Buckeye Herps Blog

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

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Michigan Results 2011

I have finally wrapped up Michigan for 2011 as well.  I had mentally thought this was a banner year, but was surprised to see myself fall short in a few categories.  Here were my goals for this year, as well as my Ohio results.

Michigan Goals 2011

1. Oakland County massasaugas at new locals.

Check. I added one new Oakland County local, but struck out at many more.

2. SE Michigan spotted turtle

Epic fail. Luckily, there is always next year...

3. Wood turtle from a new river system

Check.  It looks like I paddled 5 times last year.  3 of them were new rivers, all of which I found at least one turtle.  One trip I paddled a couple new sections of a previous river, but a few counties over.  We scored one turtle.  The last day, I once again paddled the Rifle River.  This river historically had wood turtles, but it is unclear if they are still present.  This was once again a failure.

4. MI spotted salamander.

Laughably, epic fail.
5. MI newt (?!??!)

Laughably, epic fail. This is actually humorous.
6. 200 + record year
(reaching 300 or 400 is possible in Ohio, but I expect it to be difficult in MI due to the much shorter field season and much lower diversity.  I just don't see the same numbers of animals as I did in Ohio)

Epic fail.  Sadly.  I worked hard this year and I thought for sure I would hit 200.  I ended up around the 145 mark!  Makes me wonder how I ever saw 300-400 a year in Ohio.  Looking back, I recorded 0 herps in March due to being in Hawaii.  This hurt.  It also looks like I didn't herp once in August.  Ouch.  I had just returned from Arizona in July to a newly purchased home.  Molly probably would have killed me, but I should have gotten out once or twice...

7. Lay tin.  Check.  I purchased and put out a few car hoods.  None of which have produced a year later. I need to get more aggressive on this front.

8. MI box turtle.  Epic fail.  I never got over to where they are a bit more common, but I keep hoping to stumble across one in the SE.

All in all, not a terrible year.  The wood turtling definitely kept things honorable.

So for 2012.  The goals I have been working on.

1.  Wood turtles from new river systems.
2.  Rifle River wood turtle.
3.  Fox snakes from new counties, specifically Macomb.
4.  SE Michigan Spotted turtle
5.  MI spotted salamander.
6.  MI newt.
7.  Lay more tin.  More tin.
8.  MI Box turtle.
9.  Herp the UP (a western fox, wood turtle, or mink frog would make this even more sweet.)
10. Record a respectable 150+ records for 2012.

2012 is more than half over and I have been working hard on a bunch of these.  Sadly, I have a ways to go.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ohio 2011 Goals - The results are in!

I made a post two winters ago now discussing goals I had set for myself for 2011 in Ohio and Michigan.  Well I am finally slogging through my data, admittedly during the wrong time of the year, and had finished up the Ohio portion. 

For Ohio 2011.

1. Herp with Carl and Brian a couple solid days this spring.  Check!
2. 50 records. Epic Fail! Although 30+ records was better than my last 2 years combined.
3. Get one of the last remaining animals I have yet to see that occur in Ohio. The ones I have left to see are short-headed garter snake (tried in 2006, 2010), Copperbellied watersnake (tried in 2007), Ouachita Map turtle (tried in 2006) and southern leopard frog. Epic Fail!  I didn't actually try for anything of these, but maybe some day...

My Michigan data for 2011 is wrapping up pretty nicely though.  It was a very good year in the field for me in Michigan and on a couple travels. I hope to be done with it soon.  My Michigan and Ohio 2012 data are looking pretty miserable.  The weather and work has made this season fairly difficult.  I still have August and September to try and salvage some of the paddling stuff, I just need people to paddle with...  Maybe I shouldn't be wasting time in the summer on field notes?

Who wants to come up and paddle Michigan?


Monday, July 23, 2012

Michigan Cougars!

