Friday, 29 July 2016

Blast from the past - herping adventures during the summer of 2010

This post will go all the way back to the summer of 2010, back when I was working in Windsor, Ontario, tracking and studying Butler's Garternsakes and Eastern Foxsnakes on some lands adjacent to Ojibway Prairie.

I originally posted this to, a community for field herpers around the world that I was quite active on between 2007 and 2010. Unfortunately the site crashed in early June 2010, causing all of the previous posts to be deleted. I had posted dozens of herping trip reports over the years so it was a little disheartening to see them all disappear! At least I still had all my photos.


This summer has been a really busy one for me as I have been putting in 60-80 hours a week down near the Ontario/Michigan border studying Butler's Garter Snakes. However I do have my weekends off, and since Laura is in Nova Scotia for most of the summer I have been spending every weekend herping or birding.  The month of May was a write-off herp-wise as I was birding every spare moment, but once June hit I shifted my focus, dusted off the camera and macro lens, and went out in pursuit of some herps.

The weekend of June 5/6 was spent on Georgian Bay Islands National Park completing some herp surveying for the national park. It was a total blast, and we found most of the species known from the island.

herping - Georgian Bay Islands NP

I was pretty happy to find an Eastern Hognose 20 minutes after arriving on the island. They can be moderately common along the shoreline in rocky habitats.

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake - Georgian Bay Islands NP

Herping - Georgian Bay Islands NP

Dan looking for turtles - Georgian Bay Islands NP

Cool-looking millipede!

One of the guys turned up a Ring-necked Snake before long.

Northern Ring-necked Snake - Georgian Bay Islands NP

It did not take my good friend Dav very long to find the first 'sauga. If there is one in the area, he will ALWAYS find it. One of 9 Eastern Massasaugas seen on the weekend.

Eastern Massasauga - Georgian Bay Islands NP

Eastern Massasauga - Georgian Bay Islands NP

Dan still surveying for turtles...

Turtlin'  - Georgian Bay Islands NP

His persistence payed off and he found a Stinkpot (Common Musk Turtle)! I was not around for that one so I photographed one that Dav discovered the next day.

Common Musk Turtle - Georgian Bay Islands NP

This Northern Watersnake along the shoreline allowed my close approach. This is a photo of its good side - it was actually missing its left eye.

Northern Watersnake - Georgian Bay Islands NP

I kind of like Nerodia, despite their tempers and willingness to bite/defecate when captured!

Northern Watersnake - Georgian Bay Islands NP

Another Eastern Hog-nosed Snake. Dav got sick of saugas so he found some hoggies.

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake - Georgian Bay Islands NP

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake - Georgian Bay Islands NP

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake - Georgian Bay Islands NP

On this particular island, Hog-nosed Snakes and Massasaugas can be found in the same habitat. They seem to prefer stands of juniper bushes surrounding rock piles with lots of dead brush, surrounded by open rock and in close proximity to the shoreline.

Eastern Massasauga - Georgian Bay Islands NP

Eastern Massasauga - Georgian Bay Islands NP

I finally got around to photographing a Midland Painted Turtle - the most common turtle in Ontario, but one I have just never bothered to try to photograph.

Midland Painted Turtle - Georgian Bay Islands NP

We found a few amphibians too on the trip. Nothing noteworthy though.

Eastern Red-backed Salamander - Georgian Bay Islands NP

I flipped a few rocks the next morning, turning up a variety of herps including a nice Ring-necked Snake.

Northern Ring-necked Snake - Georgian Bay Islands NP

Northern Ring-necked Snake - Georgian Bay Islands NP

And a little Dekay's Brownsnake.

Dekay's Brownsnake - Georgian Bay Islands NP

Until next year.

The following weekend saw me up at my favorite Massasauga spot with a few herpers - Dav Nemeth-Fekete and Dan Riley.. The highlight for me was stumbling upon a Northern Ribbon Snake consuming a Green Frog, something I had certainly never seen before!

Northern Ribbonsnake consuming Green Frog - Muskoka District

We found a nice Eastern Milksnake in some open habitat - they seem to show up everywhere for me.

Eastern Milksnake - Muskoka District

Dav finally got his first good look at Mink Frog after we heard some clucking away. Managed to get somewhat close to this one for photos...

Mink Frog - Muskoka District

And of course, quite a few saugas were found. I never get tired of this species!

