Saturday, March 20, 2010

We're getting all caught up in spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) season right now, but before I start posting nothing but out yellow polka-dotted friends, I thought I'd put up a quick post of a quick trip from last week.

I got to my favorite marsh a little later than I had planned (too late for spotted turtles, apparently), but set off wandering anyhow as the sunlight cooled (temps in the high 50s) and the shadows stretched out.

I was feeling pretty unaccomplished as I crossed a bridge over a shallow creek and my vision snagged on a shape in the mud at the bottom. Was that a leaf or a turtle? I took a step back to get a different angle... still not sure. I took a few steps forward... still, still not sure. I scratched my head a moment while staring. That resolved nothing.

Finally I waded in, reached down, and my finger tips hit shell. I pulled up this little cutie (I mean that sincerely, even though Jen always remarks on how ugly she finds them). Note the small tail in the middle photo - males have tails that are almost as long as one of their legs.

That's my first stinkpot (a.k.a. musk turtle - Sternotherus oderatus), so named because of scent glands they deploy when scared. This girl didn't, but she did launch a little snap at me while I was working the camera - note that stinkpots have strong jaws and longer necks than you might expect, so keep your fingers relatively far back on the shell while handling them. These turtles like slow-moving and shallow water, and split their time between hiding in mud and vegetation; marching over the bottom, poking those long noses around and crunching up invertebrates; and a little basking, often several feet above the water on over-hanging branches you never imagined such a clunky little creature could scale. One of my guidebooks notes that if a turtle falls into your canoe from above your heads, it's probably a stinkpot. Here she is hiding again after the release:

I made another another find that left me feeling accomplished again. I flipped a piece of tin Scott and I had set out last year, and it finally yielded snakes: two garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis). Here's the yearling curled up (I apologize again for the orientation of the photo - some day I'll switch blog hosts over this problem):

...and here's the adult smiling for the camera as garter snakes do:

Friday, March 19, 2010

March House of Herps!

When I got that first email about House of Herps at the end of 2009 I thought they were nuts to start a blog carnival (that concept sounded a little nutty too - who ever heard of a blog carnival?) about reptiles and amphibians in the dead of winter. They managed to turn out some nice editions in spite of the chilly weather, but now is when it's really getting fun. Check out the latest HOH here at Kind of Curious.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

One spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) isn't all that impressive, but a few dozen can belt out a blanket of sound. (I guess we shouldn't expect much from a 'peeper,' though they do sound bigger than they are; inevitably the first peeper you find is much smaller than you were expecting). That's one of my favorite sensations - to stand in the darkness as the individual voices merge into that solid chorus all around you.

Once a year the spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) come out in their polka-dotted masses to hold their orgies. The chuckling/quacking wood frogs (Rana sylvatica) do the same thing, though a little less attractive in their subdued tan with darker masks. There are places we know we'll find them, which was where we headed the past couple springs, but this year Jen and I headed somewhere new.

Not exactly somewhere new, I guess, rather a marsh we frequent later in the spring, but where we've seen the after-effects of salamander orgies, the blobby egg masses they leave behind. I figured if we'd seen egg masses, we'd find the spotted salamanders on the right warm, rainy night.

I guess we didn't pick the right night. On Sunday, after about three solid days of rain (and after we'd slogged a half hour through sopping woods and thigh-high water that was too much for Jen's waders), the places we'd look for the spotted salamanders were deep under water from the adjacent flooded creek, and we couldn't spot any spotteds.

The peepers were out in force, though, and I was thrilled to be out there to hear them again (even if Jen wasn't so thrilled about her flooded waders).