Posts Tagged With: herps

A fine crop of frogs

We have an assortment of rain barrels outside and earlier in the summer, we were nightly serenaded by a Gray Tree Frog rattling away. It didn’t seem likely he’d manage to call in a mate, but unbeknownst to us we were hosting orgies and in a few weeks the barrels and every other container with a few inches of standing water was full of eggs and, soon, tadpoles.

They scrubbed the barrels clean of algae and as they transformed, wiped out the mosquito larvae that usually plague us.

And now they’re growing up and moving out on their own. Despite these pictures, the color of the barrels doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the frogs’ color. The ones in the dark barrels are developing faster, though.

Good luck, froglets!

Categories: the occasional herp | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Year-end highlights, 2013


January’s bird of the month was the pair of Sandhill Cranes at Crescent.What a thrill to see them so close up.


February was gull month. I added three lifers to my list: Iceland Gull (below, with 3 Herring Gulls), Lesser Black-back, and Glaucous Gull, plus Little Gull in July. They really aren’t all the same! I begin to understand Laridaephiles!

And another!

March is the first stirring of spring, bringing the earliest Blackbirds and Tree Swallows. Waterfowl are on the move! 

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

There’s nothing better than April for a birder. Everything is coming! Almost as birdy as May, and fewer bugs! Tree and Chipping Sparrows switch places again. The earliest Warblers flit through the still-bare treetops. Shorebirds are bolting north. And herps are making their own short migrations.

Spotted Turtle

Spotted Turtle

All right, I take it back about April. May. May. MAY. Every day brings new migrants, new nesting birds, so many colors and voices there’s no time to blog or photograph or even think, sometimes. It’s all I can to to absorb every brilliant moment. I saw my first Hooded Warbler, my first Golden-winged Warbler, my first Vesper Sparrow. I heard a King Rail! Hummingbirds, Orioles, Swifts! These trees were dripping with warblers.


June, and things are calming just a bit. The residents are settling down to the business of nesting. A field trip to Montgomery County showed me an Upland Sandpiper, doing exactly what an Uppie is supposed to do — pose on a fencepost and whoop his wolf whistle. A side trip to the neighboring town of Root produced a surprise — a Clay-colored Sparrow singing from the top of a shrub! A two-lifer day!

IMG_5603 2

July is the time to settle in and do some birdwatching, instead of birding. See fuzzy-headed fledgelings at the feeders, Tuftless Titmice and short-tailed Catbirds begging and nagging. Some of the territorial sniping has calmed and birds, like us, are just hanging out at the lake trying to stay cool. Hey, is that a Grasshopper Sparrow? Lifer!

Solitary on left, Yellowlegs on right

Solitary on left, Yellowlegs on right

For shorebirds, August means summer is over and it’s time to head south from their far-north nesting grounds. I caught this Sanderling on a rest stop at Cohoes. The surprise of the month was a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers in the Albany Pine Bush, first I’d seen since moving up here. And after seeing my first pair ever of Cliff Swallows, I looked carefully at the power lines on my road and found a new yard bird, too.

The warblers sweep back down in September in ‘confusing fall warbler’ plumage. Look carefully, and you can pick up species missed on the way up. I found my Philadelphia Vireo that way. Fortune favors the prepared, they say. I’d been looking for a Philly to complete the category, and so I was ready when I saw him — another lifer. The (white) Little Blue Heron was a surprise, though. In the style section, Pirate Birding was all the rage.

I spy with my little eye...

I spy with my little eye…

October, the month of mist and spiderwebs. Unexpected birds like these Tundra Swans show up with migrating waterfowl. Here one day, a hundred miles south tomorrow, any sighting pure chance.




November’s big goal — I swore that this winter I would see a Short-eared Owl, if I had to pitch a tent on Fitzpatrick Road to do it. And I did! (See the owl, that is, not camping on the old tent-ground.) And up in the Adirondacks I caught glimpses of Boreal Chickadees, just as adorable as their Black-capped cousins. But the number of species has dropped by a third since last month, and I swear I recognize every beak at the feeder. Still I have something to be thankful for– a new camera, and better photos to look forward to sharing.

December — it’s Christmas Bird Count time! Pray that good bird hangs around until count day! Hope it flies over my sector instead of crossing the river! Swap tall tales of CBCs present and past, and how easy we young punks have it today — the old timers birded on foot! in the snow! barefoot! uphill both ways! just to score every Blue Jay! And sometimes (whisper it) ditch your count for a bird so cool you just have to see it.


So I end the year the way I started it, with a big charismatic bird that doesn’t mind being gawked at.


Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, Christmas Bird Count, Feeder birds, Field trip, Life bird!, New bird, NYS 2013, OMG bird, scenery, the occasional herp | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s raining snakes!

