Buckeye Herps Blog

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

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Arizona 2007: Take 2

This picks up during the afternoon of day two on our 2007 trip to southern Arizona.  Most of this has been shared before in other formats, but I am adding new comments in italics.  Click here for Part I.

That night we headed to a different mountain range, and spent the afternoon hiking a very nice trail, without any luck, whatsoever. It was an amazing place, but by far our slowest hike. I did find a fairly large, shed skin, of a unicolor animal with smooth scales at some decently high elevations. Any ideas?? (I think this could have been a green rat shed but will never know.  I didn't know this at the time but I should have counted scale rows for a definitive answer.  It didn't seem to have the body type of a Masticophis, but sheds can be notoriously tough.)

Here is a view from the hike, near the end of the day.

And one from earlier, from a completely different perspective, much earlier in the afternoon. 

That night, we road cruised our first herp near our campsite. We were both excited to see this.

Western Lyresnake Trimorphodon biscutatus

We saw a second one a few minutes later. 

And this cool tarantula.

 Much roadcruising later, and miles away from the lyres, we saw one of our very top targets. The sight of this beast lumbering across the road sent my blood pumping so fast, and I really don't remember much of the quick dash to grab some fast pictures before the animal made his way off the road. We were careful to only take pictures and let it go about it's business.

Gila Monster  Heloderma suspectum

Soon after we spotted a heartbreaker on the side of the road. The telltale shape of a horned lizard was sitting on the shoulder. Our only horned lizard of the trip, had unfortunately been hit earlier in the night. Hundreds of victorious ants were crawling all over it, exacting their revenge for battles lost.

We retired late that night, exhausted but thrilled to have seen some stuff roadcruising. The roads had been totally empty the two nights before...

In the morning, we rose early with the sun and enjoyed the cooler high elevation air. We brushed our teeth and started to pack things up. I found a shady spot on the other side of camp to try and photograph the first lyre we had held onto from the night before. It had literally been found on the road right were our campsite was, so it was going to be easy to let go where it was found.  As I prepared a little photo studio, I looked up to see a bear cub saunter into our camp. I mentioned it to Carl and we both watched, very perplexed by the unusual behavior. 

He was sniffing the area where I spit my toothpaste out in this picture. I packed up quickly and joined Carl at the car to make good our escape. Not after we took pictures for 10 minutes or so, from a distance of ~15 feet. 

The next morning, we still had a major item to cross off of our agenda. The past day we operated  on the spare tire. Luckily, it was a full size tire, but both of us were a little uneasy about driving the back roads, miles from civilization, without a spare. We had a long drive ahead of us to get to our next destination, so pulled off the highway at a nearby town. Luck was with us again, as the local tire shop was able to patch up our tire for about $15. The luck part of things was he took care of us right away and we were out of there in about 45 minutes. We headed to a different mountain range the rest of the morning, and broke our trend so far - a hike at dawn, drive, hike late afternoon/dusk, roadcruise.

On the way we saw some lizards running across a dirt road and we stopped to scope the area out a little. We soon spotted Tiger Whiptails, Lesser Earless Lizards and some Greater Earless Lizards. It was a nice little stop, and break to our long travel. We also spotted this interesting, very dead kingsnake. Most of the pictures of kings I see are of interesting intergrades, and rarely have I noticed nice black animals. Would have been nice to see this guy alive... 

Common Kingsnake Lampropeltis getula

Our hike that afternoon was fairly high elevation, in a nice rugged area. We spent time on some well known trails, although we really didn't see much other than discarded trash and clothes from immigrants. A good way back on the trail, I spotted a lepidus laying across the trail right in front of a rocky area. I don't think I said anything, but just stopped abruptly. Carl sounded a bit excited, and I guess he could just make out a few inches of the pattern from his view behind me. Unfortunately, he couldn't see that the snake was dead. It seemed to have been stepped on by some unknowing hiker. The damage really wasn't much, and I doubt it was killed on purpose, but we will never know I guess. We scoured the rocky area off the trail without any luck. The hike provided us with our first Alligator lizards, but for a couple of different reasons they both escaped without pictures. More poor form on our part... We amused ourselves taking in the wonderful country, the numerous Yarrow's Spiny lizards and imaging the abundant wildlife we may be seeing if there had been some rain. We did happen to see one of the first permanent water features of the trip.

A very cool, refreshing spring. 
I can't remember if I drank from this??

  A nice view from a little lookout. 

 And a couple Yarrows. We had been pretty excited to see this species early in the trip, but were somewhat disappointed with the first couple specimens. After seeing many, many more we did not grow tired of them. We saw plenty with wonderful coloration, and these very personable lizards always made excellent in situ photo subjects. 

