2015 End-o'-the-year. Stuff happened.

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

2015 End-o'-the-year. Stuff happened.

Post by DracoRJC » January 2nd, 2016, 3:49 pm

2015 was a hell of a year, front to back. Met and hung out with some amazing dudes, lifelisted like a madman, and had enough shenanigans to last a lifetime (or until spring, anyway). So with that, let's do it!

In early January I took a quick trip from Texas to Virginia to visit some old herper friends (Dane, Myles, Ali... sup). A quick hike to some vernal pools produced this beauty of a marbled salamander.

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And this little rarity, the Mabee's salamander.

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So we're sitting at Dane's house, its 30 degrees outside and getting dark, with only 3 days until I fly back to Texas, and our buddy Justin from St. Louis calls me up.

"Hey losers, y'all want to come to Florida with me? Meet me at the (later unsucessful) indigo spot at 7AM."
I look at Dane and nod. He looks back and does the same.
"k omw"

A few Monster energy drinks later, Virginia far behind us, and this. My first adult gopher tortoise.

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So we're in central Florida... Might as well hit the glades while we're here, right? Night shining the trees outside of the national park got us an unexpected surprise, and some expected ones as well.

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After the basilisk came several of the more familiar knight anoles.

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Another invasive, the ubiqitous Cuban treefrog. Easily located near any light source at night!

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More night shining yielded a few juvenile corns that evening.

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The next morning, we landed our biggest target, a hunk of an eastern diamondback. Good thing too, cause Dane lost his memory card ;)

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Sometimes, herp trips get a little weird, you know?

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Wrapping up this impromptu excursion, I headed back to Texas, very eagerly anticipating what was sure to be one hell of a spring. This was also my first spring in Texas since moving back to my home state the previous summer. Some early season hikes at what soon became a favorite spot in Austin got me many of our only Plethodon species, the western slimy salamander.

ImageWestern slimy salamander, Plethodon glutinosus albagula by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

After an all-too-short trip to the Rio Grande Valley the previous fall, and with colder weather still holding me back farther north, I spent some time with some new friends (yo Blake!) at the southern trip of the state. This in-situ shot of a green anole on a barbed wire cactus quickly became one of my favorite photographs of the year.

ImageGreen anole, Anolis carolinensis by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

An interesting little surprise came in the form of this juvenile Ruthven's whipsnake found under cover.

ImageRuthven's whipsnake, Masticophis schotti ruthveni by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

As well as this bittersweet beauty - not quite my lifer coral snake, but the first that didn't get away. And whaddaya know, it was in shed! (No matter, I remedied that problem later in the season...)

ImageTexas coral snake, Micrurus fulvius tener by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Oh yeah - I suppose it would be silly of me to leave this out. I don't think many other snakes have made a group of sweaty guys hug each other more quickly than this one.

ImageNorthern cat-eyed snake, Leptodeira septentrionalis by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Heading back up to Austin, I made a pitstop on the middle Texas coast and pretty much nailed all of my targets there in one fell swoop that next morning. This western slender glass lizard was found under a piece of hurricane debris just off the beach.

ImageWestern slender glass lizard, Ophisaurus attenuatus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

One of the largest snakes I've seen yet in Texas, this western coachwhip was pushing 6 and a half feet, maybe even 7. Seeing it on the crawl, I thought it was a washed up piece of rope!

ImageWestern coachwhip, Masticophis flagellum by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

I'm not much of a lampro nerd, but seeing this thing glowing from underneath a piece of tin was enough to suck the breath from my lungs. Whether to call it a Mexican or Louisiana milk snake escapes me, however.

ImageMexican milksnake, Lampropeltis triangulum annulata by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

To continue the morning's lampro streak, this speckled king proved hellish to photograph. It was like posing a slinky!

ImageSpeckled kingsnake, Lampropeltis getula holbrooki by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Back in central Texas, the spring weather started to properly show its face in late February, and it became quite the Thamnophis party. This large female eastern black-necked garter seemed to be in need of a good post-hibernation meal.

