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Friday, July 27, 2012

Night of the Spadefoots

Well, I was gonna tell you about some awesome birds I found this past weekend, but I’ve had this one on the backburner for too long and it’s a tale I’ve got to tell. It all started that time Ali, Mark and I went down to Sandhills NWR in South Carolina, when we got the third degree from some Fish and Wildlife official and found a fledgling Common Nighthawk on the way out. Before we reached the exit, the skies opened up and rain poured from on high. Torrents sliced through the night so thick you couldn’t see in front of you, and Mark had to pull over lest we crash into something rather more solid than ourselves. That’s when the fun began.

Once the rains relented to a drivable level, we started cruising rural roads outside of Wildlife Refuge boundaries. From the roadsides, scores of frogs and toads began hopping into our path – mostly Southern Toads, but occasionally something more interesting. We found a Green Frog once, far away from any water, and this nice Southern Leopard Frog ended up being extremely photogenic.

I have bad luck catching Leopard Frogs - they're so slippery!

Ali ended up being our spotter, which is good because the kid has eyes like a hawk. He was identifying frogs to species before he even got out of the car! But nobody needed help with this behemoth. A large Bullfrog, one of the biggest I’ve ever seen, was just hanging out on the side of the road, oblivious to the cars passing close by. He’s got some major scarring around his face – I’m not sure if that’s the result of sparring with another frog or if he somehow survived a close encounter with a water snake. But for whatever reason, this gnarly-looking guy remains the only Bullfrog I’ve ever had the pleasure of photographing.

Not as big as the one Ali and I found a week or two earlier, but still pretty huge!

With all the Southern Toads we were seeing, even I got pretty good at picking them out at forty miles per hour. So I found it pretty odd when Ali excitedly yelled “Stop the car!” and jumped out for what appeared to be nothing special. Then he ran back in with something altogether different, sucking in air and swelling like a balloon until his legs stuck out useless at his sides. To this day, it remains the coolest herp I’ve ever seen, something you can only find on summer nights when it rains enough to convince them to mate. In my hand, I was holding an Eastern Spadefoot.

The males were a lot more colorful, with a kind of purple tint to them.

That night, the Spadefoots were out in force. We ended up finding eight or nine, and each time they’d inflate themselves as some kind of defense mechanism. I expected them to be small, and while the males were pretty modestly-sized, some of the big females we found were huge – one was almost four inches long! I found it surprisingly difficult to hold them, because they’d try to dig down using their namesake spades which actually hurts a bit when you’re being kicked by a big frog. I’ll never forget that night – by far the best roadcruising we ever had.

The big females, on the other hand, had a striking brown-and-yellow pattern to them.

We actually kept a bunch of the frogs overnight in a small Styrofoam cooler filled with water so that we could photograph them the next day. We set up shop next to a random pond which worked out well for me – this way, I could look for some new kinds of fish while Mark and Ali photographed to their heart’s content. Immediately, I pulled up something rather different than the Eastern Mosquitofish I’d been finding all day. After a bit of research, Ali determined that this guy was a Lined Topminnow, and its pretty cool that I can finally put names to some of the random fish that I’ve been seeing.

We saw a couple of bass swimming amongst the schools of fish, but we just couldn't seem to catch them.

We released the frogs and headed back towards home. That’s when we realized that we were pretty close to Pinehurst No. 2, which if you didn’t know is the golf course where all the rich people play until they get kicked out when the US Open rolls around. In any case, I’d heard it was a great place to find Fox Squirrels, but since I haven’t had any luck photographing these guys, I wasn’t expected we’d find any. But sure enough, right on the side of the road and totally ignored by golfers with their sweatshirts tied around their necks, this Fox Squirrel chowed down on mushrooms.

Mmm... mushrooms...

Now feeling a sense of completion, we made good on our plan to return to the Triangle. Since I had to wait a little while for my ride home, I decided to photograph one of the many Mediterranean House Geckos Ali and I caught that one random night. He’s been keeping them to see if he can get them to breed. No success that I know of, but at least they’re still super chill after a couple weeks in captivity.

Just chilling and showing off his amazing wall-climbing skills. No big deal.

I couldn’t have asked for anything more. With amazing herps, great mammals, and even a couple of fish, this lastest trip down to the Sandhills was a fantastic one that I’ll never forget. Since then, I’ve gotten distracted by birds again, so look forward to a super awesome final conclusion to our Huntington Beach trip sometime next week!

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