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 Post subject: 2 years in Michigan
PostPosted: September 15th, 2018, 8:01 am 
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Joined: April 2nd, 2015, 7:30 am
Posts: 128
Location: Utah
Now that I'm fully acclimated to the Utah desert--and the wonderful smell of brush fires in the morning--I thought I would make a recap of my two years in Michigan.

I moved there to complete my MA in philosophy because it was a good program I thought would help my career choices. This was a good bet: my PhD program here in Utah is wonderful. However, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy (particularly a dull philosopher). So, I tried to make time to explore the natural areas of SW Michigan. Despite getting little attention from the herping world at large, it really is a wonderful pocket of diversity. Emphasis on pocket. Much of the habitat is fragmented and disturbed, thus leading to weird animal distributions.

Luckily, due to my perseverance I managed to make some good connections with biologists and local conservation groups. I got access to private land that, in some cases, was housing animals nobody knew was there. My proudest achievement of my two years was discovering a healthy breeding population of spotted salamanders (A. maculatum). They're common in other locations, but had not been documented in that county for nearly 20 years.

The total species count I had was 36, but I only have 34 species here to note (read: skinks and soft-shelled turtles are terrible photo subjects). For my area of the state, I was inclusive of all species. It was no easy task. I'll try and annotate specific animals where appropriate to give more clarification. In general, I'd say that herping is all about putting in the time. I'm very comfortable getting skunked because being outdoors and learning about nature is probably more important than finding what you're looking for. Probably, anyways. :p


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

ImageIs it spring yet? Eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

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

ImageNorthern ribbon snake (Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageRibbon snake (Thamnophis sauritus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

Thamnophis are weird. Some days you couldn't manage without stepping on one, others they were exceedingly rare. Particularly on the west side of the state, their distribution was patchy. Particularly with ribbon snakes, it seems like a water quality issue. The number of farms and pesticide runoff cannot be understated. Ribbons, therefore, were always special finds.

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

ImageBrown snake (Storeria dekayi) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

I never had much luck with Storeria. I'm more of a hiker and less than a flipper, which maybe says too much about my life! One day when I took my students out for Earth Day, one of them found a neonate brown snake. It was a good learning opportunity and I enjoyed geeking out about it. They're *so* small.

ImageNorthern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

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

ImageNorthern water snakes mating (Nerodia sipedon) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageQueen snake (Regina septemvittata) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

Water snakes are ubiquitous and feisty. The mating picture above was near a den site, which was a very special find on my part. Too often these snakes are disturbed because of their biting habits. This seems to goad on herpers to handle them. I think this perpetuates a negative view of snakes and the justification for interacting with them.

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

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

ImageBlack rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageBlack rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

I only ever found 1 black rat snake in Michigan. They have a disjunct population that spreads on the west side of the state close to Lake Michigan. There are several species like this. The theory is that the way the glaciers moved carved out locations for some of these animals to move past their northernmost range. I'm no expert. I just read the books. In any case, it is true that many animals, like rat snakes, have limited rangers in Michigan. Finding this guy was very special and one of the highlights of my time there. The day after I found him I had a chance to talk to state biologist--the dude who wrote the book--about it.

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

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

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

These snakes are more common than one might think, but it seems as though finding them is all about being in the right place at the right time. Hogs, in particular, feel like luck. The one pictured I found digging around under a board. Why then? Who knows. You've just got to put in the time.

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

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

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

Everyone loves massasaugas. Everyone. I was fortunate enough to find quite a few of them, but I became less inclined over time due to their rarity. There's a rub: if you know a snake is threatened, finding it might be a problem (some of them "found me" by being on trails, so I can be forgiven for taking a picture). Given the threats they face, and how snake fungal disease is firmly established in some populations, going out for them is more and more questionable. Which is a shame, really, given how beautiful and cryptic they are. Western rattlers are fun, but saugas are special.

TURTLES:
ImageSnapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImagePainted turtle (Chrysemys picta) in situ by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

These guys are everywhere. And I did so many stupid things to move them off the road. I wish snappers were more appreciative of saving their lives, hahah.

