Trip Details

Start Time: 2:00 p.m.

Weather: Sunny. Around 81 degrees. Low wind.

Location: Johnson County, Iowa

Herper: Matt Ricklefs

I was working some odd hours between nights and days, and today was an instance where I had some extra time so I took a long lunch and headed to a sand prairie to look around to see what I could find. On the way I found a DOR garter snake and on the roadsides where there was water there was a Western Painted Turtle on about every rock and log, all of whom dived into the water as soon as I stopped the car. The chorus of miscellaneous frogs and toads was the soundtrack of the day. I didn’t have a ton of time, but I wanted to put some time in here. It’s hard to herp a large sand prairie by yourself as you just walk around and around and hope you get lucky. That’s what I did. The only thing I found for quite a while was a shed deer antler. Perhaps it brought me luck, for as I was walking to get back to my car I walked by a rock. At that point I thought, “there’s no rocks out here” and sure enough it was an Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata).

In Situ

This one was about four inches long. They have been found in this area, but this was my first for this area. It was a welcome find. It was tucked in under a tussock of grass and I waited to see if it would move, which of course it didn’t. Not having a lot of time I posed him for some pictures. I say “him” as it did have the red eyes characteristic of males in this species. He never did come out of his shell. That’s okay, it’s still a good find. It also gave me a chance to practice with my new digital camera. After some pics I placed him neatly back where he was and headed back out. The only other thing I found on the way back to work was another DOR garter snake. I did keep the shed deer antler. It was good luck after all!

I had planned for the first part to be the end of my story. As it turned out I was able to get back out about 5:00 p.m. I decided to try a place that I used to visit in years past to see if I could find anything. This site has a lot of construction equipment and debris, and used to have a lot of heavy equipment activity. Lately it has seemed much less active. Sometimes spots that have been non-productive for a while can come back after less human activity.

I walked around and found some of the old habitat. By habitat I mean junk, wonderful, glorious junk. There were several pieces of tin, boards and miscellaneous debris. The area in the past had yielded a plethora of color varieties in garters, both Thamnophis radix and Thamnophis sirtalis, and also the occasional Western Fox Snake. It did not take long to find my first garter.

It was small, only about six inches. This one exhibited more of the Red-Sided Garter Snake characteristics (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis) but in our area there are wide intergradations. I did photograph one other that exhibited more of the Eastern Garter Snake characteristics (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis).

This one was approximately 20 inches long. There were several others found under the debris and I believe with enough checking we will find a Fox Snake at some point. As I was leaving the area to check a few other spots, I noticed the sky getting darker. Once I was out in the open I could see a huge wall cloud moving in. By 7:00 p.m. the area was getting hit pretty hard with storms. A number of tornadoes were reported and in Iowa City there was extensive tornado damage. We even made the national news. At my house we had a mix of hail that varied between pea and quarter sized hail. This is one of the bigger storms that have moved through are area in recent years. I do think storms get things herps moving. Spring is here!

Until later, and for the first official time this year – HAPPY HERPIN’!!!

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