Field Observations

June 13, 2010

We are in the process of moving our field observations (blog) to another site. Please check it out and tell us what you think!

July 19, 2009

Check out our new Invertebrates and Beaches galleries!

July 18, 2009

We have returned from our July trapping session in Mescalero with surprisingly low capture rates. Last month we were overwhelmed with over 100 snakes, but this month we didn’t even reach 50! Our snake captures were as follows: 

 

The weather the first few days was rainy and overcast. However, by the end of the session the temperatures were reaching 105˚F. Fortunately, we had access to the Maljamar rest area because Matt contacted DOT, informing them of our situation and our dire need of shade! The rest area has been closed for a while because someone put a pipe bomb in one of the compost toilets, rendering the facilities useless. DOT informed us they are being repaired, and they hope to have the rest area open to the public in 4-6 weeks. Until then, it was very nice having our own private oasis to escape to in the heat of the day. Because it was so hot, we spent most of our afternoons relaxing in the shade of the trees and shelters, watching the Western kingbirds and Bullock’s orioles flit about. We did venture out to Bottomless Lakes State Park and Bitter Lakes National Wildlife Refuge near Roswell for an afternoon. Nothing exciting to report for birds, although we did see a lot of dragonflies.

 

Amphibians were more abundant this month due to heavy rains shortly before we arrived. A small pond formed next to our campsite where toad and spadefoot tadpoles were plentiful, and dozens of toadlets emerged every day along with a few spadefoot metamorphs. We also encountered a Couch’s spadefoot and a plains spadefoot in the traps.

 

Other highlights included great plains skinks, hatchling lizards, yellow mud turtle, and tarantulas.

 

Overall, not the most exciting month for herps, but not too bad. I’m hoping for a tiger salamander next month!

-Aubrey

June 27, 2009

Check out our new Southwestern Flora and Fungi gallery!

June 25, 2009

June Adventures

 

New Mexico

          Ah, back to the oil fields. We established a new camp in a caliche pit North of the metropolis of Maljamar, population 64. Apparently, the town’s name is derived from the 3 children of the town founder, Mallory, Jamie, and Mary, or something like that. This pit turned out to be a much better choice for the most part. No light pollution, no horrible acrid oil and sulfur, no broken glass, no pesky ants, and no packrats and associated poop. Although we had every intention of arriving early in the afternoon so we could establish camp, we arrived well after dark on the 1st after a long delay due to car trouble. On the 2nd, I awoke at dawn to find a burrowing owl and pair of horned larks perched 40 and 20 yards away respectively. Happy birthday to me!! We spent the day establishing camp and opening traps. As the evening approached a nasty storm blew in. The next few hours were spent hiding beneath our A-frame to avoid the driving wind and rain. The weather continued throughout the night. The next day yielded 22 snakes including a huge hognose found AOR en route to check traps. The next week went like this – bad weather for the next few days, and playing host and tour guide to 2 groups from Bosque School in ABQ and Western New Mexico University (Silver City, NM).

 

As the trapping session was winding down we finally had camp to ourselves so I decided to sit in the car to catch a few minutes of one of my favorite programs – NPR’s Marketplace. I was in the car perhaps 5 minutes when I began to exit the car to grab a water bottle only to see a huge cloud of dust and debris 60 yards behind me. I was barely able to close the door before the dust-devil passed over the car. When I exited the car a moment latter, I was less than thrilled to see that our camp was destroyed. The A-frame was wrecked as the winds had pulled several of the stakes out of the ground (keep in mind these stakes were driven into very hard, rocky ground), snapped several anchor ropes, ripped the tarp and the whole structure was discombobulated and had flipped over my car, putting a good size dent in my hood and smashing my driver’s side mirror. I think we were lucky that the heavy lid to one of our large 20MM ammo cans didn’t smash a window seeing how it flew 25 yards and landed 3 feet from the rear window. After we retrieved our gear, which was blown as far away as 150 yards away, I decided to go look for Barn Owls with my friend Bacardi in a large arroyo (dry riverbed) that Aubrey found earlier in the week. Sure enough, we found where 2 adults were residing in a small burrow about 15 feet above the ground. Less than 48 hours later we gladly wrapped up the week and got the hell out of dodge.

 

Here is our count including a few recaptures:

Ø     66 Coachwhips

Ø     14 Western Hog-nosed snakes

Ø     9 Milk snakes

Ø     4 Gopher snakes

Ø     3 Longnose snakes

Ø     6 Glossy snakes

Ø     1 Plains Black-headed snake

Ø     5 Massasaugas

Ø     2 Prairie Rattlesnakes

Ø     12 ornate box turtles, 3 Hog-nosed, and 2 coachwhips near the traps

Ø     Plus another half dozen snakes and turtles on the roads

 

South Texas

After a long 2 weeks in the oil fields of southern New Mexico, we headed south to visit with Aubrey’s grandmother in Weslaco, Texas, near the Mexican Border. If you haven’t driven through West Texas lately, well then count yourself lucky. I would consider driving 80 mph (that’s the speed limit) on I-10 for 6 hours to be one of the most boring drives I’ve possibly ever undertaken. If you like looking at nothing, then I would highly recommend it.

