Most of this will be a repost from the trips section of www.buckeyeherps.com, which was a repost from either the now dead www.fieldherpers.com or a very and lost www.fieldherpforum.com.
A trip to the wilds of SE Arizona has been on my wish list for a number of years now. My initial desire had been sparked while reading Carl Kauffeld's accounts of his travels in the area in his books, Snakes and Snake Hunting and The Keeper and the Kept. As I looked more into the natural history of the state, I knew I had visit and get away from the urban sprawl of Phoenix. Unfortunately, I was unsure when I would be able to have the time to make the trip, or a companion to enjoy to the experience with. Sometime that winter I realized I would have a week off at the end of my school year. I worked on figuring out the exact dates and then mentioned my idea to Carl when I had all my ducks in a row. He was definitely interested in trying to work something out, and thought he would probably be free. Finally, in May we locked ourselves into the trip.
Due to schedule constraints, I could only go the last week in June, before the onset of the Arizona monsoons. Herps can be difficult to find at best during this time, and this year was no exception. Southern Arizona was being blasted with hot temperatures, had seen little rain, and the end did not look to be near. We knew we had our work cut out for us, but as Carl later reminded me, we didn't know any better! We hoped the small mountain ranges, collectively referred to as the "Sky Islands", would provide us with chances for success. The cooler high elevation temperatures and the increased possibility of rain filled us with some hope. We did our homework, reading old natural history accounts, articles and talking to others who had been successful in the area. Many thanks to those of you who helped answer a few questions for a couple of first times. My deepest gratitude also goes out to Young for his wonderful hospitality, immeasurable amounts of help and excellent companionship in the field. I still hope someday I can find a way to return the favor.
The timing of the trip was funny in that Ohio also had been experiencing a hot, dry spell that is unusual for June. Typically, June is an amazing time for herps around here, but this year it already felt like late July or early August. The day our flight left was refreshingly cool and there had even been some precipitation! When we arrived at the airport we both mentioned the wonderful weather and joked about our fortunes. Maybe we should have stayed home?? Nah, I don't think so!
Upon landing were excited to grab our bags, hop in the rental and hit the road. The first herp we saw was a Sonoran Desert Toad. I think we expected to see many more during our travels, and due to our excitement, we passed on photos. That was the only toad of that species we were able to capture for pictures over the next 4 days. What were we thinking?!? We met Young that night, said some quick introductions and hit the nearby roads. Nothing was really moving, but we passed up another Sonoran Desert Toad or two (again no pictures?!?) and a Red Spotted Toad. We didn't pass on pictures for this guy, and I am thankful for that.
|Red-spotted Toad Anaxyrus punctatus|
We rose early on Sat morning and set out for farther to the southest. On the way out of Tuscon we had to get some supplies and our hunting permits. Figuring there would be no traffic early on a weekend morning we were greatly disappointed to get stuck in some nasty construction. Here we were, just trying to get out in the wilds, and we were wasting precious morning hours sitting in a car in downtown Tuscon! Somehow we stayed patient - I don't remember too much complaining and we made it to our destination just a little later than planned. It sure was hot already...
The spot was some very interesting country, and the promise of neat wildlife, seemed to be just around every corner. The first rock I flipped had a massive Scelopendra. I thought it was pretty cool, but again, thinking we would see many more I opted to let it escape. That was the only creature I found under a rock the whole trip. Carl also flipped his only creature under a rock at that site as well. It was a very speedy Sonoran Spotted Whiptail. My pictures from afar turned out pretty shoddy unfortunately. We were able to see another on our hike out. I asked Carl for the noose, and was able to quickly catch my very first whiptail! I admit some cheating coming up. We could only restrain it with a noose, and I very jokingly at the time mentioned we could just photoshop that out after. Well, having never tried this feat before, and being urged on by some recent photoshop projects I had been playing around with, I decided to see what kind of results I could manage. Needless to say, I cheated, but I am pleased with the outcome. Not quite as bad as people posing DORs for books and not mentioning the snake is actually dead...
Sonoran Spotted Whiptail Aspidoscelis sonorae
|Looking back, I can't even begin to remember where the noose was!|
Young suggested another spot nearby that might have a bit more water this time of the year. We of course happily obliged to check it out as we were hot and ready for a change of scenery. Right after we arrived, clouds seemed to roll in out of nowhere, and the thunder started booming. It only rained for about 20 minutes, but it was decent, and I was hopeful for our chances immediately after. The temps seemed to drop ~15 degrees... Our first find was this neat little Tree Lizard. If I am not mistaken, it was the only one we saw all trip.
Ornate Tree Lizard Urosaurus ornatus
A little bit later, I split off from Young and Carl to hike up a dry creek bed, while they scouted out a little pond. While they checked out invasive Bullfrogs, I happened to hear a slither and a quiet rattle as this little guy saw me and quickly fled... OH SWEET SUCCESS! Carl and I's first rock rattlesnake.
