Advices for a California trip in September

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borisdelahaie
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Advices for a California trip in September

Post by borisdelahaie » August 22nd, 2016, 12:02 am

Hi everyone,

We are four french birdwatchers coming at the beginning of September in California to discover the local avifauna, we will make a long road trip from San Francisco going to Salton Sea by the coast (Monterey bay, Morro bay, Santa Cruz Island) then going to Big Morongo Preserve, Joshua Tree NP and Salton Sea, and finally going back to San Francisco through Kern, Mono Lake and Yosemite NP in order to encounter as many habitat types and birds as possible.
Apart from birdwatching we are also keen herpetologists, we know that September is probably not the best month to search for herps in CA but that would be awesome if we could see some.

For now, our plan is only to look for reptiles during our birdwatching rambles and to do night road cruising in the desert as much as possible! We would be very grateful if you could give us some advices regarding herping at this time of the year eg. in which habitat are the most suitable. We would love to see any species (first time herping in North America) but seeing species like rattlesnakes, rubber boas, horned lizards and slender salamanders would be awesome!

Also, we would like to know if they are any restrictions regarding rock flipping, catching (only for pictures, release right after at the same place), night driving?

Thanks in advance for your answers and advices!

Boris

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Re: Advices for a California trip in September

Post by Zach_Lim » August 22nd, 2016, 8:52 am

Sounds like an excellent trip! I really hope you guys see some mazing wildlife!

I do not have much advice for the desert or the Sierras, but for the San Francisco Bay Area (Santa Cruz Mountains, north into the Mayacamas, east bay, etc) September can be a bit tough. However, if we get some rain or milder conditions, herps should be doable. Lizards of different types should be surface active. Snakes, can be hit or miss, depending on your target species.

You mentioned that herping will be secondary to birding. I take it in the SF Bay Area you will be birding along the coast? Many of the very well known "birding" areas are home to some great snake species, particularly Garter Snakes, that will no doubt be surface active at that time. Other diurnal snakes, such as the Racer (Coluber) and Gopher Snake (Pituophis) should be active as well.

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Steve Bledsoe
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Re: Advices for a California trip in September

Post by Steve Bledsoe » August 22nd, 2016, 9:14 am

I personally don't know anything about herping the San Francisco, Mono Lake or Yosemite areas, but am quite familiar with herping the deserts of southern California. Both the Colorado and Mojave Deserts are rich with herp species, but as you noted, September is not prime time to see them. The best advice I can give you is to just be "herp observant" during your birdwatching activities.

Most of these locations you mentioned are CA State Parks, National Parks or CA State Preserves, where the handling of wildlife of any kind is strictly prohibited, as well as rock flipping and the disturbing of the natural habitat. If you do plan on handling anything in areas where it is legal, be sure that you purchase CA Freshwater Sport Fishing Licenses for everyone in your party, and be aware that a Sport Fishing License does not give you the right to handle animals or disturb the habitat in any State or Federal Park or Preserve.

Also, make sure you obtain a copy of California Freshwater Sport Fishing Regulations, and read and understand the laws. You can get a copy of the regulations booklet just about anywhere you purchase a license, or you can find a copy online at this link: https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx ... 095&inline The Amphibian regulations are located on page 20, and the Reptile regulations are on pages 22 & 23.

borisdelahaie
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Re: Advices for a California trip in September

Post by borisdelahaie » August 25th, 2016, 2:01 am

Thanks very much for your answers ! We'll try to be as watchful as possible, we hope that the temperature will decrease a bit in the desert areas and we'll try to herp at night.

Thanks for the explanations about the different regulations, since our budget is quite tight we will go without license and cross our fingers for 'cooperative' reptiles.

Anyway, we'll let you know what we found and send some pictures here when we will be back.

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Calfirecap
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Re: Advices for a California trip in September

Post by Calfirecap » August 25th, 2016, 5:14 am

In addition to what the others said I would recommend concentrating your efforts near water ways, especially small streams. It's not only good for birds it's about the only place to see amphibians that time of year. Newts and frogs are pretty easy to find and bring along a small powerful flashlight. Shining pools in slow moving creeks is an effective way to find larval salamanders like Dicamptodon.

