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.
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.

Another Redback; this one was quite vivid.

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.
Eastern Red Columbine

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.
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...

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.

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...

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.

Ol' Dribbly didn't disappoint. One of the first rocks flipped got us our First-of-Year Dookie.
Quite a wee one, at that.

A small Two-lined Salamander was nearby.

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.

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.
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!
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.
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.

Nearby, a Painted Turtle was looking on.

In the distance, a Double-crested Cormorant was standing on a rock. He alerted me to these Painters up basking on some branches.

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.
Looked more like a Leatherback to me.

This Bullfrog was in his evening finery.

We got to a better angle eventually and I got a shot of that island Snapper's noggin.

I was also at a better angle for the Cormorant.
#38 Double-crested Cormorant

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!

And he was true to form, coming right out to say hi. Well, to beg for some food.
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.
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.
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.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Catch as Catch Can. 5-13-2017

And the weather continued to suck...

We were faced with a weekend of cold; temps barely into the 50s, wind and rain. Since it was supposed to rain heavily on Saturday night, we figured we'd try some road cruising and hopefully get our first Grey Tree Frog on the year. We headed out for dinner at roughly 9 PM, ate and hit the road to Plymouth County by about 9:45. We got to our spot about a half hour later and started a slow, crawling cruise. Of course, it wasn't raining very hard here... just a light misting. It was good enough for Peepers, though. Here are two of the dozens that we saw.

The only other amphibians that were out on this cold (47°) evening were Redbacks. They were plentiful. It never fails to amuse me when I see these guys up and alert in the road.

We reached our turn-around spot and headed (very slowly) out. The rain started to pick up and I had to stop to move plenty of Redbacks and Peepers out of the way. Andrea started to doze off in the passenger seat. Finally, I saw something a little bigger on the edge of the road, and I got to photograph our first Grey Tree Frog on the year.
While moving him off the road, I took him to Andrea's window to see him. Kind of like breakfast in bed, but with tree frogs.

We got home at almost 1 AM. Was it worth it, the hour and a half driving, the wet and cold? Yup. It has been absolutely miserable since then, too. Until today. The warmth and sun finally returned on Tuesday (May 16th). In fact Andrea saw these two Garters on the way to the train station.
Nothing cooler than seeing a snake in an urban setting. Or so I'm told...

Hopefully, we can get our butts out this weekend and get back in to the swing of things.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Taking Advantage of a Gift. 5-7-2017

Our Spring of discontent continues, weather-wise. May should be well above the low-50s if you ask me. But Mother Nature disagrees. Still, the sun was unexpectedly shining through the chilly temps on Sunday morning so we decided to give it a shot and head to a long time favorite spot out in Bristol County. It was kind of a bonus day... it was supposed to be another day of cold rain. We'd heard that this place had changed a bit and the abandoned house and falling-down garage had been leveled. We're sad to hear of their passing. That spot had been good for a number of snakes over the years, including Garters, Racers and Milks.

We got there late, after 11 AM, having decided pretty late to go out at all. Sure enough, the house and garage are now an open dirt field. Good nesting spot for Snappers, I suppose. We'd seen a big gal laying up there before. We headed to the garden to flip some warm stones. Flipping revealed nothing but this good sized Garter was up and winding through the leaves right next to us.

These Redbacks were hiding under a moist log. Note the one on the left is regenerating his tail for the second time.

The breeze kept things very cool along the river. We weren't surprised to see a lack of turtles. This is a turtle-centric place so we figured we'd see some eventually. This bird flew up and perched in front of me. It didn't look familiar so I snapped a picture. Imagine my delight to find out later that it is a long-time nemesis... a Veery, my Lifer #160.
#34 Veery (Lifer #160)
I've known the call of the Veery for years but never even knew what they looked like. It's great to scratch this one off the list.

Andrea was looking for Wood Frogs when I was poking around a sunny patch. I heard something in the leaves and saw a beautiful Garter. He also saw me. I had to chase him down for quite a while but I finally caught him for some up close inspection.
He used Andrea as a tree. His belly was warm.
It's funny... since I don't try to handle snakes too much any more, making a catch has become a lot trickier. I'm out of practice. But my Native American name is Old Man Chasing Garters so I still give it a try every now and again.

Andrea spied the next guy... a slim Ribbon who started to take off but then settled down to pretend she was a twig.
Her cooperation made for some wonderful photos.

Right after the Ribbon, not 10 more feet up the trail, a Garter shot past us. It made no undulating movements, it was just a straight shot like an arrow from a bow. Funny as hell, it was. We're still saying "remember that Garter?" I wish I had it on film.

Putting the lead in Leadback.

Oddly enough, we were seeing no turtles or frogs. One explanation might be that the water level was super high and the river was rushing. Plus, it was still pretty cold. We felt grateful that a few knucklehead snakes were up in the sun. I wonder if this guy, who was hunting after the waterfall, was having any luck.
#36 Great Blue Heron

I'm sad to report that another place is undergoing a big change. Not only was the house/ garage leveled, but our beloved appliance graveyard, home to Milks, Garters, Dekay's, Racers and loads of salamanders (and even a hatchling Spotted Turtle!), has been cleaned up. It was shocking to see. No piece of cover is left. The end of an era. I guess they're cleaning this place up to attract more humans, like the other place down the road. It saddens me because I have seen the result of having more humans... litter. Again I'm left to ponder... why clean up an isolated dumping ground with carpets, old boards, spent appliances and stuff that animals actually use for cover to  attract humans who chuck their water bottles and candy wrappers and bagged dog shit everywhere. It just makes no sense.

We did manage to find one piece of cover that they had missed, laying a bit off trail. Sure enough, a small Ringneck Snake was under it.
Think I'm bitching for nothing? Proof is in the pudding, asshole.

Still, we had a lovely time in the woods and on the trails. We'd hoped for our first-of-year Snapper or Musk but we saw no turtles or frogs at all. But, unlike the day before, we saw some snakes and that's always a treat. This pretty olive-green Garter was our last sighting on this bonus herping day.