Buckeye Herps Blog

A photographic journal of the reptiles and amphibians of Ohio, Michigan and other places interesting wildlife call home.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Arizona: SE

Brian, Carl and I were now a few days into our Arizona trip.  We had been doing pretty well, but we had missed out on a few targets.  Morale was a little low from a tough couple of days near Sedona.  We orchestrated our exodus from Phoenix and the north well though and were in location to cruise about 30 minutes before dusk near Tuscon.  We met up with an old buddy of mine who moved out to Tuscon this year, Mike R, enjoyed a quick car sandwich and hit the road.  I had been a little worried about running into masses of other herpers because the Biology of Rattlesnakes Symposium was currently underway in Tuscon.  We chose a less traveled location hoping traffic would be low...

A couple of passes were not fruitful, and we couldn't help but worry about plummeting temperatures and blustery winds.  Finally, a snake was spotted...

Gopher Snake Pituophis catenifer

We also noticed 2 or 3 other cars joining us on the road.

I spotted a stick-looking snake and called out to stop and check it out.  I wasn't too confident, and as we were backing up, I couldn't find what caught my eye.  Luckily, Mike saw it and yelled out "It's moving!"  Game on!

Tiger Rattlesnake Crotalus tigris

We kept at it and noticed another car pulled over on the road.  They were photographing a tiger rattlesnake of their own.

A little bit later we quickly photographed a WBD moving across the road.  One of the other cars pulled up and we told them what we were photographing.  A few of the cars inhabitants had never seen a WBD before so they filed out to get some pictures.  We were anxious to move on so Carl and I hopped in the car and started it up.  Brian and Mike stayed back...  I was being abnoxious, saying things like "Time to go!" and "Snakes are moving!".  Turns out none of the 4 people from the car (1 guy driving and 3 girls) had a flashlight.  They were all stupidly holding their phones out to try and light the snake with their "light apps".  It would have been funny if it wasn't so stupid.  Who in their right mind cruises at night in Arizona, basically for rattlesnakes, without a flashlight?  Mike and Brian are luckily nice guys and ignored me long enough to assist them with pictures. 

A bit later another group was photographing a young gila on the side of the road.  It was content to just sit on the side of the road and cooperate for pictures.

"beaded" lizard

The road was producing nicely, but it was getting late and we had some other targets on our mind.  Later, we hit pay dirt and got to see some very awesome amphibians.  Numerous border patrol interruptions later...

Sonoran Desert Toad Bufo alvarius
Kiss it.  I double dog dare you.
Great Plains Toad Bufo cognatus

Sonoran Green Toad Bufo retiformis
My favorite toad of the trip.

Lowland Burrowing Treefrog  Smilisca fodiens
Brian was pretty darn happy to see this!
On the way back a few more snakes were moving.

Our first Mohave Rattlesnake since Carl joined us, Crotalus scutulatus.  Unfortunately, we called this an atrox for some silly reason and Carl never got out of the car to look at it.

Long-nosed Snake Rhinocheilus lecontei

Carl and I saw a DOR long-nose, (we won't mention that Mike and Brian drove over it twice...) and an atrox.  We were all dozing off at the wheel, and decided to call it a night.  Many thanks to Mike for everything, and letting us crash on his floor.  I wish we could have spent more time hiking together.

The next morning we set out for a nice long mountain hike.  The weather looked sketchy, but we were ready for anything.  This would be a very memorable day for me...

We saw quite a few Canyon Treefrogs Hyla arenicolor

It started to rain, and true to form, Carl found his specialty crossing the trail.

Ridge-nosed Rattlesnake or Willard's Rattlesnake Crotalus willardi

We got poured on for the couple of hours and my camera gear and flashes started to act a little funky.  Carl came through again though, with another willardi out in the rain.

The rain finally let up and I decided to hike some talus.  Talus, or scree, is fractured, loose rock that has been worn off of a cliff face and can form fields of bare rock.  It is probably not the safest of materials to walk on dry, but soaking wet was just stupid.  I quickly realized my mistake, and was trying to get off the rock when I slip and fell on a large rock with an upward facing pointy edge.  I jumped up immediately to prove to myself I was ok to watch blood spray out of my shin.  Luckily, it didn't bleed that much after or really hurt too much.

Gore Warning:  If you don't like blood, scroll ahead quickly.

War wound

Many thanks to Carl for taking these shots!
I cleaned it out on the mountain and tried to stop the bleeding with a sweaty bandana.  This of course did not work.  The rain picked back up again and darkness was creeping so we started the long walk back to the car.  It was cold and rainy and Brian and Carl decided to call it a night.  I took this wonderful opportunity to get stitched up.  A bunch of stitches later it still looked like crap.