          Our first morning there, I awoke early and hopped in the car at 6am and headed to Santa Ana NWR located half an hour away. In a little less than 2 hours we found 30 species. Admittedly, this isn’t a huge number but considering we were sharing 2 pairs of binoculars among 3 people and we weren’t hustling I think we did pretty well. Here is the list:

 

Ø     Great-tailed Grackle

Ø     *Green Jay

Ø     Northern Cardinal

Ø     White Ibis

Ø     *Couch’s Kingbird

Ø     Eurasian Collared dove

Ø     *Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Ø     *Long-billed Thrasher

Ø     *Plain Chachalaca

Ø     *Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Ø     *Great Kiskadee

Ø     *Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Ø     *Clay-colored robin?? —According the SANWRefuge bird list they are encountered every 2-5 yrs. I thought I was just adding another S TX specialty so I didn’t think much of it at the time.

Ø     Northern Mockingbird

Ø     Great Egret

Ø     Black-necked Stilt

Ø     *Least Grebe

Ø     *Neotropical Cormorant

Ø     Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ø     Little Blue Heron

Ø     Tricolored Heron

Ø     *Olive Sparrow

Ø     Bronzed Cowbird

Ø     *Gray Hawk

Ø     Snowy Egret

Ø     *(Black-crested Mexican) Tufted Titmouse

Ø     *Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Ø     *Groove-billed Ani??

Ø     Red-winged Blackbird

 

Yup, 17 life birds (*) for me. On the way home, we encountered a dozen or so Roseate Spoonbills in an irrigation ditch. This was a nice treat and a fitting way to end the trip as I last saw this species 5 years ago in Southern Louisiana. Someday I will return to the area with the intent of birding more seriously.

 

          A few days later, we headed over to South Padre for a picnic. While there, I suggested we head to the jetties on the southern part of the island as I remember reading on the internet that is was possible to find sea turtles there. Sure enough, after a nice frolic in the water, we spotted one after a few minutes of sitting on the jetties. This prompted me to take a quick walk and I found another six in a matter of 10 minutes. I believe they were Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas). I have a feeling if you walked to the end of each of the jetties you could encounter quite a few. I was really excited as I had not previously seen this species in the Continental US and it was a first for Aubrey. On the way back we stopped at a local brewery and sampled a few of their brews. The seasonal Cinco de Mai Bock was unanimously voted the winner.

After a few days of intense heat, (99º, HI 115 degrees), short-course golf (the longest hole was 91 yds) and Rummikube (similar to rummy but instead of cards, players use tiles and the rules are slightly different), we headed back to New Mexico. The first 2 hours of the drive yielded 15 Northern Caracara (another life bird for me) and several dozen scissor-tailed flycatchers.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

         After a long day of driving, we took in the Brasilian Free-tailed Bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) mass exodus at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. I wasn’t sure what to expect and although it was pretty neat it somehow didn’t captivate me the way I expected. Perhaps it was the several screaming children and the young kid who asked if you could eat bats. One child was so bad that I chastised the mother to quiet the runt and quit irritating the people around her. I guess I prefer to not experience wildlife with the masses. Should I return, I would take in the spectacle from the parking lot where there are less people and where photography is not prohibited.

The next morning we returned to the Park and took in the giant hole beneath the earth. WOW!! We did the self-guided walk for the first mile and then took a guided tour of the King’s Palace. The walk down was great because the foot traffic was very minimal. Of course, when we made it to the main room, we watched as hordes of people excited from the elevators. The whole experience was great and I would highly recommend it to folks if you are ever within a day’s drive of Carlsbad.

After leaving the Cavern’s I planned to search for Grey Vireos within the park, but someone decided to close the Walnut Canyon Wildlife Drive at noon instead of 6 pm for a private tour. So, I decided to visit nearby Rattlesnake Springs to see if we could find a few brightly colored neotropical migrants to show Aubrey’s parents. Within 5 minutes we had several painted buntings, vermillion flycatchers, summer tanagers, black-head grosbeaks and, another life bird, a hooded oriole. Happy with my tour-guide hat, we departed to head home. On the drive back to Bosque Farms, we found 3 prairie rattlesnakes, 1 gopher snake, and a few unidentifiable snakes (heavy traffic behind us). Overall, not a bad little vacation.

