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 Post subject: Cruising advice for NorPacs, Gophers, and Rubber Boas
PostPosted: July 21st, 2018, 6:21 pm 

Joined: May 26th, 2018, 7:08 am
Posts: 12
Hi there,

First time poster, long time lurker on this forum. This summer I've gotten into herping, and this website along with a few others has proven invaluable to my education.

There are six species that live where I am in the North Okanagan in British Columbia. These are the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, Great Basin Gopher snake, Western Yellow-bellied Racer, Rubber Boa, Valley Garter snake, and Western Terrestrial garter snake. I can say I've found them all this summer besides the rubber boa, but with the exception of the garter snakes, I've found only one or two of the other species. I would really like to see more as we only have a couple more months of summer here.

I know there are a lot of posts that generally discuss road cruising, but I'm wondering if anyone is willing to share some tips for cruising specifically rattlesnakes, gopher snakes, and rubber boas.
Does anyone know if these species specifically are affected by moon phase? Barometric pressure? How about surface wind? What's the best daytime high for a night of cruising?

Thanks for any advice you can give to a new guy!

OkanaganSFLT


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 Post subject: Re: Cruising advice for NorPacs, Gophers, and Rubber Boas
PostPosted: July 22nd, 2018, 12:16 pm 
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Joined: December 13th, 2014, 5:27 pm
Posts: 86
Hi OkanaganSFLT! Any chance you also happen to be /u/DizzDongler on Reddit or know of him? If you are not him you might want to seek out this fellow Okanagan herper.
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> I know there are a lot of posts that generally discuss road cruising, but I'm wondering if anyone is willing to share some tips for cruising specifically rattlesnakes, gopher snakes, and rubber boas.

  1. Rattlesnakes. In WA in June and earlier rattlesnakes can be cruised during crepescular hours (dusk/dawn) which in July/August shifts to more nocturnal hours when the summer temperatures heat up. I'd look for daily highs above 93F right now (hotter the better), start your cruise at 8pm before sunset. Buzztails will be most active between 85-70F roughly, but you can see dumb ones/neonates down to 60-65F if you are lucky. I cruise more northern pacific rattlesnakes in central WA on a good night than any other species. I've had a few nights where I'll find like 15 norpacs, 3 gophers, and 1-2 boas or night snakes if I'm lucky.
  2. Gopher snakes in the pacnw can be found almost any time in the summer provided its not too hot (over 90F). You can find them at dawn, at night, even midday if you are flipping/hiking good habitat in shade. I think they are a great snake to target when you are just learning how to road cruise.
  3. Boas, like night snakes, will be more cold tolerant than most of our other snake species. If I want to target a boa for cruising I would start my cruise at 10pm (well after sundown) and go till 1-2am so long as temps are above 55F -- same for night snakes. I tend to find boas at higher elevations than night snakes though, and in a much wider range of habitats.
Quote:
> Does anyone know if these species specifically are affected by moon phase? Barometric pressure? How about surface wind? What's the best daytime high for a night of cruising?

  1. Moon phase. This gets kicked around a lot by herpers and I've yet to read a scientific paper that lays things out with data that is hard to refute. Some of the best herping nights I've seen in the pacnw were on nights with full moons but then again there are other nights where I'll see a below average amount of snakes on the crawl. I do still look up moon phases and consider them. I do suspect that the more nocturnal/fossorial snakes (boas, night snakes) might be more light sensitive to the moon, but I lack sufficient data to stand behind any arguments. I bumped into Jeff Nordland briefly in SoCal a couple months ago and found him carefully surveying for herps on the shaded side of rocky cuts which I thought was rather clever -- herping in the shade of the moon on a bright night.
  2. Barometric pressure. I have been told snakes can sense incoming storms although I'm unclear if its related to barometric pressure specifically or other factors. Most of the time rain in the pacific northwest is bad news if you want to find reptiles, but a long dry hot period in followed by rains can bring out all kinds of animals when the conditions are just right.
  3. Surface wind. I don't have solid data here. I've been out on windy nights and still found tons of herps vs non-windy nights. I've heard people mention "owls won't fly on really windy nights" which makes me speculate on the advantages this might give reptiles. Maybe coyotes can't hear rattlesnakes on the crawl through dry grass when the wind is howling? I personally disregard the wind unless there is rain/moisture around -- wind + wet ground can suck away the surface temps faster resulting in cooler conditions.
  4. Best daytime high. Right now I'm watching the weather in central washington (south of the Okanogan) for days that are at or above 95F, and the higher the better -- 100F days like we're going to see in the next few days are even better. The hotter the day, the longer you can cruise into the night.
  5. I'll also mention wildfires since those are on the rise right now. Sometimes when the air is full of soot you'll see less snakes, sometimes it doesn't seem to change their behavior. I can't seem to find any pigmy short-horned lizards when there is smoke in the air, so I suspect some animals are more sensitive to smoke than others but I lack real conclusive data.

