Sunday, December 12, 2010

Spring-Autumn turtle radio tracking recap

I realized that I never once blogged about my turtle searches and radio tracking that took place in the spring through autumn in a place we collectively call "the park." We did numerous snake, rare plants, raptor, and turtle studies at the park in the past couple years. I was never involved until this spring when everyone was mobilized there at once. More people = more trouble and harder coordination in my eyes. This was no exception. We had 4 walkie talkies spread over 10 people in an area where cell phone reception was null to spotty at best. At times, it was comical. People without walkies would be yelling for attention and people with walkies thought they were talking to someone far away when in fact they were talking to someone 20 feet away. Total miscommunication and mayhem style.

Our mission in the spring for my group was to find rare turtles. I was one of the few that couldn't find any. It got to the point that I didn't want to go because it was pure frustration for me to see everyone find turtles but me. By late spring, we were allowed to place radio transmitters on rare turtles and we were radio tracking several turtles. Also by late spring, it was sweltering and you had to wear hot hip waders to get around the rocky, rapid, and deep streams. Bears and poisonous snakes abounded. Nevermind, the steep and foreboding terrain. You'd be in a dense brush area and you would see bear dump after bear dump....clearly a bear nest/napping area. It didn't give you a warm and fuzzy feeling and any rustling noise was met with alarm. We were told to never go out to the park alone due to all of the above reasons.

I had periodically radio tracked the turtles in the summer and it would be challenging. The turtles liked to hide in the most ridiculous areas....under dense barberry neck high in a wind-thrown part of the woods. It was a spot where dozens of trees had blown down in a wind shear event. Barberry has those nice needle thorns. You'd spend an hour searching one small area just to find one turtle.

By fall I saw on my schedule that I was go out radio-tracking at the park alone. We were all busy so I didn't have a chance to find out if that was a mistake for for real. I was apprehensive because weird things always happen to me when I sent out alone and I just had a feeling. But I geared up and tried to make the best of it. I attached the radio receiver to my belt, had a walking stick in one hand and the radio antenna in another. Radio antenna was wired to the receiver on my belt. I had a field vest one and a backpack on top of that. I felt like an one-man band. I found the signal of first turtle near this large hole along a stream in the top picture. I couldn't get a visual on the turtle but it had to be there. So I moved on.

I continued on and saw what appeared to be a rare turtle across the stream 1/2 in the water 1/2 out. As I got closer, I confirmed it was a turtle and not a rock/mirage. I reached out to grab it and it was really really heavy and I noticed another turtle was attached. Yikes! I couldn't hold them up with one hand so they slipped back into the water. This is when things get fuzzy. I must have thrown the antenna and walking stick onshore (and yet still attached to antenna) and grabbed the two quickly swimming and now separated turtles. It was a miracle that I grabbed them both. I get back to shore and now have two large, biting, scratching, and angry turtles. I'm now supposed to measure, take notes and photos, mark, and attach radio transmitters to them. I really can't swing this alone. It's a struggle just to hold them both. I frantically call the office (with cell phone held to my ear by my shoulder) and after numerous attempts I get through. Several phone calls later I get someone to come out and help. It's a 45 minute one way drive but that gives me time to calm down and start the work up. I dump the contents of my backpack out and the turtles are put in....jail if you will. I am hoping in the 1+ hour that I will forced to stand in one area that a bear, poisonous snake, random hiker, and the rain won't strike. The male was very calm and relaxed at the bottom of the bag. The female was attempting a jail break every 5 seconds. Each single measurement I took of him, I had to put her back in the bag. I managed to finish the measurements and markings before my boss came. We finished up and radio-tracked the others without incident.

I wanted to show my boss this hole and see if we could get a visual on the first turtle. That's when things kicked it up a notch. He crawled in the hole and announced "we got copulating turtles in here." It was the radio tracked female turtle and a suitor. So I crawl in. Mind you that if I am in that hole, you can't see me at all. I get down on my belly and snap the picture at the very bottom. That's when the hole was named the "grotto." We've been back to the grotto a bunch of times. But now with the break in the drought, the hole is no longer mostly dry. I'm off to radio track turtles this week and I am very curious if something rather large, furry, and black had taken up winter residence in there.....if you know what I mean.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Wolves, foxes, and bobcats oh my!

