Enter your email below for blog updates:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Guest post: Hello, herpetofauna!

James and I met several years ago as FLCC students, on a Wildlife Society club trip to the Adirondacks for a weekend. All I knew of James was that he was quiet, but really smart. Over the next year or so, we got to know each other better (while struggling through chemistry classes), and since we’ve graduated and split to different SUNY campuses, have remained in touch. James asked me about blogging, and put out a feeler on Facebook to see if his friends and family would be interested in a reptile and amphibian themed blog. I offered up my blog for a guest entry, and so here we are. Please welcome my friend James Beach!

Meet James, a Finger Lakes Community College 
alumni, and friend of mine.
Every year around this time I anticipate the emergence of the local herpetofauna that surrounded my urban apartment. The many wetlands within a 15 minute drive from my apartment are home to an abundance of species, from frogs and toads, turtles and snakes, and last but not least, the salamanders and newts. To me, the emergence of these animals a reason to celebrate! Hearing the symphony of wood frogs and spring peepers signifies the end of winter and the start of longer days, but beyond that, it also rejuvenates my spirit.

My love for reptiles and amphibians began when I was a small child in the late 80s and early 90s. I would spend my free time in a stream behind my parents’ house in rural upstate New York. Although my identification skills were not yet developed, I would try as hard as I could to learn as much as possible about these marvelous creatures. It was that small stream, the memories it helped create, and all the beautiful animals I found, that stayed with me into adulthood and shaped my career and personal goals of getting as many people as possible interested in herpetofauna. I am currently perusing a bachelor’s degree at SUNY Brockport where I am majoring in Environmental Science with a focus in wetland ecology.

Spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer)
Photo credit: Melissa Fadden, SUNY ESF
March 20th typically marks the start of the “herping” season. For those new to this term, herping is the nickname for the activity of searching for reptiles and amphibians. It’s fun, easy to get involved in, and can be done almost anywhere. Many children growing up find many species in their backyard, as well as ponds, streams, swamps, marshes, and ditches. I cannot begin to explain how many different species I used to bring home to my mother, asking, “Can we keep it?” Usually she would say NO, but on occasion she would oblige my interest as long as it stayed outside. This is probably a typical scenario for many kids growing up, but what are the consequences? Is it okay for children and adults to take animals from the wild and bring them home, thinking that they can somehow provide a much better environment than its natural residence? It is this question that I seek to answer with this blog post.

Midland painted turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata
Photo credit: Melissa Fadden, SUNY ESF
How we interact with nature is in essence a reflection of our values: if we value nature, which I think we all should and mostly do, then it should be in our interests to leave whatever creatures and natural objects where we find them. We can instead pay homage to nature by storing beautiful sights in our memories, drawing pictures, or taking photos. Herping is a great activity in which to get family or friends involved, and it’s rewarding for both the young and the old. But to be ethical about it, there are a few questions one should ask.

First, how do you do it, and where and when do you go? Herping is a fairly inexpensive hobby requiring only a field guide, headlamp, snake hook (this item is optional and can be found at most pet stores), a first aide kit, rain gear and warm clothing.

Eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
Photo credit: Melissa Fadden, SUNY ESF
The easiest thing to do is find a wetland around you and go a half hour after sunset, when it’s raining lightly and not terribly windy. You’ll find that the first spring rains are the best time to get out there because this is when many salamanders are on the move and begin breeding. Salamanders will leave the forest floor where they are hardly ever seen, and migrate to wetlands to begin mating. The sounds of wood frogs and spring peepers will also begin to be heard around this time. There’s a short window of opportunity, but by mid April the chances of finding some of the less common species begins to decrease. I have been in wetlands where hundreds of spotted salamanders are abundant and are moving into wetlands, and no one would ever know if they weren’t out there on those chilly rainy nights. If any of these animals are present you will see them.

