Trip Details

Iowa Herpalooza - Day 2

Start Time: 9:30 a.m.

Weather: Sunny. Start temp around 72 degrees. Low wind.

Location: Linn County, Iowa

Herpers: Members of the IHS (Iowa Herpetological Society), Don Becker, Jeff LeClere, Austin Scharosch, Laura Scharosch, Jim Scharosch & Matt Ricklefs

Account by: Matt Ricklefs

Photos by: Jim Scharosch except where noted

Thought of the Day: Dumbfounded Pause (we'll explain later in the post).

Day two was a field survey/trip to an area with the IHS. It was fun to get out with some people we had not met and talk about herps as well as actually herp. Prior to getting there Jeff, Austin, Laura, Jim and I stopped at a spot quick to check for Milk snakes. It is a small area that had produced and could be checked quickly. We did so and pulled up a juvenile Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum).

It was about six and a half inches long. It was a typical nice looking Iowa juvie. A nice way to start the day.

We arrived at our site and met up with with everyone else.

I had been out once with Don the previous fall and it was good to see him again. We lined up in typical group fashion and walked the areas. This is an area of native prairie and one of the "common" inhabitants of this particular area is the Six-Lined Racerunner. We saw many, and some of our group got some shots in situ before they zoomed away, but we did not catch any (although we tried a little).

We did walk up a Grey Tree Frog and some of our party worked to get some shots of this.

It was quite green at this time of the day and was about two inches long. Round about 11:00 a.m. our group walked up a Western Fox Snake (Elaphae v. vulpina). It didn't cooperate very well, not wanting to sit for pictures.

photo by Matt Ricklefs

photo by Austin Scharosch

We had also seen a few garter snakes, but this was our first "big" find. We took time to get some pics and since we had a lot of other ground to cover moved on. We walked a lot of area and busted our buts. We found a number of other Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) and we did get a few pics. We saw some Painted and Soft-shell turtles swimming and basking, but could not catch them. That was all we got in this area. We did take counts and the list is posted. We ended up about 3:00 p.m. and talked with the group until about 4:00 p.m. before heading out.

It was warm, about 80 degrees, but we decided to check a few other places. Don, Jeff, Austin, Laura, Jim and I hit an area we had turned up some stuff before. We worked it for a while and ended up getting another Fox Snake.

photo by Austin Scharosch

This one was smaller than the one with the group. It was about twenty-two inches. It still retained a fair amount of its juvenile markings and was pretty. After a compliment of pics we moved on. Not long after Don and Jeff turned up at the same time two more Fox Snakes. One was in shed.

Pictures of the one that wasn't shedding.

These were about the same size as the one we had just found in this area. That was it for this area and we headed out.

It was getting late and we dropped of Laura and headed back out. We checked a few spots that we knew and some that Don had found. Good areas but we did not turn up much beside a few garters.

At this point it was approaching 7:00 p.m. and daylight was going away. As we had driven two cars, we bid farewell to Don. Jeff, Austin, Jim and I rested and talked for a bit. Jeff had some data questions on some recent finds, in particular a DOR Hognose, so we decided to check things out quick. We stopped near the DOR area and ended up finding a Bullsnake (Pituophis c. sayi).

photo by Matt Ricklefs

A big one - about fifty inches. Not only was she long but she was gravid. This is one of the larger ones we had seen in the area for a while. While not really a surprise considering the habitat, it was a welcome and somewhat unexpected find. She was rather grouchy. We were losing good light, but did get some pics. With this find and the fact that it was cooling down a bit we decided to try one other area that we had all known before calling it quits.

OK - here's the dumbfounded pause explanation. First let me give you some information to go along with the explanation. The Bullsnake we flipped under a board. The nice thing about this is that all four of us were right there. It is essentially having all get one snake. When in a group it is nice to find things. You never feel bad when you are getting things., We all know that when you have a dry spell however, it's a little differnt. Even with two people, if one is finding something and you are not, it's good to be finding, but as we all know it's different when you flip or walk up on that snake and get the whole experience from scratch. It's the registration in your mind and the exhilaration of thinking "YES!" and identifying before yelling "got one". Most of the time you want and need to split up to cover areas. In some good areas you can wait to gather for that one good rock, or tin or board so everyone gets in on it. We had a small group and very little to cover so it worked well this day. OK, I think you get it. The other thing we have seen recently is old areas that were good that went bad that are beginning to recover, or were still OK but changed and this made the same kind of herping difficult. Our last stop was a field...

The explanation is coming, I swear. This field has been herped for a long time. There have been a few species that have been found there, but it's fair sized and is hit or miss. It has not produced for a while. LONG ago, I helped put a piece of tin in this field. One piece. It was just near and I put it in what seemed to be a good area. Did I say long ago? I mean like 15 years ago. It had NEVER produced anything but mice. In all that time - nothing. Looked good, good area - nothing. It was about 7:15 p.m. now. We walked the field and found nothing. We all knew about the tin and its reputation but of course we always check it. We circled around the field to optimize our search and met at the tin. You have to look a little to find it. OK - here we go. Jeff and I were on opposite ends and Jim and Austin had the shot right in front - most likely nothing - right?

DUMBFOUNDED PAUSE!!!!! Upon flipping we all saw at the same time - a snake. There are moments that you remember in life and as we know they almost happen in slow motion. Let me break this down as we all had this going through our heads. I will list it point by point. These thoughts happen in like a millisecond:

1.) Good tin - bad history. Must turn.

2.) Turning of tin commencing.

3.) That's a snake. That should not be odd, however it IS!

4.) That's not only a snake - that's an Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platyrhinos)!

5.) Dumbfounded pause.

6.) Get it!

Now at this point other things that registered were the holes in the ground and the likely escape hatches. We also knew that we would have a narrow window of needed to grab and wondering what it would do and how quickly and if it would "die". We are all a bit fuzzy, we think someone yelled "Get it!" or "Hognose!" in any sense Jeff was closest and needed to grab, which he did. Now the significance of this as you can tell from the history and the nature of Hognose is that we don't find them all over the place. Jim had never found a live Hognose in Iowa and I had only found one in all our many years. Jim had what we all called a "Hognose jinx" that he rectified in Minnesota - with both Eastern and Western Hognose.

So after grabbing, it almost immediately started to turn over and "die". It wriggled on the ground and played dead.

Jeff has a lot of experience with these so we sat still and let it "come back to life" This worked briefly and we got some quick shots.

Then it died again. So we sat and waited. And waited. It moved its head a little over the right way, but kept itself belly up. We paused. We waited. We eventually, cautiously moved out of its sight where we could just keep an eye on it. We waited. It won. We were losing light and it was fully ready to wait us out. We had to do in hand shots and do the best we could.

It was about twenty-seven inches of nice stubby Hognose. It had the greenish-grey coloration. This was different coloration from the DOR. The other nice thing about this was some of the bulkiness was due to the fact that it was a gravid female. Nice. Once done we considered how to put this "dead" snake back under the tin it wanted to be under. We theorized that we had just hit this as the right time. The snake when we flipped was near the edge of the tin and was all stretched out. It was not coiled and sitting. Too early and we may have not seen it out in the field. Too late and it almost certainly would have been in the little burrows under the tin. There was enough of a depression that we were able to carefully and safely put the upside-down snake snake there and lay the tin back down. When ready it could turn over and head right into a burrow underneath.

It was about 8:20 p.m. and the sun was all but down. That was the perfect end to the day of herping. Our only regret is that Don and Laura was not there to see it too. So day two ended up very good with two more days to go for Iowa Herpalooza.

Stay tuned for day three - Can't get enough of that herpin' stuff!!

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