So I’m driving down a heavily-wooded road this morning, minding my own business, when an accipiter blasts out of the trees at windshield height with a snake in her talons. I don’t know who was more startled. I jammed on the brakes and she dropped the snake which fell on my windshield, slid over the hood and off. I couldn’t find it on the shoulder so either it slid pretty far or it was able to get under cover.

I’m leaning towards Cooper’s mainly because it looked abso-freakin’-lutely huge through my windshield, and because the snake was at least a foot long… I had a better look at the snake than the bird! Also, I’ve watched a female Coop perched on that road before.

I never thought I’d see the Mexican flag re-enacted right in front of me (minus the cactus).

Not just an allegory.

Not just an allegory.

Categories: bird behavior, OMG bird, the occasional herp | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Little Blue Heron, 9/1/13

The word went out this morning that a Little Blue Heron was on the pond at Vischer Ferry. I couldn’t get there until evening, but despite such oppressive humidity my glasses kept fogging up, at 6:45 there was still enough light to see an immature LBH moving around.  It didn’t look anything like the birds pictured in the top pictures in that link, being in pure white first-year plumage. So how to tell it from other white herons?

Great Egret is just that — a great big bird, almost the size of a Great Blue Heron. (There is a Great White Heron, a color morph of GBH, but they’re only found in the Florida Keys.)

Cattle Egret — shorter necked and all-over squatter in shape.

Snowy Egret— here it gets harder. Same size. Adults in breeding plumage have the extravagant aigrettes that almost caused their extinction, and black legs with spiffy yellow feet*. To tell young Snowys and Little Blues apart, you have to focus on beak and leg details. Snowys have yellow and black on both, while Little Blues’ are more green/grey.

So, this bird was pure white, smaller than the Great Egrets it foraged near, with distinctly greenish legs and grayish beak. Little Blue Heron, species #200 for the year. It was quite active, flying from perch to water and up again. A flyover Green Heron bothered it enough to make it chase the darker bird away. At last it flew over the trees and out of sight, and I abandoned the towpath to the mosquitoes and the dusk.

On my way in, I spotted this pretty little Milk Snake on the edge of the path. Only about 8″ long, it barely moved as I approached. I think it was full of its latest meal.

Young Milk Snake

Young Milk Snake


*Somewhere in my slides I have pictures of a particularly fearless Snowy Egret in Florida. It walked right up to us on the beach on Sanibel Island, so close that I could get shots of its black toenails.

Categories: bird behavior, Field trip, NYS 2013, Rara avis, the occasional herp | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Wilson Powell Sanctuary, Old Chatham 4/30/13

Been here… been there… been to all the usual spots. Time to check the local field-trrip guide. Hmm, Wilson Powell Sanctuary isn’t too far away…

Some wrong turns and a twisty route through northern Columbia County later, I arrived at the sanctuary. It was still early spring and the trees had only begun leafing out. Wildflowers carpeted the forest floor.

The trail starts rising gently to a steep slope on the edge of a ravine where I heard Northern Waterthrush, Ovenbirds, and my first Worm-eating Warbler. A pair of Broad-winged Hawks whistled overhead. At the top of the trail you take a left to find yourself on Dorson’s Rock, looking over the Hudson Valley to Green County.

A Raven flew so low I could hear it push the wind through its wings.

Back down near the parking lot, there’s a pond and marshy area. A Snapping Turtle had just hauled herself out of the winter’s mud and basked.

It’s a nice place for a saunter.


37 species, one new life bird.

Categories: Field trip, flowers, Life bird!, the occasional herp | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Night on Herp patrol


Late Wednesday night the temperature was in the high 40sF and a steady rain had fallen for several hours. Time for Herp Patrol! There are spots on our road that are wooded slopes on one side and vernal pools on the other, and on warm wet nights the Spotted Salamanders are on the move. They make the dangerous road crossing heading with intent for their breeding ponds. After spending several nights, they return to the leaf litter with the next rain.

We covered about a mile and moved four salamanders from the road. All were headed away from the water.



The pavement was crawling with fat worms and frogs were out for the feast. We shooed off numerous Leopard Frogs and sighed over the squashed ones. In the distance Spring Peepers chimed deafeningly.

You don’t often hear Wood frogs without Peeper accompaniment, so I recorded these quackers.

The final highlight of the evening was my year’s first Barred Owls hooting in the distance.

Categories: the occasional herp | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Bird, Mammal, Herp

A few random critters.

The first Common Loon of the fall season landed on Snyder’s Lake this week. The weather is supposed to be beautiful this weekend, though, so the powerboats will probably be back out unnerving the waterfowl. It’s a bit early for the migrant ducks to come through but I’ll be scanning the lakes starting now.

Take my word for it, OK? That's a loon.

A few nights ago my vampire son heard a racket outside in the middle of the night and found five raccoons were attacking the feeders. A few nights later they managed to dislodge the big suet cage and bring it down. I’m surprised they didn’t drag it off somewhere. And as clever as their paws are, they were baffled by a simple twist-tie securing the cage!

