Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Nature Fixes Everything. 6-26-2016

After the previous day's fun, we were pretty tired come Sunday morning. Breakfast at a diner sounded like a pretty darn good idea. So that is what we did. Until we got up, we weren't sure where we wanted to hike but settled on our Plymouth County nemesis, the State Forest. It can either be great or it can break your heart. We got there a bit after 9 AM and it was already pretty hot, but the pancakes were worth our slight delay.

We started around a cranberry bog that is often very good for amphibians. Since they have been at a minimum lately, we were happy to see some Bullfrogs right away.

This bog is also good for young turtles, who can hide from predators and still have plenty of food. Many Painted Turtles were on to us and skedaddled but this little guy had his spot and refused to give it up for anything.
I'm sorry, Duck House... this will get even turtlier.

A slightly larger guy feeling fabulous.

Our quest around this cranberry bog usually has us hoping for Hognose Snakes and today was no different. We even braved a trail that had stacks of bee boxes stacked up, buzzing happily as we slowly snuck past. All because we've seen a Hog there before. None today, but at the end of it, we flipped a wee Ringneck.
Just a little bit of snake under a whole lot of rock.

Another small bog Painter.

While walking along the edge of the bog, we had been noticing some sporadic floating shapes.It wasn't until we started seeing a lot of them that we realized they were deceased tadpoles. Nearly metamorphosed tadpoles, nearly full Green Frogs. It was heartbreaking.
We had seen plenty of Bullfrogs and Painted Turtles in there but the tadpoles had all succumbed... to what? Are they treating the bog with a new pesticide or fertilizer that affects only Green Frogs?

I have since emailed Dartmouth College of Agriculture, who supervise the cranberry bogs in Plymouth County, and asked what was up. They say they are doing nothing different than usual and offered up some possible causes. At any rate, it's a whole year's worth of Greens that we won't get to see.

Thankfully, the Painted Turtles and Bullfrogs weren't affected and were out in force.

Wait... what was that? A low, detuned banjo string. A Green Frog call. I had to sneak across a shaky board to get a better view but I finally found him, throat sac still puffy. A massive adult Green.
I'm glad I heard the call... he's so big and yellow-throated that by sight, I might have written him off as another Bull in the field.

Andrea was starting to feel a bit peaked by now. It was pretty hot and the sun was baking her a bit. She had awoken in the morning under the weather, too. We headed back to the car to drive to the next spot. This bubble-bearded Bull bid us bye-bye.

We went to the next area to explore but Andrea stayed in the car with the AC cranking. I got out to flip some debris and came up with a plump Fowler's Toad.
She joined me on the walk across the street from the parking area. Our goal was to find our favorite piece of tin, one that has become pretty reliable. We reached it, flipped it up and saw nothing. Neither of us did. Nothing was there. Imagine our surprise when a shoestring Garter darted out and disappeared into the grass. But... but... there was nothing there! Weird.

We got back into the cool car and headed for the next spot. Andrea was feeling better, if not great. This next trail was a good one for Hognoses as well. Well, we saw none but we saw a bunch of Fowler's Toads (which might explain why we see Hogs there...) Isn't that top one a stunner?

Next stop, a pond that has a good population of Northern Red-bellied Cooters. They are endangered up here and this disjunct population is a source of pride for Massachusetts herpers. (They used to be considered a separate subspecies from the Northern Red-bellies found from Southern New Jersey down to the top of North Carolina but they're the same thing.) Anyhoo, I just about shit a happy-brick when I saw this at the pond:
That's three big ol' Red-bells and two Painters! Check out just how fabulous that far left Red-bell is feeling...

While I was wrangling those photos, Andrea squealed... there was a hatchling Painter right below her.
Since I was down there anyway, I reached in and gently picked him up for a quick, humiliating photo session.
Pretty as a picture.

It's hard to make out here but when Andrea put him back into the water, he swam over to the stick and turned around and watched her. I think it was love.

Heading back to explore a different spot, I stumbled across a Garter Snake who had just eaten a meal.