Watch the weather for a hot day at or above 95F, start your cruise at 8pm, go till 00:00-02:00 or whenever it hits 55-60F (whatever comes first). Roads that go through wilderness areas/less developed places are often best. Look for roads with ample shoulders on the side of the road, that aren't major routes between big cities (look for roads that go out to state parks) so there will be fewer cars smashsing snakes on the road. Spend as much time as you can in prime snake habitat and you will find them.

Also, I found it helpful to pick up a temperature gun for $15 or so to measure surface temps against ambient temperatures, or to get familiar with how much heat asphalt can hold compared to dirt/gravel roads after dark. Snakes care more about surface temps.

If you are just getting started, just get out there and put in the time even if conditions aren't perfect. Take notes and be mindful of the conditions. Following some of these tips will help, but I still have a surprising amount of success on marginal nights I thought were too bright, too windy, or too smokey. "Snakes are where you find them".


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 Post subject: Re: Cruising advice for NorPacs, Gophers, and Rubber Boas
PostPosted: July 22nd, 2018, 7:08 pm 

Joined: May 26th, 2018, 7:08 am
Posts: 12
Thanks technoendo, and yes, I am in fact u/DizzDongler. Something tells me you must be u/toadfury. If you are, then I must say thank you again for your help!

You've given me a lot of great info here and I cant wait until later in this week/next week as the weather heats up into the low 100's. I've located some good, quiet paved roads (by using google earth) that drive right through a ton of shrub-steppe habitat where there are known to be my target species.
Quote:
Rattlesnakes. In WA in June and earlier rattlesnakes can be cruised during crepescular hours (dusk/dawn) which in July/August shifts to more nocturnal hours when the summer temperatures heat up. I'd look for daily highs above 93F right now (hotter the better), start your cruise at 8pm before sunset. Buzztails will be most active between 85-70F roughly, but you can see dumb ones/neonates down to 60-65F if you are lucky

I actually did cruise my first rattlesnake two nights ago and the information you list is exactly what the scenario was. The ambient temp was about 75F and it was right at dusk. I do have a temp gun, and the pavement temp was 82F and the substrate temp right next to the road was 71F. Good to know that this was not just a fluke, and is in fact typical for finding NorPac rattlesnakes. Hopefully more of the same conditions will lead to many more soon.
Quote:
Gopher snakes in the pacnw can be found almost any time in the summer provided its not too hot (over 90F). You can find them at dawn, at night, even midday if you are flipping/hiking good habitat in shade.

This is something I've been having a great deal of trouble with for some reason. I have been hiking and flipping natural cover in areas that are confirmed to have gopher snakes. I've seen several DORs, but none while hiking or flipping. Albeit there is only natural cover in the area, which I don't think is anywhere near as productive as artificial cover. Hopefully I'll have more luck in the evening/night with cruising once things heat up a bit more. I noticed that after our last batch of hot days the amount of DOR gophers increased. This leads me to believe they do like to come out in the night more often than the day. But maybe I'm looking in the wrong area or using the wrong techniques. I've been looking in grassland and open ponderosa pine forests right near where I've seen DORs. Do you have any advice for hiking or flipping these guys?
Quote:
If you are just getting started, just get out there and put in the time even if conditions aren't perfect. Take notes and be mindful of the conditions. Following some of these tips will help, but I still have a surprising amount of success on marginal nights I thought were too bright, too windy, or too smokey. "Snakes are where you find them".

Thanks again for this great write up, this info is exactly what I was hoping for. I feel like I just got a crash course in road cruising. I'll make an update if I find some interesting snakes in the coming weeks.

OkanaganSFLT


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 Post subject: Re: Cruising advice for NorPacs, Gophers, and Rubber Boas
PostPosted: July 23rd, 2018, 10:28 am 

Joined: December 3rd, 2010, 12:06 pm
Posts: 1773
Yeah Techno, that was a pretty good write-up. The only piece I'd quibble with was the suggestion that very-recent rain anywhere in the US is generally much help for cruising snakes.

    - Definitely in dry country where you get strong evaporative cooling, it is the kiss of death. Just forget it, go somewhere else (where it didn't rain) or do something else if it rained everywhere. Or switch targets and call it anuran or caudate cruising.

