Trip Details

Location: Madison County, Iowa.

Herpers: Austin Scharosch, Jim Scharosch & Matt Ricklefs

Start Time: 10:00 am

Weather: Mostly clear, with some large banks of clouds moving through. No wind, high humidity. High of 88 degrees.

Quote of the day: "Sign of the serpent."

It's getting close to the end of the spring snake season. The habitat is now fairly grown over and the herps are dispersing across the land. We wanted to get out for what will probably be our last "big" trip here in Iowa this spring. We decided to go down to Madison County. We had not been here before and this was a nice change of pace. We left Cedar Rapids at 7:00 am and made it down there to our first herp location at 10:00 am The clouds moved in right before we got to our location, but broke up quickly. There was no wind, mostly sunny and very humid. Now that makes for some fun herpin'!!

We went to a very favorable looking rocky hillside. We crossed a good-sized ravine, but the walk in was not bad. It was very overgrown, but there were areas with exposed rock and good sunny exposures in between forested areas and the over-grown areas of weeds. After a little while of looking around Jim found two Prairie Ringneck Snakes (Diadophis punctatus arnyi). They were both good sized - about a foot in length. We looked at them briefly, let them go and carried on. Soon after Jim found an Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis s. sirtalis).

This was a very "easterny" looking garter so we took some pics. It was approximately fourteen inches long. After documenting this we moved on.

I was not finding anything. I think I was jinxed. The date was June sixth. 6/6. We stopped and I purchased a couple of breakfast biscuits, OJ and a cookie. That came to $6.66. I believe it was an evil omen for me that I was not destined to find snakes today. We however were finding stuff and that is what counted. I will have my days. I am not very superstitious, but the next time my total comes to this, I'm buying something else.

Not long after releasing the garter snake, Jim yells "milk snake". Cool. We wanted to find a milk snake out here for comparison. This is supposedly past the range of intergradations with the Eastern Milk Snake. So with that said we will list this as a Red Milk Snake (Lampropeltis t. syspila).

Jim and I both thought that it showed some Eastern influence, but could not verify without a doubt that this was or wasn't an intergrade. It was a nice one though. It was about fifteen inches in length. We took a bit of time to document and observe this one. It was getting hotter and hotter so after an appropriate amount of time we set it free and kept going. After a little while Jim scored again. "TIMBER!" That is always a good sound to hear. Jim had found a Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).

It was however THE most pitiful timber we had ever seen. It was thin and had large tumor-like bumps on its neck and head. It had one eye closed and the other was oddly formed. It was in shed also. Under the shed, the color was not bad and it did have a nice rattle. It also seemed to be gasping or gaping it's mouth at times, but did not appear to be too much worse for wear overall. It was about twenty inches long. It was however a timber in an area that we had not been to before and that was the most important. Where there was one, there was bound to be more - hopefully. We did take some time to document this one and take some pics. After a while of documenting and repeatedly wiping the fog off our glasses we let this poor soul go about its way. It left with speed and seemed as though, rough looking or not, it may be fine in the long run. We hope so any way. Only minutes after releasing the first one and Jim found another one.

It was smaller, but this one actually looked fairly normal. It was about seventeen inches.

There is one thing I want to mention here about the last three snakes. They were found on a fairly steep hillside so we took them up to a small flat area higher up the hill to take photos, then we took them back down where they were found to let them loose. All were very active as it was warm out. When we attempted to photograph the second timber, it would not sit still at all. It still was moving around so we used something we call "The Rock Trick". We found a flat rock and propped it up just a little. This allows the snake to go under and feel "safe". After a few minutes they settle down some, and you lift the rock and they usually freeze there as if they are undetected. This worked to varying degrees with the milk and other timber we had caught earlier. It seemed as though it was going to work on this second timber. We lifted the rock and there it sat still for a moment. We closed in to take pictures. Not too close, but close enough to get some good pics. Then it did something we were not expecting. It rattled loudly and threw itself forward, practically jumping off the ground all in one quick motion. It startled us all a bit, and it was pretty funny seeing us all jump back a couple of feet. It then coiled up, flattened itself out and started to rattle the high-pitched buzz of a small timber. It looked impressive for a seventeen-inch long snake. Here is a little video of it.

It remained in its defense mode until we put it back where we found it.

We went to lunch and looked around a little more without luck. It was hot and getting late so we decided to pick up and go home. Considering how hot it was, and it being our first trip here, we didn't do to bad. We were glad we found the second timber since the first one was so beat up. We wanted to find a milk snake to compare to the ones in the more eastern area of the state and we did that. In a fitting end to the day with the $6.66 breakfast we listened to Iron Maiden on the way home.

Run to the hills and happy herpin'!!

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