Trip Details

Day & Date: Saturday, May 28, 2005

Start Time: 9:30 a.m.

Weather: Sunny with a scattered clouds throughout the day. Mild breezes. High of 71 degrees.

Location: Kankakee County, Illinois

Herpers: Mike Pingleton, Marty Whalen, Austin Scharosch, Jim Scharosch & Matt Ricklefs

Quote of the day: “Real Herpers Wear Red Goose Shoes!”

It started like any other herping day. I got up at 3:30 a.m. took a shower and got some quick breakfast. Jim and Austin arrived to my house at about 4:30 a.m. and off we went. Okay, so that’s a little earlier then usual, but we had a long trip and a short window to herp in. Our estimates put us to herping at approximately 9:00 a.m. and we were about on target. We were to meet up with Mike and Marty at a convenience store then we would all head out.

As you may have read in herpjournal, Jim has yet to find a hognose snake. This is his great jinx and he laments about this on most trips. Of course those of us close to Jim do not hesitate to bring this up and initiate the subject. Well, a huge sand prairie seemed like a good place to break a hognose jinx, so there we were in Illinois. Jim had been here once before on a whirlwind return herping trip, but did not get a lot of time in. We were back and we had the entire day to herp as we planned to stay overnight once it got late. There is more to that, but you’ll just have to keep reading.

We all trekked on, and after a slight detour at the start of our journey, we got to the heart of the sand prairie. There are people on the forums who know of this place and have a good idea of what this place looks like, because it can be hard to grasp the enormity of the place. Mike had spoken of this place and was our guide on this trip. It is a herpers paradise. Although the diversity is not huge, it is nonetheless a great place to be. Bullsnakes, racers, race-runners and glass lizards are common. And of course, there are hognose snakes.

We reached our first site. Austin and I chased a race-runner for our first catch of the day. There were some local kids who came by who were interested in what we were doing. They watched with some humor as Austin and I cornered the race-runner. We finally got close and as it dogged us, it ran straight into an old can and we got it. Mike came over to get a picture and of course it was then that the race-runner found that it could jump out of the can about as easily as it ran in. Austin and I did manage to get a hold of it finally, more out of perseverance than anything. Our first catch was a Six-Lined Racerunner (Cnemidophorus s. sixlineatus).

After visiting a few spots we had not had a lot of luck, but it was early. Jim had spotted an enormous “junkyard” on the earlier trip. On this trip we had the time and people to better check it out. There was a lot of stuff to check, and after a while we caught out first snake. It was a “prairie mamba” or as some people call it a Blue Racer (Coluber c. foxi).

Okay, most people call it a Blue Racer, but I like Mike’s term of prairie mamba. This one was in shed and fairly dull. Its top coloration was similar to an eastern yellow-belly racer, but it did have noticeably blue more down on the sides. This one was approximately twenty-eight inches long. It was caught under a car hood. After our fill of pictures we let it go on it’s way. Not but a few second later Mike spotted our next quarry – a Western Slender Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus a. attenuatus).

This one was approximately eighteen inches long. We did get it to sit still (almost too still) for some pictures. As it finally went about it way, Mike made another find. A cool sign for “Red Goose Shoes”.

Mike Pingleton says "Real herpers wear Red Goose Shoes!"

Just one of the perks of herping in a junky area. Jim also found a Mt. Dew bottle from the early 1960’s and a cool dragon belt buckle. There’s just something about “junk” and men. Of course we are all manly herping men!! Okay, enough of that…

Our next catch was an obvious species for the area, a Bullsnake (Pituophis c. sayi).

Jim snagged this one under some tin in a burned out area. It was approximately forty inches long. It was also going into a shed.

Carrying on, we started to find things with some regularity, albeit with hard work. It is funny how an area looks pretty good, then once you get further in it just goes on and on. Not that I’m complaining. The next area was such a place. On both sides was a lot of junk. After searching around I made my second catch, another Blue Racer.

