Monday, December 8, 2014

"All My Friends Are Turtles" or "People, let me tell you 'bout my best frog"

Since I totally blew it and didn't go out since the springtime (or my last post), I figured I'd introduce everyone to my home herps: my pets. It's beyond the point where I can get out on a relatively warm day and unearth anything else but regret for not making better use of the warm weather months. So what better way to bring the herps to you than to bring the herps I already have! That reads so wrong...

I got this idea last week during feeding time. My grandfather bought me, my father and cousin headlamps to use for hunting/fishing, which he gave to us last week. I of course had to try it on, so upon entering the dark room where my tanks are, instead of turning the lights on like a normal person, I tested my headlamp.

I have issues.

I'll introduce them, even though they all do not have names (something I've been yelled at for before), talk about the species, and about them individually. That'll be fun, right?...RIGHT?

Painted Chubby Frog/Banded Bullfrog (Kaloula pulchra)

"I is chubbeh."

This lil guy is one of my favorites. Banded bullfrogs (AKA painted frogs, chubby frogs, bubble frogs, and other offensive names) are awesome. I've had about 3 or 4 of them over the years, and this one I inherited with buying the Exo Terra tank he's housed in. I've had him for at least 2 years now, and he's still going strong and as fat as ever.

Painted frogs are native to South East Asia, so this one was obviously store bought, as I have not been overseas to stock up on amphibians recently. They hide out on the forest floor or in rice paddies (hence them also being known as "rice frogs"). As you could imagine of a Southeast Asian frog, they love warm and humid weather. They're buried or hidden during the day, and most active at night. Slow, as his plump physique would suggest, he's not the most agile hunter, but he's voracious. Those love-handles didn't come outta nowhere.

"I'm too sexy for this blog."

This flubbery fella is buried most of the time, except for when he hears the pitter-patter of little cricket feet above him, or it's night time, or I just spray-misted the tank. Sometimes he'll have his head poking out of the soil, awaiting a meal. Above is a rarity for him to be out and about.

Also, Google the male's mating call. They sound like those moo cow cans. Ya know, the little toy cans that you flip upside down and they make a cow sound? They moo. The frogs moo.

American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus or Bufo americanus)

"I'm a dirty, dirty girl..."

They went and changed the scientific name for these guys for whatever odd reason (as stated in a previous blog), but whatevs. Always have a soft spot in my heart for these. This one, I admit, was a wild one I saved from a parking lot at my old job. I really don't trust slow animals around people, so instead of letting her sit out in plain view only to be stomped on, I commandeered her. I haven't had a wild toad since I was much younger, and she's doing very well since I scooped her up a year ago.

I won't go into much detail about the species, since they're really common around the area, and I did a whole blog entry on them already, so I'll just reiterate how fond I am of them, and how hearty they are as species. 

This little lady has quite the appetite. She's usually stays hidden or completely buried, but since I dug her up to eat, she's not submerged herself back down and kinda just sits out in the open. Maybe she's waiting for more food...

Fire-bellied Toad (Bombina orientalis)

"What you want, round eye?"
I've always loved this little exotic critters. Hailing from China, or Korea, or south Russia...or sometimes Europe (there are different sub-species that are all over the darn place), these guys are pretty common in pet stores. This fella was a PetSmart special, and are often considered beginner, or "expendable", starter pets due to their abundance and ease of care. I've had this one for a while now, and usually have pretty good luck with them in captivity.

This guy has been moved around from different habitats, now finding himself in a giant 50+ gallon freshwater tank shared with a red-eared slider and a paddletail newt. He's pretty active and eats well. He loves going after crickets that are more than half his size...and wins every time. He also usually is the one to get the special "treats" (i.e. bugs that either get in the house, are near the light fixtures outside in the summer, or what I find in the backyard.) I spoil him.

I'm actually going to be moving him (and possibly the newt) into their own, smaller enclosure that's more suitable to their needs. For now, all parties seem to be content.

Paddletail Newt (Pachytriton labiatus)

"I know Kung-Fu."
This feisty bastard is pretty elusive, as are most paddletails. He doesn't come out often, but when he does, he's on the prowl.

Another Asian amphibian immigrant, I've developed an affinity for this species due to their heartiness and stout little bodies. They're extremely territorial and have a ravenous appetite. Being naturally aggressive, he's even nipped at my red-eared slider before, which amuses me, because that guy is a jerk.

This dude loves him some blood worms, and usually gets the entire cube to himself. I'm fairly certain he's picked off a few guppies as well, as some magically go missing.

I will also say that I'm not too sold on the idea that you can't house these guys with other species. I've had paddletails in cohabitation with fire-bellied newts, African clawed frogs, and my current fire-bellied toad above, and never had an issue with aggression. Go figure.

Coincidentally, these guys are often mislabeled as "fire-bellied newts" in pet stores, and he was no exception the day I got him (I of course corrected the employee there).

"I'm king of the world!"

Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina)

I've always had an affinity for turtles, despite being more of an amphibian guy. They interest me, and I loves them. I got my first box turtle when I was in 3rd grade and lived for years. I had one that I got in grade school (about 7th grade) up until last year. His name was Happy. Happy liked to climb into our neighbor's yard. Happy got stuck in an empty flower pot in the July heat one day and I came outside too late. Happy was a rebel until the end.

Box turtles are awesome pets. Good luck getting one now, though. They're protected in the wild and they don't sell them at pet stores. I found both from my current lot on Craigslist: Peanut and Herman. Peanut I got from a family who had him for like, 12 years, and their kid didn't want to take care of him anymore. Herman, well, I got Herman from some rednecks in Jersey who I'm fairly certain found him in their yard and decided to sell him. They were drinking PBR at the time when they answered the door.

