Summer 2015 (GA, AL, TN, SC, NM, TX)

Dedicated exclusively to field herping.

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noah k.
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Joined: November 3rd, 2011, 4:27 pm

Summer 2015 (GA, AL, TN, SC, NM, TX)

Post by noah k. » January 13th, 2016, 1:54 pm

Spring was awesome, summer was unbelievable. I got out of class for the summer on the last weekend of May, and Daniel and I hit the ground running with a trip to North Alabama and Tennessee.

Our first stop was a cave known for its population of Tennessee Cave Salamanders. Huge thanks to Alan Cressler for taking us out.

Zigzag Salamander found at the entrance, this was a first for me.

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High water was our enemy, but were were eventually able to turn up two Tennessee Cave Salamanders.

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Salamanders aren't the only interesting critters in caves.

Nesticus barri

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Orconectes australis australis

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After our caving expedition, we decided to head over to Northwest Alabama for a Lampropeltis party with Saunders Drukker at a go-to site for Red Milksnakes I found a few years back. We turned up 4 in no time.

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Rough Green Snake

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Another

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Cottonmouth

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Saunders took us up to one of his roads to look for Black Kingsnakes, we weren't disappointed.

Common Map Turtle found on the road.

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The prize find of the night was this beauty.

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Now that I was out of school for the summer, I had time to get a job. I spent about two weeks working before making a big trip out west, but I was able to spend a weekend in South Carolina with the Orianne Society folks.

Within less than an hour of being in South Carolina I pulled this beauty from some debris along a river with Kevin, Paul, Richard, Ben, David, and Kaitlyn. The stuff dreams are made of.

Rainbow Snake

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Another highlight of the trip was this Spotted Turtle Dirk Stevenson pulled out of a boggy area.

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Carolina Bay

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Eastern Glass Lizard

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We flipped several neat amphibians walking a swampy area during the day.

Broken-striped Newt

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Southern Dusky Salamander

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Crazy looking little cottonmouth.

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Dirk introduced me to this neat species of Purse Web Spider

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Night cruising was in full swing back home, I met up with Sean Graham one night to do some cruising. We had a very slow night but on the way back we found an extremely rare little snake in north Georgia and a nice county record that had us both jumping up and down.

Southeastern Crowned Snake

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Not too long after that I went for one final cruise before heading out west for two weeks. The highlight was this little gem of a Carolina Pygmy Rattlesnake on a new stretch of road for me. Sadly this would be the only one I'd see in 2015.

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Later that week I was once again in a rental car, this time a van, with my family and Daniel Thompson headed west. We made the push all the way from Atlanta to just east of Dallas where we stayed the night. We went out to a more rural area I scouted on google maps and drove around for a while, turning up our first snakes of the trip. A Cottonmouth, a DOR Prairie Kingsnake, and this Western Ribbonsnake which was a first for us.

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We were up and out the next day very quickly, with intentions of making it to Carlsbad NM before sunset. We stopped several times to stretch our legs in areas like this. This particular dirt road had some flippable rocks on the side, where we found a Ground Snake.

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We made it to Carlsbad well before dark and had plenty of time to explore the park before heading out to some areas nearby shared with us by Erik. We saw plenty of herps that night, including both familiar faces and lifers.

Checkered Garter Snake

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Daniel and I both missed seeing Longnose Snakes on our separate trips out west last year, so we were stoked to find our lifer later that night. What we didn't know is that they would soon prove to be one of the most common snakes of the trip, and we would see them in 3 different states. This particular photo is from later in west Texas.

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Somehow while photographing the Longnose Snake Daniel found this Round-tailed Horned Lizard, a lifer for us both.

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The next morning we continued north in New Mexico towards Roswell, where we'd spend 3 nights on the same ranch we visited on our previous trip. As soon as we got settled in our cabin we headed out to explore the ranch. First we stopped at a spot that proved to be productive for flipping in 2014, and Daniel randomly stumbled upon another Horned Lizard, this time a stunning yellow Texas Horned Lizard.

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I decided to bite the bullet and walk all the way back to the car to get Daniel and I's camera equipment to photograph the Horned Lizard. Luckily I did, as I got closer to the car I could make out the shape of what appeared to be a medium sized rattlesnake on the road in front of the car! I took my time approaching, savoring the adrenaline rush that came with the possibilities of what it could be. Not long after my assumption of "rattlesnake" did I realize I was very wrong, and what actually sat in the road was the last species of my favorite genus to find in the United States, a large adult Western Hognose Snake.

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Eastern Collard Lizards are also common in this area.

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Western Diamondbacks are very common on the ranch. Here is one found on the road not too long after the hognose.

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Here are a few more from around the ranch during our time there.

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Here is a huge female found right outside our cabin door one night. This likely remains the largest venomous snake I've ever seen in the wild.

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This Western Coachwhip was found in habitat on a stop as we were leaving the ranch to get food.

