Monday, July 31, 2017

The Lost Weekend... July 28th and forward

I'm thinking of changing my name to Chad Boyce. Not because I think it's a good name or anything, but because it spoonerizes so well for me. As is often the case this year, I made a bad choice and we wound up paying for it this weekend. It started out good enough with an unexpected hike through the devastated place in Norfolk County.

Friday's weather and temps were very nice and we decided to ring in the dusk with a hike. I chose the same spot as last week under the pretense of "keeping an eye on the regrowth of the place". Truthfully, I still hope to see a Racer this year, if they still exist. This place is also good for Milks. It's also really good for American Toads this year and we saw one right away.

The flora on (formerly known as) Racer Alley has been sprouting up nicely. It is very green right now and in the last year, bushes have shown a resurgence. Out big three goals here are Racers (not even a skin since the devastation, first noted here) and DeKay's and Ringnecks, two fossorial species who used to be found along the Alley. Seeing any of these would be a major sign of recovery. Well, we saw none of those but for the second week in a row, we saw a Ribbon Snake here.
We thought this in-the-blue fella was a garter at first. Decent sized and stripes obscured by old, dirty skin.

The board under which we found the bright Ribbon the previous Friday had another surprise under it... the very same snake.
I guess it's fair to rename this stretch Ribbon Alley.

That was it for animals on Friday. Would we have fared better if we went to another spot? Who knows. This was my decision and we had to live with it. The next morning, my choice wasn't quite so fruitful.

We had two places we wanted to hit on the weekend. One was our usual haunt in Plymouth County. We're still searching for our first Hognose on the year, as pathetic as that sounds. The other is a new spot in Worcester County that we only got a quick look at in January. I really wanted to wait for the Worcester County spot until Sunday, even though the south-eastern part of Massachusetts was supposed to get a storm on Saturday morning. Well, the accuweather forecast that morning said no, just overcast and in the high 60s. So we made our way south to Plymouth with high hopes. High hopes that were quickly dashed when the rain came. Chad Boyce strikes again.

To be fair, the wind and rain wasn't the real problem. It was raw and 62°. It sucked. We saw a "soon" Fowler's Toad pretty quickly, though.
I don't blame him for being huddled down deep. It was cold.

From there, we went to a part of the State Forest where Andrea could... look for Yarrow's Spiny Lizards... in an inside setting. While she was indisposed, the rain let up and I got out to poke around. We decided, after talking to the ranger there about the weather over the last few days there, to take a hike up a new (to us) trail on the off chance of a Box Turtle sighting. I was a little cranky because of my morning failures but the long hike was beautiful and it settled me a bit. Except that I started thinking of Waffle Fries along the way.

Long story short... we hiked around 4 1/2 miles and, herp-wise, saw only a small Green Frog in a mud-puddle.

But we staved off our hunger and deeply enjoyed the lowbush blueberries that were all along the trail

Rain started up again, stopped again and the temperature remained in the low 60s. We cut our losses and went for some lunch (with waffle fries) before hitting the highway and going home. At one point, there was a distant patch of blue in the sky. I asked Andrea where she thought that clear patch was. To paraphrase, she said "over the place you didn't choose to go." Ouch.

As I was dozing off while driving home, Andrea woke me up with a question. She asked if I wanted to poke around the local spot in Suffolk County before going home. It was about 4 PM and it was sunny and warm here in our home county. She decided we'd go look around. Because the decision was hers, we had some pretty good luck. We got to "Water Snake Rock", a rock that we have seen as many as 5 Nerodia under before. I started my gentle lift and Andrea had her camera ready.
It's fair to say that there will be babies in the area soon.

A little further along the brook, we saw this gal tucking herself in.

A little bit further along, this thin Garter was looking for a place to spend the night.

We made it to the river and were rewarded with some basking Painted Turtles, despite there having been some off-leash dogs romping around just prior to our arrival.

This little guy wouldn't have budged had a bomb gone off next to him. He had prime, sunny yoga space.

Heading back, we ran into this cliche... an ol' snake in the grass.

That one Nerodia was all tucked-in nice and tight for the night.

Feeling pretty good by now, we discussed rock flipping. In general, we go by the "low hanging fruit" rule... we don't want to get too greedy and make things dangerous for whatever might be underneath it. I said, "for example, this rock right here is a good one. Light, open and it probably has a garter under it." It didn't have a Garter.
A Milk is always a treat.