I've found a few box turtles in Jersey in the woods, but never any in PA. I've only found old shells. Eastern box turtles are now protected in the wild due to over-harvesting for the pet trade. I'm pretty sure both these dudes were wild at one point. That probably explains their adventurous nature.

Every turtle I've had likes to climb through the iron fence into my neighbor's yard and dig into the mulch, despite having more than enough cover via garden plants and soil in my yard. Happy and Peanut spent a lot of time together, and Happy taught Peanut his escape route. They both at one point got through my neighbor's door into the alleyway and went to the other end of the block into another neighbor's yard, because fuck me, that's why. Happy used to prison break a lot, and that wasn't the first time I lost him to the alley. At one point, he was gone most of the summer. Since Happy is no longer with us, Peanut passed the Andy Dufrene escape route to Herman.

"Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'." - Peanut
Herman is slower, and bulkier, and therefore less nomadic. He doesn't always follow Peanut and more or less is chill. When I let them out to walk around the house (which has both startled and amused my mother and roommate when living with them respectively), Herman pretty much finds a spot and stays there. He also has a deformity on his left cheek that makes his jawbone jolt out, but other than that, these two are healthy and content.

They pretty much eat anything. I keep mine in a tank in the cold months, and out in the yard in the warm months. Warmer months make it easier to care for them. I dig them worms, find them slugs (that grossed my roomie out, but not his girlfriend. Pansy.) They get all sorts of food and treats. They get a mix of proteins and fruits and veggies. They were devouring crickets in these photos.

No bug is safe.

I truly enjoy watching and interacting with these guys. Box turtles are definitely my favorite species of reptile, and one of my favorite pets to have. They even get along with my parents' dog. Hopefully these guys live long enough for me to show my hypothetical children.

Green Tree Frog (Hyla cinerea)

"I'm very photogenic."

I couldn't even begin to count how many green tree frogs I've had over the years. From my first two as a pair as a wee lad, Kermit and Flip, to my current one, tree frogs have fascinated me. They can climb vertical surfaces like Spider-Man, for cryin' out loud!

I was fortunate enough to catch a few wild ones whilst vacationing in Florida and South Carolina. I'm a sucker for tree frogs in general, but I'm a little biased towards these little dudes.
"Yo bo, it ain't easy bein' green." - Kermit the Frog's Soufilly cuzin

To say that green tree frogs are "spry" would be an understatement. I have to keep an eye out for this guy springing out every time I open the tank. Although he stays fairly active when I'm looking, he mainly sits out in the open and on the vines suction-cupped to the side of the tank. These guys get along with other species, as they're small enough to not try to eat anyone else, but big enough to not be lunch. He holds his own at feeding time against his other, bigger roomies.

Can YOU spot all the frogs? Camouflage in action.

Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)

The dbag of all my pets.
My silder has a first name, it's W-A-L-T-E-R...and he's kind of a dick. Walter has an insatiable appetite, he's aggressive, and has claimed the lives of 2 African clawed frogs since I've had him. Water turtles eat anything they can capture, although he mainly lives off of pellets, flakes, and a special water turtle food blend with mealworms and shrimp in it. The thing is, he's not a very good hunter, as he half-heartedly chases the guppies around the tank for a minute, only to admit defeat and start shit with the other animals in the tank. Since I moved him into the bigger fish tank, giving him more room to swim freely, he's calmed down a bit. He doesn't bother my fire-bellied toad, and the paddletail newt is never really out to have a confrontation with him, so he's a little less of a jerk. Before, he was constantly eyeing up whatever I housed with him, despite their size.

I'm full aware that sliders are actually not indigenous to the East Coast (they are actually from the Midwest), and these pets are often given up or released by owners who have no clue how to care for them, or don't know that they don't say silver dollar-sized forever, or get too lazy for the upkeep required to house them. With that being said, I have no intention of giving him away or releasing him as an invasive species into the local habitat. He's just...such a dick.

"I run this shit."

White's Tree Frog (Litoria caerulea)

My most exotic, and perhaps, almost favorite pet. White's tree frogs (or dumpy tree frogs, or smiling frogs, because they're TOTES ADORBS).

Totes adorbs.

Meet Carl. Carl is my White's tree frog, who I've had for quite some time. Carl hails from Australia and New Guinea. Still young, Carl will eventually become a Jabba the Hut-like behemoth of a tree frog.

I've had a few White's tree frogs over the years and have always thought they were great pets. They (along with the green tree frogs) can stand moderate temperatures and humidity, so you don't need a misting system or elaborate setup to keep them comfortable. They're not the most agile bunch, so they make for some good pets you can take out of the tank and let roam around without them darting under a radiator or behind your entertainment center. Calling them "cumbersome" is accurate.

Carl treats me to his mating calls random nights. I can't pinpoint if he's doing them under certain circumstances (temperature changes, moisture in the tank, etc.), or certain times. I'll say the loud bellowing croaking doesn't even startle me in the middle of the night anymore since he does it most nights (for the first time in a long time, my pet tanks are in my bedroom). Carl is also a bit of a celebrity with my friends, as he's met some of them, and they love him...for the most part. My roommate and Carl didn't see eye to eye on very much.

The epic staredown of 2014. Carl won.

As you can imagine by now, I love all my pets. I've cared for them since I was a youngin' catching frogs up the Poconos. I enjoy being able to observe them on a daily basis, talk to them even though have no fucking clue what I'm saying, and be their caretaker. As dumb as it sounds, my pets have always been able to teach me about both the natural world, and life in general, small and simple as they may be. They keep me balanced, and having them around always reminds me to do what I can to help conservation efforts, and give me a respect for life, no matter how big or small they are. 

