Thursday, December 7, 2017

December Beach Days 12-2-2017

We got the call to walk the big beach on Saturday morning. Well, we got the call on Friday, but the call was to walk the beach at high tide on Saturday morning, which would be at about 8:30 AM. We got to sleep in a bit. Our friend Bob was going to be driving up from Pennsylvania to give us an extra set of eyes. He is mad. He left for the beach on Friday night.

We got there at right around 8:30, met Bob and hit the beach right away. The water was calm and the sun was warm. It really wasn't good turtle weather but a sick turtle needs little reason to wash ashore. Having Bob with us was good for more than excellent company... he pointed out some birds I might not have otherwise photographed, such as this Lifer (#167) Razorbill. Very cool bird!
Razorbill #88 Lifer #167
#88 on the year.

Word was out that a Snowy Owl had been seen at this beach so we kept our eyes peeled. Bob was also anxious to see seals. This Gray Seal was our first mammal sighting.
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I honestly don't like being around too many people, but these two are always welcome in my line of sight.
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We weren't seeing any turtles. I felt bad that Bob had traveled so far to lend a hand for turtles that just weren't showing up. We got almost to the Point and the high tide had our path covered. We had to wait for it to receed.
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While waiting, a couple came up to us. They had traveled from Worcester to unofficially walk the beach. They had a sled. They had seen a couple of turtles the week before and had caught the bug. That's great, though they really should check in at HQ and let their presence be known. Whatever... the more eyes the merrier. They didn't wait for the tide to ebb and they went back, starting on the bay side.

I went to the Point, startled a bunch of gulls and Eiders, then headed back having seen no turtles.
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Half-way Rock had something Bob was waiting for... a big ol' Gray Seal lounging on top of it.
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Then I saw it... a turtle in need. I looked closer... no! It was washed up body!!
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Ah, no... just Bob photographing the seal.

Heading back, we noticed a sled trail in the sand. Evidently, the couple had found a turtle and were bringing it back with them, even though the sanctuary knew we were out there. At first, I thought "well, good for them." Then I thought about the fact that my band was playing that night and I could just as easily stayed home and slept had I known someone was going to be walking the beach. I was tired and cranky and I started to walk fast. I got way ahead of Andrea and Bob.

Way up past the turn-off to leave the beach, I saw what might have been a turtle washed up. I looked through my binoculars. No, maybe it was just a fat gull laying there. As I got closer still, I realized it was a seal pup. Probably a Harbor Seal. It watched me as I got closer. I thought it might be injured because it wasn't doing much more than looking at me...
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I couldn't see any wounds (the brown spots on the neck looked like dried blood through the binoculars) but it only flopped a little towards the water, still watching me.
Harbor pup, I think
I attempted to get on the other side of it to look for a wound. Then it hit the water and BOLTED off like a bullet. It was fine and healthy after all.

My guess is that I was the first human it had ever seen. Poor guy... such a homely first human!

We went back to the sanctuary to see if we were needed in any other capacity. Evidently, no turtles were called in or delivered from our beach. That means either the couple stole a turtle (unlikely) or they used the sled to haul other stuff, like found buoys or something. That relieved me a bit. We stopped in to say hi to our friends Tim and Maureen who were checking in expired turtles. Only five live turtles had come in all day from the entire Cape. Time threw us a bone and let us show Bob the turtles that he was getting ready to take to rehab.
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I hope it was worth it for Bob. I know we always enjoy his company and I think he's becoming a big fan of Cape Cod. We made it home by 5 PM which wasn't really enough time for a nap, but we rested and later that night, rock and/ or roll happened.
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We're still trying to recover from that long day and we'll be right back to the beach this weekend. This "second season" is a tough one but its really the only thing that we do that matters.

Monday, November 27, 2017

TGI Plastron 11-24-2017

Our Thanksgiving was very nice, thank you. We visited my daughter in Maine and had 11 people sitting around, eating and shooting the breeze. Very nice indeed. We got "the call" while we were up there... we were needed on the beach at first light on Friday morning. So, once we got home from our long day of driving, we hit the hay to prepare for... another long day of driving and a long day of beach walking.

After not a lot of solid sleep, we hit the road (and saw a City-Coyote crossing the main road near us in the dark) and arrived as planned, at first light. It was mild, temps in the low 40s, and it wasn't too windy. Still, it didn't take long to see our first turtle, a Kemps Ridley. It was on its back when first seen, not a good sign.
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It seemed pretty dead to us but we did the normal protocol. We carried it up above the high-tide line, dug a small ditch, put the turtle in and covered it with wrack line seaweed. We marked it with a board and a pole and called it in.
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Though it didn't look promising for that individual, at least we knew that turtles had indeed come in on the tide. On we went. Nearing the half-way point of the 4 miles out, we saw another Kemps. The flipper marks in the sand made this one look more promising.
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Sure enough, when we picked this one up to bring above the tide line, his little flipper pushed weakly against our hands. It lifted its head up a bit for Andrea as she put him in his protective ditch and covered him.

