When I got back out front, there were four cops on ATVs talking to Andrea. This is a good thing.

The Boydon Refuge can be pretty sketchy. Drugs, hitch-ups and break-ins to the house... we even heard that some guy was living in the woods a few years ago. At any rate, it was good to see the police presence here and I promised them I'd mention it so that the 3 people who read this blog post will know they mean business.

We carried on after talking to them. On the way to the garden, we saw more Redbacks.
It's good to have them back.

Walking through the garden, Andrea saw a wee nipper of a Garter.
I pancaked him in between my hands to try to calm him... it didn't work very well.
Speedy lil devil.

The wind was ferocious and any hopes we'd had for turtles were diminishing by the minute. The river's open areas and basking spots were empty. A vernal that, again, had dried up long ago was at least muddy this day and held a small puddle of standing water. I flipped a rock along the side (that we've named Newt Rock, All American because of one flip a few years ago that yielded 4 newts) and it had one dark, ornery looking Eastern Newt.
I'd though of moving him over to some cover closer to the puddle but Andrea wisely pointed out that he was under Newt Rock for a reason and we put him back there after replacing the rock.

We got to a spot along the river where growths out in the water were shielding the wind and it provided enough protection for a couple of Painted Turtles to climb up for a bask. The first one was wearing fun fur.

The next guy kept sliding into the drink as we would approach. I finally got this shot, though he's obviously keeping a close eye on me.

This Grasshopper was so big, I thought it was a Green Frog while it was in the grass.
I swear you can see Peter Graves reflected in his eye.

I noticed that we were on a low path at a spot where we usually take a hill path. I argued with myself... stay low? Go up? Grudgingly, I decided to go up and Andrea followed me. It was our good fortune to see this faint-striped guy up there!
I tried to boop him and he slid into a secret hole in the ground. We might have found a Garter hibernaculum after all.

Heading back, we revisited some spots and explored further. It was back in the garden that Andrea found our first and only frog of the weekend... a lovely Pickerel.

With the car in sight, I flipped a rock and we got our last animals of the day... a Leadback and an earwig.

So, not a lot of species this weekend, but we enjoyed our time together in the outdoors, even when we were getting poured on. Other than Redbacks, who we should be able to see for a bit longer still, any one of these species could be the last ones of 2016. We never take any of them for granted throughout the year but now, since the temps have become much cooler, we consider them a gift.