They also make me want to go herping, but it's December, so I'm ultimately fucked until the springtime. I plan on using that headlamp a lot during the early spring months. So thanks for the motivation, fellas, along with putting a smile on my face when you do something interesting...or stupid, like jump into the top of the tank and faceplant.

Friday, July 25, 2014

"Urban Herpin'" or "You can take the frog out of the city..."

Editor's note: I GOTS A NEW PHONE!!!!!!!!! FINALLY!!!!!!!!!! Samsung Galaxy S4...I know, it's not the S5, but fuck you. It's better than my 3 megapixel Conquer. So this means better pictures. Suck it.

I've totally slacked off with my herping responsibilities this year so far. I haven't gone out since turkey season in early May, so I've totally blown it more than usual. With that being said, I decided to really make an attempt to get out and see some stuff one way or another. I really have no excuse for the matter, as even living in South Philly, I have the perfect herping location blocks away from my house: Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park. You know, that park directly across from the sports complexes and stadiums. AKA to all the locals as "The Lakes"...'cause it has a bunch of big lakes in it. Duh.

A friend from work, who we'll call Apple (as she insisted upon it), wanted to hang out one evening. Who am I to deny someone my awesome presence and quality me-time?? She however made a great suggestion: let's take a walk somewhere; we'd been sitting in the office all day. I agreed, but then the little lightbulb in my head went off...a rarity, I know. I thought it'd be the perfect opportunity to get some herping in. Lil' Apple asked to go to a park, so of course I suggested FDR. She had no idea where or what it was, despite me explaining where it was, and despite the fact that she'd been down to the sports complexes before...and despite the fact that she Google'd it too. I assured her it'd be a good time (not telling her my master plan to look for critters), picked her up, and drove to The Lakes. We parked in one of the lots towards the west end and began walking around on the paved paths surrounding the lakes. Thankfully, parking was free, as there was a Phillies game going on, and usually they'll charge to park there and walk down the street to Citizens Bank Park. But the Phillies suck balls this season, so we were spared from paying $25 to walk around in a big circle and get bit by mosquitoes.

We parked and began to walk around the various lakes. I would venture closer to the water's edge every time there was a decent opening, hoping to either kick up some frogs or see a turtle or two on a branch in the water. After striking out a few times, we did manage to see two people rolling around making out, spooning and/or forking in a blanket in the grass. That was fun to see. Those two should be required by state law to keep their clothes on at all times, especially in public. Tuck your shirt in next time, in the least.

Other than those two wild animals wrestling in the grass, nothing was to be seen except for bird and squirrels, and few misplaced hipsters barbecuing at a picnic area. We made it around to one of my favorite lakes: Meadow Lake (yes, the lakes in The Lakes actually have names). This lake is a little secluded/removed from the beaten path, as you have to walk from the main road onto an offshoot sidewalk to get to a trail that circles the lake. This time of year, it's ridiculously overgrown. Apple was not happy about walking through the jungle of shrubbery overtaking the nature trail. She also asked if there were snakes about, to which I responded "Of course there are." Somehow, I convinced her come take a look around the lake by piggy-backing her through the thick stuff until we hit a point on the trail where it was a little more open. The ride was magical...for her, that is. This was the place I had released a dozen bullfrogs 2 years ago. This EXACT spot. It was pretty thick and overgrown, and I didn't want to trudge in closer to the water in sneakers, but I still saw no signs of anything. I snapped this picture:

Duckweed + algae = beauty
Apple proclaimed "Okay, it's pretty, now let's go" very promptly after I took the picture. Then she saw the sunset and decided she wanted to stay. That, or she has the attention span of a gypsy moth. She commanded that I "take a picture of the pretty sunset." It was pretty. I obliged with this stunning shot.

And when I didn't actually get the sun in the shot, I got yelled at to do so. Apple's so nice.

Are you happy now?!?!
I was disappointed: no frogs or turtles. This lake (almost) always has painted turtles basking on the logs and branches. Today was not one of those "always" days, apparently. We ventured around the lake as Apple got more relaxed being in the "outdoors"...until she heard something in the bushes and screamed. It was most likely one of the many stray cats that live near the service areas, but she was convinced it was a giant Apple-eating monster. She almost ran me over to get away from it. At a point, she was technically up my butt. 

After I removed her from my derriere, I showed her a sign for the park's restoration project. Basically: them trying to make the lake less shitty and promote the return of natural wildlife to the park and lakes.

And here's a bunch of shit you'll never see here: nature!

I was dead sure we'd see some painteds and some greenies, but the pond barely looked like it had anything in it other than duckweed and algae (which Apple called "seaweed". She's smart, too.) We walked around to where the trees closed in around the path and it got considerably dimmer as the sun was setting. I went to a spot that "always" has a few green frogs hanging around. Usually when I approach, they all jump in screeching like little frog maniacs. Yet this time, the sound of silence...

Apple was getting afraid of gnats and lightning bugs ("fireflies" to all you non-South Philadelphians)...even though she wanted to catch one, just not with her hands. She ran out into an opening in the woods to a field that would lead back towards the street/paths. I ventured forth to a spot where I've taken pictures of bullfrogs before. And lo! there was one (perhaps the same one) I've photographed before. He was a decent-sized specimen

"Daaaaammmmmmnnnn, look at all dis seaweed!!"
I didn't want to get too close as not to scare the one herp I saw that day, so I snapped this amazing shot with my awesome new S4 and called for Apple. No answer. I went back and she was running away from lightning bugs in circles in the field. I told her to follow me to see the bullfrog. Reluctantly she did. She was surprisingly pleased with the find, and started asking questions about it, all inquisitive-like. Like, what kind of frog, how do you know, are you sure, why don't my parents accept my life choices, etc. 

