Trip Details

Herpers: Jim Scharosch & Matt Ricklefs

Location: Jackson County, Iowa

Time: 10:30 am to about 12:30 pm

Temp/Conditions: Sunny. Not too windy. Started out at 70 degrees or so and made it to a high of about 75.

Snakes like certain things. Some we know and can plan on, some we don't have a clue. What seems totally reasonable and what we may have applied with success at one point may not work a year later. We had planned a week ago to go to Jackson county on Saturday or Sunday. Saturday was a very nice day with highs around 70 and sunny. We thought that Sunday would be a beautiful day. It was. We planned to leave early and get there around 10:30 am. We were right on target. This is bluff area so the walk in is a good one. Probably one or two miles one way. It is a beautiful area and the sights and sounds of spring were in full display. It does seem odd when the trees have not gotten their summer attire on and you can see farther than what you usually can in only a few weeks later time. This is a good time to scout, as once the leaves are in, you cannot see areas that may be productive.

We walked to our first stop and turned some tin. Jim managed to find a Prairie Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus arnyi).

We did the normal documentation and let it go on it's way. We had seen some changes in the environment, and a house had been put up not far from where this area was. Often times change is a bad thing as it relates to reptiles and amphibians and locations once productive have unfortunately been lost to the "progress of man" as many of us I'm sure have seen. This house was far enough away to not be of too much concern, but it certainly breaks up the natural serenity of the area. We walked up on top of the bluff and were ready to spot some "Timbers" (Timber Rattlesnakes). Did I mention what a beautiful day it was? Warm, sunny - seemed perfect. We walked our normal route, checking the crags and crevices that had produced Black Rat Snakes and Timbers in years past. We turned and carefully placed back nice looking rocks that also had paid off, and yet nothing at this point. How could this be? Only two years ago we came out almost on the same day and conditions and did okay. The rocks were somewhat cool and the Five Lined Skinks (Eumeces fasciatus) that we found were a litttttttle too easy to catch.

If you have ever seen warm skinks before, you know how hard to catch these can be. These we snagged and then let go with relative ease. We walked and walked and logged a good hour of herpin' with no results. Then Jim finally managed to get a hit. "Milk Snake!"

Not a Timber, but at this point we were glad to find anything. A Milk Snake is also a good find in any event, so this was cool. The Milk Snakes in this area are right in the intergrade range so I guess it would be considered Lampropeltis t. triangulum x syspila as none that we find here show any one hundred percent "true blood" for either. I do think they show more triangulum than syspila, but without scientific testing, I will need to rely on my own judgment. It wasn't a big one, and topped out at about sixteeb inches long. It had a fair amount of scarring, but the color was good. We find these few and far between on the bluffs in this particular area and normally are not much larger than this one. This is a little odd as bluff in this county in other locations yield Milks regularly at all sizes. Again, snakes like what they like and some things we just may not understand or at least not right away and need further investigating. After documenting, we let it go on it's way.

That was it. We searched for another good half hour to fourty-five minutes and the Milk was all we found. It was a great day to be out, but a Timber would have rounded out the day nicely. We will have to wait. We have been fortunate as it had been quite a while since we were skunked on Timbers here, so we will wait patiently for later in May.

On the trip down, Jim and I were talking about explaining snake hunting to others. He used a very good fishing analogy that many may understand. You can relate different snakes to their fish counterparts.

As it pertains to Iowa species:

Bullhead = Garter, Brown, Northern Water snakes - common species

Catfish = Milks, Blue Racers, Fox Snakes.

Northern = Bullsnakes, Timber Rattlesnakes, Hognose Snakes.

Muskie = Massasaugas, Copperheads, Prairie Rattlesnakes - hard to find species.

It doesn't cover every species, but you get the idea. Each is just a little bit bigger or harder to find or just a little cooler. Each takes a little more knowledge of when, where and how to catch them. This usually helps others understand what this is all about.

Did I mention what a nice day it was? In tying all this together, it comes back to when, where and how to catch certain snakes. Each time out adds to your knowledge. Sometimes not finding anything is as informative as finding things. Not as much fun, but informative. You need to get out and be patient. Next year we could go up on the same kind of day and find a half dozen snakes. Hopefully our postings add to our knowledge and experience and in some way we can all benefit for the next trip out....

Good luck this spring to those of us carrying on the good work! Happy Herpin'!

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