One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

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Kyle from Carolina
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One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by Kyle from Carolina » September 21st, 2015, 3:55 am

This is my last post from the great white north for the unforeseeable future as I have since moved back to the US. These are all critters that I found this year in Alberta or Saskatchewan. I lost a lot of photos when my hard drive broke halfway through the summer but I still managed to accumulate a few. I spent most of my time finding short-horned lizards and rattlesnakes. The first for work, the latter for fun. I've included some notes and observations for some of the pictures as well as some pictures of scenics and other fun critters.

Disclaimer: Lot's of prairie rattlesnake photos, perhaps too many. If you're from somewhere with a lot of herp diversity, this might seem mundane.

Spring seemed to arrive early this year in Alberta. Around mid-April, I revisited a den that I found two years ago during June. I deduced that there was a den based on seeing two rattlesnake and two bullsnakes of different ages within about 100 m on a south-facing slope. Nights were still frosting when I arrived in mid-April and the days were warming up to the low 70s, so most snakes would come out to bask but weren't dispersing much yet. Starting around 10am, I could see snakes between the cracks, tempted by the warmth. By around noon, many individuals were basking completely in the open. In total, I detected approximately 10 den entrances.

This particular feature consisted of the soft substrates that characterize the coulees in Alberta, with some odd 'hard' rock slides that likely provided good cover for critters.

In total, there were upwards of two dozen prairie rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis) at this site.

ImageDSC_0200_conv by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageDSC_0232_conv by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageDSC_0240_conv by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageDSC_0194_conv by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageDSC_0183_conv by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageDSC_0274_conv by Kyle JW, on Flickr

As is typical with most rattlesnake dens in the region, there were less bullsnakes (Pituophis catenifer sayi) than rattlesnakes. I only saw about 10 here. At another site, there were several more, including some breeding behavior.

ImageDSC_0025_conv by Kyle JW, on Flickr

ImageDSC_0150_conv by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageDSC_0091_conv by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageMating pair of Bullsnakes (Pituophis catenifer sayi) by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageMating pair of Bullsnakes (Pituophis catenifer sayi) by Kyle JW, on Flickr

An hour or two north, in a different drainage system, I found another den. This one was characterized by badland washes and hoodoo formations. While hiking in mid-April, I saw a single individual rattlesnake moving through the grass around midday. Knowing that it wouldn't be too far from the den with night temps freezing, I stalked it for a while and it led me to a den entrance surrounded by several rattlesnakes and a bullsnake. The next day, we followed this hillside for several hundred yards and found several more entrances.

This is one of the coolest things to see when walking the prairie:

ImageEntrance of a multi-species snake den by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImagePrairie rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis) and bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImagePrairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) and Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImagePrairie rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis) by Kyle JW, on Flickr



This summer I worked for PC to survey for new populations of lizards in Saskatchewan. The only lizard species in AB and Sask is the Greater short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi).

Imageprairie scenic by Kyle JW, on Flickr

Imageprairie scenic by Kyle JW, on Flickr

ImageGreater short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi) by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageGreater short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi) by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageGreater short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi) by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageGreater short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi) by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageBasking adult GSHL (Phrynosoma hernandesi) by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageGSHL dookie by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageGreater short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi) by Kyle JW, on Flickr

We would occasionally check out neat features between surveys when the opportunity arose. This bullsnake was found with another in a crack in the east block of GNP.

ImageBullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageBullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) by Kyle JW, on Flickr


Most of the snakes encountered during the summer were an incidental result of spending all day everyday on the prairies. They were usually seen crossing the road in the morning before 10am or in the evening around sunset. Occasionally, we would see rattlesnakes in the juniper dunes while hiking to a survey site just after dawn.

Pissy rattlesnake:

ImagePrairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) by Kyle JW, on Flickr

Basking individual:

ImageBasking Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) by Kyle JW, on Flickr

ImagePrairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) by Kyle JW, on Flickr

Lots of roadcruised individuals. A lot of times they would just curl up in the road when approached, pretty much the worst response to a vehicle.

ImagePrairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImagePrairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImagePrairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImagePrairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) by Kyle JW, on Flickr


Pissy road-cruised bullsnake

ImageBullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) by Kyle JW, on Flickr

Racers occur in Alberta, but I've never seen one. These were found in Saskatchewan. The seemed to turn up anywhere and everywhere, but much less predictably than the other snakes.

Eastern yellow-bellied racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris).

ImageEastern yellow-bellied racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris) by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageEastern yellow-bellied racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris) by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageEastern yellow-bellied racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris) by Kyle JW, on Flickr


I lost photos of the one live baby racer that I found in Sask. This one is the same subspecies from Kansas.


ImageEastern yellow-bellied racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris) by Kyle JW, on Flickr


After work, I would occasionally check old ranch dumpsites. Every local snake species could be found at these spots.

Imagescrap by Kyle JW, on Flickr
Imageold piece of tin by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageBullsnake at ranch dumpsite under tin by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageBullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageBullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) by Kyle JW, on Flickr



Plains gartersnakes (Thamnophis radix) were conspicuous and abundant at most watering holes. At this particular pond, I saw what I thought were several painted turtles basking in the water, as they are common around here. Upon closer inspection, I realized that there were dozens of gartersnakes. This pond was drying and full of northern leopard frog tadpoles, adults, and metamorph chorus frogs. These are the most abundant snake on the prairie, without a doubt.

Imagemystery heads poking out of water by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImagePlains gartersnake (Thamnophis radix) by Kyle JW, on Flickr

This is a picture from last year of the same species north of the prairies, where their background color is a much darker black.

ImagePlains gartersnake (Thamnophis radix) by Kyle JW, on Flickr


And some northern leopard frogs:

ImageNorthern leopard frog (Rana pipiens) by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageNorthern leopard frog (Rana pipiens) by Kyle JW, on Flickr



The best part about the prairies is the lack of people. Our field house was apprx. 40 mins to the nearest town and we had no internet, phone, or potable water. Even on grid roads, I could often stop for a snake, take a photo, move it off the road, change the cd in my car, mark a GPS, and check my map, all without pulling off the road or encountering another vehicle. There was only a couple of days where we encountered another person while surveying off the beaten path, and they were other researchers. Tourists seem to prefer the mtns and passover the prairies, which is fine by me. The wildlife can be harder to find and the vistas are more subtle.

ImageSea of grass by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageEvening sun by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageShadows and grass by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageValley of a thousand devils by Kyle JW, on Flickr


Some days we could every shade of green. As things dried out in late July, the grass cured to a nice golden color.

Imagepairie landscape by Kyle JW, on Flickr


The prairies are also a great place to find extinct reptiles. A particularly famous hadrosaur fossil is exposed in the east block.

ImageEm, Conny, and Chris by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageHadrosaur fossil by Kyle JW, on Flickr
ImageHadrosaur fossil by Kyle JW, on Flickr



Other wildlife and scenery:


Plains bison (Bison bison)

ImagePlains bison (Bison bison bison) by Kyle JW, on Flickr

ImageBoots by Kyle JW, on Flickr


The endangered mormon metalmark butterfly (Apodemia mormo)

ImageMormon metalmark (Apodemia mormo) by Kyle JW, on Flickr

Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana)

ImagePronghorn (Antilocapra americana) by Kyle JW, on Flickr


American badger (Taxidea taxus)

ImageAmerican badger (Taxidea taxus) by Kyle JW, on Flickr

ImageAmerican badger (Taxidea taxus) by Kyle JW, on Flickr

Common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor)

ImageCommon nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) by Kyle JW, on Flickr


Swainson's hawk (Buteo swainsoni)

ImageSwainson's hawk (Buteo swainsoni) perched on haybale. by Kyle JW, on Flickr



Burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia)

ImageBurrowing owl by Kyle JW, on Flickr


Tipi rings were common and always fun to see.