As we conversed about how she didn't trust in my species identification and judgement, the bullfrog jumped in and turned around. He'd either jumped in to eat something, or was totally spacing out and finally realized we were there and scared half to death.

"Duuuude...I was like, hearing colors and stuff, then like, they just appeared out of NO WHERE, MAN!"

I attempted to get closer to get a better picture. I almost slipped in, since the lake at least partially man-made with cement surrounding the bank. That gotta a giggle out of Apple, and scared my bullfrog in, and that was that. We left Meadow Lake and walked all the way around close to where we started. We people watched and made inappropriate conversation until the next big/main lake. I once again was instructed to take purdy landscape shots. 

A purdy landscape.
As I walked over, I looked at bubbles coming up from the shallows. Most likely turtles, but no way to know what kind, or if they were turtles for sure. I did happen upon a green frog sitting farther away from where I could get a better shot. My zoom only goes so far.

Apple came down behind me and asked what I had found. Again, she questioned why I knew it was a green frog. I explained in the absolute nicest way possible that I JUST FUCKING KNEW...and that he'd jumped in and made then familiar and unmistakable green frog screech as he high-tailed away from me.

Apple commanded ever-so politely for me to take an artistic picture of her. As she spouted orders at me on what to do, I actually took a decent one.

We walked around back to the car, mildly satisfied with my finds of the evening. I was really hoping for a wee bit more, but beggars can't be choosers. I kicked up two more greens as I hit the last spot around the lake before we left. The night ended with ice cream. ICE CREAM!!!!

Not a bad impromptu evening for herping in the city.

Monday 7/21 count:

bullfrog: 1
green frog: 2

Friday, May 16, 2014

"Vernal Pool Party" or "What the Eft?: Part II"

So far, I haven't been able to get out to herp in 2014 due to my schedule sucking ass, and March and most of April being pretty damn cold. We've gotten used to milder "winters" over the last few years, which means spring used to *snicker* come a little earlier than it should (that's what she said)! NOT the case this year. It was a bit colder than normal, and those few warm days we had in April, I couldn't get out. So it took me a good 4 months into this year to herp, which I don't all. BUT it turned out to be pretty worth it considering I (yet again) was limited to herping on the hunt. The turkey hunt...again!

This blog may seem oddly familiar to those who've read my first entry from last year, but don't you worry, child, daddy's got a surprise or two for you!

I will forewarn you, oh brave hypothetical reader, that my phone died midway through the morning on the first hunting/herping excursion, and I of course couldn't get pics of some pretty cool stuff. That FORTUNATELY didn't stop me from photographing something I've never found prior. But...the pictures are mainly of red, yea...


Day 1: a day trip to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania (same place as last year) to go on a spring gobbler hunt with my grandfather. He's 87 years old and still acts the same as he did all of my life. He hasn't "gotten old" or anything. Sure, he can't really hear that well, but heck, he's awesome to be around. When asked when he'd stop hunting, he responded with "When I'm dead." So there's that. We got in the woods around 5:40 in the morning and began what I can only describe as a memorable hunt. 

As I said, there's no photographic evidence of anything I encountered this particular day, but I still wound up finding some cool stuff. We heard NOTHING of turkeys the entire day. Not a Goddamn peep. It was pretty frustrating to say the least. For all the nothing that was happening, I wasn't even looking for stuff. We just kinda walked around, making turkey calls, sitting for a bit and calling. Nothing. Thankfully it was a nice sunny day, and the quiet of the woods made for some good conversation when we were sitting around. I just enjoyed being out there with my pops, and at this point, he's only going out to hunt with his grandson. He's shot enough turkeys (and everything else) to not really care if the hunt was "successful" or not. To him (and slowly but surely, to me) it's a success to be able to hunt with family...

I..I promised I wouldn't cry...but...*sniff*...OKAY, we're good.

So, we walked around for hours, until about 9:30 we reached this big lake. Since we still didn't hear anything, we decided to take a bit of a break. We sat around for a few minutes, as I gazed into the cool, fresh-water paradise that was calling my name. "Come, wade in my tranquil waters and catch newts," it teased me. That lake usually is LOADED with red-spotted newts. The herping sirens sang their call, and my inner-big kid and newt-catcher couldn't help myself. I dropped the decoys, laid my shotgun down, and walked to the edge of the water. Almost immediately, I started seeing newts. They were too far out for me to just grab, and I obviously didn't have a net (KNEW I forgot something!), so I walked around the bank a little. My grandfather kinda looked at me funny and asked what I was doing (surely, I had outgrown such childish pastimes by now), and when I told him, he just walked away from me and sat down in the woods, more than likely questioning what went wrong in my youth. I started seeing a few more closer to the bank, and I of course had to try to catch one. I used to be pretty good with catching them with my bare hands. Used to. I struck out about five or six times. I was a little pissed off, to say the least. I even saw two doing their little mating thing (the male choking the female with its hind legs. Ain't nature grand?!) After a few minutes, and not even halfway around the lake, I doubled back, ready to grab my gear and continue the hunt. I saw a dead pickerel frog in the reeds, just kinda floating there. He looked limp and swayed with the ripples in the water from the wind, and was all grey. Odd. Then I noticed right near him a dead newt on the bottom of the lake, also grey. Double odd. I figured these two were unfortunate victims of the cold snap we had late in April. It probably got a little too chilly up here, and these two didn't make it. Poor lil guys.

I grabbed my stuff and looked for my grandfather, who I must admit, was hard to find for an 87-year-old who was sitting down. It's the damn camouflage. We started walking down a different, bigger, maintained path that would lead us back out to the road. This one had a ton of puddles and vernal pools along the sides, and they were teaming with spring-time amphibious life! I noticed a ton of egg clusters at first. This made me happy, as it's been a long time since I'd seen these up there (or anywhere really). I don't really get into the woods in early spring, so this was a delight. Now's where the story gets interesting.

