2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' Texas

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DracoRJC
Posts: 335
Joined: May 5th, 2011, 2:15 pm
Location: The beautiful Texas Hill Country

2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' Texas

Post by DracoRJC » December 6th, 2014, 9:12 pm

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Ready for a doozy?

Even with herping aside, 2014 has turned out to be the most amazing and challenging year of my life thus far. Looking back on it all, its hard to believe it all happened in the same 365 days! I've made so many new friends in the past 12 months, and racked up a pretty solid list of species if I do say so myself. I met so many new people at the NAFHA meeting in North Carolina last year, and ended up going to Georgia and Florida this spring with many of them, and made many fond memories there. A month later we found ourselves headed to St. Louis for a week, where the herping was choice and the shenanigans extravagant. Not long after, I had graduated from Christopher Newport University in Virginia with my bachelors in biology, and was shortly en route to Austin, Texas - back to my home state for a much-needed change of scenery, where I've sinced moved in with my family. Since then I've found my fair share of new friends and new adventures here - which I guess deserve explaining if you've bothered to read this far! Grab a beer and get comfortable :beer: I must apologize though, the pictures are taken directly from my facebook albums, with a few iPhone pictures mixed in, so the quality isn't fantastic. I'll be using flickr from now on, though!

To kick off January in coastal Virginia, an Atlantic coast slimy salamander. Pretty common, but rarely bothered with pictures until this one.

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One of my favorite turtles, one of several spotties we found in a canal near some railroad tracks. A good way to send us off on our Florida trip on a high note!

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The first snake of the year was more than a good omen for things to come... What a snake! Not in our wildest dreams did we think it would only be in our first hour of herping Georgia that we'd come across not one, but two indigos! The second, however, was emaciated and barely 3 feet long, so I didn't bother with taking many good pictures of that one.

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Later that night, we managed to add some neat species to the list before nearly getting kicked out of our campground. We found several river frogs and their giant tadpoles, as well as amphiumas, in the lake that we camped next to.

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This barred owl was making a meal of a rotten catfish while we were busy catching phibs.

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We had one more morning in Georgia before making a beeline to the Everglades, which didn't disappoint either.

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It didn't take long in south Florida for things to really heat up! Most of the species were brand new to us, and by the end of the trip we found our only disappointment in the lack of Burmese pythons. This knight anole was found about 20 feet up a tree at night while we looked for chameleons - outside of ENP of course. Our own Dane Conley made a spectacular catch after I miraculously spotted this thing. Word of caution - they hurt!

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That night got pretty legendary for us with not one, but two lifer mud snakes! Both were found on the same stretch of road about an hour apart.

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A few more common species graced the roads that night as well.

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The gators really come alive at night, and the crocodiles were just... incredible. Something about seeing crocodiles at night sets off that Jurassic Park feeling in the back of your head. We were lucky enough to watch a pair of crocs court right in front of us, but the female ended up rejecting the poor male :(

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The nights were fantastic, but the days weren't too shabby etiher! This beauty, a lifer for everyone, greeted us on the road outside of our campground on our first morning! This snake was never touched as it slowly and calmly went on its way.

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After that lovely encounter, we made our way to Flamingo to see our crocodilian friends broad daylight, as well as a few other treats.

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With our spirits high, we also did a round at the tourist hotspot of the glades, the Anhinga Trail. Easiest birding in the world, and a great place for gator pictures.

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We needed at least one day at the beach, so into Miami we headed, for white sands and crystal blue waters - while laughing at our friends back home, under several inches of snow. After half an hour in the water though, we found ourselves in need of some scaly company.

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Chasing these beasts around is a blast! It took us many failed attempts before we finally got our hands on one. You've gotta work on your strategy for awhile to get it right. Ctenosaura are beautiful animals, though.

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Getting our hands on a basilisk was hopeless, however. We did get close enough to photograph this juvenile.

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Large-headed anole, Anolis cybotes? Could use some confirmation here. (Edit: Puerto Rican crested anole!)

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We eventually decided Miami was for the birds.

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The Everglades had a few more finds waiting for us before we headed to Tampa.

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Off to Tampa to meet up with our buddy Zack West, who pointed us in the right direction for a few more target species. This, however, was not one of them. That's a bag of rubber organs on the ground in front of it, by the way. Not sure I wanted to know what was going on here.

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Our first ever scarlet king - what a beauty!

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Gotta love those finds you don't expect or think about, but end up enjoying just as much as your target species. Pine woods snake.

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You can never go wrong with a pygmy rattlesnake! Great way to wrap up the day.

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Our last day in Florida marked a legendary end to a legendary trip. Our little homie here told us we were in the right place for the next species we would find. I had hoped to see an adult gopher tortoise, but this juvenile was just as cool.

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One of the most imposing animals I've ever encountered - this eastern diamondback was none too happy to see the throng of herpers that surrounded it. I don't blame it :lol:

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My shots came out horribly, but the experience more than made up for it. What a beast!

