Trip Details

Location: Jackson County, Iowa

Weather: 70 degrees, sunny

Time: 11:00 a.m.

Herpers: Don Becker and Jim Scharosch

Account by: Jim Scharosch

Photos by: Jim Scharosch except where noted

Don and I headed out to northeastern Iowa to cut down some cedar trees for the Herpjournal Habitat Restoration Project. We had already put in a few days of work this spring and wanted to knock down a few more trees before the rattlesnakes started coming out of the dens. I had a snake hook in the bed of my truck for pulling tubs around in the bed, and joked with Don as to whether or not I should bring it along in case we saw a snake.

We grabbed our saws and equipment and headed up the hill towards the south den. Its a steep climb and hauling all of that stuff up makes it even worse. I picked a staging area and we set our stuff down and stopped to catch our breath.

Yeah, that's a Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) in the upper left corner of the photo. It was probably about three feet long and the typical light gold coloration of the majority of the snakes we see at this site. This is the earliest we have ever seen a timber at this location. The previous fall I saw a timber in a crevice on 11/9, which is the latest I have ever seen a timber here. Its funny how they were basically five months apart, from 11/9 to 4/9.

We were happy to see the snake, but now much less motivated to cut down trees. We checked the den but there we no snakes hanging out there. We walked around a bit and turned a handful of rocks. Don found this Five Lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus).

We headed back towards our equipment and I spotted another timber on the crawl. This one was smaller than the first, right around two feet in length. It coiled up and posed nicely.

The first timber is sitting on top of the outcrop behind this smaller snake. While we were walking around, the first timber struck a much nicer pose, so I grabbed another shot.

We cut a handful of trees down then went to check the north den with high hopes. There are normally many more timbers at the north den and seeing two at the south den was a good sign. Of course, snakes are unpredictable, and we didn't see any at the north den, not even tucked way back into the crevices.

We wanted to visit another site where we are considering another habitat restoration project to assess what would be involved in dropping the cedars there. Of course, we wanted to get in a bit of herping as well. We started off with the long hike in to a rat snake den we have been monitoring for many years. It's a rough walk and a hard climb, but the weather and time of year were right, and it paid off. Basking on the rock face was a large battle scarred Black Rat Snake (Pantherophis obsoletus).

It wasn't the most photogenic pose ever, but we didn't want to mess with him so we shot what he gave us. I have been seeing these snakes every spring for years now and it's almost like I know them. It's one of my favorite stops each year.

We shined another good sized rat snake back in a crevice.

We also shined our first Northern Water Snake of the year deep in a crevice.

Photo by Don Becker

It was a surprising day to say the least. I figured we would see the rat snakes, but the timbers were a pleasant surprise. It was a lot more fun than spending the entire day cutting trees.

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