Trip Details

Location: Linn Co. Iowa

Conditions: Sunny with clouds moving in. 74 degrees. Low wind.

Time: 5:30 p.m.

Herpers: Matt Ricklefs

Account & photos by: Matt Ricklefs

Thought of the Day: The List…

I Meant To Do My Work Today
by Richard Le Gallienne
I meant to do my work today,
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me. 
And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand--
So what could I do but laugh and go?

I came across this poem and thought it a good tribute not only to spring and shuffling off the winter doldrums, but it also had the spirit of snake hunting. As it was, I did do my work and only after was I able to get out. It was the first trip of the season that really counted. What I mean by this is that it was the first trip that I REALLY felt like the conditions were right to find something. So after a quick change from my work clothes and the ceremony of donning my herping garb (choosing the right “lucky” hat mostly) I headed out.

On any trip you think of “the list”. This is especially true when you are in another state and in this case, the beginning of the season. What might be out? Will it be something cool? You know in any given area the list of what is possible and what is probable. Today my list was simple - a Milk Snake and perhaps a Bullsnake. Those were probable given my location and the conditions of the day. A Hognose was possible but I wasn’t really counting on this. And then there’s the rest of the species that are on the list but you aren’t really focused on. Some become pleasant surprises. And then of course there is the worst case scenario where everything is right, many species should be probable and yet you come up empty handed – literally.
On my first stop I encountered a snake that should have been probable but for some reason I was thinking so much of Bullsnakes and Milk Snakes that it passed my attention and became a pleasant surprise. My first find of the season was a Racer (Coluber constrictor).

This one was about 28 inches long and in pretty good shape. The colors were nice and it was pretty much clear of garfs and sores. Racers are easy to pose and hard to pose all at once. They coil over on themselves so getting the head on top is a challenge. But when you finally do, they will usually sit nice for a while. This one cooperated fairly nice. After the photo session, I just let it go on its way in the weeds. Only then did it rattle its tail in the grass. Funny. This is where I thought I might find the Bullsnake. I had to reassess the list a bit…On my way I thought of Hognose, Milks and Bullsnakes and how that would be the perfect score.

My Hognose spot did not pay off. That was OK. I still had my original targets. My next stop I still hoped for a Milk Snake. It is part of or in close proximity to a hibernacula and I frequently find them at this spot. There is some stuff to look around and I always expected to find my next find, but it was a surprise anyway. It was a Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi). This one was about 36 inches. The picture you see first is a 100% in situ (in situation with no staging) shot.

To my surprise I also saw a Milk Snakes (Lampropeltis triangulum) slithering away to the side and the Bullsnake stayed put as I grabbed it before it could get away. The Milk Snake was about 22 inches. I put the Milk Snake in my camera bag so I could work with the Bullsnake who, at this point, decided that it was time to get cranky. And it stayed cranky. I had never found one actually at this spot, but I have found them close by. That is why it was a surprise, but only a little. It was allowed some payback as I wasn’t really too careful at watching it and it scored direct hits on my left forearm, and both hands. Not bad bites mind you but enough to leave a mark. The Bullsnake was then bagged for the Milk Snake session. The Milk Snake was, as usual, very wriggly. I did manage a few good shots.

After I was done I took a few fun shots of both the Bullsnake and Milk together.

Not really “natural”, but it was, after all, not only a double, but a twofer on my goal list. I must admit I didn’t expect both at once. Now, it would be easy to say, “Come on Matt, it’s easy to say you thought it probable to find a Milk Snake and Bullsnake after the fact of finding them”. As God is my witness I am telling the truth. I just had a feeling and it ended up being one of those “good days”. My season starts with a Racer, Bullsnake and Milk Snake. Not bad. I’ll take that and won’t complain a bit. I’ve had my share of “bad days” and it’s always a surprise in one way or another. You need to be happy just to get out. Sure, finding stuff, especially really “cool” stuff is always preferred but you need to be glad to see the birds and butterflies too.

So in closing I leave you with my own humble words of spring:

Spring is here and all are glad,
As winter fades away.
The sun shines bright and snakes do bask,
In the warming light each day.
We gather our tools and join our friends,
Our work we may be shirkin’.
And so to the start of another season,
Good luck and Happy Herpin’!

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