This one was much more colorful and the blue was much more representative of what you would expect from a Blue Racer. It was about thirty-eight inches. I did make quite a daring grab. As I turned the tin, it was on the opposite side. It was pretty warm and there was junk and thorny stuff around. As I turned, it jetted, but I managed to get a hold of it. As I did, I was in an awkward position with the debris around and lost my balance. I ended up on my back with my arm over my head grasping a very wriggly racer. I righted myself and reveled in my tenacity. These are the traits of a true herper, if I don’t say so myself. I pulled thorns from my hand and I called to the others. Mike also had a good catch. Another racer, but this one was a juvenile.

It was gorgeous. It was approximately ten inches long, but already was getting a lot of blue, while still retaining the entire juvenile pattern. I was surprised that after all the excitement the adult racer had not regurgitated as it could clearly been seen that it had a recent meal. I was glad it did not for both us and the snake. We all got back together and found a great open sandy area to get some pics. We recounted stories of when we were young and found our first juvy racers and how difficult it was to identify them “way back then”. After a good amount of documenting, we moved on.

Mike made the next find, again a Bullsnake.

This one was approximately fifty inches and a little more brightly colored. In recounting my video tape for documentation I did capture a funny moment. While wrangling the Bullsnake for pictures it bit itself, to which Jim laughed and pointed that fact out to the snake. Its response was a swift retaliatory strike on the finger closest to its mouth about a half second later. It was a decent bite too as it bit full on the fingertip. My wife made me replay it again for her. Overall, it was very half-hearted in its attempts to bite or hiss. Both Bullsnakes to this point were relatively mild mannered.

We were getting close to the end of the day. Mike and Marty had to leave to get home and we had one more stop together. It was near 5:00 p.m. and at a roadside area, Mike found a beautiful Bullsnake.

This one was in full color and was about forty-two inches long. It had been a long day and we were getting a little sleepy. Austin was able to get a short nap in the truck and came to as we were documenting this snake. After documenting we said our goodbyes to Mike and Marty. It was a good day with great people and we had a lot of fun herping.

Austin, Jim and I still had some daylight left. We drove around and about 5:45 p.m. found one last good area. Under some huge tin pieces that the three of us turned together we found another Blue Racer.

This one was about twenty-four inches long. It had the adult pattern above that was similar to the first one caught today, but its belly showed some signs of the juvenile patterning. It was pretty cool. We moved on and found another racer that we didn’t really take stop to take any natural setting photographs.

About the same time Jim and Austin found their next catch I made mine. They had another Bullsnake and I had another glass lizard.

The Bullsnake was good sized at about sixty inches long. It had a very high concentration of yellow. My glass lizard was about sixteen inches and was very fat.

I let it go after a short video capture and helped wrangle the Bullsnake. It did not want to have its picture taken. Although it was also mild mannered, it was very much on the move. We did get some pics and let it go back into the hole it was headed for when we interrupted it’s evening plans.

And the jinx kept its hold. No hognose snakes. Obviously a great area and others have found them, but we did not on this trip. That’s the way it goes. Well, we did find a lot of other treasures among the debris, including cool signs, lizards and snakes. I look forward to herping this area again, and spending more time with Mike. Oh yes, I did forget a few tidbits. After we finished herping, we knew we wanted to get some food at an authentic Mexican restaurant that Jim had been to before and we had to check into our hotel. Upon seeing our accommodations, we decided that this was not quite the place for us. When we booked it, it was all we could get due to prom and school end deals and we did not have a lot of information. We are not really that picky, but this place was, shall we say, not in a very welcoming neighborhood. Austin made the suggestion that we could just go home. That sounded good. Of course Austin could sleep on the way back though, lucky dog! So we cleaned up and changed in the parking lot of the Mexican restaurant, had some great food and left about 8:00 p.m. We got home around midnight. The total time for the day was approximately twenty-one straight hours. Now THAT is a day of serious herping. The spring season is about to a close, so, until next time -

Happy herpin’!

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