Buckeye Herps Blog

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

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Dusting off the Cobwebs


I knew it had been a long time since I last posted, but I did not realize it had been since March! This year my field season kicked off quickly and I haven't been this active in recent memory. Between hitting the trails, rivers and wetlands harder than ever, my work environment evolving for the good and a new found love in running, my time dissappeared fast. The blog unfortunately took a back seat. It was real hard to justify spending time inside when there were so many things to do outside. I did miss the opportunity to share my experiences and interact with my (very) small viewership.

The weather has taken a turn for the worst here in the midwest though. Days are short and frost is coming. I have been lucky enough to travel a bit this year since March, and while none of my destinations were as exotic as Bora Bora, I have some really cool animals and trips to share. So if you haven't given up on me, stick around. Some new stuff is finally on the way, as well as some new experiences with some of the old Michigan favorites.

See you soon!


Monday, March 18, 2013

Michigan Results 2012!

Spring has arrived and it is past due that I finish up my Michigan 2012 record keeping tasks. All of my records have been entered and tallied for a few months, but I had to update and fix some bugs in the database (Thanks Carl!). I am three to fourth months ahead my curve compared to last years results. With spring approaching, and new entries starting to come in, here is how 2011 turned out for me.

Let us see how I did with my goals for 2012:

1. Wood turtles from new river systems.

I made a much stronger effort to get to some new river systems in 2012. Having my own kayak definitely helped, but I still got off to a very slow start and didn't paddle until August. I spent many hours on the water from then on though and found woods in three new rivers. Check! I also struck out numerous times this year, for more than years past. I explored the edge of their range and distributional gaps in records more than previously and view this as a part of doing business.

2. Rifle River wood turtle.

Never made it out to the Rifle this year. I planned on it a few times, but skipped it for weather. It will be on the list again this year. If anyone does hear or have recent confirmed Rifle River Michigan wood turtle sightings, I would love to hear about them.

3. Fox snakes from new counties, specifically Macomb.

Epic fail. I worked hard at finding a Macomb Co fox snake. I hiked through patches of the remaining habitat on wonderful days in April, May, June, July and August and struck out. I have found another area close by I want to check out this year and hopefully this luck will turn.

4. SE Michigan Spotted turtle

Epic success! I found Clemmys in 2 new SE Michigan counties last year. It was a banner year for them. I never saw great numbers, but was able to find one or two at a bunch of new locations for myself. This will continue to be a huge area of focus for 2013.

5. MI spotted salamander.

Embarrassingly, I failed yet again. Hoping to turn this around in 2013...

6. MI newt.

Still no newts.

7. Lay more tin. More tin.

While not nearly enough, I did put some more boards out in a possible massassauga field close to home.

8. MI Box turtle.

A lone DOR boxie along a SW section of highway sadly cleared this goal for me. Now to turn up a live one.

9. Herp the UP (a western fox, wood turtle, or mink frog would make this even more sweet.)

I got as far north as Mackinac Island, which I guess technically falls into Mackinac County, part of the UP. For my purposes, I am not counting this though.

10. Record a respectable 150+ records for 2012.

and the final goal... I logged 193 records in 2012, coming oh so close to breaking the 200 record mark! This was huge for me. I discuss total numbers a few years back in this post about the 2010 field season, and set my 2011 goal at 200. I herped real hard that year and only logged 145, so I had lowered my standards to a reachable 150. Looks like that 200 mark is reachable after all.

Which brings us to 2013... I am going to try and limit a few goals in an effort to not spread myself thin. I am also hoping to spend some time out of state during prime time - May and June. Taking this into account my goals are (in no particular order):

1. Rifle River Woody

2. Macomb County foxy

3. Michigan spotted salamander

4. New wood turtle rivers

5. Log 175 herps for 2012

So many others missing the list, but I am trying to focus here. Honorable mentions include green snakes, hoggies, box turtles, the UP, Belle Isle  etc. So much to do, so little time. 

A quick look at my Michigan 2012 map.

And my total Michigan map - 644 records so far. Still lots of ground to cover out there. 

What are your goals for 2013?