I went and saw the wolves again this week. This time I went during the week to avoid the flocks of small children. It was mostly a success. Also as compared to last time, most of my photos were in focus. These two wolves in the above pic were doing the typical contest most dogs owners will witness. One kicks up some dirt and marks and then the other nonchalantly, of course, will do the same. Then repeat until completely empty.

Midway through our tour, the wolves took a howl break. Here's a portion of the action. They preempted the howling section of the talk.

After the wolf talk, it was time for the bobcats and foxes. Apparently the one bobcat we saw last time no longer comes out for presentations. The characteristics in house cats that some people don't like is amped up in the wild ones. These bobcats can be demanding divas and when they don't get their way you won't win. I wasn't able to capture the nearly instant transformation from sweet meow to low guttural snarl.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fox and friends

I've been kept busy this fall with a bunch of field work. Lots and lots of walking has been the theme. Today I was in south jersey walking and walking. Thankfully by the end of the day I could basically drive up to my target locations. Regardless I had perhaps the greatest quantity of vegetation, seeds, twigs, and soybeans in my boots by the end of the day. That and two deer ticks were plucked off my jeans.

We've kept up with the game camera and we've mostly had pictures of nothing.....well nothing obvious. Perhaps a squirrel or chipmunk. I also think falling leaves and branches set off the camera. But this time we had at least 3 photos of interest. The top photo has something big. The middle photo has something middle-sized and the bottom photo has something tiny....think Pauly Shore.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hazelnut 2's big day

At the beginning of the month, Hazelnut 2 was granted freedom. Of all my turtlets and all things being equal, I think Hazelnut 2 has the best shot of survival. Hazelnut 2 has got spunk and loves and loves to eat. The top pic is it after it's release. I wasn't there at the release, but I'm told after the initial shock of being free, it started chowing down on plants and duckweed. It then found an underwater sunny spot and started to bask once again in real sunlight. The night before Hazelnut 2 was part of a show and tell for children. Mind you when I first got it, it repeatedly tried to bite me so I was worried about hearing this. But I guess after the months of me handling it, it figured out not to bite the hand that feeds you. It even got a couple showers with a brush under the kitchen tap once it started getting brown and slimy. But considering the hot and dry summer we had, Hazelnut 2 had the best life getting big and fat indoors. Here I am saying my goodbye to the little champ.
Here's Hazelnut 2 when I first got it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Wild New Jersey

I grew up watching a lot of Marty Stouffer's Wild America. I fondly remember the grizzly cub raising episodes. My parents didn't have cable and perhaps still don't have cable, so kid friendly shows were limited on non-cable tv. I'm sure if they knew what profession I end up with, they would have quickly ordered cable and had me watching doctor or teaching shows instead. I don't think they fully or even partially understand my profession and my father isn't very happy with the constantly dirty state my car is in. Did I mention that just this weekend my father remarked that he couldn't tell the difference between a squirrel and a chipmunk.....and had probably ran over the dead one we were looking at? Yup. I'm totally least that's what I tell myself.

Even though the summer's heat has been at times unbearable (very punny), I've had my share of bear sightings. First up was a mother and her two young cubs. I spotted them while driving and quick as a flash I jumped out the car, left the car running, and grabbed my camera. My shots came out awful, but thankfully my boss' shots came out good and he didn't mind my animal paparazzi action. One cub immediately scurried up a tree, while mom and other cub casually meandered closer to us. Everyone was very relaxed and cubby eventually came down and joined the fam.

I had another encounter at another site with likely the same bear that had spooked me this spring. Had it not been for my co-worker, I wouldn't have seen the bear....two times mind you. We seemed to be following it or playing some sort of game of tag. Eventually it hunkered down for a nap and if I had been solo I probably would have walked right into it. I also reaffirmed to myself that if you hear rustling in the bushes....rustling of a large animal....a deer or bear....and if you yell out to it, if it doesn't run off it's likely a bear.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ms. Orange and Mr. Yellow

Field work this summer continues to physically challenging with the heat and humidity. The unofficial drought has turned soil into powder and many wetlands into deserts. Leaves are dropping or turning yellow on more and more trees. Drought sensitive plants are withered and brown. My recent field outing had taken me to an area that was flooded and I was unaccustomed to walking in deep water. It had been so long since I've seen so much water. I need to regain my sea and muck legs.

