Second half of 2015

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Second half of 2015

Post by bgorum »

This morning when I went to start my truck for work I had to scape frost off of my windshield, which brought me to the realization that the 2015 herp season is pretty much over for me.

I posted the first half of 2015 here- ... =2&t=22182 and here- ... =2&t=22183

2015 was a strange year for me. The spring and early summer was wet and cool. I ended up missing the spadefoot choruses I had planned of photographing this year, partly because in many areas they bred early and partly because I was just plain busy. I didn’t get out into the field during the day nearly as much as in years past. Instead, during the summer of 2015, I became nocturnal, cruising desert highways until the small hours of the morning and finding a new interest in the night sky.

Here are the results of that nocturnal wandering along with a good helping of daytime stuff too.

ImageGorum_150617_2711 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Prairie Rattlesnake on June 17th

ImageGorum_150618_2713 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Glossy Snake on the 18th

ImageGorum_150618_2726 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Merriam’s Kangaroo Rat

(I want to make K-rats a photographic project for next year).

ImageGorum_150619_2728 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Massasauga on the 19th

ImageGorum_150619_2737 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Prairie Rattlesnake

ImageGorum_150619_2742 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Big honkin’ Diamond-back

ImageGorum_150619_2746 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

More typical sized Diamond-back

ImageGorum_150624_2752 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Gravid Lesser Earless Lizard at the Volcanoes west of Albuquerque on the 24th

ImageGorum_150627_2767 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

A Railroad Crossing that is well known to New Mexico herpers, especially those that seek little grey rattlesnakes.

ImageGorum_150627_2797_8_9 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

The moon soon to set behind the Sierra Ladrones

ImageGorum_150628_2816 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Painted Turtle crossing a levee road at Bosque del Apache on the 28th

ImageGorum_150628_2825 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Rio Grande Turkey hens and polt

ImageGorum_150628_2879 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Twin-spotted Spiny Lizard

ImageGorum_150628_2892 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Leopard Lizard

ImageGorum_150628_2907_08_09_10_11 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Clouds over the Chupadera mountains

ImageGorum_150628_2916 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Lightning storm over the Chupaderas

ImageGorum_150628_2949 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

On the way home from BDA that evening I took this picture of a Prairie Rattlesnake, combining flash and a long exposure to capture both the snake and the night sky. Its not really a great shot. The moon is touching the edge of the frame and is way overexposed. The composition is wonky, with too much empty space on the left and to a lesser extent on the right too. But this picture put an idea in my head that I would end up working on for the rest of the summer. I’ve enjoyed shooting in situ pictures of herps using a wide-angle lens to capture elements of the animal’s habitats for many years now, but I’d never really tried it at night. Nights turned out to be the when I had the most free time this summer too, so I decided to get out as often as I could and see what I could come up with.

ImageGorum_150701_2957 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Another gravid Earless Lizard on July 1st

ImageGorum_150701_2959 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

When I approached closer she saw her own reflection in the lens and got all agro!

ImageGorum_150701_3000 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

I’ve always had a thing for Lesser Earless Lizards. It was one of the first species I ever collected as a kid in the vacant lots on the then outskirts of Albuquerque.

ImageGorum_150701_3011 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

ImageGorum_150701_3024 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr


ImageGorum_150701_3038 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

ImageGorum_150701_3093_4_5-Edit by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Moonrise and rainstorm over Albuquerque

ImageGorum_150701_3099 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Lightning over Volcan

ImageGorum_150701_3109 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Rainstorm lit up by Albuquerque’s light pollution

ImageGorum_150707_3123 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Couch Spadefoot on a wet highway on the 7th

ImageDouble Rainbow over Albquerque by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Double rainbow over Albuquerque on the 8th

ImageGorum_150712_3238 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

On the 12th I went hiking at the volcanoes and was surprised to find most of the trails there had been closed for restoration. I have mixed feelings about this. The volcanoes are my favorite close herping spot and the trail closures make much of the area off limits now. We all know that hiking trails probably do not constitute preferred habitat for most herps. To consistently find many species you need to get off the trail and go to where they are, but that is no longer a legal option over most of the Volcanoes Day Use Area of Petroglyph National Monument now.