-Matt

June 19, 2009

May Birding Adventures

Well, I’ve developed a nasty birding habit and I’m told if I don’t knock it off that I will soon be single. We’ll see, I suspect I can convert Aubrey.

 

Mescalero Sands

Well it’s early May and it’s migration time here in the West. The reports I’ve read on Birdmail suggest northern Florida and southern Alabama are having a good year.

 

While working down in the Oil Fields I decided to see what I could find at Rattlesnake Springs in southern Eddy County. So, after 8 long days in the field, digging trenches by hand, we finished trap installation and opened the traps. We then decided to drive the hour down to Carlsbad to get a shower and plate of food sans a side of dust. The next morning we awoke before dark and drove the half hour to the site, arriving at daybreak to a cacophony of birdcalls and a visual feast.

 

Here is what we found in a few hours:

Ø     Say’s Phoebe

Ø     Barn Swallow

Ø     Eurasian Collared Dove

Ø     Wild Turkey

Ø     Blue Grosbeak

Ø     Cassin’s Kingbird

Ø     Green Heron

Ø     Vermillion Flycatcher

Ø     Wilson’s Warbler

Ø     Yellow-breasted Chat

Ø     *Plumbeous Vireo

Ø     Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

Ø     Western Tanager

Ø     Swainson’s Hawk

Ø     *Townsend’s Warbler

Ø     *MacGillivray’s Warbler

Ø     Prairie Falcon

Ø     Northern Cardinal

Ø     Turkey Vulture

Ø     *Black-headed Grosbeak

Ø     House Finch

Ø     White-winged Dove

Ø     Yellow-rumped warbler

Ø     Orchard Oriole

Ø     Summer Tanager

Ø     Hummingbird sp.

Ø     Western Kingbird

Ø     Northern Mockingbird

Ø     Amercian Goldfinch

Ø     *Mexican Cave Swallow

Ø     Bronzed Cowbird?

Ø     Great Egret

Ø     Belted Kingfisher

Ø     *Painted Bunting

Ø     Swamp Sparrow

Ø     Chipping Sparrow

Ø     Great Horned Owl

 

We went back a few days later to RS and nearby Camp Washington Ranch and here is what we added to the list:

Ø     Blue-winged teal

Ø     Indigo Bunting

Ø     Hermit Thrush

Ø     Blue Grosbeak

Ø     Northern Waterthrush

Ø     Grackle

Ø     Common Nighthawk

Ø     Ladder-backed woodpecker

Ø     *Cassin’s Vireo

Ø     Black and White Warbler

Ø     *Virginia’s Warbler

Ø     Black Phoebe

Ø     White-crowned sparrow

Ø     Red-winged blackbird

Ø     *Zone-tailed hawk – atop a Mulberry tree as we were exiting.

 

A total of 52 species in a few hours at one locality. While not a record breaker, I was pretty damn happy having seen quite a few eastern species at the edge of their range and a number of life birds (*). If I could bird by ear and we had taken time to explore some the desert areas adjacent to the springs we probably could have pumped up the list, but a rookie has to start somewhere.

 

SW New Mexico, Gila NF, and surrounding areas

In late May, Aubrey and I participated in a 2-day workshop pertaining to the Endangered Chiricahua Leopard Frog (Rana chiricahuensis) in Silver City, NM. During the workshop, we found a few of the CLF along with a dead Bald Eagle face down in a large debris pile. It looked to me as if someone shot and tried to hide the bird. USFWS personnel were present but didn’t seem to be upset or bothered by it.

 

On Friday, after the workshop ended, we decided to head ~ 20 miles north to camp in McMillan Campground along Cherry Creek in the Gila NF, north of the ghost mining town, Pinos Altos. My immediate impression was favorable as we entered a beautiful forest of pine trees and ascended in elevation. The campground was beautiful and limited to 3 spots. We set up camp and immediately took off to explore the woods and boulders. We spent a few days in the area alternating between bumming, birding, and scampering around.

 

Here is the bird list we generated:

        Ø     Hermit Thrush (their beautiful melodious call echoes throughout the mountains and we were serenaded by them our entire time there)

Ø     Violet-winged Swallow

Ø     Whip-poor-will

Ø     *Mexican Spotted Owl (call only)

Ø     *Cordillerean Flycatcher

Ø     *Grace’s Warbler

Ø     *Red faced Warbler (Probably the most abundant bird present)

Ø     *Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Ø     Spotted Towhee

Ø     Mountain Chickadee

Ø     *Painted Redstart

Ø     Chihuahuan Raven

Ø     Turkey Vulture

Ø     Hairy Woodpecker

Ø     Stellar’s Jay

Ø     House Wren

Ø     Pygmy Nuthatch

Ø     Bushtit

Ø     American Robin

Ø     *Dark-eyed Junco (Grey head form)

 

On Sunday, we decided to check out the Catwalk, a National Recreation Trail along Whitewater Creek, where it is possible to find American Dippers.

