Trip Details

Location: Jackson County, Iowa

Weather: High of 71 degrees. Light rain overnight with clouds in the morning, turning party sunny/intermittent clouds. Light to Moderate wind.

Time: 11:00 a.m.

Herpers: Don Becker, Jim Scharosch & Matt Ricklefs

Account by: Matt Ricklefs

Photos as noted below

Iowa has been very lacking in rain for a good part of the late summer. Some areas worse than others as it has been most of the summer. So when we had some overnight rain, and the fact that there are only so many days left before everyone cozies in for the winter, it was a perfect chance to get out and check one of our prime spots.

We checked what we call the south den first. It was fairly cool yet when we got here. This is the time of September when snakes are moving back toward the dens and staging for overwintering. It's always hit and miss as to how many will be back and also how many may be out at any time. If you hit it just right, it can be glorious as they can almost literally be "everywhere". To start out with, we were just glad to see at least someone home, tucked back a ways into a crevice.

Photo by Don Becker

This of course was the main focus species for the day - Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus). Since the ones we saw all day were tucked back a ways or partially covered, it's hard to estimate true size, but over the course of the day they ranged from about 2 foot to about 4 foot. A nice first find. We moved down the hill to another outcrop and found one more Timber here, also tucked back and not quite back to the den up the hill yet.

Photo by Matt Ricklefs

We moved to the north den, an area that on the right day really can be spectacular. Today we only found a few more, again tucked back into crevices and waiting to get warmed up a bit more.

Photos by Don Becker

I also got an autumn shot of a somewhat cooperate Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis).

Photo by Matt Ricklefs

Next we moved on to what we now call the west den. This is an area that Jim and I just discovered had timbers just this year. We had gone to this area several times over the years and had never seen any sign of timbers. We often find Milk Snakes here so we thought perhaps that it was just not the right habitat for timbers. It wasn't until we found two timbers early this spring that had obviously just come out of hibernation that we knew they were here. Also, on his last couple of trips here Jim found a quite a few timbers sheds. We were very interested to see what we would find today since timbers were moving to the other two dens on the property.

In herping an area, especially one that you are trying to collect the new data from, it is good to have a few people and spread out. It just ups the odds of discovery. Jim went high, I went low and Don stayed in between. We all knew the area we were moving toward so it was just a matter of chance who might come across something first. As it turns out Don yells "Timber", another one, wait! He had stumbled upon a small cluster of four Timbers hanging out around a small shelf.

Photos by Don Becker

One of the timbers had really cool white outlines around the black chevrons on it's back.

Photos by Jim Scharosch

Photos by Matt Ricklefs

When he came up some were laying out more and all decided to go under and peer out at us. It was an excellent find. It also brought all of the work and hypotheses we had to a solid conclusion. Plus it was a really awesome sight of all four there in the rock. Very picture perfect Timber habitat. We could have gotten one of these out for a better look, but there is no reason. We can get good enough pictures to document the day, move a bit of vegetation out of the way and get what we can get. These guys are moving in and preparing themselves for winter and we don't want to disturb that since we don't have to. I did however get a few pic of a primate snooping around looking in crevices and shining lights in them to see who's playing hide and seek!

Photo by Matt Ricklefs

Jim's extra snooping paid off as well. He found another large timber hanging out in a crevice much lower on the outcrop than we were expecting to see timbers this time of year.

Photo by Jim Scharosch

Jim decided to climb up onto a ledge that he had seen a timber shed on earlier this spring. There weren't crevices along this ledge but it seemed worth checking since he had seen the shed there. It was a precarious climb, but it turned out to be worth it as he found what turned out to be two timbers lodged in what Don dubbed a "swiss cheese hole" in the side of the outcrop.

Photo by Don Becker

Photo by Matt Ricklefs

You couldn't really see the second timber until the flash of the camera lit him up. You can see his head in the first shot below.

Photos by Jim Scharosch

When we climbed back down the ledge, a second snake had joined the last timber we had seen in the crevice.

Photo by Matt Ricklefs

That was it for the day. All in all we found 13 Timbers! Not a bad day at all. We did investigate one other area that has never paid off and still did not. But you need to keep on trying; otherwise we may not have found the one this spring that is paying off so well now. :)

Observe and Conserve


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