Let me reiterate that we heard NO SIGN of turkeys the whole day. I would make the hen call, nothing. Walk a few minutes. Call again. Nothing. All day, the same thing. We had just hit a bend that would go straight away to the main road and back towards the car. On my right there was a long vernal pool off the path. I looked down and saw BUTTLOADS (a technical term) of little black tadpoles, and egg clusters. I won't hazard a guess as to what kind they were, and truth be told, I didn't have time. As I looked at the cute lil' polliwogs, I heard some footsteps in the leaves. Let me also reiterate that my grandfather don't hear too good...

I looked up. A few seconds later, out pops a turkey coming from the left side of the road about 15 yards ahead. I froze. I wasn't exactly going to be able to shoot this thing anyway; I had the decoys flung over my left shoulder holding the rope, my gun strapped to my right shoulder, and the wooden box call in my other hand. I was dead in the water the second that stupid turkey showed his stupid turkey face. Turkeys have excellent vision. The slightest movement, and he'd be gone. I was hoping I was off the road enough and camo'd that he wouldn't see me if I was still. Undoubtedly, my grandfather would see all of this, raise his shotgun, and smite the foul turkey once it came out from the trees!!! Right? RIGHT?? Oh. Remember that part about my grandfather not being able to hear very well?

He didn't hear the leaves. He didn't see the turkey, seeing as how they were on the same side of the road, and the turkey (uncharacteristically) was walking through thick stuff. He also apparently was too busy wondering what the flying fuck I was doing looking at tadpoles. He began to walk over to me. I tried to motion over to him to stop. POOF. The turkey turned around and flew the hell out of there. I saw its beard on his chest as he turned and flew away: it was indeed a gobbler. I promptly shouted "You motha' fucker!" at the foul fowl. I turned around to my grandfather as he walked up to me. 

"Do you believe that?" I rhetorically asked him. 

"What?" he replied. 

"...You didn't see?" I questioned. 

He looked at me like I had 10 heads. Facepalm. He didn't see. Or hear. Or notice anything other than me looking for tadpoles. I explained to him what had just transpired in that 5-second time period. 

"I was wonderin' what the hell you were doing looking in that puddle." I'll never herp on a turkey hunt again. That lasted about 10 minutes. In reality, there wasn't anything we could do. We were toast the minute he popped out. Turkeys rarely come in silent, but this happened to be just such a rare occasion. Even if we were both paying attention, the minute we would have raised our guns to fire, he woulda been out like Michael J. Fox in Jenga.

We made our way down the path, and I was a bit disappointed. I did keep looking in the puddles and pools. I saw tons more egg clusters and strings of toads and salamanders and frogs, oh my! The jelly string of toad eggs was a first for me. I always saw frog clusters, but never toad strings. Guess this wasn't a total loss, right? Fuck that. I wanted to shoot a turkey. The day got slightly less sucky with the next deep puddle. This one was wide, and in the middle of the path, shaded by big hemlock trees. I first noticed the big milky egg clusters (that sounds kinda...yuck), and lo! I saw a head poking out from under the leaves. I knew immediately: it was a spotted salamander. I'd seen pictures and videos of spotties mating and swimming along the bottom of vernal pools among the leaf litter, but I didn't think I'd get a chance to see it, midday, late in spring! I reached down to pull him out of the puddle. As I got closer, I noticed something: It was dead. I sighed. I noticed it, too, was pale and grey in color. I was convinced that my "cold snap" theory was true. Three different specimens of three different species all with the same stages of decay present. Science! As I pulled the salamander out from the cold puddle, I noticed some jelly oozing out from its..."hindquarters". That was a bit gross and unexpected, I admit. Turns out it was a female, and her last act was becoming a new mama, as one of the clusters seemed to be hers. Sadface. It was still a first for me to find out in the wild. She was a pretty decent size as well. I've actually owned one as a pet before, but never caught one in its natural habitat. This one just made it easier for me by not being alive to hide or run away. We also saw a bunch of deer going across the road, which was cool, as they'd become a little scarce up in that particular area in recent years. I found ONE red eft on the walk up to the lake, which was strange considering all that I'd found last year. I wondered if I'd see anymore. Little did I know...

So yea, the first day ended pretty much the same way it began: turkeyless. I did find some interesting stuff; things I hadn't seen in a while and things I hadn't seen before. I was disappointed in not having any hunting luck, and that some of the things I found had no pulse, but it was a good day. I got to spend some quality time with my grandfather, and now we have a funny hunting story out of it.

Day 2: this was the trio of me, my father, and grandfather. Three generations of hunters! It started to rain as we got about 15 minutes away from where we were hunting. Awesome. I got out of the car when we arrived, and was ready to go. I was already up here, so fuck it, I'm hunting, rain or not. My father agreed, except he had a Gortex water-proof jacket. I did not. My grandfather opted to sit in the car until the rain stopped. Smart man, and a seasoned hunter. We ventured out and I started to see efts pop up all over the place. Like...ALL over the place.

This picture looks oddly familiar...
I couldn't walk two minutes without almost stepping on one like this:

"Watch it..."
Or this one:
"Don't Tread On Me!"
Or this one:
Haven't I seen you here before?
You get the idea...there were a lot of efts. A LOT.

The elusive and out-of-focus Bigfoot eft.
These shots were just from me walking from the road to the first spot we were going to set up. I literally wasn't even trying to look for them. The rain made the forest floor come alive with little florescent orange newts! We finally set up the decoys and got into position. My father made some calls, and we sat around in the rain for an hour or so. No sign of turkeys. They, unlike their eft neighbors, don't like the rain too much. Before I even sat down, I had to remove 3 efts from where I was going to sit down.

