Kansas Herp Trip 2002

Friday, May 3, 2002

Trip Details

Herpers: Jim Scharosch, Jill Davis, Greg Wegst & Matt Ricklefs

Location: Linn County KS. and Miami County KS. Time: 11:00 am

Temp/Conditions: Sunny. Mostly clear. A little bit of wind. About 70 degrees.

Kansas is a great place to see turkeys and this day started out as many of our other days by seeing some in and open field as we drove to our destination. The area that we were going to we had been to years earlier. It was close to an old abandon farm and there were other deserted buildings we had access to in the area. As things had changed over the years, we mad a point to make some new contacts. Our first stop in Linn County KS. was an old barn and some rubbish piles near by. We found, as usual, a number of Ringnecks and also turned up a Five-Lined skink (Eumeces fasciatus). This was our first Five-Lined Skink of the trip. These are common where we go rattlesnake hunting in Iowa, but this was our first one of the trip in Kansas this year. As usual we followed our pattern of catch, document and release. In digging through the pile of debris Jim and Jill discovered a peculiar sight. In an old piece of downspout in which a snake had taken refuge. To our surprise, it was a nice sized Speckled King Snake (Lampropeltis getulus).

This one was about fourty inches long. It was getting ready to shed so it was still pretty dull colored, but still a welcome find. This was Jill's first Speckled King and a great way fro us to start out the day. Especially with the "pressure" of having someone else along who was eager to see what we did and what we find. We documented this capture for a while and let the snake go back into the rubbish pile to get back comfortable again.

At this point we drove around some more to see what we could find and gain access to. We came upon an old house that had some tin stacked nearby. Near the house and by an old shed there were a number of these pieces of tin scattered around. All in all, we found several Ringnecks and also turned up three Yellow Bellied Racers (Coluber constrictor).

Two of them were about the same size at about thirty-two inches long and the other one was about thirty-eight. We had done so good this trip to this point that finds like this and the Speckled King we had found earlier were getting to be somewhat expected. Not that we were complaining however. This was great!! We were about to really top off our list...

We drove around some more and we were getting close to noon. We had decided earlier we would meet Greg at a local restaurant and decided we had better get going. We were fairly close, but Greg was going to take us to his family quarry and we were anxious to check this out. We were also getting hungry! As we drove down the road back to the highway, I had the camcorder on to document the direction and locations so it was easier to find later. We kept driving and then Jim said, "That looked too much like a snake not to go back!" It was unusual so it didn't hit him right away. As it turned out his instincts and eye were very quick and right on the mark. As we backed up I saw what he did. On a previous trip a number of years earlier I saw this species, but was unable to catch it. They are VERY cool and we always hoped to find one, but did not really expect to find one since we were unfamiliar with their habits and habitat. Needless to say Jim and I were both very excited and became quite animated. I'm sure Jill got a kick out of us. Jim slammed on the breaks and I bailed out of the side door of the van. We surrounded this poor creature like some SWAT team. I came up behind it and Jim stayed in front to distract it. It was very close to the road edge and we did not want to loose it. I pounced. There in my had, was a Western Slender Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus attenuatus).

WOW. It is so odd to see and feel one of these. Your brain gets so hard-wired to what a snake is that when you see these and hold one, it fights you. Here is this snake-like form, but it has eyes with eyelids like a lizard and external ears. On top of that, they are very rigid. They do not bend at all like snakes. Snakes can be pretty much balled up in your hand and are quite flexible. Glass Lizards bend side to side, but cannot be balled up. The length of their tail is also amazing. Almost half of it's sixteen inches was tail. This one was not huge, but it was a huge find for us. The thing that had thrown Jim off so much as it was on the side of the road is that it looked like a snake, but the pattern was very unique and since we did not expect to see a Glass Lizard it just didn't click. They also hold their head up a bit in the air as they sit there. This is odd too. It was very good as it sat on the road and we go a lot of great footage of it. Needless to say we knew at this point we would be late meeting Greg for lunch. We were sure he would understand! After quite a while of staring in amazment at this lizard, we went to move it. A Glass Lizard in motion is also a unique thing. They do not really slither in flight mode, but rather arch their body from side to side in a somewhat awkward way and rock back and forth away. Quite quickly though, and it is hard to get a hold of it. I tried to recapture for a few more quick shots of its belly, but alas it proved why it's called a glass lizard. I ended up with about three inches of its tail in my hand and nothing but the smell of wild onions from the side of the road left of the experience. You could see the structure of the tail inside and that was cool, but it would have been better to have not tried that last grab. Live and learn. We went to lunch at this point. The food was very good and it was a welcome break.

