Buckeye Herps Blog

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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Costa Rica 2014: Part 1

You can see Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4 here.

If you have read some past posts, you probably know that Carl and I try to get together for a trip once every year or two. Sometimes, it is just a long weekend, but usually we sneak away for a week or so. 

This year I wanted to do something before my son was born. Call it a "last hurrah" of sorts. My brother Brian was spending the year down in Costa Rica conducting his PhD research on leaf litter frogs and human parasites, so why not take advantage of that and join him?

We visited near the end of June, 2014. The World Cup was in full swing and Brian had been there long enough to welcome visitors. Beckett was due in late August, and Carl had wrapped up his teaching responsibilities for the semester. It seemed like as good of a time as any to make the trek.

We chose to limit our travel and mostly stay on site at La Selva Biological Station where Brian was working. We looked into visiting an ecolodge or ecoresort later in the week for a few days, but ended up camping out at La Selva due to the cheap cost and ease of it all. We did commit to a night at another site on the last day, which was a nice change of pace.

I flew in a day earlier than Carl, sorted out the rental car, and fought my way through the back roads to La Selva. 

La Selva Biological Station was our home for the week.

I settled in, grabbed dinner and met some of Brian's friends. I was eager to hit the field though, and shortly after night fell, Brian and I headed to a stream he thought would harbor glass frogs.

Right outside his office I noticed this Masked Treefrog, Smilisca phaeota.

We set out on the trails and quickly were seeing many of the typical subjects. We flipped this sleeping Central American Whiptail Ameiva festiva.

I was elated to spot one of this frogs though, something I had missed four years ago.

Warszewitsch's Frog Rana warszewitschii
Almirante Robber Frog Craugastor talamancae
Almirante Robber Frog Craugastor talamancae
Almirante Robber Frog Craugastor talamancae
We were working our way to our destination, a nice first order stream, when Brian spotted two really stinking cool lizards in the trees.

Casque-headed Lizard Corytophanes cristatus
Shortly after arriving in the stream, Brian found one of our targets, the Spiny Cochran Frog Teratohyla spinosa. We would see 12 of these frogs this night, and hear many more calling.

More spinosa.

We also saw one Emerald Glass Frog Espadarana prosoblepon.

Chirriqui Robber Frog Pristimantis cruentus
I was photographing a glass frog and looked up to see this cool snake moving through a tree.

Stejneger's Snail Sucker Sibon longifrenis
We saw a couple Cat-eyed Snakes, a large Fer-de-lance and various frogs on the hike back out. A nice first night!

On the second day we got up early to head back into San Jose and pick up Carl from the airport. Both trips into town and back out went without any major issues. We were soon showing Carl around La Selva and photographing the "common" stuff. Carl and I were housed a little farther off site in a row of cabins that were more tradition "rooms" with private bathrooms. Brian had a cabin to himself most of the year, but did share a bathroom. I forgot the name of our cabins now... It was cool because it forced you to walk 3/4 of a mile to and from the main cafeteria and lab clearing and you ended up herping/birding more. After two days of hiking our asses off and essentially stumbling into the lab clearing very late at night, we started driving to and from the cafeteria. "Lazy" Gringos!

After settling in, we headed to la comedor (dining room) for lunch. We took our time on the walk in and kept our cameras out for some of the daytime animals that were out and about.

Strawberry Poison Dar Frog Oophaga pumilio
Neotropical Green Anole Norops biporcatus
a young Salmon-bellied Racer Mastigodryas melanonomus
Redback Coffee Snake Ninia sebae
Noble's Robber Frog Craugaster noblei
We then set out to a few of Brian's study plots.  A very quick and dirty version is that Brian marked out study plots under different species of trees and then counted as many reptiles and amphibians, and mark and recaptured them, throughout his plots, all year long. 

One of Brian's favorite dirt frog, Bransford's Robber Frog Craugastor bransfordii.

This frog is pretty variable in coloration. Brian asked me to try and photograph a few of the different morphs for him.

