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 Post subject: Michigan: 2018 Recap
PostPosted: October 1st, 2017, 9:03 am 
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Joined: April 2nd, 2015, 7:30 am
Posts: 93
Location: SW Michigan
Hi all. I know I'm early to the season on recaps, but I'm more or less putting my hat up until next year. Grad school and other factors make it all the more reasonable to do this. I have two overseas adventures before 2018 to sate me, but I thought I should do a retrospective of the year now before I forget.

One last disclaimer: I could not have taken these pictures without the help of some amazing people here in Michigan. Most of them lurk, but I wanted to thank them before getting into it.

Michigan
Michigan is a weird place to herp. It is often quite unclear what makes a good day a good day and what makes a bad day a bad day. Some of my best experiences have been at times where I thought there shouldn't be anything out. It baffles me. I feel as though I have a better idea of other states than I do of the place I live and have lived for most of my life.

You see, despite getting into herping more in less in the western USA, I grew up in Michigan. I never thought this state was good for much in terms of herping. I remember reading books about diamondbacks and other rattlers and dreaming that someday, somewhere, I would eventually get to see those things. Oh, sure, I went out for frogs and other stuff, but I would never say I put much effort into trying to find stuff. Reptiles were something *over there* and not something I could hope to find.

And boy was I wrong. Turns out one of the best places in the United States for eastern massasaugas was 15 minutes from my childhood home. Perspective is key. So when I moved back to Michigan last year for grad school, I was resolved to try and make the most of the experience. Even if I didn't have a clear idea how I was going to make this work, I knew I wanted to see the majority of the native herptofauna. No small task, surely. Overall, I found the majority of the species I could find and had an amazing time doing it. Sure, I could have done better here or there, but all things considered I did quite well. I hope by the end of this post you'll have a new appreciation of the troubles in Michigan herping but also how it is a very special place that is quite underappreciated.

February
This was a very weak winter. We never got a serious storm that put the stereotypical Michigan snap onto things. For that, I am so grateful. There were a few wonderfully warm days in February where I went out and did some hiking. I hoped for herps, but didn't do all too well. It was quite interesing.

ImageSea of trees by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageCattails by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageIsopods hatching by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

The last picture was an amazing experience. I heard popping noises and looked at the ground and saw *thousands* of small things that looked like pepper grains hopping around. On closer inspection, and with the help of a macro lens, I could see that it was countless isopods coming out of the ground. It was a very special experience.


With the warm weather, we also got some rain instead of snow. This triggers amphibians to move out of hibernation and congregate in huge numbers at night on roads. So, I did what any good herper would do: get a rain jacket and head out into the nights. I saw hundreds if not even thousands of frogs. Primarily peepers, but also wood frogs and lots of bull frogs in the right areas. Cruising for snakes is fun, but this was somehow even more fun due to the diversity.

ImageNight in the rain - Spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageWood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) macro by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageNorthern spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) macro by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageAmerican toad (Anaxyrus americanus) macro by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

As a kid I had loved going down to a local stream and hunting for frogs. Little did I know there was a much easier to see them in such large numbers! Having seen amphibians in other parts of the country, I have to say the sheer numbers I saw on the few nights I went out was unbelievable. There was a stretch of road that must have had 30 bullfrogs on it!

April

Unfortunately, I didn't see much in terms of herps until the very start of April. Of course, once things start coming out of the ground they show up in huge numbers! My first day out where I thought snakes would be out proved to be very fruitful. My first snake of the year was a beautiful red ribbon snake.

ImageRibbon snake (Thamnophis sauritus) wide angle by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageBrown snake (Storeria dekayi) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

There were lots of brown snakes out that day as well. I had never seen one before, so it was amazing seeing them in such numbers. I wanted to stay more on the west side of the state, but my brother was visiting so I spent a few productive days in the SE part of the state. Wood frogs, my personal favorite frog, were out in large numbers in vernal pools.

ImageWood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) breeding pond by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageWood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) calling by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageWood frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus); female (right) laying eggs by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

Of course, frogs were not the only things with love on their minds...

ImageMating pair of ribbon snakes (Thamnophis sauritus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageMating pair of eastern garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageEastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) macro by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageSandhill crane (Grus canadensis); nesting by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr
(I don't condone disturbing nesting birds, but I got super lucky to even see this. I left immediately after the picture)

After having some adventures in the SE, I immediately went back to the SW section of the state. Love was, of course, still very much in the air...

ImageAmerican Toad (Anaxyrus americanus) amplexus by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageAmerican Toad (Anaxyrus americanus) calling by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

And love notwithstanding, I had apparently found the most amazing herping location in Michigan. I had a series of amazing days where I was easily finding the rarest possible herps in Michigan. Anyone with Michigan experience will certainly understand.

ImageSpotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageEastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos) closeup by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageSpotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageBlanding's turtle (Emys blandingii) basking by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

When you have herping days like that, the hobby is clearly the most amazing thing you can be doing with your time. Of course, there days where it's not so great, haha. I had this sense then that I was really *getting* it in terms of herping in Michigan. I was getting a bit cocky and, yep, it'd eventually bite me. But, in terms of telling the story, let me savor this victory. :)

ImageRiver bank in spring; eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) in situ by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageSunrise on the swamp by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageBrown snake (Storeria dekayi) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageGreen frog (Lithobates clamitans) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

May
And then I found nothing for almost 2 weeks. Trips out were totally unproductive. Places that had before produced were now completely empty. What happened? I have no idea. I tried different times of the day, different weather conditions, but nothing seemed to help. My suspicion is I caught a bunch of stuff just as it was emerging from hibernation and that made it super easy. They had dispersed out and I didn't know where, just yet. So with all my good luck, I had now experienced a bit of a set back. Temporary, but it sure made me realize an axiom of herping: you really never truly know what you're doing. :p

Of course, the luck would eventually come back.

ImageNorthern water snake (Nerodia sipedon) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageBlue racer (Coluber constrictor foxii) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageTranquility by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageNeonate northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon) macro by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageAmerican toad tadpoles (Anaxyrus americanus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

Finding the blue racer made me super happy. I had never been able to find them in Michigan up until that point. Still, I wish I could find a way to get them consistently. They're relatively rare and, yeah, they're fast. They are called racers, after all!

With luck very much on my side, I found a place where I could find racers super consistently. And I do mean consistently.

ImageBlue racer (Coluber constrictor foxii) closeup by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageBlue racer (Coluber constrictor foxii) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageBlue racer (Coluber constrictor foxii) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageBlue racer (Coluber constrictor foxii) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageBlue racer (Coluber constrictor foxii) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

Not that I ever get tired of racers, but I began wanting to expand my species report for the year. Feisty, bitey snakes are all great...but Michigan has an amazing diversity of animals if you know where to look. Luckily, by this point, I had begun making some solid connections. The upside of people trusting you is you can pool knowledge and start seeing some amazing stuff. If the start of May was characterized by seeing nothing, the end of May was characterized by a whirlwind of dumb luck.

ImageEastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageBlanding's turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageEastern massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) in situ by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageRed-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) macro by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

How could things possibly get better than this?

June
The answer is turtles. LOTS OF TURTLES. Now many of these guys were on the move for laying eggs and I was, apparently, unbelievably lucky with finding them.
(As a rule, I don't touch turtles because of how threatened they are. Moving them across roads is fine, but threatened species for pictures is not what I'm about. Many of the turtle pictures are...creative as a result)

ImagePainted turtle (Chrysemys picta) laying eggs by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageEastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) closeup in situ by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageEastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageMichigan prairie in late spring by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

And not just box turtles! Their bigger "cousins" showed up too.

ImageSnapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) laying eggs by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageSnapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageSnapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

I had never seen so many turtles so quickly. I actually *stopped* taking pictures in some cases because I was seeing too many turtles laying eggs or on the move. It was an unbelievable two weeks, to be honest. I had an amazing time getting out there and helping all the critters I could find. The last snapping turtle I moved off the road. If you've never done that, I would recommend it if you need a quick and huge hit of adrenaline! Give me a viper any day of the week over a big snapper, haha. :p

A buddy of mine next told me about a good herping spot so we hit it up to see what we could find. It ended up being an amazing day. Never turn down an opportunity if someone says, "It's a sure thing."

ImageMap turtle (Graptemys geographica) laying eggs by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageMusk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageMassasauga (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) macro by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageMassasauga (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

The sheer diversity being found in a small location like this still takes me back. I mean, how amazing. I was thinking back to when I was a kid: why was I complaining about Michigan, again? Here I was finding turtles and rattlesnakes near where I grew up. Perspective, again, is everything. You've gotta make the most of what opportunities you have available.

The energy I had coming out of those two weeks was amazing. And, in some cosmic sense of balance, I kept killing it in terms of diversity and numbers. The spots I had and the methods I had for finding stuff made it exciting to get up, teach a class, and then get out there and see what I could find. More often than not, I found amazing stuff.

ImageSnapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) laying eggs by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageEastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) in shed by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageNeonate eastern milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum) at sunrise by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageEastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) at sunset; in situ by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

At that point, tickets were purchased for my Arizona adventure (http://www.fieldherpforum.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=24507). So I knew I had to make the most of the rest of June. I started killing it with massasaugas and herps in general. I saw some amazing sights and had some amazing herping experiences. Standing out in a swamp during a thunderstorm and finding rattlesnakes is, perhaps, a questionable experience in terms of safety, but boy is it existentially fulfilling. I believe the vast majority of the folks on this board and reading this could relate.

ImageMassasauga (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) macro by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageHognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos) closeup by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImagePitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) in fen by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageMassasauga (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) macro by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageEastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageMassasauga (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageStorm over the fen by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

July
I hurt my back a the beginning of July so had very limited herping. Luckily, I was healed enough to be good enough for my adventure in Arizona. Word to the wise all: lift with your knees. ;p

August
Coming back from Arizona sure put a shock into me. The world was very different here in Michigan than that. Finding snakes seemed so easy down there (and from where I had been at before leaving). Of course, coming back I thought I could replicate my success. The world has a way of making sure you don't get too big for yourself. Although I was still finding stuff, I cannot say my success was nearly as good as it had been.