Eastern Massasauga - Muskoka District

Just last weekend, Nick Scobel came up from Michigan and we herped along the Bruce Peninsula, a location which I try to visit at least once a year to look for snakes. Unfortunately, there were hoards of sunburnt tourists present on the peninsula, but fortunately they congregated in the few beaches in the area, leaving the pristine alvar habitats to Nick and I.

We paused for a moment to photograph this Northern Leopard Frog along the shoreline.

Northern Leopard Frog - Bruce Peninsula

Northern Leopard Frog - Bruce Peninsula

It did not take long before I found the first of 3 Eastern Massasaugas on the day - this one coiled up in some brush along the edge of a fen.

Eastern Massasauga - Bruce Peninsula

Eastern Massasauga - Bruce Peninsula

We explored an old foundation later in the day, adding a few more species to the trip list.

Eastern Gartersnake - Bruce Peninsula

This Eastern Milksnake was very opaque as it would be shedding its skin in the near future...but the wonders of photoshop got rid of that nicely. Still, it was not the prettiest Eastern Milksnake I had seen.

Eastern Milksnake - Bruce Peninsula

Northern Ring-necked Snake - Bruce Peninsula

A hike into another alvar turned up nothing except a little American Toad.

American Toad - Bruce Peninsula

The rest of the afternoon, we went for a drive to search for places that looked like decent habitat. Exploring a few openings in the forest, we found two more Eastern Massasaugas as well as some Smooth Greensnakes. By late afternoon we were back in the first area from earlier that morning, and we had a bit of luck finding some cool animals.

Smooth Greensnake - Bruce Peninsula

Smooth Greensnake - Bruce Peninsula

Wood Lily - Bruce Peninsula

Northern Ribbon Snake

Northern Ribbonsnake - Bruce Peninsula

Nick with a Smooth Greensnake - Bruce Peninsula

Smooth Greensnake ended up being the most common snake species of the day. I was pretty stoked, as it had been over a year since I had last found one.

Smooth Greensnake - Bruce Peninsula

Smooth Greensnake - Bruce Peninsula

And finally, a Brown Snake to finish off the day. We ended up finding 9 out of the 10 snake species found on the peninsula, the only one we missed being Queen Snake (known from only a couple of specimens).

Dekay's Brownsnake - Bruce Peninsula


marke said...

What is your secret for finding so many snakes? Turning stones, logs and boards? I would love to track down a smooth green snake (not to mention many of the other species here). Great shots!

Josh Vandermeulen said...

There really isn't any secret to it, to be honest. Much like birding, it all comes down to knowing where to look, at what time of year, and it can be very different for each species. Gaining as much knowledge as you can about the particular species you are searching for, and spending dozens of hours in the field searching will be the best way to find your target species. Smooth Greensnakes can be quite common in the right habitat, but not always, depending on the time of year and time of day. Turning cover objects can be productive in certain instances but I have probably seen more just out crawling around than I have under cover objects.

The Furry Gnome said...

Wow! That's a lot of herps!

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled upon this blog and it looks awesome! How are you able to travel so much? Is this part of work or do you just get that much time off of work?

Justin said...

I love the shots of the Massasauga!

Josh Vandermeulen said...

Thanks! Most of it is on my own time, but work does occasionally send me to interesting places for biological surveys. All of the herps in this post were found on my own time during weekends off.

Josh Vandermeulen said...

Thanks, Justin.

Josh Vandermeulen said...

Absolutely! Despite living in the Great White North we have quite a few interesting species.

Unknown said...

Just asking as a fellow herper, I travel to the Bruce every year to visit family and have a me across massasaugas and milk snakes but never a smooth green. Just wondering any suggested he ping sites around the Bruce?

Mac Marzolini said...

Great photos, you must have had a pretty good lens to get that close to a massasauga's face! also, I was wondering what job you have where you get to go around collecting data on native species? Also how would one get into such a profession?

- Mac

Josh Vandermeulen said...

Hi Mac,

These trips were not for any job/organization - they were just on my own time. But I also work as an environmental consultant which requires me to do a lot of biological inventories; particularly bird surveys in the spring and early summer, but also a lot of veg work and occasionally herp stuff.

To get into this type of profession (or really any wildlife-based profession) the best advice would be to become an active birder/herper etc and get to know others who are interested in that sort of stuff. Many job opportunities come about through networking. A Bachelor's of Science degree is very useful as well, and going to a good university or college that specializes in wildlife-related degrees is a good way to network and meet other like-minded people. Often there are interesting volunteer and work opportunities that you hear about while in school.