These eggs were in one of Bri's plots. Not sure what they are?

While exploring along a stream we came across this Green and Black Poison Dart Frog, Dendrobates auratus. These seem to have an expanding range at La Selva.

Wet Forest Toad Bufo melanochlorus
We hiked up on a swamp that had two calls in an active chorus. One of the frogs was an unIDd Smilisca species. The other was a large breeding congregation of Southern Narrow-mouth Toads Gastrophryne pictiventris.

We headed back in to charge our batteries, and enjoy a hot meal. After dusk fell we headed back out to the swamp. On the hike in we walked right under this trogon. I believe it is a Black-throated Trogon Trogon rufus.

The swamp was alive with activity. We saw a number Olive Snouted Treefrogs Scinax elaeochrous.

There was lots of evidence of recent breeding activity, as seen by recent egg masses of Costa Rica's charismatic Red-eyed Treefrogs.

Red-eyed Treefrog Agalychnis callidryas eggs

Fitzinger's Robber Frog Craugastor fitzingeri
San Carlos Treefrog Dendropsophus phlebodes
More unIDd eggs
Brian turned in for the night, but Carl and I headed to another swamp.

More Scinax were out and about.

as well as both Agalychnis callidryas and Agalychnis saltator.

Red-eyed Treefrog Agalychnis callidryas

We also saw another Sibon longifrenes, caimen, green basalisk and the hourglass treefrog. We were pretty gassed and it was getting very late so we started the long trek back to the lab clearing, then the comedor, then hike back to our room. It wasn't totally wasted, although we could barely keep one foot going in front of the other.

Powdered Glass Frog Teratohyla pulverata
Pulveratta eggs

We also spotted this snake sleeping along the trailside.

Dendrophidian sp, likely percarinatus?
We stumbled back to our rooms, showered, tried to clean equipment and eventually made it to bed. It was extremely late at this time, and if you can imagine, we had a hard time making breakfast in the morning.

I will leave you here for now. More to come in the future!


You can see Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4 here.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Where does time go?

I can't believe I haven't updated the blog since spring. Well, actually I can totally believe it. It was a busy year and I just find myself spending less time on-line and on social media. I read less blogs, and in turn have less interest in blogging myself.  August also brought the arrival of my first child. Life has changed for the good, and my little man Beckett is very good.

This is not farewell, I just will likely use the blog for big trips when I get around to writing them up. The good news is Carl, Brian and I had an awesome time in Costa Rica last June. Photos to come shortly.

Be safe out there,


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Spring? The salamanders are trying!

With a few days in the mid 40s and 50s the last couple of weeks, we are finally almost defrosted here in SE Michigan. I spent some time scouting vernal pools for my goal of a Macomb Co tiger salamander. All week, despite the warm temperatures, I was hiking on inches of ice, and a few of the vernal pools were over half frozen and still covered with snow. Unfortunately, it hasn't rained much at night, and when it has, it has still been really cold. Well it rained most of the day on April 4th during the day, with temps in the mid40s. Despite knowing the pools were still frozen, I decided to try them at night anyway.

I met up with another local (hardcore baby, hardcore) herper Chris B. He was thankfully up for being a good sport and trying something new with me. We headed out to the place I had scouted shortly after dark. It was a cold and very windy walk to the woods. I asked him how warm it was - the phone confirmed it was below 40 here. Still hopeful and desperate, we continued on. It had been a very long and cold winter after all.

Some phone pics of the area from scouting this week.

We walked up to the first of four vernals and were greeted with silence. Well the frogs are smarter than we are. I took a few steps out, and looked down in the beam of my flashlight to see my specific target. An eastern tiger salamander from Macomb Co. Well, that was easy.

