Trip Details

Start Time: 3:20 p.m.

Weather: Sunny and windy (gusts to about twenty miles per hour). High of about 65 degrees.

Location: Linn County, Iowa.

Herper: Matt Ricklefs

Quote for the day: “Bullsnake In A Box”

We had had an unusually warm end of March and first week of April. The call of herping could not be resisted. Work was done early so I went to a location that was close. It was nice out, but I really was not expecting anything to be out, but there was always a chance. Yes, I know, there is hardly suspense here as I would not be posting this if I didn’t turn up anything, but let me have my fun.

The walk is not a long one, and I decided that even if I did not find anything I could do some recon and check out the habitat for later on. This is a good time to do this as with leaves off the trees you can see things that might be missed later on. It also just gives you a feel for your spots and can find when other things are coming out and how it relates to herping.

I had finally come to the “good spot” of this habitat. You probably know what I mean. This is the area in most herp habitats you frequent where if you find something, it’s usually here. Anything found along the way to the "good spot" is extra. If you are herping with others sometimes you can tell this spot as the other herpers will start to speed up and distance themselves from you, then magically find the score of the day. Funny group of people, aren’t we? This, of course, is not great etiquette and can get downright annoying. However I was alone, so could be as annoying as I wanted to be. Oddly enough, at this spot there are a few great pieces of artificial cover that have only paid off one or two times in several years. That is also annoying. I checked all the usual good spots and nothing. I came up to a drainage pipe that has a cover. After seeing Chad Whitney's posting from Kansas this spring on fieldherperforum.com of a well full of hibernating Great Plain Rat Snakes, I actually thought to myself: “I suppose I should open this after seeing Chad’s pics.” Even though I check this culvert often and know it’s not great as it is almost full of water, I still had to look. Nope, no Great Plains Rats. Not that they range into Iowa, but I almost felt like they would be there.

Close by was an old switch box. Another good reason to keep checking things is herping is often unpredictable. Places you can check year after year and never have them pay off can eventually. The last time I probably looked in this switch box was a few years ago. I used to check it often without finding anything, and had quit checking it. For some reason this time I did…

Whooo hooooo! Low and behold. A Bullsnake (Pituophis c. sayi).

It was sitting there comfortably soaking up the warmth, having just finished an A&W Root Beer and what appeared to be several mice. It was approximately five feet long, which is a fairly good sized Bullsnake for this location. There were two firsts with this snake for me. One, this is the earliest in the spring I have found a snake of this size in Iowa. Second, this was the largest Bullsnake I had found in this area. I was pretty psyched, but I was also in a little pain. When I had opened the door, I saw something out of the corner of my eye with wings fly into my shirt. Soon after I felt the first of two stings from what I am guessing was a paper wasp. I never did find it even after jumping and flailing about. Again, I was alone, so I didn't care if I looked stupid. No comments from the gallery please. The only other bad news was that I only had about seven minutes of blank camcorder tape. This is a situation that will not happen again even if I go out in February and don't expect to see much. I watched the snake for a while and planned to leave it alone when it started to get a little testy. At that point I pulled it out to gauge its size better. It was close to a small hole that it probably used for shelter also used to access this box. I put the camcorder down and wrangled the snake. It put on the usual Bullsnake bluff, but was more interested in finding an escape. As it appeared to have just fed, I did not want to disturb it too much. It was really pretty with the normal contrast between the front middle and back. It was in very good shape and the only defect it had was that it had the last three to four inches missing from it's tail. After getting a closer look I put it back where I had found it.

I checked a couple more of these boxes and found quite a few mice. I walked back to the car with a very satisfied feeling. Of course on the way back I called Jim, who was in Chicago, to let him know what I had found. Of course having been to Belize this year, I’m sure he was not too broken up.

As I sit and write this I can’t but help reflecting on where I was a year ago to the day. On April 8, 2004 I had the extreme pleasure of herping in southern Illinois with three great guys and herpers – Jim Scharosch, Jeff LeClere and Mike Pingleton. We had a pretty good day that day too. With that thought, it also brought me to a great herp story on Mike Pingleton's website about a “Bullsnake in a Bottle” thus, the quote at the top of the page. Thanks Mike! Thanks also to Chad Whitney for inspiration to boldly go where I hadn’t gone that much before.

So for now, to all who have been and to all who are just starting – Happy Herpin’!

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