Saturday, June 30, 2007

Another turtle-ific day in the Great Swamp

I went back to the Great Swamp last saturday. I figured it may be my last good day out in the swamp before it gets too hot. I ventured in the wilderness portion of the swamp. I pulled up to its entrance, where I've never been before, and was excited to see that I was the only one there. Of course just as I was getting ready another person pulled in. Rats. The trails in this part are not really maintained so I can see why only the more hardy folk venture out there. No flip-flops and sweat pant shorts wearing kind come here. Then the second reason hit me quickly...the deer flies. They bite and they circle around your head like you are the sun and they are planets. Even if you kill one, another takes their place. No sprays will help and the constant fanning really does nothing. Nevertheless I continued on. After about 20 minutes of speedy walking, I decided that my trail was not very exciting..just more of the same so I turned back. I was on the prowl for some turtles and I wasn't getting that vibe. So I headed back to where we were last weekend.

Sure enough the turtles were fully representing. This time I saw 3 adult spotted turtles and a baby spotted turtle. Can you find the babe in this pic? How precious!
The painted turtles like to congregate. Can you see the baby painted turtle trying to climb up right behind the big one below? Every little bump in the duckweek is a painted turtle.
Let's not forget the baby snakes. I think this baby is a water snake. Look how tiny it is compared to the green duckweed.
This baby looks like a ribbon snake...but it might just be a plain old garter snake. Hard to tell unless you hold them. These two babies were hanging out together.
Another fun part of the Great Swamp is seeing all the random people there. You have the fanny pack crowd with their flipflops, t-shirts and sweat pant shorts. Today I saw one guy in a dress shirt and tie!!! Last weekend we passed some woman wearing heels and another chick wearing way too much perfume. I guess Americans think everywhere should be as clean and easily accessible as their local supermarket or the mall.

The only squirrel I tolerate

I have a long negative history with squirrels. In grad school, ground squirrels ate and destroyed one of my outdoor experiments for my thesis. It was a constant battle with them. I'll photodocument that debacle in another posting. Then back in NJ, they've more than once caused me to take down my birdfeeder. One birdfeeder they completely destroyed in one day. I now have a squirrel proof birdfeeder, but they still repeatedly jump on it and try to bite anything on it in hopes of releasing the seeds. They also jump on the peanut butter suet feeder and gorge on that. Yup. So that's been taken down because they ruined it for everyone. They help themselves to my green tomatoes that I'm growing on the deck. They take one bite and decide they don't like it and then try another. Their latest antic is to dig in the pots. Are they burying their treats already? Nevermind they've become so accustomed to me that I have to open the sliding door and step onto the deck before they budge. I swear I'm going to launch one with my broom one day. But there is one squirrel that I enjoy (for now). It's this teenager squirrel. It's more wary of my presence and easily frightened by the other obese adult squirrels. It's probably the size of a normal squirrel...not the beasts that terrorize my birdfeeders.

Naitch's real fruit snacks

One of the bonuses of working outside this time of year is that there are bountiful supplies of naitch's fruit snacks. The black raspberries (above) are right at peak. Last friday I did more munching that working at a site near Princeton. I really should bring tupperware out with my to collect this little gems. But then I really won't be doing any work. It does gross me out ever once in awhile to spot an ant secretly munching on one. They are so camoflauged that I am convinced that I have eaten ants (again...naitch's snacks..just not the fruit kind). I can only imagine what the ant is thinking finding this yummy food that's like 20 times its size.

The blackberries need some more time to ripen. Fine by me with the ample black raspberries and the blueberries coming into season. Yum.

