Hello and welcome to the Cook County blog — where we will be sharing our summer field-work adventures with you!

School is out, finals are over, and field season is in full swing! This week was a big one for Kate and I as we transitioned out of school-mode and gear up for what is going to be an INCREDIBLE summer. We got all our lab and field gear packed up in our new rental car (which we named Massasaga, or Massey for short) and headed to Chicago to start our first week on the job!

We kicked off the week by learning how to find and perform physical exams on snakes. Liz, one of the snake biologists for Cook County, showed us everything she knew about finding, identifying, and handling different species of snakes! There are three places we are checking on the site we are at: under coverboards, around a large pond, and under flat rocks. This week, we pinpointed a nice hotspot for water snakes around the pond, found the same milk snake three times under his favorite flat rock, and even found a DeKay’s brown snake under a coverboard! My favorite part of the week was finding a baby milk snake under a coverboard, which made Liz go crazy since that is her favorite species!

Liz and Kate pit-tagging a fox snakeKami and Liz in the fieldKami holding a baby milk snakeKate holding a fox snake

On Thursday, Dr. Winter joined us to go check turtle traps! Paul, who works for USDA and Cook County, took us out to where he set up traps on the previous day. Both Kate and Paul kayaked to grab all the traps while Dr. Winter and I waited on the sidelines, getting things ready in case we got a turtle. However, Dr. Winter and I got a little side-tracked when we saw a water snake swimming in the water. We decided to catch it and came up with a whole plan. After a few minutes of staying quiet and waiting for the snake to get closer to shore, Dr. Winter reached his hand in the water and caught the little guy! Kate was super excited when she came back from retrieving the traps and saw we got a snake! Dr. Winter took that as an opportunity to teach us how to draw blood on the snakes. We let the snake go and then started working up the softshell that we caught! When we got back to the lab, we worked up a few more turtles that Paul caught earlier that week – some snappers, another softshell, a musk turtle, a map turtle, and a river cooter!

Dr. Winter holding a water snakeKate and Paul measuring a Common Snapping TurtleKate and Dr. Winter drawing blood on a water snakeDr. Winter cheering Kate on as she performs her first blood draw on a turtle!

On Friday, Kate and I split up and she went to catch snakes while I went to catch turtles. Kristin, another rising third-year student in the lab, and Dr. Allender both joined me and Chris, the head biologist for Cook County. We drove this tank/ATV looking thing around a few large ponds to see if we caught anything. Two sliders!! Dr. Allender and I took that time to teach Kristin how to do a physical exams and draw blood on turtles. One thing we did NOT teach her, however, is how to walk through the pond in waders. That was on purpose. And it was quite funny, but she got the hang of it quick!

Kami, Kristin, and Dr. Allender having fun in the field!Dr. Allender and Kristin working up a painted turtle

Overall, we had an absolute blast this week and it feels SO good to be back in the field. Tune in next week for another update!