Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Hey... These Aren't Turtles! 7-15-2017

July and August can be tough months to see animals. When it gets too hot, many animals just aren't as active, but we still give it a shot. Andrea asked what I wanted to see this weekend and I said without hesitation, "Turtles". So we picked a turtle-friendly County to hike around on Saturday. The problem was, Saturday turned out to be cloudy and relatively cool. Changing plans would have been too much work so we stayed with our decision to look around a few spots in Bristol County, even though our first spot has had most of its AC removed earlier in the year.

We got there under cloudy skies and hoped it wouldn't rain on us. We headed in the same way as we used to, only now we looked across an open field instead of the dilapidated house, garage and grounds. *sigh* It used to be so good for so many kinds of critters. Mother Nature threw us a bone and this little Pickerel Frog hopped across our path.
This is the first Pickerel we'd seen in quite some time and it was definitely this-year's-model; not more than an inch or two long.

Heading to the garden, I stopped to roll over a log and this small Wood Frog (also fairly new to land) hopped out of my way, landing on some gnarly, rusted metal.
That's the first Woodie we'd seen in a while, too. We were officially off to a good start.

The garden's rock walls are usually pretty good for Garters and the occasional Milk. We'd had great luck here a couple of years back on an overcast day; Garters were laying about like garland on a Christmas tree. We hoped for the same. Well, not yet anyway, but Andrea saw a striped tail go under a rock in front of us. We flipped and had our first Garter of the day.
This place is famous (to us) for many of the Garters showing a disappearing dorsal stripe. This one's doesn't disappear, but it fades quickly.

This beauty was crawling along one of the garden plots. Clean and gorgeous.

We flipped a rock and could see that this in-the-blue gal was resting under the rock below it. I don't think she ever knew we were there.
A family came by and were very happy to see some of these sights. "I love snakes!" I love the lady who said that.

I flipped a small guy under a rock and put it on top of the wall for a photo...
While I was snapping its picture, Andrea said "look down"... another Garter was crawling under the top rock right there... my camera finger was too slow.

Back to the teeny one...
Definitely off to a good start.

We got to the river and, you guessed it... no turtles, but as we walked along, we kept checking. We did manage to see a couple of Redbacks, not the easiest thing to do on most July days, but it was around 70° and still overcast. This first one was a beautiful deep burgundy.

Turtles were scarce but we managed our third frog species when this small Bullfrog made its presence known.

We got to the automobile graveyard, a spot that has mercifully not been "cleaned up". We saw a ton of turtle nest predation, a common sight at this spot. As we approached the first rusted out car, we saw a Garter standing tall in an open spot.
He saw us and slithered into a rust hole in the car's body.

A rusted hood. Snake-magnets. Sure enough, I flipped it and at least 5 Garters started to go in all directions. I gently grabbed a handful of leaves...
I had three.

One that had slithered away was under a different piece of metal. Blue, blue, my love is blue.

We saw a few others but didn't bother them, especially since I'd disturbed a wasp nest. I'd been stung by them last year... not a real bad sting but any sting sucks. The last rusted out car, down the road a ways, was a beautiful sight indeed.
There was a third on on the opposite fender but he retreated into the car before we could get a shot. These two just chilled and stayed put.

We got to the waterfall, traditionally our turn-around spot and lo and behold... a Painted Turtle was way out there.

We'd been hearing Green Frogs and hoped to see one but our stream spots along the way were frog-free. We sadly trudged through the space formerly known as the Appliance Graveyard... cleared of all debris. A real shame, this was a great spot. The field just beyond it still has one board that they missed and, sure enough, it was occupied.
Look at the variation on these three! That guy on the left makes me feel better about not having seen a Black-necked in Arizona. Middle guy- no stripe, the guy on the right has a pinstripe. Wow.

One last spot to check... nope, they hadn't moved the car hood hidden deep in a field. This flip was the kind people wait a lifetime for. Of course, I couldn't get a shot but easily ten Garters went scurrying when I lifted it.

Oh and one amazing looking Dekay's... red with a racing stripe.

Andrea got her mitts on one Garter, a particularly pretty one.

We always take a different path back to the front but decided that, since it was well over an hour later, we wanted to check that one car in the graveyard on the way out, so we made a detour. We were rewarded with the sight of four Garters relaxing on the car.
Some closeups...

I rolled over a log on the shady path on the way back and we saw this very plump American Toad.

We got back to the river and there were a few Painters up, trying to find the sun.

Of course, we wanted to walk back through the garden. Had more snakes come out in the four or five hours since we'd last walked through? In a word, yes. This couple was all cuddled up on top of the females skin which had come off since the morning.
Look at that thick white stripe on her!

While photographing them, I just missed this guy crawling away...

This guy was across the way, watching us with a bemused look on his face.

