Sunday, December 10, 2006

I’m going to start posting about some trips I took over the summer. I guess posting weekly on this blog makes the most sense if I take one herping trip per week, but it’s hard to keep that pace up over the winter. Over the summer, though, I sometimes managed two or more trips, especially if I count little explorations while I was on the road for work. So I’m hoping that the trips I’ve stored up will carry me through to some trips we’re looking at early next year and then into the spring.

We took a ride up to western Massachusetts to visit some cousins in August. Jen’s cousins live in Conway, while I’ve got some in North Adams. I posted a little about this trip on August 24. This is the one where I had had a fabulous time swimming in a rural pond, chasing after adult, aquatic newts, and I couldn’t wait to try swimming with turtles (and don’t worry – I’m still obsessed with this; those turtles better look out this summer.).

Here’s the pond.

I zeroed in on a rocky brook leading into it, and we found a two-lined salamander (Eurycea bislineata) right away. We spotted a green frog in the reeds.

Here is a pile of branches that I found completely uninteresting.
Jen’s cousin Jeff said, “what about those sticks?” and I, the dismissive expert, said, “Sure, you can look if you want.” He found three newts (Nopthalmus v. viridescens) right away.
Here’s Jeff with our little cousin Zach, who was delighted by the newts.

I couldn’t figure out why adult newts were hanging out on land until it hit me that they were efts transforming into adults.

Red spotted newts have a three-phase life, starting out of the egg as aquatic larvae, then transforming into terrestrial efts, the bright red ones you sometimes find walking around the forest floor after a rain storm. After a few years the efts mature into adults and head back to the water.

The countryside around Conway is a mix of woods, fields, small farms, and houses. It’s pretty, but pretty well kempt as far as I could tell (in other words I couldn’t find any trash piles). I found a very pretty redback salamander (Plethodon cinereus) on a morning walk.
I also found a couple two-lined salamanders in a rocky creek on a run – one of those times I’m jogging, I see something I should check, I run by it, and I have to turn back and look.

All those salamanders were about what I expected. The weather was a little wet and cool, even during my aquatic frolic with the newts, which is another way of saying amphibian weather. We got a little sun in the afternoon on the day we went to visit my cousins Ben, Alice, and Ethan.

After a mind-blowlingly rich brunch of French toast stuffed with cheese and maple syrup, we went for a walk in the Hopkins Memorial Woods, located way up in the corner with Vermont and New York. We walked a nice little loop through the woods. As we went we looked under a lot of logs and found a couple redbacks – what I’d expect.

On the way back to the car, though, we passed through a meadow with an old shed and some rusty, antique farm equipment leaning against it. I looked at one flat piece of iron sitting there on the grass next to the shed, and I had an inkling; you know what I mean. It’s hard to say how accurate those inklings are, since I probably forget all the times I’m sure I’ll find something and don’t, but I lifted that up and saw a garter snake (Thamnophis s. sirtalis).

I didn’t grab fast enough, and it slipped away under a rock that I thought I’d be able to lift. I turned to Jen that I’d found something, and when I looked down I saw a couple wasps flying out to see who had picked up the roof of their house.

I see these long, skinny wasps (hornets?) pretty often. Every time I’ve been able to put the piece of cover back down and step away in time, and I’ve had my legs and feet covered enough to shield me from any stings. This time, though, I had on my sandals, and damn if one of those wasps didn’t tag me on the top of my foot.

Totals for our Massachusetts:

- 50+ newts
- 4-5 redback salamanders
- 3 two-lined salamanders
- 1 garter snake
- 1 green frog