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Back in Virginia, a few weeks of early spring weather brought out one of my favorite anurans, the eastern spadefoot, out in droves. I love these guys! These were actually found in a church parking lot, amid choruses of gray treefrogs.

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One snake I won't miss too much in Texas... The woefully common black racer. The stench of musk and bloody hands they give you definitely let you know you had a good day of herping though!

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We had a strangely unsuccessful fall/winter trying to find marbled salamanders, but a few turned up in the spring.

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Cute little spring peeper, flipped under tin of all places.

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Come early April, we packed up for a roadtrip to Illinois, to meet up with a few of the same losers we herped with in Florida.

I guess we had to, right? Can't not go to Snake Road when you're in Illinois.

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First snake of the day was a rat snake scaling the bluffs - followed by god knows how many cottonmouths.

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Who's this handsome fella? For those familiar with him, it was fun, well... Herping With Dylan. :crazyeyes:

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We must have seen at least 25 of these stupid things - we were tripping over them! As I was climbing the bluffs looking for timbers, I even had three of them fall on top of me! Please be careful if you plan to ever herp here, it's an easy place to get hurt.

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While a milksnake was laughing at us under a nearby rock, we decided to goof around on top of the bluffs and enjoy the view.

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A quick drive through St. Louis got us several ringed salamanders in their breeding pools. Amazing critters, made frustrating by their incessant movement when you try to photograph them.

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We also spent a day in the Missouri glades, where you can spend hours flipping those conveniently-shaped large, flat rocks that you always keep an eye out for - they're everywhere! First up was my lifer lined snake. Not so hot on top...

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... But lovely on bottom.

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Up next, a three-toed box turtle and prairie ringneck snake - both lifers for me as well.

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A big target for me on this trip was a cave salamander - check! Love me some Eurycea.

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The next weekend we were back in school in Virginia, with the herping weather really starting to get good. My dad and I went to the Bruce Springsteen show in Virginia Beach (front row in the pit - awesome!!!), and the next morning met up with Dane to explore a new spot in coastal North Carolina. How many people can say they touched Bruce Springsteen and one of these bad boys within 12 hours of each other? Pretty sure me and my dad hold that record!

First, Bruce.
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Now, the snake.

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Almost exactly two years earlier, Dane and I found our first rainbow snake together in Virginia Beach, and we managed to pull it off a second time! The first was underneath an old cinderblock near a pond, but this one was even more unusual. A gigantic brown water snake had been seen crammed into a crevice in a retaining wall along the water's edge, and Dane and I went to work extracting it. As part of the snake made its way into the thick, matted grass, we noticed a glimpse of shiny, red scales, looked at each other, and shouted "RAINBOW!" The water snake was quickly forgotten as we made the catch and began our ritual of hugging, kissing on the cheek, obscene dancing, sending Snapchat pictures to our annoyed herper friends, and generally acting like idiots for the next thirty minutes. Nothing like finding one of the rarest snakes on the east coast to brighten your day!

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It was pretty neat to have seen all 3 subspecies of cottonmouth (eastern, western, and Florida) within the same month. Our easterns in coastal NC/VA are especially pretty!

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Another mud snake? No, believe it or not - a northern water snake! This population in Virginia Beach has an unusual amount of red and orange specimens. This snake was captured as part of a study on potential Snake Fungal Disease (SFD) in the area.

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Black rat snake, in situ.

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I was stoked for this find - my first proper eastern king! I had found one in 2012, but it was very thin, and one of the least attractive specimens I had ever seen. I also found it crawling in the grass - I wanted to flip mine, like opening a present on Christmas morning! So I got to work flipping up a storm in April, and this was the first of three for the season.

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Another rainy spring night brought out more amphibian friends.

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The second and prettiest of the kingsnakes found this year. My friend Zach had found a particularly gorgeous specimen in North Carolina that made me think to myself "I want to find THAT one". Zach took us to one of his flipping spots out in the boonies, and we got this beauty. Something seemed familiar about it, so after asking him, Zach was like "Oh yeah, thats the one you wanted to find so bad." Funny how things work out.

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My herpetology professor, Dr. Michael Meyer, alerted me that he had yet to see a copperhead in the wild - had to fix that! Our first snake of the day was this cranky rat snake, but his prize was soon to follow.

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Everyone loves giant snapping turtles.

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And exceptionally colored box turtles.

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On the beach not far from where I found my first rainbow snake, I stumbled upon this. Neat.

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It was a good season for copperheads - this was one of three seen in one night while unsuccessfully looking for scarlet snakes. You can totally see why this is one of the few spots you can find scarlets in Virginia, though...

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In situ rough green snake, always welcome finds.

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Another copper, also in situ, and never touched. Gotta love those kinds of encounters.

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After keeping one in captivity for awhile, I've grown especially fond of red-bellied water snakes. Extremely underrated animals if you ask me. This was the most recent one I've seen, who decided he didn't want to be friends with Dane's hand.

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Pwetty little baby cottonmouth, doing his best to unsuccessfully scare us away.

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This counts as herping, right?