The next question one should ask before herping is, how should these delicate animals be handled, if they are to be handled at all? Amphibians breathe through their skin, and because of this, are susceptible to toxins from pollution. It is okay to handle them very gently. I recommend that the best way to do so is to wash your hands in the wetland first to make sure you don’t transfer any toxins to them. If you smoke or put on any hand sanitizer, you should refrain from handling them, because the toxins on your hands could potentially kill them.

Wood frog (Rana sylvatica) Photo credit: Melissa Fadden, SUNY ESF

 How do you find specific snakes, lizards, and turtles? This is a tough question to answer, because it largely depends on luck along with knowing the habitat of the target species. The best time to search for turtles or snakes is early in the morning around 7am until 1 or 2 in the afternoon throughout the breeding season, although some, like painted turtles, will stay active beyond that. Many of the more secretive species will be hard to find after that point. Mornings that reach temps in the early to mid 60s with lots of sunlight are great for getting outside and seeking out the turtles in your area. Many species will begin to bask once they emerge from hibernacula, and can easily be spotted as they purge their system of the lactic acid that has built up over the winter. If targeting snakes, one can try to manipulate the habitat a bit by putting large objects around the area for the snakes to hide under. Checking these locations every couple of days should yield great results, and you’ll begin to be more conscious of the species located around you that perhaps you had no idea existed.

If a child asks to take any of these animals home as a pet, what should the response be? It should always be NO! In New York State, all of our native species are protected, and it is illegal to take any of them from the wild. If the child is interested in having a pet, please do some research and consult a pet shop. Beyond that, these animals are also important members of their local ecosystem, and it’s extremely important that they remain there for others to enjoy. Currently, herpetofauna are experiencing a huge decline due to habitat loss, fragmentation, invasive species, chemicals, climate change, and poachers. These species are very important to scientists as they are viewed as environmental indicators, meaning their presence in a wetland will show what kind of condition their environment is in. If the area is severely degraded, these species will be absent.

A common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) and spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) Photo credit: James Beach

Please keep all of these things in mind when herping. It’s important to have fun, and also to recognize the importance and aesthetics these animals have. If looking to become more familiar with frog and toad calls in your area, I have posted a link that will get you started: USGS Frog Quiz. I have also included links to books and audio CDs that aide in identification: The Amphibians and Reptiles of New York State and The Frogs and Toads of North America.

Thanks for reading, and of course happy herping!

*All comments and questions will be relayed to James!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Finicky fisher-- no more!

When I moved east to Schoharie County almost 2 years ago, I had a mental bucket list of critters that I would like to encounter while living and going to school here. Although I lived in rural areas in Western, NY, there are several animals in lower density there, than are found here. Primarily, the fisher and the bobcat. Both animals, historically, ran rampant across the entire state. But, as the old story goes, over hunting/trapping, development, habitat destruction etc, drove these animals almost to extinction in New York. Here, just north of the Catskills, you have seasons to hunt/trap both the fisher and the bobcat. While some may not LIKE this, this means that biologists know the populations to be viable, and sturdy enough to withstand harvest. Sometimes it’s almost necessary, to make a population grow. Think of a rose-bush. You have to prune it, right? Then the following year it should come back bigger and bushier, with new growth. In the finger lakes, the numbers of fishers and bobcats are lower, but on the rise. Since I moved from there in 2012, the instances and stories I’ve heard about both bobcats AND fishers being spotted (with eyes and cameras) has increased steadily.

When I first moved here, I set up cameras in the fall of 2012, in my backyard. I also had some classmates set their cameras up too. Almost immediately, both of them snagged pics of a fisher, the same on in fact, minutes apart but on different cameras:

A fisher caught on camera trap, Schoharie, NY. Photo credits: Courtney Stein, Adam Rogers (respectively)

