Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Salameandering:2017. October 14th

In a very 2017 move, the weather decided to prove all of the warm weather forecasts wrong and be shitty for the weekend. Again. We're getting used to this but decided to play along. Instead of looking for turtles and snakes (our original plan when it was supposed to be warm and sunny), we switched to salamanders for this wet, cooler Saturday. Plus, we stayed local, visiting a spot right here in Suffolk County.

It wasn't until about noon that we actually hit the trail. It was in the low 60s and overcast, even sprinkling a bit. Our first search took us to a muddy, dried up vernal pool and our first find was our most sought after target... a Blue Spotted Salamander.
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A big one at that. That's my fat finger for size reference.
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Our next species was the other Ambystoma that we were hoping for... a Spotted Salamander.
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Next up was our first lungless salamander on the day. For a Redback, this was a pretty large one.
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This dried up vernal had been very good to us. As I was exiting the muck, Andrea spied this large Peeper hopping toward the edge.
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He hopped on to a tree and started scurrying up to get under the bark. I got this hilarious shot just before he went out of sight.
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Back on the trail, our rock formerly known as Old Reliable was once again fruitful. This little Orca of a Spotted Sal brought us much joy.
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We'd been wondering if the Garters and Water Snakes had yet returned to their hibernaculum area but with the cool, wet weather, we had no sightings. (Our pal Ryan was here later in the day and said there was one Nerodia present near the dens.) Ol' Sly's vernal was the current home to plenty of Redbacks. The first one was about 4" long (didn't notice the second one in the shot until upload) and Andrea found that gorgeous orangey one.
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The rain picked up but we stayed out because it wasn't too cold and it wasn't pouring. The rain really perked up the Peepers, though, and we were surrounded by their calls. Back by the Cottonwood dens, there were a few Peeper sightings but I only got the camera on one of them.
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We took a look at a few more den spots but saw nothing so we went on our merry way. Passing a pond, we saw plenty of Green Frog noggins poking up.
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We got up to a rock-strewn walkway and despite my hurtin' arms, I decided to flip a few to try to answer our question. Were snakes still out or back to their winter homes? My suspicion was that we could find a neonate snake who didn't yet know any better. It turns out, we did. This is a This-Year's-Model Water Snake.
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I sure wish I could get my camera on a beaver when it's doing this.
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So, despite the chill in the air and the rain and clouds, we were having a pretty good little quickie hike. To make it even better, we found this feisty yearling Garter.
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He musked and pooped on us, then calmed down.
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So all in all, it wasn't a bad day for animals. Seven species in a couple of hours and targets achieved. Those two snakes were our first in October, so that felt good. We're already at the point when we don't know when we'll see our last of the year.

We went home and ate lunch in bed watching Blacula. Not a bad day at all.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Moving into the Second Season 10-7-2017

As reptiles and amphibians will start to become scarce up here in the polar regions of Massachusetts, we have started to get ourselves mentally (if not physically) prepared for Sea Turtle Season and the grind that it entails. On Saturday, October 7th, we headed to Cape Cod for this year's sign-ups. We had to be there by 10 AM. I got pulled over trying to make it. So, we wound up being a few minutes late, but we got signed up and talked with friends. We don't know what this winter will look like turtle-wise but we two, as well as the amazing group of volunteers and staff, are ready for whatever happens. We think.

Since we were there, we decided to take a walk through Tim's Box Turtle Field® and see if any Boxies were up. We thought that they might be moving back to their brumation sites and, as Tim told us later, we were right. This gal was our first Box Turtle sighting.
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Though Tim wasn't there, we were told to check the notches and see if it was a turtle that should be brought into the lab for measurements. We called but got no answer, so Andrea took her in. When she picked her up, we noticed that she had only one eye.
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One-eyed Jill.

I poked around on the North side while she was in the lab but found nothing. I caught her coming back and we took Jill back to exactly where we had found her. (It was her first measurement of 2017.) We also noticed a guy walking in the woods. We asked who he was and he said he was looking for turtles, too. We let him tag along with us for a while. He was an older guy who really wanted to be involved. I saw a pattern through some leaves and we'd found our second turtle before too long.
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We called it in... yes, they wanted it. The gent with us had a Stop and Shop cloth bag to bring it to the lab in. This turtle had two bumps on the front of the carapace... squint your eyes and you can see a Bullfrog face.
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While looking for more Box Turtles, I found a diminutive Redback.
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Box Turtles are so variable... this guy looked like a Blanding's to me from 10 feet away!
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We handed him off to the Stop and Shop bag and the gent took them off to the lab. The old fella came in handy, really. He was a big hearted guy but I guess he could be a pain in the ass if he keeps bringing the same turtles in over and over. Or a pain in the plastron.

We kept on searching, concentrating on the North field for a while but we turned up no more turtles. The sun had emerged and the sticky heat was coming on. What Box Turtle in their right mind would want to move in that? We headed back toward the car as we were getting mighty hungry by now. Deciding to take a wooded edge next to where we were walking, we saw our fourth turtle, and this guy is a screamer!
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We took him in since we were so close. (I hope we weren't being a pain in the ass!)
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Two beauties.

After humiliating turtles (weighing them on their backs seems so humiliating to them, but funny for us) we grabbed some lunch and then hit the road back towards home. We had designs on stopping in Plymouth County to look for some more animals. By the time we got there, the shadows were getting long and we doubted we'd have any luck with snakes (and we were right) but we saw some amphibians. We started off with some Redbacks.
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Nice millipede tail-extension.