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My farewell herping day on the east coast - one last visit to my favorite timber rattlesnake den in the mountains. I took some non-herper buddies up to the den site as well, and they were absolutely blown away by the whole thing - gotta love it! First up, your friendly neighborhood copperhead.

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The first timber was a large gravid female found basking the minute we walked up on the den site. After she decided we were too close, she silently retreated to a nearby crevice, where we accidentally awoke the wrath of a smaller individual sharing the same space. We saw a total of 7 snakes that morning. Not the numbers that some people achieve at larger den sites, but I enjoy the seclusion of this smaller site, and the fact that it's easier to recognize repeat individuals there.

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A darker individual.

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An amazing yellow specimen that I admittedly posed for photos, which I normally avoid at these sites. She was on the crawl when found, and was exceedingly docile, so I couldn't resist. What a doll.

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With newly acquired biology degree in hand, it was off to Texas on a roadtrip with one of my best friends - I was to stay at my new house when we got there of course, while she flew home a week later. We stopped in Atlanta on the way to check out the whale sharks. All I can say is... You should check out the whale sharks.

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At a rest stop at the Texas/Louisiana border, a lovely luna moth.

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Further along the way, a gator at Brazos Bend State Park. It was my friend's first gator encounter, and she was delighted when we managed to call in 5 individuals just by banging a stick on the wooden dock we were sitting on. Gotta love it.

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Once in Austin, I of course had to take her downtown to see our legendary Mexican free-tailed bats that emerge from the Congress Avenue Bridge every night. Turns out Bat Conservation International (BCI), whose headquarters is in Austin, runs an educational table at the bridge several nights a week, and after a lengthy conversation with them, I am now one of the volunteers there myself! Bat season is over now, as they have migrated to Mexico for the winter, but volunteering there has been amazing so far, and I find myself enjoying learning about bats more than I ever thought I would.

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A few months later, I even caught this blotched water snake right under the bridge, smack in the middle of downtown Austin! Keep Austin Wild, I suppose :thumb:

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The lovely husband and wife duo of Lee Mackenzie and Dianne Odegard run BCI's bat rehabilitation in their very own home, where they keep many orphaned and injured bats in the flight cage they've built in their backyard. It was an amazing learning experience to get so close to their bats, some of which seem to have lost their fear of humans, like this darling little Seminole bat that came in from Houston. Unfortunately, she passed away in October :(

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Anyway, back to the story - Before she left, my friend and I went to Enchanted Rock in Fredericksburg, Texas, one of my favorite hikes in the state, if not the whole country. Despite having hiked there many times since I was a kid, I never saw a snake there until now. What a way to break that record! A beautifully patterned hognose to boot.

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I'm so glad to live in a place with such profound natural beauty - I've been floored thus far, and I haven't even seen spring here yet!

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I thought this owlfly was neat.

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As well as this MASSIVE walking stick - longer than my hand!

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Snake Days 2014 was quickly approaching, but before that, I managed to stumble into my first snake in Travis County while out walking my dog - and was not disappointed! Can't wait to find more of this hill country specialty next year - the eastern black-necked garter.

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The beautiful Ben Stupavsky acted as my quite through West Texas for the duration of Snake Days - an event that all herpers should try to make if they can! The lectures were great, especially the one by Harry Greene, which I found quite moving and inspiring. After making lots of new friends there, it was time to hit the desert. I had been to Big Bend National Park as a kid a few times, where I saw my first-ever wild snake, a western diamondback crossing the road. My 8-year old mind was blown by the encounter, which I still hold dear. To this day I retain a soft spot for the oft-overlooked atrox. While we didn't enter BBNP itself this time, I was not disappointed with our finds. I'll definitely be back several times next year!

First up was a highly anticipated lifer, a Texas horned lizard! We ended up seeing several during the trip. It's sad how often you hear older Texans talk about how they miss the horned lizards that used to live in X town where they grew up...

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These things are everywhere, try not to hit 'em on the roads!

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The area we explored our first night, I believe somewhere around Comstock? Can't beat the real mountains, but sometimes the lower desert can be just as beautiful.

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Despite the lack of rain, I guess it was humid enough to bring these guys up the surface. Couch's spadefoot toad.

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The next morning we searched for Mexican hognose, and boy did we luck out! We would have missed this snake if it weren't for the sharp eyes of Ben. We later took it to Snake Days for a little show and tell and more pictures.

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A quick jaunt to the Davis Mountains didn't yield many herps, but the views were fantastic.

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God I love road trips.

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A hefty atrox that fortunately avoided the wrath of an oncoming 18 wheeler.

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As I was shining a cut that night, this little dillo came out of the bushes, and actually startled me pretty bad at first! My first thought was that it was a mountain lion when I first heard it, but this guy never even noticed me. In fact I followed him for a good 5 minutes before he stepped on an old beer can and scared himself away.

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The last snake of the trip was this little tyke, my first Trans-Pecos rat snake. 6 specimens later this was still the spunkiest!

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The record-keeping board at Snake Days. I don't think everyone found enough atrox.