You were almost newt jelly.
And one of the smallest widdle efts I've ever seen!

"Ain't I  just the cutest?!"

As I sat propped against the base of a tree, little orange specs began to catch my eye.

That was my exact view from the tree, except there were three efts just millin' around the decoys and whatnot. After we got up, the rain had stopped. I gathered them up to take a shot, and also to ensure I didn't squash them with my hunting boots.

This is SO not getting redundant, like, at all.
One being THIS lil' fella, smaller than the previously smallest eft ever:
I'm tellin' ya, I couldn't walk 10 feet without seeing one. Or three.

"They say we are birds of a feather!"
Although the last one I took a picture off was pretty cool. It looked like it was just about ready to make that transition into the water to become an aquatic adult eastern (red-spotted) newt.

"It's not easy being greenish."
I didn't even bother taking anymore eft photos. I did flip one rock to find a redback underneath, but he scurried away promptly, and I've photographed a ton of them any old ways. My amazing and not at all outdated phone would soon die anyway. The thing is, if I tried to take a picture of every herp I found that day, it wouldn't have made it through anyway. Throughout the rest of the active, but unsuccessful hunt, I would find over 100 efts. ONE. HUNDRED. PLUS. Eft #39 peed in my hand. I made a successful turkey call with #47 (or something) in my hand. I kept counting. Once I hit 60, 70, 80, I thought that there was NO WAY I'd find more. But the rain brought them out like...newts in the rain! My father and grandfather even started helping and pointing them out.  I counted all the way up to 127. That was including the ones I had photographed. Geez. There's no way I can top that number EVER, especially all in one day. If only turkeys were as abundant and easily captured...

All in all, not a bad day. Great day for herping, bleck day for turkey hunting. Yet we still got some action twice in one day (bazinga!).

Day 3: overnight stay with a buddy, whom shall totally remain nameless due to his insane popularity and reputation to uphold. No herping done and nothing seen on the eve of the hunt when we went out roosting. I did flip a big plastic barrel outside of my grandfather's old cabin, and much to my surprise, I found something I'd never seen before.

"Unhand me, fiend!"
A very small and uncooperative juvenile northern ring-necked snake. I don't often look in areas conducive to snakes, so I don't often encounter them. This was a treat, and I was surprised to find another first. Just call me "butter", 'cause I'm on a roll! As I snapped the picture, my buddy disapprovingly shook his head at me. HE JUST DOESN'T UNDERSTAND!!!

Oh, we didn't shoot any turkeys this day, either, although we came pretty close. I saw one eft in a puddle off a little further than I wanted to trek to snag him, but eh...I think I've had my fill of efts for this season.

I may go out hunting once or twice more this season, but if I don't, I'd say that it was pretty memorable either way. Got to spend some quality time with fam and friends in the woods, saw some cool stuff, and I was off of work for 10 days. Can't beat that. Oh wait, I could have shot a turkey, which was the whole point of these trips. Dammit.

Tuesday, 5/6 count:

red eft: 1
pickerel frog: 1 (deceased)
red-spotted newt: 10+
spotted salamander: 1 (deceased)
assorted tadpoles: a bazillion

Thursday, 5/8 count:

red eft: I lost count (127)
redback salamander: 1

Monday-Tuesday, 5/12-5/13 count:

red eft: 1
northern ring-necked snake: 1

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"Herpin' 'Round the World" or "Reptile Reminiscing"

With all of this snow and wintry business, there's been no warm windows to go out and winter herp, or even consider doing so. We've had so much snow, low temperatures, and general icy nastiness, herping in Pennsylvania is a distant memory...or dream...or whatever. It's just not been a plausible idea (even for winter). I've been jonesin' for spring as it is, and definitely can go for some warmer weather to facilitate my herping problem.

With that all being said, I've been paying attention to my current herp pets (two eastern box turtles, a White's blue phase tree frog, a painted chubby frog, a juvenile red-eared slider, an oriental firebellied toad, a fire salamander, just to name a few) and watching them more to satiate my herp hunger (that sounds filthy). Reading fellow herpers' blogs also got me all nostalgic at some of my past finds as well. All of these things made me decide to write a "throwback" blog to some of my historical (and best) finds, all on vacations, and not all in PA. So it's Throwback...Tuesday. 

Delaware Water Gap, Northeastern PA, circa 1998:

I'm not entirely sure when exactly this was. I believe it was my 7th grade summer. I was a strapping young lad, brace faced and awkward. When I wasn't fending off the ladies from all that adolescent man-candy, I was doing nerd things. Like, SUPER nerd things. One of those things (which now, is totally cool) was herping. Thinking back before cell phone cameras, or even regular digital cameras, were readily available and smaller than your wallet, I had some pretty respectable finds. This story contains one such respectable find.

I went to upstate PA with my friend and his parents for a few days to a cabin they rented yearly on a country club/resort type place near the Delaware Water Gap. My friend shared my interest in herping, so this was a perfect pairing. His father was an enabler, being interested in herps as well, so we were in great hands, much to his mother's dismay. We'd also do a lot of fishing, which was not only fun, but of course conducive to my herping addiction. My finds were mainly at a small pond near the side of the road where my friend (who I shall call Krabs) and his dad (who for comedic purposes, I shall call Mr. Krabs) have fished in previous years. It was LOADED with frogs and turtles. We fished (and herped) during the day and even at night, which was awesome. I found a few really healthy green frog specimens:

I'm on an all-protein diet, bro.
That lil' fella was about two inches long. In between catching sunnies and a few other assorted fishies, I would catch a much bigger greenie (Lithobates clamitans).

