Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Celebrating Sunday. 5-21-2017

I'm not much of a birthday person. In fact, I like to try to let it go by unnoticed. But Andrea usually has other things in mind, being the giving person that she is. She asked once again what I wanted to do for my birthday. I said what I say every other day of the year... to get out into nature. So Sunday being the dreaded 21st of May, we planned on a trip to a nearby spot in Norfolk County. We were both admittedly pretty beat from our mountainous hike the day before and wanted to stick to a very familiar place. The temps were supposed to be in the high 60s with sun and our prospects looked good.

We got a super late start and blamed our early non-sightings on that. There were also far too many humans on the trails for my taste. Eventually, we found our way to a familiar vernal pool and were happy to see plenty of tadpoles in it, probably Wood Frogs (though we couldn't get a great look at them).
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It was nice to see a small Green Frog at the edge. We haven't seen to many of them yet this year.
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Look at how much pollen is on the water's surface. No wonder Andrea is suffering this year.

After breaking the Green Frog seal, we heard dozens of them calling on our walk around the pond.  We didn't see any more but their presence was made very clear with that beautiful detuned banjo-string sound. One pond denizen that we caught sight of was this young Painted Turtle poking around in the shallows.
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We only saw one other young, foraging Painter and that was it for the weekend for turtles. You can't win 'em all.

We reached what we consider the half way point, surprised that we hadn't seen any snakes. The temp was fine and the sun was up. Again, we blamed our tardiness. We walked through the bog for a bit but turned back before too long... it was, as expected, flooded.
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Back on the trails, we finally saw our first salamander- a long Redback.
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We got to a spot that Andrea discovered a couple of years ago on a solo trip: the Hobo Camp. It was here that we flipped a large flat stone and found our first snake of the weekend. A perfect Garter.
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Gorgeous, perfect tail tip and no scars. This one has been living the good life. Decent sized, too.
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A nearby rock had this bright Ringneck under it.
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Check out the belly! (But ignore my eczema-cracked fingertips.)
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It felt pretty good to finally see some squamates. It felt even better when we were down by the stream next to Ringneck Hill when I heard a slight swoosh and looked down to see a Milk Snake pull it's head back under a rock. I flipped and tried to get my mitts on him but he had other plans. So, we took a voucher shot before I lost him.
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I was about to let go when he unexpectedly started to loosen up and back pedal. I was able to extract him safely for pictures though it should be noted... he would not sit still for a portrait.
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He put himself into a time-out in Andrea's camera bag.
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While Andrea was holding him and I was unsuccessfully trying to get decent photos, a couple walked by and got a nice lesson on Milk Snakes. Mr. Feisty kept striking forward at me as I talked. We finally acquiesced and let him go back to his hole. The couple were telling us of "20 baby Water Snakes" up at the dock area, disturbed by some masonry work going on up there. He knew they were young because they weren't all black... you could see the banding. Sounded good enough to me. It was good to hear tell of snakes with no "ewww" interjected into the conversation.

Before heading to the dock and dozens of baby Water Snakes, we flipped a wee Ringer on the hill, living up to the name we gave it.
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When we got to the dock area, the workers were on break. They are building rock and mortar steps from the raised beach area to the water. While it does go through an area that houses many snakes, I was doubting that they were disrupting a den... this spot is too windy and cold in the winter; I don't think it would be a proper setting for a hibernaculum. But it's a much used summer spot, based on the number of skins and live snakes we've seen there over the years.

I looked around and saw no Nerodia. Andrea did, however. She stood on the dock and said "there's a tangle of them right below me."
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Sure enough, there was. I can forgive the guy for exaggerating the number... most people do. And I can appreciate his noting the stripes of the smaller males. But these horny devils were not babies. They were lookin' to make some, though. They were drunk on pheromones and completely oblivious to us. While we sat there, another male came over to join in.
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I made a quick porno.


The workers returned, noting that "this place is filthy with snakes". At least they were cool with them and showed respect. One guy said "oh yeah, I've been here for years and they're always around." Yup- that's why we love it. There were some Garters basking not 10 feet from the commotion of the work crew.
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The female Nerodia got spooked at one point and darted off but the males stayed on, poking all around, crawling under our feet as we sat and one ever crawled between one of the worker's legs as he stood in the shallow water.
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The female must have dumped a lot of pheromones. The males never strayed too far.

I wanted to show Andrea the basking Garters but one had moved. I thought this guy, who was exploring a worker's water bottle, was the first coiled guy but he turns out to be a third Garter from the spot.
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Once we started seeing snakes, we really started seeing snakes. We saw no more on our walk towards the car but we still enjoyed the final mile and a quarter. We stopped at the spring and got some super cold, clean water from the spout. A search for Two-lined Salamanders came up empty.
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So, you might ask how was my birthday? I'll be honest- I had a lovely Sunday. We followed the hike up with pizza and some ice cream. You can't go wrong with nature, pizza and ice cream.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Something Old, Something New. 5-20-2017

I honestly don't know why I still suggest a trip out to a certain barren spot in the North-ish/ West-ish part of Massachusetts, but I do. We have seen one Hognose, a handful of Garters and little else there but hope (and stupidity) springs eternal, so I suggested it as our Saturday morning excursion. We were going to meet a friend later in the day to look around a different spot so all wouldn't be lost.

We got to the desolate wasteland by about 10:30 AM after roughly 2 hours of driving. This spot is another one of our haunts that has been razed within the last couple of years and it doesn't help our chances. I'll cut to the chase. We saw a Redback.
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We spent two hours scouring for Box Turtles and Hognoses and saw none. Two Redbacks in two hours. And yet I'll probably suggest we go again some time. I do not learn.

