Monday, June 26, 2017

Coming 'Round the Mountain 6-24-2017

Our dear friend Teá asked us to meet up with her and her friend Jon on Saturday. Since we hadn't had the chance to spend any time with her lately, we would have gone anywhere to herp with her. She chose a mountain that we had never been to, but had been planning on visiting, so it was win-win! The weather forecast changed some early plans (to hit a river in the area first), but Andrea and I decided to scope it out anyway. We hit the road by 9:30 AM, into the heavy-at-times rain, and finally found the first spot at around 10:30.

It is a river habitat in Worcester County and I'll be damned if Google Earth doesn't make it look like it would be good for Wood Turtles. In fact, many locals have either seen or heard of Woods being here. We didn't know the terrain at all so for our limited time, we walked trails, hoping for some nesting turtles of any species. The place is gorgeous and when the sun came out, we kept expecting to see snakes dart across the path, but we saw none. (It looks as though a lot of razing has been done here, too... I hope they don't upset things too much.)

In fact, though we heard Green Frogs playing the banjo, the only cold blooded animal we saw was this Painted Turtle up on the path that was very surprised to see us.

Our time had run out and we were ready to get to the other place to meet up with Teá and Jon. We consider the 2 or so miles and the two hours spent here as reconnaissance. We're armed with a little bit of knowledge about the layout now. And we know that at least one Painted Turtle lives there.

It was plenty hot and sticky when we all got to the mountain spot. We all hit the trails and it wasn't too long before we saw a small American Toad.

The trails were damp from the morning rain, making the underside of rocks and logs nice and moist, perfect for a Redback, our first in a few weeks.

You know, Andrea and I are sometimes not the brightest bulbs in the pack. This was a mountain. We had to climb a mountain. It should be noted that Teá and Jon were both very patient with us huffing and puffing up the incline. Here's another American Toad from about midway up, who is quite lovely despite the spider-web across his face and the scar on his butt.

Jon flipped this guy. It was nice to see multiple Redbacks on such a hot day.

We saw a few Garter Snakes on the way up but they were well-warmed and too speedy for the camera. There is plenty of flipping here, too, but evidently someone was here in front of us; the rocks looked recently flipped and they were snake-free. Teá managed to flip one Garter who was like greased lightning... we got no pictures.

Still, once we made the summit, we were rewarded with a lovely view. Of course, Andrea is always a lovely view.

I spent a good 5 minutes on the side of the mountain watching this Dark-eyed Junco flit back and forth, peck for food on the rocks, fan its tail, chirp and just be a Dark-eyed Junco.
We bonded.

We made our way down the mountain, enjoying the shaded woods. Jon bushwhacked a shortcut down the side, planning to meet up with us again at the car. This, the largest of the Toads we saw, posed nicely for the camera.

About mid-way down, Teá, who was roughly15 feet in front of us, announced that there was a Garter laying ahead. We snuck up and we all finally got our Garter shot of the day.
The fourth time's the charm.

That was about it for animals but if that seems light or disappointing, you're wrong. We got to hike with a dear friend, met a new like-minded friend and proved to my old ass that I could climb a mountain in the heat, even after going for a few miles in the morning. That said, we all drove to New Hampshire for ice cream. (Thank you, Teá!!) We could hear Grey Tree Frogs calling near the ice cream place, but saw none.

Teá and Jon were staying in New Hampshire for a meet up with the New England Entomological Society so we said our thank yous and good-byes and started towards the highway. Gladys (Andrea's GPS) gave us some oddball instructions and it's lucky she did. Cruising along the road at about 40 mph, a Painted Turtle started to strut out into the road in front of us. I hit the brakes, pulled over and ran up to her. Mercifully, nobody was behind me.
Cars in the oncoming lane were blazing past. If she didn't get scared by my running at her, she might have been in the other lane and those cars would never have seen her. We got her to safety and drove on, noticing 4 smashed turtles in the road. Obviously a hot nesting spot; I wish they would put a sign up. It just makes me sad.

We were toast once we got home but very happy that we had tried something new. The next day was to be committed to family stuff so we felt good knowing we'd made the best of our nature day.

Of course on Sunday morning, knowing we didn't have to be anywhere until the afternoon, we thought about Musk Turtles again. Always the Musk Turtles. Since (thanks again to Google Maps) we'd found the Musk Turtle spot that our friend Sārah introduced us to last year, we decided to drive deep into Bristol County to see if we could come up with our first Stinkpot on the year. Last year, this spot was in drought condition. Being a lake, there was plenty of water, but it was low. Not so this time. Deep deep deep.

The first thing we noticed was the millions and millions of shiners all around the edges.
There was a guy fishing there and he pointed out all of the jumping bass and perch in a full-on feeding frenzy. He was fishing further out. "Let 'em eat" he said. Did I mention that there were a few shiners in the lake?

I got down into the water at the edge and started to look under rocks for Musk Turtles. For the most part, the small fish got out of my way. It didn't take long before I found our First-of-Year Musk Turtle.
I so love these guys.

