Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sometimes, the Tank is Empty. 5-28-2017

Overcast Sunday, temps in the mid 60s. It could have been a good day for finding things but we were lethargic, to say the least. We decided to go to a Blue Hills spot to look around for Racers since we haven't had the pleasure of their company (or teeth) yet this year. We took a walk around the reservoir, added a couple of birds to the year's count and saw lots of toad tadpoles.

We flipped plenty of rocks in hopes of a Ringer or something but saw none. No Redbacks... you know, I just didn't have it in me. It's tough to admit but I was feeling my age a bit. After completing the circle, we decided that we didn't need to explore this spot any further and headed over to Garter Beach (far away in time).

It was flippin' weather for sure and we were greeted with yet another spot that has had "improvements" made for humans. Some of our cover had been removed. We made our way to the cliff and saw a Garter skitter into a crevice. I got a shot of him through the other side.

I flipped this guy and almost had a disaster... the rock slipped. He was unharmed this time but check out that scar on his side.

This place, full of broken glass and trash, is a surprisingly good spot for Garters, DeKay's and the occasional Green. (Dom found one here today, I'm told! Good job!) There are some lovely wild Rugosa roses growing among the rocks as well. What better way to humiliate a shoestring Garter than this?

A Garter on the move...

I turned over a stone and this guy had no idea I was there. In the blue and out like a light.

Feeling lazy, it wasn't long before we decided we'd had enough. We headed back to the car. On the way, right out in the open on the "beach", this Garter was moseying along. A good sized one, too... over 2 feet, I'd say.

A pretty lackluster Sunday, really. I mean, we enjoyed ourselves but it certainly makes for a dull blog entry for the two readers I have who might like some razzle-dazzle. Eh, I'm tired. I think I'll lay down for a bit.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Change of Plans Leads to Bellies of Red. 5-27-2017

Our original plan for this Saturday was to head to Western Massachusetts to hit up some spots and to hope for Spring Salamanders and Redbellied Snakes. But Andrea made a last minute decision to go to Plymouth County instead. It wasn't going to be super warm (mid-60s, scraping 70°) so we decided to save stream searching for a hotter day. We hit the road, heading south, and got to the State Forest at around 11 AM.

It was warm enough in the sun but we were still a bit uncertain whether snakes would be out or they'd be hidden under debris. I got the answer in pretty quick order. I was just about to say something about how nice it would be to see a Redbellied Snake when BLAMMO...
Now, snake enthusiasts that do not live in MA might not be very excited by this but this is our first Bay State Redbelly since September 21st, 2013. It is our first Plymouth County specimen since  July 3rd, 2011. (Having this kind of info handy is why I do this stupid blog!)
I love instant gratification.

Within 3 minutes, Andrea flipped another, this time a charcoal phase.
It's a nice feeling to know that everything else from here on out would be gravy.

A familiar carpet was the hiding spot of a small but feisty Fowler's Toad who desperately wanted a close-up.

Our last sighting from this first stop was a small Redback that was super close to swarming ants.
We moved him away.

Our next stop was a bog. It's always a good spot for frogs and sometimes turtles and snakes. We even once saw a Hognose here so we always check it closely. As expected (and hoped for) Bullfrogs were the main attraction.

This tiny Painted Turtle was resting on top of some algae.

We realize that we have our own vocabulary when we're out and about. The following two Bullfrogs can be characterized as follows: Ride 'em Cowboy and in jammies.

This guy still has a little bit of a stub-tail.

We'd heard a few Green Frog calls and finally found a brilliant example of the species.

We'd put a moratorium on Bulls since there were dozens and dozens present but Andrea saw this guy posing with a cranberry and just had to get a shot.

Another, slightly larger, Painter.
Kind of a Bog Turtle, no?

A small Fowler's was watching me.

A dragonfly landed on Andrea's boob.

We took a short sit-down on a rock that overlooks a large pond. In the distance, some adult Painters were enjoying some sun.

On the way back to the car, another lovely Green was seen.

We went a little out of sequence due to a need for a restroom, so our next stop was a place quipped with said luxury. While Andrea was indisposed, I saw this wee Redback.

We headed over to a pond that is the hottest spot for Redbellied Cooters in the area. From 100 yards away, we could see the red of this screamer.
You never see that much red on the carapace of these guys. I moved in for a better shot but between me, Andrea and a guy fishing, it was all too much and he slid into the drink.