ImageEastern black-necked garter snake, Thamnophis cyrtopsis occelatus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

It's hard to explain my obsession with Gerrhonotus infernalis... Let's say it started with a fateful encounter about 15 years ago, and only worsened with those 15 years spent hoping for another.

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To me, Texas alligator lizards represent one of the most underrated herp species in the state. Unfortunately, these lovely lizards are no easy find. Their crypsis must be seen - or not seen - to be believed. Ecologically, they're somewhere between a crevice spiny lizard and a Mexican Abronia. When not regrown, their tails would remind one of a spider monkey. The way they taste everything with their bright blue tongues, and the way they move through their environment, almost chameleon-like, casts quite a charm about them. Anyway, these fascinating saurians became my number one target this past spring. After a ridiculous number of hours hiking through their habitat, I ended up seeing seven in total by the end of April. Frustratingly enough, my first one was inside a large patch-nosed snake!

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Please forgive the following bombardment of lizard shots. Thanks to the other sets of eyes who helped locate many of these specimens!

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ImageTexas alligator lizard, Gerrhonotus infernalis by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageTexas alligator lizard, Gerrhonotus infernalis by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageTexas alligator lizard, Gerrhonotus infernalis by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageTexas alligator lizard, Gerrhonotus infernalis by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Some "bycatch" encountered that spring during my Gerrhonotus hunt included this rough green snake.

ImageRough green snake, Opheodrys aestivus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

As well as this possibly hypomelanstic young Texas ratsnake, almost reminiscent of a Baird's.

ImagePossibly hypomelanistic Texas rat snake, Pantherophis obsoletus lindheimeri by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Many Texas cooters were seen basking along the adjacent creek.

ImageTexas cooter, Pseudemys texana by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

The first of two eastern hognose I encountered in prime alligator lizard habitat.

ImageEastern hognose, Heterodon platyrhinos by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

This was the first one I'd ever had gape at me!

ImageEastern hognose, Heterodon platyrhinos by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Another female eastern black-neck basking at the base of limestone bluffs. One interesting encounter had me eyeing three specimens periscoping from a limestone crevice (presumably their hibernaculum) about 20 feet up. After climbing up, all but one retreated inside, and the one that didn't looked me straight in the eye, came crawling out, and slithered down the slope and practically into my lap. Curiosity? I don't know.

ImageEastern black-necked garter snake, Thamnophis cyrtopsis ocellatus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Flipping rocks in this habitat yields many Tantilla. Pretty unassuming little snakes, but I had no idea they had such lovely orange bellies!

ImageFlat-headed snake, Tantilla gracilis by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Texas rats were surprisingly rare for me this year, but I had a grand old time jumping in the creek after this one that my dog flushed out of hiding.

ImageTexas rat snake, Pantherophis obsoletus lindheimeri by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Another specialty of the Texas hill country, the cave scorpion Pseudouroctonus reddelli.

ImageTexas cave scorpion, Pseudouroctonus reddleli by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Spring in the hill country is not something to be missed in one's lifetime.

ImageBluebonnets by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

In April came something else I had been very much looking forward to - the second Texas Rattlesnake Festival. Aside from a few people who shall remain unnamed, it was truly moving to see the herp community forget their differences and come together and do such a PHENOMENAL job teaching the public about our beloved rattlesnakes. I must confess I shed a few tears here and there throughout the event. I can't say enough about the incredible work done by Tim Cole and others - you should all be beyond proud. Here's me at the event, doing what I do best. On a side note, be sure to promote the upcoming Lone Star Rattlesnake Days!

https://scontent-ord1-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hp ... e=57122FF6

I haven't turned up much in the way of herps from Enchanted Rock (near Fredericksburg, TX), but the scenery is awe-inspiring. I'm also a sucker for pink granite formations.

