A windy morning...

Trip Details

Location: Wabaunsee and Franklin Counties, Kansas

Conditions: Windy and rainy in the morning, partly cloudy by noon. High in the mid 70's.

Time: 7:30 am to 6:00 pm

Herpers: Jim Scharosch, Jeff LeClere, Dāv Kaufman, Mike Pingleton, Tracy Mitchell, Ken Felsman, Rick Milas, Steve Coogan

We woke up ready to herp, and took off to meet up with the Champaign boys at the appointed meeting place in Wabaunsee County. They were unable to leave until about 9:00 pm the night before, and it was 7:00 am and they had just rolled in from driving thru the night. They were a bit rough looking, but were anxious to get herping. As I mentioned, I knew Mike from our previous trip. I knew Rick from a Midwest Herp Symposium we had attended some years back. I was introduced to Tracy, Steve and Ken. None of these guys had herped Kansas, and most everything we would find would be new to them. I was looking forward to seeing their reactions to finding the common things, like Collared Lizards and Great Plains Skinks.

We headed to an abandoned farm site that I go to whenever I am in this area, and we started to turn stuff. It was about 8:00 am, and cool, windy and a little rainy. Under a board, Rick found a Six-Lined Racerunner (Cnemidophorus sexlineatus).

It was ironic, I brought these guys to a spot I go to all the time so they could see something they have never seen, and the first thing they find is something I have never seen in Kansas. We found a few more at the spot later also. I wonder if I never see them because I am usually in Kansas a little earlier than this and they have not emerged from hibernation yet, or if it is just a fluke. We did find them throughout the rest of the trip.

 I went to the back part of the site, and under a tin, turned up three adult Black Rat Snakes (Elaphe obsoleta).

It is always fun finding multiples under one piece of cover. Someone in the Champaign group found some Great Plains Skinks (Eumeces obsoletus), which was a new species to them.

They were pretty happy to see them, and they took a few photos. I commented that they would be seeing a lot more of them in the next few days.

We went to a large neatly piled stack of tin that I have never had the energy to turn before. With a group as large as this, we decided to go ahead and dig thru the pile. We flipped the tin one sheet at a time while two people held the lifted sheets off the pile. We reached the bottom of the pile without finding anything, but there was a small hollow under the final tin, with what looked like a rat nest in it. I said, "Hey, something moved", and someone else said, "Its a rat", and someone took their hook and moved the board a little. We saw a telltale flash of black and white, we all yelled "SKUNK!" and in space of a nanosecond all the tin was dropped back on the pile and we were all thirty feet away. I have turned tin and found a cat under it before, but never a polecat. It was a pretty hilarious experience. Steve and Rick commented that we had already seen as much stuff as they often see in an entire weekend herp trip, and we were only an hour in. I remember thinking that by then end of the trip, they were going to be overwhelmed by the quantity of stuff we were going to turn up.

We took off for a large tin pile where I have had very good luck in the past. The weather wasn't looking good, it was spitting rain and the wind was blowing unbelievably hard. It was difficult to walk. The tin pile was a complete bust, and we didn't find anything.  We drove off to another spot, and we noticed that the Champaign truck stopped. They announced over their radio that they found a rat snake. We couldn't believe that we had missed a snake on road, so we turned around and went back. As they were driving along, Ken turned to look back at a cool old stone farm outbuilding and there was an adult Black Rat Snake climbing the wall.

They didn't manage to get any photos of it on the wall, so we took a few photos holding it and released it. The building in the photo is the one the snake was climbing.

We moved on to another spot where I have found a good number of Copperheads over the last few years and I bragged up how good the location was. Of course, we didn't find anything except a few skinks.

We went to another small location I discovered during the last trip. We were turning some rocks and Dāv found a yearling intergrade Red/Central Plains Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum syspila/gentilis).

It was really pretty; with the red blotches so narrow they were not really blotches, and a mostly white head. It was the only thing we found there.

We headed on to the last real location I had from this area. It was a spot where I always find Lined Snakes, and have turned up some very nice milks also. We found our first Eastern Collared Lizards (Crotaphytus collaris) of the trip here.

