Location: Lincoln and Russell Counties, Kansas
Conditions: Sunny and warm. High of about 90 degrees.
Time: 9:00 am to 9:00 pm
Herpers: Jim Scharosch, Jeff LeClere, Dāv Kaufman, Mike Pingleton, Tracy Mitchell, Ken Felsman, Rick Milas, Steve Coogan
Last night we stayed in the dumpiest hotel in all of Kansas, but everyone got some sleep and we were fired up and ready to go today. We grabbed breakfast and headed out. We were going to work some areas in Lincoln County, and were looking forward to seeing what we would find out here a little farther west than we normally travel. The first place we stopped didn't pay off very well; we found an Ornate Box Turtle and some Ringneck Snakes. The next area we stopped was near some railroad tracks, and there was some junk and Rick turned up a nice Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi).
Not far from there, Tracy found the first Great Plains Rat Snake (Elaphe guttata emoryi) of the trip.
I really like the Great Plains Rat Snakes, and this one posed nicely for pictures for me. We moved on, and at the next area we stopped, Mike found two yearling Central Plains Milk Snakes (Lampropeltis triangulum gentilis).
The first one...
The second one...
This was one of the primary focuses of this leg of our trip, and we were very glad to find them this early. Seeing these really defined for us the difference between the Red Milk Snakes of eastern Kansas, the intergrades of the flint hills, and the Central Plains Milks of this area. Dāv was getting desperate to find a milk snake now. He was flipping some rocks while we were photographing the second milk snake. Someone mentioned that the rocks we was turning had been turned and there was a milk under "that big rock right there". Dāv must not have heard, as he flipped the rock and announced "Gentilis!". We all laughed and razzed him about it for a while. It was pretty funny. It was around noon, and the weather was still cool, probably 65 degrees. We were eager to find more and we moved on. The next area we passed by while we were driving, and at the last second we radioed to the guys in the Champaign truck that we were going to go back. They decided to wait in the truck, so Jeff, Dāv and I went back. After a few really nice rocks, I turned a large rock and saw the telltale red of another Central Plains Milk.
This one was a very nice adult, about twenty inches long. Soon after, Jeff found one about ten inches long. I radioed back to the guys that they should come down. Ken wanted to take some photos of the large milk snake, and wanted to stick it in the crook of a dead tree nearby. I didn't think it would sit there, and told him so. To my surprise, it sat there perfectly and posed for some pretty cool pics. Jeff's milk didn't cooperate quite as nicely.
A few minutes later, Rick came walking over with another Bullsnake, his second one in the last couple of hours.
It was lying out in an area of rocks. It was a good spot on his part, and we all like seeing Bullsnakes. We moved on again, and at the next spot we stopped, Dāv finally turned up Milk Snake.
It was a little darker than some of the other ones we had found, and had wider black borders around the saddles. It was a very pretty snake. A couple minutes later, Tracy turned up a small Milk Snake too.
We were sure finding Milk Snakes! Then, Rick found his third Bullsnake of the day.
The picture is of Steve holding it. I decided to turn a really big rock that everyone else had walked by, and I was rewarded with a nice, fourteen inch long Great Plains Rat Snake.
It was a little different, in that it had a cool row of double spots down the lower quarter of it's back. Did I mention how much I like these snakes? We set a time limit for ourselves, so we decided to get moving. We made one last quick stop off at a small area near the road, and Jeff and I worked our way through it quickly while everyone else waited. Jeff turned up our next species, a Speckled King Snake (Lampropeltis getula holbrooki).
It was a yearling, and had a large wound on its neck. Life is difficult living among large piles of rocks. We cleaned the wound up with some disinfectant, and turned it loose. It wasn't the prettiest king snake ever, but it was better than not finding one at all. It was about 4:00 pm and we decided to head to a spot nearby to look for Massasauga. It was one of our target species for the trip, and acting on a tip we headed west. We found a roadside junk pile in the area we were told to herp, and it looked so promising, we all nearly flew out of the vehicles to check it. A few boards and tin chunks later, a large team of guys turned a large wooden section of an old building that was laying on the ground and found another Great Plains Rat Snake.
It was very dark and had an assortment of blisters and scars. I didn't take a lot of photos of this one. A couple of minutes later, Dāv called out "King Snake" and we all went over to see the awesome adult Speckled King Snake he had pulled from the junk pile.
It was as pretty as any I had seen before. We finished off the junk pile without seeing anything else, and Jeff and I decided to climb a massive hill to turn some rocks at the top. It was starting to cool off a little and we wanted to get some more herping in before it got to chilly. We worked the rocks at the top of the rise, and saw Racerunners, Fence Lizards and Great Plains Skinks. Halfway across the rise, Jeff found a really light colored Great Plains Rat Snake.
In this photo, you can see how high up on the hillside we were. We walked a little farther, and I saw an adult milk snake lying between two rocks. I made a grab for it, and discovered it was dead. It was in perfect condition, except for a flat spot on the side of its head. I was pretty bummed, as it was a beautiful snake, and I hadn't found anything at this spot and thought I had scored a good one. We were going to road cruise for Massasauga here, but it was starting to drizzle and a steady wind was causing temperatures to drop quickly. We took off back to the east early, as we had a long drive ahead of us. We stopped at a truck stop on the way, and Jeff introduced Steve and Rick to the joys of Orange Creme Milk.
A quest for this nectar of the gods ensued, and every dairy case for the rest of the trip was searched to no avail.