Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Running For Turtles. 6-10-2017

It was going to be hot and sunny. I asked Andrea where she wanted to go this weekend. She said she wanted to see nesting turtles. We based our Saturday plans around a couple of turtle-centric places in Middlesex County. They're both locations that we hadn't been yet this year. Our friend ‎TeĆ” was hoping to join us but her plans fell through. Poop.

We got to our destination between 9:30 and 10 AM and it was already 80°. Undaunted, we hit the shady trails. This place is usually pretty buggy but the walk in wasn't too bad. Our first herp sighting was a Redback.
I'm super happy that I got a decent shot of him... it was the only salamander we saw all weekend!

It dawned on us that we had gone 10 days into the month of June without having seen a Garter Snake. This place is pretty Gartery so we made a wager... whoever found the first June Garter would have the other pony up the Cash and buy lunch. Yes, this is how we amuse ourselves. But it was pretty warm and as we strolled along, we started to wonder if any snakes would be out. Chipmunks were everywhere, making us check every time the leaves rustled. We finally hit the ponds and got a few Painted Turtles.
The water on one side was extremely deep leaving few basking sites. The culvert was a little clogged with plants so the other side was fairly dry.

A bit further up the path, Andrea pointed out two Water Snakes sitting there. Hey, I'd have seen them before stepping on them. Maybe. One slithered off into the brush but the large female stayed for a photo.
I went into the brush to take a peek for the smaller male who made a break for it and I actually found him. I'm glad I made the effort... he was a very Pretty Boy.
We named him Floyd and released him. No bites, just a little bit of musk.

This poor little Painter had a bug bothering him.
We heard the calls of Bullfrogs and Green Frogs but didn't see any. There is usually a covering of duck weed on this pond but it wasn't there this day... maybe the frogs felt exposed and were further out.

The next pond area didn't have any turtles up basking, which was pretty odd, so we moved on up to the designated turtle nesting field. Sadly, we saw no nesting turtles. Even more sad, we saw dozens and dozens of predated nests.
The mammals are eating good this year. Even more sad was a deceased adult Painted Turtle who lay in the sun, covered by flies and bugs. You know, it's nature; something got her or she had succumbed to the sun.. We come out to see life and animals and just have to accept that we will also see death sometimes.

Bummed out, we proceeded up the path. We would go up this path another mile or so, to a spot where we'd again hit the water and, hopefully, some frogs. Along the way, we spied some more Painted Turtles through the trees, basking in secluded ponds.
Though turtles sometimes nest on this dirt path, we saw none.

A flash of ruby red whooshed in front of me and I saw a Scarlet Tanager land in a tree. I wrestled with the camera for a while, then it flew off... to a better spot! It was very patient with me...
#43 Scarlet Tanager
It's only #43 on the year but it's the first decent shot I've ever taken of one so I was thrilled.

We were almost at the watery spot when Andrea spied another turtle off the path... again with lots of bugs on it. Oh no, not again. This guy was alive, but covered with mosquitoes.
I said fuck it and picked him up and we took him to the water. I dribbled some water on his noggin and he started to bob his head gently. Weird.

We headed back after a quick rest at the halfway point. We searched and searched for our meal-ticket Garter but we were striking out. We got back to the previously empty pond and sat on a bench enjoying breeze, the birds and the sound of water spilling through the spillway. In the distance, Great Blue Heron nests were bustling with the fastidious grooming of young birds.

After this rest (gettin' old, folks) we started up again. Right at the water's edge in front of where we were sitting, Andrea saw this good sized Nerodia prowling the edges, looking for the frogs that we also sought.
Since it was heading in the direction of the spillway, I was wondering... what if? And luckily, I got my camera turned on in this to catch the action!


Frogs were still calling like crazy... is this a frog? No!

Finally, determination paid off and we saw a couple of large Bulls near the edge.

We were getting pretty hungry by now. Andrea's fit-bit had gone off a while ago so we'd already hiked quite a few miles. It looked like we'd have to go Dutch when I finally said "I'll have a burrito, please!"
And a handsome free lunch it was.
First Garter of June, 2017.

Lunch was delicious and we left pretty stuffed. We still hadn't seen what we set out for... nesting turtles. So we headed towards home but turned off to go to another wildlife refuge on the way. Why not? We had to burn off some of the big, free lunch.

Things started off pretty well with a large Green Frog just off the path at the beginning.

Andrea struck first in the snake department with this small Water Snake.

Looking off a dock, into the lilypads, I'd missed this massive Bullfrog that Andrea called a green manatee. I thought it was another lilypad, so round was he.

Peeking through the reeds, we could see reptiles... a Painter and a Nerodia, specifically.

The invasive Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio) are all over the place here. They hang out at the pipes, swimming against the current, jumping against the metal grates (and splashing and scaring the everlovin' shit out of me) and generally just blowing my mind at how huge and abundant they are.

Andrea was off looking at the extremely swollen river when I saw this Snapper noggin emerge from the water about 20 feet away from the Carp. He wasn't planning on coming any closer to the melee.

We went further up the path, hoping not only for nesting turtles but our first Northern Leopard Frog of the year. Andrea saw a nice, yellowy Garter scoot into a crevice in a log. We waited for him to peek out.

This guy was about 5 feet away, being far more cooperative.

We got to a cross path that runs between two ponds. In the distance, we saw a lump moving... so we ran! This Painter, probably a male, wanted nothing to do with us.
"Nope, not nesting. Just crossing between ponds, you dumb mammals!"

We got to a known nesting spot and saw evidence that we'd not missed a turtle by too much.

On the way back by, the shy yellow Garter was out and about.

We decided that since we were there, we'd take the last path... making it our second full hike of the day. Our tenacity (stupidity?) paid off with a gorgeous Leopard Frog, our first on the year.

The river, as I said, was swollen. See those trees about 30 feet behind the bench? We can usually walk to them.

We were walking up the last stretch and saw another lump... so again we ran.
Nope, no nesting here.

At our furthest point, our turn-around spot, we saw this wee Painted hatchling grabbing as much sun as possible.
We took a look at him and think his right eye is swelling. He's doing the right thing... getting as much Vitamin D as possible. I hope he lives a long and happy life.

We passed back over a spillway that was without animals on the first pass. This time, Andrea pointed out a young Water Snake who was riding the waves.
He got caught in the current and took a spin.

From the boardwalk going over the spillway, we saw this big Nerodia noggin peeking out.

I did see a young Water Snake who had not made it... perhaps he drowned in the rapidly moving water. I released his body from the rocks it was stuck between and it drifted out towards the river. Somebody will enjoy a snack. This very much alive one was swaying in the current, though.

We headed back towards the car, finally reaching the main path and the last half-mile or so of the hike. In the distance, I could see something on the path in front of an elderly couple. Did they bring a dog? It's off limits! I got out my binoculars... Muskrat? They're common here. No, wait... that's a Snapper! For the third time in as many hours, we sprinted up the path to see a turtle.
And a magnificent beast it was. It was feeling closed in by four humans and stood tall in a defensive posture.
We let it cross, watching it walk tall into the brush, then into the water. Andrea had been lamenting missing the Snapper earlier so she was pleased as punch with this one, our last animal of the day.

So, you know, we didn't actually see any nesting turtles, so I guess you could say we failed. But we saw tons of beautiful animals, hiked 9 1/2 miles, got ourselves some much needed sun and had some (more or less) quiet nature time with each other. It was just what we needed.

I fell asleep at 7:30 PM that night. I regret nothing.


  1. ty i needed that this morning! <3

  2. Love the scarlet tanager picture! Great shot!
    We got our first box turtle nest this week. Yippee.