Fisher in Schoharie, NY
It took me over 2 months longer to FINALLY get a fisher on camera in my backyard, on Christmas morning! Merry Christmas to me, indeed! I don’t know why these large members of the weasel family were able to escape the ever-watchful eye of my camera traps, but it took 3.5 months of active camera-trapping to finally catch one. And what a picture, too! Well, soon this fisher (or perhaps more than one?) were regular visitors to the scraps I threw out in the woods in front of my camera. I also often use scent lures (nasty concoctions of unspeakable bits) to draw them in. I don’t want to say I got BORED of the fisher(s), but after a while, I like to see some variety. Or… I’d like to catch a glimpse of one myself. Right now, I live at the base of a north-facing slope. Night “falls” here about 2 hours earlier than elsewhere. It’s dark, and shady, and cold. Nice in the summer, depressing this time of year. This also means that I have significant amounts of snow still, and probably will til May! I can see from where I sit now, at my kitchen table, right up the hill. The stark snow gives a great background to track movements of critters. I’ve seen rabbits, squirrels, deer, and many birds up there. I’m still waiting on my fisher.

Several weeks ago, my buddy Tyler and I took a drive up to some local state land (see the first part of that adventure here: Neature is Neat) for a weekend reprieve from school work, and to get out and enjoy the outdoors. It was a balmy (35*F), sunny day. We drove as far up the unplowed, seasonal roads would take us. We saw tons of tracks, and other signs that despite the heavy snowfall, wildlife was still out and about.

Fisher track highway. Click to enlarge.
As we’re driving over snow-covered roads with snowbanks 4+ feet tall, admiring the hemlocks and pines, watching sun filter through the needles…it happened. My moment and a MAJOR bucket list check happened. A FISHER came out of the trees on the right, ran across the road, jumped up the snow bank where it perched for a moment to look at me, then took off to the left into the hemlocks. It all happened in about 1.5 seconds. Poor Tyler, I screamed and simultaneously slammed the car into park (while still moving forward) and leapt from (a still moving?) the car. Tyler was focused on…something else…at the very moment of my excitement, and once he figured out what I was screaming about, he also jumped out and took off into the woods in the direction of the fisher. I have NO idea what he was hoping for. A sighting? A run-in? To catch it? He went tearing through 2+ feet of snow, through a thick blow down. I stood on the snow bank looking at the tracks, and trying to calm myself. Did I really just see a fisher? Did I just see a squirrel and freak out? No. I was staring at FRESH fisher tracks that had been laid down about 10 seconds ago. For a snow tracker, it was ideal conditions. Crunchy, hard snow with a 1/4″ light dusting on top. PERFECT.

About 5 minutes later, Tyler came huffing, puffing, and swearing back in my direction. He missed it totally, and was really bummed out. He kept asking me “Why didn’t I see it? What was I even looking at?”…. Um, I don’t know.

While he had been gone, I got my camera out to snap a few pics of tracks.

A mish-mash of tracks, possibly from different animals or different events of travel.

Fisher hind right track I believe. The smallest toe (thumb) is on the inside for a fisher. Someone please interject if I’m incorrect!

Winter tracking is such a treat, and a look inside the lives of our wild neighbors. Without snow, a skilled tracker, or lucky novice will be able to find tracks. I’ve been out in the woods with people who are seeing things in the leaf litter that I’ve looked over before. But, in snow or mud, I’m your girl!

Tyler and I were so excited by this experience, that we returned the next day to this spot to hide camera traps. We took a risk, and left them on public lands. But, they’re tucked away in safety of the hemlocks, and are only staying up for 1 more week. We’re hoping for some great fisher pictures, but I also wouldn’t turn my nose up at a bobcat either!

Do good, little Bushnell.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

I just can't win

Cuddeback, you are the bane of my camera-trapping life. Sometimes the camera doesn't work, and for no apparent reason. Other times, it's hypersensitive, and takes pictures of nothing.

Lately I've been lucky, and it's taking pictures, even though it's so cold out. My last post I shared how overexposed the images are though, because of the snow bounce-back.

Eastern cottontail

So I tried to cover the flash partially with thick, opaque tape. Well, that toned things down, but still gave me less-than-ideal images as well.

