Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Last Trip of September. 9-25-2016

The sudden plummet into Fall was pretty jarring. In the 80s on Friday, not above the Mid-60s since. Still, it was going to be sunny, so we decided to go for it while we still can. Still tired out from Saturday, we chose a close, reliable spot in Norfolk County to spend our Sunday. But would anything be up? It was barely scraping 60° when we arrived there at a little before 11 AM. Wearing hooded sweatshirts over T-shirts, we thought we'd be fine but it was cold. Between that and a very noisy family who were letting their shit-assed kids throw big rocks into the (incredibly low) pond, I got pretty cranky. Enough where Andrea had to scold me. And ask if I wanted to go home.

I sulked for a while and we didn't see anything for the first third of the hike. Finally, we saw a patch of sun that was occupied by a pair of slim, bright Garters.
That helped.

Another thing that helped was this surprise. A thick, heavy rock in a spot where we had never seen anything... I flipped it, hoping for a salamander, and this was there.
A baby Milk Snake is always a great sight. We moved him to replace the rock. His belly was cold.
He had a sliver poking up under a scale (visible on the top pic) that I popped out, leaving a clean, pink spot on him. I think he'll be fine.

The shady woods were pretty cool but there was a little moisture under some of the logs. This was good for a couple of Redbacks; the top one, a pretty burgundy color.

It was still tough to see many animals, though. Of course, this time of year, we always hope for the return of salamanders but the dryness has kept the numbers low. Seeing a few Redbacks is a good start. Up by the hobo camp, we saw this Eft, too.

Walking down the far path, we flipped mostly logs, hoping for Ambystoma. I was a few feet ahead of Andrea when she called out with her hand held aloft. I saw her hand and fingers but nothing in them... this is why.
She had flipped this wee Ringneck under a log and only seen the tail. She thought it was a salamander tail at first.
Two baby snakes on the day!

We turned to go down to our suspected Marbled area... just in case. Early on that path, Andrea did it again... she flipped a small (this year) Spotted Salamander.
Ambystoma score!

We scoured the Marbled area, hoping to see any sign of their existence. I flipped plenty of rocks in a spot that is normally pretty watery, but it was merely... moist... this day. Good enough for this shoestring Garter.

Yeah, he was small... but this one that Andrea found on the crawl was even smaller.

Another newly named Redback morph... named by me... Gold-dust Redback.

We searched Ringneck Hill pretty thoroughly, too. Believe it or not, we found an even smaller baby Garter there.

From there on out, though, it was pretty cold and we didn't see anything. I had failed to find a Two-lined Salamander at a pretty good spot, because it was dry as a bone. As we entered the final stretch, we had one last chance for herps... a dribbling spring fed stream that sometimes has Two-lines. We haven't seen a snake on this last mile of hike in years.

That's why, when we reached the stream, I was extremely surprised to see that I wasn't the only one looking for salamanders in the water.
This super-beautiful Garter was ice cold, but unfazed.
After taking her picture, we put her down and she slid right back into the icy water to start poking around for some grub.
We let her be.

About 10 feet away from her, I flipped a rock, still searching for salamanders, and this Pickerel was sitting there.
He would have been a perfect size for the Garter, but I didn't turn him in.

So that was it, quick, easy and successful. After that rocky start (literally), it was good to get to calm down, see some animals and enjoy each other's company and the joys that nature has to offer. But I hope that family (which actually came around by us again, screaming... those brats had stamina!) learns that nature is a privilege, not a fucking playground to destroy.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Joys of Multi-Musking. 9-24-2016

We had a herping date with our friends Sārah and Charles. We were going to meet, herp a bit, then go to a new (to Andrea and me) spot. Things got shuffled around a bit and we were going to meet them outside one of our go-to spots in Bristol County at noon. One obstacle in our way this day... it was cold. Just like that, the temps decided to plummet. I do realise that we had it good for longer than we might have. Luckily, the cool nights form some moisture on the grass come morning, so it would be a bit dewey. We'll take any wetness we can get up here these days.

