Saturday 9 June 2012

Rattlesnakes and other badass herps recently

For the last 3 days I was up in the southern Georgian Bay area with a buddy, Dan Riley. The goal of the trip was to kick back and relax while also seing a few cool herps here and there. The trip was definitely a success on both fronts.

We arrived in the area Thursday afternoon and started herping in the area. It was still hot out, keeping most things out of site, though we did get a few birds such as a Yellow-throated Vireo and a pair of Sandhill Cranes, both firsts for me up there. It was nice to hear Eastern Towhees, Magnolia and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Brown Thrashers all over the place as we walked the nice upland areas. While the herps were slow to find, there were a few butterflies such as this Juvenal's Duskywing.

Juvenal's Duskywing

Eventually the hot afternoon sun started to slip behind the trees, making temperatures more comfortable for us and the species we were after. As evening set in, we started to find a few herps...

Five-lined Skink

Five-lined Skinks were by far the most abundant species of reptile out on the rocky barrens. They seem to tolerate warmer temperatures than the snakes and will often be found under thin slivers of rock in the heat of the day. Another very common species in the area we were is the Eastern Massasauga. They have very specific habitat requirements, but with a bit of time and experience it isn't difficult to locate a few.

Eastern Massasauga

While Massasaugas spend the winter underground, especially in marshy areas, they will move towards the open areas in late spring, presumably to maximize the amount of heat they can attain for their developing offspring inside of them. They will often bask quietly, partially obscured by branches or rocks but with most of their body exposed to the hot sun.

Eastern Massasauga

Just prior to photographing the above Massasauga, we were surprised to find a beautiful adult female Blanding's Turtle lumbering along!

Blanding's Turtle

It is that time of year, and she was no doubt on her way to find a suitable location to lay her eggs. Blanding's Turtles are capable of long distance travel, often of a kilometer or more.

Blanding's Turtle

We saw several more herps that evening before going out and road-cruising for a bit. Road-cruising is as simple as it sounds - jump in the car and drive slowly down roads in suitable habitat, looking for a herp on the road. It can be quite productive on warm nights. Unfortunately, tonight wasn't as warm as we had hoped, but we still saw a Northern Brownsnake and a Northern Ribbonsnake, as well as Gray Treefrog, American Toad, and other amphibians. At least 9 Whip-poor-wills were heard, as well as several Common Nighthawks and American Woodcocks.

Northern Ribbonsnake

The following day was similar to the previous one - hiking cool habitat and seeing cool herps! We found another Massasauga, another Eastern Milksnake, a Smooth Greensnake, several Ring-necked Snakes, and more. I photographed a few more skinks...

Five-lined Skink
And the Greensnake.

Smooth Greensnake

As the day grew warmer and warmer, we were having a harder time finding herps so we decided to call it quits around noon, head to Dan's cottage near Orillia, and drink some beers for the afternoon! A very good decision.

We ended the trip with 7 species of snakes, as well as Blanding's and Painted turtles, Five-lined Skinks, and a half dozen species of amphibians. Additionally we had about 70 species of birds and a fox. Not a bad trip!

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