Eastern cottontail

By the way, yes those ARE deer legs poking out of the snow! A friend of mine had saved them from last fall's harvest, wanting to create some kind of gun rack or something out of them. That didn't happen, so he donated them to my camera-trapping cause.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Stale chunks o' bread

This winter has sucked in the Northeast for camera trapping, in my opinion. It's been frigid, which really takes a toll on the batteries, and we've been dumped on with snow! Feet and feet of snow! So, if I actually had had cameras out during December-January-and the beginning of February, they may have gotten covered over, or it would be inconvenient to check on them. And, the animals don't move around as much!

An Eastern cottontail...blinded by the flash!
Well in recent weeks, I've stuck my two cameras (a Bushnell Trophy Cam and a Cuddeback Attack) in the woods right behind my house. I've had all the wild canids that call NY home, bobcat, fisher, cottontails, squirrels, an owl, a hawk, other littler birds too. And it's easy to get to.

The Cuddeback Attack's flash is so bright, it just can not take pictures in the snow, unless I cover up the flash somehow, so I don't have any pictures that are worth sharing. You can see in the picture at left how washed out it is. It is taking pictures though, so that's a plus! (it doesn't always take pictures...)

But, my trusty Bushnell pulled through with some nice pictures. I threw out some crusty, stale bread...which the woodland creatures seemed to enjoy.

By the way, the date and time is not correct. Rookie mistake: changed the batteries and didn't reset the clock!

One of the first Eastern chipmunks I've seen this season! Chippies do not hang out above the snow, and are one of NY's true hibernators. BUT, with slightly milder temps, longer days... they somehow know that it's time to wake up!
Two Eastern cottontails enjoy some bread too!
Blue Jays
And finally, a spindly-tailed red squirrel. I wonder if someone took a grab at him!

 It's odd to me that I haven't seen any of the usual scavengers around lately, either by picture or by tracks in this snow. Raccoons, opossum, striped skunks, and even porcupine love a free meal.

Finally, here's one last picture I will share from the Cuddeback. It's REALLY too bad the snow was so bright, but did I catch the first mating pair of Ruffed Grouse for the season?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Neature is neat!

Have you ever seen Lenny Peppercorn videos? It’s hysterical. A satire on all nature show hosts, and a poke at all nature nerds. I love it! Check him out below…

I couldn’t help but laugh at myself this weekend as I was hiking with my dog and a friend. We kept coming across all sorts of *neat* things, and I kept exclaiming, “This is so neat!”… Am I a Lenny Peppercorn?

Shared via: http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/48283.html
Tyler and I have spring fever. It’s now March, and STILL bitter cold with a lot of snow on the ground. Our spring break from courses at SUNY Cobleskill is in 12 days (who’s counting?) and we are tired of being cooped up in the house. He and decided to take my VERY energetic and young golden retriever out for an adventure. The temps here in Schoharie County on Saturday were mid-30s, a heat wave by all accounts of recent ambient temperatures, and it was sunny… perfect day for some outside time.

We have a few state forests around us within easy driving distance (Mallet Pond, Patria, and Petersburg State Forests) that we’ve explored for field labs during various courses, and we decided to try and get as far into the state land as possible. This was a challenge though, because many of the roads within are seasonally maintained, and this is not the season they are maintained.

We first tried to get to Rossman-Fly Pond (which is within Mallet Pond State Forest), a beautiful pond with access to launch a motorless boat. I like to think it’s a hidden gem, but I know others have to know about it. I really want to get up and check the ice out, but unfortunately the plow had stopped a mile or two from the turn off to the pond. We got out and hiked a bit with the dog in the snow, but I’ve been experiencing a flare up from an old ankle injury, and didn’t want to push it.

LUCKILY though, we observed something really neat from the side of the unplowed road. Lots of field sign that a porcupine or several, had been foraging in the hemlocks!

Have you ever seen this? I know it looks kind of unassuming, just some twigs on the ground, but with all the snow we’ve had, it’s not dead stuff that’s fallen over time. All of that would be covered over with snow. THESE twigs, are the sloppy leftovers of our largest arborial rodent.

Here’s the proximal end of a hemlock twig 
that’s been neatly nipped off by the sharp
 incisors of a porcupine.
Porcupines eat soft vegetation like leaves, shoots, and needles. And in the winter they have the advantage over others with similar diets, to be able to climb up trees, and nibble twigs and branches.