ImageGorum_150712_3241 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

However, on the plus side, it now makes several dens located there off limits. I must confess I feel at least partly responsible for a decline in snake sightings at those dens in recent years. When I first began observing the dens we would see lots of snakes, many we recognized as individuals, returned year after year. I made the mistake of posting photos of the snakes on this forum. I never detailed exactly where the dens were, but anybody with a modicum of understanding of these snakes could undoubtably search for and find them. Afterwards I saw people with snake hooks at or near one of the dens on at least two occasions and we just didn’t see very many snakes there anymore. (Why anyone who is not engaged in legitimate research where manipulating the animals is 100% necessary would need a hook at a den, especially one located on a National Monument, is beyond me). I don’t know for sure, but I strongly suspect that people (herp people) mucking around with the snakes at the dens caused them to either abandon those particular dens or become more secretive in their behavior there. I will never again make the mistake of describing the location of a den in any more detail than a mountain range or a county. I recently saw rangers intercept two groups of people at the volcanoes that were off trail and I talked to one of the rangers who told me that he had written 70 citations in the previous week at $120 a pop. They are taking this seriously! Hopefully the snakes will be left in peace now.

ImageGorum_150712_3248_49_50 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Someone else photographing the storm I was photographing.

ImageGorum_150712_3260 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Great Plains Toad doing his bad ass puffed up display

ImageGorum_150715_3287 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Gopher snake on the 15th

ImageGorum_150715_3291 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Opaque Prairie Rattlesnake out on the crawl

ImageGorum_150715_3300 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Millepede eating a road killed Whiptail


Great Plains Toad on the road after dusk

ImageGorum_150718_3314-Edit by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

July 18th and that same well known RR crossing

ImageGorum_150719_3321 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

and again on the 19th. I had been wanting to take some pictures of the Milky Way. Most people who do this have FX format cameras and wide-angle lenses that are at least f2.8. I have neither, but decided to try it anyway.

ImageGorum_150719_3331-Edit by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

I then decided to try it with herps. For the sake of full disclosure I have two say that this requires two separate exposures. The difference between the toad and the sky is just too great to do this with a single exposure. The camera position remained exactly the same for both shots, but the ISO, f-stop, shutter speed, and focus were all very different for the two frames. The two frames are combined afterwards using software. Purist may object, but my feeling is that since we can see the stars in the sky, and if we shine a light on the toad we can see it as well, then as long as the camera is not moved we are merely using the exposure blending technique to allow us to capture everything our eyes can see in one picture and I’m ok with that.

ImageGorum_150720_3345 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Stars over the Rio Grande on July 20th. The light pollution on the horizon is probably from the town of Belen about 15 miles to the north, or possibly Albuquerque, another 30 miles north of that.

ImageGorum_150721_3352-Edit by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Prairie Rattlesnake photographed on the 21st using the same two exposure technique as the Spadefoot earlier, but without refocusing for the sky shot. This is closer to how we are used to seeing backgrounds in close-up shots (out of focus), but I’m not sure I like the effect. I feel like stars should be pinpoints, not circular orbs, and I really don’t like how the volume anamorphosis of the wide-angle lens is emphasized by the obvious stretching of the stars in the corners.

ImageGorum_150721_3361 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

A trestle bridge that same night

ImageGorum_150721_3358 by Bill Gorum, on Flickr


Spotted Tylosis on the 22nd. At this point I need to share a little cautionary tale with the other photographers on the forum. Make sure your backup strategy has no holes in it. Mine had a serious flaw, and what makes matters worse, I knew about it but hadn’t corrected it! Basically all of my most recent pictures only existed in one place, my external hard drive. Once everything has been key worded and cataloged they exist in three different locations, but sometime in early August my external hard drive failed and I lost almost all the pictures I had taken in the previous couple weeks. A few, like this one had been uploaded to 500px, so I was able to get back full size jpegs of them, but the RAW files are gone and even worse some of my favorites from experimenting I’d been doing with night shots had not been uploaded to 500px yet and are just completely gone. Needless to say I have since dealt with that issue and now my most recent photos exist in two locations even before I’ve processed them.


