Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dark O'Clock

That was the time I had to wake up this morning in order to be near Atlantic City by dawn. It's a 2 hour drive so you can do the horrible sleep deprivation math. I was doing a rare hawk survey that had to be done from dawn to no later than 10 am. I had 6 stations to hit and had never been to this gigantic site before. I had to play an obnoxiously loud call of this rare bird and then watch to see if I get it to fly in or call back. After the first station, the most excitement was seeing a person and trying to hide before I was questioned and then driving on the unmaintained sand roads with my almost 13 VW Golf. Should I go any farther? Will I get stuck? The weeds and small shrubs that I am running over sure are tall. Will this start a fire? Will I be able to turn around or will I have to back out the entire stretch? Can I park in the middle of the road (not that there's any options) or will some crazy piney try to get by and run into me? These are the types of questions that run through my mind as I drive down these roads.

Once I was parked near station 2, I was still trying to figure exactly where to go and then I hear the call....except it's not coming from my johnny stewart game caller. Yes that's real. OMG OMG! Panic. I spot the bird and I frantically get my game caller out and call out to it. It sits there momentarily and flies off. I then do my complete circle of calls and silent waits. It flies back to the same close tree and then flies off again. I finish all my other call stations without an incident and then the nest searching begins. No fun. The woods are dense and it's all pine trees so it's difficult to see anything. I find a stick nest and I go to GPS the spot and then I notice another possible nest in another tree. I look at it in my binoculars and OMG there's an owl and it's looking right at me. You'll have to take my word that in that dark mass in the middle of the pic, there's a great horned owl mommy. I hang out for a bit trying to get better glimpses of her, but she's more interested in trying to sleep.

Uh oh. Looks like someone got their butt kicked big time. I don't this poor guy survived. I also found a giant feather. I'll find out tomorrow who's it from, but I have one top suspect and that's the very patriotic variety...if you know what I mean. Knowing my luck, it's probably just a turkey vulture.
I get home after like 12 hours of work and I start the dishwasher. I then jump in the shower. Been there, done that. Have even run the washer too all at once. Except this time the hot water kept getting colder and colder. I'm guessing that my water heater is kaputt or near kaputt. When I moved in 5 years ago, they said that it should be replaced ASAP. So once I'm done here, I'm going to check the water temp again. Keep your fingers crossed that it's not completely dead.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Meet Jack, Sawyer, and Kate

Cashew and the fish are BFFs....unfortunately for Cashew and its freedom training. I figure the fish will be around for awhile, so they've been named for the LOST love triangle. I could make some joke that Cashew's been renamed Hurley...but I won't. Kate's the small fish and I will never be able to tell the difference between Sawyer and Jack. Start placing your bets on who's going to be offed first.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Paging the Annie Sullivan of painted turtles

On my recent outing to my local wetlands, I harvested two small egg masses in hopes that Cashew will gobble them up. Apparently easier said then done. I wish I could communicate somehow to Cashew to let it know that those egg masses are food. Cashew expressed no interest whatsoever. Not even a sniff at them. I left for a couple hours and checked back on the situation. Still no change. A couple days passed and the eggs were growing and I was worried that the eggs would hatch and I would be inundated with hundreds of salamander and frog larvae and tadpoles. So I scooped them back up and returned them to their original locations. A few frog eggs were left over and the eggs have been growing. Perhaps by tomorrow I'll have a handful of microscopic tadpoles. Maybe that'll be more of Cashew's liking. I read in one of my field guides that painted turtlets like crustaceans and insects. Sigh. Next menu choice will be some live fairy shrimp....if I can find some.

Then today on the advice of a co-worker I got more fish. Three to be exact. I put them all in a tupperware with just a little bit of water. Cashew spent 90% of the time trying to scratch it's way out and 10% of the time just staring at me. So everyone got dumped into the fish tank. Hopefully Cashew will broaden its menu of food.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Greatest Hits of Spring Peepers and Chorus Frogs

I don't seem to have too much luck with uploading videos. There always seems to be some random problem and then for no reason I lose connection to blogger. I did manage to edit my two videos into one file and it looks like I have successfully uploaded it. Woohoo! Now I just somebody to explain why the video screen is black.

In my field notes, I have a bad habit of misspelling spring peepers. I usually end up writing spring peppers. I pity the fools that have to translate my field notes.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Spring love

Saturday was a gorgeous pre-spring day and it was a perfect day to look for frogs, salamanders, and their egg masses. I visited my local wetlands and started on the side of the road I'm most familiar with. The secret skunk cabbages are no longer secret. They are flowering and it's a sure sign that spring is here...early that is.

I headed to a pool where last year I found only one tiny wood frog tadpole. The pool was jumping with action and I eventually found some wood frog eggs. Side note - I originally was going to include two videos on this post but I know the system would explode with a bunch of pics and two I'll save those for the next post. The wood frog egg masses were so new they looked like a bunch of black pearls. They will gradually expand to be almost two times in size.

I headed across the street to the less explored area. I found a couple great pools that were bursting with action. More about that next time. I did find some spotted salamander egg masses.

I also found some of those packets of goodies (light colored specs in the photo) the boy salamanders leave behind for the girls. The picture didn't capture these packets very well, but I think the photo came out interesting from the reflection.

