Monday, December 5, 2011

My mini road trip

First off, I should mention that I sometimes forget that I have a blog. I mean I know I have a blog, I just seem to forget that I actually need to post things. So I am remiss and it's practically winter.

Originally back in October, I had usual Vermont trip planned with friends. We stay at my friend's parent's vacation home.  When Hurricane Irene struck and it struck Vermont very bad, I made the mistake of forwarding various links and videos to those same friends.  I was riveted by all this and religiously checked the Road Closure Vermont websites and various newspaper, town, and shop websites.  As it drew closer and closer to our supposed vacation, I learned that my friends didn't want to go.  They felt that too many things and roads would be closed and that they heard this information from a variety of sources. They were not open to any discussion. I felt the total opposite. I saw that Vermont was working like crazy to get roads back up and most of the shops/areas we usually frequent were open. We could even take our normal route to get up there.  I even have a friend who lives in the same town and he agreed with me.  I also felt that I wanted to support Vermont, the open businesses, and I am fascinated by seeing Mother Nature's destruction. So I decided to still go to Vermont and visit some areas we don't normally go. 
When I arrived, the leaves were just past peak in the lower elevations and entire direction and view was a postcard.  Unfortunately, the sun never fully cooperated so the pictures don't do it justice at all. I did a ton of driving and hit some of the Vermont Cheese Trails sites. It's December and I still have a large supply in the fridge.

The destruction was just as riveting as the leaf colors. Entire hillsides slumped into rivers.  Tree parts, debris, and sediment created new landscapes and terrain. Rivers and streams made new paths.  Buildings were knocked off their foundations and the roads almost always had a new patch near streams.  I will say that I never had to turn around because of a closed road even though there were some sketchy areas. 

One of my main reasons for the trip was to take an introductory falconry lesson at the British School of Falconry .  It's a bit pricey but I figured where else am I going to experience this. This also had a even pricier off road Land Rover driving class but I didn't do that.....yet. We got an overview of falconry and learned that Harris Hawks make the perfect candidate. They naturally hunt in families and are very social/tame.  We each got our own Harris Hawk. Mine was Monty and he was a youngster. I immediately wanted one and he made the cutest "I'm so excited noises" when we were walking outside.  It was like a muppet.  Here he is attacking a pheasant wing. It's like the best toy ever to them and they love love love it.  He got so obsessive he was even attacking just one feather from the wing. You have to throw them a piece of meat and quickly grab the wing out of their sight.  We got to send them off to the perch and have them come back.  Monty decided the close perch was too boring and fly up to the top of the barn. He then flew back to me unprompted because he knew that he would be rewarded with a piece of meat.  He was so light and you could barely feel his weight given his size. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ms. Irene

So the hurricane was imminent. The stores were packed with frantic shoppers in search of milk, bread, and eggs. I guess everyone makes french toast when the weather gets rough. I don't know why folks buy milk and other perishables when there's a strong possibility of losing electricity.  It seems like wasted money.  Water, batteries, and flashlights were totally sold out.  My coworker saw someone buy a small raft and we joked that if you are buying a raft, perhaps you should just evacuate.  The weather reports got more and more ominous.  The hurricane symbol showed up on the weather report, which is something I've never seen.  They said that around 6 am Sunday was supposed to be the worst.  I barely slept Saturday night fretting about possible basement flooding and the loud wind and rain outside. By 4 am, the wind and rain kicked it up a notch and I thought "How much worse can it get by 6 am?" Turns out the storm had picked up speed and hit us early.  By late-morning all that was left was the wind filling the pressure void left by the hurricane.  I was lucky.  No basement flooding, no trees down, and I never lost power. My parents who live 5 minutes away lost power for a week and the next town over suffered major flooding and many downed trees isolating people for days.
I was back at work on Monday anxious to check on the hatchling turtles.  We headed out knowing that the travel would be tough and that the area we were going to was essentially closed. We faced many detours from flooded roads, downed powerlines across the road, and downed trees across the road that had been cut just enough to allow one vehicle through.  This was the part of the state that I felt would have it easiest and it was farthest from the hurricane. But I was wrong.  It looked like a dam had been released. Where there was normally about a foot of water in the stream there had been 10+ feet of water.  New streams attempted to form in lawn.  Rocks had been excavated from the ground and pushed out all over the place.  The footbridge across the stream had one of its concrete footings demolished.  It looked like someone had taken a jackhammer to the parking lot.  The bathrooms looked like the sewers had backed up with water rushing from it. The picture below is a normally a lawn picnic area. Now it has a rock installation.
Once I saw this destruction, I knew that the hatchling turtles were gone..pushed practically out to the bay or buried under rocks. Maybe just maybe the larger one who had earlier climbed the embankment survived by holding on for hours or perhaps by sheer luck it kept climbing higher and higher out of harms way.  Either way we couldn't pick up any radio signals from any of them anywhere.  Given the small size of those transmitters, they could have been easily damaged.  We tried for a few more days after that but we never found them.  Recently we set out to remove the radio transmitters from the adults.  We happened upon a very young turtle, who was probably about a year old. So maybe just maybe those hatchlings held on, but all the radios failed.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A not so silent lurker