We made a few jokes about how easy that was. Chris even joked that if he didn't photograph it we wouldn't see any more. I'll save you all the suspense, it was our only tiger of the night. We searched that pool and 3 others extremely hard, fueled by early success. Within a few minutes it started to "precipitate", by which I mean a freezing cold sleet that later turned to snow. Awesome. We searched the four ponds, two of which were more wooded and, oddly were completely clear of snow and ice. The other two were still very frozen. The water temperature couldn't have been much above freezing. We hiked icy trails, and trudged through ice in the ponds, leaving trails like Antarctic sea vessels. We finished with six salamanders. One tiger, four bluespots, and a small newt. All but the last bluespot were found in the icy/frozen ponds. The last bluespot was actually moving through the leaf litter a ways from any water. All that we checked were males, we didn't disturb a couple of them (Edit: I was reminded by Chris that the salamander pictured below was in fact a female, which makes sense, as it looks like a unisexual from the laterale complex, which are typically all females)

I had flipped a spotted salamander at this location last year, so they are likely still smart enough to remain below ground. We saw no spermatophores or egg masses. I bet this place is just awesome under good conditions.

It will remain a night for the memories though. Can't say I enjoyed the cold, it took me a few hours to defrost at home. May the warmer rains come soon. Thanks to Chris for joining me and being a good sport.

These actually were not my first Michigan herps of the spring. More on that when I can get through pictures.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Island Living - Bimini, Bahamas Part III

Bimini Part IBimini Part IIBimini Part III.

Today I spent my morning herping, and as hard as possible. I was up at the crack of dawn and on the ferry over to South Bimini. I decided to spend as much of the morning walking the roads on South Bimini and exploring. I was hoping to find old homesteads, rock piles, trash, boards, etc. I also was planning on scanning the trees every step of the way to find my last elusive anole species, the twig anole. Quite the agenda for the day!

It started off fast. Right when I got off the land taxi to start the walk, I was able to find 3 out of the 4 anole species in one tree. Of course, there was not a twig anole.

Bimini Bark Anole Anolis distichus bimiensis
Bahaman Brown Anole Anolis sagrei ordinatus

I think this is a dark Bimini Green Anole Anolis smaragdinus lerneri

Things got real slow for a long time after that first tree. I flipped enough trash, palm fronds, and rocks to turn my hands raw. I explored random side roads and trails. I had a virtually impossible time spotting more anoles as well. Roadside in the thick bush just wasn't a great way to try and spot them. Finally, after slogging miles in the hot sun I flipped a piece of cardboard to find a nice little racer. This one did not give me the slip!

Bimini Racer Alsophis vudii picticeps

There was also a large DOR racer in the road to finish off my morning. Molly and I enjoyed a nice lunch and decided to rent a golf cart to explore North Bimini. We traveled all the way up north to the Resorts World resort. This place "seemed" real nice, and was the only place on island that took credit cards for small items. We enjoyed some nice gelato here and I was able to photograph a Palm Warbler calling from one of the trees.

Unfortunately, Resorts World is creating quite the controversy. It is making jobs and helping bring an influx of tourists. The resort is upgrading and enlarging the airport (destroying herp habitat!) to allow for larger jets. They are putting money into upgrading the islands sewers and water infrastructure. For an island culture based on fishing, diving, drinking and Hemmingway, some people think too many tourists may ruin a good thing. I don't really have much of an opinion there. What I do know is they are destroying the vital mangrove ecosystem that is so important to Bimini and the oceans. The fish, sharks, lobster, conch, and sea turtles all rely on the mangroves as a nursery. They talking about putting in a golf course (no room!) and they have already started construction on a major jetty for their large cruiseship/high speed ferry from Miami which has raised concerns over the reefs it is destroying.

We worked our way back south along the beach and I took the chance to flip rocks and logs when able. I was able to find another example of the sphaero species that eluded me earlier, and this time I made the grab. I shot a quick voucher shot for ID purposes, then tried to photograph it in a more natural environment. It disappeared immediately into the rocks. I am starting to hate sphaeros at this point. Lesson learned though - photograph in a room studio! A few more were seen but I couldn't bring any to hand.

There is a neat old shipwreck along the beach we stopped to check out.