 

The birding highlights included-

Ø     *Yellow Warbler

Ø     *Acorn Woodpecker

Ø     *Willow Flycatcher

Ø     *Bridled Titmouse

Ø     *American Dipper

Ø     Canyon wren

 

We also found a few Clark’s Spiny Lizards, ornate tree lizards, golden columbines on a rock face above the creek, and a narrow-headed garter snake.

 

Before turning onto the main highway, we ducked into the Glenwood Fish Hatchery to see if I could find a nesting Common Black Hawk. I inquired at the office, and a gentlemen pointed me in the right direction. However, a nasty storm was rapidly approaching and I didn’t want to get caught out in the mess, so I waited in the car for a few minutes to see if would pass. It wasn’t looking promising, but about this time a large darkly colored bird took flight out of the trees. I stepped out of the car and sure enough, a beautiful Common Black Hawk. Shortly after lowering my binos, a raptor came swooping in front of me after a bird and quickly disappeared out of sight. My initial guess was either a Merlin or Peregrine Falcon but the bird did not reappear so we started the car and got back on the main road when the sky opened up and the hail began to rain down.

 

Throughout the day we stopped to bird a little here and there. We turned up the following species throughout the day, giving us a total of nearly 40 species for the day including a few species at Cherry Creek.

 

Ø     Scrub Jay

Ø     Vermillion Flycatcher

Ø     Gambel’s Quail

Ø     *Phainopepla

Ø     Red-tailed Hawk

Ø     Violet Green Swallow

Ø     Great Blue Heron

Ø     Mourning Dove

Ø     Turkey Vulture

Ø     House Finch

Ø     American Goldfinch

Ø     American Robin

Ø     Northern Cardinal

Ø     Stellar’s Jay

Ø     European Starling

Ø     Black-headed Grosbeak

Ø     American Kestrel

Ø     Red-winged Blackbird

Ø     Cinnamon Teal

Ø     American Coot

Ø     Loggerhead Shrike

Ø     Mallard

Ø     Meadowlark

Ø     White-breated nuthatch

Ø     Western Bluebird

Ø     Pinyon Jay

Ø     Vesper Sparrow

 

After thinking several times throughout the day about kingsnakes, I found a nice desert kingsnake under a coverboard in our yard in Bosque Farms. Overall a great trip.

May 14, 2009

Mescalero Sands

27 April – 10 May 2009

 

We have finally returned from our long trip to Mescalero Sands in Southeastern New Mexico. In the future, we will be staying there for 10 to 12 days, but this trip was necessarily longer in order to install the snake traps – all 96 of them! With the help of several volunteers (thank you!), we installed a total of 24 drift fences over the course of 7 days. Our sites are located in habitat that has been fragmented by gas/oil production, habitat that will be fragmented, and habitat that is not fragmented. Where we spent most of our time the air reeked of the oilrigs that dot the landscape as far as the eye can see, and the power lines play the game of connect the dots. However, despite the fragmented landscape, our trapping session was nothing less than successful. We caught over 60 snakes during the 7 days of trapping and observed eight species:

 

·        Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum)

·        Western Hognose (Heterodon nasicus)

·        Longnose Snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei)

·        Glossy Snake (Arizona elegans)

·        Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum)

·        Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)

·        Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis)

·        Desert Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus edwardsii)

Coachwhips were by far our most common species – we frequently caught two in a trap and once we had three! We caught similar numbers of gopher snakes, hognoses, glossy snakes, and longnose snakes. We didn’t catch as many rattlesnakes as would have been expected, and we actually caught more massasaugas than any other rattlesnake species. We only had a couple milk snakes, but we hope to catch more in future trapping sessions.

 

We caught a variety of lizards including:
 

·        Sand Dune Lizard (Sceloporus arenicolus)

·        Prairie Lizard (Sceloporus consobrinus)

·        Six Lined Racerunner (Aspidoscelis sexlineatus)

·        Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana)

·        Lesser Earless Lizard (Holbrookia maculata)

·        Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum)

·        Marbled Whiptail (Aspidoscelis marmorata)

 

 

Marbled whiptails and TX horned lizards were the most common species.

 

As is common with most funnel trap studies, we encountered a few small mammal species in our traps: 

·        Ord Kangaroo Rat

·        Pocket Mouse Species

·        Pack Rat

·        Spotted Ground Squirrel

·        Grasshopper Mice

 

The birding in the area was pretty good. The highlights for me were pyrrhuloxia, barn owls, Bullock’s orioles, and Lazuli buntings, but be sure to check back soon for a full bird list from Mescalero Sands and nearby Rattlesnake Springs, a well known birding area in New Mexico.

