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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Holy Mole-y!

Spring migration is tantalizingly close now. As Ali and I walked into Mason Farm, we could hear the rambling of a Red-eyed Vireo up in the trees and the ripcord of a Northern Parula down by the canal. My first White-eyed Vireos of the year babbled up a storm from some willows, and yet I still found myself missing the Indigo Buntings and Scarlet Tanagers that should show up in just a couple weeks’ time. We kept the birds on our mind, but it wasn’t our primary focus that morning. Instead, once again, we were herping.

The so-called "Blue-tailed Skink" is the first herp I ever learned as a kid.

Didn’t take long before we found a couple Five-lined Skinks, including this nice immature with an electric-blue tail. It had rained a couple nights before, and the forested areas were pretty wet, which meant that Marbled Salamanders were out in force. Every other log seemed to have a fat silver-and-black salamander hiding under it, until the whole thing became routine. Log, flip, salamander. Log, flip, salamander. Log, flip, salamander – wait, what the? Along Siler’s Bog, we flipped a log and found the expected salamander, along with a big gray blob that I honestly didn’t comprehend at first. Without thought, Ali reached down and grabbed the furry mass, just as it dawned on me what we were seeing – an enigmatic Eastern Mole!

Man, for a blind animal he could sure run away from us pretty well!

Unlike herps, which are quite easy to photograph under the right conditions, the hot-blooded mole kept trying to scurry away. We even set it in the middle of the hard gravel path, and true to its nature it attempted to dig, leaving a deep furrow in the rocks. In any case, all good things must come to an end, and we had to let the mole go. We decided to have one last bit of fun and watch the mole do his moley thing. Letting it off close to some soft mud, the mole upended and burrowed, disappearing in less than a second. Between its lack of eyesight and large paddle-shaped feet, moles are perfectly evolved for life underground.

It makes for an awesome shot, but holding moles is NOT RECOMMENDED. They bite!

After our euphoria at catching a mole, and the dismay at cleaning mole turds out of my camera bag (how else was I supposed to transport it to the trail?), Ali turned his attention to finding water snakes and I turned my attention to the birds. Several Blue-gray Gnatcatchers sang from the nearby shrubbery, a garble that sounded like a tin whistle dueting with a kazoo. The Northern Parulas started getting interested in the noises, and this nice male popped up to see what was going on.

The most confiding of warblers and STILL all you can see is the blasted underside!

While having Parulas foraging in the shadows just three feet away is kind of awesome, they couldn’t keep my attention occupied for long. I heard rustling in the grass, and expecting a small snake or perhaps a quick little Ground Skink, I was pleasantly surprised to find this bright green Carolina Anole. I quickly caught him, and was astounded to see him change colors before my eyes – where he had once been completely green, his auriculars became dark in my hand. He’d even grown his trademark red dewlap, and while he wouldn’t show it to me, I was still able to stretch out the loose skin for some facsimile of a mating display.

Like they say, the anole is always greener on the other side!

Along the canal, I noticed a large Yellow-bellied Slider lounging on an exposed log. Usually these guys dive in at the first sight of a human, so it was cool that he stuck around for a little photography. We found another one just as we were driving out of the preserve, a big female intent on laying eggs somewhere on land. Thankfully, Ali jumped out of the car and moved her back into the water, so she wouldn’t become roadkill.

Who'd have thought turtles to be the most difficult to photograph of all herps?

When you see turtles on land, it’s a sure sign that spring is here. Their clutch survival rate has a lot to do with temperature, and a late frost could be detrimental to the offspring. But it seems the turtles are confident the warm and sunny days are going to be sticking around, and I’m pretty confident too. If only I could find somewhere in North Carolina, akin to but not necessarily the Sandhills, to enjoy these spring-loving herps… 

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