bruce and i left cambridge at 11am to do some naturing at the assabet river national wildlife refuge. it took us an hour to drive the 23 miles, passing through picturesque concord into sudbury. it's been ages since i've been this far down route 2, and since that time they've done some reconfiguring to the highway, where instead of stop at an intersection at the concord turnpike cutoff, route 2 is now a continuous continuing westward.
we finally arrived at assabet by noontime. i haven't visited since 2009, so i hardly recognized the place. now there's a paved access road that snakes into the refuge, coming to a large parking area with a large visitor center topped with solar panels. none of this was here back when i visited nearly a decade ago.
i put on a preventative spray of picaridin bug repellent around my head and my hands. we followed a trail behind the visitor's center - harry's way - then to otter alley and around puffer pond back to where we started. there were mosquitoes: not so bad when you're moving and out in the sun, but start becoming a nuisance in the shade and when you're just standing around. it was a nice walk but there wasn't too much to see. i was expecting more wildflowers, but hardly saw any. we're a bit too early for ladyslippers, though we a saw plenty of emerging plants, in a week or two the forest floor will be covered in orchids. bruce was smoking a cigarette intermittently, i think he takes these nature outings as an excuse to smoke outdoors.
crossing the spit of land that bisects puffer pond, bruce called me over while i was busy looking at some wildflowers: a snake! i quickly came by to check it out. turned out to be a water snake (in the water), and soon we saw another smaller water snake also nearby. the larger one was a female, the smaller one the male. we then spent the next 20+ minutes watching hot snake on snake action. the male was aggressively courting the female, who didn't seem interested, and looked like she was trying to get away. the male would crawl on top of the female and make a series of thrusting actions, while the female kept swimming away.
the female then crawled onto land, the male trailing behind her. in fact, the male was actually attached to the female at this point, and seemed like he was stuck, and couldn't get away even if he wanted to. both snakes looked they they were trying to break apart with little success. to make matters even more herpetologically awkward, a garter snake - attracted by the sounds of snakes doing it - came to investigate, and quickly slithered away when it discovered they were in fact water snakes (garter snakes are freaky but not that freaky).
eventually the female seemed like she had enough and did this maneuver where she turned around and kept spinning, trying to dislodge the male. mature water snakes are not much to look at - they can appear very dark, near black - but the patterns on their underside is something else entirely - bands of white and red and black scales, really quite striking. it must've worked because she then slithered into the water, while the exhausted male stayed on land for a few minutes before slithering back into the water as well.
after the snake sex, we saw a swan just sitting on the shore. it was alone, and seemed to be injured, because it made no effort to leave, even when we were right next to it, though it did keep a close eye on us. swans are surprisingly big, much larger than a turkey, which is the biggest bird commonly seen in the suburbs and sometimes the city.
on the puffer pond trail we can across an artificial land for boats and also where people can do some fishing. this place brought back some memories, i remember being here in a previous outing. from there it wasn't far to get back onto paved winterberry way, back to the visitor center, back to the car. in total we spent about 2 hours hiking.
returning home, we visited the concord mahoney's so bruce could get some basil for his little herb garden.