-Aubrey

April 19, 2009

New Mexico

Ah, the land of entrapment (or so I’m told) and extreme weather. Now, according to the locals, April is typically windy, but those same yokels also say this one is a doozy. We’ve been here < 3 weeks and we’ve seen rain, flurries, blizzards, dust-storms, hail, and dust-devils. Oh yea, wind, lots of wind, with gusts up to 60 mph. I’m told Mescalero Sands (60 miles East of Roswell where we will be working a lot this summer) is a magnet for extreme weather in the state.

 

Work thus far has been a lot of snake-trap building, a week of lizard trapping in the dunes down South, and a couple trips to a prairie rattlesnake den out in the middle of nowhere. To access the site you have to drive an hour plus and then hop on a 4-wheeler for another 30 minutes. We only found a handful of prairie rattlesnakes and wandering garter snakes on our last visit, but earlier in the week Larry (Game and Fish employee) captured 74 rattlesnakes, a dozen or so garter snakes, and a couple of gopher snakes in one afternoon!!

 

I’ve been spending a lot of time birding, or at least paying more attention to the birds around me, and in less than 3 weeks I’ve seen over 80 species including 28 life species:

·        Cooper’s hawk

·        Eurasian collared dove

·        red-tailed hawk

·        pinyon jay

·        scrub jay

·        horned lark

·        curve billed thrasher

·        pied-billed grebe

·        cormorant sp.

·        great egret

·        snowy egret

·        cattle egret

·        turkey vulture

·        snow geese

·        mallard

·        blue-winged teal

·        Northern shovler

·        Northern pintail

·        green-winged teal

·        redhead

·        lesser scaup

·        bufflehead

·        hooded merganser

·        Canada geese

·        osprey

·        Northern harrier

·        American kestrel

·        ring-necked pheasant

·        American coot

·        black-necked stilt

·        American avocet

·        long-billed dowitcher

·        ring-billed gulls

·        greater roadrunner

·        vermillion flycatcher

·        tree swallow

·        barn swallow

·        red-winged blackbird

·        Western meadowlark

·        American crow

·        common raven

·        Clark’s grebe

·        white-faced ibis

·        cinnamon teal

·        ruddy duck

·        Gambel’s quail

·        Wilson’s phalarope

·        black pheobe

·        Say’s phoebe

·        downy woodpecker

·        mourning dove

·        common poorwill

·        Eastern meadowlark

·        American kestrel

·        Swainson’s hawk

·        lesser prairie chicken

·        lark bunting

·        pyrrhuloxia

·        Chihuahuan raven

·        great-tailed grackle

·        hairy woodpecker

·        chickadee sp.

·        dark eyed junco

·        pygmy nuthatch

·        American magpie

·        Northern flicker

·        Stellar’s jay

·        Western bluebird

·        mountain bluebird

·        Townsend’s solitare

·        red crossbill

·        Wilson’s warbler

·        Audobon’s warbler

·        Western tanager

·        bushtit

·        European starling

·        Brewer’s blackbird

·        house sparrow

·        white-crowned sparrow

·        white-breasted nuthatch

·        lesser goldfinch

·        black-chinned hummingbird

 

That’s one day birding down at Bosque del Apache NWR by car, birds encountered around our lizard assemblage sites, walking around the Herp Tech house after work, and a few mountain birds seen while taking a scenic drive up in the Jemez Mountains last weekend after a recent snow storm.

 

So maybe you are thinking what have we found for herps thus far? Not much, but hopefully this miserable weather will quit pretty soon. We’ve seen a few prairie rattlesnakes, and wandering garter snakes near ABQ, and down south in Mescalero Sands, Aubrey found a nice AOR prairie rattlesnake and a nice desert massasauga rattlesnake while I found a couple of western coachwhips which were slightly green in coloration. I was blown away at how similar the massasauga dorsal pattern resembled that of a corn snake or fox snake. During our lizard trapping we found:

 

-         sand dune lizards (Sceloporus arenicolus)

-         prairie lizard (Sceloporus consobrinus (formerly S. undulatus but I’m told recent genetic work out of California suggests multiple species are represented))

-         six lined racerunner (Aspidoscelis sexlineatus)

-         side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana)

-         lesser earless lizard (Holbrookia maculata).

 

Mammal diversity has been high as well, and to date we’ve seen coyotes, black-tailed jackrabbits, mule deer, pronghorn, elk, tassle-eared squirrels, fox squirrels (introduced population near Roswell), prairie dogs, muskrats, DOR skunks, 1 DOR badger, and several species of small mammals including kangaroo rats or k rats (Dipodomys), pocket mouse (Perognathus) and grasshopper mouse (Onycomys).

- Matt

March 28, 2009

Yesterday we started our journey westward from Iowa. The bad weather stayed to the south and we had clear skies all day. Unfortunately, the winds were strong and cold, making for a long day of driving.

