Pure Michigan

Dedicated exclusively to field herping.

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frogfish
Posts: 57
Joined: June 28th, 2013, 6:10 pm

Pure Michigan

Post by frogfish » July 20th, 2014, 9:16 pm

I was born in the Midwest and lived most of my life in the Mitten, catching frogs and toads and turtles. I decided to go visit the parents in SE MI, and figured I would try and squeeze in a few days of herping. Massasaugas have always been a mystical creature to me, besides living in the midst of prime sauga habitat. As a kid, it seemed that the only thing I could catch were garters, ribbons, nerodia, and hognose. So of course, my top target would be to find a sauga and who better for the job than Nick Scobel? Saugas, along with Blue Racers and Eastern Fox Snakes would be my 3 targets and I figured that with some help, I would have a shot at one!

I sent Nick a message on Facebook, and like a true Michigander, he offered set me up with plenty of spots and even offered to come show me around as he would be back home from his fieldwork with Wood turtles. Splendid! So the plan was set, I would meet him in the morning the day after arrived.

As I sat in the airport and watched my flights get delayed by 12 hours, Nick sent me a message asking me if I was back home and wanted to meet up that evening. Unfortunately, I had to decline as I was still stuck in Philly. Later, I was cursing United Airlines when Nick sent me a text saying he flipped two yearling Eastern Fox Snakes at a new spot of his. Regardless, this gave me great hope that we could possibly find a fox :)

The next morning we met up and drove to a fen about an hour away. We immediately found dozens of northern ribbons, eastern garters, and northern watersnakes....but alas no saugas or racers. We did find a massive, gorgeous gravid garter which we snapped a couple quick photos of.

ImagePrairie Fen in Southeast Michigan by santosh_shanmuga, on Flickr

ImageEastern Garter Snake by santosh_shanmuga, on Flickr

We then spot hopped to a couple different fens and swamps, but all we found were more garters. It was cool to see the different habitats that saugas utilize however! We did flip a couple Blue-Spotted Salamanders, which were lifers for me and the amphib species I wanted to see the most!

ImageBlue Spotted Salamander by santosh_shanmuga, on Flickr

It was approaching 4 PM and we had one more sauga spot to check out, and it was 8 miles away from my house. Nick said he had a board in a field that was kind of on the way where he has flipped racers before, so we made a pit stop there. We flipped the board and two racers shot out and disappeared into the tall grass, leaving me stunned. I was afraid that would be my only shot at racers...

We get to the last spot and hike some upland praries and again...nada. We make the walk to a tiny tamarack swamp where Nick has seen them before in a last ditch effort. While waking around a fallen tamarack, I had a clump of grass buzz at me. Lo and behold...my lifer Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake...a gorgeous little gravid female! I was over the moon to say the least :)

ImageEastern Massasauga Rattlesnake in situ by santosh_shanmuga, on Flickr

ImageEastern Massasauga Rattlesnake by santosh_shanmuga, on Flickr

Happy as can be, we called it a day and planned on meeting again in the morning for retribution on racers and to take a crack at fox snakes. The next morning, I drove to Nick's house and we decided to stop at a local racer and hognose spot of his before going to the place where he flipped the two juvie foxes. The racer spot was the foundation of an old home, and while Nick and I were walking around, we both simultaneously spotted two racers that both got away :( Feeling dejected, we walked to an old refuse pile where we saw a coil poking out. Nick dove and grabbed the coil while I dug the racer out. Huzzah, my lifer foxi...albeit in deep shed haha

Image

We decided to come back to the spot on the way back and try and catch a better looking specimen. We left and arrived after 20 minutes at the fox snake spot, only to find all the rocks flipped and not put back. We were furious, and of course, we found no snakes. We left and hit another spot, where we found a shed but no snakes. Finally, at the final spot we were walking a rock pile when Nick yelled "FOX!" and pulled up this beauty

ImageEastern Fox Snake by santosh_shanmuga, on Flickr

ImageEastern Fox Snake in habitat by santosh_shanmuga, on Flickr

Man were we excited as hell. What a gorgeous snake!

On the way back, we stopped again at the racer spot. 20 feet into the field, I nearly trip over this guy and he was trying to escape down a hole that was just a tad too small for him haha!

ImageBlue Racer by santosh_shanmuga, on Flickr

ImageBlue Racer in habitat by santosh_shanmuga, on Flickr

What an awesome end to an awesome day. I got all 3 of my main targets, I could not have asked for a better two days of herping! Many thanks to Nick Scobel...without him none of this would have happened!

But it does not end here...the next day it was cloudy and cool with imminent rain, so in the afternoon I decided to do some solo sauga-ing at the spot 8 miles from my house. I walked literally 50 yards on the trail when I saw this big, golden 2.5' long male stretched out. WOW! I couldn't believe my luck. I called Nick and he was there in 10 min to see photograph it and see if it was a snake he recognized.

