I am always excited to see Blandings turtles. The have been one of the most commonly seen animals this spring, and it seems like every day I am out I see 10+ in the various wetlands I visit. They seem to be holding on in Michigan despite the relentless onslaught of habitat destruction and raccoon predation that await them everyday. Usually I have to drive 30+ minutes to get out of the urban jungle, but I was fortunate enough to find a little park about 15 minutes from our home that seems to have a small population of blandings. Honestly, it looks like there should tons, but I have been happy to see a single blandings on each visit to the area.
See the turtle? The binocs my father got me have greatly improved my turtle spotting ability.
Necturus are a fascinating genus, and finding one is enough to make any herpers day.
Shortly after moving to SW Michigan, my buddy Carl had emailed me a newspaper story that was very tantalizing... The Detroit Police dive team had been removing old cars from the Detroit River downtown.
"a moped and -- eventually -- the Buick and a 10-inch mud puppy that crawled from it on shore."
I had heard reports of Necturus being found along the shore of the Great Lakes, ice fisherman pulling them up in the winter, LE water snakes regurgitating them when caught, etc. But how do you go about actually searching for one in such large bodies of water?
Well, I was lucky enough to find out. We found 6 mudpups in a few hours of searching the 42F water.
Mudpuppies are large salamanders, that remain permanently acquatic throughout their lives. They retain their gills, similar to larval form of other salamanders. They can grow quite large, although all the ones we found were small individuals, 1-2 years old. In Ohio I typically caught them in shallow streams with large flat rocks. Here in Michigan they are found in inland lakes, the great lakes, and other rivers/streams. They are completely harmless to human, despite that many fisherman still persecute them when caught or seen.
The next day I made a trip a little farther away to try and locate a species that had thus far eluded me in Michigan - the spotted turtle. Cid and I headed out bright and early, picked up another companion, David, on the way and we pulled up to the spot midmorning. The fen was already alive with frog calls and it only took 5 minutes before I heard David call out that he had the first spotted turtle of the day. All of the pictures will show the animals in situ in an attempt to showcase this colorful turtles remarkable camouflage ability.
Spotted Turtle Clemmys guttata
David quickly mentioned he had another one as well, and this had a neighboring ribbon snake. Both are photographed as found.
I found the next two, including this juvenile from last year.
Another couple turtle lovers joined us and we found a few more before calling it a day, with a total of 8 turtles.
Some habitat of the fen.
We chatted for a while before moving to the next spot. David and I moved farther away to another fen, but our partners stayed local. Both groups ended up finding a bunch more turtles.
The new fen
It took about 15 minutes this time but I managed to come up on a pair of spotteds mating. The broke apart quickly and dug into the sand.
There were tracks in the marl sand.
A third turtle, not shown here, was later spotted checking us out nearby. We started to move on again. I was hiking a small run with Cid following commands well and staying at my close rear. Like many times before I heard a faint buzzing a little behind me. Unlike all those other times before, this actually was a rattlesnake. The first Massasauga that gave up cover by rattling.
Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Sistrurus catenatus as found
Straight out of the burrow likely
Cid as always was an angel, and laid down for a nap during the photo shoot. It's hard work being a good field dog.
We split up again and found another small spotted a little bit away.
As found in the run.
I had kept my eyes out for carniverous plants all day, and I finally found a few pitcher plants.
I noticed David was photographing something down low in the brush. It took me a while to get over there, and evidently I missed a prolonged courting show. I managed to snag a shot of the two lovebirds before they finally disappeared in the grass.
It was a fitting end to a great day. We also spent some time poking around an ephemeral pond on the hike out, but weren't able to turn up evidence of salamanders.
It is a wonderful time of the year to be a herper. The winter frost seems to be staying at bay, the days continue to grow longer and there is a flurry of wildlife activity as certain species attract mates and breed, and others just come up for the first rays of this seasons sunshine.
Late in March, the thaw was slowly progressing. I got out with Cid and had plans to meet a couple of other gentlemen in the field an hour or so away. Cid and I spent most of the morning checking out a powerline cut and a new wetland. The wetland wasn't anything special but we managed to find a pile of boards that I took the time to spread out. I have high hopes for some of the smaller snakes under the boards in a month or two.
We heard plenty of western chorus frogs calling, but my curse continues and we were unable to locate any. The field partners eventually showed up and we spent the rest of the morning breaking the ice hunting for turtles. We were not successful but the first reptile of the year showed up in the form of a yearling eastern gartersnake.
We moved a bit away to another area and layed a few more boards. Another gartersnake was spotted, but I spied a better catch off in the woods. A large car hood was propped up against a couple trees. I moved this a bit out of the woods into a nice clearing and we held a discussion on the finer points of laying car hoods. David suggested I hide it a bit from the nearby trail. I located a likely looking spot that looked great for a snake or two to hang out, and as I moved in to lay the car hood I noticed a coiled up racer basking in the weak sun.
Blue Racer Coluber constrictor foxi Eastern Gartersnake Thampnophis sirtalis A nice end to the day.
The next week, I had managed to string together a few days off in a row, and as luck would have it, my days coincided with a string of unseasonably warm weather. I worked all Mon night, picked Cid up at my wife's work downtown that morning and then headed off for the day. The forecast was sunny and high 60s, but my car thermometer was reading 32. Oh joy. We spent the morning breaking the ice off ponds and avoiding the patches of thick frost. Needless to say we had an uneventful, cold and wet morning. We did find a couple nice new sandy fields to check out on a later day, Cid finally started to get a bit more comfortable in the water.
If you are familiar with Cid at all, you will know that he has always been deathly afraid of any water. Flash back to last summer... Cid is always angry, usually after we toss him in.
Today he continued to get more brave, despite the freezing conditions of the water. We noticed a nest from last year. Any thoughts on the species? We moved on to yet another spot that I had scouted on google earth. After walking around a bit I spotted a small pool with a partly submerged log or two. I was sporting my new binocs, and scoped it from afar hoping for a blandings. No dice, but we went down to explore anyway. Soon after, I noticed the small pool was connected to a much larger pond. There were large vegetation mats floating way out in the center, and even with my binocs I could barely make out a turtle shell shine. Getting excited, I tried to convince Cid to stay at my back (which he did) and I moved in along the edge of the pond. Sure enough, we hit paydirt. I ended up loosing track of the number of blandings we saw, but I have pictures of 12 of them, and we saw a good number more.
Blandings Turtles Emydoidea blandingii
By this time, the temps were actually in the mid60s. I realized now was a pretty good window to get back to the pond from earlier. Cid and I high tailed it back, and I made a call to a buddy who met up with us for the search. Unfortunately, no further turtles were IDd. It was still a great end to the day and left me hopeful for the rest of the week.
I spend as much time outdoors and viewing wildlife as often as possible. While pursuing these activities, photography has grown into a passion of mine. The Buckeye Herps Blog is my attempt to chronicle my adventures which started in Ohio, continue in Michigan, and take me all over the country and the world.