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

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

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

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

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

ImageEastern box turtles mating (Terrapene carolina carolina) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

I got *way* more into turtles the longer I was in Michigan. You have to, really, because there are virtually no lizards and the snakes don't play by logical rules. Luckily, I was able to find several amazing locations to look for box turtles. I got to watch a population over two summers and see how they lived. Seeing young ones, mating ones, swimming ones...it was all very special. It also helped me get into good habits of waking up very early. They're all done for the day at 9am!

ImageMusk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

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

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

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

Blanding's are amazing. My final act as a Michigan herper was helping these local landowners try and protect the population of turtles they had on their land. They were planning on moving and selling their land. With so many threatened turtles on their land, I tried to encourage them to think about other options. Education is a powerful thing. Last I heard they were looking into setting the land aside, which would be good for the healthy population of blanding's there.

ImageSpotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageSpotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageSpotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

I was given permission by a local conversation group to check on a location for spotted turtles. Sure enough, there were quite a few there for the patient observer. They are extremely rare and special turtles in their Michigan range. I consider myself very fortunate that I was able to see so many during my short time. Even more than the adults, I got to see quite a few smaller baby turtles.

FROGS/TOADS:
ImageNorthern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImagePickerel frog (Lithobates palustris) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

Water quality was the biggest factor in determining if pickerel frogs were around. Cool, clear water was the only place to find them. With so much land being developed in SW Michigan, I could only ever find them at 3 locations. These all were spring fed areas. Hopefully the locations could be protected for the long term given the precipitous decline in the species in its range. Leopard frogs, too, are reasonably uncommon considering their importance in the food chain.

ImageBullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageGreen frog (Lithobates clamitans) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageNeonate gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

These frogs are the most common, though not necessarily easiest to see. Tree frogs eluded me until my last day of herping when I stumbled across a parade of neonates. It was a nice send off for the great basin. :)

ImageSpring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageWood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

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

ImageChorus frog (Pseudacris triseriata) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

Vernal pool season is the most fun time for amphibians in Michigan. If you've never been to one, you really should. Getting up late at night, freezing your butt off, and seeing millions of frogs singing their hearts out is something else. Wood frogs, in particular, are my favorite. Their duck like call is too funny.

(Here's a video I shot so you can see a frog having a fun night: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxHR_D_RWFA)

ImageAmerican toad (Anaxyrus americanus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageAmerican toads (Anaxyrus americanus) mating by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

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

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

ImageFowler's toad (Anaxyrus fowleri) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

Fowler's toads are another one of those animals with a disjunct population. I could only ever find one location in the state that had them. And by that I mean the individual photographed is the only one I ever saw! I spoke with a state biologist and there is simply not enough data to make a claim about their population stability one way or another. They're handsome little amphibians, however, and I enjoyed seeing the one (and its next of kin) any time out.

SALAMANDERS/NEWTS:
ImageRed-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageEastern newts (Notophthalmus viridescens) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageFour toed salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

Getting into salamanders led me to my biggest experience--still to come--in Michigan. I never tired of seeing red-backed salamanders wiggling around under logs. Four toed salamanders, as well, were fun to find as they were indicative of a healthy ecosystem. I was never particularly good at finding them, but whenever I did I cherished it.

ImageBlue-spotted salamander (Ambystoma laterale) macro by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageTiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) coming ashore by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

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

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

ImageTiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) and its frozen home by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageSpotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

My favorite herping experience I ever had was finding that spotted salamander. By that point I was in a good enough place to look at historical data. There was a location from the 60s where spotted salamanders had been found, but it had subsequently become a corn farm (God bless subsidies). I was determined to find a spotted salamander in SW Michigan before my two years were up. I patiently watched the weather and, during a warm February rain, I hit the roads. I drove nearly 2 hours without seeing anything, not even a frog. I knew that if I kept at it I would eventually find what I was looking for. And, sure enough the tiger salamanders started to show up around 11pm. Watching these awkward things waddle across the road was an amazing experience. First it was one, then two...then eight. I knew I was in the right area. I kept at it and then eventually saw a weird looking salamander. Could it be a spotted? I doubted myself because none had been seen here in nearly 20 years. Sure enough, after looking at it for a bit, I knew I had found what I was looking for. I was beside myself! I followed it waddle into a nearby vernal pool and saw another one underwater. A breeding population! Amazing.