After grabbing some lunch a few towns over, we met up with Andrea's friend Kyle, a herper who has been having some luck with a very elusive species in Massachusetts. He is a very kind guy who was going to show us a part of one of our (not often hit) spots that we had not seen before. The temps were in the low 70s and it was sunny. Things looked good for animals, perhaps including the tough-to-see species we sought.

Our first sighting was of a tiny Eft who was under a log.
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Another Redback; this one was quite vivid.
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Kyle is an excellent naturalist to be in the woods with. His knowledge isn't just with herps. He brought these lovely wild flowers to our attention... Eastern Red Columbine.
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We had been ascending for much of the hike (the old man here kept up fairly well!) when Kyle got us to a spot and said "Look down"... this chasm was right at our feet.
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It came out of nowhere.

This was an amazing place, filled with crevices, caves, chasms and other words that start with C. (Not that one, you perv.) Breath-taking. Note the bird's nest on the top wall on the first photo...
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We poked around this magical spot for a while then started our descent. We saw some more Efts and Redbacks on the way down. My color-morph names for the Redbacks are Chocolateback and Goldtop, respectively. Write that down.
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Our next stop was a fallen down building in the middle of the woods. There was plenty of flipping to do. Our only find was this brilliant Eft, almost dayglo in the sunlight. This picture doesn't do him justice. Even if it was in focus it wouldn't...
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We made it back to our cars and talked for quite a while. Kyle is a great guy to talk nature with because he "gets it". He's no trophy herper... being out in nature and learning is what its all about, and that's something all three of us agree on. We will definitely try to get out this way to spend more time with him in the future. So, we went in with a target species and failed. Yet still we had a great time. Two species, both quite common, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely. I kind of feel sad for trophy herpers who couldn't appreciate that.

Since we were there, after Kyle departed we headed back in to a dribbly hill that is usually good for salamanders. We didn't yet have a Dusky on the year so why not? On the way, we saw a lovely male Baltimore Oriole calling from a tree.
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Ol' Dribbly didn't disappoint. One of the first rocks flipped got us our First-of-Year Dookie.
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Quite a wee one, at that.

A small Two-lined Salamander was nearby.
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There's a spot where the stream crosses under the path... only sometimes when the stream is full, it goes pretty much over the path, too. This always makes for fun flipping. This second Dook was under a path stone.
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I flipped another stone and in the puddled water underneath, I saw a noggin poking out. Then, a small Pickerel Frog darted out towards the stream. Luckily, he paused long enough for me to get a photo.
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Then, he quickly plopped into the drink.

Since we were getting devoured by mosquitoes, we decided it was time to head back. Also, it would be getting dark soon and we had a long drive ahead of us. Our last sighting on the day was a pair of Efts under a... wait for it... birch log!
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Don't besmirch the birch!

We might have only photographed five species and failed at targets in two spots but on the long drive home, we declared it a successful day. It was good to hang with a like-minded person and see some new spots that just blew our minds.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Weekday Wanderings. 5-17-19th, 2017

The cold spell finally broke. We had some seriously warm and pleasant summery weather blow into town. Of course, it was the work week so our available nature time was very limited. Still, we played along and did what we could.

Andrea had her Garter eyes in good form while walking along Hyde Park Ave to the train station on Wednesday morning... she spied a Garter basking atop some logs in an empty lot.
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It was the second day in a row she had seen some urban Garters. Not to shabby.

Thursday, the 18th, we broke temperature records in Boston with some mid-90s warming us up. It was hot but, to me, not unpleasant at all. I picked Andrea up at the station after work and we made our way over to a nearby cemetery pond for some birding and hopefully some turtles. We still needed a Snapper on the year and we know there are some... errr... excitable ones here.  At the pond's edge, a Red-eared Slider swam over to greet us.
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Nearby, a Painted Turtle was looking on.
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In the distance, a Double-crested Cormorant was standing on a rock. He alerted me to these Painters up basking on some branches.
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We walked around the pond and when we reached the far end, I saw a large Snapper turn from the shoreline and flop back into the deeper water. Drat... first Snapper of the year and I couldn't get a shot! Never fear... on a small island in the pond, this monolith was taking a rest. Massive doesn't begin to describe it.
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Looked more like a Leatherback to me.

This Bullfrog was in his evening finery.
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We got to a better angle eventually and I got a shot of that island Snapper's noggin.
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I was also at a better angle for the Cormorant.
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Mission accomplished... we got our First-of-Year Snapper. But wait... who is that poking around the edge of the pond... I seem to recognize that scarring on the top of the head and the snout! This was our ol' pal, the begging Snapper!
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And he was true to form, coming right out to say hi. Well, to beg for some food.
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I may or may not have stupidly hand fed it a piece of bread. I still have all of my fingers, so I probably didn't.

Ah, it was nice to see old friends.

The next night, Friday the 19th, after a day with the temps into the high 80s, we went over to a nearby Norfolk County spot to check the decimated rail line again and look for warm summer snakes. We got there at about 6:30 PM. We immediately saw two Milk Snakes in the exact same spot as two weeks ago.
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I declared that we can NOT flip these stones for a long time. These were obviously the same two snakes as before.

Except that when I uploaded the pictures and compared, I discovered that both were different Milks. I know our friend Ryan saw the smaller one during the week... it has a recognizable stub-tail.
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But comparing the head markings on both of them with the two from April 28th, we knew that these two were new to us. But I still declare those rocks off limits for a while. You just can't go to the cupboard too many times before running out of bread.

The rail line was empty except for seriously annoying 'skeeters and gnats.

With the upcoming weekend calling for cooling temps and sunny skies, we have high hopes. Will we score big? Or fail miserably. Only time will tell.