In my journeys, I stumbled separately onto these two box turtles. Both were brilliantly and unusually colored. At this time of year with the vegetation so high, I really mean stumble. At times while walking, I feel like I could be absorbed by plants at any second. The vines could twist around my ankles and take me down.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


That's my excuse for not posting in over a month. It's been too hot and humid for my liking. I've been plagued by bug bites. Mind you I still see the visual remains of a deer fly bite over a month old. It seems we've hit by heat wave after heat wave, which caused me to officially say that summer is my least favorite season. It's not a popular stance, but I'll take ole man winter any day.
After the busy and crazy spring, I did manage a mini vacation up to Vermont. That's most of my pics on this post. Our drive up was in a 48 degree night and our day drive back to NJ topped 100 degrees. It was even getting hot for VT. I had to pack for every weather condition. I always enjoy the summer VT trips were we have campfires and the weather is pleasant. This year the bugs seemed to be on full attack but I came prepared with my spray. Last summer I found the neighbors' dog on our driveway and this year was no different. Kayla showed up at our door one evening and I'm beginning to think her owners somewhat neglect her. Apparently they sent her on the porch because she was shedding too much. Next year I'll try to have hang out a little longer and get some attention that she deserves.
In the beginning of June, I received my fifth painted turtle hatchling. Hazelnut 2 is its name. I've even got some members of my office using my names. Hazelnut 1 was caught and immediately released...hence Hazelnut 2. Hazelnut 2 was immediately different. It ate a worm...when my other turtlets were afraid. When I pulled Hazelnut 2 out of it's travel container (where it ate the worm), there was some debris on the side of its head. I tried to remove it and Hazelnut 2 repeatedly tried to bite me. I've never had that happen before. Hazelnut 2 is a pig of an eater and eats like 20 pellets as compared to like 5 pellets of the previous turtlets. Surprise surprise Hazelnut 2 tried to bite me again when I measured it, but has since calmed down. Yesterday morning it even swam to the center of the tank with its head out of the water when I getting ready to feed it. That's a first. I think of all the turtlets I've raised, Hazelnut 2 has the best chance of survial to adulthood. In the meantime, I'll keep fattening it up until fall when it'll get its freedom.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A sweet surprise

I came home from work today and was checking on my plants on the deck when I spotted this silent lurker. I had seen a doe and a fawn a couple nights before so I can only assume it's the same fawn. I gave the fawn some perils of wisdom like look both ways before crossing any street. But I guess it was too much for it and when I turned my back it scampered deeper into the bushes. I resisted the temptation to get a closer look on the ground and left the little one to relax in this hot and steamy afternoon.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Dumpster diving

It was not the typical monday morning. We had a visitor to my office dumpster who helped themselves to our trash. The plastic flaps on the dumpster (now destroyed) and open gate made it an easy target. A bunch of us gathered around and gawked at it until the landscapers' truck drove up to it and scared it off. Everyone except me went back in the office. I just had to get a closer look with my camera. Sure enough the culprit was relaxing along the treeline waiting for another opening so that it could continue its breakfast. The landscapers felt the need to try to warn me. Surely I wasn't around to take out some trash considering I was holding my camera in fully ready mode. Then the garbageman showed up so the landscapers had to back out and I alerted the garbageman of the bear. Of course, neither the landscapers nor the garbageman picked up the trash and so the bear, I'm told, came back. As I left for the field, there was a trail of trash leading to the woods. And we wonder why bears are a problem. It's like leaving a pile of cookies and candy on the counter at work. People will swarm in and help themselves without abandon. But I think I'll be taking the scenic route to my parking spot each day to cruise by the dumpster. Side note - The copy repairman was so scared of the bear he spent 45 minutes in his car. Apparently he couldn't just drive to a different part of the parking lot to avoid the bear.