So, it was still in the low 60s (if that) when we hit the trails a little after 10:30 AM. We were so surprised to see a medium sized Garter jetting off a cool, shadowy path that we didn't get a picture nor were we able to catch it. He seemed a bit more warmed up than we were. But our boards were (more or less) intact and one of them was covering this sleepy lil in-the-blue baby Garter.
He never knew we were there.

Another board produced another wee Garter.
Since this one was sleeping with ants, we decided to move him over to his blue-eyed buddy's board.
He blew us a kiss of thanks.

Another set of odd bedfellows... this Redback was cuddled up with a massive slug.

We had limited time... I'd hoped to make it to the middle pond to see if any turtles were up. It was cool but it was clear and sunny. The chilly woods didn't give us much more in the way of animals. In fact, reliable toad spots were toad-free. This worried me. With the nights getting cooler, have the toads packed it in for the year? That would suck. Andrea finally scored an anuran, in the form of a sleek Pickerel Frog, whose blotches almost formed stripes.

We reached the pond, though at the same time, we got word from Sārah that they had arrived. Poop... we were a half hour's hike from the front. My fault entirely. Naturally, the distant logs were studded with Painted Turtles... for the first time in a long time. My zoom went to work before we turned back.

At the top of a dry hill on the way out, I flipped a stone and this shiny Pickerel hopped out... not what I'd expected to see.

We were briskly walking back, nomming on granola bars, when a slim Garter jetted across the path, almost as if it was warmish... I made a one-handed grab without dropping my treat.
Super cute.

Crossing a short bridge, this Bullfrog was sitting in the murky water. He hadn't been there on the way in.

Both of our bladders were pretty full by now, too. The gentleman in me told Andrea that she could use the filthy porta-toidy in the parking area... I headed off trail, towards the pond to "look for Wood Frogs". Oddly enough, about three feet from my chosen "Wood Frog" area, this Bullfrog was sitting in the sun, wondering why it sensed water both in front and behind it.

So we went to the front and met up with Sārah and Charles. While awaiting our arrival, she had spent her time picking up trash from the shore of the pond, because she is an awesome person in that way. We all hopped into our cars and headed off to their secret Musk spot. It was a surprisingly twisty-turny route that we could never have found on our own. When we got there, there was a chilly breeze coming off of the big bodies of water. Sārah was worried that we wouldn't find anything because of the temps. She needn't have worried.

We approached a dam, we were told that Musks are always around there. We could actually see some moving black shapes in the deep bowl of sand near the wall. Sure enough, they were Musk Turtles. I got this shot and was all excited.
"Look, look! I got a shot! Totally ID-able as a Musk!"

Um, yeah.

My enthusiasm now reminds me of the time, about a decade ago, that Andrea and I went to Shark Valley in the Everglades. While paying our entrance fee, I asked the guy there if there were any Gators here. He said, "Um, yeah." Of course, we saw hundreds of Gators that day. I imagine that's what Sārah and Charles thought when I showed them the picture.

So, yeah... this place was filthy with Musks. I started poking through the weeds at the edge and hatchling Musks (Musklings?) were plentiful. As I moved the cover, six, seven... eight hatchlings scooted down the sandy bowl into the depths. I got a few out for photos.
That's a dime, Sylvester.

This floating weed pile was also home to some brand newly formed Bull Frogs. This guy was super-cooperative.
It wasn't just Musk hatchlings there, either... midsized and adults were seen skittering along the sandy bottom.

We decided to check other spots along the shore. Since the water level was so low, it afforded us access to see angles that wouldn't normally be visible. Sadly, it also reduced the number of animals... seems like many had moved to other spots to make it through the drought. Sārah was taking us to a spot that was reliable for toads and since I had started to worry about a taodless Autumn, I was happy when Andrea spotted a small Fowler's.
I didn't get a shot of it, but this guy's back right foot was gone and the wound was still pink. Fairly recent damage. He still hopped well enough to elude my camera for a while.