Between Grand Island, NE and Kearney, NE on I-80 there were tons of sandhill cranes! It is hard to say how many but considering we were seeing them constantly over a ~35 mile stretch, I’d say we saw at least 10,000 and this is very conservative. There were large flocks across the fields and several flocks flying overhead towards the Platte River where they stay over night. We came to the area around dusk so it was perfect timing. We stopped at a rest stop where there was a flock of cranes hanging out in a cornfield behind the buildings. We took a few pictures but Matt’s new camera is giving him problems and neither of us has a wide-angle lens to get the full effect, but it was still cool to see so many cranes. We also saw flocks of snow geese, Canada geese, and ducks flying overhead. The rest of the day was rather uneventful. We reached our destination for the evening, Sterling, CO, around 10 pm Mountain time.

 

Today the drive was rather uneventful although the scenery was beautiful, and we did see several large herds of pronghorn antelope along the way. Through CO a blanket of snow covered the landscape but as soon as we hit the NM border the snow disappeared.

We arrived at the house in Bosque Farms around 8:30 pm MT. The house belongs to Geoff, a friend of our boss, and is apparently referred to as “Herp Tech.” The house is awesome and there are critters everywhere – 3 dogs, 3 cats, 2 tortoises, a rabbit, a skink, a hamster, fish, turtles, an iguana, and chickens! The house is what I imagine ours will look like one day with antlers, skulls, and herp stuff everywhere. Who could ask for a better place to hang our hats?

 -Aubrey

March 25, 2009

Saw a young beaver foraging along the side of the road in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

March 22, 2009

Yesterday was beautiful so we played golf. Today wasn’t nearly as nice as it was dreary and a howling wind was from the North, but I decided to get outdoors anyway to visit the 4000 acre Big Marsh WMA ~ 30 minutes away. Two eagles and ~ 12 ring-neck ducks were found along with hundreds of Canada Geese, which are now paired off as they head into the breeding season. No snow geese, which was a bummer since I’ve been seeing some good sized flocks on the move lately. But I did hear that Sandhill Cranes are thick in western Nebraska along the Platte River near Carnie, NE so I’d like to head to NM via W then S if the weather allows. At one point while birding, something caught Aubrey’s eye on the side of the road and she gestured ahead. I decided to run up and see what I could encounter. I thought perhaps it was a turtle, since we had previously seen a couple of snapping turtles basking, the first I’ve seen this year (in Iowa). The weather has been nice for a couple of days so some of the ectotherms are beginning to stir. Instead, it was a young muskrat foraging for grubs along the side of the road and I decided to grab him for no real reason. He wasn’t happy and would have loved to bite me but I have a couple of seasons of small mammal trapping experience so I knew better and managed to avoid his tenacious bite. After a few seconds I released him, but I can now say I’ve caught a muskrat by hand (along with armadillos and deer), and if ever given the opportunity again I would gently poke him from behind and see how high he jumps. On the way home, we got a great look at a beautiful mink as it crossed the road and also flushed 4 female pheasants.

-Matt

March 21, 2009

Saw my first male ringneck pheasant sitting on the side of the road. We thought it was unusual that it was out in the open, so vulnerable along the side of the road, but once the car door opened, after watching it for a couple minutes, the bird exploded off the ground, ran 10 feet and flew yonder into a neighboring field. Boy, are they fast and beautiful. Their speed reminds me of roadrunners in the Southwest.

 

We also heard western chorus frogs beginning to call on the way home for the first time since we arrived, a sign that spring is near. Two nights ago, we saw a fox curled up sleeping along the side of the road ~ 1/8 mile away.

-Matt

March 18, 2009

We took a trip to E Iowa to visit the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque, IA,

a very neat museum with a lot of great information and hands on exhibits. We then headed North so I could visit Wisconsin for a little while and check it off the list of states I’ve been too. I’d love to come back and plan to. The topography is much different and there is a lot more relief than across the river. I’m guessing it has something to do with the glaciations way back when, with the landscape consisting of many more hills and rocks – very beautiful indeed. I imagine the sledding is phenomenal. Saw 7 eagles along the way!!!

-Matt

March 16, 2009

Decided to hit up some of the local woods. Walked about a mile or so back until I came to the floodplain of the West Fork of the Cedar River where I shifted gears and got out of the bottom and instead followed a couple of ridges until I came to the main tributary. Didn’t see much on the way but the tree community here is very different from the piney woods of the South I’ve spent so much time in as of late. Lots of Elm, Maples, Cherry, Oaks, and what look like Dogwoods (Cornus sp?). In any case, they are beautiful and the area looks like a great place to romp around in during the fall when the seasons are changing. I bet the winds coming through the trees are great when the leaves rattle about. The wind was brisk today, but there wasn’t much vegetation to react to the wind.