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Finally back in my new home in Austin for awhile, it was time to get to work checking off the common species in the area, plus a few bonuses! It wasn't long until I got tired of these things, though. I feel like I've seen more blotched water snakes in Texas the past few months than 8 years worth of northern water snakes in Virginia!

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This one had a nice belly, though.

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The creeks in central Texas are nearly crystal clear, and all gorgeous, making for some fun herping - you can very easily spot turtles on the bottom and just swim down and grab them! The first of many Texas cooters.

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I enjoy our diamondback water snakes much more than the blotched. I think they're much more attractive animals (here they aren't always covered in mud like in the eastern parts of their range), and definitely underrated. My friends still make fun of me for my soft spot for Nerodia, though.

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One of my favorite finds in Austin, a Texas blind snake! I found this guy while on a phone call at 2 in the morning, pacing around the sidewalk after a light drizzle, which I guess was enough to bring this snake up to the surface. It took me an embarassingly long time to determine that it was in fact a blind snake and not a worm!

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Believe it nor not - this is an in-situ shot! As I was releasing a water snake that I had caught, my dog that was with me came face to face with this hognose that was crossing the creek. Neat find!

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A big chunky blotched water snake, for good measure.

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I really enjoy these little dudes more than I thought I would. Red-striped ribbons can be very common near water, and the larger individuals are usually the prettiest, with juveniles being very dull with little red at all. This was my first one, found in the Barton Creek greenbelt near dozens of swimmers (like many snakes I would find this summer).

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Two months after Snake Days and I was already itching for another road trip! Good friends Dane Conley and Myles Masterson, who came along on my other trips this year, came down for their first trip out west, along with Kameron Burgess. These guys had never seen the desert before, and we had a fantastic time, herping like madmen!

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The view from the Pecos River bridge near Comstock. Looking down from this high up makes my head spin.

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Our first snake of the trip and Kameron's main target, my lifer black-tailed rattlesnake, Crotalus ornatus. I spotted this fellow on a cut, hanging out on a ledge. Despite being in shed, this was still a phenomenally gorgeous snake.

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We kept him overnight for some more pictures in the morning. The fact we found it around 2 in the morning also made us want to get to sleep and cherish the find even more when we were rested and awake.

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Some more finds from that night - my first Texas banded gecko, found crawling among a rock pile. While we were photographing her, a border patrol officer came up to see what we were doing, and thought it was cool. These things have quickly climbed my list of favorite native lizards, and now I have two females in my collection that were given to me by a friend.

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This Merriam's canyon lizard was sleeping on the same cut where we found the blacktail. Unfamiliar with some of the numerous species out west, I made the grab to investigate, and was impressed with the pattern on the belly.

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After a pit stop in Alpine the next morning, we made the call to spend the next two nights at the famous River Road, a herper's mecca. On our drive south to Terlingua where we would stay, we spotted this reddish coachwhip on the side of the road on 118. It looked for all the world to be roadkill, but when we got out of the car, it was gone. We looked at the rocky cut on our left and saw a few pebbles sliding down, and following our eyes up to the top, our prize had climbed into a mesquite tree for shelter. After a heroic scramble to the top, we managed to corner the snake in the tree and catch it. One of those textbook exciting captures that I won't soon forget.

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I had never been to River Road myself, so after a quick nap in the motel room, we were all jumping with excitement to try our luck that night. Little did we know, the scenery would prove to be the best of the trip, and we were left speechless by many of the views.

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Our album cover shoot - Closed Canyon, a short hike off of River Road that everyone should check out if they're in the area. This narrow slot canyon was really cool, and there were various tadpoles swimming in the puddles inside.

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Oh hey, Mexico!

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A landmark to herpers everywhere - the most inappropriate rock in the world.

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As you can see, herping can sometimes be an... ungraceful affair.

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After a dead gopher snake, whipsnake, and night snake, this juvenile Great Plains rat snake was the first live snake of the night.

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The DOR night snake - next time I'll get this one.

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When this huge, gnarly Trans-Pecos rat decided to grace our presence, we were nothing short of elated. Since this was another 2 AM find, she was held overnight for pictures the next morning, since we were nearly delirious with exhaustion by the time we made it to bed.

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One of my favorite shots of the year - it took us a surprisingly long time to get the boys their first atrox, and I was starting to get worried until we spotted this feisty fellow. The River Road specimens are almost anerythristic, and can be very pretty.

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The next night would get us not one, not two, not three, but four more subocs! Here's number two.

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And number three. Quite a stripe on this specimen.

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A black-tailed jackrabbit, AKA the west Texas speedbump.

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The next morning, it was off to the Davis Mountains. On our way north from Terlingua, we ran into a few more cool finds as well. The first was my lifer round-tailed horned lizard, neat!

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Breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

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We all were itching to cross the mottled rock rattlesnake off our list for the trip, and decided to check out Point of Rocks roadside park outside Fort Davis. We were unsuccessful, but the climb was a blast, and we weren't totally skunked on snakes...