We were very excited that Greg was taking us to his quarry. We were now in Miami County KS. Greg was not sure what we would find, but we knew it was worth a look. Either we would find nothing and it would be a good walk, or, more likely it would turn up something. We had about three snakes on our "list" that we though we may find that we were hoping for...

The quarry itself was off the road and through a grass field. The field opened to clearing in the woods. Greg led us down a trail to where the quarry was. So far the area was awesome!! On the way down we heard a rustling in the leaves. Under some slightly downed trees in somewhat of a clearing were two Three-toed Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina triunguis) MATING. This was pretty cool.

We made a point not to disturb them as we documented this intimate moment between them. Even though we were careful, after a few minutes the female started to crawl ahead a bit. Either we weren't careful enough, or she had just about had enough. The did remain locked and we moved on as not to disturb them. We could still hear them making noise in the underbrush from where we were at in the quarry. Ah, young love.

The quarry looked very old and was set up beautifully. It had a nice southern exposure on one side and was surrounded by woods. It was also a nice sized quarry. Not to big or too small. We picked the good exposure and started to turn rocks. Again we encountered a number of Ringnecks. Then, score number one on our list and a welcome find was a Prairie King Snake (Lampropeltis calligaster).

It was shedding so was dull colored, but it was a species that we hoped to find and document. It was about twenty-six inches long. A great start. Greg had asked if we thought if there were any poisonous snakes in the quarry. He said that he had not seen any and wondered if they would be around. The area was very good for both Copperheads and Timber Rattlesnakes, and we hoped to find one or the other. As it turned out our next find was a Copperhead about seventeen inches long. It was a nicely colored one.

They are quite variable in the shades as we had seen this trip. We also showed that you can be in an area like this for a long time and not notice many or any snakes or other herps if you are not looking for them or looking in the right areas. We continued looking and again found another Copperhead.

This one was smaller and measured in at about twelve inches long. Both were quite active and agitated. They put on a good show. We documented and moved on. There were also a number of Blanchard's Cricket Frogs (Acris crepitans blanchardi) in the area of the quarry. Near the quarry was a picturesque stream and this provided a source of water. It also provided the other herps like the Copperheads a source of food in the Cricket Frogs. The stream traveled for quite a ways. This area is one that you just hope to come across. We were very fortunate and grateful to Greg for allowing us the opportunity to explore this perfect habitat. It was truly breathtaking. AND it had already produced some great herps. You just look at the area and say, "There HAS to be herps in here!" and then there is. You can't ask for more. We did, and we were not let down. We followed the edge of the quarry until we had got where the exposure usually did not pay off well. We had hoped to find a Red Milk Snake and to round out the list with a familiar Kansas species, the Black Rat Snake. We thought we were just about to the end...

It's funny how you can find things that produce in one area and you tend to trust at some point they will produce again. Likewise, if they do not produce you have little faith they will produce. I have had some luck with old tires. Not great luck, but some. Near the outside of the quarry were some nice natural rock formations. They reminded me very much of the area we look for Timber Rattlesnakes in back in Iowa. Beside them was a pile of old tires. Hmmmmm. It was overgrown and did not allow a lot of sun in, but it LOOKED good. Jim was skeptical as I stared to poke around the tire pile. Jim, Greg and Jill moved off a bit downstream. I nosed around the pile for a few minutes and then looked up. There on the top of the pile sticking out of a tire and blending in rather nicely and almost "natural" looking was find number two - the Black Rat Snake (Elaphe o. obsoleta).

It was a beautiful example and was nice sized, about forty inches long. I yelled and they came running. This time, my instincts paid off. We spent a while looking at this one as we had the other in the area since Greg and Jill were with us. It is always fun to have others around to share these experiences with. Especially people like Greg and Jill that have an open mind and are very intelligent and understanding on the relationship between nature and man. It is a delight to share information and our experiences and allows us the opportunity to re-capture what it was like to see some of our first cool finds. We followed the creek for a while and decided to call it a day. It was also the end of our journey in Kansas. We gained a lot of new information and found a lot of new sites. I have no doubt that we will discover yet more species at this site. What a long strange trip it had been. We were glad to be looking at getting back home and be with our families, but we knew that it would not take long to get the fever to go back out...

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