 

I was out in the woods today in part because this time of year is great for scavenging shed antlers since the trees haven’t leafed out quite yet and the visibility is high, but I didn’t really expect to find anything. I had been following a wet ditch, but I found a suitable place to cross and no sooner did I begin to cross through the brambles and up the other side of the ditch did I spot my prize. I crawled through a small (and I mean small) opening in the fence already established and found a nice 8 point buck carcass with the anterior in good shape, perhaps a young 2 year old as the base of the antlers weren’t very wide. There was a pretty decent shell of the animal present, so I had to drag the animal ~ 400 yards to retrieve a knife in order to remove the skull from the carcass.  

-Matt

March 14, 2009

We decided to check out a nice patch of native sand prairie near Aubrey’s house in Butler County, IA. The site is about 90 acres in size and managed by The Nature Conservancy. The temps were in the high 30’s when we visited and the wetlands were still frozen but the site of native vegetation and continuity of upland and wetland habitats were a nice site compared to most of the managed Iowa countryside I’ve seen. I expected to find a few sparrows and other avian fauna but I only heard the familiar chatter of red-winged blackbirds in the distance. The few notable finds were a few carcasses of birds and an abundance of pushed up mounds from fossorial mammals (pocket gophers or ground squirrels?) in the more upland portion. I hope to return in the future when things are in full swing and examine the native grasses and wildflowers and search for creepy crawlies such as bullsnakes and eastern hognose snakes.

-Matt

March 12, 2009

Iowa. The temps here are currently well below that of a Florida winter (10 degrees, -12 wind chill). Despite that and the lack of signs of spring, I decided to do a little birding. I saw quite a few species of birds including a couple which I don’t readily see down south or in the abundance they are here this time of year: hairy and downy woodpeckers, northern juncos, black-capped chickadee, house finches, cardinals, and blue jays were all found in a short period of time. Crows, Canada Geese and Red-tailed Hawks were abundant as well. Brewer’s blackbird was another species I haven’t seen in a while.

- Matt

March 11, 2009

Saw two bald eagles (1 adult, 1 subadult) near Cedar Falls, Iowa.

March 9, 2009

Made Iowa. I didn’t see much in Southern Illinois but once we crossed the state line, things started to pick up. As I crossed the mighty Mississippi River on I-74, 2 eagles caught my attention to the west. Saw another juvenile bald eagle an hour later, lots of Canada Geese and decent sized flocks of red-winged blackbirds. I saw a couple flocks of large birds which looked like wood storks from below (solid white with black wing tips) but wood storks are definitely not up here, so perhaps it was a flock of another species of goose. I didn’t get enough of a look to tell whether or not the black extended down the ventral side of the wing.

 

Only minutes from our destination we stopped to watch 3 baldies (1 adult, 2 sub-adults) dance around on the frozen ice of Beaver Valley Wetlands reserve. A great way to finish off a road trip by keeping our good fortune of watching so many eagles over the past year in Florida streak alive.

 

Side note: Last year while passing through Beaver Valley Wetlands (a road bisects the wetland),  I saw a nice sized snapping turtle basking about 6 ft above the water, assisted another snapper while trying to cross the road, and found a dead northern water snake in the same stretch.

 

- Matt

March 8, 2009

Departed Alabama for Iowa. In North Alabama I saw what appeared to be a medium-sized cottonmouth trying to cross the interstate, and while turning onto an on ramp for the interstate, I saw a young grey rat snake coiled up on a tree branch on the edge of the road. If the situation had allowed, I would have tried to snag a photo of the rat snake. I also observed one adult bald eagle just before crossing into Tennessee on I-65.

 

- Matt

March 7, 2009

It was a beautiful spring day, so with our good friends John and Lindsay and their adorable dog, Tico, we decided to re-visit a few spots where I learned to herp while in college. I decided first to visit a pond, which I have always had success finding midland water snakes. After hopping a fence, in very short order we found 3 snakes, a juvenile, a sub-adult and 1 large adult. Aubrey had never seen this species so after taking a quick photograph she successfully wrangled the beast, which had been coiled nicely with some loops in the sun and other parts of the body in the shade. A young couple happened to be nearby so we invited them to come and take a look. They were really curious and did not display any hostility towards the creature. Rather they stepped forward to touch the animal and asked several questions simultaneously. Education and awareness are critical if you want to help a cause and we took control of the situation and gave our spiel. Hopefully they will recount the story to others thereby doing their part. Sometimes it’s the little things that have such an impact on the direction of our lives.