ImageGeology is cool too! by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageVernal Pool by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

With an invitation from dear friend Kyle, I embarked on an exhausting day trip from Austin to northeast Texas to knock off the western pygmy rattlesnake from my lifelist, which we found on the edge of a regrettably dormant pitcher plant bog in the late afternoon after a long hike.

ImageWestern pygmy rattlesnake, Sistrurus miliarius streckeri by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Some morning flipping on the way produced 5 Louisiana milksnakes, a lifer for me if you don't count that weird one from the coast.

ImageLouisiana milk snake, Lampropeltis triangulum amaura by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

My first southern copperhead was a welcome find. This one was particularly vibrant among the three found that day.

ImageSouthern copperhead, Agkistridon contortrix contortrix by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

And of course, no trip with dear Kyle ends without turning up one of these silly things...

ImagePrairie kingsnake, Lampropeltis calligaster by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Back in Austin, spring flipping season continued, and we turned up this coachwhip among a hive of bees underneath a wood pile. Worth it? Not sure, but we had fun.

ImageWestern coachwhip, Masticophis flagellum by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Knowing that broad-banded copperheads occured in the habitat surrounding my neighborhood (but unfortunately not much elsewhere around much the hill country west of the Balcones Fault), I kept an eye out during my daily dog walks, not expecting much. Eventually, I heard a rustle in the leaves off the trail, and was greeted by this stunning animal.

ImageBroad-banded copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix laticinctus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageBroad-banded copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix laticinctus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Another surprise came in the form of this fiesty fellow, a large atrox I encountered early on the same trail, but still within plain sight of the street. Despite finding many juveniles and a few medium-sized individuals on snake calls around town, this encounter was strangely reassuring. Big rattlesnakes apparently still cling on despite the surge of suburbia.

ImageWestern diamondback, Crotalus atrox by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Another quick day trip eastward to an area west of Houston ended up being an extremely productive day numbers-wise, with dozens of cottonmouths, Texas rats, rough greens, Nerodia, and more in a pristine stretch of coastal prairie.

ImageWestern cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorous leucostoma by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageSpeckled kingsnake, Lampropeltis getula holbrooki by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImagePrairie kingsnake, Lampropeltis calligaster by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Wrapping up the excursion, that night was spent searching a nearby island of timber rattlesnake habitat - a rare thing that far west. While that goal was left unmet (for the moment), this heartbreaker of a DOR proved to be in interesting highlight: a coral found just yards away from a hypomelanistic broad-banded copperhead. Ouch!!

ImageA heartbreaking combo by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Come May, and it was time for a long-awaited trip with Justin, for the International Herpetological Symposium at the San Antonio Zoo. The talks were fantastic, and the two of us were stoked to tour the state and rack up some lifers for the both of us. For someone who had never been to Texas before, his first snake in the state was a pretty solid one, found just minutes into our first flipping site, on the way to the "real" spot that day, where we didn't find a thing!

ImageTexas coral snake, Micrurus fulvius tener by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageTexas coral snake, Micrurus fulvius tener by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

We met up with Kyle again the next day for yet another rocket run to East Texas, this time with Justin in tow, in the hopes of seeing my first timber rattlesnake in Texas, after the two of us having found them in other parts of the country in the past. The goal was met with this cute little juvenile.

ImageTimber rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Back in San Antonio, we found ourselves too tired after the lectures to go far the next night, so we stayed in town to search for black-tailed rattlesnakes on the eastern periphery of their range in Bexar county. While unsucessful, we had a great time with my then-future boss Laurence (more on that later!), and got Justin a cliff chirping frog, a small but interesting species that he found himself pretty excited about.

ImageCliff chirping frog, Eleutherodactylus marnockii by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

After the next day's round of lectures, it was time for yet another rocket run, this time to West Texas, a place that stole my heart 15 years ago. While we didn't end up going very far into the heart of the region due to time constraints, a hefty dose of Justin's ridiculous good luck (and the eyes of the always lovely Ben Stupavsky) got us our target within minutes of shining the first two road cuts.