One hangs from the sunflower feeder, while another waits forit to fall.

Spring Peepers are the most persistent calling frogs. The guys are in the mood for love until there’s frost on the pond, and they’ll start up again in a February thaw. The general dampness all last month has brought them onto my windows almost every night. When I shine a light near them, it attracts small insects and it’s hunting time.

Hyla autumnus, the Fall Peeper. Body size about 1".



Categories: Bird photos, Mammals too, the occasional herp | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Reptile rant

One day on Long Island a neighbor dashed into our driveway, screaming she had seen a viper! a viper! in her yard. Her husband heroically shouldered a hoe and before we could stop him, chopped a harmless terrified Garter Snake* into pieces. Needless to say, there are no vipers on Long Island, no poisonous snakes of any sort, and this was my first exposure to the ignorant animosity people hold towards snakes.

A more amusing story: a girl at camp decided to smuggle home a Green Snake very much against her mother’s wishes. No, she said, there were no snakes in her backpack, her duffle bag, her sleeping bag… She might have gotten away with it, too, but that the snake poked its inquisitive nose out between the buttons of her blouse. The snake went back to the grass, and the bra may have been burned.

Come on, tell me this isn't adorable. This photo © herp/Old/smoothgreen.htm

I know Milk Snakes are not-uncommon here, but I rarely see them unless they’ve been run over. This morning, though, I saw something in the road — a branch? No, it was a big dark milk snake, as long as my arm, lying still. I thought at first it had been hit, but no, it just didn’t want to be disturbed. My usual tactic, stomping my feet nearby, only seemed to annoy it and it coiled up and made a few open-mouthed strikes in my direction. I was casting about for a stick to move it — they’re not venomous but it was big enough to give a painful bite — when a car stopped and the driver jumped out shouting, “Lady, that’s a rattlesnake!”

“No, sir, it’s a milk snake. They’re not venomous and they eat a lot of mice. Good neighbors to have!” He didn’t look convinced yet, but I think my calm demeanour and the way I prodded the snake with a stick only a foot long seemed to take the edge off his nervousness. “There are rattlesnakes in the Catskills and some in the Adirondacks, but not right around here. Almost any snake you see is harmless, and it’s doing you a favor eating ants and grubs and mice.” The snake finally uncoiled, stretched to its full impressive length, and undulated into the undergrowth.

So I saved a snake today, and just maybe I made one person think twice before running over the next ‘viper’.

*Garter Snake. Gar. Ter. Not ‘garden’. Even the NYTimes has gotten this wrong. Grrr.

Categories: the occasional herp, Why? | Tags: , | 2 Comments

State of the Herp report

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Reptiles and amphibians — herps for short — are in trouble worldwide. Around here the main threat is habitat destruction, including roadkill. Bill went out around dawn on the first warm rainy night to look for Spotted Salamanders, on a road a few miles away that’s perfect for them. A relatively quiet road with a wooded slope, steep enough to be unbuildable, and wetland on the other side. All he found was five large squished ones. We hope others managed to cross undisturbed before the morning commute passed through. We have a robust population of Red Efts and Red-backed Salamanders, and probably some Spotted as well thanks to the guys’ informal egg mass rescue & relocation project.

We have a small pond on our property. The houses on both sides used to belong to the same family, so the property line runs across in a funky diagonal. It’s easy to tell which side is ours by the tall grass, shaggy thickets of honeysuckle and autumn olive, and large fallen branches. I don’t think our neighbor cares for our style of landscaping any more than we like their manicured verge. It’s an exceptional turtle area. I counted 32 Painted Turtles and 2 Snapping Turtles basking today, and I don’t know how many more patrolling the water. We’ve seen a Spotted Turtle and Box Turtle here once each, and Bill’s pet Wood Turtle ran away in the yard never to be seen again.

Behind the pond is the swamp (or Fwomp). For a long time the kids called this The Habitat, from an episode of Magic School Bus where the students searched for the proper habitat to release a pet a frog. My boys extrapolated that to mean any place frogs live is called a habitat. Took a few years to straighten that one out. Right now the main sound is tiny Spring Peepers ringing out their absurdly loud bells, with an occasional Toad trilling. Turn the volume up if you dare. The Wood Frogs call and mate all in one giant orgy and are silent the rest of the summer. If you’re in a wet area at dusk in fairly early spring and hear what sounds like a flock of ducks quacking, that’s Wood Frogs. As the air and water warm up the Green Frogs and Bullfrogs will boom and burble, and on wet nights Gray Tree Frogs will climb up our windows and give their rattling call.

Garter Snakes live in the brushpile and the rocks by our lamppost, while little Ribbon Snakes peek out from leaf litter occasionally. Sadly, the only Milk Snakes we see are dead ones. I’d love to have a few move in to take care of our mouse problem!

So that’s the State of the Herps on Kestrel Hill.

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