Further up, this Pickerel was having a beach day.

Just before we cut through the woods to hit the other side, we saw this face among the rocks.
Turns out that there was a whole Fowler's Toad attached to it. Coulda fooled me.

The wooded path gave us new opportunities and, though it was pretty dry, an idyllic pond next to the trail still had water in it. There were frog noggins poking through the duckweed, like this small Bully.

A flip produced two Two-lined Salamanders, one of which stayed put for a photo.
I was very happy with this flip because A.) we hadn't seen one in a while and B.) it was Sārah's photograph lifer.

We got to the other side and decided to cut through those woods, too, and hit the beach on that side. The water was choppier there (it was much windier) and the "beach" was really just lots of rocks that are usually submerged. It was much tougher going. Still, those rocks held some surprises... Sārah saw a Nerodia slither under a fairly large rock, but I was able to lift it far enough for her to reach in and procure it for pictures.
Now, dats a pretty Water Snake.

We had pretty much reached the end of our hike... the beach more or less stopped and the surrounding land was private property. We took 5 before heading back. I explored some puddles that had some small Bull Frogs in them.

Bullfrogs weren't contained to just the puddles. On the way back up the beach, Andrea spied this big, beautiful Bully in his jammies, taking a pounding in the waves of the choppy water.
He didn't seem to care at all.

A couple of Greater Yellowlegs were picking at things in the surf... my 99th bird on the year.
#99 Greater Yellowlegs

We all knew where we wanted to go back to... Musk Dam. The sun, which had been off and on while we were hiking, was on and the turtles were welcoming us back. Musks of all sizes.
^ dime

We were knee-deep in Musks when Charles came up to us with a small turtle... "uumm... is this what I think it is?"
Ho-lee crap! He had just made a very important and exciting discovery. Red-bellied Cooters are endangered up here, and have been the subject of headstarting programs for decades. Finding a hatchling in the wild isn't only rare, but an amazing discovery... at least one nest that researchers didn't know about was successful!! The little guy didn't seem to know how special he is.
Look at that shell!

Andrea took the wee one and databased it, recorded this and that (it will be reported this week) while Sārah and I looked for Musks. She said, "if you can bend your head down to look into this hole, there's six of them in there." I peeked, and though I'm not too limber, I saw a shell. I couldn't resist...

I lowered the camera down to the hole, which was just above the water line. Three more were visible, as well as some snake skins.

This place is now officially my favorite place on earth.

Andrea and Sārah were fussing with the Red-belly while, not three feet away from them, these adult Musks were hanging out.

One last peek at the Cooter...
... and off he swam.

We all sat there, just watching the water for a while. At any given time, Musk Turtles would climb the damn wall, then swim back down to the depths... it was amazing. This guy, with maybe a 6" carapace, was the biggest one I saw.

Andrea watched "the log" for quite a while, watching Musks come and go.

Charles and I were looking at the collected plants on the far side of the dam and we saw some turtle action. I went and felt along the edges but started to slide in. I saw some bubbles rise from a spot, reached in, and pulled out this old-timer. The shell almost looks notched, it's so scarred.
The bubbles, in fact, continued, telling me that it wasn't the turtle causing the bubbles, but the area is so filled with Musks that there just so happened to be one there where I reached in.

It was getting late and we were all hungry (and we had plans to meet some other friends later on, social butterflies that we are) so we had to end this remarkable day. Charles showed me one last Musk hatchling to end the day on a cute note.

What an extraordinary place, this is. Seriously, my new favorite place on the planet. Musks aren't many people's favorite turtles, but I think it's safe to say that the four of us put them way up there at the top. This place is very special. I can't thank Sārah and Charles enough for introducing us to Stinkpot Utopia. It was also, between the two places, Andrea and my first 10 species day in Massachusetts in a long time. And on our first herping trip officially in the Fall of 2016.

As the year winds down, it's nice to know that there can still be some magic.