While we were photographing this snake, a couple of men walked by and were scared of the snake but they looked at it and listened to our brief lesson before continuing their walk. Just after we released the Milk, we could hear them screaming from about 50 yards away. They said there was a big one in the grass. We ran up and, sure enough, there was a three-footer in the grass, a beautiful reddish Nerodia!
Thank you, skittish guys!

We continued on and saw a few more snakes. This Water Snake prompted Andrea to say, "I didn't choose the Nerodia life, the Nerodia life chose me."

Andrea next spied a "Garter tail"...
We pulled the "tail" out and discovered it was most of this little nipper's body. He would not pose quietly for a photo.

It is safe to say that Andrea's decision to look around the local spot was a good one. We saw four species of reptile in about an hour, as opposed to 2 in five hours. Just call me Chad Boyce.

Adding to the pain of my choosing the wrong place on Saturday was that we had a family matter Saturday night into Sunday and we lost the chance to do our Worcester County trip. July 2017 wasn't ending on a positive note in any respect.

We were both off work on Monday and we used the afternoon to give Andrea's Mom some time. It was dinner time when we decided to hit the road, but we took a stop at the cemetery to pay some respects to Andrea's Dad and look at the pond that is near his gravesite. Two early evening Bullfrogs were there to cheer us up.

There are Painted Turtles and Snappers in this pond, too, and probably a few Red-ears. I saw a Snapper shell emerge just a little bit, then submerge again. No photos and it didn't come back up while I waited. This pond is also pretty good for Wood Ducks. There was an adult female and a half dozen babies frolicking.

Townies had moved in to fish and blare bad classic rock from their car so we called it a day and headed home. We took the long way out and saw a few bunnies on the back road. There was a spot with a tarp and some rocks hidden away back there so, unable to resist a tarp, we got out to explore. Lady luck smiled on us and we found this pretty, young Garter in there.
That's the first snake Andrea has seen in her home town in well over three decades.

This bonus American Toad hopped by as we went back to the car.
I told him he had better watch out; that Garter was about the right size to be interested in him.

One last thing we had to do on Monday night... look in on our friend's cats. While there, we decided to peek under some of their garden rocks. They have a healthy Dekay's Snake population living back there. It didn't take long...

It took me a while to determine that these last two snakes are indeed different. The first one crawled away into the rocks, then we flipped the rock under it and the brighter, redder one was coiled up there. Even taking different focuses and lights into account, that second one is far darker. I'll bet they're from the same clutch, though.
Is it me or are DeKay's becoming more beautiful as the years go by, what with their racing stripes and red colors and all?

That is July in the books. Still no Racers, Hogs, Terrapins, Marbled Sals and one Musk. What a fickle year 2017 has been.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Andrea's Weekend of Wonders. July 21st thru 23rd, 2017

We done had us a heatwave on that there third week of July. Still, we planned on going out at dusk on Friday evening to poke around our Norfolk County haunt. You know, the one that was plowed over and decimated last year. We hadn't checked on it in a while. We headed over at about 6:30 PM while the temps were still a balmy 91°. But with an evening breeze coming in, it wasn't too bad at all.

We hadn't seen anything but we knew that a certain "bike ramp" in a sandy area would be a good spot for our first sighting, and we were right. A huge cow-flop of an American Toad was laying there, though he quickly jumped up and climbed atop the plank.

The Alley was green, which is a good sight. Mulch still covers much of the ground but the recovery continues. Andrea saw a young Garter slither off the path into the brush. OK, so at least one snake was up at. We wondered if things were waiting to wake up as the night approached since it had been so steamy during the day. A board lay off trail in a muddy spot, a board that has never had anything under it. Until this night. A gorgeous Ribbon Snake was under it and I barely got it for some pictures before it sped off.
It would not cooperate for a fake in situ shot.
We let this perfect specimen slither off. What a wonderful sight it was.

Not much further along The Alley, an old rusty-rimmed tire lay in the mud. It too had never produced before, but tonight it had a dark Garter hiding under it. Again, I barely corralled it for photos.
It was actually pretty chill.

So, while we've still seen no Racers, Dekay's or Ringnecks since the destruction, two snake species in a night isn't too bad for the Alley. Add in a few tiny toads and an adult one and I'm optimistic again.

Back into the woods, it was pretty dark and we had to use headlamps along the trail. We saw a pancake batter Garter spilling out into the path.

Our last sighting was under a rock flipped by Andrea. This American Toad was huddled under it.
Not seen here is the small toad that emerged from the sand next to his right arm and hopped away. It had us laughing for an hour.