    - But even in more humid country, it seems to me that rain is only good for calling out the truly wet-loving snakes - Nerodia, Regina, Seminatrix, Farancia, etc. Cottonmouths also like it alright. Copperheads tolerate it. Otherwise it seems most serpents don't care for it.

Of course there's complexity introduced by things like how many hours since rain ended, was the air able to heat back up, was it an absolute soaker or more just a sprinkle, etc. If it can dry out and warm back up, that mitigates things a lot. Can even be a bonus, if it has been super dry.

Anyway, again, great summary. I might suggest starting earlier than 8 PM for crepuscular stuff - but maybe it's a function of latitude. I assume it doesn't get fully dark mid-summer up there til maybe 1030 PM?

@ Okanagan - good hunting!


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 Post subject: Re: Cruising advice for NorPacs, Gophers, and Rubber Boas
PostPosted: July 23rd, 2018, 2:06 pm 
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Joined: December 13th, 2014, 5:27 pm
Posts: 86
Quote:
The only piece I'd quibble with was the suggestion that very-recent rain anywhere in the US is generally much help for cruising snakes.


Jimi,
EDIT: I do agree with parts of your response -- I was too hasty here. The topic of barometric pressure in the summertime just gets me thinking about chasing snakes in the summer monsoons, but such discussions aren't very helpful for anyone in the Okanagan as they would be in other deserts to the south. In the pacific northwest, rain is generally bad for temps and bad for finding reptiles and I shouldn't focus on infrequent monsoon events in distant lands in a conversation about rain/barometric pressure in the pacnw.

OkanaganSFLT,
Yes, gophers/rattlesnakes tend to shift activity from crepescular hours to nocturnal hours in July/August when the summer heat arrives. Its my experience that rattlesnakes are more strict about this than gopher snakes in the pacnw. I think you have the right idea if you are exploring areas where you have seen DOR gopher snakes. Gopher snakes may still be active in the mornings until ~11am (always depending on temps), look for gophers basking on roads or hanging out in dappled shade. Hit surfaces with your temp gun to be mindful of temperatures. If the flips aren't great then just cover lots of ground. You'll find em! Good luck out there!

-ian


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 Post subject: Re: Cruising advice for NorPacs, Gophers, and Rubber Boas
PostPosted: July 23rd, 2018, 6:46 pm 

Joined: May 26th, 2018, 7:08 am
Posts: 12
I'll definitely switch my herping time to the evenings now, based on the info I've gotten here. Thanks!

An other idea I would like to get thoughts on: In regards to pressure changes, I wonder if changing pressure may be beneficial to finding snakes on the move. I've read some research papers on Gopher snakes that mention they rely on "retreat sites" during the summer months. These are not their traditional hibernacula, and not their egg laying sites either. These are separate safe locations that the snakes may spend their time when not hunting. So perhaps a sudden decrease in barometric pressure may cause snakes to move from foraging areas to these retreat sites, as rapidly falling pressure indicates a sudden weather change (i.e. thunderstorm). I remember watching a fantastic video by the Northwest Herper in which you could see dark storm clouds in the distance, and at one point some rain actually started falling on them. During this video they were finding snakes non-stop. I am by no means a biologist so I could be out to lunch. Any thoughts on this?

Also, Technoendo, I just watched a bunch of your videos on youtube. Great stuff! I noticed that in some of your videos you find snakes on gravel roads. Can you (or anyone) comment on how gravel roads fair in comparison to paved for cruising?

OkanaganSFLT


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 Post subject: Re: Cruising advice for NorPacs, Gophers, and Rubber Boas
PostPosted: July 25th, 2018, 11:26 am 

Joined: December 3rd, 2010, 12:06 pm
Posts: 1773
Re: paved vs unpaved, that's an interesting one. I think dirt, sand, and gravel are more alike (to each other) and can be lumped, and truly paved is different. Unpaved is cooler, so when it's hot out can be cruised earlier in the afternoon and later in the morning. Unpaved cruising to me is more like just running a transect, hoping to get snakes on the crawl, simply crossing but more-visible. Paved can retain snakes, particularly if there's a significant difference between air temp and pavement temp. Like, an air temp of say 75 and a road temp of say 85 is pretty sweet.

If I'm planning to hunt an area with good paved and unpaved roads - "good" being both low-traffic and crossing likely habitat - I will often strategize by getting there mid-afternoon and - if I can't do some walking due to e.g. private property issues - putting in a couple hours on the unpaved. Particularly if I can get some topographic or vegetative shade on the road or the shoulder - it can be pretty stinking hot air out, but snakes will come out and lie in the shade, because there the ground - especially dirt - is actually cooler than the air. If possible, check on pavement temps now and then when cruising the unpaved, and when pavement temps finally get low enough (under ~105), switch to pavement (unless unpaved is still producing).