I looked to my left and told Andrea "there's a pile over here". There was...
I count three heads in this picture but as we walked by, the pile dissipated a bit and I swear there were two more under them.

This guy had a prime spot all to him(or her)self.

A little guy popped up to peek out...

The pile was back intact before too long... it made us wonder if there was some hanky-panky going on. Definitely a large female, and probably two males.

It's fair to say that we saw a shit-ton of Garter Snakes. They were strewn about the garden like somebody TP'd the place with Garter Brand® Toilet Paper. Absolute heaven. We watched them going about their business for quite a while, then left and got some pizza.

Hey, we weren't done. We went to the next town over to poke around. The sun was making a valiant effort to come out and we wanted to see some more animals. When we got to the next place, we saw a Painted Turtle up but it had a fly bothering it and it slipped into the drink before I could get a good shot. Never fear, though... Northern Water Snakes were spilling out from between rocks, having just discovered the new sunniness.
We pointed out these two to a few people, including another "I love snakes" lady and a couple who admitted they were scared of snakes.

We went to look at other spots and turned back to see the guy who was scared getting pretty close with his camera for a photo. We talked a bit more and he wasn't the typical ass-wipe... he actually thought they were cool and he was open to learn. We all kind of went in the same direction and we pointed out this big girl on the wall...

I peeked over the edge and saw another Nerodia, one with lots of red on it, and picked it up to use as a show and tell snake.
The guy wouldn't come touch it but his girlfriend did and they both admired its beauty. This guy even took the "there are no Water Moccasins" lesson like a pro. Andrea simply said "these are what people are calling Water Moccasins here... no venom." Two young girls also came up to feel the Nerodia skin and learn a little. I felt like I did my part well. Thank you, pretty snake. Andrea got a nice shot of her swimming after we let her go.

On the way to the car, a young Painted Turtle was basking on the shore.

While we were talking, the guy had mentioned another spot on the same river that we might want to check out. His directions were pretty good and we found it, sort of. We parked and looked at the water. The sun was out and right in our eyes so my picture blow, but we saw a couple of Bullfrogs and a very small Painter.
We eventually found out that we were across the street from the spot he was talking about. We made our way over there and walked around. It was lovely, but we saw no more animals on that side. Our mistake had been a good one.

We were at 9 species and dad-gummit, we really wanted to try for 10, so we went deeper in to the county and found our Musk Turtle spot. (Thank you, Sārah!) It had become pretty toasty now that the sun was out, so getting into the drink to look from the water-side was a pretty good idea. Andrea struck first, however, from above. She said "holy shit, there's a massive Nerodia over here. I looked up and saw the monolith sliding down the hill. I ascended and another, smaller Water Snake slid into the rocks. Sorry, buddy! This gal is so knocked up, she was moving slowly, so I held her aloft for Andrea to get a photo.
She doesn't look so huge in the photo but that's easily 3 feet of Nerodia that's about ready to pop some babies out. Or an awful lot of poop.

We walked along further and never did find any turtles. This Eastern Kingbird (#70) was yelling at us... we think there was a nest nearby. Possibly my best bird pic on the year.
#70 Eastern Kingbird

One more Water Snake slid past us on the walk to the car...

On the way back to the highway, we made one last stop in hopes of a Musk but saw none. We talked to some guys fishing and a young Painter kept popping its head up, amusing us all. I took a photo of a beautiful woman (in a The Thing shirt) in front of a wall of Black-eyed Susans and we called it a day.

And a full day it was. Nine species, more garters than I could count and successfully teaching some folks that snakes are pretty darn cool. It was a shame to have to go back home to the concrete and stink. At least we had some cute nature in our dumpster last Thursday...

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Home Cookin' July 6th, 7th and 9th.

We got home from out AZ/ NM trip at about 7 AM Wednesday morning. Andrea wasn't feeling well and we were toast so our plans of going out to a local spot at dusk kind of went by the wayside. We decided to just rest up and head out to the State Forest in Essex County on Thursday morning, refreshed and ready to go. Oops... we kind of slept in. Isn't that what vacations are for?

We didn't get out to our spot until late morning and by then, our expectations were pretty low. We hit the trails and walked next to lakes and ponds (remember those?) for a few hours. Critter sightings were very low for the first half of the hike. Finally, next to a pond, we saw some distant Painted Turtles up, though I couldn't get a clean shot. We saw some turtle tracks, however, in the soft mud.
I wonder if they were made by this guy...

Heading from pond to lake, Andrea saw this little Garter next to the path.
He slithered off while I was still trying to determine where his head was. Luckily, Andrea got the shot.

We found a nice quiet spot and, well... just sat there enjoying the placidity, the sight and the sounds of nature.
Most of our time was spent right here. Eventually, we got up and turned back.

