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

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