Porcupines are a solid critter, not as chunky as a beaver (but close), and not as light as a squirrel. So, they’ll eat their way along a sturdy branch, moving farther and farther from the tree. They are sloppy, and often drop as much as they eat. They nip a twig off, and it falls to the forest floor.

I’ve read (somewhere) that porcupines are often relied on by other forest-dwelling herbivores who can’t reach up into the canopy to eat. Deer, rabbits, hares, moose have all been documented eating porcupine “nip twigs” from the forest floor.

Here’s a porcupine I got to observe quite up close while living in Alaska. You can see her orange inciscors poking out. That orange color is enamel that covers the teeth of many rodents, especially those who eat or gnaw hard woody materials.
We wandered around the feeding grounds for a few minutes, checking out the carnage, when we noticed a well-packed trail in the snow. Porcupines, due to their short stubby legs, don’t often leave a very well defined set of tracks, but more of a trench where they’ve plowed through the snow. It’s hard to see in this picture below, but what I want to share is that we noticed it leading right to the mouth of a drainage culvert pipe alongside the roadway.

Porcupine trail through the snow, to a den in a culvert pipe.

We were intrigued. Could we possibly actually catch a glimpse of the porcupine?

Addie and Tyler trying to decided whether or not sticking your face into a hole in the ground, which might contain a porcupine, is such a good idea…

I did NOT want my dog to get a face full of quills. Tyler, well he was on his own, but I didn’t want Addie to get quilled. So we pulled her back, and I sacrificed myself to get down in there and investigate.
My first observation, was the overwhelming stench of ammonia. It reminded me of my pet rabbits cage. Porcupines are nasty animals, in the way that they defecate when and where they want. Many animals attempt to keep their dens clean of fecal matter, but not the porcupine. Check out this entry from last winter when I found a den, and the amount of built up porky poop outside: http://blog.timesunion.com/nywildlife/porcupine-sign/887/

A look inside the “den”. What a cozy place to live, right? Hemlocks in your front yard, and totally protected from the elements. You can see on the left side of the picture, the fecal matter scattered along. Just out of view above this picture, along the top rim of the pipe, were ice crystals. This led me to believe that the porcupine(s) were generating enough heat to melt ice and snow around the entrance which had frozen back over. Unfortunately, or fortunately, no one was visible. I have no idea how far back this tunnel went, but it was freaking cool!

So that’s one of my *neat* finds from this past Saturday. I have another really cool story, but I’m saving that for another entry. I’ve been reading for hours, and just thought I’d take a break to share this cool story. Hae a great Monday!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Mudpuppy dissection!

WARNING: The included pictures may be considered graphic or offensive by some.

You know what’s great about being hosted by a major newspaper like the Times Union? Last Wednesday I had 21 hits on my blog. A sad, lonely, 21 hits. Thursday, after being featured on the front page of the TU website brought me 536 hits. And today, 317 so far. That’s pretty awesome exposure for me. So, thanks for stopping by!

As I’ve mentioned in recent entries, I’m enrolled in a Herpetology course. Herpetology is a branch of zoology which focuses on the study of reptiles and amphibians. I’ve never been really into the “herps”, mammals and birds are more my forte in the world of wildlife, but I’m interested to know more about them. They are sensitive to environmental changes, they are abundant in New York (we have snakes, frogs, toads, salamanders, turtles, and lizards!), and they are fairly easy to come across. Especially in the few months as they are emerging from hibernation and beginning to breed.

Check out the NYSDEC’s website for
 more information: 
The class is 4 hours long: 2 hours of lecture, 2 hours of lab. Friday’s lab was really fun for me, as we did a dissection of a mudpuppy! Mudpuppies are large salamanders that spend all of their time in fresh water. They have external gills, and can be found all over New York State. The only time I’ve seen one in the wild was while using a “gill net” (a type of sampling equipment for fish) in the middle of Canandaigua Lake in late May. They’re really cool!