Imagetipiring by Kyle JW, on Flickr



On the way back to the USA, we took a huge detour and stopped to visit family in the San Luis valley of Colorado and had a chance to do a little herping. All of these species also occur in Alberta and Saskatchewan. We found the dwarfed short-horned lizards that occur in the San Luis valley, but didn't have a camera at that time. It was interesting to see these animals inhabiting such different ecosystems than where I've seen them in Canada. I didn't see any species that don't also occur in Canada until a coachwhip in southeastern CO. I started picking up a lot of new stuff once I hit Kansas and Oklahoma, but I'll put that stuff in a separate post.

Wandering gartersnake (Thamnophis elegans)

ImageWestern terrestrial gartersnake (Thamnophis elegans) by Kyle JW, on Flickr

Great plains toad (Bufo cognatus)

ImageGreat plains toad (Bufo cognatus) by Kyle JW, on Flickr

Plains spadefoot (Spea bombifrons)

ImagePlains spadefoot (Spea bombifrons) by Kyle JW, on Flickr

Western tiger salamander (Ambystoma mavortium). I studied this species for a few years in the boreal, so it was awesome to see these guys in the chico shrub.

ImageWestern tiger salamander (Ambystoma mavortium) by Kyle JW, on Flickr



Definitely gonna miss the prairies. So long Canada!

NACairns
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Re: One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by NACairns » September 21st, 2015, 4:12 am

Great stuff Kyle, as usual. Wonderful photography and a great narrative with lots of local information. I'm glad you got that Phrynosoma gig and were able to get to know SW Saskie, looks like you appreciated the area for what it is. Your photos made me incredibly home sick. Good luck on the next step in you career and thanks for sharing.
best,
Nick

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Re: One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by simus343 » September 21st, 2015, 8:29 am

While you said your post may seem mundane to people in areas with great herp diversity, I still find your post quite interesting and amazing. I may get diversity here in Florida, but finding concentrated abundance like what you have found in so many photographs, I could only hope for that - all my stuff is spread out. On a rare occasion I might get 2 herps together.

Very nice overall. It looks like in that picture of the basking Crotalus, if you broke the twig off it'd just slide on down haha.

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Martti Niskanen
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Re: One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by Martti Niskanen » September 21st, 2015, 10:27 am

Nice post. Had no idea Phrynosoma occur in Canada. Learnt (learned) something new today.

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Re: One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by justinm » September 21st, 2015, 11:56 am

This was a great post! The photos and story were just what I needed today. I need to get around to posting some things from this year as well I guess. Keep up the good work I'm sure it wasn't easy herping up that far North.

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Carl Brune
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Re: One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by Carl Brune » September 21st, 2015, 1:07 pm

Very cool post. Love the rattlesnakes and the fossil.

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Re: One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by BillMcGighan » September 21st, 2015, 1:33 pm

Great post with lots of "in situ"!

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Re: One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by Fieldnotes » September 21st, 2015, 4:55 pm

That was a post that i'm glade I didnt pass-by, great shots of some interesting creatures :thumb:

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Re: One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » September 21st, 2015, 10:19 pm

What a beautiful post. Thank you very much!!

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Kyle from Carolina
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Re: One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by Kyle from Carolina » September 22nd, 2015, 7:58 am

Thanks all for the replies, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Canada has some neat critters, and is well off the radar for many folks in the US (at least it was for me until I went).

And yes Martti, Phrynosoma occurs in both Alberta and Sask in a few scattered localities. They potentially occur in British Columbia as well, in the form of Phrynosoma douglasii.

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Re: One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by David O » September 22nd, 2015, 8:25 am

I need to freaking move. That is gorgeous terrain. (Not to mention the herp awesome.)

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TJA
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Re: One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by TJA » September 22nd, 2015, 8:32 am

Really nice photos, and great images of the animals in their local habitat. Made me nostalgic for my childhood in Montana!