ImageEastern Massasauga Rattlesnake by santosh_shanmuga, on Flickr

ImageEastern Massasauga Rattlesnake in habitat by santosh_shanmuga, on Flickr

ImagePortrait of an Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake by santosh_shanmuga, on Flickr

Well that wraps up an awesome few days in the Mitten. While I now live in the southeast and have fallen in love with its biodiversity and ecology, the Mitten will always be home. Until next time...

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Mark Brown
Posts: 567
Joined: June 8th, 2010, 1:15 am
Location: Austin, TX

Re: Pure Michigan

Post by Mark Brown » July 21st, 2014, 1:03 am

Very cool - makes me a little wistful for my days in the Toledo area. That's neat that you found your Fox near a rock pile.....rock piles were always my favorite places to search up there. Do you get melanistic E. Garters in that area? How were the insects.....bitey?

Congrats on the lifers!

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Rich in Reptiles
Posts: 495
Joined: November 30th, 2012, 7:45 am
Location: Missouri

Re: Pure Michigan

Post by Rich in Reptiles » July 21st, 2014, 12:11 pm

Sounds like you had some adventures on that trip! That's great you found all your main goal species! Did Nick recognize that last Massasauga?

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pjfishpa
Posts: 123
Joined: June 2nd, 2013, 5:51 am
Location: NW Ohio / SE Michigan

Re: Pure Michigan

Post by pjfishpa » July 22nd, 2014, 9:24 am

Wonderful pics. Love the fox snakes. That last massasauga pic and that macro shot are great! Looks like you had a great trip. Hope the weather stays cool around here like it has been for the rest of the summer, would like to get out a few more times myself.

frogfish
Posts: 57
Joined: June 28th, 2013, 6:10 pm

Re: Pure Michigan

Post by frogfish » July 22nd, 2014, 12:07 pm

Mark Brown wrote:Very cool - makes me a little wistful for my days in the Toledo area. That's neat that you found your Fox near a rock pile.....rock piles were always my favorite places to search up there. Do you get melanistic E. Garters in that area? How were the insects.....bitey?

Congrats on the lifers!
The mosquitos were pretty bad in some places haha. No melanistic garters unfortunately :(

frogfish
Posts: 57
Joined: June 28th, 2013, 6:10 pm

Re: Pure Michigan

Post by frogfish » July 22nd, 2014, 12:07 pm

Rich in Reptiles wrote:Sounds like you had some adventures on that trip! That's great you found all your main goal species! Did Nick recognize that last Massasauga?
Yup Beth, Nick has seen that sauga twice before in the past 2 years

frogfish
Posts: 57
Joined: June 28th, 2013, 6:10 pm

Re: Pure Michigan

Post by frogfish » July 22nd, 2014, 12:08 pm

pjfishpa wrote:Wonderful pics. Love the fox snakes. That last massasauga pic and that macro shot are great! Looks like you had a great trip. Hope the weather stays cool around here like it has been for the rest of the summer, would like to get out a few more times myself.
Yup that fox snake was gorgeous...arguably the prettiest snake MI has to offer. Although I do have a soft spot for buzztails haha

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Mark Brown
Posts: 567
Joined: June 8th, 2010, 1:15 am
Location: Austin, TX

Re: Pure Michigan

Post by Mark Brown » July 22nd, 2014, 12:19 pm

frogfish wrote:The mosquitos were pretty bad in some places haha. No melanistic garters unfortunately :(
When I lived up there it wasn't the mosquitos - it was the deer flies and sand flies. Little bastards would dig down into your scalp and bite like hell. We used to run back to the tin areas at full clip, waving our snakebags around our heads, flip the tin and then run back out. Awful little critters.

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mtratcliffe
Posts: 533
Joined: January 19th, 2014, 4:34 pm
Location: Springfield, VA

Re: Pure Michigan

Post by mtratcliffe » July 22nd, 2014, 4:41 pm

Awesome finds and great pics! Did you find any Blanding's turtles? I regret not getting a photo voucher of the only one I'll probably ever see for a long time.

frogfish
Posts: 57
Joined: June 28th, 2013, 6:10 pm

Re: Pure Michigan

Post by frogfish » July 22nd, 2014, 7:51 pm

mtratcliffe wrote:Awesome finds and great pics! Did you find any Blanding's turtles? I regret not getting a photo voucher of the only one I'll probably ever see for a long time.
Unfortunately I did not. I half-assed looked for one but came up with nothing. Next time I go back to MI, I will have to focus on tracking down a blanding's and wood turtle.

I saw a blanding many years ago as a kid, but that was it.

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