Trip Details

Location: Sherburne and Pine Counties, Minnesota

Conditions: High of about 75 degrees, mostly cloudy, thunderstorms in the afternoon.

Time: 9:00 am until dark

Herpers: Jeff LeClere, Dāv Kaufman, Austin and Jim Scharosch

We started off the morning about 9:00 am. This morning we were to walk a large prairie habitat looking for more western hognose. On the way there, Jeff said that he spotted a snake on the road and after much arguing, convinced a skeptical Dāv to stop his jeep. Jeff was, of course, right, and we got to see our first Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) of the trip. The garter snakes here are pretty, with very dark black and very distinctive light yellow. The bars on the lip scales are light to almost non-existant. The garter snake was about eighteen inches long.

We got to the habitat, and the temperatures we cooperating so far, the sun was poking thru the clouds on occasion, but it wasn't heating up too quickly. It was in the upper sixties when we started, and never got much hotter than the lower seventies. About 9:20 Dāv found an adult Bullsnake (Pituophis c. sayi).

It was very dirty, and going into a shed. It had a large scar on one side of its face from a previous battle. It didn't want to cooperate for photos, and as dingy as it was, I didn't really want to force it to.

Not long after that, Austin found his first snake of the trip, another garter snake.

This one was larger, at about twenty-four inches long. It had a little more yellow coloration on the black sides than the first one from the road did.

We had seen a number of Northern Leopard Frogs (Rana pipiens) , but this one sat nice and still for photos, so I snapped a few.

We walked more of the field, and Dāv found a couple more garter snakes. One of them I chased down, and when I caught it, it hung limply like it was dead.

The snake was getting ready to shed, but it was still a pretty strange act for a garter snake. I guess he has been hanging around with hognose snakes for too long.

As we walked back toward the car, I spotted something laying on a open spot in the dirt. The curse officially and finally ended without question at 10:05 am as I found a large female Western Hognose (Heterodon nasicus).

It was about two feet long, going into shed, beaten up, scarred, dirty and dingy. It was the prettiest snake I have ever seen. It made no attempt to puff up and hiss or play dead. Jeff surmised that this female was in her pre-egglaying shed. I took my photos and let the snake crawl off to finish its breeding cycle, a hognose unaware of its importance to this one herper.

We walked the ditch back toward the cars, and Austin found another frog. He said it looked different than a leopard frog, so we made an effort to catch it. Jeff snagged it, and told us it was a Burnsi Leopard Frog.

He told us they were once considered a separate subspecies of the northern leopard frog, but at some point it was determined that they were actually just a genetic mutation. It was a pretty cool thing to see.

Not much farther down the road, Dāv found another female western hognose.

This one was also a female and was preparing to shed, but much more of the pattern showed thru the old skin. It was obvious that it was a very pretty snake under the skin it was preparing to shed. It was slightly smaller than the one I had found, at about twenty-two inches long.

Austin found another garter snake, this one about nine inches long, that I didn't stop to photograph. We decided that finding three western hognose was a pretty good haul, and maybe we should take advantage of the good weather by trying to get some herping in at our next location, across the state at a spot for eastern hognose.

We drove, grabbed lunch, and at about 3:00 pm we all piled into Dāv's jeep for some herping. We drove thru the park, and it started to rain. We all knew that road cruising in the on and off rain would probably not pay off, but we didn't feel like going back to the campground and setting up tents in the rain so we drove anyway.

At one point we got out and flipped some logs, We chased a wood frog around for a while but never got it in hand for pictures. The rain let up some as we came back to the pavement and Jeff spotted a Common Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica).

It was nice because the turtle didn't just pull back into its shell right away. It sat with it's head out and let me take a couple of pictures. After a while it decided to wander off into the grass, away from the road.

We drove some more and found an old barn with some tin scattered around. There was a sign on the fence, but it seemed to be in German or something. It said "U SPASSING" and had a smiley face on the fence post. I figured it was German for "Welcome" or something so we went in to check the tin.

It was very raining more now too. Jeff, Dāv and Austin flipped through a large tin pile and caught three Redbelly Snakes (Storeria occipitomaculata).

I don't find these too often in Iowa, so it was nice to see them. While we were under the shelter of this tin hay storage building, the sky opened up and it started to pour rain.

After the storm, a cool rainbow appeared in the field near us for a few seconds. I managed to snap a quick picture.

We headed back to camp down the same road we had driven just a half hour previous. As we drove down the road, I pointed out that there was a small fallen tree blocking the road. As we got there, we looked down the road and could see that trees were down as far as we could see. We realized a tornado had come thru.

We climbed into the mess and still couldn't see the end of the damage. Large trees had been chopped in half. We estimated that the damage went on for at least two or three hundred yards. We were all glad that we hadn't been here when it happened. We went a different way back to camp, and there were a lot of trees down along the main highway as well, and one tree had fallen to block one lane of the highway. Thankfully there was no damage to the campground areas of the park, or the areas where people congregate.

We set up camp and had some dinner. We took another quick drive around the area. We got out and walked around an area where Jeff and Dāv had seen hognose in the past. None were out, but we did find some snapping turtle nests that raccoons had dug up. One of the nests still had a few eggs left in it, so I took a picture, then buried the eggs again.

They probably will get dug back up, but I couldn't just leave them like that.

When we came back to our camp, we realized a raccoon had raided our picnic table and had gotten into a package of taco sauce we had left laying out. Again we shared a beer or two and more herping stories. We chased off the raccoon when it came back for some more taco sauce later. The sky cleared and we could see the stars, a good sign for the morning.

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