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My lifer central Texas whipsnake, which ended being a strong contender for my favorite snake of trip. What a critter!

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Night was quickly upon us, as well as a MASSIVE thunderstorm, which ended up chasing us west out of the Davises and closer to Marathon and Sanderson. After shining a cut or two, the rain was upon us. This big lubber grasshopper told us there weren't any snakes out, and that we should shoot for finding some of the desert amphibians, so we took his advice.

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With the storm on our heels, we headed north of Marathon on 385, to investigate the prairie dog town for spadefoots and such, and were far from disappointed. Amphibians were out in force, much to the disgust of the female border patrol officer that pulled us over to see what we were up to before we even got there. The most common species were the Couch's spadefoots.

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After being quite familiar with the unmistakable chorus of the eastern species, it was awesome to hear the western species buzzing around the desert as well. I'd like to get some photos of narrowmouths chorusing one of these days.

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Mexican spadefoots turned up as well, as well as several Great Plains toads.

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We had no idea if we would find any of these or not, but we were all silently hoping for the most colorful of desert amphibians, the green toad. Bingo! Little did we know, photographing them came with many side effects: brain aneurysms, blinding range, and sailor's tongue. They jump. A lot.

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After an amazing trip west, it was time to send the boys home and explore central Texas even more. My good buddy Kenneth Reid has had me over to herp his property several times, and while we haven't quite nailed it yet, I was pleasantly surprised to find my first cliff chirping frog there.

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Kenneth and I later joined Kyle (Soopaman) for some horridus hunting at Palmetto State Park in Gonzales. We didn't have any luck there, but I did manage this somewhat ironic habitat shot.

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We headed east that night to herp west of Houston, and were met with this most heartbreaking sight, a DOR baby canebrake rattlesnake. How sad.

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My first Texas copperhead, this southern x broadband intergrade, was found not too far from the dead horridus.

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My uncle and his family followed us in the move to Austin as well, but from Houston. Before they packed up I headed over there and took my little cousin Cody for some frog wranglin'.

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I've seen a few of these bright yellow Gulf Coast toads over the years, pretty interesting.

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Back in Austin, after several failed attempts, I got my hands on a baby Guadalupe spiny softshell, trapped in a shrinking pool in the creek during a dry spell. So cute!

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I haven't had great luck with Texas rats for some reason...

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Sceloporus olivaceous, Texas spiny lizard. Much bigger than the eastern fence lizards I'm used to, but they lack in the blue belly department.

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I thought these were cool - Southwestern ironclad beetles. In September I started working on the Austin Nature and Science Center near Zilker Park, where I've been doing children's nature programs, and having an absolute blast. The site backs right up to the Zilker Nature Preserve, where I ran into these guys. Apparently they play dead.

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Back to Enchanted Rock, this time with my dad, uncle, and cousin Cody. I've been going here since I was Cody's age, and it's even more special to me every time. A truly magical place, aptly named I suppose.

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It's a great place to see Sceloporus poinsettii, crevice spiny lizards. Catching them, however, is less easy, so I opted for in situ photographs instead.

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This large male appears to have claimed this rock - I'm pretty sure I saw him 3 years ago based on how massive he is. The first time I saw him I thought I had a range extension for Sceloporus cyanogenys, which lives in south Texas and can get 14 inches! This guy is crafty though, he never lets me get close, unlike many of the others. I guess that's how he got to live long enough to get his size.

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This is hard to convey through this photograph, but there are many vernal pools on the dome of E-rock, which harbor an endemic species of freshwater fairy (brine) shrimp, ephemeral breeders whose dormant eggs hatch after rains. I had heard about them since I was little, and finally found a pool chock full of them. One of those small, special moments for me.

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Cody, who was convinced after this hike that he had summited Mount Everest.

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Back at Barton Creek, I found this particularly pretty red-striped ribbon farther from water than any other I had seen, probably because of the recent flooding, judging by how he was off the ground as well.

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This little baby rock squirrel was an interesting encounter. He let me get really close, which was awkward since I was pretty much on a vertical cliff face. These critters are really interesting, with their beautiful patterns and amazing footwork on the cliffs and bluffs.

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Now for something a bit different.... This summer I began working for Tim Cole of Austin Reptile Service, performing snake removal services around town, and making a fair bit of money doing it. It's usually just Texas rats and atrox in people's yards, with the occasional coral or something else, but this call was different. A construction company in Georgetown had buried several large, cracked concrete blocks underground in the lot behind their warehouses, and had been seeing lots of snakes around their facility, mostly baby atrox. They figured out that they had acidentally created an amazing den site, and understandably wanted it gone. Luckily for them, they had a backhoe and a few hired snake catchers - so after about three hours of digging, dodging moving rocks and the shovel of the backhoe, we rescued four adult atrox, over 15 babies, three coachwhips, a prairie kingsnake, many gulf coast toads, and a clutch of 12 bull snake eggs. A few baby atrox didn't make it after being crushed or injured in the chaos, but I'd say we did pretty good. The atrox were donated to the Kentucky Reptile Zoo for venom extraction, while one coachwhip was released and the other two kept for educational purposes, as well as the prairie king. Tim incubated the bull snakes, and they hatched a few weeks after. Aside from the one I kept - the first one out of the egg, who is now doing great and has grown a lot - the rest have not yet been accounted for. They will likely remain in captivity. Anyway, here's the pictures.