Bogs had frogs, mostly Bulls (some stereotype posing) and one Pickerel.
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And that was it. We were tired so we headed home. Not too bad, though. This time next month, I'll be offering big bucks to see a Bullfrog; the season is coming to a close for my beloved "every day herps". This year has been a tough one on many levels and being in the field is one of our last true joys. Seasonal Affective Disorder, here we come.

Epilogue:I met up with Box Turtle Tim himself on Sunday morning to go look for Copperheads. The forecast of "morning showers followed by sun and temps in the 80s" turned into downpours and a cold wind, temps in the low 60s. Andrea wisely bowed out. Tim and I hit the hill we sought and saw no copper noggins. We will try again at another time.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

September Ends... 9-29-2017

We both wound up with Friday the 29th off so we decided to take advantage of the sunny day and head out to a very good spot deep into Worcester County. Thanks to Google Maps, Andrea had discovered a large sandpit area in this wooded/ pond paradise. Being that she loves turtles more than everything else, including me, we thought it might be worth seeking out said sandpit to see if there was any action.

The temps had dropped into the low 50s (maybe even the high 40s out here) during the night so getting there at 11 AM when the temps "soared" to the lows 60s didn't seem like  a bad idea. The place was very grown-up since our last visit (which was April! Duh!) and out of the sun, it was chilly. Our first sighting was a small Peeper who wouldn't sit still for a photo and eventually disappeared. Since we'd just bug-sprayed and used hand sanitizer, we weren't going to try to catch him just for a photo. It took some time but we finally flipped a straight and narrow Redback for our first animal.
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Unlike the Peeper, this Question Mark Butterfly not only stayed put for a photo but opened its wings for a better shot.
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Our search for the sandy part took us roughly a mile past our usual turning point, where we take trails between some ponds and wetlands. We both saw a Garter Snake on either side of the path at one point and we both failed to catch it or get a photo. It wasn't our day. Persistence paid off and we finally found the sandy, possible nesting area. But...
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Oh well, at least we found it. But not being lawbreakers, we didn't go through it. (Though we took a peek... yup, it looks wonderful.) She's a Lawbreaker, Thingmaker, Fart-taker don't you mess around with her.
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We walked our mile back to the regular route not discouraged, but happy to have actually found the area.

Finally, back to the ponds, we spied some distant Painted Turtle stacks.
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I could see another, further stack so we moved around the pond for a better angle. Still too far for a clear photo, this chorus line of Painters has at least ten dancers. Noggins are sticking up everywhere.
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This little nearby fella had his own log on which to luxuriously stretch out those hamhocks.
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This guy just showed me his butt.
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It was good to actually get photos of animals, though.

We got to a path that goes between wetlands that we have started to call Garter Alley. There are usually tons of Garters along here and almost immediately, a small one was leisurely crawling along the path. He slipped in the some brush and I made a weak attempt to corral him. But you know what? I'm 6'2" and weigh over 200 lbs. My days of jumping for a 12" snake are over. I'd getting so old and clumsy that I fear hurting it. So it got away without a photo. Not my day. This snoozing Water Snake was more my speed.
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Maybe my Indian name should be changed from Old Man Chasing Garters to Old Man Looking at Sleeping Nerodia.

Andrea spied some Bullfrogs. I love this wide shot she got of this one's noggin.
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Here is my close-up.
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This Bully was doing his Shakespeare. "To be, or not to be..."
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Some of our better water spots had dried too much for Chelonian habitation so when we got to the river, we were happy to see plenty of basking Painters out there.
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Check out the smile on that guy second from the left.
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This one looks like he's having a glorious bask. Regal.
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We finally ended this long hike, Andrea's fitbit went off and everything, and I couldn't believe we didn't get a Garter shot. All of a sudden, Andrea saw this in front of her on the path back to the car...
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It only gave her a second to get that shot but she did it and redeemed us. Hey, I thought I was One-Shot Howlett.

We poked around the train tracks on the way out and I saw one last sandy Redback.
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We didn't really feel like eating or going home (it was rapidly approaching rush-hour on a Friday- yikes) so we went to another spot on the way home. It was cool by now and very quiet there. We walked in a mile or two and saw nothing so we turned back. It was too cool for reptiles but we kept hoping for frogs. On the last stretch of trail back to the car, Andrea noticed this massive Nerodia with a massive meal in its belly. How the hell did I miss that walking in? Not my day.
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My guess is that it ate a small River Carp, which are invasive, so thank you!

I went in for a better shot but she saw me and slithered away. But she slithered right over another Water Snake that we hadn't noticed. I leaned down and reached in to gather it for photos. I soon realized that I was absolutely covered with not only beggar ticks but also copious amounts of Nerodia musk.
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So, yeah, I was picking those damn pods off for the rest of the day and everything had to go into the wash as soon as we got home but... it was worth it. Look at that beauty!
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So, that is how we ended September. Not such a booming day but we were together and not at work! Even a slim day in the field is better than a good day at work. Sadly, today, Saturday, it is cold and rainy and while we'd love to go look for salamanders, we're both fighting off potential colds, so we're staying in. The sun will be back tomorrow but we have family plans. The year is winding down and I am not ready. I never am.