Buckeye Herps Blog

A photographic journal of the reptiles and amphibians of Ohio, Michigan and other places interesting wildlife call home.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lost and Found

I was digging through some folder files and found images that never got edited or posted from the spring.

I had spent a morning wandering around one of the local metroparks, hoping for a sunning massasauga rattlesnake.  None were out today, but I enjoyed some of the other flora and fauna that were available for my camera lens.

There was a large group of hikers following these poor cranes around.  They are typically very common in the park.
Sandhill Crane and chic
A fellow photographer pointed out some flowering yellow lady slipper orchids, Cypripedium calceolus.  I didn't end up with the images I was hoping for.  It was a valiant first effort...

Painted turtles were enjoying the sun.  Unfortunately, I have yet to see blandings at this location.

This small garter snake was basking in the reeds.

Near the end of the summer, we spent an afternoon trying for an adult fox snake.  None were to be found, be we found 8+ freshly hatched juveniles in a very small location.
Nice flip!

This little red-bellied snake was spotted on a northern Michigan back country road.  I am frequently surprised by the small snakes I manage to spot and often wonder what I still miss...

My last field day I spent looking for saugas and racers.  I managed to find the small sauga I mentioned in this post, as well as few blue racers.

That about does it for the end of my season in Michigan... I may have had a miraculous late December outing, but it is a story for another day.  All in all, it was a pretty awesome year.  I think I met a few of my Michigan goals, and I had some great adventures out of state.  There is more exciting news I have to share  as soon as I can get the pictures loaded up.  Until then, Happy Holidays everyone!


Saturday, December 10, 2011


Another Detroit Redwings season is well under way.  I have enjoyed quite a few games already, and look forward to a few more great months of hockey.  If you haven't ever been to a game at "the Joe" (Joe Louis Arena), you need to get there at least once.  It may be old, with crappy bathrooms, and seats that don't have cupholders, but it is a damn fine place to watch a good ol hockey game.

An exciting win a few weeks ago.

Did I mention the tradition?

Make sure to swing by Joe Louis on your way out as well.

Always a great night for hockey in Detroit.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Winter Has Cometh...

Winter has cometh, and has grasped us in it's icy grips.  Let the count down until the spring rains (March?) begin...

I haven't spoken much about our new digs on here, but Molly and I purchased our first home last July.  We are happily enjoying our little corner of suburbia.  The winter rains turned into flurries this evening and the neighborhood trees look very immaculate in the first real snow of the year.  From here on out it will be gray, dirty and depressing in SE Michigan for the next 4-5 months.

Can't wait for those spring rains!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hellbender Hanky Panky!

For the first time in the world, hellbenders have been bred in captivity!

The St. Louis Zoo recently announced they have successfully bred hellbenders.  Hellbenders, Cryptobranchus allegheniensis, are large aquatic salamanders that live their whole lives underwater.  They don't have gills or lungs to breath, but instead rely on oxygen exchange from their wrinkly skin.  The live in cold, clean streams in the Appalachians and the Ozarks, and their numbers have plummeted throughout their range due to pressures from pollution, disease and collection.  In fact, those are probably just a few of the problems these majestic beasts face.  Hellbenders are state endangered throughout most of their range, and the Ozark Hellbender was recently named to the federal endangered species list in October of this year.  There have been ongoing efforts across the midwest for the past 5 or 10 years to breed them in captivity, and the St. Louis Zoo has been leading the charge. 

I have been extremely fortunate to observe the eastern subspecies in the wild a few times and contribute with research efforts.  They are truly amazing animals, and I hope we can work to find ways to reverse their decline.  Establishing captive breeding populations is definitely one step in the right direction.  There needs to be huge leaps in conservation of the streams and rivers they call home, where pollution, siltation, sedimentation and damns have severely damaged populations.

  If you happen upon a hellbender, please report it to your state DNR.  They are completely harmless and pose no threat to human or pet.  Please return them where they were found and wish them well on their fight for survival.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Feathered Herps from 2011

I picked up some binoculars a couple years ago for turtling, and started to spend a little more time with my eyes in the sky this year.  Spending much of my field time along the lakes in Michigan and Ohio places me in some wonderful places to do some birding. I am at best a fledgling birder, and hope to do even more next year.  I also need plenty more work on my avian photography.  Here are a selection of images from 2011.

Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis

Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus

White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys ?

Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus

Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus

Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis

Baltimore Oriole Icterus galbula
American Redstart  Setophaga ruticilla

Yellow Warbler  Dendroica petechia

Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalu

Kirtland's Warblers  Dendroica kirtlandii

Bobolinks  Dolichonyx oryzivorus

Trumpeter Swan  Cygnus buccinator

Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis

White-breasted Nuthatch  Sitta carolinensis ??

Well that's about it for the birds this year.  I have a bunch more un-usuable stuff.  Hopefully, with some more work on my technique I can increase the number of keepers as well as improve the quality of my shots overall.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Feast!

 I want to wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving this year.  I will be working most of the day, but I have much to be thankful for.  I have a wonderful, loving wife, and the best two dogs a guy could ask for.  Life is good.

 I haven't been fortunate enough to witness herps eating all that often, but I did stumble across this scene last spring.  This eastern garter snake had much to be thankful for on this day, and probably didn't need to eat for a long while after.  I watched him stuff his face as long as I could before skipping out on the slow process.  When I returned later, he was deep in a food coma.