The following pictures are kind of a walk through how my group conducted our dissection. The mudpuppies that we had to dissect came from Ward’s Natural Sciences, which is located in Rochester, NY. These animals were raised in captivity and then humanely euthanized for educational purposes. This is also true for the rats, frogs, pigs, etc that we’ve all dissected in general biology courses.

Our mudpuppy of choice!

Before cutting into our mudpuppy, Dr. Losito wanted us to do an external examination of the cloaca. All herps have only one opening for defecating, urinating, and reproduction. That’s what you see here. The males are supposed to be very puffy and swollen looking, and to us, this looked that way. We would receive our definitive answer once we cut it open.

Upon cutting it open, we immediately saw the ovary, which are those small yellowish balls.
Photo credit to lab partner: 
Lauren Richardson

Depending on the sex of our mudpuppy, Dr. Losito wanted us to follow and identify all digestive organs, and then the reproductive system. The digestive system was laying on top of the reproductive organs, so we had to get through that first!

The path of digestion is as follows: mouth > esophagus > stomach > duodenum (which contains the pancreas which creates insulin) > small intestine (nutrient absorption) > large intestine (water absorption) > colon > excretion through the vent.

We also identified the lungs, spleen, liver, gall bladder, and urinary bladder.The digestive organs that we identified include: ostium, oviduct, ovary, and the archinephric duct. Our female was considered “gravid”, because she was full of eggs. Other groups also had females that showed these parts, but the body cavity was not nearly as full as ours was.

Below my lab partners Lauren Richardson and Chelsea Gendreau are trying to sort through organs so that we can find everything. In the picture below that, you can see a nice upclose picture of what a truly gravid female mudpuppy looks like.

Lauren (L) and Chelsea (R) examine our mudpuppy.

A gravid, female mudpuppy.

A final shot: mudpuppy skin is full of mucous ducts that keep the skin moist and lubricated for water travel. They’re not scaly, but feel like frogs. They are really cool animals, and ARE found in NY, so if you’re lucky enough to see one (or catch one while fishing) consider yourself lucky!

I hope you enjoyed this brief entry, and I’m glad I got to finally post a longer entry sharing what I get to do in school. This is my LAST semester of my undergrad! I couldn’t be more happy, but I’m also a little nervous. Wish me luck this last semester and while I continue on this job hunt!

Friday, February 7, 2014

What have I been up to?

Sunset at SUNY Cobleskill on 1/27/2014.
The holidays have come and gone, winter break has ended, and I’m now back at SUNY Cobleskill taking classes. Over my “winter break”, I was hardly relaxing. I was taking an online statistics course and finishing up the last hundred or so hours of my internship at the DEC! It’s been busy for me and I haven’t had much time to update my blog. But today I found time!

This semester I am taking: Chemistry I, Fisheries Science, Evolutionary Biology, and Herpetology. It’s not a bad schedule, and they’re all pretty interesting. Although, Chem I is going to give me a run for my money!!!

I’m also an officer for our student chapter of The Wildlife Society on campus. We have a great club, and we’re really active on campus and in our community. It takes some work to manage the club because we are so active and our department faculty really impress on us the importance of an active chapter.

Last week in Fisheries Science we began learning about standard methods of “sampling” for fish. This is so an agency, for example, in Nebraska can conduct a research project similar to one running in New York, and we can compare data because it’s been taken in a standard way. Our first lab for the class entailed us driving over to Otsego Lake to conduct ice angler surveys. We’re interested in how much in resources (time and money) anglers are investing in their fishing trips, as well as what kinds/ages/sizes of fish they’re catching. We have the opportunity to go out on our own for extra credit, so my friend Ben and I headed out immediately after class, and spent all day Saturday on the ice of Otsego Lake.

A freshly caught Lake Trout on Otsego Lake, NY
Myself and classmate Ben attempting to measure the total length of this Lake Trout.

In Evolutionary Biology we’re reading this fascinating book, “The Naked Ape” by Desmond Morris.

