Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Woods & Water

As the summer drags on in Michigan, the herping begins to slow down before picking back up once again in the fall. This usually leaves me feeling unmotivated to go out and look for things I know I'm likely to strike out on. So what's the best way to beat the dog day doldrums? Paddle! I arose early one morning and met Jason Folt for a day of turtling on one of Michigan's northern rivers. After a three hour drive we arrived at our location and were quickly on the water.

Our trip would take more than four hours and cover more than twelve miles. The weather for the first hour of our paddle was cool and overcast, not great conditions for turtles to be out. We noticed a few Northern Map Turtles (Graptemys geographica) trying to warm themselves on fallen logs, but the species were after did not make an appearance. However, we did notice several large water snakes basking along the way.

Northern Water Snake - Nerodia sipedon sipedon

Many appeared to be large gravid females, like the one shown above. Water snakes appear to be particularly abundant on this river and many exhibit brilliant red coloration. About halfway through our tip the clouds began to break and the sun came out. 

Here's Jas sporting his turtling rig, a Coosa fishing kayak made by Jackson Kayaks. Wood turtles can be particularly difficult to spot when they bask because they often the select river banks with heavy grass cover. Our first wood turtle on this day exhibited this well, as Jason spotted him a few feet back on the bank peeking out of a thick patch of ferns.

Wood Turtle - Glyptemys insculpta

Wood turtles are semiaquatic, meaning adults spend just as much time on land as they do in the water. They can often be found foraging near berry patches in the late summer. We were excited to finally get a wood turtle after a few hours of paddling, and the sun proved to be what we needed. A short distance from our first wood I spotted a second individual basking in the open.

Wood Turtle - Glyptemys insculpta

We portaged our kayaks and waded out into the river to snag a few long distance shots. The turtle quickly dropped into the water as we tried to move closer for a few shots. It seems as this is how paddling for this species goes, often a few individuals are found in quick succession followed by long gaps of nothing. It was about another four before we saw our next wood turtle, Jason spotted it basking in thick cover on the river bank.

Wood Turtle - Glyptemys insculpta

We were able to wade across the river and fire some shots fairly close to the bank and let him be. We finished our paddle trip with three wood turtles, more than forty maps, and a few painteds. After getting back to the car and loading up the kayaks, we decided to poke around the area for a bit. The first place we stopped was nice sandy field with lots of debris and logs. We thought it looked like a good place for hogs and racers, but Jason flipped an awesome little surprise under a rotting log.

Northern Ringneck Snake - Diadophis punctatus edwardsii

This was an incredibly exciting find. Most of your are probably scoffing at that last statement, a ringneck is exciting? This species is incredibly common to the south of Michigan in states like Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, etc, but seems to be uncommon and local in Michigan. The only other time I've seen one was out on the Beaver Island archipelago in Lake Michigan, where they can be found in large numbers. Ringnecks spend much of their time under debris where they hunt Redback Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus), a staple of their diet. It's unclear as to why this species seems to be so absent from much of Michgian's northern lower peninsula but is extremely common on some coastal islands. Either way, my first mainland ringneck was exciting. It was a great way to finish up a nice day trip, I look forward to more excursions on the water as the summer begins to draw to a close.

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