A darling pair of juvenile mottled rock rattlesnakes, "lep leps" as we affectionately call them in Texas, and my favorite rattlesnake here, and possibly anywhere!

ImageMottled rock rattlesnake, Crotalus lepidus lepidus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageMottled rock rattlesnake, Crotalus lepidus lepidus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

A juvenile Trans-Pecos wrapped up the night nicely, and rounded out the trifecta of Texas copperhead subspecies for the year.

ImageTrans-Pecos copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix pictigaster by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

With one more rocket run to go before Justin drove back to St. Louis, we attended one more set of lectures at IHS and headed south, toward the Rio Grande Valley. I really can't emphasize how stupidly spot-on Justin's luck is - he managed to come to south Texas on one of the very, very few nights a year that a very, very special amphibian was findable. And find one we did. The Mexican burrowing toad is a truly out-of-this-world creature. It's strangeness isn't easily expressed in words, so just... check it out.

ImageMexican burrowing toad, Rhinophrynus dorsalis by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageMexican burrowing toad, Rhinophrynus dorsalis by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Other highlights of the night included a large cane toad (which is, unbeknownst to many, native to the area) and a DOR Mexican milk snake.

ImageMarine toad, Rhinella marina by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageMexican milk snake, Lampropeltis triangulum annulata DOR by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

The next morning, before Justin was to begin his trek home, we had a few hours to explore the lovely Sabal Palm Sanctuary, a truly magical place that resembles Costa Rica more than Texas. The manager of the site was kind enough to trap us a rarely-seen denizen of the sanctuary, the Rio Grande Siren (thanks Seth!). Justin, who has a vested interest in lesser sirens in his home state, was elated to see this beast after it was pulled from the murky depths of the resaca.

ImageRio Grande siren, Siren texana by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Of course, Justin's luck continued to hold true that morning, and we were graced with a beautiful speckled racer, Drymobius margaritiferus, the gem of South Texas. Fortunately I was able to get much better pictures than those of my lifer I found the previous fall.

ImageSpeckled racer, Drymobius margaritiferus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageSpeckled racer, Drymobius margaritiferus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

On the way back to the car we also turned up a Rio Grande chirping frog, and a colorful male Texas spotted whiptail in the parking lot.

ImageRio Grande chirping frog, Eleutherodactylus cystignathoides by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageTexas spotted whiptail, Aspidoscelis gularis by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageTexas spotted whiptail, Aspidoscelis gularis by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Did I mention Justin was lucky? Let me remind you he spent less than 24 hours in south Texas, and we wrapped up the trip with one of these.

ImageNorthern cat-eyed snake, Leptodeira septentrionalis by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Driving back home, I sunk the front half of my car in a muddy ditch drying to stop on highway 77 at 80 miles per hour for this - what at first looked like a large, live Texas indigo. Unfortunately, it had been hit, but was VERY fresh. I guess Justin's luck ran out...

ImageDymarchon melanurus erebennus DOR by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Shortly after Justin went home, I began the first of the three trips targeting the spot-tailed earless lizard, Holbrookia lacerata, as part of a research project with Texas A&M University. We were unable to locate the imperiled southern subspecies, but did manage some great bycatch while driving through their (usually very unattractive) habitat. The first of which was a looker of a Great Plains rat snake.

ImageGreat Plains ratsnake, Pantherophis emoryi by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Strangely enough, this pair of long-nosed snakes was found mating in the road in broad daylight! I'm sorry to say that our appearance was enough to disturb them into separating, but it was a very exciting find, to be sure. My lifers, as well.

ImagePair of Texas long-nosed snakes, Rhinocheilus lecontei by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageTexas long-nosed snake, Rhinocheilus lecontei by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Despite many trips out west, this ended up being my only Texas horned lizard of the year. This little goober was seen running across the road with nothing but corn fields in all directions.