The fishing dude said a turtle had it's head up way out. Sure enough...
Red-belly or Painter. It was a big noggin and I'm leaning toward a Cooter based on shape but it was so far away, I'm calling "inconclusive".

I searched on for more Musks but never did find another. There could have been more but something was blocking my view.
That's OK... we got what we'd driven all the way out for and got to cool our tootsies in the lake. Some other guys came in to fish and were dropping their lures down into the mass of swirling shiners but the bass were ignoring them false food. Too much real stuff to fall for their crap.

That was our weekend in nature.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sunday Special 6-18-2017

We figured we'd have family plans on Sunday. It was Father's Day, our first without Andrea's dad, and we were a bit sad. When no solid plans materialized, we decided to hit a local place (our Winter den spot) while we waited for the phone to ring. It was hot and humid, 85° with 76,876% humidity.

Not having been here since warmth returned to Massachusetts, we weren't prepared for the impressive water level. Last year's drought was devastating and this year's rainfall has been a boon. The first vernal pond upon entering was huge and deep, a lovely thing to see so late into June. Two Painted Turtles decided this spot was nice.
We'd never seen a Painter in this body of water before. Hell, last year it was a field, not a body of water at all.

Sly's pool was just as full.
Here's hoping for an Autumn  bustling with metamorphs!

Andrea's keen eyes saw this fine American Toad.

Much to our surprise, tiny toad season is in action here, too. This guy leapt just as I snapped the shot, making me look like a great photographer.
Nice gams.

Since we got there pretty late, the heat of the day was upon us and we weren't sure if we'd see any snakes at all. If we did, surely they'd be laying in the dappled sunlight, digesting a meal. Along the brook, a Painted lady was thinking about coming up to nest...
Then a dog came along and ran to jump into the water, treading on her. He hit her a few times. Then two more dogs came and did pretty much the same thing. When they left, I checked her out.
Of course, she was fine, though I think she changed her mind about coming up. I looked her over and her plastron did look a bit distended (and she had some muffin-plastron). Probably full of eggs. Hopefully, she got the chance after the commotion of dogs and humans had dies down.

We saw a Water Snake cruising along a little branch off the brook, but it was going at a pretty good clip and was too far away. She pulled into a clump and I lost sight of her, but I snapped a picture anyway, hoping for the best. Much to my astonishment, there is a tiny bit of keeled tail in the center on the left edge of this shot.
That counts, right?

We got to the river and I could see some Painted Turtles basking on branches. As I stepped through the mud, I startled a large Water Snake (and vice versa) who darted under a log in the water. I noodled for her but that only pushed her further away. But she brought her head up and I got this shot...

Here are the turtles I was after.
Can we get a close-up on that one? Just what is he so damn happy about?!
racist painter

This guy kept to himself.

As we walked along the river, the large Water Snake was keeping pace with us, going about her important snake business.
Business snake.

Heading back, we saw our first Garter, a skinny guy who hadn't yet found his lunch.

This young Turdus cracks me up... check out those spindly legs.

The other side of the brook had some more Painters up.
At one point, as I leaned in to peek between some reeds, a Water Snake slithered away. I'd never even seen it.

Just looking at the green and wet was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon. We decided to go up a new-to-us path just to see where it went. We were rewarded with a small, full Garter. He never moved as we walked past.

That was it. Just a relaxing day walking around familiar territory. As it turns out, no further plans were made at all and as it turns out, we could have made a more elaborate jaunt. But I'm fine with our quiet hike.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Do All Humans Suck? 6-17-2017

Overcast but warm. We wanted to see Musk Turtles, dammit! We planned a trip to Bristol County to check out three places where we have seen those little Stinkers before. But first, a huge breakfast at 50's Diner, our first of the year.

We got out to the Park at about 10 AM. It was spitting out and we had no idea if we'd see anything or if we'd get drenched by rain. Our first sighting, sitting on the edge of a swollen pond, was a small Bullfrog, unphased by the ominous sky.

We thought flipping would be our best bet for snakes but this place has had most of its artificial cover removed so there isn't much left to flip. I miss my board line. Rainy or not, it was warm and that was good enough for a couple of Garter Snakes to be out and about. Andrea spotted the first one, I the second.

This place is usually filthy with Fowler's Toads and I'm very happy to say that this day, they were out.
We saw this last guy pop out of the sand to start his day. Check out his sandy butt.

It was with much surprise and delight that we started noticing tiny toads. It seems a few weeks early but we saw dozens of them.
It's tough to discern the species at this size. It has been our observation that American Toads come out a bit earlier in the Spring than Fowler's do but whether or not they breed, lay and hatch earlier, we do not know. Both species are here, though Fowler's are 10-1 more prevalent. There could be hybrids, too.

Is this Mick Blood? I couldn't properly ID this Lime Spider.

Walking up to go between two ponds and get dirty and look for Musks, we saw this dirty-bottomed Painter girl who had probably just nested.