Seen here in his natural habitat: a cooler with lily pads thrown in.
I would release the green frogs after holding them against their will briefly like the TSA at the airport. My next find I kepy a wee bit longer. At this pond, many a frog alluded my capture: steep banks, high vegetation, and me with no net. Bunches of greens and bullfrogs jumped in whilst yelping. Every time one called and jumped in, they sounded like Nelson from The Simpsons shouting "Ha-Haa!!" at me. Eventually, we spotted a BEAUTIFUL bullfrog bellowing in a catchable position. I grabbed him after diving head first into the bank of the pond, and boy, was I happy. It may be one of my best physical catches to date. This guy wasn't very big, but he had a BRIGHT yellow belly and beautiful green markings. I decided to keep him for a few days in my frog cooler prison. We would let him jump around the cabin porch, even on the kitchen table, and watch with glee.

"...I'm so full of glee!"
Fishing also helped us hook some painted turtles. Krabs and I each caught one with our rods. For story purposes, I caught the larger one. Krabs wanted to keep these and take them home. Here's another picture of a picture, since I'm too lazy to scan them into the computer:

Superior photography skills at work. And yes, the original picture is indeed that shitty.
They were both decent sizes. We kept these guys for a few days.These turtles weren't the only turtles we'd find. Oh no. We ventured on to the golf course one day (because why not) even though we weren't really allowed to mill around on the golf course if we weren't golfing. We dodged golf balls (because I say we did to spice this story up) and ran over to a creek that ran along the side of the course. Krabs and I looked around and didn't find anything at all, when I noticed a head sticking up from the middle of the creek. Whatever it was blended in with the big rock it was sitting on in, sunning itself in the middle of the creek. It was a ginormous wood turtle, which I had never seen before. I jumped in the creek and quickly scooped him from the rock. I'm sure he didn't mind at all. His carapace (fancy "shell" synonym) was over a foot long. He was the biggest herp I've ever caught to date; I couldn't get over how big he was (obligatory "that's what she said..."). We ran back across the golf course to show Mr. & Mrs. Krabs, Mr. Krabs was amused, Mrs. Krabs was not. Being about 13 years old, we convinced them to allow us to keep our finds for at least until the end of the trip.

I love sleepovers.
After a few more days of trout fishing, attempted frog catching, and good times, we headed home with our reluctant bounty. I knew my parents weren't going to let me keep any of these animals, but being young and stupid, I tried anyway. Mr. and Mrs. Krabs figured they'd let me learn a lesson I guess, and Krabs was totes jeal of my new short-term pets. When I got home, my parents of course were almost furious (especially my mother) I took animals home and out of the wild. The wood turtle (glyptemys insculpta) was described by the both of them as "a dinosaur" because of its size, and since it looked pretty prehistoric roaming my back yard. And again, this thing was ridiculously big. 

I'm a grown-ass man.

After a few days, I had to set them free. No, I did not put them in the alleyway, nor did I dump them in a park just because there's grass there. NAY! I put them all in a huge wildlife reserve right outside the city. I let them go near a creek with small "ponds" that collected in the middle of them and watched them all scurry away (except the wood turtle. He was slow.) I was sad, but I learned a valuable lesson about taking animals from their natural habitat...and never really applied that lesson. One funny thing about that wood turtle though that I had still heard even up until very recently: he's still around. How, you ask? Well for one, every once in a while, the news stations do stories about the wildlife refuge (as a special feature or whatever since it's not a murder). When they mention the refuge, they briefly go over the types of animals you may encounter there. EVERY time they mention the animals, when they get to the reptiles and amphibians, they always add in something like "...and it's even home to a wood turtle, a rare species for this area." EVERY. TIME. Secondly, they're pretty rare for the Philadelphia area. Ergo: they're talking about MY wood turtle. And I think that's pretty cool.

Orlando, Florida, circa every time I've been there:

One constant besides anoles whenever I go to Disney World are these guys: Cuban tree frogsI've caught loads of them; more than green tree frogs, toads, anoles (although anoles are EVERYWHERE.) I usually catch them right outside my hotel rooms. They're considered invasive (seeing as how they're called "Cuban" and not "Floridian" tree frogs. We'll get to invasive species later. Science!). Here's one of the only pictures of the abundant lil' bastardos:

"When I play the maracas, I go 'chic chicky boom.'"
The last time I was in Disney, I did the extended hours at the parks, complete with color-coordinated what park I'd be visiting when.

Here, for no reason at all, is a family of mallard ducks waiting for the shuttle bus with us. 

Hopefully, they did not eventually get squished.

One evening, I was in Epcot. Grabbed some food and sat around "Japan" where I absolutely was taking more pictures of the herps I was seeing in the koi ponds than I was of the Disney scenery.

The Most Magical Place on Earth!
Tourists usually take photos of important stuff. I took pictures of a man-made pond in the middle of an amusement park.

Natural Disney.
I looked down and round in the water to see if I could find anything close enough to photograph. My first herp was a green frog tadpole:

Unused Disney Character: Petey Polliwog!

I sat around for a while, just relaxing...possibly waiting for food...when some juvenile greenies popped up.

...or is he a bullfrog?
I stick by my initial identification. Shortly after, another one appeared.

