Trip Details

Location: Linn County, Iowa

Conditions: Sunny. Around 64 degrees. Low wind.

Time: 9:00 a.m.

Herpers: Matt Ricklefs

Account written by: Matt Ricklefs

Thought of the Day: There's nothing better than a nest of field mice when coming out of hibernation.

Easter Sunday was just about upon us and I had a fair amount of house work to do. Many of you will be able to appreciate the balance between snake season and a wife's to-do list where others may not. Both must be balanced carefully in order to express the importance of each. I also had some recording to do on my next original CD, Serpent's Moon. This is a follow up to my Salamander Dreams CD released in 2004. I mention this not only for the shameless plug, but also for the obvious references. So you see, between housework on Saturday, recording Saturday night and some friends coming to visit from Minnesota I had little time. Did I mention that Jim also wanted to get out herping? I also did of course, but where he was going took too much time out of my packed schedule and I was unable to go. Soooooooo, to make a long story short (yes, I know - too late) I did reserve myself to get out at least in the morning close to home and get in what herping I could.

The morning was cool but very sunny. It was warming up relatively quickly and between a high of 81 degrees the previous day and an expected high of about 78 degrees today it was a perfect morning. I did choose to go more quickly than usual to my "good spot". You will remember from my post last year in April that I found a Bullsnake in an old junction box. At that time it retreated into a break in the cement that opened to the outside. I thought that that was the extent of its retreat options. I have checked this box twice this year already with no luck. The conditions were not great the past two times this year so I didn't expect much. The duality in me said "you won't find anything there again" and at the same time "wouldn't it be really cool if you found something here again". The second half won out. What in my wondrous eyes did appear, but a miniature sleigh and...a Bullsnake (Pituophis c. sayi).

Okay, there was no sleigh. This was a big Bullsnake at about five feet long. Some of its body was hidden down a hole where it must have come up, as did the one from the previous year. The other part of its body was stretched up toward the top of the box and at first I did not see its head. I started to get some situ shots and it was quick to start moving, but did not move all that quickly. I did not disturb it at first to see what it would do and see what shots I would get. I got a couple and then decided as it was heading back on itself to make my grab. I got a hold, but the part of its body already down in the box had a good hold. I looked around I could not see it from the back side as I did the one from the previous year. I held and it, but it kept backing. I could soon tell it had already won. To prevent injury to the snake I conceded defeat. After it went down, I looked behind and still could not see it. What I was to find out was that the bottom of the box had a cut to outside, but also was open underneath. I had not seen this before and I'm still not sure how far down it goes. The previous times I checked this year there were mice there. One could speculate that a Bullsnake may hibernate here if the conditions were right. At some time, the mice move in unaware that their domicile may already be occupied. In the spring the Bullsnake could emerge to an order-in meal. The Bullsnake I had found before in this box was similar in size and general description to this one, but I'm not sure even from the previous post and with the little footage we have that would could verify if it was the same snake. This is possible, but probably not likely.

Needless to say I was bummed. This would have been my first "big" snake of the year. I had at least one other "good spot" to check along with some other favorable areas and the morning was warming up nicely. I thought for sure that I had jinxed myself by missing this one. I went to a large metal door that was nearby that had also produced in the past. I flipped and found nothing - I thought. This is a spot that you do need to look carefully due to a lot of grass and unevenness underneath. Wait a minute, what's this??? Sure enough I saw the tell-tale brown-blackish and yellow loop that could only mean one thing - Bullsnake. Whooopeee!! I wasn't jinxed. This one was dug in pretty good and I only saw about three inches of its body looped. Rather then wait and see if it was actually dug in or close in a hole I could not see, I made my grab as I was not going to miss this one. The snake was cool to the touch, but was still pretty mobile. It made its escape for several minutes before it actually when into defensive mode. This one ended up being three and a half feet long.

I wrangled it for a while and got some fair shots. I only got tagged once. It was great to use my new camera and I worked with this Bullsnake for a while not only get good shots but to also get some good practice in. I didn't have a great diffuser and had to use my body to block most of the sunlight to prevent the light from creating too harsh of shots. This one stayed in defensive mode pretty much throughout, but did allow me to handle it a few times to get it situated. After a bit I put it back by the fallen metal door I found it under and waited until it was safely beneath.

I guess you can say I only found one and a half Bullsnakes since I really didn't catch the first one. I had a few more spots to check and I was very optimistic. The next find was a very welcome and much unexpected one. Under a large piece of wood I saw enough squirming and it was big enough for me to almost immediately recognize it as an Eastern Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma t. tigrinum).

Under the log it was damp, but all of the surrounding area was pretty dry. We had had some severe weather move through so perhaps this was enough to provide moisture enough for it to be moving around. This was a first for me in the spot. This particular "tiger" was very mobile. I have seen salamanders of different kinds be cooperative and have seen some not be so much so. This one was not so much so. This one was relatively small for a "tiger" at six inches. As it was a first in the area and one of only two that I have found (believe it or not) I did take a while to get pics. I got some okay ones, but realize now some techniques I can incorporate in the future for better shots. After a while I turned the wood back over and allowed it to crawl back under.

This was a pretty good day. I had anticipated that the weather and time of day today were very good for this time of year, but this turned out better than I hoped. I did need to get back home, but some of the spots I bypassed on the way in I did check though. As I went to turn some more wood, I again noticed a familiar sight. It turned out to be my third Bullsnake of the day.

This one looked fresh out of shed and being out in the open it was pretty clean. It was close in size to the second one at about three feet. It had no interest in going defensive and spent the whole time in bolt mode. After the time with the other critters this morning, I did apply a few tricks and did get some nice shots of this second one. The cupping of hand over the coiled snake worked well after a while of working with it. It's too bad this easy method can't be applied to poisionos snakes as it can work well. When done I just let it go on its way and in seconds it was hidden so well that I could not see it. It always amazes me that even a three foot snake can vanish pretty quickly. It always makes me think of all the snakes we never see and are probably very close to.

That was it for the day and I counted myself lucky. I found something I had never found there before in the tiger salamander and it was a great day for Bullsnakes. It showed that this area is still thriving thankfully and hopefully will continue to produce. It is still just the start of the season so I am in full snake fever. I did end up with a small patch of poison ivy for my efforts. I had not contracted this much before getting nailed in southern Illinois and southern Missouri over the last few years and I now fear that I may have developed a bad tendency for it. Ah, the things we endure for the passions we have. Later in the day I spoke to Jim on his luck as he and Austin went out, but that is another post altogether....

Until next time - Happy Herpin' my friends!!

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