My first impression was a fisherman killed a snake for some reason
Than I realized how lucky I was.

I wasn't totally convinced he would get it down...

But there was a thankful snake when I checked back!

Happy Holidays everyone!


Monday, November 21, 2011

Northern Wood and Rattles...

I was fortunate enough to get to tag along on one of Molly's business trips up north to the Traverse City area in September.  The weather was still nice, although it had started to cool down.  I of course took every opportunity to get outdoors, and selected a new river to kayak, and some nice swamps and fields to check out.  Like all my trips up north, main targets included wood turtles, green snakes, hog-nosed snakes, massasauga rattlesnakes, and blue racers.  It ended up being a very good couple of days...

I hopped on the river early morning, and things were pretty quiet.  The water was frigid, and the ambient temperatures really were not all that much better. Two hours into my paddle I noticed a mink exploring the side of the creek.  This always makes my day, and I was even more excited to be able to get to the shore and snap some pictures.

American Mink Neovison vison

I was pretty pleased, and about 50 yards downstream I rounded a bend to see a wood turtle basking in the shallows!  While getting to the opposite bank for in situ pictures, a second mink (maybe the same one?) popped out of the grasses about 3 feet away.  I quickly tried to frame them both for a shot, but this mink bailed in a few seconds.  The wood turtle cooperated, and hung out all day for pictures.

It doesn't get better than this...

The rest of my paddle was uneventful, but I was alone on the water and pleased with the mornings success.  I headed a bit north, finding a few fields and power line cuts to explore.  Despite flipping cover till I was blue in the face, smooth green snakes continued to evade me.  I was also surrounded by sandy soils, and hognoses also decided to stay hidden.  I did roadcruise this very small redbelly snake, which always makes my day.

In situ on the road

I found some tin I spread out a bit, although who knows when I will return this far north.  The mid-afternoon found me in a marsh I had read a little about.  The temps were now low 70s and the skies were bright.  Leopard frogs were hopping along the trail, and a number of hatchling snapping turtles were moving as well.  I had a couple garter snakes get away, but my hike was fairly uneventful.  Nearing the end of the trail, near the march, I noticed a large dark snake take off in a hurry from the edge of the boardwalk.  It was fairly heavy bodied and I figured it was a watersnake, until I heard the tell-tail sound of a rattle!  My first northern Michigan massasauga and I was a happy camper...

Pure Michigan
I head back down south and roadcruised while exploring around some lakes.  Again no greens or hogs, but I found a DOR blue racer which is interesting, as well as a skink.  A nice end to a wonderful day.  The next day or two I got rained out, but the last morning I headed to areas I have hunted before in the west.  A couple garters later and I had to call it a day.  No greens or hogs this trip.  I did manage to find some a nice board site though and am excited for next years season already.

Happy herping,


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Perfect Turtle Kayak?

As you might have realized by now, I spend much of my free time kayaking and canoeing for turtles in northern Michigan. My goals involve having fun on the rivers, enjoying the outdoors, finding turtles, and photography. Unfortunately, problems occur when "having fun on the rivers and photography" collide.

"insert here picture of me soaking wet, with a flipped boat, holding my camera gear above my head"

Luckily, that picture doesn't exist. Oh it happened twice this season, but no one photographed it.

I had until this point been happy borrowing kayaks from friends, or renting kayaks and canoes from various liveries. I found the smaller kayaks miserable, as my legs constantly cramped up and went numb. I also was constantly toying with disaster, as I found they were relatively easy to flip if one wasn't paying attention. I was lucky in that both times I flipped, all my gear was stowed away in dry bags, but it wasn't hard to imagine my spotting a turtle, pulling out the camera and lenses, focusing on the turtle (not the river) and ending up in the drink...

Turtlers enjoying the paddle

When I was fortunate enough to canoe with a partner, I enjoyed the added stability and often would float with my camera in my lap, ready for the turtles. I wondered if I could find that kind of stability in a kayak...

One of my favorites taken from a canoe

I started looking at sit on tops kayaks as well as fishing kayaks. Sit on tops seemed a bit more stable, but often gave up on storage and maneuverability. I did like that I could just slide off the side of the boat if I decided to go in the drink after a turtle. Fishing kayaks are designed with the fisherman in mind, often with things that would benefit the intrepid turtler. They have ample storage, increased width/stability for the fisherman to stand(!!!) and cast, and often incorporate sit on top models with super comfy seats.

You gotta be able to slide in nicely for em...


Luckily, the worlds aligned for me. On my perfect day of turtling, I found the perfect kayak.  I asked the owner of random livery I had chosen to rent my kayak that day if he had any sit on top or fishing kayak models.  He seemed perplexed by my lack of fishing gear, and I explained my true intentions of photographing turtles.  He mentioned he had just received a new boat that he thought would be perfect.  It was love at first sight...

Wouldn't this be nice...
This day was epic for many reasons.  I found a crap load of turtles, and fell in love with a kayak.  I hope to be the proud owner of a Jackson Kayak Coosa for the next season if I am lucky.  It has the leg room, stability, comfy seat, and room to slide in I am looking for.  You can even add a drag chain to "drop anchor" and slow down if I spot a turtle I want to photograph.  This kayak was made for fishing rivers, and I am convinced it is the perfect turtle boat.  I may have only spent one day with it, but I hope to spend many more in the future.  I am sure you will be the first to know if I do.  A true Cinderella story...