ImageTexas horned lizard, Phrynosoma cornutum by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

We finally found our target Holbrookia, and in good numbers, in Tom Green county, again among cornfields - apparently a more than suitable habitat for them, despite their shrinking range. These lizards have experienced a sharp decline in numbers in recent years, and we aren't quite sure why with much certainty, and this research is intended to help determine their current status across the state.

First is a smaller male. Most of these were noosed from the car, a fun skill to learn for those who haven't!

ImageSpot-tailed earless lizard, Holbrookia lacerata by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Next is a gravid female.

ImageSpot-tailed earless lizard, Holbrookia lacerata by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

The next trip on the agenda was again westward for my second Snake Days in Sanderson, Texas. I had a great time reuniting with old friends and meeting new ones, and attending the lectures as well. This beautiful young blacktail was found practically in the middle of town just minutes before the first lectures began. Another favorite shot of the year for me.

ImageBlack-tailed rattlesnake, Crotalus ornatus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Hiking back to the car yielded this male Texas banded gecko underneath a rock.

ImageTexas banded gecko, Coleonyx brevis by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

No shortage of scorpions in Sanderson, either.

ImagePiggyback Rides by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageDiplocentrus lindo by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Or spiders!

ImageMomma wolf spider and young by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

The following nights weren't very productive, though. My lifer night snake and this particularly handsome atrox were the only live snakes we saw, despite decent success from other Snake Days attendees. Perhaps too many cars on the road?

ImageChihuahuan night snake, Hypsiglena torquata jani by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageWestern diamondback, Crotalus atrox by Ryan Collister, on F

A last desperate attempt at finding snakes on the way home was unproductive, but did yield this epic sighting - a beast of a giant centipede devouring an adult tarantula on the wall of a rock cut.

ImageDesert Dragon by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Back in Austin, I gave my wallet a break and stayed local for a while. The last blackneck of the year was found under a roadside board near a construction site - an unusual way to find this species, usually seen among the limestone bluffs throughout their habitat.

ImageEastern black-necked garter, Thamnophis cyrtopsis ocellatus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

I spent many summer nights volunteering with Bat Conservation International, educating the public about the huge colony of Mexican Free-tailed bats that roost underneath the Congress Avenue Bridge. A must-see if you're ever in town!

ImageMexican free-tailed bats, Congress Avenue Bridge by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageMexican free-tailed bats, Congress Avenue Bridge by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Trekking and swimming along the local creeks in Austin is a popular pastime in Austin, and one that I particularly enjoy - as it provides many Nerodia sightings! A favorite genus of mine, despite the literally never-ending jokes at my expense for it.

I think most would find it hard to make fun of this find, though - a erythristic (high red) individual of blotched water snake. This guy blows every other member of his species out of the water!

ImageBlotched water snake, Nerodia erythrogaster transversa by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Okay, I lied. I didn't stay entirely local - with the promise of a very special Nerodia, me and Tim Cole headed north toward the DFW area on a quest for Nerodia harteri, the Brazos water snake, a threatened species here in Texas, and our only truly endemic snake species. We had been invited to help survey a newly discovered population, and weren't disappointed. Despite over a dozen people showing up, me and Tim found the only two specimens of the night! Unfortunately, my camera battery died, and I was forced to settle for iPhone shots.

ImageBrazos water snake, Nerodia harteri by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Back in Austin again, I discovered another favorite spot in the hill country west of town, a moist, wooded canyon along the Pedernales river. This particular location was notable for its isolated population of western cottonmouths, a very scattered species west of the Balcones Fault. This would have been another favorite shot this year, if it weren't for the incessant and distracting screams of my mother every time the snake moved. Thanks mom! :lol:

ImageWestern cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorous leucostoma by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

I had a hard time capturing the beauty of the area, with its vivid green blankets of moss and maidenhair fern and the massive, ancient cypress trees lining the cold, crystalline waters of the trickling creek running through the canyon. So here's my best attempt, for now anyway.

