Trip Details

Location: Franklin and Anderson 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, Chad Whitney, Matt Jeppson, Brandon DeCavele

Part One, The Timber Rattlesnake Den

We were all excited to get out today, as were heading to a location in Franklin County where I found Timber Rattlesnakes during my trip here the week before. Ken had never seen a wild Timber, and I can never see enough of them. We left the hotel for breakfast and the short drive to the den site. We weren't there very long when we heard a couple of timbers buzzing under a massive rock. All of us except Jeff were contemplating how we could get a look at these timbers, when Jeff made the point moot by asking if we wanted to see the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) that he had found.

We all went over to have a look. It was an adult about twenty-eight inches long, and looked very similar to the one my wife had spotted a week ago in a different part of this habitat. It cooperated fairly well during the extremely long photo session that followed. Tracy must have gotten bored during the picture taking, because he wandered over to an east facing section of rocks and found a small Red Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum syspila).

It was our first pure red milk of the trip, the previous ones being red/central plains intergrades. It was getting ready to shed, but would have looked really nice after it shed out. It wasn't going to cooperate for photos either. I caught a small garter snake while they were shooting pictures, and it pooped all over my hand, as garter snakes like to do.

We eventually finished, and moved to a different part of the habitat. We split up the group, but that wasn't going to work out. I mentioned that this was a good spot for Western Slender Glass Lizards (Ophisaurus attenuatus), and if on cue, one flashed through the grass. I crossed the fence where it went, and got a hold of it when it paused in its flight. I managed to capture it without having it break off its tail.

A few seconds later, another one came rushing in my direction and I snagged it too. They knew I wasn't lying about the glass lizards! We gathered for photos, and moved on as a group. As we were walking along, Jeff found another Glass Lizard.

This one had a broken tail from a previous encounter with some predator. We were working the north facing side of a wooded draw and were not finding a lot of stuff. Dāv called out that he found a Brown Snake, but I did not travel to where he was to photograph it. Someone found a nice little milk snake on the top of the draw. I missed hearing who found it.

It was going into a shed, but would have been one of the nicest milk snakes of the trip otherwise. It's head was completely red. We worked the entire north facing side without seeing anything else, and were preparing to go to the south facing side, when I saw a rock I couldn't pass by. I turned it and found a Western Worm Snake (Carphophis vermis).

These are another one of my absolute Kansas favorite herps, because they remind me of the various African and Asian sand boas I used to keep in my herp breeding days. I warned that they rarely pose for a decent picture, but I didn't realize we were in the presence of Steve Coogan, Master Worm Snake Wrangler. Steve wrangled that worm snake like nobody I have ever seen before and we managed to get some of the best worm snake photos I have ever taken. We finally got over to the other side of the draw, and we split up again. A few guys worked the open part of the draw while the rest of us moved to the wooded part where we thought the timbers might be more likely encountered. We were only in about twenty yards when Mike started chasing a snake through the grass. He came out with a large Eastern Yellow Bellied Racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris).

He looks pretty thrilled in the photo, don't you think? Maybe it bit him, or pooped on him, I don't know. We worked a little farther along, and Jeff found a Worm Snake.

This one did poop on Jeff, as you can see in the photo. After the great photos I got of the last one, I didn't take a lot of pics of this one, or the other three that were turned up during the rest of the time in this habitat. Mike went down into the creek area in the center of the draw, and a few minutes later came back up with a big grin on his face and a Blotched Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster transversa) in his hands.

This was something he really wanted to find, and I think he looks a little happier in this photo than he did in the racer photo above. About this time, someone got on the radio and called that Dāv had found a really nice milk snake out on the open hillside. Dāv had also radioed me earlier and told me he had found a hatchling Speckled King Snake and I opted not to go over and look at it. I got a photo of it from Ken.

Photo by Ken Felsman

I debated whether I should walk all the way back there, but I did, and I am glad I did. It was a really pretty adult Red Milk Snake with massive red blotches.

I would have been upset if I had seen Ken's pictures of this one and realized I had missed out on seeing it in person. Looking back, I should have taken a few more pictures it, so I included this photo taken by Ken.

Photo by Ken Felsman

Jeff and I worked the long wrap around part of the ridge and a few others split off and went down to the pond area in the center of the draw. After a while, they radioed that there was a pair of Blotched Water Snakes hanging around the edge of the pond, and they were courting in preparation for breeding.

Here is some video

It was a pretty cool site, and we tried not to disturb them too much. The male spooked a few times, but swam about ten feet out in the pond then each time came back to try to get the attention of the female again. It was fun watching this actual natural reptile behavior, which we don't often get to witness as we normally are finding snakes under things and their only wild instinct then is to try to get away. While we were watching the snakes courting, Dāv found evidence that they had managed to breed last year. He found a juvenile Blotched Water Snake at the edge of the pond.

We also found but did not photograph three Plains Garter Snakes, three American Toads, and numerous Five Lined Skinks and Great Plains Skinks. We headed back to the truck, and when we got there, Ken went over and turned a really large rock that we all had walked past earlier. He pulled out a Prairie King Snake (Lampropeltis calligaster).

Amazingly it was the first one of the trip. It was a nice addition, and a nice way to close out this section of the trip.

