Kansas Herp Trip 2002

Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Trip Details

Herpers: Jim Scharosch & Matt Ricklefs

Location: Barton County KS.

Time: 10:00 am

Temp/Conditions: Slightly windy. Partly sunny to start with and became mostly sunny. 65 degrees in the morning with a high of about 73.

We had made the decision the night before to travel from Barber County back up to Barton county. We had not had great luck, but the habitat and conditions seemed to favor this locale. We had the best night of camping yet on Monday night and were ready for a good day.

We stopped at an area we had surveyed the last time we came there. This time we managed to spook some water snakes off the grass that lined the shoreline. This was a good sign, even though we spooked them. We did start seeing water snakes on regular basis. Not knowing this at first however, we did spend some time trying to wait one out as it floated just out of reach. It came in every once in a while almost to within reach, then dove. After about twenty minutes we decided to move on and hopefully we would find a better method. We drove around the area. This time it paid off big time. There on the side of the road, in a burned out area with little grass was a four foot long Speckled King Snake (Lampropeltis g. holbrooki).

Alright!! This was a great find. We were pretty pumped at this point. We took a good amount of time capturing footage and examining this one. It cooperated very nicely. As I mentioned before the area this was found in had been recently burned off. It was sparsely grassy and this snake blended in beautifully. It became a wash of yellow and black when it moved quickly and was not much more than a blur. Once we had gotten enough footage, we let it go on it was. We were curious to see where it would go as from our standpoint it did not have many choices. It did move quick to get away from us then slowed down a bit once "out of our range". It then slowed down and methodically moved down the bank. It came to a large slab of cement that appeared to be some part of the drainage system for the area. It looked really built in. It only took the king a few seconds of nosing the edge to find it spot and quickly was in and gone. Another amazing example of how animals know their surrounds better than we think at times.

We moved on to a road that was particularly nice looking. We had driven on it once early in the day and at this point decided it would be good to try again. Toward the end of the road we had another disappointment. A DOR Western Massasauga. It had been hit since that morning. It was good to see that they were out and active and in the area, but a DOR is never a "good" find obviously. We went back to the beginning of the road and decided to try this again, but walking. We focused on a rocky shore that was fairly long and had some good grass covered areas between the rocks and the edge of the water. I was walking and noticed many water snakes swimming out and about and then noticed that there was one right under the rock I was by. It did not stay long however and jetted off. I grabbed at it and managed to get enough of it to detain without harm. I did have to do some digging of rock though. Considering the time we had that morning with the water snakes I thought this was a good effort and much easier that waiting for them. Once dug out we identified it as a Diamondback Water Snake (Nerodia r. rhombifer).

We dusted it off and were getting some pictures when Jim mentioned that they did not have an extremely well diamonded pattern. To which I pointed out that they kind of did. The snake that JIM was holding then popped ME. A nice bite really and the only one sustained on the trip, not including tenacious Collared Lizards. I guess it did owe me for digging it out. Once I cleaned off my battle scar we let it go on its way. We also found a couple of Western Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta bellii) wandering on the road that we captured some footage of before helping them on their way. We could see lots of turtle heads poking out of the water also. Always fun to see this. Seems like they are so interested in what's going on.We decided to move to a different area and test our luck there. We found a few more water snakes, one of which was huge. It must have faired well although it was blind in both eyes. We let it go and it knew right where the water was so again, nature had provided for itself. We walked a little further when Jim found his second Speckled King Snake. This one was a about fourteen inches long and was absolutely gorgeous. It had very distinct speckling and was very bright.

The yellows and blacks were extremely vivid. It was one of the most beautiful wild snakes I have seen. Body wise, it was flawless and had no dings or scrapes to this point in its life. We took a lot of time getting good pics of this one. It had been lying next to a large hole to which we allowed it to go back down once we had finished. It was getting a bit windier and although we had found the DOR it had still been a good day and we had checked off some good species on our list. I did also manage to see a Graham's Crayfish Snake floating in the water, but alas was unable to catch it before it dove under. It was quite distinct looking and easy to identify. The next time we go here I will have an idea of how and where to capture one for footage. Again, always a learning experience.

On the way back to where we had caught the water snake and seen the DOR Massasauga we found, yes another DOR Massasauga. This one was quite large at about twenty-six inches long. In this area the most common snakes are the Western Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus tergeminus) and the Diamondback Water Snake. This had proved true. We got to the location we had been to before and walked to whole road. This was quite a walk. We decided that the Massasaugas were out and perhaps we could find one on the side BEFORE it got run over. We joked that if one of us found one we would not have to yell out an identifying "Massasauga!" but rather just a 'GOT ONE!!" Sure enough it was not long after that Jim yelled, "GOT ONE!!!" It about thirteen inches long, so it was not large but it was alive and kicking.

It really was great finding one after so many DOR's. We were relieved. It was a main species on our quest and one that we gladly checked off in vindication of some of our poor days of looking. It was about 5:45 pm at this time and was getting cloudier and just late. We took a lot of good footage and then let it go on its way. It was very aggressive and put on quite a show. You cannot really use a hook for these, tongs work much better to corral these as you work to get pictures. Once it hit the grass to could hear it rattling but could not see or find it. Amazing, since it was still so close to us. I'm sure it was happy to be on its way. On the remainder of the walk we did see a lot of turtle heads and a Bullfrog in the side marshes. We also found a water snake with exceptionally green poop. Must be from the vegetation it ingests while eating its prey we theorized. In one very muddy drained out part remained one resident. A Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra s. serpentina).

A BIG Common Snapping Turtle. About seventeen inches over the carapace and a good thirty-five pounds. We decided that he would be much happier in the actual marsh and was trying to move out so we helped it. At least we tried. If you have ever tried to negotiate with a thirty-five pound snapping turtle you will understand that they have very distinct views on what they want to do and where they want to go. And they will let you know in no uncertain terms when they are unsatisfied with your views or direction. We were also trying to stay out of the very deep and very stinky mud. Jim used his tongs to eventually maneuver it far enough on the shore so we could grab its tail. I managed to get a fair hold the first time, then he got away from me and the mud did not allow another try. We were able to coax it close to the edge of the water which he slid down backward and in. In it's wake you could see the weeds parting as it moved through below the surface of the marsh like some monster slowing moving, searching for its next victim. Snapping turtles are very cool. That was the end of the day. The best so far. Actually an extremely great day!!

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