ImageHill Country canyon by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

In August, nearing my birthday, it was time for me to receive my present to myself - a nearly two-week herping trip to the Arizona Sky Islands! Driving alone from Austin was a.... trying experience. However, stopping to herp in West Texas for a few days both on the way in and the way out made the drive much more forgiving.

Canyon treefrogs were the goal of the first night, which I spent in the Davis Mountains. Easy enough.

ImageCanyon treefrogs, Hyla arenicolor by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Also looking to turn up some treefrogs were several western black-necked garters. Not quite as pretty as their eastern counterparts, but thats okay.

ImageWestern black-necked garter snake, Thamnophis cyrtopsis cyrtopsis by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

These are neat too.

ImageGreater arid land katydid, Neobarettia spinosa by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageFlame skimmer by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

After a rather spooky solo encounter with a mountain lion that night (sorry, no pictures!), I continued west. After nearly collapsing from road exhaustion, I made it to Tuscon and met up with Zack and Sarah. You couldn't ask for a better host in Arizona, and the next night we were greeted with the Arizona welcoming committee!

ImageSonoran sidewinder, Crotalus cerastes by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageTongue by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageDat pattern tho by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Of course, it wouldn't be a herp trip without - who else - Justin. I drove to Phoenix to pick him up from the airport, and we spent the evening with some lifer Crotalus.

ImageTiger rattlesnake, Crotalus tigris by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageSpeckled rattlesnake, Crotalus mitchelli pyrrhus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

The next night wasn't much for cruising, but we got In-N-Out Burger and a neat little DOR.

ImageLil' kingsnake by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

I had been looking forward to checking out the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for a long time, and I gotta say, what a facility! The naturalistic exhibits were world-class, and the setting was pretty hard to beat. Not to mention the introduced population of Mexican spiny-tailed iguanas, and the saugaro cacti all around.

ImageCtenosaura pectinata by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageNear Saguaro National Park, Arizona by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

That night was the first of two unsucessul attempts at locating Arizona black rattlesnakes, but we did get a pretty sweet consolation prize.

ImageSonoran desert toad, Incilius alvarius by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageInsert Hypnotoad Joke Here by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

We spent considerable time on this trip attempting to locate vine snakes, at a familiar spot for many herpers. The scenery was gorgeous, and we got a few non-targets, but no vine snakes were found despite Zack and Sarah's eye for spotting them.

ImageSonoran gopher snake, Pituophis catenifer affinis by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImagePajarito Mountains, Arizona by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

With my keen interest in montane rattlesnakes, Crotalus willardi was my #1 goal for the trip, and I practically shook with anticipation the entire trip leading up to the day when we finally set out for them in the Huachuca Mountains. I was thrilled and relieved to encounter the first of the two specimens myself (with a fairly large group out looking), and within mere minutes of getting out of the car. What a snake!

ImageArizona ridge-nosed rattlesnake, Crotalus willardi by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

With the goal of completing the Arizona montane rattlesnake trifecta in mind, we also turned up the world's ugliest klauberi, another lifer. In 2016 I'll be sure to find one of our lovely Texas specimens...

ImageBanded rock rattlesnake, Crotalus lepidus klauberi by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

If there's any herp that can make me and Justin giggle like little boys, it's one of these.

ImageGreater short-horned lizard, Phrynosoma hernandesi by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Mantids are cool too.

ImageMantis by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

We headed to the Chiricahuas to round out the trifecta, and I'd say we came out alright in the end.

ImagePricei closeup by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

All 3 in just two days! More than satisfied with our find, we encountered this most lovely of blacktails on the steep mountain roads leading out.

ImageNorthern black-tailed rattlesnake, Crotalus molossus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

In the semidesert grassland habitat surrounding the base of the Chiricahuas, we encountered several scutulatus before nightfall.

ImageMojave on the road by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

After eating lots of pizza and hanging out with a ferret back at Zack's place, it was time to head for home. I took a detour through the Santa Rita mountains and made for a popular birding spot to locate my only target bird species for the trip, the elegant trogon. I wasn't expecting much, but not 5 minutes into the hike, a spectacular male came flying over my head and landed just a few yards away. I did have to chase him a bit to get a shot, but I wasn't complaining!