Part Two, Meeting up with the Kansas guys.

Back row from the left: Tracy, Matt, Dāv, Brandon, Mike, Steve, Chad

Front row: Ken, Rick, Jeff (I'm taking the pic)

In the afternoon we took off for Olathe to meet up with Chad Whitney. I had been corresponding with him via email over the last few weeks and he had been extremely helpful pointing us in the right direction to finding some species we were hoping to locate. We had talked on the phone a few times over the last few days and he had found the time to meet up with us for some herping. When we got to his house, we took care of introductions. Chad introduced us to two of his fellow herpers, Brandon DeCavele and Matt Jeppson.

They asked what we wanted to find, we mentioned that we had yet to see a Massasauga. A few minutes later we handed them a radio and followed them south to Anderson County. We had a three-vehicle herpin train, the Kansas boys leading, Jeff, Dāv and I following and the Champaign boys bringing up the rear. We rolled up to our first stop at about 4:30 pm and proceeded to flip some rocks.

Now I have to mention the way this worked. Chad wanted to get to as many areas as possible before it got dark, so he, Matt and Brandon were herping at a pace I have never seen. They would get out of the car and have an area covered before the Champaign guys were even out of their vehicle. It was pretty crazy. I later clarified with Chad that they don't really do this all of the time, it was just an attempt to cram in as much as possible in the short time we had before dark. We did find a lot of stuff, but my report will be very sketchy on details. I just wasn't able to keep track of who was finding what. Some animals were found that I didn't even hear about until after they were released. With the speed we were working, I did not manage to get decent photos of what I did shoot. I am not going to try to break the stuff we found down by location, as it will be too confusing. I may also have some of the people wrong on who found which animal.

Jeff found a nice Prairie King Snake.

Brandon found a small Speckled King Snake.

Brandon then found a Great Plains Rat Snake.

We found a few Plains Narrowmouth Toads, Collared Lizards, Ringnecks and Worm Snakes. Dāv found a Blotched Water Snake in a pond, but I didn't get any photos.

I found a juvenile Yellow Bellied Racer that was intent on biting me.

It was in a deep rock pile, and I knew it would never sit for a "natural" photo.

Brandon then turned a rock and found three Great Plains Rat Snakes under it.

I happened to catch this one as it was stretching to re-align its jaws...

They were all adults. It was the second time this trip that three rat snakes were found under one cover item, as the first day I found three Black Rat Snakes under a single tin.

Next, Chad turned up a really pretty Red Milk Snake. I wish I had gotten better photos of this one.

Mike found a large Plains Garter Snake (Thamnophis radix).

Then Mike and Rick found three more large Plains Garter Snakes. One put a pretty good bite on Rick, and you can see a drop of blood beginning to well up on his hand.

Tracy found a Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) that sat tight for photos.

Jeff came over with a Prairie King Snake and a Great Plains Rat Snake that he found within a couple of feet of each other. We were flying around so fast now, that I didn't take the time to take a decent photo of either them.

A comparision of the head shape and patterns of the Prairie King Snake and Great Plains Rat Snake. The patterns are very similar at first glance, but the head shape is quite different. The rat snake has the longer head, which is more offset from the neck.

Jeff found a four-foot long Black Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta).

Brandon found a really nice Red Milk Snake, and I took one crappy photo of it and we turned it loose. I walked over and found Ken taking photos of a small Speckled King Snake that someone had found.I decided I was going to go back and re-catch that milk and get some decent photos. Luckily it was still under the same rock.

It was a cool snake, with really wide, dark ruby-red saddles. I stopped over and took a few more pictures of the king snake too.

Chad called on the radio to tell us they had a surprise for us, we all thought Massasauga for a second. They then told us it wasn't a 'sauga, but it was still cool. We went up to the area they were and they had a nice adult Bullsnake.

This area was a quarry, and we took some time to poke around. Tracy found another Prairie King Snake.

Ken found a Copperhead, but by the time I got there they had let it loose. Luckily it wandered under a small tree, and I got some cool photos of it in a more natural looking area. If I had wanted it to pose there, it never would have sat there.

Chad, Matt, Brandon and some of our group split off, and when they came back they had a really nice adult Speckled King Snake.

It was nearly perfect, with a dot per scale and no bars on the back. It was as good as any photo of a speckled you would see in a book. They also reported that they had found another yearling king snake and another red milk, neither of which I got to see.

At some point during the trip, Chad found a Slender Glass Lizard. I didn't see it, but Ken took this shot of Chad. I don't think Chad bit it, but as nuts as these guys were, who knows.

Photo by Ken Felsman

It was getting dark, and Matt had to get back to Kansas City. They loaded up and we said our goodbyes and thanks. They took off and we hit a few more areas as sunset began to darken the skies. We didn't find much, but didn't care a lot at that point. It had been a great day, and we had seen so much stuff in such a short time that we were ready to head back to town for dinner. We didn't find our Massasauga, but that was okay.

I've said thanks to Chad, Matt and Brandon already, but I have to say it again. They were a great bunch of guys, and the help that Chad gave us throughout the week enabled us to find a lot of animals we wouldn't have found otherwise. I hope to hook up with them again sometime when we have more time to herp at a more leisurely pace.

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