Bucketload #1

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Bucketload #2

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Bucketload #3

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The big adult coachwhip, back at Tim's place for some photographs.

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This baby coachwhip has a funny story to go with it - while we were busy rescuing the snakes, this little goober came parading out of the rubble, covered in amniotic fluid, wearing his egg on his head like a hat! We were unable to locate the rest of his clutch, but we assured the property owners that the coachwhips were good to keep around, so hopefully they all safely hatched and found places to live.

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The prairie king, which was also a lifer.

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My baby bullsnake acquired from the rescued clutch, doing fantastically!

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Fortunately, Tim's indigos were happy to put some of the injured baby atrox out of their misery. We only lost 3 out of the 15, if I recall.

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Here's another specimen I rescued on a snake call for Tim... This coral was stuck in someone's pool not far from my neighborhood. Luckily the homeowners were fairly snake-friendly and had removed it from the pool with a net and had it waiting for me in a bucket. This was my first wild coral, but I'm hesitant to "count it". In October I did manage to see one on the crawl at Barton Creek, but before I could grab my hook, my camera, or even the snake, it did a wicked nosedive into the earth and vanished before my eyes. Anyway, pretty snake. Hope to get one the right way next year.

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A few weeks later (we're in late September/early October now), we returned to Georgetown to do some morning flipping, in the hopes of finding what would be my lifer bull snake, if you don't count the eggs. We sure lucked out! As soon as we pulled up to one of our spots, herper Shaun Hayes was out of the car and sprinting down the gravel road after this girl. Judging by the noise we heard after he grabbed it, we thought he had a huge atrox!

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She was less than thrilled, as you can see.

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We flipped a prairie king right next to the bull snake about a minute later, but the bull held our attention much longer.

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A few minutes later, as Tim warned us about a friend of ours stepping on a large atrox "at this very spot", he looked down and muttered "Oh, shit." He was standing on this guy. So uh, watch your step out there guys. ;) I think the atrox around Austin are particularly pretty compared to those further west.

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I turned up my first Texas rat (live and successfully captured, anyway) while flipping that morning as well. I'm hoping the next one is a bit more colorful.

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Back at Barton Creek again, I was on full alert for Texas alligator lizards, which had topped my list of targets for the year. Unfortunately, I've been completely skunked. However, flipping rocks for the lizards did yield this surprise - a western slimy salamander, Plethodon albigula. I had seen one in Missouri earlier this year, but this marked my first salamander in Texas, so I was pretty stoked about it. How cool that we have an isolated population of these guys here in the hill country to compliment the numerous endemic Eurycea species that live in our springs and aquifers.

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I had never bothered to catch an ornate tree lizard, especially after watching hundreds of specimens flee from me. So when I spotted this bright blue male, I decided to go for it.

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Since moving back to Texas, I have seen 6 patchnose, including one of the Big Bend species. I have captured two. Wanna know how many were flipped? Those exact two. The rest proved to be the most sly and elusive snakes I've ever tried to capture by hand. This guy was the first, captured during my lunch break between homeschool nature programs. I brought it back to the group for all the kids to see and touch, which was pretty cool. It was also at a new tin site that I had just discovered all by myself, which I can rarely say.

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This ground snake, Sonora semiannulata, also turned up that morning, along with the first baby tarantula I've found.

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Speaking of invertebrates, I've found two of these little demons since I moved here - watch your fingers when flipping! I actually ended up keeping this guy, he's really cool! Albeit kinda scary... I wish they were easier to photograph, too.

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The smallest turtle I have ever seen, a baby stinkpot found in a drying pool in Barton Creek. The little fella was barely the size of a dime!

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Turns out I was due for oooooone more trip out west. My dad and I were in need of a father/son weekend hiking trip, and he was itching to hit the mountains, where we made fond memories together when I was kid. Since it was a fairly chilly weekend in November, we only saw 3 snakes - which was fine, the goal was hiking anyway. My favorite peak in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend is probably Casa Grande, quite an imposing summit. We didn't climb it, but we hiked many of the popular trails surrounding it and the smaller peaks of the Chisos Basin.

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After a would-be-lifer Big Bend patchnose escaped, another central Texas whipsnake showed up, but didn't stick around long.

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We hiked a bit of the Davis Mountains as well, where I turned up a juvenile Baird's rat snake on the crawl on the side of the trail. Another lifer.