A couple of summers ago I was exploring some areas of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in NW Michigan.  I was surprised to notice signs in a few of the parking areas mentioning the presence of cougars in the area.  I couldn't help but think, "Really, cougars here?"  Upon further investigation, I was fascinated to find out that every year or two there are a trickle of cougar sightings in Michigan, although most of them seem to occur in the Upper Peninsula.

A few days ago a remarkable photograph showed up in a number of news stories.

This big cat was photographed via trail cam on private property in Marquette County, Michigan.  The photo was released by the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy.  Pretty cool stuff if you ask me.  If you look into the issue more, it turns out there a few organizations that keep track of cougar sightings in Michigan, and there are a number of trail cam pics, tracks, hair samples, etc which have all been identified as cougars!

The DNR website states they were all extirpated at the turn of the century in the 1900s, but it does acknowledge sightings and provides a place to report any possible sightings.  Cougars are currently listed as Endangered in Michigan.  They even have a Michigan Cougar FAQ page.

You can also visit www.savethecougar.org for an updated account of Michigan cougar sightings.  Many are up north, and some have pictures, but I was shocked to see a number of "sightings" from southern counties like Macomb, Clinton, Oakland and Washtenaw.  I find a few of these hard to swallow a bit...

I love when our outdoors areas really feel wild.  I might be in the minority, but having native cougars and wolves in Michigan is pretty darn cool.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sand Prairies of Illinois

Eastern Illinois is blessed with a remnant sand prairie that is a relic of forgotten days.  It seems that as glaciers melted a large flood event occured that also led to the formation of the Kankakee River.  As flood waters receded, large deposits of sand were deposited forming sand prairies.  Many western species of plants and animals call these now disjointed islands home.

I was in Chicago for a conference in early May and decided to try and take another pilgrimage to visit these sand prairies along the banks of the Kankakee River in eastern Illinois and western Indiana.  I had visited once before, I think back in 2005 or 2006 and was relatively unsuccessful.  I hoped maybe this trip would be different.

I was driving to some of the first locations early in the morning, and just starting to enter good habitat, when I saw a serpentine shape working its way across the road.

Western Slender Glass Lizard -  Ophisaurus attenuatus attenuatus
It wasn't a snake, but it was even cooler.  I hadn't seen a glass lizard in 7 or 8 years and was real happy to come across this one.  This is one of the sand prairie specialists.

I spent most of the day searching for trash and abandoned debris to search for snakes.  Despite temperatures in the mid70s, low80s and a partly cloudy sky the day remained pretty slow.  Six-lined Racerunners Aspidosaurus sexlineatus viridis were scurrying about the grasses, although I didn't bother to photograph any.

Later in the morning, I finally started to have some success, flipping some ugly blue racers and milk snakes.  Michigan's representatives of both species are much prettier.

"Blue" Racer Coluber constrictor foxi
The day continued to creep on without my main target being acquired.  I sorted through plenty of junk and tried to walk some more appropriate habitat without any luck.  Finally, in the late afternoon I decided to turn down one other road that appeared the same as all the rest.  I found a place to explore, and quickly turned up my fourth or fifth racer of the day.  The site was no different than all the others, and even had less junk to explore.  I walked up on a board though, and flipped it to find my goal for the day.

Bull Snake Pituophis catenifer sayi
This was a very large individual and not at all cooperative for photos.  I found one other board near a shack, and in short order, I had my second bullsnake of the day!

It was a great end to a slow day.  I happily called it quits and started to head back to the windy city.  Bullsnakes rock!


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Spring Spotteds!

I mentioned in an earlier post how I have such bad luck finding Spotted Salamanders, Ambystoma maculatum, since moving to Michigan.  In a turn of that luck, Spotted Turtles, Clemmys guttata, have been a little easier to turn up. They are never an easy animal to find (Well, in other parts of the state you practically trip over them) but I managed to spot a few of these throughout the spring in different areas of the state.  The turtles are fairly skittish, but I have had luck spotting them basking with binoculars and then getting distant voucher photographs.  Sometimes, I even manage to sneak up on them!