Might as well have done it myself...
And just for good measure, after a course of antibiotics and then a week or so of wet to dry dressings, here it is, now a little more than a month later.

We were feeling refreshed and ready to go the next morning after a good nights sleep, a warm shower and some tasty breakfast.  We got to our site early and quickly started finding stuff.  I was having some major camera problems from the rain and condensation, but after removing all my gear and leaving it in direct sunlight for 30 minutes or so things started to dry out for pictures.

We noticed a lizard rustling through the grass and we were able to use the 3 person corral method to capture it.  

Madrean Alligator Lizard  Elgaria kingii

As I went back to get my backpack from the car, I heard the tell-tale sound of a slither through leaves.  Again, trapping the snake from all angles was useful.

Sonoran Whipsnake  Coluber bilineatus

While looking hard for Arizona Black Rattlesnakes, Brian noticed a turtle a little way from his pond.

Sonoran Mud Turtle Kinosternon sonoriense

We would see a few of the sonoran whipsnakes today.

As well as a couple Black-necked Garter snakes Thamnophis cyrtopsis

Carl was checking out some boulders when we all heard him get buzzed.  Finally another one of my Arizona curses was broken.  Of course, when it rains... it would pour.

Black-tailed Rattlesnake Crotalus molossus

We hiked around a bit more and I went back for my backpack that I had set down to see our molossus had crawled into a hole.  I noticed an obviously dead rat laying for his consuption.  Carl must have spooked him on his way to finish his meal.

I tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to photograph lizards on the way out.  We enjoyed an early dinner with grilled brats, beans and a beer or two waiting for the hour or two before dusk.  It cooled off quickly, but we did see a gopher crossing the road.

Red-spotted Toads Bufo punctatus were numerous and a new species for the trip.

We tried crusing a few other roads as well and just saw more atrox.  It was still one of our better days and we added a bunch of new species to our totals for the trip.

We finished out the night by finding a nice campsite.  Thunderstorms could be heard in all directions and Carl and I were up for doing a motel (remember we didn't think to bring tents?!!?).  Brian assured us the rain wouldn't come for a few hours, if it was going to come at all.  About 10 minutes after we all were tucked into our sleeping bags it started to rain.  I wanted nothing to do with a cold, wet, mildewy bag so I quickly bailed.  They followed a little bit later and we rolled into a motel pretty late this night, tired and cranky...

Stay tuned for more from Arizona soon!

Click here for Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Arizona 2011: Phoenix and Sedona

It had been five years since my last "strictly herping" trip to Arizona.  I had been able to visit a few more times each year, but I was starting to get the itch to get back and get serious.  Brian, Carl and I decided this summer would make a good time to go, hopefully in tune with the monsoon season.  I was kinda in between jobs and had a little over a month off.  I planned to try and spend a little over a week in the state to visit some places I had not been able to see before.  Brian was getting ready to start graduate school so he was free, and Carl had just finished up the spring quarter teaching session.  We were all primed and ready to go!

My biggest goal for the trip was an Arizona Black Rattlesnake Crotalus cerberus.  I have wanted to see one for a few years now and was pumped to really make a go at it.  Brian had set his sights on a couple of the small frogs in the Craugastor and Smilisca genera.  I think Carl was really hoping to see a Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake Lampropeltis pyromelana and some of the smaller low desert snakes (Gyalopion and Phyllorhynchus).  We had our goals, booked our flights/car, purchased licenses and planned on a few lodging options (crashing at Molly's parent's house while in Phoenix and camping while in the southeast and the north).  We were off...

I arrived in Phoenix a few good hours before Brian.  Carl was to join us the next morning.  I got a ride to the house, did some unpacking, and started roadcruising.  It was a slow night for me despite seemingly good temperatures.  I made a number of good passes on the road without any animals and was starting to "zone out".  I was coming down a dirt road and noticed a snake at the last minute.  It was likely a medium sized colubrid (glossy or gopher?), but I had to straddle the animal and when I jumped out of the car there was just a giant cloud of dust that my high powered flashlight couldn't permeate.  I never got another look at it.  It was late now, so I started heading into town to pick up Brian at the airport around 11pm.

I got Brian and we had some decisions to make.  We could call it a night now, in order to get up super early at 5am to hike before the temps heated up. Or we could head out and roadcruise in the low desert now that the morning would be shot until after Carl arrived around 9am.  Brian was chomping at the bit to see stuff so we opted for instant gratification.  Within a little bit we had our first herp of the night, and Brian started his long string of lifers.  It was on...

Mohave Rattlesnake Crotalus scutulatus

Next up was a western diamond-backed rattlesnake Crotalus atrox I spotted hugging the roadside.

Another view.

Sidewinders Crotalus cerastes were pretty common this night.  I hadn't been able to see one in about 5 or 6 years so it was cool to see them again.  I never get over how fast and unique their locomotion is.