This one is definitely a green.
Another common sight were, as stated earlier, anoles. Green and brown, usually, although they're so fast, it's kinda hard to tell sometimes. I love watching tourists scream at them if they scurry across their path, or watch them in awe as if an alligator just strolled up from the pool where they used to have the 2000 Leagues Under the Sea ride. "Foreigners" (i.e. tourists not of this continent) usually seem to be the ones that react to the lizards the most drastically. I wouldn't be surprised if some naive Norwegian family mistook one for the crocodile from Peter Pan. Of course, the Japanese tourist are the most easily frightened and intrigued, both snapping 800 pictures then screaming incoherently when the little fella scurries off. This one that I decided to pursue was a Cuban brown anole:

"Oooohh! Gojira!" - every Japanese tourist
Cuban browns are an invasive species (ANOLES, of racist). There's that word "invasive" again: For those who don't like nature and think all forests should be turned into shopping malls, "invasive" species of animals are non-native to an area's ecosystem, and invades and disrupts the balance of the native species. So picture taking a bunch of lions from Africa and setting them free in New Jersey: they're going to fuck shit up. Cuban brown anoles are from (you guessed it) Cuba, as well as the Bahamas, and since riding tires across the Caribbean and establishing themselves in Florida, they kinda have been blamed for displacing native green anoles.

"I'm invasive? YOU, sir, are invasive! Invasive of my personal space!"

I'm not going to lie: I've had a terrible track record with catching anoles, both wild, and ones I get from PetSmart that escape all the time. However, I have resounding proof that I have indeed caught at least one, one time, sans net, bare handed in the "wilds"...of Disney World. 

Here is a random picture of a white ibis we saw roaming the front lawns earlier that day:

Foe to herps everywhere.
I also saw bunnies.

Another evening, I literally did everything there was to do the one night in the Magic Kingdom, since there were barely any other people there. I met those rare characters like Donald Duck that you usually have to offer to blow a park employee to get near. I even managed to get some herping in right in front of Cinderella's Castle! Whilst walking out of the park around 1 AM, there was a friggin' 'uge bullfrog right in the middle of the pathway! He was smack dab in the middle of what normally would be a path flooded with sweaty tourists. I picked him up, posed for pictures, because of course I did.

"This is bullshit."
I placed him in the grass near a pond so that no one else would mess with him like I did. I always get nervous for animals that (like in the case of the ducks near the shuttle bus) either a) have no fear of humans, or b) are too stupid to move, when they're in such close proximity to the general public. I fear that other people that would pick this guy up wouldn't be so kind to him. People put hamsters in microwaves, so I trust no one.

"I'm going to go eat a mouse now...JUST FOR SPITE."
No one looked at me funny, either. They were the ones taking pictures with poor college kids dressed in fake talking animal costumes...

..and then there was the demon bunny.

"My eyes glow red with the blood of the fallen."

Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo, Mexico, circa 2008:

On my one trip to Mexico, I of course had to sample the local fauna. My first real encounter was in my room upon returning from dinner one night. To my total lack of surprise, there was a visitor on the wall: a common house gecko

"Don't mind me."
I managed to capture him with little effort (admittedly surprisingly, fa' real), and promptly snapped his picture. I apologize in advance for the raw, rugged, handsome man-ness you're about to inadvertently see (ladies).

I will love him, and pet him and call him "George".
There was a nature preserve that I snorkeled in and explored the nature trails, with ridiculously prehistorically gargantuan leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles, but they were kinda captive, so they didn't really count. However, there were small herds of iguanas (mainly spiny-tailed) roaming around all over the place, and I got fairly close to this guy, who's missing a hand. This one, I believe, is a Ctenosaura similis.
 I could have probably scooped him, but I prefer to keep all of my phalanges...unlike Stumpy, down there...

His ghost-hand is actually flipping me off.
One TOTALLY AWESOME experience was going down to Tulum, about 20 minutes south of Riviera Maya, to snorkel on a not-so-crowded beach. It was here that I went in by myself (while poor touristy schlubs paid for "snorkeling tours" about 50 yards from me) and SWAM WITH FREAKIN' GREEN SEA TURTLES!!!

Unfortunately, this is best picture of a picture of me swimming with said sea turtles.
This was some Little Mermaid shit. I would say "this is some Aquaman-type shit" instead, but that'd be lame. Maybe Namor. He's not as lame as Aquaman. But I digress. I was close enough to grab their shells and have them drag me in the water like frickin' Poseidon! 

'Twas magical. I was singing "A Whole New World", Aladin-style, except under water. Wrong Disney movie.
But I didn't, sadly. There were signs all over the place to NOT touch the wildlife. Stupid conscience. The Mexican government wouldn't have ever found out if I rode a protected sea turtle like a boogie board, but they still denied me that chance. 

I also had the overwhelming urge to yell "Cowabunga" while doing so.
Oh well. It was one of the coolest herping experiences...scratch that, just one of the coolest experiences ever. Being that close to wild sea turtles was something I may never experience again. I swam around with them for as long as they stayed in the area. I literally may have swam with them for an hour or so. It just didn't get boring to me at all. They swam around, feeding on plants at the bottom. I was able to get right up on them pretty much every time. They accepted me. I was one of them now. This must be what those crazy people who live with wolves feel like! I guess they're used to maniacs like me harassing them on their daily routines.

"Don't make eye contact, Jimmy. He'll leave eventually."
I have a bunch more pictures (of pictures) that I could show you all, of stingrays, skates, and all sorts of fishies, but this is a herping blog. Plus the photos themselves are from a plastic case that you put a disposable camera in so you can take underwater pictures, so it's not exactly National Geographic quality. That case got the job done, though. I should probably invest in at least a decent digital camera eventually. Then, I should also at least take the time to scan the photos in instead of using my smartphone to take a picture of a photograph and email it to myself to put on here.

Personally, think the flash adds composition to these shots.
Of the bunches of other aquatic sea life I encountered, (even the 3-foot long barracuda that made me piss myself as I plunged into knee-deep water as the very first thing I saw right in my face) the turtles were the highlight of the trip.

Caution: Nightmares may be closer than they appear.
Those are but a few documented herping encounters I've had when I was supposed to be doing tourist-things in places I've never been before. Vacation priorities, people.

"You blew this opportunity. No bueno. Adios, fuckface."