9-26 thru 9-28-08

Trip Details

Weather: Mostly sunny, highs in the mid 70's

Location: Illinois

Herpers: Jeff LeClere, Mike Pingleton, Tracy Mitchell, Dāv Kaufman, Jim Scharosch

Account & photos by: Jim Scharosch

I got an email a couple of months ago from Dāv. He said he was working on a feature length documentary called "Herpers" and wondered if I would be interested in being involved with the field herping part of the movie. The trip would be on his dime, and Jeff and Mike would be involved, so I didn't have to think very hard about it.

I decided I wasn't going to shoot a lot of pictures on this trip and that decision is reflected on this journal entry.

Jeff and Dāv showed up on Friday morning with camera man Brian Walstad. We loaded up the rental and headed out. We decided to stop off on the way down to take a shot at finding a crayfish snake at a spot given to me by Ryan Thies. We only turned up a couple of northern water snakes and tons of leopard frogs. As dark approached we stopped off at a tin site I also got from Ryan. We turned up a smooth earth snake, which I didn't photograph. At the best part of the site Jeff found this Prairie King Snake (Lampropeltis calligaster).

A few minutes later, Jeff turned up this Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum).

We headed off for our final destination to meet up with Mike.

We got to Anna, Illinois about 10:30 pm and met Mike at the Super 8 motel. Dāv went in and found out they were booked up. We made a decision to try the Lincoln Lodge, a dump that Jeff had stayed at on a previous trip. We drove over there and Dāv went in. They had rooms, and Dāv took a look around one next to the office to see what the rooms were like. The room looked okay, so he booked us five rooms.

I stopped in my room to drop off my stuff and there was a cockroach on the back of the door. This was a sign of things to come. We went off and got something to eat, then went to Dāv's room to watch the footage they had shot so far. It was cool seeing the footage, and it looked interesting and funny. While we watched we counted three or so more cockroaches in Dāv's room. I went to put the beer in the in room fridge, and I was greeted by five more roaches when I opened the fridge door.

We went to our individual rooms at about midnight. I took some pictures to remember the Lincoln Lodge. I also wanted a reminder why I wouldn't be going back there again.

I decided to sleep with the lights on, figuring that might keep the roaches at bay.

At about 1:00 am, I had a knock at the door. It was Brian. He said that Dāv had declared that we were moving to a different hotel. I guess the last straw was when Brian decided to sleep in the car after he went to take a shower and there were two roaches trapped in his bathtub. As the owners of the Lincoln Lodge say with their best Apu Nahasapeemapetilon accent, "At least they are not a biting bug!"

While Dāv argued with the owners of the hotel about getting his money back, Brian used his iPhone to track down another hotel for us. It was about 3:00 am before we ended up in a crappy hotel in Carbondale. At least this crappy hotel wasn't infested with roaches.

After all that, we got out on Saturday morning to the Snake Road. We met up with Tracy and headed out. There were a decent number of people on the road, but it wasn't overwhelming. We were a bit early in the season and things weren't moving a whole lot yet. Neither the level of herpers nor herps had yet reached the full on frenzy that the snake road is known for.

We got a hand-me-down find from the group ahead of us, a small cottonmouth, the first of many small ones that would be seen that day. I didn't shoot any pics of it, but took this shot of the group looking at it and Brian shooting video.

It was fun, yet kinda strange having the camera running while we were there. I tried to act natural and not look at the camera. I tried to avoid grandstanding or talking about things I wouldn't normally talk about. I tried to avoid over explaining things to the camera. It was an odd experience. Throughout the weekend, Brian did a great job dealing with all that went along with the trip. Brian wasn't a herper, but he sure could have passed as one.

Dāv found a Black Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta) in a tree near the road. Two groups of herpers ahead of us had walked right past it. I'm sure we all walked past our fair share of herps on the road.

At one point, Mike took a little jaunt off the road toward the swamp. I heard him call "Yellow Belly Water Snake,....No!............Hognose!!" We were all excited, but we kept everyone calm and let the Brian go in first with the camera. We all then worked our way in. The Eastern Hognose (Heterodon platirhinos) was a good sized adult and was almost solid black except for faint blotches near the tail. It sat in situ for some pictures.

When Mike had to pick it up to keep it from escaping it went into the "cobra" defensive mode, hooding up and flattening out.

After a couple of minutes it went into the full death act, all of which was caught on camera.

It was cool, and I am really looking forward to seeing the footage of that. Mike was very happy, as he hadn't seen a hognose here in the thirty years that he has been coming to the Snake Road.

Most of the normal Snake Road herps showed up during the trip, I just didn't photograph them. I did want to get some photos of an adult Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus) so I took some shots of one that was found by Ryan Thies' party. At the time I wasn't happy with how they came out, but I kinda like them now.

I also shot pics of a baby Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorous) that sat too nice to pass up.

As we walked out, we saw a a guy coming down the steep hillside carrying a baby cottonmouth by the tail with a twig supporting the body of the snake. He said "Stand Back, I'm A Trained Herpetologist!". We flipped him some crap about his poor handling skills and moved on. Of course, "Stand Back, I'm A Trained Herpetologist!" became the catch phrase for the rest of the weekend. It will probably remain in our repertoire for a while.

When we got to the cars we shot the footage for our interviews. It was pretty strange having a camera pointed at me and then having to expound on some topic for a minute or two without any interaction from an interviewer. I would say my spiel, then Dāv would tell me "That's perfect, do it again". Then I would try to say the same thing, only better. Each one came out worse. I thought I came off like a complete dork. Maybe Dāv will cut me out of the movie.

On the way out we found a baby black rat snake crossing the road.

The next day we went out to another location. Dāv and Jeff had to do their interview shots. We found a lot of cottonmouths, a couple of yellow bellied watersnakes and a few of the other normal inhabitants. I only took pictures of the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) that I found.

We did the final shot of the movie, us walking away from the camera talking about all the stuff we had seen during the trip. We had to shoot it about five times, the first couple because Dāv was practically running and Jeff had to jog to keep up.

It was a fun trip, and a good experience. I'm looking forward to seeing the documentary. I hope Dāv has a big release party with lots of beer and famous Hollywood stars and such....

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