Trip Details

Location: Jackson County

Weather: Clouds early in the day and then mostly sunny with intermittent clouds during herping. High of 74 degrees. Low Wind.

Time: 2:30 p.m.

Herpers: Matt Ricklefs

Account by: Matt Ricklefs

Photos by: Matt Ricklefs

Thought of the Day: (Spoiler alert) - The early bird gets the skink.

Welcome to Herpjournal 2012!!! Glad to see you long time followers (you know who you are :)) and we always like to have new folks check out the site.

It was the best of winters; it was the worst of winters. Actually in Iowa, it’s pretty much ALWAYS the worst of winters…but not this year. We had an unseasonably warm winter with little snow in eastern Iowa. In the weeks preceding this trip it was a steady climb with 50’s, 60, and then into the 70’s. More importantly the nights were also on the climb with continued lows in the 40’s and then 50’s. We had had lows in the low to mid 50’s the few days prior to the trip and it was just getting too much to bear. I had to get out.

When I left work early it was still cloudy and I was even then skeptical. I didn’t really expect to see anything “big” quite yet as it is still early, but it would be nice to get out and perhaps I could end up with one of those, “remember that one year…” stories. I got home and checked the weather. The clouds were actually moving on and burning off. The temp outside was in the 70’s but it was nice to see I should have some direct sunlight.

I was again slightly discouraged once I got further north to see small remnants of snow on some of the north facing ditches. I just convinced myself that I was just out to observe the habitat as much as than anything. Any finds would be surprises.

I chose my uncle’s place as we know the den sites and have a good grasp on the lay of the land. The dens would be the most logical place if anything was thinking of poking out. The trip is about and hour and twenty minutes and about 40 minutes from there the sun came out in force, so it was able to heat things up and get the open areas some good direct sunlight. Now keep in mind that March is not really herping season in Iowa. There are some species that come out, mostly amphibians, but for the most part it is usually into April before things REALLY start coming out. In fact it had been 10 years since we had a decent early start to the season.

This is one of our Timber Rattlesnake spots, so I was just scouting around and seeing if any place new stood out since the leaves were not out and it was easier to see things like rock outcrops, “new” crevices, undiscovered flat rocks, etc.

When I arrived I was greeted by two of my uncle’s dogs. They raise greyhounds here in a very nice facility and one of the females was out along with Jack, one of the non-greyhound dogs

They were very glad to see me and even with my pleas to stay at the house chose to follow me around my first location.

I was glad to see there was insect sign a plenty. This, in and of itself, was a little bit of a pleasant surprise. Ants were moving in under rocks as were spiders, centipedes, and an assortment of beetles. There was no snow or frost here out or under rocks. Whew!

After about a half hour of looking I flipped a familiar sight, an adult female Five-Lined Skink (Eumeces fasciatus) about 5 inches long. Cool!

Then I decided, “Hey, I need to get a picture of her!” I was able to round her up as she did the normal rock to rock move and didn’t go far. This was actually a good find and a decent sign (along with its insect food) that we may indeed be seeing a very early spring. I took some in hand shots and then was going to pose her when she scooted away so I let her be.

I’d love to have a “big reveal” right now, but it didn’t happen. I did see an emergence of Boxelder Bugs that I got a couple of quick shots of but that was it. (Editors note - you know its a slow day when you are taking pictures of boxelder bugs...)

Still it was a good day. The main reason I got out was just to look around and see if anything had changed majorly and it didn’t. One big tree had fallen near an outcrop and pulled up some rock that may make for an interesting Timber spot later in the year, but everything was generally undisturbed. I wanted to see if the weather had caused some kind of trigger for things to come out and, unscientifically, it seems to have. I wanted to see if by chance I spotted a herp, and I got a skink. Oddly enough not frog or toad signs though. So really, mission accomplished.

Time will tell what the rest of the spring holds. Iowa weather can certainly change quickly, but I am hopeful that we will actually have an early spring. It would be nice to have a full extra month to herping; something we have not had in a long time.

St. Patty’s Day is this weekend so, Sláinte!

Here’s wishing all of you a wondrous and plentiful herping season. May we all have good luck (and safe travels) on all our adventures and of course as always…Happy Herping!

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