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We spent one evening out in some shinnery oak dunes targeting Desert Massasaugas. No saugas were found, but a storm moving in pushed a plethora of snakes onto the road.

The first of which was my lifer Prairie Rattlesnake.

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Followed by this little Glossy Snake.

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Another first for me, a Night Snake. Ended up seeing quite a few of these too.

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Gorgeous Checkered Garter

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The next day we headed west to see White Sands. Few herps, but we were able to turn up an endemic, the Bleached Earless Lizard.

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On the way back to Roswell we stopped to look for another NM endemic, the Sacramento Mountain Salamander. We saw quite a few. Aneides is one of my favorite salamander genus so it was awesome to finally see another species.

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We arrived back in the Roswell area just in time to roadcruise. We saw more of the same, on top of my first wild Pituophis! We found this Sonoran Gopher snake less than a quarter mile from a fresh DOR that temporarily lowered our morale.

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The next day we made the treck all the way to northern NM to visit Los Alamos and also spend some time looking for another NM endemic, the Jemez Mountains Salamander. It was very dry and recently burnt, and no salamanders were seen. We spent the night in a hotel and drove all the way down to the vicinity of Gila National Forest in western NM the next morning to target Rock Rattlesnakes and Mountain Kings. I had scouted some nice areas on Google Maps and also received some more leads from Erik but despite spending two full days there only a handful of snakes were seen, all but one being garters. We met a man named Terry who tagged along on several hikes, he was not a herper per say but grew up catching snakes in Missouri and wanted to see some of the local species.

Here's a petroglyph from nearby.

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These Many-lined Skinks were cool and rather common flipping rocks.

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This large Sonoran Gopher was the highlight of this stop, found crossing just outside our cabin one day.

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Since we were at a high elevation temperatures dropped like a rock at night, so we decided to venture west into Arizona on our last evening before heading south into Texas the next morning.

We found a relatively small number of snakes on the road that night, but two of them were lifers.

Black-tailed Rattlesnake

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Mojave Rattlesnake

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In 2014 I was only able to spend two nights in West Texas, and we had mediocre luck, limited knowledge, and poor conditions. This year however, we planned for four nights in the Trans-pecos. The first two we spent in the Davis Mountains. On night one we got a late start due to spending time at the observatory. However, on our way to the observatory we found a good looking Black-tailed Rattlesnake on the road.

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After our time at the observatory we headed to a popular road in the area that we didn't have much luck on last year, and immediately found this Longnose and several atrox.

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Daniel, my dad and I were the only people out there that night, and we were getting delirious around 3am when we saw this candy cane flying across the road. I knew immediately what it was and hopped out of the moving car to ensure it didn't get off the road, which it somehow did anyways but we managed to track it down in short order.

New Mexico Milksnake

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The next night we met up with some longtime internet friends in the same area, Aaron, Brittany, and Robert. Of course, they were incredibly jealous of our luck the night before and we headed out to the same area hoping but not expecting more of the same. I don't remember the order of the night particularly well, but this particular snake stands out in my mind. Aaron, Daniel, and I got out to hike a wash at one point and as herpers typically do, we got distracted in conversation and weren't particularly focused. I looked down and just about to enter the water where Daniel and Aaron had just stepped was this large adult female New Mexico Milk Snake!

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We found two awesome Baird's Ratsnakes that night, an adult and a juvenile.

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This Canyon Treefrog was found sitting in the road.

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This gravid female Trans-pecos Blind Snake was another highlight of the night.

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Red-spotted Toads were common.

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We also found several more Night Snakes.

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Good sized Great Plains Rat

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We had a decent amount of moisture that brought this awesome metamorph Barred Tiger Salamander onto the road.

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By the time we saw the sun peaked over the horizon for the second time we were on our way back to the lodge to get a few hours of sleep before making the drive to Sanderson for our last two nights in Texas. We all could have gone home happy then, but Texas still wasn't done with us!

We started the night relatively slow, with an atox being our first snake on the cuts. I spotted my lifer Trans-pecos Ratsnake as it sucked its head back into a hole right at dusk, we would later the next night find a four foot adult on a cut but due to it being uncooperative and time constraints I only took cellphone photos. The next hour or so was just as we had been told West Texas (especially the Sanderson area) would be: snakeless and miserable with 18 wheelers blasting past us every five minutes. I was slightly intimidated by the circumstances, but after all anything could happen. That was short lasted, at around 10:30 I spotted my number one target and one of my favorite North American snakes crawling on the road shoulder. Everything about the situation was perfect, cool desert wind blowing the smell of creosote through the air in a location so many others before me had spent their years hunting snakes, and in my hand the reason for it all: a gorgeous Blair's phase alterna. I hadn't freaked out like that since the Rainbow Snake in June, it was great to feel that incredible rush of adrenaline that comes with an amazing new lifer in an amazing new place again!

