Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Spring Catch Up

Hello again, it's been awhile since I posted anything here. I've had a crazy past month and a half or so, and now that I'm starting a new job things are only going to get a little more hectic. Things have been a little slower than average in the herp department, while bird migration has been crazy. After many reliable years of service, the life of my Canon Rebel XTi finally came to an end. Being camera-less during the most eventful time of the year here in Michigan was a little bit stressful. My iPhone sufficed for a few weeks before I obtained a Canon EOS 40D, a major step up from Canon's Rebel line. So let's take a whirlwind trip through this spring, starting with the tail end of April. I missed the major amphibian migrations this spring due to a crazy schedule and crapped out camera. But before the camera died I was able to capture some good snakes and salamanders.

Smallmouth Salamander (Ambystoma texanum), Southeast Michigan
Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos), Monroe County, MI
Blue Racer (Coluber constrictor foxii), Oakland County, Michigan
My new found passion of birds has made splitting time between herps and their feathered cousins rather difficult, but its given me something to chase when herping is slow. I've been able to see a good number of migrants this spring, and have gotten some decent photos of a few. Here's a smattering of avian reptiles from late April and May.

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea), Washtenaw County, MI
Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas), Washtenaw County, MI
Wilson's Warbler (Cardellina pusilla), Washtenaw County, MI
Chestnut-sided Warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica), Washtenaw County, MI
Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia), Monroe County, MI
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula), Monroe County, MI
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), Monroe County, MI
Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus), Monroe County, MI
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus), Isabella County, MI
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), Monroe County, MI
Tree Sallow (Tachycineta bicolor), Washtenaw County, MI
The herp scene was a little slow this spring in terms of numbers, though I did get to see some decent diversity.

Wood Turtles (Glyptemys insculpta), Northern Michigan
Blue Racers (Coluber constrictor foxii), Oakland & Washtenaw Counties, MI
Butler's Garter Snake (Thamnophis butleri), Washtenaw County, MI
Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata), Southeast Michigan
Blanchard's Cricket Frog Habitat, Washtenaw County, MI
Blanchard's Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans blanchardi), Washtenaw County, MI
Pickerel Frog (Rana palustris), Berrien County, MI
Eastern Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor), Washtenaw County, MI
And finally to close, what about those darn massasaugas? It seems as though I've had decreasing numbers of rattlesnake sightings in the spring over the past few years. This year was no different, though I did see my first one of the year on a chilly, 47 degree afternoon in early April. Since then, I've seen seven massies as a handful of locations, not bad considering the crazy weather we've had.

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes (Sisturus catenatus catenatus), SE & SW Michigan
That's all for now, but there's plenty more to come. I just returned home from a trip to the southern Appalachians complete with some cool salamanders and start my new job working with wood turtles here in Michigan this week. Happy herping everyone!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The First Signs of Spring

Despite a prolonged power struggle, it seems that spring is finally beginning to win out over winter here in Michigan. Vernal pools are thawing, frogs are calling, and some snakes are beginning to emerge to soak up their first sun rays of the season. This past weekend I was able to get out and search for some early spring herps and wasn't disappointed. On Friday night, I went out to search some vernal pools in southeast Michigan. I elected not to drive up to Macomb County to join Jason Folt and Chris Boguslawski due to lack of ideal conditions, plus because I was feeling a little lazy. They had fairly similar success, which you can read about on Jason's blog. I arrived to a mostly thawed pool which has produced tigers in the past, and quickly noticed my target swimming about near the edge and was able to apprehend it for a few photos.

Eastern Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum), Washtenaw County, MI
A handsome male, which was less than cooperative for photos (I had almost forgotten how little these guys like to sit still). I released him back to the pool and moved on. Light rain was falling and temps were in the high 30s, marginal conditions for salamander movement at best. But as I was driving through some rural land, I noticed a riggling shape in the road, it turned out to be my second tiger of the night.

Eastern Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum), Jackson County, MI

Shortly after photographing the second tiger, the precipitation turned from rain to sleet, and then to snow. This brought a cold night of salamandering to an end, but I was decently happened with getting a few tigers. Temperatures for Saturday and Sunday were supposed to rise to the mid 50s, so Chris and I decided to spot hop on Sunday to look for snakes. We began at a spot that I had seen a fairly interesting snake on Saturday. We saw a few garter snakes, but struck out on our target, so we moved on and headed out to some state land in hopes of seeing a blue racer. We flipped some boards and walked some nice habitat, but only turned up a few more garters and a nice little brown snake, much to Chris's joy. We ended up returning to our first location and gave it a last second try. We looked carefully in shrubby swamp and eventually I spotted the telltale pattern of our target serpent.

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus), Southeast Michigan
I've always associated the onset of spring with the emergence of this species here in southeast Michigan. Though warm, sunny days in the 60s and 70s are considered to be ideal conditions for this species to emerge, I've found them in much colder temps early and late in the season. The rising water table due to snow melt and thawing seems to be the catalyst which gets these guys up in the spring because of their utilization of crayfish burrows as hibernacula. It was nice way to finish up the first weekend this year which actually felt like spring. Things should really get moving here in the next week or two, both on the herp and bird front. Until next time, happy spring!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

March Mixed Bag

The month of March is always intriguing here in Michigan. There's always bursts of spring weather followed by returning cold and snow. Freeze, thaw. Rinse and repeat. Following a winter of record snowfall and record breaking cold, its going to take time for the winter weather to finally loosen its grip. Most of the snow on the ground melted two weeks ago following a strike of fifty degree days, but was then followed by a winter storm which dropped 7-10 inches of heavy wet snow across much of the state. The remaining snow and cold has kept a lot of arctic bird species here longer than expected.

Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis), Washtenaw County, MI
Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus), Isabella & Midland Counties, MI
Though the winter weather continues to linger, there have been some glimmers of hope that warmth will soon be on its way. Chris Boguslawski and I decided to try and get out on the evening of March 21st in hopes of seeing some early bird salamanders in the mid 30 degree rain. We arrived to snow covered woods and mostly frozen vernal pools and felt a little discouraged. But as we were moving around the edge of the pool, my headlamp caught this blue-spotted thing in the leaf litter near a mammal burrow. It was a pleasant surprise and the only salamander we saw the entire night.

Unisexual Hybrid Salamander (Ambystoma ssp.), Washtenaw County, MI
It's an encouraging sign that spring is on its way, even though it will probably be a week or two until the salamanders begin to emerge at full strength. It also means that the arctic birds will soon be on their way back to the tundra. Sad to see the snowies go, but glad to see the sallies emerge.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lifer Red-necked Grebe

I've recently began to compile a life list for birds, much like I have one for herps. Today I got a a lifer Red-necked Grebe. This bird breeds in the Arctic and winters along the coasts of the lower 48. Occasionally they show up during migration in Michigan. Pretty cool little bird!

Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena), Dixboro Dam, Washtenaw County, MI

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Wall Worthy

Despite single digit temperatures and gusting winds of 35-40 mph, I got out for about an hour on Wednesday afternoon. There was so much blowing snow that I almost didn't see this snowy owl sitting right off the edge of the road. I pulled off and managed to get this photo just as the owl took off. By far my favorite photo from this winter, this one may end up on a wall.

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus), Coe Township, MI