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.

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