The guy fishing was telling me about the endangered Painted Turtles in Hanover and how these guys are common. I suggested he had that backwards but he insisted. We bid him farewell and looked for salamanders. On the way back by, ol' Screamer was coming back up.
Unbelievable. I did no color enhancement on this photo.

A pond behind us had stacks of turtles up in the distance, probably Painters.

Another peek back at the popular log revealed another Cooter up, also sporting a great deal of red.

We decided to take a walk out the peninsula and see if any snakes were around. We were treated to another angle of the popular log and saw a third  Cooter up by now, along with a Painter leading the pack. That's our screamer on the far right.

Walking along, I heard a whoosh right off the path. It was a big Garter. I figured we had no chance to catch it so I snapped a quick voucher.

It was a big one, the biggest we had seen yet this year. We did a little bit of double teaming and managed to get it in hand for a measurement. 32" of sirtalis beauty.
No scars, full tail... just a gorgeous animal. She gave me a small nip but settled down nicely.

We sat at the edge of the water for a while, just enjoying the view. Way out there was a small stack of turtles.

At this point, our snack-food neglect had caught up with us and we made a rare decision to head out of the forest and grab some food. Which we did. And it included waffle fries and ice cream. We regret nothing.

It had cooled off a bit by the time we got back into the forest but we held our heads high and went back to the trails, still hoping for a Hognose. Not too far up the pine-needle-carpeted path, Andrea lunged to the ground. I had no idea what had made her act in such a way, until I saw her with this little Ribbon in her hand.
Possibly a yearling, this guy wouldn't have been spotted if he didn't move. Remarkable camouflage...

We went back to the main path, a good spot for Garters, Greens and Hogs, the last two of which we still haven't seen on the year. We were only a couple hundred yards up this sandy, rocky path when I heard Andrea let out an "oh no, aww crap..." There, on it's back, was a deceased Painted Turtle hatchling. Always a sad sight. For some reason, perhaps to see just how small that carapace was, she flipped it over. And it's legs moved... it was still alive. Barely.
It was obviously dehydrated so we poured some water into Andrea's hand and let it soak a bit as we headed up the path, hoping that a sometimes-wetland was wet at this time. Sadly, it wasn't. (Much of this forest is still dry, despite the heavy rains that are swelling most Massachusetts' bodies of water.)

It became evident that our search for Hogs and Greens would have to wait for another day as we decided to walk this little guy back to the pond near where we parked. So, we backtracked and decided on a good spot... shallow water, plenty of hiding places and no large Bullfrogs nearby. (The first spot we looked at had one sitting right there... oops!) We put him in, head up. He dropped his head down a bit. Was he drinking?
One of his crusted eyes started to open a bit.
Obviously, we couldn't wait there forever with him but we felt like we gave him a better chance than laying on that sandy trail almost dead. How he got there in the first place, I do not know. He's obviously from a late clutch from last year and he just recently came up. Where was the nest? On the trail? Was he picked up and dropped by a predator? We'll never know but as it stands, we hope he lives.

Feeling my age, as I often do these days, I didn't have enough gas to head back in on the trail and the temps were dropping already anyway, so we got in the car and made one last stop on the way out... to Toad Carpet, an almost sure-fire Fowler's finding place. Sure enough, we scored a few.

This "soon" toad was planning a very grave revenge on us for lifting the carpet.

We ended on a beautiful Fowler's, just as impressive as the screamer Redbellied Cooter was in his own way. Reds, yellows, oranges, chocolates... what a stunner!

Considering we altered our plans at the very last minute, I gotta say we did all right for ourselves. We fell shy of our coveted "double digit species" count with nine, but we can't regret anything we did. Even the ice cream.

Now, for those who actually read this crap that I write, I have used many words that Andrea and I use together that have specific meanings. Did you spot them all? Do you know what they mean? Do you give a shit? "Ride 'em Cowboy", "Jammies", Soon..." If we can get these words into everyone's vocabulary, the world will be a much sillier place.

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).

It was nice to see a small Green Frog at the edge. We haven't seen to many of them yet this year.
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.
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.

Back on the trails, we finally saw our first salamander- a long Redback.

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.
Gorgeous, perfect tail tip and no scars. This one has been living the good life. Decent sized, too.

A nearby rock had this bright Ringneck under it.
Check out the belly! (But ignore my eczema-cracked fingertips.)

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.
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.
He put himself into a time-out in Andrea's camera bag.

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.

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."
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.
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.

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.
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.

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.

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.