Trip Details

Location: Kankakee County, Illinois

Conditions: Cloudy and rainy in the morning, clearing off about 10:30 am. High temperature about 75 degrees

Time: 10:00 am to 2:30 pm

Herpers: Jim Scharosch

I got up this morning and the weather looked pretty crappy. It was cool and rainy, but the weather reports said it was supposed to clear off late this morning. I headed out about 10:00 am and started to drive the backroads of the county. I have never been here before, and I found it to be a very strange area. The land is very sandy and poor for farming. There are abandoned houses all over and junk strewn about many of the open areas. In other words, it is a herpers paradise. This sandy area is perfect habitat for hognose snakes. Talking to Mike and Ryan the day before, they had told me the hognose was pretty common in the county. Ryan had found two just a couple weeks before.

I have a "thing" with hognose snakes. A hex, jinx, whammy, curse or whatever you want to call it. I grew up in prime hognose habitat. I found Bullsnakes all the time, but the only hognose I ever found was when I was about fifteen, and it had just been run over by a kid on a bike. I found a DOR in Texas road cruising, but no live ones. My partner on this site found one a couple years ago in an area we both frequent, when I wasn't with him. A kid I know who just started herping found his first non-nerodia snake in the middle of the day on a road I drove twice a day for ten years. It was a juvenile hognose. I have never even been on a trip with other herpers where someone else has found one. Apparently my hex extends to whatever group I am traveling with at the time. So if you like hognose and see me coming, run far away.

It was with all this in mind that I started working the Kankakee county area. I was sure that after seeing my first wild massasauga in over ten years the day before, this was the day to end my hognose curse. I figure if the Boston Red Sox could break "The Curse of the Bambino" this past baseball season, I can break "The Curse of the Platirhino" this herping season.

The first place I stopped had just been burned off, but there were a number of boards and tin scattered about. I flipped them all and didn't see anything. It was still a little cool, and every board had a hole leading underground. I figured stuff was still down in the holes waiting for the sun to warm the cover boards.

I drove around for a while, looking for spots that looked good. The next place I stopped also didn't produce anything. It was finally starting to warm up when I found another spot where a house had stood at one time, but had since vanished. It looked like a place where herpers frequent, because a number of the boards and tin were spread out too nicely to have been an accident. I turned a number of things, expecting that hognose to be under every board. I turned an old car part and saw a blue racer, I was so stunned it wasn't a hognose that I stood kinda dumbfounded for a second while my brain processed what I saw. My brain finally said, "Grab it you idiot". As I snagged it with my left hand I noticed slightly over to the right, buried in the grass, the unmistakable blotched pattern of, you guessed it, a bullsnake. I grabbed it with my right hand, pulled them both out and they both proceeded to start biting me, each other and anything else within reach. With a snake in each hand, it took me a few seconds to get them to where they would quit biting onto me. Being alone, and not having a snake bag with me, I had to improvise something to keep the racer in so I could photograph the bullsnake. I found a bucket laying in the grass, and put the racer under the the bucket on the trail. The bullsnake (Pituophis melanoleucus sayi) was about three and a half feet long. It was typically colored, and had a fairly light colored head.

It did the standard bullsnake defense routine, coiling up, hissing and striking. It wasn't easy getting decent photographs working alone. After I finished with the bullsnake I went back to the bucket I had placed the racer under. As I was walking I thought to myself, "That was stupid, I should have come up with a better idea than putting the racer under a bucket". Sure enough, when I got there it was gone. I know it was just a racer, maybe I thought I would find more of them, but of course I didn't.

I drove around a little while longer, and stopped at one other spot but didn't find anything. Since I had to work the next day I wanted to get home kinda early, so I decided to head for home early in the afternoon. On the way back I drove past a large snake on the side of the road. I was sure it had been hit, but I backed up to check it out anyway. I'm glad I did, because it was a big bullsnake, probably about five feet long, and quite alive.

This one had a very dark head, especially the pattern between the eyes. The first two black bars on the lower jaw connected from one side to the other, making small circles on the underside of the mouth. It was pretty cool. This one also never settled down and the only photos I got were of the defensive behavior. I let the snake go a ways from the road and took off for home.

So I'm still on the schneide as far as hognose snakes, but I may end up back in Kankakee county this year to put in a more serious effort. There's also westerns in Kansas, where we will be in a few weeks, so I've still got a shot.

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