Some regions (more-southerly US locations, in my experience), unpaved is just as good as paved. Or even better due to lower traffic. In generally-cold areas like PacNW I suspect pavement is gonna generally be better, except during that couple-hour afternoon stretch of say 4-6 or 5-7 PM, and also mid-morning. That's how it is in the Great Basin, in my experience. Unpaved mostly sucks, here. But it has its uses, if you use it right.

Anyway - these are just my experiences & resulting "mental models". Would welcome confirmation / refutation from others.

cheers


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 Post subject: Re: Cruising advice for NorPacs, Gophers, and Rubber Boas
PostPosted: July 25th, 2018, 2:47 pm 
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Joined: December 13th, 2014, 5:27 pm
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OkanaganSFLT wrote:
Also, Technoendo, I just watched a bunch of your videos on youtube. Great stuff! I noticed that in some of your videos you find snakes on gravel roads. Can you (or anyone) comment on how gravel roads fair in comparison to paved for cruising?


Thank you! Should have the next video out in just a few more days where I find a locality desert striped whipsnake in the southwestern pacific northwest. I wrote some dialogue last night and am going to do some recording in front of a green screen today. Feels like I've been editing this one forever!

It may be easier to spot road anomalies on uncracked/undamaged blacktop, maybe allowing one to cruise at a higher speed for snakes (then again, maybe not if the target snake is small or hard to see). I don't enjoy driving on heavily washboarded roads -- but the snakes don't seem to mind being there as much as I do!

Its not so much that snakes prefer one road material over another -- rather it seems to be more about the surface temps as far as I can tell. Jimi offers a solid tip:

Jimi wrote:
Some regions (more-southerly US locations, in my experience), unpaved is just as good as paved. Or even better due to lower traffic. In generally-cold areas like PacNW I suspect pavement is gonna generally be better...


Think of blacktop that has recently been hit by sun as a kind of thermal battery. In the Okanagan and at higher elevations where it might be cooler, going from gravel roads back onto blacktop may gain you a ~10 degree bump which can give you a shot at finding snakes when you thought the ambient temps were bad enough you almost quit cruising for the night. You can have an ambient temperature of 60-65F (a nearly dead night for gophers/rattlesnakes) but still sometimes have asphalt temps closer to 70-73F which may still be attractive to snakes on the crawl. I'm glad you have a temp gun to test surface temps and see/ponder this stuff. In cooler climates like the pacnw the heat stored in blacktop can save your cruising night.

Wish I could borrow one of those FLIR thermal cameras. The FLIR One is like $400 which is too expensive of a gimmick for my purposes. I admit it would be fun to take some thermal in-habitat/in-situ shots for fun. I think it might be interesting to throw in a thermal image into my videos from time to time, or include them in herpmapper reports. In no way do I think it would help me catch more snakes -- it would just generate some interesting images and get more into the mindset of thinking about the environment through the eyes of an ectotherm.

https://www.flir.com/browse/professiona ... y-cameras/

Image

https://steemit.com/steemstem/@holothew ... the-fynbos


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 Post subject: Re: Cruising advice for NorPacs, Gophers, and Rubber Boas
PostPosted: July 31st, 2018, 7:42 am 

Joined: May 26th, 2018, 7:08 am
Posts: 12
Well with all these tips in mind I can happily say I've been having success these past few nights. I've found a couple rattlesnakes, but last night actually cruised a Valley garter snake at around 11pm which was a surprise as I thought they wouldn't be active at night. I also saw a fresh DOR Rubber boa, this was very upsetting as it was clearly very recent. But at least that is an indication that I'm in the right area. Also it's interesting to see that Western toads and Pacific treefrogs are active at night even when the weather is hot and dry - I've found a few of those too.

Quote:
Unpaved cruising to me is more like just running a transect, hoping to get snakes on the crawl, simply crossing but more-visible.

Jimi, this is exactly how I found one Northern Pacific. The snake was crossing a gravel road and moving fairly fast. A couple minutes earlier or later and I surely would have missed him!

Unfortunately my iPhone takes horrible night pictures, I'm still trying to find a way to take presentable images at night of these snakes.

