Trip Details

Location: NW Illinois and NE Iowa

Weather: Mostly sunny with a few clouds later in the day. High of 86 degrees. Low winds early to moderate winds later in the day.

Time: 10:00 a.m.

Herpers: Jim Scharosch & Matt Ricklefs

Account by: Matt Ricklefs

Photos by: Jim Scharosch & Matt Ricklefs

Thought of the Day: A few venomous snakes and a lot of beer!

Photo by Matt Ricklefs

What’s that you say? How irresponsible for us to mix venomous snakes and alcohol? Well, I suppose that is not a good combination and OF COURSE we would never do that. It did get your attention though, didn’t it? It is a tad bit of a spoiler, but it was too good to pass up.

On some Intel from a good friend of ours we headed for a location he had been to in NW Illinois, but we had not. After some mixed communication on navigation our determination overcame any aggravation and expectations became inspiration in the formation of elation with the celebration that we were only half hour duration toward the wrong location. Yeah. I went there.

We arrived at the location and walked up to general area we were told about. One of the species that had been found there was the Four-Toed Salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) and they were found in a spot at the start of our journey so that’s what we looked for first. Once you have found salamanders it is evident where “good places” are. Or at least what looks like reasonable places to find them. At this location, it was clearly evident not just because we knew the general location, but the “nice” area with the right amount of water and nice rocks was unmistakable. After a bit, we found one! It was about 2.5 inches long. It actually posed fairly nicely, which surprised me. Jim had let me hit the good spot as he was looking around other areas so I’m glad I scored this little guy. Since it posed nice I was able to get it back under its rock quickly and avoided too much stress and dryness for it, which is nice.

Photos by Matt Ricklefs

There were Timbers reported from this area as well as Black Rat Snakes, so they were also the main quarry for this trip. We walked around the rather impressive area and found some OK looking spots, but there was one area that keep calling our attention. We did not find anything in the most accessible spots however. Jim decided a high ledge needed further investigation and after a few minutes I heard the wondrous call of “Timber!” which of course does not mean that Jim had become a lumberjack (he’s not a lumberjack, but that’s OK) but rather had found a Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).

Photos by Jim Scharosch

Photos by Matt Ricklefs

Jim had found it on the crawl up on a ledge that he, and then I, had to crawl up a gravelly hill to access. Previously I had quite adeptly surfed down about a twenty foot gravel slide to cut a tad bit of time off the walk back. Why, because it was there I suppose. TANGENT ALERT!!! And now, back to our story…The spot the snake was found could easily be a den site. It was a perfect exposure and had large crevices. The snake seemed to know right where to go when it took off too, but not until after we got some rather nice pictures. It was a very small area for us to navigate and we were actually very fortunate that after getting the Timber to calm down, it went into a stationary defensive pose rather than just trying to crawl away. It was about 30 inches and in very nice shape. It did take a full strike at Jim at one point, although he was safely out of range. Being as we had a very small area it did make us even more cautious though. I included a shot of Jim taking a picture and then looking down to make sure he was not too close to the edge. I also included a shot from down looking up where we were, but it is hard to show the situation. As mentioned, when we were done and allowed it to go its way, it did seem to have a good idea where it wanted to head. During the time of taking pictures of this snake and trying to get just the right shot, we discussed different methods that are used in accentuating pictures. I did include one that we did touch up just a little to get the right sky color with the right exposure. See if you can tell the one we tweaked JUST A LITTLE BIT.

Photos by Matt Ricklefs

That was it for that spot and we were thankful for the information that put us here and glad that our hard work to find things paid off.

Now, there was this thing about a lot of beer in the thought for the day. Since we were this far north and had to come from Illinois, we had made the decision to stop at Family Beer & Liquor in East Dubuque to get a few cases of beer not distributed into our home range. I ended up with two twelve’s and Jim got six. You gotta love stores like this and microbreweries as well. They’re like candy stores for adults. Mmmmmmmm. Delicious. Needless to say no beer was drunk during the herp excursion.

Our next stop was one of our usual spots in NE Iowa. As we had already found a Timber out on the crawl, we were hopeful that it was a sign we would see more out basking. The day and the time of year were about perfect so we were hopeful. When we go to our usual spots Jim did observe correctly that we usually tend to take not only the same routes around the location but even the same routes when we approach something like a rock outcrop. I suppose herpers in general do develop patterns when they work their usual spots. A bit of a side note (no real tangent alert), but an interesting point I thought.

We came up on an outcrop and Jim spied our first Timber at this location. It was partially sticking out and we got some fun pics that we thought would be all we would get, and then it actually ended up moving out and we were able to get to it to get some full pictures.

Photos by Jim Scharosch

Photos by Matt Ricklefs

This one was about 20 inches long and freshly shed. It didn’t take long to get pictures since it cooperated, and we moved on.