On my way back to the car, I spotted a dead hawk. For the first time, instead of walking away from a dead animal, I crepted closer. It was in pretty good condition considering the situation and I snapped a couple photos....which I won't share...even though they really aren't that gross. I wasn't sure exactly which type it was, but now I know for sure it's a red tailed hawk...the type you see along a highway sitting a tall tree. It's funny how things you normally view from afar look so different at close range. The poor hawk was lying on its back with the tell tale red tail shielded from view. They are very common and it's same type as the famous Pale Male in NYC.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

One gem from the archives

There's a few stories that will survive the test of time from my job. This one goes back to when I first started working after getting my masters degree. I was working on a huge pipeline relocation job that went through Staten Island and several lovely NJ cities. I got to be inside the scary post-modern nuclear holocast land of blue flame smokestacks that's visible from the turnpike. But the best story for that project comes from Staten Island. The night before our field visit I had seen on the news that someone had been attacked by a dog on the beach of either Staten Island or Queens. We get to our pipeline easement that's pretty much surrounded by chop shops and burnt out crack looking houses. The woods and surrounding fields are a mess with garbage and garbage vegetation. Our mission was to delineate the wetland boundary along the easement so that they can get the permits to replace the pipeline.

We pause to look at the easement and I see a large german shepard on the easement looking right at us in our truck. I don't think my coworker saw the dog. The dog is obviously not on a leash and not the friendly variety. I reluctantly get out of the truck and grab my trusty soil auger. At least I have some sort of weapon to defend myself. We spot some recent dog tracks so at least I have proof that there was a dog there. We work our way down to the shoreline without incident. The shore is also a complete mess. It's covered in old staked railroad ties so it's a challenge to walk. Of couse, there's a ton of floatable garbage to make it more interesting. Then I spot a machete lying on the shore. It's a bit rusty but that doesn't stop me. Once I had it in my hands, I was really to go Xena on that dog if it ever tried to attack. I'm sure this machete has many stories to tell...probably a whole lot of real bad ones...but I had my dad sharpen it and I still have it in my field supplies. I've only used it once....actually the intern used it since I don't have the upper body strength to really be able to use it. But it saved the day that time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


We went back to the control site on Monday after the big rains and found salamander eggs. Everything was super flooded and I was really restricted to a few feet from the edge of the pond...thanks to my knee boots. Those people with hip waders could really go in. We didn't find a large amount of eggs but the action may still be going on. We looked under a few good logs and didn't find any adult salamanders, so they may still be getting some action in the pond. Hopefully no one squished any salamanders while walking around the pond. That's the type of stuff I don't like to think about.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Let the games begin

Spring has sprung in the salamander and frog world. Frog eggs have already been spotted in central NJ. So that marked the beginning of the fun time of year at work. Friday we went out looking for a rare salamander. They travel from the woods down to ponds to lay their eggs. We went to what's known as a "control site" where there's a known population of this rare salamander. There were no eggs in the pond yet and we had searched under logs around the pond with no success. We were about to give up and it was really raining at this point. I just wasn't ready to leave and give up when I said that we should walk to the next pond just for comparison (and to make sure we were at the correct pond...which I had a 90% confidence). On the way there, we stopped by a larger log aka an actual fallen tree, when we found one hiding out beneath it. The salamanders are still enroute to the pond and are taken cover under logs in the surrounding woods. So we were excited and scoured under more logs and found three more. I'd like to think I had a hand in finding at least two since I grabbed the first one under a log that I liked the looks of. The second one was found under a log I liked but couldn't lift. So I had two guys come help me. It became like potato chips. You said just one more log and then we can go....but that went on for awhile. Unfortunately the best logs are ones I really can't move so that limits my luck in finding them.

It's pouring now and during the night that's when the action will really be on. So I may go out to the road that goes through my local wetland to see what sort of action is going on. I remember way back in the day driving through the Great Swamp where there would just be thousands of frogs jumping around on the road. I'd love to see that spectacle again.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Goodbye winter?

I was out all day in the field. It was a delightfully warm day but overall quite boring. So boring that I won't even bother showing any pics taken today.

But on saturday after the sheep visit, we got hit by a few snow squalls. I experienced for the first time the same smell that comes after the first rain. It must be a combo of wet pavement and all the pollutants being pulled out of the air. It was quite warm so there was no way the snow was going to stick. But it was enough to freak out my elderly neighbors who thought it was a snow storm coming.

This recent squall reminded me of a time a few years back that must have been in late March. Frog and salamander eggs were already out, but it was snowing like there was no tomorrow. We were unprepared so we didn't have winter jackets. It was freezing and practically a white-out, but we had to check for frog and salamander eggs in these ponds. The snow was sticking too. I'd say there was at least an inch on the ground. Then after an hour of this it finally stopped and got real warm. By the time we left, there was no snow left.

I put my snow shovel back in the basement. That's the cue for a blizzard.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Sheep can jump

I was getting back from harvesting some firewood at my parents place. On my way back, I was drove past the bagel eating sheep and saw that three sheep had escaped. The three escapees were in road or right next to it. Two were eating grass in someone's lawn and the third was eating the deliciousness of salt and dirt covered leaves, twigs, and road debris along the road edge. Apparently not the brightest or more discerning of the three. I stopped my car and tried to find the hole in the fence. All I found was a slightly bent over section of fence that they must have jumped or walked over. They must be rams, because there was a bit of competition between two of them and I really don't see how ewes with lambs would jump a fence that the lambs would not be able to. I was debating whether to stop by the house to let the people know about the sheep, but it didn't look like anyone was home. Besides I think their neighbors must be used to this sort of antics and can maybe even herd the sheep back in.
The rest of the herd was hanging out in the corner and baaing a bunch.