 

After the park, we headed to Tuskegee National Forest, the smallest national forest in the country, totaling around 12,000 acres. On the way, we stopped for a road kill snake. It turned out to be worth the effort; an eastern kingsnake, a species currently suspected of experiencing severe declines or extirpation (local extinction) where it is was, until recently, abundant in portions of the Coastal Plain. In the past 25 years, researchers and experienced field biologists have noted that populations have disappeared from protected lands (public and privately owned) including large quail plantations in southern Georgia, the 300,000 acre Department of Energy Savannah River Site in South Carolina, and throughout large portions of Florida of which over 25 percent is protected in conservation.

 

We took notes on where the snake was found and put it in the cooler so we could deposit the specimen in the biological collections museum at Auburn. Ten minutes later we arrived at our destination. We decided to search a few wetlands with varying degrees of winter rainfall. We didn’t find an abundance of any one species but we found pretty good diversity. In perhaps an hour, we found marbled and slimy salamanders, heard choruses of upland chorus frogs, and found the shells of slider and musk turtles. We also spooked a male hooded merganser which I had been thinking of yesterday with the notion of visiting another spot where I have had luck finding them. Two birds with one stone.

 

- Matt

February 28, 2009

We met some friends at St. Marks NWR who just moved into the area so we could show them around. Here are the highlights: a beautiful adult corn snake, a pig skull disguised as a turtle shell (admittedly we were in a moving vehicle and it was 40 yards off the road in the recently burned woods) and some atamasco lilies.

February 25, 2009

Busy packing and cramming outdoor stuff. Decided to hit up an old industrial site today N of Carrabelle. Aubrey found a large black racer and a beautiful pair of broadhead skinks under cover. 

 

Yesterday we hit up St. Marks NWR over in Wakulla Co. Saw a nice bald eagle on the way. We are really going to miss baldies and box turtles. A friend of ours once compared box turtles to rats in abundance. Not quite true, but it sums up how often you see them if you spend time in the field often. I would estimate we’ve had at least a hundred sightings of each over the past year. There are 54 eagle nests in Franklin County so undoubtedly we are seeing individuals multiple times. Still, it is a treat to drive a few miles to town for milk or an oil change and see 3 or 4 in 15 minutes time; walk outside the house or hit the trail and see / hear a pair soaring overhead. As far as Gulf Coast box turtles go, Aubrey has found as many as 12 in one day and it is not uncommon to see a couple a day when the weather is just right. Eastern mud turtles were everywhere too and I saw probably 50 this year while playing in and around cypress domes and pitcher plant bogs.

 

But I digress……St. Marks: A nice day with low traffic volume which made for lazy driving and parking wherever we wanted. Saw an otter crossing the road shortly after passing the visitor’s center. The usual birds were seen – anhingas, grebes, and great blue herons. Lots of yellow rumped warblers and mockers too. A few nice sized gators were out basking, 7 or 8 feet in length and the usual Suwannee cooters were out basking. Saw 4 more eagles, one soaring and a group of 3 (juvenile in nest and both adults in nearby trees). A good mix of ducks were seen (Redheads, Green-Winged Teal, Mallards, Gadwall, Lesser Scaup, and American Wigeon). Lots of little blue herons, Lousiana herons, and Snowy egrets. We then decided to get off Lighthouse road for a bit. Aubrey came up with a nice score, her first (lifer) black swamp snake (Seminatrix pygaea) while flipping logs on the edge of a wetland. A good day all around, especially since we scavenged 36 sheets of tin from a couple of abandoned lots and roadside dumps for a friend who said he would pay us 5 bucks a sheet ($165.00). That ought to get us close to New Mexico. More later…

 

-Matt

February 18, 2009

Here is the scoop.

 

Aubrey and I accepted 6 month professional contract herpetologist positions working for Charlie Painter (state herpetologist, curator at Musuem of SW Biology, co-author of NM Herp Field Guide) beginning April 1 and lasting through mid-October. We will be assisting with several ongoing long-term T&E studies, initiating a snake community study, and filling in species distribution gaps statewide. We’ll be “based” out of Albuquerque but we’ll be doing a lot of camping up to 10-12 days at a time. A lot of our time will be in the southern portion of the stat, in the SE around Roswell (I want alien photos to sell to the tabloids so we can buy a ranch in Florida) and in the SW around Silver City, helping conducting long-term studies which is great so I can duck into the Sky Islands of SE Arizona and do some of the Mexican birding. We will also be doing high elevation amphibian work during monsoon season, turtle trapping during the summer, searching for New Mexico ridge-nosed rattlesnakes in the Sky Isands, etc. Should be pretty damn fun.

 

-Matt

February 17, 2009

Greetings Folks,          

     Thanks for taking the time to browse Fingerprince Prints Photography. Since we can often be found on the road, we thought we would try our hand at putting together a blog consisting of a few notes and photographs from our adventures. We hope you will visit often as we hope to add material throughout the year.