OkanaganSFLT


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 Post subject: Re: Cruising advice for NorPacs, Gophers, and Rubber Boas
PostPosted: July 31st, 2018, 10:28 am 

Joined: December 3rd, 2010, 12:06 pm
Posts: 1773
Quote:
cruised a Valley garter snake


There aren't many opportunities for that here, just due to their small, localized distribution and who owns the land where they live. So, those typically get walked here.

Other garters however, I have found plenty after dark cruising. Especially the various elegans subspecies, including the local one (the well-named wandering). But elsewhere - blacknecks, and several sirtalis ssp's, and of course checkereds...and oh, man, the various ribbons - yeah, garters come out after dark!

I'm glad your hunter success & satisfaction have increased. Well done, keep it up. Herping is nice because, for the most part, you do get better the more you do it and the harder/smarter you work.

Quote:
I also saw a fresh DOR Rubber boa, this was very upsetting as it was clearly very recent. But at least that is an indication that I'm in the right area.


Yeah DORs are a drag but just part of the experience. Here we have this thing where we salvage them and put them into a museum collection (via "pickle parties" with the curator). That converts a sucky situation into something vastly more positive. But even if you can't do that, you're right - finding fresh DORs of your target species means you're basically doing it right - right time, right place.

I urge you to use the HERP app to record and upload your finds.

cheers


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 Post subject: Re: Cruising advice for NorPacs, Gophers, and Rubber Boas
PostPosted: September 8th, 2018, 7:21 pm 

Joined: May 26th, 2018, 7:08 am
Posts: 12
Hi all, I want to post an update here.

Thanks to the replies on this thread, and other info found throughout this forum, I’ve had a really great past couple months of cruising. I’ve gone from never having seen a rattlesnake, to now having found 18 in the field since I first posted at the end of May. I think I would have been able to crack 50, but wildfire smoke gave us a very cool august here in BC. I also cruised a Rubber boa, something I thought could take years. Again, this is due to the great info I’ve been given (and a lot of patience and perseverance too!).

I’ve put together a little video that links together some of the better footage I got. It’s not as high quality as some of the other media that gets posted here, but it’s something!



OkanaganSFLT


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 Post subject: Re: Cruising advice for NorPacs, Gophers, and Rubber Boas
PostPosted: September 9th, 2018, 10:04 pm 
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Joined: June 9th, 2010, 9:57 pm
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Location: North end of Lake Okeechobee, Florida
Nice video. I'm still trying to figure out what looks like a blue color on the first rattle segment. Is it marked as a study animal, or just an artifact from the filming, or am I losing it?! :P


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 Post subject: Re: Cruising advice for NorPacs, Gophers, and Rubber Boas
PostPosted: September 10th, 2018, 2:16 pm 

Joined: December 3rd, 2010, 12:06 pm
Posts: 1773
Quote:
I’ve gone from never having seen a rattlesnake, to now having found 18 in the field since I first posted at the end of May.


Fantastic, well done! I wonder if you will live to see rattlesnakes expand their range northward. Heck, maybe they already are - plenty of other animals are (e.g., mule deer invading Yukon).

What did you do to that boa to get him crawling so fast?!?! Ha ha ha they are usually sooooo much slower!

I wonder if BC has a Herp Atlas or something. Do you know? E.g. for comparison:
https://www.miherpatlas.org/
https://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/herp_atlas/
http://www4.uwm.edu/letsci/fieldstation/herpetology/atlas.html

cheers


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 Post subject: Re: Cruising advice for NorPacs, Gophers, and Rubber Boas
PostPosted: September 11th, 2018, 9:39 am 

Joined: May 26th, 2018, 7:08 am
Posts: 12
Quote:
I'm still trying to figure out what looks like a blue color on the first rattle segment.

The mark is used for identification, and to determine how many sheds have occurred since the mark was placed there by researchers. The snake also likely has at least a PIT tag, if not a radio tracker implanted. I happen to know all this because I was lucky enough to run into 2 researchers one night while cruising for rattlesnakes. I got to watch them mark, tag, and process a snake they had just found on the road.

Quote:
I wonder if you will live to see rattlesnakes expand their range northward.

This is something I find very interesting. In BC we essentially have 2 separate rattlesnake populations. One in the Okanagan valley, one in the Thompson valley. These populations would have at one time been joined by suitable habitat, but as the climate cooled over the past 1000 years or so the populations became separated. Perhaps as the climate warms again suitable habitat will be restored. As it stands the Thompson population represents one of the most northern occurrences of rattlesnakes in the world.

My current outings are now geared toward finding dens. We have had much cooler temps than the seasonal norm here, so I may actually be too late already. The temperature isn't getting above 70F anymore. Any tips here would be greatly appreciated also!

OkanaganSFLT


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