We don't collect animals, almost as a rule. I want to skim across the question of collecting without getting stuck in a complicated, highly charged topic that often ties herpers up in angry, vitriolic knots, so suffice it to say that we usually don't catch critters for more time it takes to measure and photograph them.
That said, it's a lot of fun to catch them for a little longer, to indulge our acquisitive urges for a day. I usually don't carry snake bags, but this time I was thrilled to stuff them with a bunch of plastic takeout food containers in Shoshi's backpack and start hunting.
We got to use them right away. One of the first rocks at an we flipped at an uplands spot gave us a small garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) - perfect as a common species of the marsh, a snake that so many people see zipping away before they can get a good close look at it.
Then we struck off to a cluster of ponds, site of my first and only small disaster of the day. As a preface I should relate that Scott had been there the Friday before with his son Miles on his back. Miles is a real trooper, as is Scott to try to herp with a toddler literally and metaphorically weighing him down. Here's an earlier shot of Miles on Scott's back for reference, with Scott examining a spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata).
Scott had called me from the marsh that Friday to tell me how hard it was to catch anything; he'd spot a critter that he would usually stoop, dive, or slide to grab, but none of those actions was possible with Miles riding up top. Particularly frustrating was an absolutely huge northern watersnake (Nerodia sipedon) he had seen basking at the edge of one of the ponds.
Watersnakes are everywhere in the marsh - basking on tussocks and the banks of the ponds, poking around the reeds for frogs, skimming across the creek, and so would be a wonderfully representative species to show the people on the walk. And if you're going to show people a watersnake, do you want to show them an average, puny watersnake, or do you want to show them the grandmama of all watersnakes?
No question there, so that monster watersnake was high on my shopping list for the day. As I came in sight of the watersnake's pond I started studying the bank for the dark gray coils of the basking beast. Unfortunately it saw me before I saw it and started sliding into the water while I was still maybe ten feet away and on the other side of some willow saplings.
The snake's head start didn't stop me from trying to catch it, of course, so I charged with bull-like grace through the vegetation and over the edge of the bank. I still missed the snake - indeed a monster snake that certainly would have made me pay for the privilege of catching it. To add injury to insult, I underestimated the slope of the bottom of the pond and my second step flooded my left hip wader.
To assuage my wounded ego I caught a newt in the shallows. I know, there is no real honor in catching one of the most common, slowest, clumsiest amphibians of the marsh, but we needed one for the next day. I didn't have the container, so with the newt in hand I set off looking for Shoshi, who had disappeared sometime after I flooded my left hip wader.
I found her in a nearby strip of wet meadow - what might look like an overgrown field with puddles until you step into it and realize you're sinking up to your knees into a mat of water and dead grass.
"Shoshi!" I called, trying to feel proud of myself (it's hard to feel proud of myself when I have a soggy sock), "I caught a newt! Can you hand me a container?"
"I would," she replied, "but I don't have a free hand. I'd have to put down one of the turtles!"
Shoshi was holding two spotted turtles that she had caught basking in one of the puddles, and as soon as she handed one to me she spotted another and picked it up too.
Dig that red eye.
Scott and Jen walked the actual live animals around (I added a pet stinkpot - Sternotherus oderatus and a baby watersnake from Cobbs Creek to the effort), and soon it was time to very carefully re-bag the snapping turtle (we had kept it in the sink) and head outside.
and doing the same with maybe a dozen painted turtles we found in the two traps.
I was a little surprised when more than one person asked how often we did this kind of presentation and herp walk, since this was the first we had ever done.