Only bummer, if you could even call it that, is the ample seeds in my teeth. I will say these berries sure beat eating cattails any day.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Coyote pupdate

My coworkers were back out doing the big grassland bird survey. I passed on this final outing since it was getting very difficult to plow through grass that's as tall as me. Nevermind my grass allergies, almost falling into a groundhog hole (since I couldn't see it), too much walking (enough muscle pain to warrant some advil mid-day), waking up at 5 am, and wet pants from walking through dew covered grass. But they got to get some pics of the coyote pups. There are actually five of them, not just three, and they are brazen enough to lie in the company's driveway. They don't mind you in the car, but on foot they scare easily. Kind of like a safari. This is the only picture that is not a butt shot. This little one was on its own and lying in that stone covered ditch. He/She could be the runt or outcast? So snorgle-able!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Some don't brake for wildlife

I never thought I'd be the one to jump out of my car to check out some roadkill. One of my co-workers has a collection of roadkill photographs. I wonder if his girlfriend has ever stumbled upon that photo album. Eek! One of my bosses has a dead hawk in his freezer that he found. The hawk was swooping down to catch a bird (which it got and was still in its talons) and was hit by a car. A husband of another coworker has found 2 bobcat roadkills. One bobcat he picked up was on a pretty major highway. Since bobcats are endangered, he gave it to the fish and wildlife folks who did a "necroscopy" on it and took some dna. I don't think there will ever come a day when I will be up at these levels of ick. But I will stop if I think something might be alive and just trying to cross the road. This local water snake was not so fortunate. After helping a spotted turtle cross the road and finding this guy, I have been known to stop for rocks and other animal shaped debris.

Then at my local supermarket, I stumbled upon this large sphinx moth. It was already smushed and I was getting my cell phone camera settings all set. I was standing like a foot away and this moth is the size of my palm. Wouldn't you know it, but some oblivious middle aged woman comes down the aisle with her cart, nearly runs it over and missed stepping on it by an inch. She never saw nor it seemed interested that I was fumbling with my cell phone in the middle of the aisle.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Every rose has its thorn

Now it probably seems like my work is just finding cute animals and fun stuff. But nearly every outing brings me face to face with thickets of thorns. You have green brier, cat brier, multiflora rose, Japanese barberry, blackberry, wineberry, and raspberry. Plus your thorny trees such as black locust, honeylocust, hawthorn, osage orange, etc. When I say thickets, I mean THICKETS. I have my trusty garden clippers, but that will only take you so far. Every once in awhile, you'll find a deer path that dead ends. I've had my fair share of sliding on my belly to get through a thicket. During the height of the field season, my legs are dotted with red marks from these thorns. I've had a thorn under my thumb nail. I gave out a real nice scream for that. If you are the second person to walk through a thicket, you might get whacked by a thorny branch. Last week I got to remove a dead thorny branch from my eyebrow.
These poor chumps are in Vermont removing some thickets of multiflora rose. Boy do I have some spots for them to help out.

Japanese barberry, which the deer don't eat, multiplies like crazy and has thorns like needles. These thorns seems to survive in my pants even after a wash.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Bear town

Over my 5+ years working outside in NJ, I've only had a handful of bear sightings. The above pic is the only pic I have of a bear I personally have seen. Yes that black blob is a bear...mostly bear booty. This past year I worked at this very large property up near Wild West City that I affectionately called bear town. Bear town is an old farm/ranch and I've been there lots of times. In the fall, I was delineating the wetlands. The corn (diners for bears in my mind) was still up and the place was actively hunted for deer. So the guys who live there, one of which I affectionately called Grizzly Adams, would bait the deer with corn meal (more bear food). Actually I just googled Grizz Adams and he's pretty harmless looking so this guy would be his evil and older twin. Grizz Adams and his buddy would drive around in camo, drinking beers, with guns of course, and bait the deer. Now I don't have too much in common with these folks, but I know the few topics we share...bears. Grizz told me the largest bear he ever saw was on the this property and then the next week he told me they saw 6 bears in one day on this property. I was sure that I would see a bear especially since there was so much bear poop everywhere. One swamp in the back had poop every five feet on the trail and it reeked like a zoo. We did hear rustling in the bushes like 20 feet away that wasn't scared when I yelled out to it. Obviously the deer on the property were exceptionally skitish so it wasn't a it probably was papa bear. I never did see a bear there, but I sure was on super high alert when out by myself. The property had all these high ridges of rocky outcrops (bear condos in my mind) so I didn't like having my back to them. It was really disconcerting to go through thick brush. I did a lot of talking to myself and humming in hopes that I would not surprise anyone. I know how quiet they can be and the last thing you want to do is startle one. Now don't get my wrong, I really do want to see bears...just at a distance that's acceptable for both of us. Not face to face in a thicket. Today I was back out and we found a super fresh bear track but alas no bear. I think I have one more outing last chance.