 I started off my spotted bonanza late in March when we had a week of temps in the 80s.  I headed to a county and area I had never hunted before with spotted turtles on the brain.  After driving around for a while checking out possible wetlands, I noticed this turtle basking.

Upon trying to get a little closer, the turtle slipped away.  I was checking out the edge of the wetlands, and noticed another turtle basking in the shallow water.

The turtle didn't move during the photosession and was left exactly how it was found.

I struck out on a few different outings during April, but finally hit gold and found a turtle on a tip from a friend.  He had recommended checking out a nice wetland, although he hasn't seen anything there.  I had actually hunted the area and the wetland back in the fall of 2008, but it had fallen off my radar.  After being unsuccessful most of the morning, I noticed an interesting looking turtle basking on a tussock through my binoculars.

I had my suspicions right away, but it had been a cloudy day and I couldn't quite make out any spots or flashes of color initially.  I stealthily crept closer to finally confirm the ID of the turtle, which is no small feat considering my large stature.  This has been my best find of the year so far, and made my spring because of the location the turtle was found.  I noticed plenty of painted turtles, a bunch of blandings and a snapping turtle but no other spotted turtles were found.

I returned a few days later to try and find more turtles.  The same turtle was basking in the duckweed close to it's location a few days prior.  I was able to identify it by comparing the markings on the head with the previous pictures.

I was still unable to find any other turtles in the area, despite it being extensive.  I returned again about a week or two later with the guy who recommended I check out the area.  He was pretty excited his tip worked out, and we were excited to try and find some more turtles.  Initially only the resident blandings and painteds were noticed, but on the hike out we noticed a flash of orange!

A second turtle!

 So at least there are two!  Hopefully, this small population will continue to persist.  There is extensive wetlands in the area, and although it isn't traditional spotted turtle habitat, it is on state owned land.

In May I had a conference in Chicago, so I decided to check out a few areas in the western side of the state on my drive over.  I basically just chose a few preserves off the map and decided to scout them out.  The first spot is a city park, and has extensive wetlands and bogs, although they are separated by a few roads.  Hiking in was unsuccessful, but I finally noted a turtle with some yellow through my bins.

Painted turtle obscuring a more interesting turtle...
I crept closer, and the painted turtle bailed.

I checked out the bog, which looked amazing, but got skunked.  I moved locations to another county farther west.  It led to a friendly run in with law enforcement, but they were mostly just checking to see that I wasn't poaching or dumping trash.  It's good to see some local wildlife officers keeping tabs on some of the more vulnerable species.  We chatted about herps for a bit and I moved on to a third site.  This site was also basically a bust.  It turned out to have known massasaugas, box turtles and spotted turtles, but I just found tons of painteds and snapping turtle.  Again on the hike out, I came to a pond where I checked out the many turtle heads sticking up and only noticed painteds.  Just before leaving, I spotted a turtle with a yellow chin, and assumed it was a young blandings turtle.  It was climbing out onto a small log, so I snapped a few photos for ID purposes and moved on.  Upon reviewing the photos a few days later I noticed the turtle's head was not typical of a blandings, and that there was color on the back of the head as well.  It wasn't a young blandings, it was another spotted turtle!

Super zoomed craptastic but identifiable picture!
 I herped a bit around Chicago-land, but that story can wait for another day.  On the way home, I checked out another location I chose off the map that I thought might look good.  The place looked perfect!  I can't wait to return, but when I was there it was dark and overcast, with intermittent rain and temps in the low 50s.  No turtles were found, but I am excited to return next spring.  The place had a nice population of pitcher plants, and I also spotted a young watersnake basking in the marl.

As the summer is now blistering hot and dry, most of the turtles are smartly aestivating.  I already can't wait for another spotted spring!

Happy herping!


Roadcruising Riffs 16

My computer is back up and running, although still with some major issues.  I just finished working through and editing a few months of photos though and will start getting them up and getting the blog going again.  In the meantime, enjoy some Imagine Dragons.  My favorite song is actually "Demons", but there doesn't appear to be a video for it.

Happy Herping!