Gray Banded Kingsnake (Lampropeltis alterna)

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And just after 11, lightning struck twice. On a small cut most herpers probably drive right past, Daniel spotted our second alterna of the hour along a cut with my dad and I.

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While the alterna insanity was going down on our end, Aaron's group cruised another awesome and uncommonly seen snake between cuts.

Chihuahuan Hook-nosed Snake

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They also found another Black-tailed, which we got to see insitu when we pulled up.

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We called the night as the sun came up yet again and got some rest before doing it all over again the next night.

Everyone present was really hoping to see lepidus, especially Robert as it was his last rattlesnake species to see in the US. It was beginning to look like we wouldn't achieve that goal, but early on the first night before dark had completely fallen Daniel spotted our Mottled Rock Rattlesnake beginning to emerge from a large crevice in one of the rare instances we were all on the same cut. He was very mellow for a rattlesnake and was content to emerge with a small boop from a snake hook. Without a doubt my favorite crote I've seen in the wild!

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It was with great sadness we started our journey back to Georgia the next morning, saying goodbye to our friends and the Engeldorfs. We made our goal for the day to get to Houston. We set out the next morning for a popular spot and found quite a few snakes including a Coachwhip, lots of Ribbonsnakes, and some Rough Earths but due to limited time didn't photograph many of them.

Gulf Coast Ribbon Snake

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The remainder of the summer back in Georgia was plagued by slow night cruising and sweltering days mostly spent chasing calligaster. When I did get out to some of my more productive spots I was able to have decent luck. I spent a day with Rich at one of my favorite local areas in early August, we had a very good day considering the heat.

Timber Rattlesnake as found.

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Rat Snake

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Young Eastern Kingsnake

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Queen Snake

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I'm going to cut this post here, next up will come Fall then Winter including a trip to Costa Rica and a few trips to Florida! Thanks for looking, hang in there Spring is right around the corner friends!

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Steve Barten
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 4:13 pm
Location: NE Illinois

Re: Summer 2015 (GA, AL, TN, SC, NM, TX)

Post by Steve Barten » January 13th, 2016, 2:47 pm

Another epic post. What a year you had! Really nice photography too.
I bet there aren't many people who have scored both rainbow snakes and alternas in the same year.

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TravisK
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Location: Eastern Washington

Re: Summer 2015 (GA, AL, TN, SC, NM, TX)

Post by TravisK » January 13th, 2016, 3:10 pm

WOW, that Rainbow Snake was HAWT!

Nice post over all but that Rainbow Snake grade A for me today.

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Soopaman
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Joined: March 18th, 2012, 6:34 pm
Location: Houston, Texas

Re: Summer 2015 (GA, AL, TN, SC, NM, TX)

Post by Soopaman » January 13th, 2016, 8:59 pm

If there's anyone who's had a better year, I've yet to see it.

I wouldn't go back to west Texas after your luck this trip, it will never live up to the expectations!

Hit me up if you're ever passing through Houston again. Could have added a buttermilk and maybe a couple other things to your list, though it gets slow here in summer.

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AndyKraemer
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Re: Summer 2015 (GA, AL, TN, SC, NM, TX)

Post by AndyKraemer » January 14th, 2016, 8:59 am

That was one heck of a year, with fantastic diversity and some truly unusual species! My favorite has to be the NM Aneides - that one is near the top of my bucket list, so I'm happy to see you found so many. When exactly did you search out that species?

Cheers,
Andy

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DevinBergquist
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Location: Southern California

Re: Summer 2015 (GA, AL, TN, SC, NM, TX)

Post by DevinBergquist » January 14th, 2016, 3:59 pm

Awesome post, Noah. I wont deviate too much with my favorites, the Rainbow and the Gray banded King were just too cool. Great job.

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noah k.
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Joined: November 3rd, 2011, 4:27 pm

Re: Summer 2015 (GA, AL, TN, SC, NM, TX)

Post by noah k. » January 14th, 2016, 5:18 pm

Thanks everyone!

Kyle, I definitely want to spend some more time out that way!

Andy, the mountains A. hardii inhabit stay cool year round. We were there in late June and there was still snow up around where the Aneides are.

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AndyKraemer
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Re: Summer 2015 (GA, AL, TN, SC, NM, TX)

Post by AndyKraemer » January 14th, 2016, 6:32 pm

noah k. wrote:the mountains A. hardii inhabit stay cool year round. We were there in late June and there was still snow up around where the Aneides are.
Thanks Noah, that's great to hear.

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mfb
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Re: Summer 2015 (GA, AL, TN, SC, NM, TX)

Post by mfb » January 18th, 2016, 4:32 am

Great stuff, thanks for sharing. That is a really wide range of diversity, from cave salamanders to desert snakes.

I was able to visit a cave with a colleague a few years ago, and it was one of the natural history highlights of my life.

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