What we did see today was a pair of blue jay babies. I hope they are ok since they aren't in a nest and don't seem to be ready to fly. They were silent and relatively motionless. I think I have like 10 pics of them and each pic is progressively getting closer. I could make like a flip book of them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Pretty smart...old McDonald

Nothing attracts the masses like farm animals...especially the baby variety. This past sunday my aunt, cousin, and I went hiking and afterwards we stopped at the local farm. The farm has realized that if you put out a handful of farm animals, it attracts the masses like honey. And then the masses buy their fruits and veggies to feed their animals. They actually encourage the feeding and have all sorts of other human goodies...inflatable jumping room, italian ice and ice cream, horse rides, and strawberry picking. The piglets were so over-stuffed that they couldn't finish all their carrots. And I'm told pigs have bottomless stomachs so it must be extreme. I will hand it to three goats below for keeping it real....eating actual clover and boycotting the carrots. This baby boy cow was quite smart. We were able to point to carrots on the ground and he was able to follow the pointing. He was just precious with his little horn-lets.

Monday, June 11, 2007

It's that time of the year

Been out turtling again last week. It wasn't very eventful aside from the grass being as tall as me. I have a slight grass allergy but after spending a day doing a grassland bird survey and then back in the grass, I had all that I can take. Cue the sinus headache at 10:30 am. Nothing helped and it just got worse. But I continued on. I found three common box turtles. Personally, I thought it was a miracle any of us got turtles considering you couldn't see anything on the ground. Newbie was not happy since he only got one turtle. Everyone else got at least three turtles. Then we headed to a site where there are records of the super rare turtle. Y'know the land of bottomless pits. Thankfully, I managed to evade these pits or tread light enough to float along. No turtles there at all. Then by 2 pm my headache was so bad I just went home and tried to sleep it off. There were only two highlights of the outing. We did find a turkey nest complete with eggs. And apparently it was the day to congregate for the cabbage white butterflies (bad picture below). Not sure if they were laying eggs or just eating. But they sure loved this rotten stump...well who doesn't love a rotten tree stump?
P.S. Bad sinus headache again today... I guess it's the aftermath of my hike yesterday. I feel like Lisa Simpson.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Good things come in threes

We were back out doing the grassland bird study. I'm not sure if birdman is starting to trust me as a birder or just getting lazy. But he let us split up to tackle some fields. I got the fields recently mowed, which were not likely to have anything of interest. That was much better than the fields with the grass up to my nose. I did see three rare birds and was confident with the identification. But that was not what I was fixated on. I saw this dog like critter way in the distance. It was short, half hidden in the grass, and I thought perhaps a fox. Just looking at it's profile, it reminded me of a small hyena or something like that. It had some red on its head and it's body was mostly gray. But the tail was not fluffy and big like a fox. It was too small to be a full grown coyote and I didn't think the pups would be out by themselves hunting for mice in the grass. I called birdman but of course he didn't bring his cellphone. Then the critter spotted me and I lost it. Birdman and I met up and I told him about my discovery. We crossed the street and then I see birdman looking in his binoculars back across the street. I hear him say "Is that a coyote pup?" The spotting scope is busted enough and sure enough it was a coyote pup and it had a sibling...and wait another sibling. Three cutie coyote pups all by themselves. I hope mom is ok and is just hunting. We did see a coyote in that area a few weeks ago. They seemed awfully young to be out by themselves. (BTW that is not my pic. We never got that close to them.) They sat down on the ground and started nuzzling and rough housing. I so wanted to snorgle those pups and take them home with me. I would love to teach the scoundrel squirrels that raid my bird feeder and dig up my tomatoes a lesson.
We also saw a bald eagle. Cool but nearly as exciting and cute as puppies. Birdman found a nest in the grass. These guys are meadowlarks and their song is "spring of the earth". In a sad note, we found the remains of two fawns. I guess that's what happens when you have coyotes running around.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