At this point, we had tracked the hatchlings for almost a week and it was my turn.  I headed out with one of my bosses and a supposed expert on this tracking equipment.  Because the radios are so small and weak and we only could rely on how loud or quiet the infrequent beeps are, it was difficult tracking.  Once you thought you were very near, you would take the antenna off and then play stethoscope with just the wire and receiver.  We successfully found 1 of the hatchlings, but the next one was throwing us for a loop. We would get a very strong signal with the antenna, but once the antenna was removed, we just couldn't get a signal at all.  My boss was about to give up, but I wanted to try across the noisy and swift brook in this patch of weeds. I headed over there and picked up a weak signal sans antenna. We hand searched this patch of weeds but couldn't find it.  We ended up giving up and assuming that it was there but that we just couldn't find it.  We tracked the next one pretty quick and then my boss wanted to take another shot at the one we couldn't get a visual on. I then saw him checking this steep bank next to the river. I headed over there and sure enough the hatchling had successfully crossed the swift and somewhat deep brook and then scaled a 5 foot tall embankment. We saw it booking away from the brook. Very exciting! I called it bruiser because it had been the biggest of the bunch and clearly it was up for challenges. 
We were walking out and heard what at first we thought was a cicada in this very dense grass and tree saplings.  But towards the end of the sound it sounded like a classic baby rattle. It then made the noise again and we were both "That's NOT a cicada".  My boss took my walking stick and started to move the vegetation away.  Sure enough it was exactly what we thought it was and it was NOT a cicada.  The pictures came out horrible because it would move just when we had cleared the vegetation around it. I guess it heard us talking close by and was alarmed.  Otherwise we would have never had found it.
 It's now about half a week away from Hurricane Irene hitting us.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Expectant surrogate mommies

Last spring we conducted a nesting survey for these rare turtles. We were able to successfully cover one nest with mesh and rocks to prevent predation. It appears that the predators were able to get to most of the other nests. A little over a month ago we modified the mesh and rocks into basically an upside down brownie pan formation.  That way the hatchlings could dig out of the ground and have a secure area to walk around in.  When it came close to hatching time, we stopped by every other day to see if they had hatched.  One of our visits on a weekend at this park/recreation area my coworker saw someone holding our mesh in their hands and using it to collect crawfish.  He was horrified and reclaimed the mesh and attempted to put it back together.  The person claimed he just found the mesh lying around. Hello liar! Keeo in mind it does take time and effort to remove all the rocks holding it down. Then a large rainstorm came by and the water was dangerous close to drowning the nest. We went back and added some large nails to really secure the mesh to the ground so it was like a fortress.

We got word one morning that there were six hatchlings within the enclosure. So we all scurried up there and numerous phone calls and coordination was all happening at once. We were going to attached radio transmitters to a few of the hatchlings to see where they go. We had 6 hatchlings, one unfertilized egg, and I discovered after we were done excavating the nest that we also had one dead hatchling.  All 6 seemed strong, cute, and perfect.  We fitted a few with radio transmitters and then let them free.