Happy Herping!


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Bora Bora IV: Macro

Herps on Bora Bora were few and far between. There were geckos on most of the buildings at night, of which I tried to ignore. One day we came in the room to find this bear eating gecko.

Other than these, I quickly noticed small skinks around the beach and on the palm trees. I believe these are Snake-Eyed Skinks Cryptoblepharus poecilopleurus. I photographed a bunch of them and didn't notice any other different appearing animals.

I asked about sea turtles but mostly was told we would be very lucky to see any. I guess the polynesians find green sea turtle meat to be very delicious. Despite it being illegal, they are still commonly eaten when found. There is a small turtle rehab and head starting facility on the island, but they are a relatively young facility and I didn't visit, so I don't know how well it is doing. I was told I might have a chance to see a hawksbill, but my divemaster had only seen three or four in the last three months.

I only shot with my macro setup on two occasions sadly. When you have chances at manta, it can be hard to convince yourself to put the macro lens on your rig. I snorkeled around the coral gardens by the resort briefly with my macro lens on one of the first few days.

Textile Cone Snail Conus textile
Neon Damsel Pomacentrus coelestis
Black-axil Chromis Chromis atripectoralis

There were a few lionfish that were hiding in the structure and coral during the day. One night I saw a few of them swimming around after dark, but I never had a chance to photograph them when they were not hiding.

Clearfin Lionfish Pterois radiata
This crab was hanging out on one of the wooden supports holding up the walkway to the bungalows.

Near the end of the trip, we booked one of the afternoon "fun dives", which are basically for beginners or people getting certified. I knew we would dive the site with the eagle rays and sand flats, but figured with the group of beginners I could split off and stay beneath the boat and explore the reef. As it turns out, my buddy Rob and I were the only people on the books to dive. We ended up with a private dive as we explored the reef for macro life. It turned out to be one of my favorite dives of the trip!

I finally took the opportunity to photograph some of the christmas tree worms I had been seeing all trip.

I also enjoyed focusing on the clownfish that were swimming in and out of the anemones.

Other fish in the anemones included these Three-spot Dascyllus Dascyllus trimaculatus.

This Peacock Razorfish Iniistius pavo was able to react to my strobes and was often photographed in a blur of movement or in a different orientation. Only once or twice did it stay still.

Julian, our divemaster, turned up a couple small crustaceans to pose for the camera.

Snubnose Grouper Epinephelus macrospilos were commonly perched along the reef.

Humbug Dascyllus Dascyllus aruanus

We finished our macro dive after 70 minutes of bottom time with a few nice finds. This enormous moray eel was out of his hole and enjoying being cleaned by a Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse Labroides dimidiatus.

We had seen one of these small pipefish earlier in the trip, but I was unable to do them justice with the wide-angle lens. We found three of these on a small grouping of coral.

Corythoichthys conspicillatus

Finally, right under our boat in about 15 feet of water, Julian turned up this small stonefish. It was the only one we saw on the trip and I was ecstatic to be able to see it.

Reef Stonefish Synanceia verrucosa

All in all we had a wonderful time diving and enjoying what Bora Bora had to offer. There was one other memorable encounter on our second to last day that I have to finish with. Just after a manta decided to drift by us, I looked ahead along the coral and saw this cruising along top the reef.

Hawksbill sea turtle Eretmochelys imbricata

I didn't quite get the shots I wanted, my strobes were positioned very far out for large mantas, but I really enjoyed swimming along this turtle.

Happy Herping ;)


If you want to read the rest: Part IPart IIPart III and Part IV.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Bora Bora 2013: Part III Wide Angle

Many of the dives we went on really featured large animals. It was very hard to get myself to commit to placing the macro lens on my rig for a day of diving. The end result is that I primarily shot with my Tokina 10-17mm and the Nauticam 9" dome port.

Bora Bora might be known best for the aqua blue lagoon, and the over-the-water bungalows, but I was interested in finding out what we might see diving. I was initially very attracted to the prospects of numerous species of shark and rays. Let the fun begin!

