A Cold June Weekend in Eastern Nevada

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Jaye Legate
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Location: Ely, NV

A Cold June Weekend in Eastern Nevada

Post by Jaye Legate » June 14th, 2010, 4:04 pm

Over the weekend I decided to do a spot of herping.
Friday was a warm, sunny day. I decided to hit a spring not too far away. Nestled in a grassy meadow surrounded by rocky, piñon/juniper woodland, this lovely little mesic site rarely fails to produce, this day being no exception. I parked the ATV and strolled over to the spring and immediately spotted an elegans.

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Wandering Garter enjoying a dip in the cool water.


I snapped off several photos and headed up hill a bit to flip some old car parts.
Turned up two of these little beauties, always a treat to find.

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Great Basin Skink

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Brand-new skinklet, as I fondly dubbed it.

Carrying on up the hillside I spotted movement on an outcropping.

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A pretty little short-horned, with much more yellow than I commonly see.

The rest of the day passed rather uneventfully, with trolling mountain trails on the ATV with an eye for tin and boards. Turned up a few Sceloporus graciosus and S. occidentalis, but little else.

Saturday brought with it a high in the upper 40s and overcast skies that were very liberal in dumping freezing rains over the desert and snow on the mountains. So no herping for me. That night ushered in gusty winds and more rain saturating the ground and dousing my hopes of having any luck the next day.
Regardless, Sunday morning I hopped in my truck and headed to dry, narrow, rarely visited canyon on the western slopes of the Egan range. The skies were still mostly cloudy, the high was to be no more than 60, so I popped in a CD and prepared more for a leisurely drive than a day of herping. I reached my canyon at 10:00, parked my truck and got out to start hiking. I made it no more than 10 feet before a sudden gust slapped me in the face with frigid air. A shiver prompted me to don a jacket. I set my camera back in the truck, doubting that I'd find anything worth photographing. The temperature was 58˚ at 6,800'. I spent about 10 minutes flipping rocks and checking the bases of trees, but of course found nothing. I decided to head back to the truck and call it an early day. Rounding a bend in the road I saw what I knew could only be one thing, though I refused to let myself get my hopes up at what I was seeing.
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Taken via cell phone, but this is the sight that I'd been awaiting for 3 long years and hundreds of hours of consistent searching.


I slowly approached, refusing to stop as I repeatedly muttered "No.." to myself.
After the daze wore off, I moved in. About 10 feet away the animal started vibrating its tail in the gravel. When I reached a distance of about 4 feet from the snake it suddenly, and with much more feeling than one would expect a reptile outside at 58˚ to move, jerked into a striking pose, lunged once, and proceeded to writhe and twist violently on the road, popping its cloaca and musking profusely.
Once in hand it calmed down considerably, but this didn't prevent it from using its final defense mechanism. I watched it eye my thumb for a moment, then slowly and steadily it inched forward, opened its mouth, and clamped it down. Very calm and controlled, not at all like the whipsnakes or gophers that have nailed me in the past.
I grabbed my camera and relocated the snake a little way off the road to tray and snap photos. This proved to be more difficult than expected, the animal didn't enjoy sitting still.

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Utah Mountain Kingsnake, Lampropeltis pyromelana infralabialis

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My lifer infralabialis, and the first pyro I've seen in 14 years.

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Bryan Hamilton
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Re: A Cold June Weekend in Eastern Nevada

Post by Bryan Hamilton » June 14th, 2010, 7:35 pm

Wow. Congratulations. That's a great find. I know how hard pyromelana can be in Nevada.

That's a really interesting pattern. I like the two wide white bands on the black.

Do you have any habitat shots? Was there any water or riparian vegetation in the vicinity?

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herpseeker1978
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Re: A Cold June Weekend in Eastern Nevada

Post by herpseeker1978 » June 14th, 2010, 7:45 pm

love the pyro, love the HL, great finds man!