ImageElegant trogon by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Gaining elevation and leaving the trogon's canyon behind me, Yarrow's spiny lizards began to show their faces, and I must have seen dozens. Almost all of them were very bold and allowed for very close approach.

ImageYarrow's spiny lizard, Sceleporus jarrovi by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageSceloporus jarrovi by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

A few newborn Greater short-horned lizards were spotted as well. Stinkin' cute.

ImageLittle feller by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

This huge, stellar male Yarrow's was found on the bathroom wall by the parking lot and was the only one I bothered to catch.

ImageYarrow's spiny lizard, Sceloporus jarrovi by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageBlue belly! by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Another item on the list of detours back home was a visit to the Chiricahua Desert Museum in Rodeo, NM, just across the AZ border. In the lowland desert flats at 4PM, with soaring ground temperatures, the last thing I expected was a snake crossing. But sure enough, I was treated to one of the most incredible looking atrox I've ever seen. I dubbed this fiesty dude Big Red.

ImageBig Red by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Minutes later I pulled in to the museum, and had a great time being shown around the facility by Peter Lindsay. They have some awesome animals, but even better in my opinion is the huge collection of herp "stuff" - oodles of skeletons, photographs, artwork, memorabilia, you name it.

ImageChiricahua Desert Museum by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

I decided to take yet another detour, and take the rural highway that parallels I-10 on the south side and follows it all the way to El Paso. I didn't regret it. Aside from a DOR Mexican hognose and prairie rattlesnake (what would have been a lifer), I was treated to this little booger, a yellow mud turtle in the middle of the desert.

ImageYellow mud turtle, NM by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

And a truly knock-your-socks-off sunset.

ImageHighway 9 sunset, New Mexico by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Back in West Texas, I made another stop in the Davis Mountains to locate the snake I had most looked forward to finding in the area: the pink phase of mottled rock rattlesnake. This was a long time coming - one of those childhood dream snakes that you never quite believed existed outside of the tattered pages of your old field guide. After the language that followed this encounter, I'm surprised my mother didn't drive straight out there and wash my mouth out with soap.

ImageMottled rock rattlesnake, Crotalus lepidus lepidus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageMottled rock rattlesnake, Crotalus lepidus lepidus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Who could stand to visit West Texas and not swing through the Chisos Basin? Not me. Tried my hand at imitating Ansel Adams a bit with these.

ImageChisos Basin from afar, Big Bend National Park by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageCasa Grande, Big Bend National Park by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageView from Lost Mines Peak, Big Bend National Park by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

A last detour before finally reaching I-10 again - the prairie dog town north of Marathon, Texas. My lifer desert box turtle was a nice surprise, though no more snakes were found that trip.

ImageDesert box turtle, Terrapene ornata luteola by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

On the way home, I decided to make a follow-up phone call regarding a job interview I had before I left for this trip. I drove the rest of the way home wearing a big stupid grin, because I had accepted the offer for a full-time reptile keeper position at the San Antonio Zoo! I had about two weeks before beginning work, so I spent the rest of August and early September cramming in as much herping as possible.

I turned up this gray treefrog on a palmetto frond, but not much else was seen until the next rocket run.

ImageCope's gray treefrog, Hyla chrysoscelis by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

But I did finally pull this off.

ImageA dream realized by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Meeting up with Ben Stupavsky again, we set out for Sanderson, Texas. It wasn't the most productive trip, but still produced more than enough cool finds to make the trip worthwhile - which isn't difficult when you're in country as beautiful as west Texas.

This DOR New Mexico milk snake was a bit of a heartbreaker.

ImageNew Mexico milk snake, Lampropeltis triangulum celaenops by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Can't get enough of these things!

ImageTexas banded gecko, Coleonyx brevis by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

It was also baby season, a favorite time of year for many herpers.

