Trip Details

Location: Buena Vista and Woodbury Counties, Iowa

Weather: Windy and clear, high of 80 degrees

Time: 2:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Herpers: Don Becker, Jim Scharosch

Account by: Jim Scharosch

Photos by: Jim Scharosch

Don made a trip out to western Iowa a few weeks ago to look for praire rattlesnakes at the only known location in the state. He invited me to come along, but I didn’t like the weather forecast so I opted out. Unlike most times when I pass on a trip, it turned out to be a good decision on my part as they struck out.

Don was planning his return trip and opted in this time. I managed to talk him into leaving a day early and staying overnight. I wasn’t really feeling a nine hour round trip wrapped around three hours or so of herping. I’m too old for that stuff anymore. We asked around for some places to go out that way, and we targeted crayfish snakes and red plains garter snakes for the first day.

We hit a number of sites in Buena Vista County. We found a handful of plains garters, but they were all the typical black and yellow variety. We also found a couple of common garters which I didn’t photograph. I caught a prairie skink, which would have been a county record, but I “misplaced” it before I could get a photo. Ooops.

We swung into Storm Lake for lunch and had amazing tacos at Taqueria La Juanita.

They were the best tacos I have had outsite of Mexico. Who would have thought that I would score that in Storm Lake?

We headed towards Sioux City where we would be staying overnight. We stopped off at a wetland area in Woodbury County that is known for crayfish snakes. We found an area with some cement chunks and turned up quite a few plains garter snakes, but still none had the red markings we were hoping for.

We moved on, and parked at a random parking area in preparation to walk the ditches. I picked the road that had a little grass down the center, thinking it must get a lot less traffic than the other gravel roads that intersect it. Apparently I made a good choice again. We found our first Graham’s Crayfish Snake (Regina grahamii) crawling on the road within a few minutes.

We walked back to the parking are and took our photos and as we returned to release it we saw another a little ways up the road. Don ran up to catch it and hurdled the third snake that was in his path as he went to catch the second one. As we stood there admiring the three snakes, I turned and saw another one crossing about twenty feet behind us. We snagged three crayfish snakes in about two minutes.

We took in-hand photos of the remaining snakes and released them all. We walked up the road and could see a fifth snake crossing the road quite a ways ahead of us. We didn’t run up to get it. When we reached the spot it crossed you could plainly see the track the snake had left in the dirt.

As we walked back we noticed just how many of those tracks there were in the dirt. We hadn’t really paid attention to them until we saw the first one. A lot of snakes cross that road. We saw one more on the road on the way out. I tried to grab an in-situ shot of it but it ducked off into the weeds.

Six crayfish snakes in about thirty minutes of walking was pretty cool. I had only seen one in Iowa up to this point, so even without seeing the red plains garters, the trip was worth it to me already.

We headed into Sioux City and kicked back for the rest of the evening.

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