One of them sat stunned in the middle for a bit and then crawled into the nearby vegetation. One made a beeline for the water and proceeded to take a ride downstream to an unknown destination. The others (including all the radio tracked ones) headed into the nearby dense vegetation. Now comes time for the daily or every other day radio tracking.  Mind you Hurricane Irene was just forming in the be continued.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Run for the border

We headed out to Pennsylvania a couple weekends ago to take the Yuengling brewery tour.  It's the oldest American brewery and they still bottle beer there during the week.  It was also nice to see a functioning brewery rather than the remains of one like others I've visited.  Although I want to go back when beer is being bottled.  I didn't take any pictures since it's hard to capture something in the dark (in the dank caves below the brewery) and when there's like 50 people on your tour. So I enjoyed the tour and took the above pic in the tasting room where you get your one free beer.

On the drive there, we saw signs for Cabela's and I was excited that it was the same exit as Yuengling. I arm-twisted my driver and we took a quick trip there.   Sidebar - I had planned on a hot, sunny, and humid day and I had dressed according to this including suede ballet flats. Turns out it was rainy and cold so I spent most of the day miserable.  Cabela's was freezing inside to add insult to injury.  It was packed with people and I want to go back and spend more time there.  But it was as I expected....full of stuffed critters.  The river otter stood out as it was giving the death glare. Not the cute and happy live otters I've seen.
This was a hodgepodge of familiar critters. Everything from leucistic deer and droptine deer....all with huge racks of course.
Then there was a jam-packed African safari scene.  Note that the elephant was shot by Mr. Cabela himself in 2001 in Zimbabwe. I guess trophy hunting is unfortunately still happening.  They had a sign saying that lions, leopard, elephants and rhinos are the deadly four in Africa, but I'm pretty sure that hippos trump at least lions on that list.  They are territorial and one bite from them....well it would be game over.
I'm pretty sure the below scene really takes place in water, not on dry land, but I give them credits for trying to include as many animals in one scene as possible. Nevermind that zebras, wildebeasts, and friends all apparently line up to drink.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Some like it hot

    This summer we've been extra busy with field work. We have a few high profile jobs that require us to be environmental monitors for construction for a variety of reasons. It's making sure that trees that are threatening power lines are safely removed without disturbing rare turtles or their habitat or making sure that a major construction operation doesn't injure any rare turtles.   Both of these operations continue no matter how hot it gets even when it's record breaking.  Above is a pic I took of my mobile weather instrument taken in the shade one day.  It did get hotter but I didn't feel like doing much of anything aside from snapping pics.  I was surprised to see a couple painted turtles fully basking on the hottest time of the hottest day. I guess they don't mind short spans of the heat as much as I thought.

Most of the time it's pretty boring work out there.  You have to find a way to pass the time until you are needed.  Plus you have to keep out the way of the massive construction equipment that are swinging around large trees into massive dump trucks. Last time I was out there I was checking between the two silt fences to see if any critters needed rescuing.  Low and behold I spotted this guy.  I suspect that he came from the very close river and somehow climbed the fence.  I ended up babysitting him for a couple hours in the hot sun.  I tried to block him from direct sun, gave him some baths in the river, and came home burnt even after applying sunblock. Long story short is that he's now free albeit with a radio transmitter and seems to fancy the area he was originally found.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The newest addition

A little over a week ago I randomly peeked outside my deck one night.  At night, I've seen everything from racoons, skunks, opossums to deer mice on my birdfeeder or deck or in the vicinity.  At first I thought I had  spotted yet another deer mouse on my birdfeeder.  But it was huge! I said that's the fattest and biggest mouse I've ever seen and what's up with it's belly. It had this rippling effect along the side of it and I could see that it's belly was white as compared to gray brown fur.  Then I spotted it's tail and it was not a mouse or rat was furry. By George that's a flying squirrel! I quickly ran to grab whatever camera was in reach and shot some horrible pictures. 
The flash gave a double exposure effect and it was just too dark out on the deck even with the deck light. Plus the deck light is yellow to keep the moths away.  It's been coming back almost every night and I've experimented with different cameras and my work point and shoot seems to be best.  I haven't figured out all the settings on the dslr to get a good shot. I did use my headlamp light as a spotlight and got these better shots.