That right there made everything worthwhile. The long drive, the lack of sleep, the everything... totally worth it.

Within a half-mile, Andrea spied one more Kemps up on the other side of a tide-pool. This one didn't look too good at all.
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Still, we treated it as if it was alive.

We made it all the way out to the point with no more turtle sightings. I did see a bunch of Common Eiders, getting us #87 on the year.
Common Eider #87
Again, there were a few deceased seals out by the Point and we called them in.

The sanctuary asked us to pick the turtles up on our way back to the car and bring them in as their personnel was pretty busy. No problem: we had our trusty new sled.
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(Plus, it was only three small Kemps-Ridleys... not a massive Loggerhead!)

While I stayed up higher, Andrea stayed near the shore looking to see if the low tide revealed any more turtles. She saw none but picked up other people's damn litter. I too had a pocketful of balloons. DO NOT RELEASE BALLOONS!!!!!!!!
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We got the turtles loaded in to the Corolla and got them back to the sanctuary. The team quickly jumped into action, looking the turtles over. Bob actually said he thought they were all alive, but some of the movement (particularly on the last one) might have been muscle memory rather than reflexes. Still, our first seemed to be slightly alive and our star pupil, the second one (now known as #245), was moving its flippers while waiting for inspection.
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Here he is in his banana box, ready to go to the aquarium for rehab.
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All three were going North to the aquarium, though you'll notice that our third turtle, the box on the floor, has a sign that says "alive?".
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We were toast on the drive home, hallucinating from a long day with little sleep and we were putting the word "plastron" into everything. (That's how we named this post.) Our friend Karen from the sanctuary called us later in the day to tell us that upon arrival at the aquarium, all three of our turtles were alive! Not that they'll definitely survive this ordeal but as of Friday afternoon, they were alive. *whew*

We weren't needed either Saturday or Sunday (I slept 16 hours straight Friday into Saturday!) as they had plenty of volunteers to walk. It's a good thing too because as I write this on Monday afternoon, they'd had 48 turtles wash up in 12 hours. Thankfully, there were people on the beaches to find them and the amazing crew at the sanctuary was ready to take care of them.

I couldn't possibly be more proud to be a (tiny) part of this group of dedicated people. The work they do gives me some faith in humanity. I'm honored to know them.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Beaches and Woods. Nov. 18th and 19th, 2017

We knew we had to get some practice walking long distances in wet sand so we had planned on walking "our" turtle beach on Cape Cod on Saturday morning. As the week's weather became cooler and windier, we thought we might actually be picking a useful time to walk, too. We checked in with the sanctuary and they said they wanted us there so we made plans to hit it at high tide. We made it there right on time. Sadly (?), the waves were quiet and the temperature was mild.
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We were there to get in shape anyway. But if any turtles washed up, we would be there.

This is something we'll be seeing a lot of in the next month or two.
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We saw plenty of seals and sea birds. I managed to add five bird species to the year. This Harbor Seal was up on half-way rock being fabulous.
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Seals were everywhere, popping up, watching us.
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Ruddy Turnstones (#83) and Sanderlings...
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As is always the case, we saw lots of dead things that had washed up... seals, gulls... but the living gulls always take care of the clean up. This looks like maybe a porpoise skeleton? Seal? I dunno.
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We had almost made it the 4.1 miles out to the point when we saw this Peregrine Falcon (#84).
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Had I mentioned that there were a lot of seals?
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Some Brants flying back there, too.

We finally made it to the very tip.
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Then turned around.

We saw no turtles, but that didn't surprise us considering the still water. We did run into a few people and spread the word about what to do if they should find a cold-stunned turtle. We also ran into this group of Red-breasted Mergansers (#85).
Red-breasted Merganser #85

So, we accomplished our goal... to get our WAY out-of-shape bodies a bit more ready to do this walk. No turtles but lots of beautiful wildlife and nature. I mean, nature's artwork is everywhere...
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We dropped by the sanctuary on the way home to drop off towels and see if we were needed in any capacity. It turns out that 13 turtles did come in that day, all in Dennis. 12 were alive and had gone to the aquarium already (in the capable hands and truck of our friend Box Turtle Tim). Our friend there took pity on our turtle-free day and showed us how the Terrapin hatchlings (that hatched on Nov. 1st, the last time we were there) we doing.
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That made our souls feel good.

So yeah, we were toast and barely made it in the door before collapsing into slumber. But it was good to get one walk under our belts. I expect we'll be doing the same every weekend for a while.

Sunday morning was quiet and our plans included a few errands and nothing else. Until our dear friend ‎Teá dropped us a line and asked if we wanted to take a short local hike to look for Ambystoma. She had two friends from Pennsylvania with her and they wanted to look for a lifer Blue-spotted Salamander. So, we made plans to meet up with them.

