Monday, November 11, 2013

"Gobbler Hunt Herping Hi-jinx" or "What the Eft?"

Hail, oh enthralled and engrossed reader! If you're reading this, a) you read the first blog entry enough to want more herping and tomfoolery from me, and b) you need to reevaluate your life choices in how you kill time at work surfing the web. The last entry was just an intro with some random facts and findings about my herping adventures. This one is an actual story/outing I had earlier this year in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania near my grandfather's old cabin. As I stated before, I am a hunter. That means, that with this particular hobby of mine, I spend a lot of time outdoors. This hobby makes it a perfect companion to one of my other hobbies: (obviously) herping! Hooray! It's usually the downtime in between the actual hunts that allows me to encounter the little herps (is "herp" a noun?) although there are exceptions to the rule. So without further ado, here's my awe-inspiring story of herping on the hunt:

It was late April...or was it early May? Anyways, it was the day before Opening Day of Spring Gobbler season. Spring Gobbler season started in May this year according to my Google search just now. I strive to bring my audience the facts. It was relatively warm and it had rained very recently. My father, grandfather and I arrived up the Poconos mid-afternoon. We checked in to the hotel (unfortunately, we do not own my other grandfather's cabin due to some fuckstick of an uncle, but I digress), and prepared to go out to roost us a turkey! For those of you who have never seen a live/wild turkey, don't watch the Discovery Channel, or are stupid, turkeys can fly. They also scare easily and are almost as weary as they are dumb. However, they are smart enough to not want to sleep on the ground at night. So they sleep in trees, thus protecting themselves from predators like foxes and coyotes, unless said predators can scale vertical surfaces like Batman and/or Spider-Man.

Side note: It baffles me how many people that live out in the sticks have no fucking clue turkeys can fly. That'd be like city folk saying "Oh, I totally didn't know that squirrels can climb trees, or that hobos will eat anything!"

"Roosting" is when a hunter goes out around dusk, makes turkey sounds, and tries to locate the general whereabouts of a turkey (the gobbler in this case) for the next morning. Sure, it's stalker-ish, but as is all hunting. We tried to locate a big ol' Tom turkey so that we knew about where he was going to roost so we can show up the next day and shoot him in the face when he rolls out of bed. Simple.

No sooner did we get out of the car did I begin my herping antics. I can't help myself! We parked near my grandfather's (former) cabin, and I immediately began searching places I've searched since I was a wee lad, places I had found stuff before. At first, no such luck. Then I lifted a metal plate that covers a well drain (I think. I'm not a plumber) and lo! a juvenile pickerel frog sat at the bottom, about 3 feet down. I was delighted. I haven't seen them around as frequently (and the increasingly more elusive northern leopard frogs and wood frogs I've previously been accustomed to catch or see every year). He seemed like he was stuck, even though he clearly was there on his own free-froggy-will. The drain pipe was high enough that I knew he couldn't get out, so I tried reaching down to grab him, but alas, my short hobbit arms were no match for a yard's worth of space. It actually was pretty deep, but I wasn't going to let my new bestest friend ever be doomed to a dark, damp, bug-ridden prison...although he may have preferred that in retrospect. I didn't think that one through. ANYWHO... As my fore-bearers walked up the road, I tried desperately to reach him. After a few failed attempts and being yelled at to grow the fuck up, I had a great idea (at the time). I found two relatively even branches on the ground and used them to fish him out with what can only be described as Neanderthal chopsticks. Patent pending. I finally grabbed the little fella with the sticks like a web-footed dragon roll and put him in a small plastic tank that I (of course) took with me to turkey hunt. He was a little dry, so I scooped some water from a puddle into the tank. After some inspection and walking our way up the mountain, I decided to release him in the creek that runs down it. I bid my new friend farewell and snapped a picture, thus officially chronicling a herping trip.

We hardly knew ye.
We made our way up the mountain more, and I casually flipped some small, flat stones alongside the creek. After only a few, I came across a red-backed salamander, which I've literally found hundreds of in the past. I WILL be taking pictures of all that I find, even these common little guys, no matter how many reds I find!

Get used to this face.
The more we ventured up the mountain, the less I flipped rocks and worried about keeping my footing on the slippery, mossy terrain. We were keeping close to the creek under the cover of some old hemlock trees. As we walked and called, I looked down, and to my surprise and delight, I found something I haven't seen up there in a very long while: a red eft!

Surprise, muthafucka!
It wasn't like I hadn't seen one before. I literally used to try to carry pockets full of these guys when I was young, walking around on turkey hunts with my family. They'd always climb out, but I kept stuffing more in. I of course released any that I managed to keep secure through the hunt, much to my dismay, and by order of my father. (He taught me very early on to not take little guys like the efts out of nature and to put everything back where you found it. I only listened sometimes, but thanks anyway, dad!) But I haven't seen them around in years. I've seen red-spotted/eastern newts all the time, but not the efts. As I'm sure ALL of you know, red efts are the juvenile, terrestrial land-stage of the eastern or red-spotted newt. The larva (which look exactly like the adults, but with gills) start out in the water, lose their gills, then go up on land for a few years as efts, then go back into the water as adults. It's the circle...