Every summer I battle chipmunks, squirrels and others eating tomatoes and constantly digging in the flower pots.  It may be a population explosion but this year has been worse than ever.  There's definitely an endless population of chipmunks and they scurry around the entire condo development. In the past, I've tried to use rocks, pebbles and other things to cover the soil.  This year they've thrown the rocks out and dug around the bigger stuff.  Mind I also was dealing with yellowing of the tomato leaves and fungus gnats.  I started under watering with fertilized water and that seems to have solved both of those problems.  Yesterday and today I went on a rampage with the deck garden. I cut out circles of hard green plastic netting and placed them on top of each pot. I also did that for my basil plants and newly planted peas in the flower boxes.  So far the digging has stopped...granted it's been one night.  But they continue to eat the tomatoes.   I don't even remember the last tomato I picked...cuz they eat the green ones and the ones that are just barely turning non-green. So I upped the ante and took some crushed red pepper flakes and ground them in my coffee grinder.  I made about 1/2 cup of powder and it sure works on me....sneezing fits, running nose and eyes from just grinding and dumping it out. I sprinkled it on top of the soil in hopes of dissuading them from eating and digging. I'm hoping this all works otherwise I may be harvesting green tomatoes and ripening them indoors...yuck.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A new visitor

 I had a new visitor to my deck over the extended weekend. It was a juvenile praying mantis.  It was not happy to see me and vibrated itself farther and farther away from me. At first I took a couple pics with my new work point and shoot camera. It does a fair job but with it has a hard time focusing where I want it.  So I went back inside and then a little while later I realized that I totally should use my dslr camera...aka fancy camera. I don't have a macro lens yet so I'm stuck with the limited kit lens, but I was able to get some ok shots. I had a lot more control over the focus area and mantis was not happy that I was inches away from it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Swamp dogs

This past July 4th extended weekend I headed up to the Berkshires to Cokane's father-in-law's place.  I drove up Saturday morning partially using printed out directions, a map, and my gps.  Anyone that uses gps knows that sometimes its preferred route is not really a preferred route.  I tried to avoid major cities and highways that I thought would be full of traffic. I ended taking smaller highways through picturesque towns and eventually onto unnecessary dirt roads.  I say unnecessary because my gps made no distinction between a dirt and paved road. I was met by a sign that said "not a through way. no winter plowing" or something along those lines. But I continued onward and made my way to the house. No one was home but I immediately heard some cool birds and was happy to be out of the car and walking around in nature. 
After lunch, grocery shopping and some scenic driving, we headed back to the house.  It was a gorgeous day and we headed out for some stick playing and a walk with the dogs.  The dogs couldn't have been more excited regardless of the constant bombardment from mosquitoes.  We headed towards an emergent marsh along that same dirt road that I drove in on.  Cokane restrained the dogs while I snapped a couple pics and briefly searched for any herps.  Then the dogs were released and immediately dove into the mucky water.  As you can tell from the top pic, they didn't mind marsh muck treatment and we very pleased with the results.

The next day was pretty much all rain, but I arm-twisted Cokane into heading in the backyard swamp and towards another open marsh area surrounding a network of streams.  From an aerial photograph, it looked delightful and full of possible herps.  We suited up in rain gear, walking sticks, rubber boots, and hip waders.  Alas, it was an alder shrubby wetland and the rain got more serious as we got there. So we turned around and headed back to the house.  Maybe next time, I'll continue the hike in hopes that it'll get better as it goes downstream.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Early in June we had a crazy period of time were we had watch nesting turtles at night. It went for 7 days a week. Thankfully we all rotated so no one had to be out there every night. The first night I was out there most of us got to watch a successful nesting of a turtle. I didn't bring binoculars and chose to be catcher of the turtle once she was done so I didn't see her at work. I was rocking two walkie I could only hear out of and the other walkie I could only talk in. After sometime, I got word that she was done and to catch her so that we could photograph and mark her. As I rushed over, she just sat there on the side of the stream. She gave me the look of "I'm exhausted and now you are going to eat me." I was able to see that she was marked so I let her be and took a couple horrible photos. My camera's flash doesn't work and it was at that I point I resolved to buy a new work camera. Hence the blurry photo above.