ImageJuvenile bull snake, Pituophis catenifer sayi by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageNeonate mottled rock rattlesnake, Crotalus lepidus lepidus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

The last snake of the trip, at about 3 in the morning, was this handsome Trans-Pecos rat snake, which thankfully satisfied my craving for seeing this species again - I had gone over a year without seeing one, despite many trips to the region.

ImageTrans-Pecos rat snake, Bogertophis subocularis by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Before heading out, I tried a few more of these.

ImageClosed Canyon, Big Bend Ranch State Park by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageRio Grande from the top of Big Hill, Big Bend Ranch State Park by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Back in central Texas, me and Laurence were able to find a few juvenile broad-banded water snakes on the far western periphery of their range. Nerodia ftw.

ImageBroad-banded water snake, Nerodia fasciata confluens by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

It was finally time to start my job at the zoo, and I found myself so immersed in it (and flat-out exhausted!) that I couldn't focus on much else - including herping. Unfortunately, the next series of photos represents the last of my herping year, but Laurence and I were able to squeeze in a final weekend trip to the Rio Grande Valley and tick off a few more lifers for both of us.

Image:P by Ryan Collister, on Flickr
ImageTexas tortoise, Gopherus berlandieri by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageCheckered garter snake, Thamnophis mercianus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageTexas glossy snake, Arizona elegans arenicola by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

ImageSpeckled racer, Drymobius margeritiferus by Ryan Collister, on Flickr

Despite the lack of herping for the rest of the year, the rest of 2015 has, frankly, been the best time of my life. Working at the San Antonio Zoo represents the fullfillment of a childhood dream. Even though I grew up in Houston, we often visited family in San Antonio, and I probably visited this zoo twice as much as the one in Houston - and that's saying a lot! To me as a kid, the keepers there were rock stars.

And they still are! I can't say enough about my fellow staff within the department. We have all been bending over backwards since we began to make profound improvements throughout the zoo in every way imaginable, and the results have been incredible. Better exhibits, better husbandry, better... everything, really. Laurence, Ron, Clinton, Sam, and yes, even you, Reed - y'all rock.

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https://scontent-ord1-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hp ... e=56FFE4D3

So.... that's it! Working with the immense collection of rare Mexican species in our collection has all of us itching to find those animals in the wild, so it looks like 2016 will likely find us south of the border - hopefully we all make it back in one piece!

I wish everyone the best of luck this year. Don't get lazy!

Thanks for reading,
Ryan

Lloyd Heilbrunn
Posts: 282
Joined: June 9th, 2010, 7:15 pm
Location: Palm Beach Gardens, Fl

Re: 2015 End-o'-the-year. Stuff happened.

Post by Lloyd Heilbrunn » January 2nd, 2016, 9:51 pm

Wow, I have not had a thread load this slowly since the dialup days!

Nice finds though.


Funny, that Basilisk outside the Park looks familiar! :beer:

User avatar
Soopaman
Posts: 923
Joined: March 18th, 2012, 6:34 pm
Location: Houston, Texas

Re: 2015 End-o'-the-year. Stuff happened.

Post by Soopaman » January 3rd, 2016, 7:00 am

Nice stuff, Ryan, you had a good and diverse year. We'll have to get out again soon. It's pretty much that time! I still need to see a blackneck garter from your area.

Was that lepto you and Justin turned up found with Blake? I can't remember if we talked about that one.

Ben
Posts: 26
Joined: December 13th, 2010, 11:40 am

Re: 2015 End-o'-the-year. Stuff happened.

Post by Ben » January 3rd, 2016, 11:26 am

Nice post bruh! Glad I was there for some of it! :D

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chris_mcmartin
Posts: 2433
Joined: June 8th, 2010, 11:13 pm
Location: Greater Houston TX Area
Contact:

Re: 2015 End-o'-the-year. Stuff happened.

Post by chris_mcmartin » January 4th, 2016, 7:11 pm

Hey Ryan, sometimes you're alright.

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