Sunday, July 31, 2016

Go Straight To Shell, Boy. 7-30-2016

Our week long heatwave finally broke, and only one day after getting our AC unit fixed! We forced ourselves to get up and out of bed on Saturday morning, after the first decent night's sleep in  five days, to hit get some nature in. It had rained during the night and we were anxious to see what was up. Our destination was a spot in Middlesex County, but we took a swing by a more local (Norfolk County) place first, to see if we could catch any Green Snakes asleep at the wheel.

We got there at about 8 AM after grabbing a quick snack of breakfast and eating on the drive. We flipped a beach area for a bit and came up empty but Andrea soon spotted this newly minted Garter shoestring wiggling across the path.
Undoubtedly this year's model, our first of the season. It seems early to me but I guess it isn't, really.

I flipped another small (12") Garter but couldn't get a shot. Andrea fared better with a similar sized Garter flip.

We worked our way out along the beach, trying to avoid the high-tide. Up by the fence on the way out, a small but seemingly very gravid Garter was exploring along the fence.
I edited out my horrible looking knee for the sake of the children. Sally Struthers taught me well.

We hit the highway for about an hour to make our way deep into Middlesex County to get to our next spot. As always with this place, we sought turtles... Blanding's included. The grass was still dewy when we got there a bit after 10 AM, and the grass was hopping with frogs... a couple of Greens were first.

We took a peek at the river that runs next to the trail... it looked quite deep. A three-pack of Painted Turtles was basking on the opposite side.
I don't think we had seen turtles basking along the river before... this is a very pondy place and the ponds are usually teeming with shell-life.

More hopping... tiny Pickerels were abundant but getting a photo of them was rough. This is the only one I managed.

When we finally got to where we could view the pond, we got a shock... it was dry. We had never seen it like this; a small puddle area was all that was left. Frogs jumped into the safety of the puddle and the surface just rippled. It must have been a full house. Tell-tale footprints showed that predators were familiar with this watering hole.

From out of nowhere, a small (16" or so) Nerodia went crawling through the mud and duck-weed covered water and into a beaver dam, all the while holding a frog in his mouth. I couldn't get a shot of him (I was too slow, though you can see his banding in the top shot a bit) but he left an interesting trail in the muck.
This low water was a concern to us.

Andrea found an inch worm that was the exact same color as her nails.
Ahh, nature.

Another pond was also dried up, except for an area near a bird blind. A couple of Painted Turtles were up getting some sun.

As we went along the trail, we looked at spots that were normally filled with water, turtles and snakes. Precious few of any of those things. Where there was water, though, there was life.

In the car-ride out, we were talking about Water Snakes and how much we love them. This place has plenty, usually. We got to an abandoned beaver dam and saw our old friend Stubby. We have been seeing her for a few years and she was right where she always is.
She is pretty easy to ID.

This noggin was poking out of the other side of the dam, pointing right into the path.
Another biggie, it didn't move until Andrea booped it. Rude awakening... it was asleep!

The water levels were low but evidently, there was enough moisture for skin shedding. This shed is about 4 feet long.

While photographing the skin, this massive Bullfrog was right under me. Andrea had to point him out.

Where there is water, there is life... peering through the bushes, I could see a gorgeous reddish Water Snake half soaking in the edge of some water.

Another beaver dam, another couple of large Nerodia. I took a safety shot.
The guy on the left went inside as we approached but the blunt-nosed one posed nicely.

The right hand side of the trail definitely had more watery spots than the left. A turtle had slipped in as we walked past and I started to obsess on waiting for it to come up. I didn't see what it was but since we were in Blanding's territory, I kept an eye on the log. While I was wasting time doing that, Andrea noticed this fellow almost in the path, possibly getting ready to cross to the deeper side.
The beauty that can only belong to a Blanding's.
They are a threatened species and we always report a sighting. It's shell was well-notched, so Andrea photographed the notches and has reported the encounter. After photographing, the turtle couldn't decide which way it wanted to go, so we just left it alone and walked away, very happy to have seen it.