The second night I was out there was just me and one of my bosses. We split up at dusk and I ventured down a small trail to check out one stretch of the stream. When you leave me alone, that's when the weird things happen. Sure enough as I was walking I heard a minor noise in the very dark woods. It was getting dark and the hemlock woods were pitch black. I chalked it up to a squirrel but my spidey sense said otherwise. I kept going to my destination and headed back. As I was walking back, I heard a rare bird calling and another bird going crazy. Next to this and near the woods, I saw a bush being repeatedly tugged at. I get on the walkie and relay this to my boss as I continue to watch it. We chat back and forth and then I see the darkness behind the bush (which I thought was from the lack of light) turn into a bear head. It had the look of "Oh hiya. Didn't see ya. Don't mind me as i eat this bush or those baby birds." Needless to say, I headed back to my boss.

A few days ago we went to check on our radio tracked turtles. The new turtles were crazy far away and the beginning of our journey was immediately met with weirdness. We were venturing down that same narrow trail and heard a noise that sounded like an elk (not in NJ) or what I called a giant housecat throwing up but doubly fast. We immediately turned around and away from it and went to get a better view of the action. We saw nothing and went through our internal database of what that could be. We came up with momma bear telling her cubs that danger was near. We went around it to the road and were met with a bunch of senior hikers. They said they weren't making weird noises but had been on that same trail. They must have spooked it and we were the icing on the cake. I looked it up online and it sounds like concerned mother black bear, so we were correct.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fast forward to summer

It seems that someone has pressed fast forward on the seasons and that we're fully in summer. I am already dreaming of already with this heat and humidity. I'm not meant to work in this heat. Tomorrow will be another scorcher of a day. It's tough to do a turtle survey when you and the turtles both want to escape from the heat. They are hunkered down in dense shrubs trying to hide and you are desperately trying to find them.

But here's some critters that I've recently encountered. There's a box turtle in the top pic. It seems every shot of him he's looking away from the camera, which is a shame since he has such pretty eyes.

Then there's this hatchling painted turtle that I found that has a shell defect. I probably spent way too much time worrying about it and giving it a pep talk that I lost my coworkers for a brief period of time. Then I had to find the perfect spot for it so that we didn't trample it on the way out. No matter. They didn't find turtles in the area they were while I found a wee one on our brisk walk in.
Here's a green snake, which is a pretty rare find. I even held it (not my hands in pic) where it promptly pooped. Gee thanks.
I found these frog eggs on sultry afternoon. The sun was hitting just right in the tall vegetation and I spotted them. Looking forward to the wee tadpoles when they hatch.
Finally...this is possibly a home for ????? Too small for a bear. I certainly can't fit in the hole, but who knows. Looks like a perfect spot for something to live in.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

It's definitely spring

This time of year you blink your eyes and the trees and shrubs go from gray and bare to full leaf out. Everywhere you look has lush shades of green. Everything else has a coating of the unnatural chartreuse shade of pollen. I spent most of the week doing field work....mostly turtle searches...mostly fruitless turtle searches.

While turtle searching, I had a bear sighting. I heard this noise that sounded sort of like someone dragging empty garbage cans on the ground. I crept closer to the noise expecting a human since I was close to someone's house. Instead I see a bear sliding down a tree in the woods and then take off running. I guess my coworkers had scared it up a tree and it came down when all seemed quiet.
A day or two later I spotted these two fawns separately in a field. My first fawns of the year and maybe they are twins. They tried their hardest to even further tuck themselves in as I got close.

Then I ended one long day with a story of a porcupine in a tree. Off I went and sure enough it was still snoozing up a tree. It did wake for a moment when enough people gathered but it quickly went to nap zone. It's good to finally see one alive. The dead one was just down the road so I'm hoping this one is smart enough and quick enough to avoid the same fate.