Rock Rattlesnake Crotalus lepidus
|I remember this snake being much uglier...|
|What rattle did I even hear?|
On the flight out, Carl and I had discussed many of the species we hoped to be able to observe. We didn't really have any huge goals or aspirations. We just wanted to see as much as possible and enjoy the good times. Of course we tried to put ourselves in the best places for the highest chance of success with a wide variety of species. We figured if we missed out on snakes, there were always lizards or vice versa. The three montane rattlesnakes were up on the unofficial list, but we didn't think we had much chance this time of the year. I think we both decided we would be pleased, and lucky to see one of the three species. We figured we would see plenty of gophersnakes, kings, whipsnakes, glossies, etc to keep us busy and more than happy. To be quite honest, any of those species would have been a lifer for me, and I would have been tickled pink. As lady luck would have it though... our first snake of the trip turned out to be one of the coveted rattlesnakes. I couldn't help but compare my feelings at this moment to the excitement I could feel in Karl Kauffeld's words when he first found his lepidus...
We hiked for a bunch longer without much success. We saw a few Yarrow's spiny lizards, but I will save some pics of them for later. After feeling a bit lost and turned around, we returned back to a dry creek bed that earlier we had thought was the "wrong way" and started our hike back to the car. I have to admit, I was feeling done. It was a good feeling though. We had some success. The weather had cooperated momentarily. I was returning to the car a happy man. We all spoke of the beauty of the country, the luck of the weather, and the wonderful cool temps. Suddenly, Carl yells "WILLARDI!!" I ran over to his side quickly, filled with complete astonishment. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would get two of the montane rattlers! That snake was the species we had thought was the best looking of the three, with the rock rattlesnakes being second. The Price's Rattlesnakes we had said were obviously the ugly ducklings of the bunch... The snake was gorgeous (It really wasn't that good looking). It was beyond my wildest dreams. Please forgive me for many pictures! (I have since cut a few out)
Willard's Rattlesnake or Arizona Ridge-nosed Rattlesnake Crotalus willardi
We searched hard the rest of the hike out but were not to see anything else.
The intrepid hunters...
We parted ways with Young on the way out. I must have unsuccessfully swerved from some rocks. Poor driving on my part... First I noticed a random warning light up on the dash. I asked Carl what he thought it meant, while I thought to myself it looks like a very poor representation of a flat tire. The car seemed to be driving fine though. We checked the dash, but no manual was to be found. About a minute later I noticed a bit more pull and a weird sound. Pulling over, my fears were realized.
Flat Tire in the middle of nowhere
Carl and I enjoyed our success, and a beer, as we took our time putting on the spare. We found the manual in the process, hidden in the back of the car. Real help it was to us there...
We set out on the long drive to another part of the state. We tried cruising a famous road that evening but really couldn't keep our eyes open. There was nothing on the road to motivate us either way. We pulled into the trailhead for our hike the next morning late that night, shared a couple beers, some pasta salad and called it a night. Carl was shocked to find I had risen before him a day or two later when I mentioned I had taken this shot. I had opted for sleeping in the car for reasons due to sleeping bag problems. Basically, I bought an expensive, small bag, that I was too tall for. I decided to return it after bringing it along, and had no means of sleeping under the stars. (I don't really remember what this means. Did I return the bag prior to going, so I had no bag? Did I decide to return it while out there so I didn't use it? What did I sleep in while in the car? Note to self, we did not bring a tent...)
Carl under the "stars"
Our hike that morning was through some very pretty country. We rose early, and really saw nothing at all but a few whiptails and some unIded anurans on the way in. There was a trickle or so of water here every now and then and we were hopeful to find animals nearby. To our surprise, I spotted this hopping through the middle of a a very dry rock bottom creek. I never guess we would see these down in Arizona.
Great Plains Narrow-mouthed Toad Gastrophryne olivacea
We saw some Clark's Spiny Lizards we were never able to photograph and on the way back out the canyon we spotted a Canyon treefrog hopping through the dry creek, in the middle of the blazing sun. We moved it to shade for pics, but the bastard escaped under a rock - I know poor form on our parts...
Back near the start of the hike, Carl mentioned a whiptail that was running along the trail in front of us. I wasn't too impressed, there was work to be done ya know, and so I stopped to check out a pool of water near the trail. It looked great but nothing seemed to hanging around. Really starting to feel dejected I turned around. Carl had stopped to wait for me and was standing a few feet away on the trail. I quickly noticed the snake at his feet and thought to myself why the hell he hasn't said anything. I noticed his eyes were in the trees, taking in the scenery. After some heated hooping and hollering I snapped this quick picture. The snake was our main target for this particular hike, and I have to say I never thought we would find one!
Here is some camo at it's best... Carl and our target relying on his stick shtick.
|Can you see it?? Middle of the frame, complete bottom of the picture..|
Brown Vinesnake Oxybelis aeneus
Some new lizards decided to show up in the midday sun on our way out. We had some fun with these Elegant Earless Lizards.
Elegant Earless Lizards Holbrookia elegans
Our last herp of the spot, were a couple Chiricahua Leopard frogs that I obtained horrible poor pictures of.
Some scenery from the hike.
And from the road out.
And that concludes day two of four. We will pick up the rest of the trip another time. Click here for Part II.