I subsequently went back and saw a spotted salamander there with eggs on a later date (when I found the tiger salamander near the frozen lake). Adding that one "dot" to the records for the state was my favorite experience. It allowed me to find what I was looking for since being a child and add to the body of scientific knowledge for the state. That seems like the right attitude to have when it comes to herping.

-Derek


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 Post subject: Re: 2 years in Michigan
PostPosted: September 16th, 2018, 6:42 am 

Joined: June 7th, 2010, 10:42 am
Posts: 2246
Thank you for the beautiful post. Your photos are gorgeous. I geeked-out bigtime over the yellow boxies.
Congratulations on finding the spotted salamander. Quite the accomplishment!
I enjoyed the narrative, as well, because your respect for the animals shines through. I much enjoyed this vicarious trip to a place I've not yet had the opportunity to herp.


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 Post subject: Re: 2 years in Michigan
PostPosted: September 16th, 2018, 10:47 am 
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Joined: April 2nd, 2015, 7:30 am
Posts: 128
Location: Utah
Thank you Tamara.

Yes, the box turtles were very special. I enjoyed seeing their antics on a near weekly basis during the early spring. I think I'm very lucky to have found so many. It's all about trading horsefly and mosquito bites for turtles. A trade I'm (usually) willing to make.

-Derek


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 Post subject: Re: 2 years in Michigan
PostPosted: September 18th, 2018, 3:05 pm 

Joined: August 29th, 2016, 5:25 am
Posts: 10
I knew a philosopher once who wouldn't talk about historical materialism or post modernism while at Camp David at Wolf Lake just a mile from Snake Road.
All the Best
Anne and Warren from Nashville
P.S. - Tried Marx or Trotsky yet?
PS PS - Just heard from Daniel


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 Post subject: Re: 2 years in Michigan
PostPosted: September 19th, 2018, 6:08 pm 
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Joined: April 2nd, 2015, 7:30 am
Posts: 128
Location: Utah
abpaine wrote:
I knew a philosopher once who wouldn't talk about historical materialism or post modernism while at Camp David at Wolf Lake just a mile from Snake Road.
All the Best
Anne and Warren from Nashville
P.S. - Tried Marx or Trotsky yet?
PS PS - Just heard from Daniel


Funny that you knew a philosopher like that. I knew two wonderful people from the south who liked to argue. Small world! :p

I can get behind Marx but post-modernism and its lack of analytic truth becomes less tenable as I learn more. However, its pressing on epistemic clarity is a worthwhile critique. It means we have to work harder. We'll have to have a talk in person.

(Glad you heard from Daniel. Hope you guys have fun. Give me a few years and I'll come back east)

-Derek


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 Post subject: Re: 2 years in Michigan
PostPosted: September 24th, 2018, 7:36 am 
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Joined: March 19th, 2011, 6:43 pm
Posts: 1924
Awesome post :thumb: Lots of great photography! I really like that dirty nosed boggy and the nerodia basking on the twig branch over water withe the twizzle reflection mimicry imagery in the background. Cool stuff :beer:

And the bluish gray wood frog shot :thumb:


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 Post subject: Re: 2 years in Michigan
PostPosted: September 26th, 2018, 6:21 am 
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Joined: April 2nd, 2015, 7:30 am
Posts: 128
Location: Utah
Thanks Porter!

Wood frogs are my favorite frog, so I'm happy to have had the chance to see so many. They're largely seasonal, so I had to make the most of the time I had. :)

-Derek


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 Post subject: Re: 2 years in Michigan
PostPosted: October 7th, 2018, 4:23 pm 
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Joined: December 13th, 2014, 5:27 pm
Posts: 86
Great post and reflection on your adventures over 2 years in Michigan. Your photography (especially animal portrait shots) have been inspirational for years and its been awesome to have you capture and share some of these critters from afar so well. Looking forward to seeing your 2-year Utah-edition post as I know you are already taking some awesome photos out there. ;)


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