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On the way out, we decided to drive through the prairie dog down north of Marathon, where earlier in the year I found all those amphibians out during the storm. I hadn't seen the prairie dogs themselves in over a decade, and they were still there, squeaking and barking at us as we approached. We were lucky enough to see a golden eagle fly over us as well, with what looked like a bull snake in its talons. Unfortunately, I couldn't photograph it and it landed out of sight behind some bushes to eat its prey. Here's a scenery shot, though - there are probably a dozen prairie dogs in this picture, but they were too far to focus on for a proper photograph.

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Was I done with road trips yet? Apparently not! I had been planning on hitting south Texas for some of my biggest herping goals in the state - speckled racers and Texas indigos (what else?). My plans started to fall apart, however, and I had started to lose hope in going until good friend Kory Steele, president of the Virginia Herpetological Society, saved the day by offering me the pull-out bed in his hotel room in exchange for me taking him herping, since he was unfamiliar with the area. I had never been to south Texas myself, but I had spent long enough researching the area that I knew what to do and where to go.

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I spent the first day in south Texas alone, waiting for Kory to arrive later that night. First up was Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, where I had hoped to see an indigo. No luck there (the only herp of the day was a lone alligator at the end), but the refuge offers some of the best birding in the country, with more species recorded than anywhere else in the US, and boasting a number of rare neotropical migrants. After seeing (but not photographing) great kiskadees, least grebes, Harris' hawks, and some other new species, I did manage some photos of the green jays that hang around the feeders and the bird blind.

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It was definitely cool to see signs like this one!

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The next morning was when he decided to crank it up a notch...

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With the beautiful weather on our side, we set off on the trails at Sabal Palm Sanctuary - number one on my herpetological bucket list. I have to thank Seth Patterson, who works for the sanctuary, for allowing us access to our next couple of finds. The property itself is a fascinating place. As the last remaining grove of virgin sabal palm forest in the United States, it is also one of the most biodiverse locations in the country as well. Since you all probably know what's coming anyway, let me first bother you with some nice scenery :lol:

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The historic Rabb plantation house is actually pretty cool, and served as a visitor center/gift shop for the sanctuary. The palms themselves were, of course, quite beautiful. I felt as if I were one of the islands in Jurassic Park. Even though I was actually further north, it felt more tropical than south Florida!

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Okay, I'll stop teasing. Didn't take long to find what we were looking for, the mythical speckled racer, Drymobius margaritaferus. I'll save the gushing, but take my word for it, this was the most beautiful snake I had ever seen. Easily. Absolute herper ecstasy right here.

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For a native Texan like myself, this really was a special moment. Apparently the latin name translates to "bearer of pearls", and its easy to see why. Just... stunning. I'm getting goosebumps as I type this just thinking about this snake again. Fun fact: I made a wicked iPhone background by zooming in on this shot.

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After watching the snake magically vanish into the brush, I let out a heavy sigh and thanked my lucky stars. It was actually Kory that spotted the snake - I had walked right past it! Their camouflage really is incredible. The blue and green speckles blend into an unnoticeable blur, especially when the snake moves. As we further explored the property, with our fingers crossed for the unthinkable (and indigo and speckled racer in the same day?? no way!), a juvenile Ruthven's whipsnake and Mexican tree frog both presented themselves. Both South Texas specialties as well, and lifers for both of us. I got cruddy pictures of both, so I'll have to return to do the job properly - hopefully I can find Mexican tree frogs in chorus!

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The icing on the proverbial cake... Walking through some very thick and tall grass and scanning for any sign of snakes, about 50 feet ahead of me I saw a few inches of shiny, black tail disappear into the brush. With the winged feet of Hermes, I took off sprinting, and emerged with a big snake and an even bigger grin.

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They really ARE blue...

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On the left is the lower ventral portion of the animal, with the upper ventral on the right. What a difference! I love snakes whose color and pattern and changes down the body. How cool, reminds me of a Bengal tiger.

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That marks the end of my epic finds for the year, but I wasn't quite finished yet. After a celebratory dinner, Kory and I went to nearby Oliviera Park in Brownsville, in hopes of seeing the flocks of red-crowned amazon parrots that roost there every evening. After an hour of waiting in the car in the parking lot and nearly falling asleep, we were suddenly startled by the raucous squawking of hundreds of birds flying in over our heads. They descended upon the pine and eucalyptus trees all around the park, and demonstrated all kinds of incredible social behavior that I could have watched for hours. I even into Dr. Richard Kline of UT Brownsville and his wife, who were also watching the birds. The fact that these birds are native to Texas, and not an introduced species, is especially interesting.

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Back in Austin, and inspired by the parrots I had seen in Brownsville, I was determined to locate the flocks of feral monk parakeets that roam the city. I had seen a few here and there fly overhead, but I recently learned of the UT intramural fields, where they roost by the hundreds and build their huge stick nests in the light posts. I think invasive/introduced species can be fascinating, and these were no exception. I grew up around many captive parrots as a kid, so this was extra special for me.

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And to wrap up the year, I headed over to Kenneth Reid's property one last time for some flipping last week, and rounded it out with another Texas patchnose, this time a good sized adult.