I found my boy

See that look in my eye. That's cuz I just found another turtle and one of the three musketeers is taking a picture. Same old story. I see the three muskateers (the three guy co-workers clique) at the one site and curse them to myself. I go to the other site and find nothing. So I begrudgingly go back to their site. They've had a big head start and as soon as I step on to the site I see a snake (Woo-hoo!). Then another few steps and I get a turtle! I announce it and I can hear the groans "I was JUST looking there for 45 minutes". I finally got a male and his name is Bob. Bob is real shy so I never get a chance to see him fully out. I try to carry him around for a bit to see if he'll show himself, but he just keeps his feet out enough to stabilize himself on my palm. Very gentle and sweet. Then I put him down and he disappears into the mud.
My other find of the day was not while turtling. I found this walkie talkie in the mud. Very muddy and wet. After four wet naps, it was still gross to handle. But every hour it improves as it dries out. It turns on and lights up but that's it.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Struck turtle gold again!

Kids I did it again today. This morning I shut my alarm off and decided I wasn't going to go out. But then I woke up much later and said "what the hell". We only have 2 weeks left in the season and I knew I would regret not going out. Thankfully, it was much cooler and cloudy today. I was driving by the first site and saw my bosses' truck. So I called her and said "Hey. I'm heading to the other site." and she goes "No. I need help. I found 2 small female turtles and I need help marking them." So I turn around and rush over. The 2 turtles were teenagers and extra cute. I help her mark and measure them. She takes off and I stay to do some half-hearted turtleing (since she had already looked). btw my coworker who was turtle-less found one there that morning, but lost it (fell out of his pocket) and didn't take a picture. He was waiting for my boss to come to mark it. Silly boy. So he has no evidence that he found this turtle and I'm sure he will get hell from his co-workers. Ok. Back to my adventure. No less than 10 minutes after my boss left, I found a turtle. Woohoo! And she was super worn down and had not been marked. She comes back and we do our thing. And she realizes that grandma is carrying eggs. You go Bea (that's her name in homage to Bea Arthur). I assume grandma by her shell being so worn down. Bonus! So newbie, I'm coming for you. And I will knock you to the ground if we both spot the same turtle.

p.s. I did wash that shirt from yesterday. I can't say it's my lucky shirt since it's failed me so many times before. But it's the perfect field shirt and it's from Davis, CA. So I harnessing the powers of my advisor Eliska to find these turtles.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

It finally happened

I finally found that super rare turtle today. It's been five years of searching and this season has sucked as far as finding any turtles, let alone this type. It's been a rough week. My male co-workers have been going out together looking for this type. I have not been invited, but that's fine. And actually it's stupid on their part because we are all competing to find this turtle. So the more people looking in one spot, the less chance that you personally will find it. So I pull up to one of our sites this morning and I see their trucks. I let out a big "Oh hell to the no." and immediately leave to and go to another site. I'm at the other place like 20 minutes and I see one of guys. Great. And it's the newbie who's been finding them left and right. He has the mojo and I'm not happy. I shoo him away and then another 10 minutes he calls to me that's found one. Son of a bitch!!! I'm going to have to take him out since he's found like 4 turtles this year. I ignore him but he walks over to me and gloats. And of course he asks for me to take a picture of him and his turtle...another stab in the heart. I spend a few more minutes there and I'm off to try the guys' first spot. By now, it's really hot and I'm miserable. But within 10 minutes, I find my turtle. Finally!!!! People, I'm on the board and I found a turtle at a site that was scoured no less than 40 minutes ago. Haha. Take that. But the guys made paths for me and MY turtles and I found this girl in an open mud pit right off a path. She's had been marked and so we had found her before. She was shy and never popped her head out for me until I put her back down. I have named her Betsy.
Oh course I called one of the guys..the one I've known for the longest. He hasn't found one yet and he's been searching longer then I have. Yes. I did some gloating but I also let him know that I feel his pain and to not give up hope. Phew... I'm not a total loser. I'll be back out again to find Betsy a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Oh. and the blue irises are blooming. Pretty.