Winterfat and Snakeweed at the volcanoes

Image ... bill-gorum

Self portrait


Prairie Rattlesnake on the 23rd

Image1003405_980767745309067_4136631298136143432_n by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

A Massausaga on the 27th. This is one of the pictures I lost. It now only exist as this crappy, low resolution version I downloaded from my Facebook page.

Image ... bill-gorum

Hook-nosed Snake on the 28th


Couch Spadefoot on the 29th


On the 30th I spent a frustrating night trying to access calling Spadefoots and Great Plains Toads south of Belen. They were in an agricultural/residential area. I could hear choruses, but they were all calling from peoples flooded yards or other situations where I had no access. This is the only picture I got that night. A pair of amplexed Couch Spadefoots in a roadside puddle. Around midnight the temperature suddenly got cooler, (I could feel it), and the calling abruptly stopped.

ImageGorum_150807_3502-Edit by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

On the 8th of August I had the unfortunate experience of witnessing a Diamond-back get smashed by an 18 wheeler. I decided I wanted to try to take a picture that illustrated the dangers snakes face on the roads that night. This is my first effort with a Prairie Rattlesnake I found on that same road later that night.

Image11825031_988686424517199_4572249281208416155_n by Bill Gorum, on Flickr

Massasauga on the 11th. Another one of the pictures I lost. So most of what I shot during the month of August is gone thanks to the failed hard drive. A hard lesson learned!


Verga and the Sierra Ladrones on August 28th


Another attempt at taking a picture to illustrate the dangers snakes face on the highways. Full disclosure- this is a combination of three exposures, all with the camera remaining in the same position.


Moonrise over the Sandias and the Three Sisters on 29th.


Verga at the volcanoes on the 31st

Contrail and clouds west of Albuquerque


Moonrise over Albuquerque and the Sandias

Image ... bill-gorum

Couch Spadefoot and moon


Great Plains Toad



Another Great Plains Toad, this time with the moon and lights of Albuquerque behind it. One thing I don’t like about these pictures is the black mid ground. The animal is lit by flash, the background by available light, but there is always this mid ground which has almost no available light on it and is too far away for the flash to illuminate. On this shot I tried throwing some light from my headlamp onto the vegetation in the mid ground, but I think I needed to add more than I did. I definitely want to experiment some more with this next year.


Banded Garden Spider at the volcanoes on September 3rd


On September 11th I was driving back to Albuquerque from El Paso on one of my favorite backroads when I stopped to photograph these clouds. On the way back to the car I walked over a cattle guard and looking down into it I was surprised to see an obviously gravid Diamond-back there. This seemed late in the year for her to be gravid to me, but then about a week later my friend Notah found a female Prairie Rattlesnake with a brand new batch of babies. We can only conjecture that the cool wet weather we had early in the season had some female rattlesnakes giving birth late this year. Unfortunately the Diamond-back was not well situated for photographs, and as much as I wanted to, I was unable to go back and check on her later.

Image ... bill-gorum

Rock art west of Los Lunas on the 13th




Dusk on the 18th


and a Hognose Snake just after dusk


Albuquerque got a big late monsoon season storm on the 22nd


Image ... bill-gorum

The rains brought out some Great Plains Toads. This one was photographed with the lights and light pollution of Albuquerque in the background. I tried adding some light to the mid ground with my trucks headlights.


The same individual after he hopped off of the road and it began to rain. I want to continue experimenting with these night time herp in habitat shots next year. This year I stuck to road cruising because that way I could maximize the number of animals found while I was trying to work out the various kinks in exposure, etc. Next year I want to concentrate on doing this while night hiking.


On the 26th I went out to the volcanoes to try to work out where the moon was rising in preparation for the next night’s super moon eclipse.


