Trip Details

Start Time: 12:00 p.m.

Weather: Sunny. 76 degrees for a high. Mild wind.

Location: Jackson County Iowa

Herpers: Matt Ricklefs

Account by: Matt Ricklefs

Photos by: Matt Ricklefs

Thought of the Day: AWESOME!!…they must know something…

It was the best of times it was, well, there really was not the worst of times on this trip. In fact it was to be one of my best ever. It started as many trips do, in a small way.

My first find was a trio of juvenile Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) at a rock outcrop I now call the “baby timber spot” because it has been twice now that I have found 2 or more juvenile Timbers here in the exact same spot.

They are very wary here as well. The last time there was an adult here also and it spooked into hiding because I was not quite expecting them. This time I was ready with my camera but still failed to get a situ shot of the juvies and one did get out of reach as I “gathered” the other two. We will call them “bitey 1” and “bitey 2”. Juvenile venomous snakes are always fun to find, but more often than not are hard to get pictures of.

Absolutely not recommended to anyone but the most experienced, adults can be maneuvered with the use of tools fairly easily as the distance between the safe end and the potentially lethal end have quite some distance. Not so with juveniles. They are quick, agile and often fairly jumpy even with species like Timbers that tend to be calm in general. Even using tools you need to be VERY careful with these little ones. I did manage to get some pics of the two. When the first one was nosing around it managed to get a leaf securely around its head for a few seconds which was funny so I got a shot.

It was much more mobile and the second provided more shots.

The first one was a bit smaller at about 7 inches and was greyer overall. The second was about 10 inches and had a slightly more yellowish undertone to the grey. I did not pester them long before moving on. A nice way to start the day. Moving along I also found some huge fungus on a tree so I took a picture.

The best way I can describe the next series of events is best said with just pictures. I do provide a brief narrative to follow of course…What you will see, in order, is me coming upon adult Timbers getting ready to den for the winter. The Timbers were all between three about four feet. Although the largest was getting very close to five feet and was spectacular. It was an amazing day and one of the incredible circumstances of walking upon a dream scene that many, less normal people (ha ha), would deem a nightmare.

The first shot is me coming from an area where we have spotted Timbers at before and into an area that is very good for them so I was ready with my camera as, based on the juveniles, they were out sunning.

I had to climb over a large fallen tree but snapped a pic first of the 1st Timber I found 100% in situ. The next picture is a little more of a close up and at a slightly different angle.

Not altogether different except for one thing. There is a 2nd Timber slightly visible in this picture that at this point I had not seen. I will let you find it as in subsequent pictures you will be able to tell where it is coiled.

The next picture is of the 1st Timber coiled.

As I approached to check the area it immediately coiled and started rattling. I’m sure because it was out and not expecting me. Other than causing it to coil I did not mess with it at all and it patiently waited for me to check the area without moving further. It produced a higher pitched buzz due to the fact that, as you will notice, it does not have a full rattle.

The next picture I finally saw the second Timber.

Throughout the exploration I never got close enough and never bothered this one other than to take pictures. It never moved and never rattled. You noticed, no doubt, in the first picture there is a large opening in the rocks. Getting a little closer and getting the flash on revealed a third Timber. In this picture you can see the second Timber outside the rocks and the third in.

The next picture shows a closer view of the third Timber in the rocks and if you look closely, you can see the fourth emerging from the back of the rocks.

The next picture you can see the third going in and the fourth coming out.

The picture after shows the fourth Timber in the best shot I had.

It never fully emerged. This was the largest at almost five feet. I made a decision that since they were very active in the “cave” and altogether getting ready to den I really did not want to disturb them, so I got the best shots I could. It would have been fairly easy to use my tongs to get them out, but this was better and really just watching them move around “naturally”, even with my presence, was very cool.

The next shot shows the second Timber close-up.

Again, this one remained very calm. It did not take very long before the Timbers in the “cave” got back in further.

The next pic is of one checking to see that I am still there.

Next is a top shot of the first Timber.

The next is a long shot from another angle to see both the first and second.

After this I left them alone. I did take this route back later when leaving just to see what was going on. It was 1 hour later and ALL of them had gone in. It is all about timing. Obviously my presence had something to do with this, but it could have been a situation where I chose another path that would have taken me to this spot much later and I may not have found anything.


My next find was a wiley juvenile Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum) about 7 inches long that a got a couple of pictures of. This little one kept me in its sights the whole time.

The Milk Snake was all not far from “the Timber spot” and on what would be the backside of the same rock outcrop that that “cave” was in I found a two foot Timber just nosing out. The first picture is 100% in situ.

You can see in the foreground some good rocks that did not have anything under at this time, but are obviously in a perfect spot. The next picture is a little closer so you can see the whole snake.

I had not intended on any wrangling, but the next two shots show that I got a little close for its comfort and in a quick series of movements it moved back in but did hold there.

That was it for the day. Official Timber count was eight although the first juvenile got away with no pics. As it turned out this was the last trip of the season. After this weekend the weather took a serious nose dive and temps dropped into the 40’s then 30’s and snow came quickly. Snakes obviously have a seasonal time keeper, but with the quickness that winter hit and the chance that I got to see so many together you have to wonder that they didn’t have some sense that they needed to get in quickly. This is one of my favorite spots to go and fortunately it is on private land. I do everything I can do to make sure this area is preserved and the owners, ironically my aunt and uncle through marriage, have a great love for the land. If not always the snakes. I am very fortunate indeed.

Here’s wishing 2010 may be among our best herping years. Until spring – Happy Herpin’!

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