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I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it - not to mention how much I enjoyed actually seeing all these animals! I had a truly unforgettable year that I am very thankful for, and I owe many, many people for helping make it so. Next year I won't be covering quite as much ground, so I'll mainly be focusing on herping the different regions of Texas much more thoroughly than I did this year - although a late summer Arizona trip is in the works, so stay tuned. So here's to an even better 2015... It'll be tough to beat!

Happy herping, and happy holidays as well,
Ryan

pops
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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by pops » December 7th, 2014, 8:43 am

Wonderful post! Love the mix of amphibians & reptiles. Thx for posting -dave

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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by Jacob » December 7th, 2014, 12:15 pm

Good stuff!

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JEDDLV
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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by JEDDLV » December 7th, 2014, 2:37 pm

Really enjoyed this post guys, thanks for sharing

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walk-about
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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by walk-about » December 7th, 2014, 3:55 pm

Whoa! Well that was insane!!! Lined snakes, Rainbow, Indigo, Ringed manders, American Crocs and the most expressive Trans Pecos Rat I have ever seen. Loved that Alien too. Dang that is a lot of real estate you covered. I mean that is more places than I've been in a lifetime. I'm jealous!! But so happy you got to experience such moments. WOW! Rock ON!

Dave

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DracoRJC
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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by DracoRJC » December 7th, 2014, 4:56 pm

walk-about wrote:Whoa! Well that was insane!!! Lined snakes, Rainbow, Indigo, Ringed manders, American Crocs and the most expressive Trans Pecos Rat I have ever seen. Loved that Alien too. Dang that is a lot of real estate you covered. I mean that is more places than I've been in a lifetime. I'm jealous!! But so happy you got to experience such moments. WOW! Rock ON!

Dave
Thanks Dave! I'm not sure how far along I was when you commented, but I had to leave the post half-finished for awhile, but its done now - hope you see the whole thing!

Ryan

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JakeScott
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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by JakeScott » December 7th, 2014, 5:07 pm

That was a truly amazing post. I've never seen a rainbow in VAB, but I found some areas that looked VERY nice!

Your Anolis in question is Anolis cristatellus. A. cybotes have an almost uniform yellow dewlap and their heads are truly much larger.

-Jake

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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by NewYorkHerper16 » December 7th, 2014, 5:12 pm

WOW!! Now that's a great post! Everything was incredible but i will comment on a few of these critters. I LOVE the hognoses, speckled racer, and i also thought the herps in the buckets were really cool. But that jackrabbit will give me nightmares, those are the single most horrifying creatures of this world haha!
Again though, AWESOME post! :)

Jacob
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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by Jacob » December 7th, 2014, 5:23 pm

Alright, now I can barely wait for Spring! Ryan, I will show you some more tin sites south, east, and North (new and untouched) if you let me hitch a ride to South Texas!! Burning to get out after seeing this. Nice year.

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DracoRJC
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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by DracoRJC » December 7th, 2014, 5:44 pm

Jacob wrote:Alright, now I can barely wait for Spring! Ryan, I will show you some more tin sites south, east, and North (new and untouched) if you let me hitch a ride to South Texas!! Burning to get out after seeing this. Nice year.
Thanks man - I'll take you up on that offer for sure!

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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by Tyler Hake » December 7th, 2014, 6:06 pm

Just as jealous as I was the first time you posted all these.

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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by Coluber Constrictor » December 7th, 2014, 9:50 pm

I consider it a good year if I see, like, 1/10 of the amount of herps in this post. Impressive stuff to say the least :shock:

You found those ringed salamanders breeding in the spring? I thought they were strictly fall breeders.

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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by Tamara D. McConnell » December 8th, 2014, 4:35 am

Amazing post!
I have never seen ringed salamanders before...so very cool.
You did 2014 right. Wow.

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TimCole
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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by TimCole » December 8th, 2014, 7:45 am

Great post and good pics.

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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by Tuataurifer » December 8th, 2014, 1:20 pm

You KILLED it this year. Im WAY proud of you buddy, next year Arizona.

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DracoRJC
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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by DracoRJC » December 8th, 2014, 2:35 pm

Tuataurifer wrote:You KILLED it this year. Im WAY proud of you buddy, next year Arizona.
Word. Are you still in on that? There's a little rumor of going into Mexico too, but who knows.

Ben
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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by Ben » December 8th, 2014, 5:45 pm

Nicely done sir! Wish I could have been a part of more of this than I was. :( Nice finds and nice shots! :)

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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by IllinoisGuy » December 9th, 2014, 12:18 pm

So many cool finds in one post, great job man!

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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by condyle » December 16th, 2014, 4:10 pm

Nice Post!

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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by Jeroen Speybroeck » December 20th, 2014, 8:48 am

Fantastic post; sooo many great species and great narrative, thanks!

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Mike Pingleton
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Re: 2014 rocked! Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and good ol' T

Post by Mike Pingleton » December 26th, 2014, 5:55 pm

Awesome! Nice year.

I don't think I've seen an aquatic hognose posted, ever.

That red-striped ribbon is a top-tier serpent!

thanks!
-Mike

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