Andrea wasn't interested in getting all wet and muddy so she stayed a landlubber while I went into the drink in search of Musks. I walked through all of the shallow edges of the pond, through puddles and pools and came up empty. My only sighting was a distant Painter. (And a Spotted Sandpiper, only  Bird #44 on the year)

Meanwhile, Andrea found a Ribbon Snake here, the first we've seen in this part of the park.
Long beauty with a bit of a boo-boo on her bottom lip.
Ribbons are always a treat.

Though we had stopped photographing Fowler's, sometimes a real pretty one demands a photo... like this one did.

Not many turtles were basking this day but this 6-pack of Painted Turtles knows that you can still get UVBs on a cloudy day.
There was a human in a canoe not far from them either. These guys were hard core.

I honestly have no recollection in which pond we saw this Bully, but he's sure a beauty.

OK, I'll be quick. We got to the next spot, a place that has been filled with a lot of humans since they opened the gates to this place back up. There was a family or two there fishing. Whatever. We still poked around the edges. I flipped over a log near the edge of the water... it's often a good way to find a frog or two. Underneath the log was a crushed adult Painted Turtle. As you can imagine, I lost my shit.

The meltdown was a slow boil. Yes, the family left. Andrea kept quiet because she knows how to handle me. I swore, I boiled and I said we had to leave. So we headed out. Cars, humans... thank you for cleaning up the goddamn park to make it more attractive to killers. Fuck. More cars trying to get in while some tried to get out. More humans.

Now, there's a number of possibilities on the crushed turtle. One, malicious murder. Two, they were fishing (i.e. murdering fish. Sorry, Mike, but you know my feelings...) and they got the turtle on the hook and murdered it because they couldn't remove it. A mercy murder. At any rate, with all of the work we do to save turtles and learn about and protect them, this is a kick in the balls. Fuck humans.

We looked at a few spots on the way out but I was obviously in a piss-mood. I saw Andrea wave and yell hi to someone that I couldn't see. I asked who was there. She said, "some people up the hill." I asked if they were murdering anything. They weren't.

We went up to see them and the guy told us the story of how he came across an orphaned (or booted out by mom) Raccoon the day before and how, after a stand off, it came to adopt him as it's human. He had worried about this little fellow (who followed around him like a puppy) after he had "abandoned" it the day before and returned today with a can of tuna for it.

Look, I know, he knows... we all know that you don't interfere with nature but he'd felt some sort of responsibility toward the baby Raccoon. He says he'll come back every few days to see if it has moved on. In the mean time, we took this extraordinary opportunity to look at, touch and learn about this (adorable) little animal.

This dude and his girlfriend restored a little bit of faith in humanity. It turns out he knows his local turtles and snakes pretty well, too and we all had a nice long talk while the Raccoon climbed us, drank, ate and melted our hearts. It was tough to say goodbye to our three new friends. (Tougher still for the man who had to abandon "his" baby for the second day in a row!)

They had mentioned a Snapper nesting on a rock pile nearby so after making our farewells, we went to check. She had finished up and was hiding her noggin in the leaves.
There was a clean Garter next to her that took off before I could get a picture.

Lots of mixed emotions swirled in my head as we walked back. Andrea spied this stuffed little Garter relaxing after some time at the buffet.

Crossing back over a sandy area, we saw a Painted Turtle making her way across the sand. Business Turtle.

Before reaching the car, we ran into our friend Steve NewEnglandHerps who we haven't seen in quite a while. We haven't been in the field with him in over a year. It was good to catch up and compare some notes. We told him where our next stop was and he said he might join us there in a bit.

Our next stop was a pretty little place that is usually overstuffed with humans but today, it was all but empty. We headed in and immediately saw this big girl working on a large patch of earth...

Andrea pointed out a nearby basking Water Snake.

I mean, they were both right there...

While that lady Snapper kept up her work, we poked around. We saw another Northern Water Snake, this one looking very much like an Eastern King! Another buffet survivor.

Steve did come by, his first time seeing this place, and we got to hang out a bit more. This pretty Painter was hanging out in the shade of a foot-bridge.

The girl was still at work. She wound up not using the huge patch she dug and nested about 2 feet away from it.

After this, we had one more shot at Musks. Steve couldn't join us (he had been herping in Plymouth County all day and having very good luck) so we attempted to find a place we'd only been to once before. It's a magical Musk spot that our dear friend Sārah had introduced us to last year. Long story short, we couldn't find it. (A subsequent search on Google Earth told us that we were everso close.) So, we headed home. This bunny was munching as we turned the car around.

Before hitting the highway, we pulled over into one spot that looked interesting. It had some lovely wetlands and a small stone wall. We saw this Garter sleeping off one helluva meal.

The wall got us a pair of surprised American Toads, both of whom were glad we weren't Garter Snakes.

It was a long, quiet drive home. We listened to T. Rex's The Slider and mulled over how detestable some humans are and how wonderful others can be. I know I'm not one of the perfect ones... I have a very low boiling point. (If anyone said "it's just a turtle" or something, I might be in jail now.) But there are some kind souls out there and we're happy to know a few of them.

We still need a Musk Turtle, too.