But my bear stories don't end there. I ventured to bear country and had to do a turtle survey. There was a couple of recent bear dumps as we walked in. Add to that chomped skunk cabbage and cattail. Both usual sights. But today, throw in some nice and very clear bear prints. We all separated as we searched. I was in a tucked in spot along the woods. I then spotted an unusual tree sapling and was yelling out to the others about it. Then I heard a large crash and a huff very close in the woods. I couldn't see anything and I didn't hear any running. So my gut said "Bear, not deer!" I quickly rejoined the group and told of my observation. Needless to say none of the guys ventured over to that part for the rest of the afternoon. Their excuses were "You covered that area so well" or "There was just not enough time." I think we know the real reason.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

More visitors

The camera has been put back up, but I'm not the one who's been checking it. Work has been way to busy and it's really a one person job since you swap out the spent battery with a freshly charged battery. It had been put up in late fall when my coworker discovered it on the ground and all the metal hook of the bungee cords all stretched out. Unfortunately no pictures or videos had been taken of this attack, but it clearly was the work of a bear. Maybe it was this bear in the top photo. I'm told that after this bear photo, a blurry bear snuffle pic was taken.
In the meantime, turtle season is in full swing. So far I've had a banner year of catching spotted turtles. I think I have like 13 spotted turtles. I'll be back out this weekend if the weather holds.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Babe central

I unearthed these youngsters underneath a rotten log. You got two red efts and one leadback salamander (which is just a color variant of the usual redback salamander). The red efts are the pre-teen stage of the red-spotted newts. These youngsters roam around in search of new ponds and you often see them after a rain. This week we found a couple on the surface of a pond just floating by, which was quite strange. Often these reach adult, they become olive in color and totally aquatic. I wonder if the remember the good ole days of roaming around on land.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Seeing spots

The turtle preseason is fully on its way. I hit the jackpot in my secret land that currently resembles glacial lake passaic. See photo at the very bottom. But once you get past the first ocean, it's an oasis of nature that's rarely sees people. I've had a rare owl there on my last brief outing there. I even heard the owl briefly call in the middle of the day, which is unusual but not unheard of. Today I found 5 spotted turtles. The last turtle I even sprinted across part of the lake. Of course it plopped into the water and I thought it was long gone. But a few seconds later a turtle head came to the surface and I grabbed it. One turtle that I did miss (but see it's butt) caused me to plant my butt and sleeved arm up to my elbow in cold water. Nevermind the clipboard that came undone with piles of semi wet paper strewn about. I taught myself a new turtle finding technique. Since I was in crunchy dry vegetation, I could see and hear when a turtle was moving and would sprinto to that location and find the turtle. So it was a great but tiring day and my hand tan is full swing.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Prepare the ark

From this past Friday to late Monday it rained. The next town over got 7 inches. Mind you before the rain, all the snowpack had melted and the rivers and streams were full or were already flooding. I ventured out on Saturday afternoon and it was not nice. Wind gusts up to 50 mph, nonstop horizontal rain, and umbrellas were mostly inverted. Branches had fallen on powerlines and lake sized puddles were already invading the road I hunkered down at home and relaxed. Then a knock comes at my door at 10:30 pm. I'm in my pjs and see that there's some sort of commotion going on in the basement. I then see that there's an inactive pump and the basement is flooded. It's never happened while I lived here, but I had seen evidence that the basement had been flooded before. I slap on one of my 4 pairs of rubber knee boots with pjs and scope out the situation in my individual basement. Thankfully it wasn't completely flooded and I rolled up the carpet and lifted anything that could be damaged off the ground. But the trough around the perimeter of the basement was full of water and overflowing onto the floor. I had an inch or so in spots. My neighbors were less fortunate since their basements were jammed full of junk that doesn't do well in water.

The maintenence guys then make an appearance and I still don't fully understand the situation. I really can't blame then since they were soaking wet even with rain gear. I also don't recommend using a towel as a rain hat. Point being was that they thought it was pointless to pump the basement since water just keeps coming in. But that they would come around and pump if the water got too high. Thankfully by morning the water had mostly drained or had been pumped and only a puddle was left in my basement. It's still very damp down there and my dehumidifier is making a rare spring appearance. It's all so strange since I've never even had a drop of water down there during large rain events. Not sure why it was an all or nothing situation.

On sunday afternoon, I just had to get out of the house and run some errands. Very quickly I realize that most of the next town over is under water. Here's some shots I took today (Tuesday) and water has dropped enough that they are allowing cars on the main road.

The below road is still undriveable, but it makes a good rafting spot. That's a raft in the middle of the road there.