The walk back was more fruitful. Another Painted Turtle was up basking.

We saw a few tiny toads, most likely American Toads.

A Green Frog in a mud puddle. His face was right in the sun making a decent photograph highly unlikely.

A lovely Garter slid into the pond as we walked by, then curved back to rest on a log, giving me a nice shot.

Our next species was found in a way that I prefer not to find them. We heard an intermittent chirping and I knew it was amphibian, but I couldn't figure out what or why it was calling. Andrea recognized it as a distress call. Sure enough, we saw a Northern Water Snake had caught a Green Frog by the back leg and was in the process of consuming it.
I could have interfered but its not my place to do so, even though the call was breaking my heart. I snapped the one picture as a voucher for the Nerodia and we walked on. Nature can be cruel.

On the way out, an alert Bullfrog made us smile again with this doofy pose.

That was it. We got Ice Cream and went home to get ready for the next day's adventure.

Friday morning, I had an itch to go to Plymouth County and look for Hognose Snakes, among other things. Again, we got a late start and didn't get there until late morning. Rain was coming; we'd even passed through some showers during the drive but it was only drizzling when we got to our first stop. Grumpy Fowler's Toads were our first species on the day.
(I took this second picture from behind the toad with the camera upside-down. It's a testament to my lousy photography that it looks pretty much the same as all of my photos!)

It appears that we have finally found a somewhat reliable place for Redbellied Snakes in MA. This flip of an auburn-red Redbell was super nostalgic for me.
As a kid in New York state, we flipped Redbells like crazy and this sight, moreso than the charcoal phase for some reason, really took me back. Gorgeous belly, too.
What a face! I've never seen one sneer but they do a lip-curl sometimes. This guy is just grinnin'!

Rain was getting heavier so when we got to our next spot, so we put on another layer. The warm rain might have precluded us from finding any more snakes but the frogs in the bog were enjoying it. Bull, Green (an almost golden one), Bull, and Bull.

It was really pissing down while we were still out on the bog so we started to step a little livelier. We did not expect to see this gal up on the path, possibly looking for a place to nest.
It's way late for this but Andrea inspected her and she was heavy and her shell was a bit distended. Another sign of a screwy 2017.

But yeah, at this point, we called it a day. We'd seen some animals but we didn't want to get sick by trudging through the rain just to up our numbers. We headed back home for a hot shower and a pizza.

Saturday was going to be a day of taking care of things around the house, then taking our belated Norfolk County Dusk Hike but as dusk neared, heavy rains fell again. This was getting old. Plans were made to head back out to Plymouth County on Sunday morning to see if we would have better luck than Friday's damp hike. We actually got on the road at a good time and pulled in to the first spot at about 9 AM under sunny skies. Again, a plump Fowler's Toad was our first sighting.

The bogs are always a treat; they're frog-havens. This Bull stereotypically sat on top of a lily-pad...

Oh, look... the boxes of bees (that had been quiet in the rain two days prior) were buzzing frantically.
We'd been in the wrong place at the wrong time a few years ago and hit this path right after an ATV had ripped through and got a few angry stings. This time, we walked slowly and respectfully and they ignored us.

The next bog was also quite froggy. Proof: this Bullfrog.

I was photographing this Green Frog when I heard Andrea curse...
Evidently, I had stirred up a Hognose that was in the grass in the middle of the path. Andrea saw it just as it had headed into the brush from its hiding place. She lunged but missed it. How can these guys that are so slow be such efficient escape artists? We dug through the leaves and pine needles but never found the little blighter. So, still no Hog photos yet for 2017. *sigh*

Since the weather was nice, we got to take all of our favorite trails at our favorite spots. It was Fowler's Toad Day. We saw dozens, of all sizes; from T.T the Tiny Toad (yes, I made up a song) to small adults, and all sizes in between.

We went to a great turtle spot in hopes of seeing the pride of Plymouth, the disjunct population of Redbellied Cooters. One was swimming around in the rain-agitated water of a pond.

While I was talking to a fisherman who was afraid of the Water Moccasins around (Me: "They're not here... Virginia is the Northernmost part of their range." Him: "Yeah, well they're here!"), Andrea spied this very young Redbelly in the shallow water.
We watched him dive down and munch on the soft greens underwater.

It was getting too humany at this spot and Moccasin-boy was joined by other loud, ignorant assholes, so we moved on. We managed to spy one more long distance Redbelly on the other side of the pond.

We made one last pit stop on the way out, Toad Rug, the rug that always has a Fowler's or two under it. Or four.

And that ended up our vacation. I've got to say, it was a pretty good one. The trip to the Southwest was wonderful, even if we didn't get huge numbers. And if we missed the moisture while we were out there, we certainly got ourselves moist with our home sweet home cookin'. Most importantly, we were together, doing what we loved.