Trip Details

Herpers: Jim Scharosch & Matt Ricklefs

Location: Jackson County, IA

Time: 10:00 am to 2:00 pm

Temp/Conditions: Sunny for most of the time. It got to be cloudy about 1:00 pm, but remained fairly warm. Not too windy. Started out at 68 degrees or so and made it to a high of about 75. Humid, but a very good day overall.

So far our herping in Iowa has not been as productive as we would have liked. This was our first trip out since returning from our Kansas expedition. We had a good day and were hoping that our luck in Kansas would carry over. We had decided on the location based on the fact that we are still looking to document this area better. If we had time we could have also gone to another spot, but we decided we would stay at this first area and call it a day. We headed out early and as it was quite a ways out spent a good hour and a half to two driving to this location.

We arrived at the spot fairly early. This is private land that we have permission to go to and have done good in the past year or so. Since it is private land there is not much activity in the "snakey" areas and we hope that this will remain a good undisturbed habitat. There is a lot of land to cover so we have not yet got a good idea of where all the "good spots" are, although we do have a few areas so we obviously started there.

This is an area where Five-Lined skinks are abundant. We have also caught Milk Snakes, Brown Snakes and the elusive Timber. Last year, the last trip we made was to this location. We did find one nice gravid female Timber. This was the first we had found although we knew they were in the area from the testimony of those who live there. That was one of the reasons we were there. In an effort to try to get all of our Kansas 2002 stuff posted we did not get this last trip posted. We knew we would go there this year, and could get some of the documentation and pics in. So you will see in this documentation some references to last year's trip to this spot also.

We separated to cover more ground. I thought that we had more nice rocks to turn this year and that this was due to some more wash out as the hills are fairly steep. It could just be my imagination too. As it was, we found a nice exposure with enough cover and rocks with open gaps for sun that looked favorable. It was. Jim managed to find a nice Milk Snake (Lampropeltis t. triangulum).

We have found these here before and it seems to be a good area for Milk Snakes. This one was about eighteen inches long and was fairly typical red and had the typical Milk markings. It was in good shape and did not have a lot of blemishes. It did have a nice pattern. After we wrangled it a bit it showed a peculiar behavior. It acted very jittery and coiled the front part of it's body in an "S" curve and struck forward with some velocity, but not really at anything. It kept this up for a while as we tried to get some pictures. This was odd and we had not seen this with any other Milks we have found, even with the ones we caught in this location this day. We did manage to get some good pics and let it go on it's way. Not long after I was able to snag my first snake, another Milk.

This was a good size one and was approximately twenty-eight inches in length. It had a decidedly orange hue to it. It actually almost appeared to have a orange "line" down it's back. There was also some orange on the belly as well. It is a subtle orange, but when comparing with other Milks, is the best descriptor. Laterally toward the midbody to where the belly starts it had quite a bit of grey. It had a look somewhat similar to a "Miami" phase Corn Snake. IT was pretty cool the way the colors were on the particular Milk. Again more documentation and our usual practice of "catch and release" to parallel fishing terms again. We moved on a bit further and uncovered another Milk.

This was also a typical Milk and was only about nine inches long. It had more red as juveniles do, but was very typical for Milks in this part of the state. We had already found a nice range and it was good to see the population was fairly healthy here!! We did notice that it had eaten a full grown bird, which was unusual...OK, maybe not. There were a large amount of bird feathers around the rock this one was under and we kidded that this nine inch long snake had eaten a full size bird. Obviously it had not, but it was funny. Again we let this "bird eating" Milk Snake go and off we went.

The next Milk Snake we found was about thirteen inches long and was darker red.

Same general characteristics, but darker. Same drill: catch, pics and release. At this point I took a "break" at the house as Jim continued to look. It is nice basically being in someone's backyard and able to find this stuff. There are a lot of conveniences to be had! Of course no sooner had I come out of the house that Jim called on the radios "Got another Milk". The bad thing was now I had to trudge back up the hill. It had been a late night the night before and I was pretty tired, but roughed it out of course! I got up and Jim had found a really nice colored Milk.

This one was about ten inches long and had a bright light red in strong contrast to a tan/grey background color. It was very cool. We took some pics and it even managed to "sit" on Jim's hat for a few "Where's the snake?" pics. We do have a lot of fun doing this...

We decided to head over to another hillside further away from the house. It's not far, but the lay of the land is a bit more open in areas. After looking around a while we found, guess what, another Milk!

That made six for the day. A record for us. Not bad. In one small area and in about two and a half hours we had found as many Milks as the whole Kansas trip. Of course the gentilis x syspila in Kansas are very cool! This one was another small one about eight inches long. It was typical juvenile Milk with perhaps a bit more cream/yellow between the red. It had a wide heart shape by it's head that almost made a ring. It was pretty. We had done well with Milk Snakes. As I mentioned before, this is a very healthy population up in this area. We found juvenile all the way to adult snakes and about everything in between. It is cool being in the intergraded range of the Eastern & Red milks. It really varies what you see. You can find the typical brown of the Eastern Milk to the bright red of the Red Milk. You also get all shades of grey, orange, brown, white, cream and red in between. It was a good day.

This is the area we had found a Timber Rattler in last year. It was late in the year and the one we found was large, about fourty-two inches long and as mentioned appeared to be gravid. She had a good set of rattles and was nicely tucked under a small area with rocks and a bush. In fact, Jim had noticed a shed that may have come from this snake. As he got closer to examine the shed he noticed the actual snake. There is also a small opening under a immovable rock. This may or may not be a den as it is small, but seems to go down a little ways. It is easy to picture a den as the picturesque limestone formation with cracks and crevices. It is another to see a couple of rocks and a small hole that seem to be quite inconspicuous. We need more data to determine if this is an actual den, or just a nice spot for cover. However, as we approached this area, Jim said, "That's the rock we found the Timber under last year." We both were close by and ready, but didn't absolutely expect anything. But, there it was. A Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus h. horridus) nicely tucked in under the rock.

It was about twenty-six inches long. It had only a couple of buttons as the others had been broken off. It was pretty wiley at first and we had a hard time "hooking" it. Jim then went up the hill and I was below and it did not have a close means to get away so it coiled and rattled. At this point we were able to get some good pictures. We watched and documented it for a while and then we let it go back to it's "spot". It was close to the hole and went down the hole when it had the chance. Very cool. The first Timber of the year and the second at this spot. We hope to find many more.

In the process of documenting the Timber, Jim also found a small American Toad (Bufo americanus) burrowed under a rock.

Toads are cool. They look very intelligent. A little further down the hillside and I found an Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis s. sirtalis). It was small, about eight inches long and very blue eyed.

Still an unusual find for this area. It is also odd that we have never seen any Ringneck snakes in this area even though they are fairly common nearby. Again, we will need to investigate this further to see where they range to within the areas of Jackson County.

That's it for this trip. We still have a few more good weeks of spring. We have a few more trips planned and hopefully we will have some more good herpin'!!

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