Kansas Herp Trip 2002

Monday, April 29, 2002

Trip Details

Herpers: Jim Scharosch & Matt Ricklefs

Location: Barber County, KS.

Time: Start time of 10:30 am

Temp/Conditions: Beautiful! Sunny, about 65 degrees to start the day with a high of about 75 degrees. Little wind.

Considering that the day before was not very productive, even though the weather got better we did not expect much for this day. We even slept in a bit thinking it would be too cool as it had been on our previous days. It was quite amazing when we did go out to 65 degrees and sunny. At this point we hurried to get ready and get out. Fortunately we did not have far to drive, because we really had no destination. We just planned to drive the area and find some good spot. We got out in good time and were well into the Gypsum Hills by 10:30 am. Our first stop was at a nice large junk pile we had access to. There was not much water very close, but there was a stream about a hundred yards away. The surrounding area looked pretty good though and we were anxious to see what was out. Our first catch was a Southern Prairie Skink (Eumeces obtusirostris).

At the time however, we did not know exactly what it was. We just knew it was not a Five-Lined or a Great Plains, both of which we were very familiar with. We had captured Northern Prairie Skinks in a marsh in Iowa so our logical guess, since it was similar, was that it was a Prairie Skink of some kind. After looking in the guide we were able to correctly identify it.

Carrying on, we found a very large piece of tin. Again, we found Great Plains Skinks. These were nice specimens, so we did capture some additional footage of these.

That was it for this site. Not a bad start. We drove further into the Red Hills. It is a beautiful area with red soil and monolithic formations. The Gypsum glistened in the soil like thousands of shards of glass. In between the soil were seas of short prairie grass and juniper trees. It was quite a sight. We drove around for a while on the roads that they used for transporting oil from the wells to their various destinations. We were not exactly sure what to look for, and with the overwhelming habitat decided to ask some questions of the natives. We followed one of the oil carriers to a pump and spoke to him about what we were doing. Given the situation, he was quite nice and also very helpful, considering the normal reaction of odd stares and questions of "You're doing what??". As a side note, I have to mention that when checking into the hotel we stayed at I asked the question of "Are there any places around here where you can find snakes?" To which the reply of the innkeeper was a blank stare and a prompt follow through on the previous topic. He didn't even acknowledge the question. I smiled at Jim when he went to get the room key and we got quite a chuckle out of this when we left.

Anyway, the driver was very nice and told us that most people see the snakes out on the roads. He did say that he thought we were too early in the season and that it needed to be a little hotter out. He told us of a field not far away we could wander around in and might have some luck. We told him thanks and went on our way per his instructions. We did question that it was too early in the season and thought he may have been mistaken. As the case often is, if you get someone that is at least open to your questions and seems to grasp what you are getting at, it pays to listen to them. We did come all this way and went to the field he a pointed out. It was textbook habitat for Prairie Rattlesnakes, open and beautiful. Short grass, cacti, mammal burrows and broken up by taller grass and spreads of juniper and other coniferous trees.

We walked for a couple of hours with no sign of anything. It was great to be out and we have no doubt that this was a good area, but we did not have any luck besides a bleached out Ornate Box Turtle shell. We pondered and wondered and decided to try our luck elsewhere. After stopping to eat lunch at a local chain pizzeria we ventured back out. Curiously enough we asked similar questions of the lady who was working at the pizzeria. She had mentioned the same thing about the roads and that it was too early. It was starting to sink in that they may be right.

We drove around and found a junk pile back near a small river. We looked through this and saw a Yellow-Belly Racer which was too far in to consider chasing. That was it. We walked around the surrounding areas nearer the river. This was further out of the Gypsum Hills, but the soil retained the red color. We saw several small lizards scurrying about that were too quick to get a good look at. Our guess is that they were small Prairie Racerunners. It was getting late in the day and we had done a good share of walking and really put the effort in. It did not pay off however. Sometimes you can have the best weather conditions and still have an unproductive day. Not a bad day, as it is always good to get out and you always pick up something. You learn about the habitat, you see different aspects of nature you have not seen or noticed before. It is always worthwhile, even if you are disappointed herp wise. We decided to call it quits and were walking back to the van when Jim yelled, "Horned Lizard!". Cool. This was a welcome find. We stealthfully crept upon this lightning fast lizard of the plains. They blend into the debris pretty well, as you can see in the picture below.

We carefully and slowly positioned ourselves so as not to disturb this incredibly wary creature. We took some pictures while it rested in a cows hoof print. Surly, he would scurry away at the slightest glance if we were not on our top form. We were quite pleased that we managed to captured some good footage without him bolting, but decided it was time to make our move. Ever so slightly, we re-positioned ourselves for the capture. Jim used his great skills to bring his had in reach and we readied ourselves for the undoubtedly fast reaction once we were in its zone of uncomfortableness. Jim waited for just the right moment. I readied myself in the event this spiked devil shot out and scampered like the wind out of reach. A moment, one, two - JIM POUNCED!! The lizard barely moved. It looked at us as if to say, "What, what's the big deal". We had successfully captured a Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum).

Jim had experience with these in Texas and he assured me that normally they were much faster and alert. We were able to handle and pose this cooperative little fellow with ease. All the while it moved only slightly. Every once in a while it would move it's head or a leg at an especially fast movement, but was quite content as we gathered our footage.When we were finished, we put it back in it's little "home", brushed a bit of soil back over it and let it settle in for the evening. It was about 5:00 pm and was about 75 degrees at this point. On the way back we theorized that where we were is the northern range of some of these animals. Perhaps it was too cool for them. Horned Lizards are at home in 90 degree weather and at 75 degrees it was fairly cool to this little one. In Iowa, 75 degrees at any time of the herping season is a pretty good day. Not to hot or too cold. Another learning experience. Not a bad way to end the day, but we again hoped for better luck tomorrow...

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