Full moon shots over the landscape once the sun has set are frustrating exposure wise. Properly exposing the landscape always results in an overexposed moon like you see here. You would think you could just shoot another frame with the moon correctly exposed and then blend the two together like I did with the Milky Way herp shots this summer, but the problem is that the overexposed moon is always bigger than the correctly exposed one because the overexposure does not only include the moon, but a glowing halo of light around the moon. One solution would be to shoot the correctly exposed moon at a slightly higher magnification than used for the landscape, but putting a moon that is bigger than it actually appeared into the photograph bothers me. It reminds me too much of these landscapes I often see people post on Facebook where a huge moon shot with a telephoto is placed into the sky of a wide-angle landscape. People who don’t know any better are always impressed, but those pictures just scream fake to me.


I shot a few other landscapes that night


Image ... bill-gorum

I went back out the next night to shoot the eclipse. I headed to a spot south of the volcanoes that is still open to hiking. This allowed me to avoid the crowds of people that gathered at the volcanoes to celebrate the eclipse.


Unfortunately in Albuquerque the moon rose only partially eclipsed. The full eclipse would not occur until well after dark.


Image ... bill-gorum


Here the moon is nearly fully eclipsed, but by this time it is well above the horizon and the landscape, (except for the city lights), is pretty dark. Fun experience though!


Prairie Rattlesnake out on the crawl at the volcanoes on the 28th


and another I pulled off of the road that evening


My favorite thing about fall is the richness of the browns when the vegetation has died, but hasn’t been bleached by the winter sun, rain/snow, and wind. This is tumbleweeds and grass at the volcanoes on the 29th of September.


Sunset over the Ladrones on the 30th


and a Box Turtle crossing a road at dusk


Milky Way on October 1st



Hognose Snake on the 3rd


Cumulonimbus clouds over the Manzanos


and a Prairie Rattlesnake right at sunset



Stratocumulus clouds over the Manzanos on the 9th


and a Box Turtle out cruising on a sunny, but cool and windy, morning




Neonate Massasauga on the 11th



A couple juvenile Collared Lizards out basking on the 15th




Russian Olives on the 25th


New Mexico Olives




Godding Willow on the 26th



I’ll end it all with a little fall color along the Rio Grande bosque in Albuquerque. Thanks for looking!

Matt Arnold
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Re: Second half of 2015

Post by Matt Arnold »

Incredible post Bill and fantastic photography!

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Re: Second half of 2015

Post by MattSullivan »

these are sweet Bill. nice to see somebody still finding new ways of photographing subjects that have been photographed millions of times already

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Re: Second half of 2015

Post by AndyKraemer »

Great shots Bill! I love your perspective with these herps (i.e. getting down to their level), and the combined shots with herp + night sky are spectacular!


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Re: Second half of 2015

Post by JEDDLV »

Always enjoy your posts Bill, thanks

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Re: Second half of 2015

Post by walk-about »

Stunning images Bill! There are but a few people's year end posts that I anticipate and you are one of them. Your images, especially the panoramic ones are my favorites and I think the best I have ever seen. Loved your turtle captures; and I just don't see many from out west. Thanks for posting.

Rock ON!

Dave Frymire

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Re: Second half of 2015

Post by sdpete »

Your photography is great,some of your captures exemplify the NM of C. McCarthy that I picture when I am reading his work.
That should, and I hope, make you proud....

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Re: Second half of 2015

Post by Roki »

Your photography is breathtaking. I really enjoyed this posting.

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Re: Second half of 2015

Post by Y.Morgan »

What a clever and gorgeous way to show off NM! Our skies really are fantastic, but less-gifted photographers like me must choose between showing the herp and showing the sky in our shots - especially at night. Your combos are so cool. Surprisingly, it's the Great Plains Toad photos that I like best, but nearly every shot is eye-popping. The scalation on that big honking atrox is cool. And the RR crossing with lightning on the right is one of my faves. (BTW, I like looking for little gray rattlers in NM and I have NO idea where that crossing is. I'm kinda glad to be so out of the loop.)

The one word that always comes to mind when I see your posts is "patience". Thanks for sharing the fruit of your patience (and skill and creativity) here.

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Will Wells
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Re: Second half of 2015

Post by Will Wells »

Awesome photography!!!!

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