A Quick Morning in the Pines, But First A New Yard Bird

It was Friday night.  As is always the case, I STILL didn't know where I would go the next morning.  I knew I wanted to chase a Curlew Sandpiper on the coast.  This bird winters in Siberia and summers in Africa and Australia.  It wasn't a very striking bird, but I figured I should chase it anyway as its at one of my favorite birding spots... Edwin B. Forsythe - Brigantine Unit.  ...known as just "Brig" to the local birders.  

So there was that.  I wasn't particularly excited about it, but always enjoy Brig, regardless.  I also knew I'd make one quick loop, then head back through the northern portion of the Pine Barrens on the way home.  That was the enticing part.  I LOVE herping in September, and after a good day out last week, I wanted more before the season gave way to October's chill.

It was about 9:00 PM, and I needed to get something from my truck.  I opened my front door and in a split second, I saw a cantaloupe-sized bird flush from my front lawn into the tree.  My eyes squinted as I questioned my own first instinct - screech owl.  I yelled into Julie, "Babe - I think there was just a screech owl in the yard!"  She seemed indifferent.  ...she probably just realized even if it was, it flew and she missed it.  *She underestimates my whistling prowess, me thinks.

I started whistling my best screech owl impers... uh, imowlination.  First the whinny three times, followed by a long trill.  I was on point.  I practically fooled myself.  The owl flew to the adjacent Japanese Maple, and this time I got a better look and knew for sure I had seen the first owl in my neighborhood ever.  I ran back inside and coaxed Julie out.

Within three minutes, I had not just one but two owls in a neighbor's tree!  After a two minute look, I stopped my harassment and left them alone.  We were content with great looks and a lot of whistling back and forth.  Every time I encounter a wild owl, I feel immense privilege.

Eastern Screech Owl

I had decided to stick with the plan above for my Saturday morning.  I found out a longtime Facebook friend was hitting the Pines too and with a quick message, found out he coincidentally was going to be in the same area.  My plan was decided.  He is a young kid in relativity to me, an upcoming herper, and very intelligent.

Saturday morning came and I was in the truck by 5:00.  I didn't realize Brig would just be seeing light at 6:30 AM.  The morning was uneventful.  I'd love to say I saw the vagrant sandpiper, but the promise of herps and a short timeframe made me rush out after one 8-mile loop around the marsh.  The morning wasn't a total loss as it was fun watching birds in the low light.  The preserve seemed peaceful, until you looked out on the mudflats with a binocular and caught swarms of shorebirds flying in unison.  I promise I will have plenty of bird blogs with the Winter season coming.  ...I moved on to meet my friend.

Our first spot was a bust, besides one beat-up old box turtle.  I didn't stick around to take great photos, so I apologize.

Eastern Box Turtle, New Jersey

We moved on...  We were flipping furiously.  New Jersey has no shortage of trash.  The sun was dim and despite the surprise box turtle, finding snakes out and about was probably a slim-to-none chance.  Flipping proved to be our friend.  A few minutes into this next area, I was flipping concrete chunks.  I didn't even see it at first.  My eyes immediately went to all the ant larvae, making sure they weren't crawling all over my hand.  Then that flash of red, that surge of adrenaline, caught my eye.  "COASTAL!" - I yelled out.  I took a few quick en situ (as found) photos before it made a run for it.

Coastal Plains Milksnake, New Jersey

It was a gorgeous, deep-red yearling.  It looked bulky and healthy.  I was thrilled.  Not only was the animal beautiful, it was the first milk I've ever found in this area.  Upon further inspection, I enjoyed the snake even more.  The saddles came down to the belly scales on a large portion of the snake.  The side-blotching was minimal.  This was a great example of a "Coastal Plains" Milksnake. 

Coastal Plains Milksnake, New Jersey

Coastal Plains Milksnake, New Jersey

We pressed on.  We flipped many Fowler's Toads and hatchling Fence Lizards scurried about. Honestly, I forgot I'd be blogging otherwise I would have paused to photograph a specimen or two.

Eventually, my herping-partner flipped a stunning endangered species... a Red Cornsnake!  Now these are always a treat, but this one seemed to have a fresh shed and its colors were brilliant.  I'm gonna include a few pictures because why not, right?!

Red Cornsnake, New Jersey

Red Cornsnake, New Jersey

Red Cornsnake, New Jersey

Our next stop was 40ish minutes away.  It would produce my last snake of the day besides a ringneck I only took a quick voucher shot of (again, blogging is new to me and I need to remember that in the field).

Walking along canal banks turned up an Eastern Ribbonsnake.  As ridiculous as it may sound, this was my most exciting snake of the day.  This was the last snake I needed to see in the Pine Barrens for the year.  This completed the sweep and was the second year in a row I've photographed every barrens species!

Eastern Ribbonsnake, New Jersey

Eastern Ribbonsnake

Of course while looking for snakes, I saw multiple frogs hopping into the water.  I actually did take a quick voucher of a Carpenter Frog.  I will include two pictures from a day earlier in the year since it was at the same spot and they are way better photos than I took on Saturday.  It should be noted that this particular day was much sunnier.  Fair enough?  :)

Carpenter Frog, New Jersey

Carpenter Frog, New Jersey

Shortly thereafter, we parted ways.  I drove home, happy with what may very-well-be the last snakes I see in New Jersey this year.  Time will tell...