Friday nights are always a bonus for us. Saturdays are a given. We had family plans for Sunday so we really wanted to make our Saturday excursion a good one. As always, we wanted turtles. And maybe our first damn Racer on the year. We went to a spot deep in Norfolk County that we'd only been to once before, but we'd had plenty of shells and a couple of Racers there. We got up early and got there before 8 AM. Birds were up and flying around. That's always a good start.

It was in the low 70s and a little cloudy. It should have been great snake weather, but we didn't see any right away. Our first animals photographed was a trio of Toads huddled under a piece of black plastic.
Presumably Americans, though that "soon" one on the top left looks like a possible Fowler's. I didn't check them out in the field. Dumb of me.

Admittedly, we got a little side-tracked a few times.

We got to a part where two ponds kind of blend together, with a little stream-way between. This Bullfrog was bathing there.

A Northern Water Snake was poking out from some rocks that we had to step over. It scared a spider with an egg sac on her ass out for a moment. Then it shot off and I was lucky to get this blurry voucher shot.

From here, we walked out another 2 miles or so, out a strip of trail that bisected the water, around the perimeter and then basically back to the same spot. All we saw was a lot of very discouraging litter. The locals have a really beautiful place here and treat it like a dump. Disheartening. When we got back to that stream-way spot, a different, smaller Water Snake was poking around the edges. I got a portrait of him.
The Bullfrog was still there, holding his ground. He was too big for this guy but that first Nerodia might have given him a go.

Not far way, two Muskrats swam by. Here is one.

One of the cool sights we got to see was a Crayfish munching down on a freshwater clam.

Andrea saw this Viceroy Butterfly stretching out some bent wings. We wondered if it had just metamorphosed.

The side of one pond was awash with Tiny Toads. Andrea even flipped a "soon" TT, which is just to the left of the coin.

There was a sea of these massive beasts.

The sun had come out and the heat was rising. Surely some turtles would come up now! We stayed on a shady path for a while longer, though, and one joining path that lead to the pond presented us with a small Pickerel Frog.
It took the longest time for me to see what Andrea was pointing at. He is pretty damn small.

Back on the sunny main drag, we searched long and hard for more animals. Turtles weren't up. Birds were hogging all of the good basking spots. Mother Nature teased us with two fairly fresh Racer sheds.
Oh well, better luck next time.

So, we had been hiking for over 6 miles and it was barely after noon. Though it was pretty hot by this time, we decided to get a snack, then go somewhere else. Of course, having already hiked a good distance, we wanted to keep it low key. And we wanted turtles. Seemed like a good time to go to our local cemetery and see who was up for some begging. We did, after all, have some pop-chips to open.

Standing at the water's edge seems to be enough to attract the attention of this crew. A "hungry" Red-eared Slider was our first visitor.
It should be noted that I ate most of the bag. A few crumbs might have fallen to turtles, though.

As we walked along, zillions of small Bullfrogs jumped into the water with a squeak. We got over to an open spot when we saw the first noggin...

Then ol' White-head showed up.

They showed a lot of interest in Andrea.

The Slider made a beeline over from the other spot in quick fashion.

Right around now, an older guy came up, carrying a bag of bread. He is one of the crack-pots (like us) who visit these turtles and might accidentally feed them a morsel or two. Andrea and I had two Snappers and a couple of Sliders when he got there but his presence brought out more turtles... a third (and the biggest beggar) Snapper and some Painters. DSCN0145
And eventually a fourth Snapper.

We sat and stood there for roughly three hours hanging out with turtles and talking with this guy, who has been doing this a couple of times a week for two years. Now, I don't know how much turtles can "recognize" people but they sure seem to know this guy's shape or something. The third Snapper was very excited and kept coming up for close inspection of our hands.

It really gave us a chance to observe and even interact a little with these amazing creatures.

A Robin took a bath not far from our Turtle-fest. I like this picture.

I managed one small Bullfrog shot from a distance on the way out.
So, its fair to say that we got our turtle-time in. I know, interacting with Snappers isn't particularly safe but we are nothing if not careful.

Sunday was family day, so no herping. We took Andrea's Mom up to Maine to visit my kid, her husband and my grandkids. We had a lovely time. We got stuck in thick traffic coming back, though. While going about 10 MPH heading toward the toll booth in New Hampshire, we saw this lady Snapper leaving the concrete, heading back toward her water.
I just pulled over and hopped out for a photo. I barely lost my place in line. She had actually been moving faster than the traffic. Bonus turtle!

That, my dear, is how our weekend went.