The Champaign boys were pretty exited to see them and took some time taking photos. It was fun to see their enthusiasm, and remember back to my first Kansas trip. I still think that Collared Lizards may be my favorite lizard. True to form, we found a number of Lined Snakes (Tropidoclonion lineatum) here.

One actually posed for photos for a while, probably because it was still a little cold. They are notoriously difficult to pose for photos, as they always want to jet off. Dāv and I found a Great Plains Narrowmouth Toad (Gastrophryne olivacea) under a large rock.

This was something that Jeff wanted to get photos of, so we took some time photographing it. It didn't cooperate very well, but we managed to get a few photos. We didn't find much else here, except for Collared Lizards and skinks.

We headed over to a small lake in the area. It was a spot I had wanted to go to for a while, but had never taken the time. Jeff and Dāv walked the lakeshore, looking to see what kind of water snakes they might turn up. They found a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon), which is the same species that are common in our home herping areas. I didn't take any photos. In this area the Collared Lizards were basking at the tops of some of the tree stumps on the lakeshore, and they would let you get pretty close to take photos. On the way in, a big male was sitting on a stump, and when we left, a juvenile decided he wanted to be up there too.

There were a lot of Ringneck Snakes here and we found another Lined Snake. Just as Dāv declared that the area was "suck full", I turned a rock and found a very nice adult Red/Central Plains Milk Snake.

It was very pretty with equally narrow red saddles on an orangey/peach ground color. We worked the area a while longer after that, but didn't find much.

It was now about 2:00 pm and we were hungry so we grabbed some lunch at the convenience store. We were in and out quickly and started to scout for some new locations. We stopped at a rock fence along the road and turned some rocks that had fallen from the fence. We found another Narrowmouth Toad and some skinks. We were walking back to the truck and saw some Dung Beetles rolling a dung ball up the road.

It was pretty neat, so I took a photo and shot a little video of them.

We went to a railroad overpass, and in some railroad ties, Da¯v found an eighteen-inch long Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix).

It was a good find, as we had not turned any up in the areas that I normally find them. A little while later, Dāv found another one, this one a yearling.

This was, I think, the first baby I have seen. It was very dark colored, almost like a baby Cottonmouth, and had the greenish/yellow tail tip that baby copperheads have. I didn't manage to get any good photos of it. Mike came over with a big, colorful Plains Garter Snake (Thamnophis radix).

He had found it way over on the other side of the railroad bridge. It was a nice looking snake, we all admired it, took some photos, then Mike had to walk back the couple hundred yards to release it. We decided we were done with this location; we came down from the overpass to discover that Dāv's jeep had a flat tire. Thankfully, we were right across the street from a house. Ken and Rick were talking to the owners of the home, whose dogs that had been barking at us for the last hour. I never did ask them their names, but I wish I had. They were extremely nice, and told us that there was a co-op just a few blocks up the road that could repair the tire. They put some air in the tire and Dāv took off to get it fixed. We visited with them while we waited and told them what we were doing. They told us that if we walked down the tracks a ways, we would find a quarry. Dāv returned, told us that the tire was fixed and that the mechanic had told him the loud clunking noise his jeep continued to make was a steering stabilizer and was not going to affect our trip. That was good news. We took off for the quarry. On the way, we found another Narrowmouth Toad, and Jeff and I stopped and took photos for a while.

It posed much better than the first one. By the time we caught up with the group, they had found another Copperhead.

The quarry didn't end up being very good so we walked back to the vehicles. We stopped to thank the folks that had been so helpful, and they mentioned a couple of old buildings with junk around them in an old ghost town area. They offered to lead us over there, so the guy jumped in his truck and we followed him. It ended up being about ten minutes away. It was two cool old buildings in a town that no longer existed. The one building was a large brick building and the other an old wooden store. There was not a lot of junk to flip, but I did manage to find a good-sized Eastern Yellow Bellied Racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris).

It latched on to my hand and chewed for a while. It was a very cranky snake. I have had a lot of snakes bite me, or try to bite me, but nothing like this one. While I held it, it tried to reach out and bite me. Not a strike, but this crazy, outstretched, mouth open, straight bodied, swirling its head around motion.

It is difficult to describe, but we got a cool photo of it. Someone found an Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata).

Mike found a nice garter snake, but I didn't get any photos. This ended the first day of our trip. We headed off to the west for more herping tomorrow.

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