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mattg
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Re: Advices for a California trip in September

Post by mattg » August 25th, 2016, 11:33 am

road cruising in spetember can be fairly productive in my experience but keep your eyes open since alot of the herps on the road will be small yoy. good luck

borisdelahaie
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Re: Advices for a California trip in September

Post by borisdelahaie » September 19th, 2016, 7:19 am

Just coming back from the trip, that was amazing.. and although we were birding most of the time and it was particularly hot in the south we were able to find four snake species and seven lizard species. I will post pictures of most of them asap, and we would be happy to have id confirmation in some cases.

Thanks again for the advices!

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Re: Advices for a California trip in September

Post by Brian Hubbs » September 27th, 2016, 10:14 am

Did you see many bird species at Salton Sea, or was it still too hot?

borisdelahaie
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Re: Advices for a California trip in September

Post by borisdelahaie » September 28th, 2016, 12:45 am

Hi guys,

Here are the first pictures of what we saw during the trip:

Western Zebra-tailed Lizard in Bombay Beach (Salton Sea):
ImageDSC_8135 by Jean-Charles Delattre, on Flickr

Mountain Gartersnake at South Tufa (Mono Lake):
ImageDSC_8434 by Jean-Charles Delattre, on Flickr

Desert Banded Gecko at Anza-Borrego SP:
ImageDSC_8069 by Jean-Charles Delattre, on Flickr

Sidewinder, three individuals found throughout the trip (one in Joshua Tree NP, one in Anza-Borrego SP and one near California City), all during the night, one while night cruising and the two others around our camp in the desert:
ImageCrotalus cerastes by Boris Delahaie, on Flickr

ImageDSC_8059 by Jean-Charles Delattre, on Flickr

ImageDSC_8179 by Jean-Charles Delattre, on Flickr

Desert Spiny Lizard in Big Morongo Preserve:
ImageDSC_7586 by Jean-Charles Delattre, on Flickr

Valley Gartersnake in Pinnacles NP:
ImageDSC_7311 by Jean-Charles Delattre, on Flickr

Western Side-blotched Lizard (found in many many places), but these two are from Santa Cruz Island
ImageUta stansburiana elegans by Boris Delahaie, on Flickr

ImageUta stansburiana elegans by Boris Delahaie, on Flickr

Other pictures will follow !

Regarding Salton Sea, it was very hot but already great for shorebirds since we saw plenty of them on the southern shore of the sea. However, very few anatidae. And the highlight of our stay there was a good observation of Tricoloured Heron along Wister Road.

Boris

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Re: Advices for a California trip in September

Post by Jimi » September 28th, 2016, 8:51 am

these two are from Santa Cruz Island
I'm glad to hear you got out there; it's a terribly underappreciated place, that whole archipelago. The herping isn't great unless you're just trying to tick off an endemic or two, but the entirety of the experience is exceptional. I hope you were able to do a little snorkeling.

Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your trip.

cheers

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Re: Advices for a California trip in September

Post by Fieldnotes » September 28th, 2016, 2:36 pm

WoW, you traveled extensively and got some pretty good shots too! Hard to tell from the "Mountain Garter" shot, but Mono Lake is in the Great Basin Desert and the realm of Thamnophis e. vagrans.

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Brian Hubbs
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Re: Advices for a California trip in September

Post by Brian Hubbs » September 29th, 2016, 11:03 am

:lol: I didn't know what anatidae was until you said it. Ducks and Geese...guess they arrive later. :)

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Porter
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Re: Advices for a California trip in September

Post by Porter » October 2nd, 2016, 6:22 pm

Are you sure that's a mountain garter? Common species in the desert can look a little diff but that looks like in could be something much cooler... maybe even a mix breed. Cool find :thumb:

borisdelahaie
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Re: Advices for a California trip in September

Post by borisdelahaie » October 6th, 2016, 1:00 am

Hi guys!

Here are two other pictures of the gartersnake:
Image
Image

Let us know what you think about it!