Our first and only colubrid of the night was a gopher snake Pituophis catenifer.

A little after 3am, the temps were still in the mid90s, but we were fast falling asleep.  We saw one more mohave rattlesnake on the way out.

We pulled in to the house around 5, exhausted. We had 3 or 4 hours to sleep before getting up to pick Carl up from the airport and start again so we passed out quickly.

Carl's flight was on time, so we collected him quickly and headed out for a midmorning hike.  We roasted in the heat, and didn't see too much.  I was the only one to remember to bring a mirror for shining cracks, and it came through on this hike as I shined a midsized C. atrox deep down a hole under a boulder.

We also saw tiger whiptails, side-blotched lizards, chuckwallas  and tree lizards.  Missed out one some desert iguanas that I really wanted to see.

That afternoon we rested a bit and stocked up on supplies before setting out for the late afternoon and evening.  A nice hike through a wash turned up nothing at dusk, and we decided to roadcruise the road I had not had much luck on the night before.  Just after turning down the road, we spotted a "scorpion" looking animal scurry across the road - must be a banded gecko.

Western Banded Gecko Coleonyx variegatus

A few minutes later I found myself staring blankly at this odd looking orange animal crossing the road.  I was slow to realize and react, luckily Carl yelling "Gila!" snapped me out of it.

Gila Monster Heloderma suspectum
Brian still thought the banded gecko was better...
A couple more passes yielded a young California Kingsnake Lampropeltis getula and another C. atrox.

Quickly in the lead for most numerous serpent.
The next morning we woke up fairly early to head north.  We spent some time hiking around sunrise and had decent luck.


North of Sedona was a breath of fresh air, literally.  The temperatures were cool and refreshing, water was flowing and we were able to sleep under the stars without any worries.  Within 5 minutes of hiking a creek Cark spotted  a tan/brown gartersnake that was sunning on rocks that quickly slipped away.  Carl and I glimpsed it and although we think it was likely our target, the Narrow-headed garter snake Thamnophis rufipunctatus, we are not confident enough to make the call.  We hiked the creek for 4 or 5 more hours that night and another 5 hours the next morning without seeing another snake.  Super bummer...

 Plateau Fence Lizard Sceloperus tristichus

On the hike out the next morning I spotted a whiptail running across the trail.

Plateau Striped Whiptail Aspedoscelis velox

The was the slowest 24 hours of the trip, despite wonderful scenery, temperatures and company.  We headed back to Phoenix to pick up the rental car and prepare for the journey south and the second leg of the trip.  We were speedy with transfers, grocery shopping and food stops.  We continued the drive south and pulled into our road cruising destination for the night about 30 minutes before dusk.  We were ready to get after it again...

Click here for Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Arizona and Califorina 2009: Part I Arizona

In early spring of 2009 Molly suggested we flight out west for a week vacation.  The plan was to spend a few days in Phoenix and then hop over to San Diego to visit friends.  She was going to spend a few days hanging out with her girlfriends in Phoenix and suggested I spend some time hiking.  This of course sounded like a wonderful idea!

Herping definitely took a back burner on this trip, but I managed to get out a few days here and there in between visiting friends. 

I spent my first morning hiking some mountains for speckled rattlesnakes.  I had yet to see this species and it was high on my wish list.  I was out early, and despite it being the end of March, it was already hot.  I spent about four hours checking various rock piles without much luck.

Tiger Whiptail Aspidoscelis tigris

Common Side-blotched Lizard Uta stansburiana

Chuckwalla Sauromalus ater

When finally I noticed a the form of snake jump out in my peripheral vision.  SCORE!

Speckled Rattlesnake Crotalus mitchellii

That afternoon I tried hiking a different mountain range.   I saw plenty of chuckwallas.

Ornate Tree Lizard Urosaurus ornatus eating a grub.

But no more snakes to be found.  The next day, I drove south to the Tuscon area to spend the morning hiking a well known tourist location, Sabino Canyon, with an old friend Terry.  We had a nice morning, even if we didn't see all that much.

Unknown young whiptail - possibilities include A. uniparens, A. sonorae, A. flagellicauda

Another of presumably the same species.

We turned up a Canyon Treefrog Hyla arenicolor near a small pool of water.

Greater Earless Lizards Cophosaurus texanus were common.

We also spotted a much larger whiptail compared to what we had been seeing.  I believe this is a young Canyon Spotted Whiptail Aspidoscelis burti.

A couple Black-necked Garters Thamnophis cyrtopsis were exploring the creek.

On the way out we also spotted a Zebra-tailed Lizard Callisaurus draconoides.

Which pretty much concludes the Arizona portion of this trip.  Short but sweet.