...the circle of life.
I quickly scooped this little guy up and inspected him. It's actually kinda sad and weird how happy I was to find him. After a few minutes and a mini photo shoot (as seen above), I put him back off the path and resumed the roost attempt. Except that now, I was on high alert for efts. I didn't realize it at the time, but finding that one little guy would be finding the first of many over the course of a few days. I very shortly afterwards found another (which I didn't take a picture of) to equal excitement as the first. Then the more I walked, the more I found. I was in herping heaven. The following shots were all taken before I picked them up to look at, no matter how staged they look. So eft you if you don't believe me...GET IT?!?!

This shot is magazine worthy.

...and another.

You get the idea.

Totes adorbs.

Every side is my good side.
After the eftsplosion, I concentrated (finally) on roosting a turkey. I couldn't help but flip one last rock, just to see, and I of course found one more red-back salamander.

I told you to get used to this face.
Believe it or not, in between all the amphibians I was coming across, we actually managed to roost a turkey. As a matter of fact, it was my calling that did it. We had split up: my father went up the mountain further, my grandfather and I went back down and all the way up the road. We called, I heard a gobbler respond, and quickly got almost as excited as I was for my eft encounters. My grandfather couldn't hear it, as it was about 60 yards away, and he needs a goddamn cornucopia ear-horn to hear. We went back to the car and rested for the hunt the next morning. 

Sunday 4/28 count:

pickerel frog: 1
red eft: 7
red-backed salamander: 2

The first day of the actual hunt was a good one. We got into the woods at a decent time; the sun really hadn't come up yet. We went down to where I heard the gobbler the night before and figured out our gameplan. Before we even got a chance to call or set up, or even really discuss it, the gobbler started calling from the tree. He was definitely hot to trot. That man-whore. We quickly came up with a strategy and set ourselves up. After about an hour of action, a second gobbler calling from a different location, and other signs we'd bag a turkey, the bastards walked away from the decoys and us, continuing to call as if to mock us. We walked around in the woods til almost noon, and called it quits. No luck on this day. We packed up and went back to the hotel to nap, then repeat our agenda from last night.

We came back out around 5, but it has started to rain. Great for springtime herping, not so great for turkey hunting. Most non-amphibious wildlife doesn't like the rain as much as we don't. They can't hear potential dangers as well, and their hair gets absolutely ruined! It didn't look like we'd have any luck tonight, or the next day for that matter, but we went out anyway, hoping for the best. At least I might be able to find some more critters with this crappy weather. We walked up the road and started calling, working our way back down towards to cabin.

I'm going to start selling my pictures to Target so they can sell it as "wall art"

My father decided it'd be a good idea to split up again. He would go all the way down the road with my grandfather, and I would go up alongside the creek like we had originally done the night before. I must admit, I wasn't very hopeful for finding anything, turkey or otherwise. It was chilly and miserable, and getting dark more quickly than it would normally. I began making calls halfheartedly, and figured this would be a perfect time to flip some rocks and screw around. With no luck for a long while with turkeys or salamanders, I continued to call every few minutes or every few rocks. As soon as I was barely paying attention to either, I came across two plethodon glutinosi...oh, I meant two slimy salamanders. Duh. And yes, that is their actual name. I've never came across one of these before, let alone two, so I was excited to inspect and photograph them. The smaller of the two quickly darted in a hole in between smaller rocks from under the bigger one I lifted. The larger was almost as fast, but I pulled some rocks aside to grab him.

It wasn't the first time I've driven my hand into a tight, wet catch a salamander, that is. When I was about 10 or so, up around that same spot, a midst catching a bucket full of red-backs, I lifted a large rock that was settled deep in the soil. From under the rock popped a small head which looked like an orange snake. It "slithered" back under more rocks and dirt, so I plunged my small hand into the hole, determined to pull out whatever it was. Smart move, I know. I was always I thinker. Turns out it was a huge northern red salamander. This thing was like 6-7 inches long. I wish I took a picture of it, but this was before the days of having everything right in your pocket via shitty/outdated Samsung smartphone.

The flash on my phone camera apparently makes it look like midnight at 7PM.
So this little guy was my first slimy. It was good to see some diversity up there, and it was promising that I saw not one, but two of these guys huddled together. I always see red-backs, and as fun as it is to find them, I like having a smorgasbord of salamander species. How's THAT for alliteration? 

He's super photogenic. I named him Sméagol.
After I did my best to put all the rocks back in place and release him, I started finding MORE efts. These guys were all bunched up.

This is Hawk & Animal, the Legion of Doom.
Then I found this picturesque scene at the base of a tree:

The Dude, Walter, and Donny
The funny thing was: I was barely paying attention at all anymore and only calling every few minutes, and boom, a gobbler responded out of nowhere (the same gobbler from the day before). I couldn't believe the overall luck I was having. I found a new species (to me) and re-roosted a turkey. It turned out to be a successful day overall. The next morning, we had the same luck as before: a jerkoff turkey just out of reach. I also found like a ton more efts walking through the damp woods, too many to count or document. They were even on the road pictured above. So spring gobbler hunting 2013 = awesome. Even though we didn't shoot a turkey in the face, I had a great time with my father and grandfather, found a bunch of amphibians, and got to relax up the mountains.

Monday 4/29 & Tuesday 4/30 count:

slimy salamander: 2
red eft: 10+

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