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Re: One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by dthor68 » September 22nd, 2015, 10:09 am

Wow, very nice post and photos. The landscapes there are awesome.

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Re: One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by ahockenberry » September 29th, 2015, 4:46 am

Awesome !
Great work !
Thanks for sharing

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Re: One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by Jeremy Westerman » September 29th, 2015, 10:47 am

There is no such thing as too many rattlesnake pictures, or horned lizards for that matter. Now if it had just been bull snakes and garters...it still would have been an interesting post. Very cool finds in an area with purported low diversity you still scored big time. The non herp plains shots, bison, etc. helped capture the region "feel" for the rest of us. Thanks for the great post.

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Re: One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by Steve Bledsoe » September 29th, 2015, 2:52 pm

Very enjoyable post.
Oddly, the thing that really caught my attention was the fossil.
I assume you know what species it is because it's a known artifact in the immediate area you were in?

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Kyle from Carolina
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Re: One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by Kyle from Carolina » September 30th, 2015, 5:34 am

Steve,

I only knew it was a hadrosaur because I was told that it was. From what I've heard, this particular part of Saskatchewan has a low diversity of fossils, but high abundance of those that do occur there. Hadrosaurs, ceratopsians, mosasaurs, crocodiles, turtles, gars, and probably a few others that I don't remember. The neat thing is that you can see the KT boundary and it looks about like you would expect, like ash. Just a little west into Alberta and the diversity increases. We also saw fossilized clams and whelks/conchs. I'm guessing that these, along with the mosasaurs, were relicts of the ancient bearpaw sea, although I'm no expert. Many of the fossils wash out of the soft badlands hillsides and seem to start breaking apart as soon as they're exposed. A friend of mine found a ceratopsian head plate sticking out of a hillside. The exposed shale from this former sea is also where you find the short-horned lizards now. A local guy also showed me a really neat fossil of a plains grizzly bear jaw. It was unmistakeable. I'm not sure how old that one was though.

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Re: One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by FrogO_Oeyes » October 2nd, 2015, 7:06 am

Great post and great images, again. I've always had difficulty finding Alberta's prairie species, despite knowing their best localities. The only confirmed [but technically unvouchered] location for racers is basically closed to public access now, although I did search another spot nearby where they've been sighted. It took three trips, but I found a horned lizard in under 10 minutes once I found prime habitat. The only native habitat for turtles is about as remote as you can get. Anything else has been species I could find 5 minutes from home in Calgary. One unique form to find would be the golden leopard frogs in the Cypress Hills. I've found northern scorpions in Oregon and Washington, but not yet in Alberta [they even occur in Calgary, a recent discovery]. No sightings of wind scorpions either, nor the stick insects which are known but undocumented south of Cypress Hills. It's remarkable how much more abundant herps become as you move south of the 49th parallel.

A couple notes for your life-list:
The tiger salamanders of the San Luis Valley are probably a distinct species which is still undescribed.
The dwarf toads of the same valley are apparently NOT distinct from other Great Plains toads.
The dwarf horned lizards of that valley have just been described as Phrynosoma diminutum.
The northern horned lizards have been distinguished as Phrynosoma brevirostris.
Further south on the Great Plains, many populations have been described as Phrynosoma bauri.
Additional taxa within the P.hernandesi complex are recognized, but seem to be mainly outside the areas of this thread. The paper by Richard Montanucci is available from CNAH.

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Re: One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by walk-about » October 3rd, 2015, 3:31 pm

Well, nothing 'mundane' about that post Kyle. What a beautiful selection of photos with so much to say and explore. Fantastic. Looks like some pretty unforgiving country out there. Makes me kinda want to go out there, but also makes me appreciate the simplicity of trees and water even more.

Rock ON!

Dave

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Re: One last post from prairie Canada - lots of rattlesnakes

Post by TravisK » October 6th, 2015, 9:32 am

Seeing as many of your species also occur in WA, I thought this was very well done. Nice work.

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