Trip Details

Location: Jackson County, IA

Weather: 71 degrees to 79 degrees. Light overcast clouds and haze. Low wind. High humidity

Time: 10:00 a.m. - Noon

Herpers: Jim Scharosch & Matt Ricklefs

Account by: Matt Ricklefs

Photos by: Matt Ricklefs

Thought of the Day: Girl's day out!

Two weeks before, Jeff LeClere was in town and he and Jim went to this location and found a number of female Timber Rattlesnakes at a known rookery area here. Jim and I monitor this place pretty well and we had a few things to check on so off we went on this warm, humid July morning. Jim had also just played back to back nights in his band knubby so he was a bit tired. The forecast described the humidity as "oppressive" and it certainly was. It was overcast, but it was the light hazy kind that let sun though but not directly. It's not often we are herping in July, but this was not a bad day. Temps were not bad and without the humidity it would have been quite pleasant.

We weren't sure what to expect, but it wasn't long that we found out. At a lower rock outcrop that is used quite frequently we saw two Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) out catching some rays. These were certainly females, though further from the rookery areas up the hill. This spot does seem to draw them in. It does not appear to go back really far and it is apparent that long, long ago this rock broke free and tumbled down the hill to this position rather than being an existing rock that was exposed; so not a spot to over winter. We have seen them use this for staging in the fall and they will hang here for quite a while. We watched these two for a bit and one finally got a little anxious, rattled and bit and went for shelter. It made a little sense as she was further from the opening. The other was a bit more passive until she too silently went for cover once the first started over. Both were approximately 40 inches. This was a great sign for being in an area that, two weeks ago, had females out. You can see in the pictures the in situ shot and follow the progression of them taking cover. We weren't too concerned about this disruption, but we'll come to that a little later.

We headed straight up to "the spot" from two weeks ago and were not disappointed. We saw two out in the same area, then a third and then a fourth. The fourth was the furthest back and had access to an opening that it went for pretty much right away. We could get to it, but not without disturbing the other three so we "settled" for just observing them. All of these were about the same size as the first two, around 40 inches. This was an estimate based on the observation that they were certainly over 3 foot but not quite 4 foot. These three tolerated us quite well. We could tell they were watching us, but we kept our distance and they sat quietly and silently. It's pretty amazing. The coolest thing was that one of them was the grey Timber from two weeks prior. This female was the first grey we had seen outside of one separate location in Jackson County. If you were to look back at our posts you will see an explanation over the years of the few we have seen. Without being able to prove it, we believe these snakes to be anerythristic. They show absolutely no yellow. All the colors are different shades of grey, even their eyes are grey/blue rather than yellow. You can really see this difference with the picture of the two snakes with their heads side by side and then again with their bodies side by side.

For this population we see a kind of golden, yellow, brown and now grey. The golden, yellow and brown phases are just color variations as there are still a lot of similarities, but the grey is certainly completely different and not just a color morph or phase. It's pretty cool to see this wide array and the population is certainly healthy. Because this is such a healthy population and the fact that we are the only ones who go here to herp, we take a lot of ownership of this area. We do spend time monitoring and even continuing to maintain a healthy habitat for all the critters here. This area is as pristine as it can be and we want to keep it this way.

We went off to look at a few other areas but did not see anyone out. We did encounter some rattles under a smaller rock outcrop that is used commonly by Timbers. It was odd. There were 3 segments and a couple of other small pieces. It could just be that they caught a rattle on the rock and a rodent took them under to chew on, but it's not certain what the deal was.

Before we moved to another area we stopped by the ones out again just to see what they did. They had moved a bit and were still all cozy up with each other, but, although still aware of us, did not seem to be particularly concerned. We got a little closer (where Jim is in the picture with him is as close as we got), but still keeping a good distance as not to startle them.

We then went to check on the first two as it was the most convenient way out and they had come back out and coiled together. The more wary one slowly went back under the rock but the other stayed out. I mentioned earlier that we were not quite as concerned about disturbing them. This whole area has cows this time of year roaming around and this is a very well used path by this rock. It is also about 50 yards from my aunt and uncle's back door so any snakes that frequent this spot see a fair amount of activity. How cool would that be to just be able to walk out that close and have a chance to see this! My aunt and uncle do not quite appreciate it to our level, but are respectful and leave them along here. We bid a good day and headed out.

We went over to another area and did not find any Timbers but did actually find a gravid Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum) sitting out by some rocks, basically doing the same thing as the Timbers. She however was quite a bit more wary and took off as soon as we got close. In fact this movement was what alerted us to her. She was about 21 inches long. She was pretty with the dark bands more pronounced. She was also warm and somewhat grouchy, though she never did bite. We took some quick shots and got a few fair ones before heading along. We didn't want to mess with her too much since she was gravid.

That was it for the day. For a hot day in July we were lucky to run across a girl's day out in the sun-and au natural to boot!

Happy Hot Herpin' Everyone. Observe and Preserve

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