Trip Details

Location: Jones County, Iowa

Weather: Cloudy early, clear sky later. High of 65.

Time: 11:00 am

Herpers: David Becker, Don Becker and Jim Scharosch

Account by: Jim Scharosch

Photos by: Jim Scharosch (except where noted)

Sometimes you visit a place and it sticks with you forever. This was one of those places. A really long time ago I visited this site in Jones County. I saw my first timber rattlesnake and my first milksnake there. In this place I once saw thirteen timbers in the course of twenty minutes without really trying. Over the years we had tried to get permission to visit the site again without any luck. I have to say that Don Becker has an amazing ability to connect with people. It's a talent, and what makes it so amazing is that it isn't manipulative, it's genuine. He just is really good at talking to people and building connections. Combine that with a mixture of luck and persistence and Don managed to get permission for us to go back to this site.

We had made a few trips there to see if we could turn anything up. We went under less than optimal conditions and our results were as you would expect. It can be difficult when your expectations are very high and you don't see what you were hoping for, but we knew if we kept trying we would hit eventually.

The bluffs here are pretty steep, much steeper than the site we visit in Jackson County. There are two main bluffs we check, and we headed up the northern most bluff. It was cloudy and breezy and I was thinking that we may have hit another less than optimal day to find basking timbers. We searched the outcrops and ledges without seeing anything except a handful of Prairie Ringneck Snakes (Diadophis punctatus arnyi) and Five-lined Skinks (Plestiodon fasciatus).

Photos by Don Becker

We came down the bluff and started heading back towards the southern bluff. Spirits were low and we were questioning whether or not we wanted to climb the second bluff. We discussed trying a different site to up our odds of seeing something. I was about 50/50, and I could tell that David really wanted no part of that hill. As we tried to rationalize our laziness, I said, "It was a twenty-five year process to get to this site and now we aren't going to climb that hill"? That was all it took as Don just turned and started walking, mentioning something to the effect of not being able to argue with that logic.

We weren't up there very long before Don yelled timber and started jumping around with his arms up over his head. It was a large snake and it was laying in front of an outcrop that couldn't have been more picturesque if you had tried to paint a picture of what the perfect timber den should look like.

It was a large Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).

It's dark tail had a different look than most I have seen in Iowa. The brown coloration extended a long ways into the black. It had a very short rattle string too.

This photo was a long time coming...

Photo by Don Becker

David and I searched the crevices along the outcrop and saw a young Rat Snake (Pantherophis obsoletus) ducking deep into a crevice. I couldn't get a photo in time, but it was exciting to see the very light colored animal even for a few seconds.

A few feet from the rat snake we saw an adult Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum) in another crevice. This one stayed in view long enough for a quick photo.

I was at home creating this post, and was working on cropping the photos. This is the full frame shot of the above milksnake.

There is a second milk that I somehow didn't notice while we were on site, but you can see in the photo. Not sure how I missed it...

That was all we saw, but it was a lot. We now know the timbers are still here, and we located a den that is shared by a variety of species. I had never seen a rat snake at this site, though I knew they would be there. It was a magical day at a magical place.

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