Obviously, in an area that one is familiar with, you know “good spots”. These are spots that have at one time or another or even several times yielded something. Given that we had already found one Timber basking and another one at a different location out and about, we were on high alert as we moved and looked around. We came to a large rock outcrop complex that had a few levels. Jim was working up along the top and there was a rock we sometimes turn toward the middle section. He said I could go down and get that, so I obliged. I did decide to move down toward the bottom section and look at a few rocks before heading over to the rock Jim noted. As I circled around to the right of where Jim was I was looking down at the rocks with the ledges to my left. Nothing around those rocks so I looked up to where I would go to the rock and…OHP! THERE’S ONE! And yes, ohp was the actual sound that I made.

Photo by Jim Scharosch

Photos by Matt Ricklefs

I was in no proximity danger; however I was looking directly at a good 4 foot nice and chunky female Timber. Fear is not the word we as herpers use (nor is it really the feeling) to explain the exhilaration of seeing something like this that kinda catches you off guard, but being startled is nonetheless the most apt description. It was the first time in a long time that something got my heart going a little more than usual. Partially because it was close and staring me right in the eyes (I wonder what the snake “thought”) and partially because it was easily in the top four for largest Timbers we had seen here and in the top ten anywhere we had been. She was beautiful. We decided not to mess with her and took pictures until she moved away on her own, so it’s hard to really get the scale in pictures. She did have some odd garf like marks around her head, but it didn’t appear to bother her. After a while she went under the rock she was at. This spot is within about twenty yards to the left as you look downhill of a rookery rock outcrop and given that this is the third large female we have found here, it is most likely also a rookery outcrop. It’s always good to add to our knowledge of this area and we continue to discover a lot about Timbers at this location.

We moved along our normal route to a cave like outcrop that had really paid off for me a few autumns ago and an area that is pretty active. I got a quick pic of a huge Wolf Spider that was out that had a leg diameter of about 3.5 to 4 inches.

Then back to Timbers. Jim was up first and found one…then another. He did not point them out, but let me find them, one was fairly hard to see so it was a good spot by him. We took our shots as they were basking and did not bother them. Both were about the size of the first one, about 20-24 inches. We headed out, but when we came back this way on the way back to the car an hour later they were still exactly as we had first seen them.

Photo by Jim Scharosch

Photos by Matt Ricklefs

Our next find was a nice change, not that we get tired of finding Timbers, but it did help round out the species count. It was a juvenile Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum) about 9 inches long.

This one was just going into shed. It was also nice to find one as we really did not expect to see any milk snakes. It was extremely dry and that does not bode well for finding Milks. We have been and are forecasted to be pretty dry for a little while. We got some quick shots as it cooperated and moved on.

Jim was to spot the next double Timbers again out basking as well and we played the “see if you can find them” game again.

Photo by Jim Scharosch

Photos by Matt Ricklefs

This time it was a little harder as I had an odd angle, but I did manage to see one finally. Both were under a rock ledge and one moved a little more under and one stayed out. We got pics of both as they were. As we took pictures of the one that was out Jim heard the other one. It had actually gone out the back side of the rock and was moving toward a brush pile. We took some video and pics trying to keep up with it. When we came back the one that was out decided to head under. Both of these were again about 20-24 inches and Jim made the remark that there must have been some successful litters about two years ago since we found five all about the same size. That made six for this location and seven total for the day. Those are good numbers for this area.

There are a few times in this post, even in a few posts this year, that I have noted cooperative snakes. It is great to get out and see any herps. It is especially nice, and one of the big reasons I like to do this besides just liking herps in general, to document the day with these accounts and pictures. It all really pays off when you have any subject that cooperates and not only do you get A picture, but at times you get really nice pictures, even THE picture or “money shot”. There are not a lot of wildlife subjects you are able to work with to get nice pictures. You can’t pose a Bald Eagle or a Grizzly Bear very easily...

It really makes it fun to come away with really nice pictures. More importantly it helps to enforce the idea of conservation. It’s very cool that you can come away with something that will last essentially forever; which is longer than the life of any species you would take out of its habitat; its home. By taking only pictures, especially when you get really nice ones, you do capture that animal in a way that allows you to relive the moment, allows you to share something really cool with others AND most importantly allows the animal to continue to make the areas you go to productive just by still being there. Who could ask for more? That’s my words of wisdom for now, but seriously...think about it. I do know a lot of you reading this get that. :)

That was all for the day. We found 2 of our 3 main target species for a new location for us, we did really well at one of our usual locations and we came home with copious amounts of good beer. Who could ask for more indeed!

Happy Herping and cheers to the freakin’ weekend! I’ll drink to that!

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