The wet spots truly belonged to the Bullfrogs.
This little fella looked like he owned this puddle.

This, my dear, is a massively fat Northern Water Snake. Soon, she will be a deflated Northern Water Snake with dozens of little Northern Water Snakes squirming out of her. It won't be long, now.
That is about 4 feet of gravid gal right there.

A puddle and the Bullfrog who is ready to claim it as his own.

While walking along the trail, Andrea skewered herself on a broken branch.
It killed her, but she carried on like the trooper she is.

She suggested we walk through a dried up stream-bed. It paid off with a small American Toad.

As we got closer to the river (which was, if you'll recall, swelling and deep), we started seeing loads of Green Frogs.
^ In his spotted jammies.

This place is usually very good for Garter Snakes (and Ribbons, for that matter) but the dryness might have dispersed them. Our first Middlesex Thamnophis encounter was this bright Garter near the river.

The river also brought us more Painted Turtles.

Having completed the large loop, we headed back to the car. We managed one more species (our ninth on the day), a Wood Frog.
Finally, a good frog day! If it wasn't so dry, we'd probably have had salamanders and we'd have our coveted double-digit species day.

On the way out, we stopped at the entrance to flip some railroad ties. Flipping got us nothing but we spied some Garters resting just inside the bushes.

We had another long drive ahead of us... we had to go to Malden to help Andrea's folks with some stuff. Plus, it was their anniversary so we might take them to dinner. Once inside Malden, we were getting near the cemetery and Andrea wondered aloud, "I wonder if the pond in there is dry."

We pulled in to check it out. From the road, we could see a fabulous turtle basking, so we stopped to take a closer look. The water was low but it was there. While I attempted to photograph the turtle, Andrea flipped a Green Frog at the water's edge.

Not surprisingly, my fabulous basking acrobat was a Red-eared Slider.

So was the next turtle we saw. People just love releasing pets into cemetery ponds, don't they?
Technically, our 10th species. We did see an indiginous Painted Turtle, but couldn't get a shot.

Among the lily-pads, a Bullfrog noggin poked out.

No fancy-schmancy males, but this wonderful little pond got us our first Wood Ducks in a couple of years, a mom and a half dozen babies. Bird #96 on the year.
Wood Duck #96

We saw some movement in the lilypads... what was this?
Hmm... I hadn't seen a small Snapper in a while so I figured, why not? I took off my shoes and slowly went into the mud...
I brought him up to the grass for a clear shot...
but he had different plans. He immediately booked it towards the pond and I couldn't grab him... he rolled down the small incline of the pond's bank and sped back into the mud...
... never to be seen again.

This Bullfrog pretended he didn't see it and tried not to laugh at me.

We managed our fifth species at this little pond before leaving... a fabulous Painted Turtle who was grabbing every ray of sun that he could.

So, not a bad Saturday. 11 species, though it took us three places and the whole day to do it. We earned the ice cream that we had for dinner. (We took Andrea's folks out to dinner and, after waiting almost an hour for our food to not come, the power went out in the place and we just had ice cream instead.)

The next day was Sunday and we drove up to Maine to see my kid and her kids. My granddaughter Lilah turned 4 on Saturday and we wanted to spend some time with her. After laughing ourselves silly with her, we stopped off at a small park before hitting the highway for the 2 1/2 hour ride home. It was a cool and rainy day and we didn't expect to spend very long, so we didn't spray down. Bad mistake.

But even though we got eaten alive, we got our first Maine herps, all in York County. Our first was a Redback, but it got away unphotographed. We were more successful with this Wood Frog.

This Leadback was in a dried up stream bed.

We saw a couple of micro-Woods, the smallest Wood Frogs we had ever seen.

Our third herp species of Maine... a Bullfrog.

On the way out, Andrea posed with our second Blanding's of the weekend.
They are here, but we have yet to find the pond area. This was just a 20 minute walk and we both got numerous 'skeeter bites. We will give the place a more thorough look in the future and hopefully find the pond and the local Blanding's population. Maybe Lilah will want to trek in with us. There's a future of nature adventures for us all.