Yarrow's Spiny Lizards Sceloporus jarrovii 

That night at dusk we drove another good distance to a town to spend the night, and some nearby cruising roads. We had been sleeping on the ground/car the last couple of nights and it was nice to secure a hotel room and a (filthy) shower. The local piece of crap motel was full (although the parking lot was empty??) so we ended up booking a room at the historic Gadsden Hotel in downtown Douglas. With dropped our bags off and quickly set out though hoping to see some species of animals that had so far eluded us. We had a hard time keeping our eyes open and the road was long and slow. We did see our first couple Mojaves of the trip, although it appeared the second one had been clipped on the tail.

Mojave Rattlesnake Crotalus scutalatus

Back at the Gadsden, we were not bothered by the ghosts, but I felt less clean after my shower... It added character to the trip though, probably was just as nice as the crappy motel we were denied, and I went to bed imaging Karl Kauffeld sleeping in the very room ~70 years ago, up to whatever old-school herpetologists were up to when they retired for the night.  I hear they were quite the rowdy bunch...  (The crappy motel we were denied might actually be nicer and is $40 less.)

We grabbed a nice warm breakfast at the Gadsden and made good on our trip to the last little range we would visit. It was another bit of a drive, but the country was pretty and it was neat to see some of the habitat we were driving through the night before. Hard to believe some of the harder to find species call that habitat home.  Remember I am used to looking for a certain little buzztail in the swamps and wet prairies of Ohio.

The last range was as breath taking as the few before it, and we made our way up to the higher elevations enjoying the scenery. We really didn't know where we were going, but we knew what habitat to look for, and found what we thought seemed just about right. 

In the shade of the pines, the high elevation temps were extremely pleasant, and a nice change on our last day. Unfortunately, the habitat was vast, the sun was hot, and there was no rain to speak of. We split up and starting searching the rocks. When we met back up 30 or so minutes later we found we had both decided on our own accord that the main talus probably wouldn't be too fruitful.  We searched a good while longer, again sticking to the shady, wooded areas on the outskirts of the talus slides. We saw our friends, the "yarrows", on the rocks, up to their usual antics. I was starting to feel a bit like we were going to get skunked and stopped to grab some water, while I watched Carl search an area a little above me. I shifted my weight a little and put my foot up on rock, only to hear the tell-tale buzzing of something in front of me. I was rewarded with the wonderful site of two Price's Rattlesnakes basking together in the dappled sunlight.

Price's or Twin-spotted Rattlesnake Crotalus pricei in situ

One of them moved a little when they realized they had been spotted and we managed to get a few more pictures before they returned to the rocky depths under the pine needles.
This ended up being my favorite of the three montane rattlesnake species.

I can't really describe how grateful and just happy to be alive I felt after being able to watch the last of the three small AZ montanes crawl into her hole. It wasn't just a "well that was cool" moment...

We hiked a bit more, enjoyed an excellent lunch in the shade and made our way back down to some lower elevations. Our hike that afternoon was also very pleasant and we really put some extra effort into turning up a few of the things we had missed so far - blacktail rattlesnakes and pyros. Unfortunately, I spent more time returning rocks back to their original position that I did actually looking for herps. Some d*** of a herper had been through here before and really was not respecting the wonderful habitat. Carl and I had flipped a few rocks throughout our travels, but we always placed them back to the best of our abilities and honestly, we really just didn't flip much knowing, and finding how unsuccessful it was in the heat. This guy obviously never got the memo. The real funny thing was most of the rocks were imbedded, small, oddly shaped and honestly just a s***ty rock to hope to find something under. We did our best to return things to their natural state and couldn't help but wonder what may have been hiding under some of the better rocks that we returned. This hike was very enjoyable otherwise, and after the mornings success, we really just kinda took in the scenery and enjoyed the weather. More Yarrow's were out, and we of course couldn't help but photograph them.

We saw another new lizard for us, the Striped Plateau Lizard Sceloperus virgatus

And I ended up finding a couple sheds of lepidus in cracks, but we were not to be so lucky to find another live animal.

Cruising that night, we finally found some higher numbers of animals, primarily rattlesnakes. I saw my first live Western Diamondback Rattlesnake - and it only took 4 days of hiking in Arizona for it to happen! We saw a couple mohaves that night, a few atrox, missed a unIDed snake and turned up a neat little Checkered Garter Snake.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake Crotalus atrox

Checkered Gartersnake Thamnophis marcianus

In the end, it was a pretty amazing trip. We missed out on many of the common species, as well as some of the smaller snakes, and those are some wonderful reasons to return. The area is truly wonderful, and I am already looking forward to being able to go back. Even the hikes that didn't produce much, were filled with beautiful terrain, and my friends the Yarrow's. I wish I had taken more pictures of the mountains, sunsets and habitat, especially the Gadsden Hotel...(I still wish this.  I also wish I had remembered to take more pictures of these things on my recent return trip.)


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