When we got there, I was delighted to see that one of the people was Jon, a friend we'd met (through ‎Teá) earlier this year. Their friend Steve was our 5th intrepid hiker. It was very cool and windy... lows 40s, but it had rained the night before so salamanders were a good possibility. Steve struck first with a log flip that had this beautiful Leadback (and another something that retreated underground).
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Andrea defied all odds when she flipped this plump Peeper.
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I had written off any more frogs for 2017 but nature always has a surprise up its sleeve.

A shy Redback with an impressive tail.
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The sun was out, though it wasn't really warming anything up. Still, I thought the Cottonwood dens, enclosed as they are, might prove fruitful since the wind was cut by hills. It turns out, we were right. One knucklehead Garter was out warming in the sun, unable to admit (like us) that the season was over.
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We continued up the path, carefully flipping damp logs. Our destination was the Rock Wall Dens, not because we thought we'd see more snakes but because that was where we'd seen a Blue-spotted two weeks earlier. The easy logs revealed nothing but when a few of us turned over a long, heavy branch, our goal was achieved.
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I have made many comparisons and this is not the same individual we found two weeks prior. That is very good news as it lends weight to our theory that this area is being used by Blues who were displaced by the cemetery expansion.

We did check the Rock Wall Den area since we were there. We saw nothing. Until Jon discovered a good sized Garter in the leaves!
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Eventually, after we all got photos, the snake slid over the hill and explored the shady side. I stood and watched it poke around for a good five minutes, just being a snake. This is a treat that one rarely gets this late into the year. He finally made his was back up to the sunlight and froze in place, luxuriating in the warmth. That's when I got my best photo.
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So, I'm glad we decided to join them. It is always a pleasure to spend time with Teá and Jon, and now Steve. We all had a few ticks (I had one fall from my hood on to the inside of my glasses!) but Jon and Steve got a lifer and we all had some November fun.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Year Ends on a High Note. November 4th, 2017.

Of course the year never really ends but our excursions will be few and far between now that we've had a killing frost. But last Saturday, November 4th, we decided to take a peek at a local Suffolk County spot to see if any noggins were poking out of dens. It was cold (50° F) but sunny and we know how tenacious our local Garter Snakes can be.

We hadn't much time as that evening, Andrea's (and mine to a lesser degree) band Trainwreck had a gig that night. The first one ever. Preparation was needed, like another last minute rehearsal. So with that in the back of our minds, we hit the trail. First up (including one under "Old Reliable") was a pair of Redbacks.
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Yeah! first November herps of the year!

Into the Valley of Nerodia we went, stepping lightly. Andrea noticed them first...
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That's a Water Snake on the left and a Garter on the right, laying out in the sun, catching some warm rays. Here are some close-ups.
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I stepped into the ravine and saw this Water Snake peering out of the hibernaculum entrance.
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She slowly pulled in as I stood there looking at her.

So, we were pretty happy already. We continued on to the Cottonwood dens to see a few small Garters laying about like garland, soaking in some late year sunshine.
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In that last shot, I was photographing the top snake but later noticed a second body below it when I uploaded the shot. Surprise snakes are the best kind!

Leaving the Cottonwood area with a few photos and a ton of ticks, we stopped to flip a log in the field on the way out. Surprise again! A Blue-spotted Salamander and a Redback were keeping company.
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Feeling quite plucky, we continued on to the Rock Wall dens. Finally, we were knocked down a notch. No snakes to be seen, nor on TP Hill. But, and this is a big but, we did see another Blue-Spotted out this way, the furthest out we've seen this species.
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This sighting might go a long way towards answering our question as to where these guys all moved to when the cemetery expansion decimated their hill. Look at that beautiful paddle-tail.

It was time to head out as we still had to make it to an early afternoon band practice. I'd still hoped to be Andrea's hero and find a maculatum for her. Blue Spots might be more rare but regular ol' Spotteds are quite stunning as well. We decided to hit some shady rocks up by the cemetery on the way out. We'd seen salamanders up there before. Nothing could have prepared us for what I flipped under a big piece of marble...
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The last thing I expected to see here was a Milk Snake, but there it was. Icy cold and full of slow-moving vinegar.
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We don't touch snakes when they're at their dens but we had to replace the large, heavy rock and... surely this guy wasn't near a hibernaculum. Was he? We figured he was out prowling the day before when it was much milder, then got stuck in a cool spot. Or something. When we let him go, he slid back under the slab, hopefully to a warm spot, deep in the ground. At any rate, that was a very happy and unexpected surprise.

We checked back in the Valley on the way to the car. The Nerodia was still out and had been joined by quite a few more small Garters, one of whom skittered right over my foot. We think that one might have been the specimen from earlier.
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Right next to the path not much further up, two gorgeous Garters were giving us some really favorable photo ops. I took advantage of their poses and got two of my better shots of the year.
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So, obviously, we were quite pleased with out hour and a half in the wilds of Suffolk County. That night, Andrea killed it at her first ever live performance.
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Next up? I'm sure we'll be on the beach. It's cold. So cold. And the turtles will be needing us.