Out at the tip of a quiet peninsula (that we were surprised to have to ourselves), there was a picnic table out in the water. It looked really inviting.
The water was cool and relaxing. We sat there for quite a while, enjoying the solitude, each other and the sunfish that came up to us, hoping for a toe-nibble.

When we got up to dry off and leave, this handsome fella escorted us out.

Back on the road, we saw a Racer speed across the pavement. We couldn't find it but the good thing is, he made it safely. We'd peeled some Racer jerky off the road earlier. He didn't wind up like that, at least.

Just a couple more spots to hit... like another pond, where Painted Turtles were basking... some in very unconventional positions.

This Bully let me get right up into his grille for this shot.

Andrea let out another squee. Tiny toads were up. And I mean tiny!
Although it's pretty impossible to tell at this stage, we're guessing these are American Toads. We rarely see Americans here but on Big Night back in March, that is all we saw. Fowler's didn't get up until weeks later. We're guessing that the tadpoles still in the water are the later-to-emerge Fowler's and these toadlets are Americanus. Of course, we might just be full of it, too.

One more spot... to flip a piece of carpet that has had Fowler's Toads under it before. Well, it did again.
This slumbering fattie was blowing himself up... what a plump sight!

The more we peeled the carpet back, the more toads hopped out... there were more than a dozen. This pic captures 6.
Some were big and some were smaller but they all appeared to be Fowler's. (The ones we took a close look at, anyway.)

So that was a pretty full day, full of wonderful sights. No, we never got our Hognose but that's fine. The idyllic sit-down in the pond had made us so happy and the animals were all beautiful. Really, nature is just so perfect. I wish everyone could experience the joy we feel when we're immersed in it.

Andrea is fine, by the way. Fully recovered. Nature fixed her.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Spilling Milks. 6-25-2016

Not much can make us forfeit a herping day. Family obligations, sure, but we decline most invites when the weather is herpable. My friend Dave was having a Yard Sale last Saturday, however, and our reason for going was two-fold. He always has amazing stuff for sale and we love the guy and never get enough hang time with him! So we decided to do that instead of our typical Saturday trek in the wilderness.

On the way to his house (with a tub of stuff to try to sell to offset the cost of what I was surely going to spend), we pulled off for a half hour to explore some woods that Dave himself had shown me last year. A series of trails criss-cross the woods in this quiet part of Norfolk County. Upon first entering, a large Red-tailed Hawk flew from branch to branch in the canopy. I got a lousy shot, but it still qualified as bird #92 on the year. In the short amount of time I had allotted us, we didn't see much (though we heard Green Frogs calling from the pond) until I flipped a log and it cracked open, exposing a small Ringneck.
Breakfast snake!

We spent the next 7 hours or so talking, laughing, shopping and having a great time... catching up with Dave (with whom we have many many common interests), meeting Facebook friends in the flesh and making new friends. Really, you just don't get many days like this one. Wonderful people and some killer swag to bring home. Memories to last.

It was dusk when we left to head home. Since we passed right by the place that was bulldozed this Spring, we decided to check yet again to see if any animals were up and how the regrowth was coming along. As soon as we hit the trail, in the fading sunlight, we could see a shiny root spilling into the path. I thought it looked suspicious. Especially when the root doubled back at our approach.
Andrea ran ahead and secured this beautiful Milk for photos.
That is always one of the most exciting sights for us. Spilling Milk.

We headed over to the demolished area (monitoring it is becoming something of an obsession to me) and we saw no salamanders or snakes but there was another Painted Turtle making do with the space that was left.

Another good sign was the sighting of many bunnies. They also make their homes in the rocky hill, I'm sure.

We headed back as total darkness fell. Out came the headlamps. We had no surprises as we headed back (except for a trio of kids that were going in to do God knows what). We got to the spot where we had seen the Milk an hour earlier and we decided we wanted to poke around the grass and the side of the hill there. I flipped a relatively small rock and saw a beautiful Garter coil snoozing away under it.
This was no small snake, either, as we discovered when we moved her to replace the rock. She must be two feet long, at least.
I put the rock back, pointed her face toward it and she slipped in like a retractable cord.