From here we returned our cart and headed back to the room to get cleaned up for dinner. We took the taxi over to the south island to try some new dinner spots out and enjoyed a different view of the sunset than we were accustomed to.

This day would be my last dive day. I opted to skip one of the wrecks and stick to shallower water. Somehow, I was the only diver most of the days and essentially got private diving. This had been working to my advantage so far. I like to stay on shallower reefs to optimize bottom time and more photographic opportunities. We dove turtle rocks (hoping for a turtle), and the dive was full of life. The dive guy sketched out though and had me finish the dive at 45 minutes, with 1200 PSI left. What's the point of a shallow private dive then?

Goldentail Moray Gymnothorax miliaris

I guess turtle rocks is actually named because at very low tides the top of the coral formations are visible and look like the backs of turtles. They do sometimes have turtles too. Unfortunately, not today.

 I think this is a Southern Stingray Dasyatis americana, but I am not positive. It has small tubercules along its back and tail which may make it a Roughtail stingray Dasyatis centroura? Any stingray experts out there?Sergeant Major Abudefduf saxatilis, Rock Beauty Holacanthus tricolor

The second dive was a caribbean reef shark dive. It did not disappoint.

Caribbean Reef Shark Carcharhinus perezi

That night I was able to convince Molly to go on a short night hike. She wasn't super excited about me walking around alone so joined me in the search for another Sphaerodactylus species. After about 10 minutes of searching I spotted our quarry, but it quickly disappeared. Luckily, another one was found under a rock and stayed put long enough to get a photo.

Black Spotted Dwarf Gecko Sphaerodactylus nigropunctatus flavicauda
A Centruroides was also hanging around. Anyone able to help me with the species?

Our last day I went for a last ditch effort hike in the early morning. I was hoping to catch basking snakes and slow lizards in the early morning sun. A great idea, except I chose a location on the west side of the island. It took a few hours of hiking before the lizards even started to come out. I was able to flip this sickly looking Sphaero though. My third species of the trip.

Sphaerodactylus notatus
I also flipped one of the ameivas. My closest look of the trip. This was proof I was out there too early for lizards!

My time was running short though as I had to make the trek back to north Bimini. Boas and twig anoles were just not in my cards. I was seeing and hearing more rustling in the trees though, and branches that were without lizards a couple hours ago now had them. One in particular caught my eye...

Twig Anole Anolis angusticeps oligaspis

I was beaming to finally knock off the last of the anole species on the island. Unfortunately, my time was now very much up and I had to hoof it back to the ferry quickly. Walking back through north Bimini though I spotted this on one of the streets near my hotel.

Bimini Dwarf Boa Tropidophis canus curtis
Pretty tough to find one this way. It was on a small side street, with houses on either side. I couldn't help myself by trying to flip a few items of cover in the last few blocks. My persistence paid off. I finally was able to photograph the north Bimini Sphaero.

Ocellated Gecko Sphaerodactylus argus

A few more items of cover ticked off another one of Bimini's snake species for me.

Typhlops lumbricalis

That afternoon we visited the Bimini Shark Lab. If you like sharks, you should check it out. They have a ton of really fascinating research ongoing in an effort to learn more about these fascinating creatures. At this time, the visit was free, but they asked for a donation.

A view of their lemon shark pens.
Speaking of lemons...
When we visited Bora Bora last year, a diver was attacked by a sicklefin lemon shark (different species, but very similar) the day we had arrived. It was all the buzz on the island, and Molly didn't deal with that too well. She saw many sharks while diving, but we never did see a lemon, and she never had a chance to conquer her fear after hearing the story of the attack.

Conquering old fears!
The Bimini islands were a pretty fascinating place. For such small islands, with tons of cover, they were suprisingly hard to herp successfully. Great company and some nice diving made the trip more than enjoyable though. The weather was amazing the whole time.

Even the dogs enjoy the blue water. Farewell Bimini!
Hope you enjoyed!


Bimini Part IBimini Part IIBimini Part III.