Outside the lagoon we dove a couple dives that featured deep blue water, great visibility and an abundance of life. One of these dives was a pleasant drift dive, and another involved mooring above a couple craters just outside the wall the waves broke on. Usually, just after jumping in the water, you would look down and spot 2-3 blacktip reef sharks slowly circling you and the boat. These dives were great fun.

Here is a large school of what I believe to be Blackfin Barracuda Sphyraena qenie I noticed while descending.
Blacktip reef sharks Carcharhinus melanopterus were usually all around us, although they rarely got too close.

Grey reef sharks were less common, but one or two routinely showed up on one of the dives.
Grey reef shark Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos

We saw a decent amount of white tip reef sharks, especially solitary animals a few times while diving in the lagoon. They never got close though and I only have a very poor picture of one. I was bummed we missed out on a Bora Bora special, the Lemon Shark Negaprion brevirostris. There is a dive where you can be literally surrounded by dozens of them. Unfortunately, a diver had been pretty tragically bit the day we arrived, so that site was all but closed. Another group saw a solitary lemon on a dive while we were in the water with them, but none of our group noticed. It reportedly stuck around for 10 minutes at the end of the dive and gave great close up looks. I also missed out on tawny nurse sharks. The divemasters reported they were rare, but a guy at our resort said he saw a handful in a short while snorkeling on the other side of our motu in the reef. The day I tried near the end of the trip I got rained out miserably. On our last day, a fisherman looking fellow in a small dingy tied up before we put in to a site and started talking excitedly with our divemasters in French. The French divers on the boat started freaking out, and one finally turned around and said there was a large tiger shark sighted that morning by the man in the boat at this site. They were not excited. I threw on my gear and jumped in quickly with the camera, fingers crossed. Cyril, our divemaster, told me he would pay me for the days dives if we saw one... No tigers were had.

Even with the wide-angle, I spent time trying to photograph some of the fish with limited success.

Neon Damsels Pomacentrus coelestis

Orange-finned Clownfish Amphiprion chrysopterus were common sights around the anemones.

I tried to photograph as many fish as possible, but many did not turn out.

Bignose Unicornfish Naso vlamingii
Did I turn my right strobe off here on accident?
Sometimes, you wish you had your macro port on, but you have to make do with what you have.

Reef Lizardfish Synodus variegatus
Whitespot Soldierfish Myripristis woodsi
This was a common site on some of our drift dives.
Yellow-tailed Dascyllus Dascyllus flavicaudus

Bignose Unicornfish Naso vlamingii blue phase
Titan Triggerfish Balistoides viridescens

One dive Cyril found two octopi hanging out on the same coral formation. These were the only ones we would see all trip.

I am unclear of the species.
I had found a smaller, lighter colored eel species on our first day while exploring the coral gardens. I never saw it again, but we ended up seeing a ton of large Giant Moray Gymnothorax javanicus. We would usually see a few on each dive.
Most tried to hide.
A few would cooperate.

Many of our dives focused on finding larger wildlife to photograph. At one site, we would drift along sandy bottoms, and then rise up a coral wall, finishing over a shallow reef at the boat. Along the the sandy bottoms usually you could see 15-20 different Spotted Eagle Rays Aetobatus narinari.

I had a hard time photographing these. They were extremely skittish and would turn and run quickly. The plan was to wander into their path slowly and then hug the bottom in the sand and try not to disturb them. Flash ended up spooking them very quickly, so I always shot them in natural light. Twice using these methods an eagle ray cruised a couple feet over top of me. Most turned and fled even when trying to remain innocuous. Most of the time, this is what you would see.

Which really left just one other large animal. When researching Bora Bora I had the lagoon had some cleaning stations that almost year round would attract an animal I have wanted to see for as long as I can remember...

The first time diving the site we struck out. Here we are on the second dive, just waiting patiently...

A large shape coming out of the gloom.

Manta Rays!

We ended up seeing them on three of our dives. Two of these times we saw numerous individuals and a few good moments with them. One time, there was just a fleeting fly by and I never and tried to raise my camera.

This concludes the wide-angle shooting. Stay tuned for more!


If you want to read the rest: Part IPart IIPart III and Part IV.