ImageGreen frog (Lithobates clamitans) in situ by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageEastern milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageNeonate eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) macro by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

My lack of success made me pointedly begin to reflect on my herping method. If I wasn't finding anything anymore, I feel like I should change how I was approaching the problem. A big part of herping is *learning* from failure. Finding animals tells you something, but not finding them also tells you something too. I realized that I should do something different if I want to find stuff. I decided that I should do a bit of night herping. I mean, I started the year with looking for frogs at night? I should do it again too. It ended up being lots of fun for me and the gf.

ImagePickerel frog (Lithobates palustris) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageNorthern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageGreen frog (Lithobates clamitans) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageSpring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageEastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageNorthern water snake (Nerodia sipedon) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

Turns out that was an amazing idea! These sort of adventures make you realize that changing your perspective on a problem can really help you solve an issue. It really helped snap me out of my funk, too. I was very happy to be able to find stuff and have a fun experience again. It made me want to get out there again, too. And with the weather starting to get a bit cooler, I did have some good luck.

ImageBlue racer (coluber constrictor foxii) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageRed-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus) lead phase by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageHatchling snapping turtle (chelydra serpentina) macro by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

September
LAME. Back in school already? The summer was so nice that I wasn't teaching anymore or having to do tons of work. But here I was, again, back out there doing it. I mean, I guess it's nice being paid and pursuing something I'm passionate about...I guess. At the same time, I knew the herping season was starting to wind down. Finding even common stuff was proving to be reasonably difficult at this point. So, I made three serious trips a month ago and did find some cool stuff.

ImageNeonate eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageBlue racer (Coluber constrictor foxii) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageBullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) in duckweed by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageMantis macro by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

I had the opportunity to present at a conference overseas, so I went back to SE Michigan and my massasauga spot. I was so happy to find some this late in the year. Even more, I was happy to show my gf some. It was a very special experience to show her these very special animals. And a leopard frog that posed so perfectly for us, haha.

ImageLeopard frog (Lithobates pipiens); in situ by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageYearling eastern massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) macro; in situ by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageEastern massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus); in situ by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

And a last trip out found something to bring the whole year back in on itself: some very cute babies. Nature's cycle is pretty cool to see. I think a great amount of the time field herpers talk about species, numbers, and ranges without reflecting on other philosophical concerns (I say this as a philosopher). Being able to see landscapes change, species move and interact, provides a very unique opportunity to look at the world. I deeply treasure that aspect of the hobby. In that sense, ending the year with these babies was very special.

ImageNeonate northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageNeonate snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina); sunset light by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageNeonate garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis); sunset light by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

Conclusion
So, a brief wrap up in terms of the rare/threatened stuff. In total I saw:
12 massasaugas
10 box turtles
4 spotted turtles
4 blanding's turtles
3 hognose snakes

Not too bad. Not the best, but certainly quite well considering I was figuring it out as I went along.

Thank you so much for reading. I'll post my trip to Australia and Costa Rica as they come later in the year. And, of course, more stuff from Michigan next spring. I have a few ideas of where to herp. Best of luck out there guys. :)


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 Post subject: Re: Michigan: 2018 Recap
PostPosted: October 1st, 2017, 12:42 pm 
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Joined: December 13th, 2014, 5:27 pm
Posts: 46
Wow! Good stuff cw1! Thats a lot of animals and some wonderful photos. You captured this season very well. Looking forward to seeing your flickr photostream in 2018 sir!


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 Post subject: Re: Michigan: 2018 Recap
PostPosted: October 2nd, 2017, 2:48 pm 
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 4:13 pm
Posts: 161
Location: NE Illinois
Outstanding photography, thanks for sharing this. Looks like you had a great year with lots of field time.


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 Post subject: Re: Michigan: 2018 Recap
PostPosted: October 3rd, 2017, 5:35 am 
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Joined: April 2nd, 2015, 7:30 am
Posts: 93
Location: SW Michigan
Thanks all! I did have a wonderful time back in my home state. I hope to do better with salamanders this coming year and focus less on snakes.


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 Post subject: Re: Michigan: 2018 Recap
PostPosted: October 5th, 2017, 4:27 am 
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Joined: June 29th, 2011, 12:56 am
Posts: 777
Location: Belgium
Nice, nice, nice! Love the 'dusty' hognose head - such an ancient feel about it...


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 Post subject: Re: Michigan: 2018 Recap
PostPosted: October 5th, 2017, 6:55 pm 
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Joined: April 2nd, 2015, 7:30 am
Posts: 93
Location: SW Michigan
Thanks! Finding that hog was a very special experience. She was making a nest, actually, and I caught her mid burrow. I came back later in the year to look for babies but didn't have any luck. I was exceptionally happy to have the opportunity, however. :)


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