The first text we’re reading
 in my Evolutionary Biology course, 
The Naked Ape.
Read this immediately.

It’s so interesting to read about ourselves in a totally different way. It was published in 1967, so it’s dated, and theories have changed. Regardless, read it. It will make you think about where we came from, how we got “here”, why we are the way we are.

I purchased it for the Kindle app and have it on my iPad, which is making for a whole new reading experience. Normally I like to read a physical book, but for my last semester, I decided to purchase as many books as I could via Kindle and just tote around my iPad. Six books cost me $63, and the iPad is less than a pound. I wish I had been able to do this from the beginning!

In herpetology last week we learned how to “probe” a snake to determine it’s sex. I have to say, I’m not a “herp” person. I like salamanders and turtles, I don’t mind frogs or toads, but I really don’t like snakes or lizards. It’s not that I’m afraid of them in the sense of getting bitten or scratched, it’s that I imagine them to be crawling with germs. I’m sure mammals have just as much or more germs, I just have this irrational thought in my head that I WILL get salmonella or coccidiosis when handling a herp. SO, when Dr. Losito asked who wanted to probe a snake first, I volunteered right off the bat. I wanted to prove to myself and others that I could do it, and guess what: I’m still alive.

Here I am, with the help of classmates, probing an adult female pine snake.

Here I am, with the help of classmates, probing an adult female pine snake.

To be brief, a small metal probe is inserted in the vent of the snake, and you kind of feel around in there for resistance. If you meet resistance, it’s a female. If not, it’s a male. We have a nice collection of snakes and turtles at SUNY Cobleskill used for teaching and for community outreach. I’m eager to learn more about them.

I’ve had this beautiful Red-bellied Woodpecker visiting my feeders lately as well. I love watching the birds come!

Red-bellied Woodpecker in Cobleskill, NY
SUNY Cobleskill Fish and Wildlife Students at the SCCA Fishing Derby
Wildlife Students at the NYPA
Wildlife Students at the Huyck Preserve

(PS I just set up a camera trap in a really neat spot…hopefully I will have something cool to report in a few days!)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Winter camera-trapping

This is the camera I’m currently 
using: A Bushnell Trophy Cam HD.
If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you’ll know that I LOVE using camera traps, or game/trail cameras. I love sticking them out in the woods and seeing who comes when I’m not looking. This set of pictures doesn’t contain anything too exciting, all common critters, but I got some multi-species pictures. I love it when that happens, I feel like I’ve totally breached the code of wildlife and am a secret agent spy. “HA! I KNEW you all hung out like in Disney movies!” Well, in this case, several members from different species hung out together, because I sprinkled a handful of black oil sunflower seeds on my favorite camera-trapping log.


(BTW, I had around 1,500 pictures from 3 days. Once the seed was discovered, critters descended and burned up all my battery by December 20th! The camera was set until January 5th, but due to lots of action and/or frigid temps, the camera died.)

The normally EXTREMELY territorial red squirrel is shown here sharing the log with another red. They are known for caching food in an accessible hiding spot, and then defending it. If you’ve walked in a conifer stand, and heard someone “yelling” at you from the trees, it was probably a red. I’m assuming because it’s winter, these 2 were able to put aside their differences and munch amicably on the seed within feet of each other.

400 pictures “later” than the duo of squirrels, I caught many pics of these 4 American Crows together. Crows are often seen in groups, but what interests me now, is that they appear to be eating the seed! Crows are opportunists, so they WILL eat anything, but are not typically seen at a bird feeder eating bird seed. Well, I suppose in the winter I’d eat bird seed too, if I had to.

A handsome Blue Jay makes a brief appearance!

Here are two species eating in harmony! The red squirrel and a Mourning Dove.

Another multi-species picture. I see the American Goldfinches and Dark-eyed Juncos.

Here’s Red, looking guilty? Did he just chase off the birds?

And the last picture I found to be of interest, has 3 different species in it! Can you find them all? From the bottom of the picture up: Dark-eyed Junco, red squirrel, and a Black-capped Chickadee.