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Porter
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Re: Advices for a California trip in September

Post by Porter » October 8th, 2016, 10:14 pm

Now that I see that side view I'm thinking desert phase mountain garter (even if the habitat isn't quite the desert lol). Could be an intergrade tho... either way, that tan coloration pretty cool looking. I tried to track down a wandering garter for the first time this year with no luck. But I was looking a lot further south than you. From what I gather and assume, the wanderings are more aquatic (they display mucky green coloration (in some locals) suggesting to me that they camo to moss and aquatic plants, like gigas) and mountain garters more terrestrial in comparison. But, I could be wrong. The mountain garters in my area seem to be more aquatic than valley garters in the sense that they dive to hide when startled off the banks. Valleys will just cross the surface of the water to escape. I assume both (elagans and fitchi) primarily hunt in shallow depth near the shore. But, gigas will dive deep and stay submerged for several minutes while hunting. definitely what you would refer to as an aquatic snake. If Im right about that, then the behavior or surroundings where you found the snake might give a clue....

I noticed fieldnotes commented before me as well. He is a lot more familiar with the eastern side of the sierras than I am and may have more insight to that

Cool find :beer:

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Fieldnotes
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Re: Advices for a California trip in September

Post by Fieldnotes » October 9th, 2016, 11:06 am

I have found several Wandering Garter in the Mono Lake area and they have turned out to be Thamnophis e. vagrans. The yellow middorsal stripe can be bright and distinct at times, and the sides are grey often with a checkered pattern. A dark head cap is also suggestive of T. e. vagrans, and one pictured above has what appears to be a dark head cap starting from behind and above the eye. Due to location and pictures feel this is T. e. vagrans.

Wandering garters have been found miles form water, even in arid portions of the White Mountains. As Porter suggests Thamnophis e. elegans seems much more aquatic than other Sierra Nevada garter snakes.


Image
This is from Bodie and has the dark headcap and distinct middorsal stripe. However, it also has a strong checkered pattern which the one in question does not have.

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Porter
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Re: Advices for a California trip in September

Post by Porter » October 9th, 2016, 7:43 pm

Before I say this, I want to make it clear that I respect Fieldnotes opinion and admit he has much more knowledge on the snakes in that area. I'm just posting this to explain why I'm leaning towards mountain garter, based on a western Sierra slope/foothills perspective...

This Mountain garter was found in Placer county. I have seen several like this, displaying a more checkered pattern than just black and yellow. In most cases, you have to stretch the skin or find one with a large meal in his belly to noticed the pattern portrayed by the blue colored speckled dashes. So, Mountain Garters do in fact carry DNA coding for checkered pattern

ImageMountain Gartersnake by California Reptile & Amphibian Appreciation, on Flickr



Next is the head shape, facial marking, and head cap coloration and a mote rounded snout as opposed to tapered and somewhat pointy. You snake appears to match up with these Mountain Garter's traits. Which were all fount in the foothills of Roseville and Folsom Ca, far from any Wandering garter influence....

Placer County. Strong black mask coloration behind the eyes, light coloration towards the snout, large latter labials (also a trait of vargans), and a more rounded head shape

ImageMountain Gartersnake by California Reptile & Amphibian Appreciation, on Flickr

ImageMountain Gartersnake by California Reptile & Amphibian Appreciation, on Flickr




El Dorado county. This was a 4 ft individual found at least close to 1 mile away from any water and burrowing up it a rodent den (food sourch?). Largest I've ever seen and had a head size of a large adult gopher snake

ImageMountain Gartersnake by California Reptile & Amphibian Appreciation, on Flickr




This individual was found a little higher than 6, 375 ft with numerous aberrant Sierra Gartersnakes and displays an abnormal rustic coloration on the belly that is a common trait of the couchii. I believe it to be a hybrid after conducting a 1 day survey in witch I found 8 or 9 elegans that did not display the same belly coloration.

ImageMountain Gartersnake by California Reptile & Amphibian Appreciation, on Flickr


I also talked to a local in Bishop Ca who told me that the tan colored vagrans I was searching for,were actually Sierra garters that had descended down the slope. He seemed to be a well educated herper and held some kind of job in the herpetological world, but I forget exactly what it was he said he did. That was a lot further south than your find, and much further north than where I searched for the mucky green aquatic vagrans.

After fieldnotes stating what he has... I think I'm settling with intergrade :mrgreen: :) I'm staring at the side view head shot of your find and it looks dead on mountain garter to me, for that age

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Calfirecap
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Re: Advices for a California trip in September

Post by Calfirecap » October 10th, 2016, 5:11 am

I'm with Fieldnotes on this, Wandering Garter.

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