Here's another road closed. It sure makes you figure out new ways to get around.
Of course I have a ton of field work to do in this town, but it just going to have to wait under the water goes down.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Update: I really thought the snow would be over and I'd be sitting in my office, not home again. Looks like we've got over a foot and it keeps coming down. My parking area and sidewalks have not been plowed since they won't do that until the storm is over. With the winds, there's lot of drifts. Here's some new pics.

Day 1 below

Snowpocalypse, Snowtorious B.I.G., Snowmageddon, and Snowicane are all new snow terms I learned this winter. Last fall, I had a feeling this winter would be bad and purchased 2 pairs of wintry type snow boots. So here I am looking at snow storm part 1 zillion. After taking work home all week, it finally materialized. Mind you the daily weather report this week has been 2 to 4 inches of snow every night. But it never seemed to really happen until today. Of course there's been a battle between the raging snow storm and the above freezing temperatures. The result is a slushy disgusting mess in the parking lot. I'm off the check the mail in my rubber knee boots before the reported hurricane force winds should kick in. Is it spring yet? Time to grab the nearest groundhog and interrogate 'em.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

NOLA last chapter

Here's the last chapter of my BR/NOLA trip from last month. Two things I wanted to see on my visit were the plantations and the above-ground graveyards. Neither of those exist back home so I tried to see as much as possible. We cruised some graveyards in NOLA and the clouds and sun were just right to make some cool shots.

The next day we headed out to some plantations. First stop was the Audubon State Historic Site. We were immediately greeted by a tom turkey who took a real fancy to Co. He was in full display mode and was so close I could pet him. He had an entourage of very vocal cats, which I also petted. Alas, we were late for the last tour (I blame it on the turkey and entourage), so we wandered the grounds instead. Below is a pic of the main house.
We decided to head over to the Myrtles plantation to take some pics and walk the grounds. I really didn't need a tour since Co had taken one before and I've watched the ghost hunters episode a few times. We encountered some young girls doing their own ghost hunt at the pond. I even got to see Hester tossing some water (or something out of a pail) out back. Below is a pic of the front of the house.

As Co started the car, all hell broke loose. The interior light started flashing like a strobe light, a bonging noise came on, and a clicking noise was happening behind the radio. This ghost carjacking continued down the driveway but as soon as we were on the road, all was normal. The more logical answer is that the big bump Co had hit in NOLA had begun to jar the permanently shut passenger door so that the "open door" sound and light would sound. No idea about the radio noise. But more about that later.

The potential ghost carjacking wasn't enough to stop us from making a stop at the local graveyard. Dusk was approaching so we scurried around to check out the older graves. We got back into the car and everything seemed normal. But as soon as got on the road, the passenger door, which was stuck in the shut position, suddenly flung wide open. I was riding shotgun at the time so I grabbed the door and we pulled over. I mcgyvered a quick fix with some twine and hung onto the door handle for the 30 minute drive home. Thankfully the twine held the door so that I or car contents weren't tossed out onto the highway at top speed.

For my final day, we took another look at the door. I double tied the passenger door to the car and we headed out to River Road. We aborted any long driving trips thanks to the passenger door situation. We stopped at the Houmas house and got a pricey but worth it tour. Our tour guide was rocking the full petticoat skirt but a fleece jacket on top. That and the only other person on the tour was some sort of idiot. He was one of those people that don't listen and then ask stupid questions. If I had more time and memory, I'd relay the lawn dart death interaction between the tour guide and that guy which almost turned into a "who's on first?"

It goes without saying that the grounds and house were beautiful. The super old live oak was giant and you can barely see me standing at it's base.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Making it Right

I knew one of things I wanted to see when I came down to LA was to see NOLA and the progress of the rebuilding since Hurricane Katrina. We took a quick tour of the Make it Right homes in the Lower Ninth Ward. I had to use my imagination to picture what this neighborhood used to look like. What's left is a scattering of rebuilt homes and brand new Make it Right homes and blocks of fields where homes used to stand. It was amazing to see that the large street trees have survived throughout it all.
The Make it Right homes sure look very cool. I'd love to have one of those homes. I checked out their website and it's definitely worth a peek. What they should do is make the architectural plans or house building available for purchase. The proceeds from that can they go to building more homes in the hurricane ravaged areas. In fact, I'd say that any town in frequent hurricane areas should make some of these hurricane resistent standards mandatory for any new construction.