I had no sooner said "this is like the new hot-spot here" than Andrea pointed to another Milk spilling out into the path at the top of the incline.
This one has super-dark saddles and looks almost King-like.
We did quick head-marking match-ups with the pictures we got of the first one... nope, different snake entirely. And it wasn't Golden Boy from a few weeks ago. Yep- new hot-spot for sure. The trio of kids came back by and said "why would you touch that thing?" without stopping. I shake my head at the ignorance of stoned youth.

We're still not sure if it's snakier in this part of the park due to the destruction of the Racer Alley area or if they were always here and we're just getting lucky. I mean, that second Milk slid into an almost imperceptible hole in the hill like it had been its home for a long time. At any rate, I'm glad we don't have to write this place off completely. I do want to keep an eye on the ol' Alley, though. I'd love to see it bounce back from the leveling it took.

So, that was an amazing day. A full day of hanging with awesome people, sandwiched by a couple of short but fruitful nature walks. I could get used to that.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

No 'Phibs Phor Phather's Day. 6-19-2016

Father's Day 2016 was going to be hot. It was also going to be a day we'd be visitng Andrea's dad. We still wanted to get some herping in so we made plans to meet the folks in the mid-afternoon. We headed to a favorite spot, a Norfolk County pond, and got there before 8:30 AM for a hike. It was sunny and cool and we were waking up with the animals.

In the wooded areas, it was chilly but along the rocky dam, Water Snakes were starting to wake up to warm up.
I got a quick peek at both a Ribbon and a Garter, too, but they both took off in a flash.

Two water Snakes were near each other, scoping out the shallows for something to eat.
Andrea spent a few moments just watching them forage. It was still, quiet and tranquil; beautiful. That is what it's all about.

A pair of Painted Turtles hoisted up to enjoy some sunshine.

More Water Snakes emerged to warm their coils.
Since we had been having a less-than-stellar Water Snake year up until a couple of weeks ago, these sightings were all very welcome.

This Chipmunk launched into this perch at my eye-level. I am 6'2".

I used a vine as a rope and scaled a tall rock that overlooked a pond. Before wondering just how the hell I was going to get down, I snapped this photo of a Painter in the water.
Totally worth it.

I finally got my revenge on Garters... I jumped into a bush, smacking my lip on a tree branch (and even loosening my teeth a little) but nabbed this little beauty for a picture.
What a pose!

We had taken a side trail that we thought led to the hobo camp but we were off by a bit. Our mistake trail (that we named New Kissing Rock and then broke it in) turned out to be pretty good. Andrea called to me and I went up to see this:
A perfect Garter was stretching into the sun from the shadows.

This guy almost gave us the slip but we got this shot through the brush.

There were lots of these weird looking buds along this trail, too.

Last Garter on that trail was so chill, I walked right over him after photographing him and Andrea booped him twice.

We did eventually find the hobo camp. It was there that we flipped a shiny (and surprisingly long) Ringneck.

We scoured a stream and a rock strewn hill next to it for salamanders. Two-lines and Redbacks and the occasional Spotted Salamander are all over there. But we saw none. Weird. It was 80° by now but no Two-lines??

Our next spot was pond-side again. We flipped another lovely Ringneck.

While photographing that one, this in-the-blue Garter was crawling past us.

Our last snake of the day was another Ringneck. We had been moving rocks (carefully) next to the pond and one rolled over, out of the way, and this guy was coiled there, all exposed.
We gently replaced the rock and moved away slowly... our hands were in sight at all times.

That wasn't just the last snake, it was the last animal. Our plans to check another Two-lined spot on the way out dissolved when we never noticed the stream, due to growth. We would have gone back to see where we missed it but time was running out. It was great to see a bunch of snakes and turtles but how weird that we saw no amphibians!! Better luck next time, I guess. But Redbacks will be tough as the weather gets hotter. This is one reason I never take them for granted.

This might be why I'm known as "the guy who likes Redbacks more than anyone."