Josh

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Jaye Legate
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Location: Ely, NV

Re: A Cold June Weekend in Eastern Nevada

Post by Jaye Legate » June 14th, 2010, 8:31 pm

Do you have any habitat shots? Was there any water or riparian vegetation in the vicinity?
I'll have habitat shots up tomorrow, in my excitement I failed to shoot any. I'm heading to the same site in the morning so I'll get some. What's interesting is that this pyro seemed to break a lot of rules. For one thing it was abroad in the morning during quite breezy, chilly conditions. Not near rocks or a hole with its tail hidden underground, but just sitting right in the middle of the road. Now I'm far from an expert on this species but that seems a bit off from what other people tend to report of their habits. The canyon itself is quite dry- the nearest surface water is a small spring several miles further up. Not many outstanding rockslides or talus slopes, and not an ideal amount of south facing slopes or slides to provide for hibernacula or basking sites. Along the bases of the cliff walls there were a few green leafy plants, albeit not your usual sagebrush, but not enough to prompt classing the area as riparian, in my opinion. But at the same time I suppose there could be plenty of below surface water, as a few seeps were present on cliffs further up and there is no shortage of mineshafts. Then again this could all be merely conjecture at their requirements based on outdated literature. I've noticed that each year more and more is learned about this reclusive creature, and surface water, as you've determined in the past, is clearly not a requirement.

Also, Bryan, I know you coordinate the surveys for pyros here in NV so if you'd like scalation, banding, measurements, or other such data about the habitat, conditions, or snake itself for your records I jotted everything down as I examined it. I don't know if you're interested in specimens from the Egans and Schell Creeks, or if you focus strictly on the Snake Range, so let me know.

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Jaye Legate
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Re: A Cold June Weekend in Eastern Nevada

Post by Jaye Legate » June 15th, 2010, 2:16 pm

Addendum:
Here are some shots of the habitat wherein was found the pyro.

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Rockier and more snake friendly further up, I guess habitat suitability depends on how far the animals tend to travel.

I poked through an abandoned mining camp for a few minutes as I turned the truck around.
Heard a rustle in the grass and chased this guy around for a few minutes.

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Desert Striped Whipsnake Coluber taeniatus taeniatus

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Finally he calmed down and curled up under an old fencepost.

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Attila
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Re: A Cold June Weekend in Eastern Nevada

Post by Attila » June 15th, 2010, 8:30 pm

Great finds especially for a cold rainy weekend. I was out in eastern Nevada too but I think I was farther south than you were and I still had temps as low as 48. I spent most of Sat in Lincoln Co and a few hours out on Sun in Clark Co.

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occidentalis
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Re: A Cold June Weekend in Eastern Nevada

Post by occidentalis » June 15th, 2010, 9:11 pm

I like your Phrynosoma and, of course, the L. pyromelana is awesome. Nice work.

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kcmatt
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Re: A Cold June Weekend in Eastern Nevada

Post by kcmatt » June 16th, 2010, 4:59 am

Very nice. Great habitat to cruise for pyros with how tight it is. Have you ever tried it on a warm evening/night ahead of a front?

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Bryan Hamilton
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Re: A Cold June Weekend in Eastern Nevada

Post by Bryan Hamilton » June 16th, 2010, 6:58 am

Personally I have had no luck cruising pyros in Nevada. I know its done a lot in Utah. Most of the roads are rough, rocky and narrow and only go through a short section of good habitat. I cruise a lot and stop for (almost) every dead snake I see and I've never seen a pyro on a road. During our surveys this year someone hiked one up on a road so its definitely possible.

I'm not saying it can't be done, it just hasn't worked for me.

BTH

TimCO
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Re: A Cold June Weekend in Eastern Nevada

Post by TimCO » June 16th, 2010, 7:01 pm

Great post.

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Ross Padilla
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Re: A Cold June Weekend in Eastern Nevada

Post by Ross Padilla » July 7th, 2010, 12:16 am

Great post!!! That is a gorgeous pyro. :thumb:

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jdustin
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Re: A Cold June Weekend in Eastern Nevada

Post by jdustin » July 7th, 2010, 10:46 am

Wow, great post, and what a beautiful pyro. Congrats.

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