Trip Details

Start Time: 10:15 a.m.

Weather: Sunny. 78 degrees for a high. Mild wind.

Location: Linn & Delaware Counties, Iowa

Herpers: Matt Ricklefs

Account by: Matt Ricklefs

Photos by: Matt Ricklefs

Thought of the Day: Whoa!

It was Memorial Day weekend and after the previous weekend on our Iowa Herptacular it was time to get a few other things done. My wife was out of town and on a whim on Sunday, with some other tasks out of the way; I of course decided to go herping.
I started out close and found a Racer (Coluber constrictor) about 25 inches.

I actually found two, but one was going down a hole under a piece of tin and only this one was out. I knew something was using this hole regularly! I’m sure they are not the only ones. It was a pretty racer and actually cooperated in taking pictures.
After this I followed a lead I had and headed to explore a new area in Delaware County. I basically had some reports of Timbers, but much of the land was private so I followed the lead to a level B road in search of just understanding the habitat and doing a reconnaissance mission. As I drove down the road which was mottled with sun and shade I noticed a shape. My brain immediately recognized it, but it seemed more in place in the many spots in Missouri and eastern Kansas than here in Iowa. There in the middle of the road was a Black Rat Snake (Elaphe o. obsoleta).

It was a big one too at about 6 feet! Whoa!!
I just was not expecting this. I was hoping for something like this, but I was amazed. I got out of my car and got some in situ shots. What you see first is exactly what I saw driving up to the snake. I was able to walk all the way up to it. It was not until I got very close and touched the back half that it moved at all. It went defensive right away but only half hearted. It did keep on the move though. I have seen these snakes a lot more aggressive, with mouths agape. However, had I pressed it more early on in this encounter it would definitely have struck.
After a few pictures I worked with the snake and it calmed down. Not only was it huge, but it was beautiful. It had very few battle scars and was a fairly typical Iowa Black Rat in that even as adults they maintain a fair amount of pattern. Some have yellow mixed in which I affectionately call the “Hawkeye phase” but this one had a large amount of the reddish color in the background. After it decided to allow me to work with it, it was very passive but then just kept moving and trying to get away. I forgot how difficult wrangling a 6 foot snake that really does not want to sit still can be. I do have to say that it was also quite warm at this point and it was out on the move. After a few quick shots and a lot of patience on a few fair ones, I decided this one had earned the right to head out. I placed it right back where it was and in the direction it was going. It slowly moved off into the undergrowth. That was very cool! There are a number of important items with this find:
1.) It was awesome just finding an Iowa Black Rat Snake.
2.) It was in a new location.
3.) It is an indicator that if these are here it is certainly possible that Timbers could be as well.
4.) The direction it was moving from was only a little ways from a rocky outcrop on a hillside. It is dispersal time and it is a fair bet that it came from these rocks.
This trip was well worth it! I moved on and scouted a little more. I found a little outcrop of rocks by a creek and it was also very picturesque. It had rocks that looked like they were perfect and they were! I found two Milk Snakes. The first was getting ready to shed and was about 18 inches.

The second had just shed but had a few remnants of the shed. Both had a few battle scars. The second had a nice red color and was about 13 inches. At this point it was as hot as they day could be and both these snakes were warm and under fairly warm rocks. It will be nice to go back here when it is a bit cooler as I think it would yield even more snakes.
I scouted the area a little more and found a few other nice areas. I am very anxious to go back and continue to check this area. I have some leads on getting on land and I am hoping it will lead to a Timber. We’ll see. At the very least we know there are Milks and Black Rats in the area and that it good too!!
It takes a lot of patience and determination to find new spots. Some days you work all day and find nothing. It might not be a bad area, but motivating yourself on these days when you find almost nothing can be challenging. Some days, like this day, a little work pays off. Then you gain a little more momentum for the next time… so until then -
Happy Herpin’!!!

Read our disclaimer here...