Fieldherping from Florida to West Texas
The 30th Annual International Herpetological Symposium took place in San Antonio, Texas over June 21-24 - the perfect excuse to attend a great conference and go herping along the way. Daniel Parker of Lake Placid, Florida was my companion on the 2-week trip. We got into southern Mississippi by the first night and drove around remote roads in and around the DeSoto National Forest. We hoped to see a black pine snake the next morning, but found mostly DORs -- 2 eastern diamondbacks, 2 speckled kings, and 1 grey rat. Yucch --- starting out seeing only dead stuff was depressing. Things had to look up!
Then, lying on the road below....
.... during late morning was a young adult pigmy rattlesnake Sistrurus miliarius, photographed first in-situ, then coiled off the road.
We flipped some trash and poked around a scenic swamp where pitcher plants were abundant. It looked like a good herp spot, but we had to settle for admiring the natural serenity of the place only. The slightly aberrantly-patterned southern copperhead Agkistrodon c. contortrix (below) was found on the road nearby the previous night.
We cruised westward that afternoon and found ourselves on I-10. On that long stretch across the bayous in the center of the state, there's one exit out on an 'island' on the middle of it. We exited and headed north to see where it led. The road turned to dirt less than a mile from the freeway and ran through a dense forest sanctuary. We ended up in Alexandria that evening, and headed northwestward from there to cruise a portion of the Kisatchie Nat'l Forest from about 8pm until 1am. Two species were most abundant on the winding road that night - we saw 3 northern scarlet snakes Cemophora c. coccinea (this one was skinny, but was also the most attractively colored) and . . . .
. . . . and 4 attractive southern copperheads Agkistrodon c. contortrix. I tried at first for a shot of all four together, but the other three spazzed. As I tried to keep track of the ones that split, I didn't notice the pine needles on the face of the remaining one when I shot this pic.
We also encountered this Texas rat snake Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri , photographed as found stretched out with squiggles on the paved road (left), and later photographed again off the road in habitat (right).
On June 21 we drove the last leg to San Antonio to attend the icebreaker of the 30th International Herpetological Symposium http://www.kingsnake.com/ihs/ . I coordinate the annual Herp Photography Contest (see: http://www.kingsnake.com/ihs/photo.html ), which I invite anyone reading this to participate in in Toronto, Canada in 2007. Here is a glimpse at the contest display room at San Antonio.
I consider the I.H.S. to be the premier annual herp meeting on the planet, and try to combine attending it with whatever field herping can be done in the vicinity of the event that year, or en route to it. Central Texas proved to be an excellent venue with great herping to the east, south and (later) to the west. The first night after the talks, on a hot tip from Matt Hodges of The Bug Company ( http://www.ebugco.com ), Daniel and I explored Palmetto State Park (and the roads south of it) about 50 miles east of San Antonio. This young western cottonmouth Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma was on a dirt farm road, probably looking for water.
Alright, no more 'on the road surface' shots after that one, I promise. We later lucked upon an adult canebrake rattlesnake Crotalus horridus atricaudatus just after dark, and photo'd it on the roadside. This is at the western extreme of the species' range. I now call this pic "Double Trouble". Besides the potential danger of the snake itself, I got poison ivy on my shoes while unknowingly tromping around in the stuff while taking this shot. The source of the rash was painfully obvious as soon as I saw it growing in abundance in this pic. I later managed to rub some on my eyes after tying my shoelaces the next day. For anyone who saw me with puffy, red eyes later during the meeting, well, suffice it to say that poison ivy sucks!
It turned out that three carloads of herpers wound up cruising that Gonzales County road. We teamed up for a co-op photo session about 11pm on the side of the road. This broadbanded copperhead Agkistrodon contortrix laticinctus was one of two found.
The next day after the I.H.S. talks, we ventured south to LaSalle County and arrived before dark. This shot typifies the terrain -- mesquite and prickly pear cactus, with varying grassy patches depending upon the cattle density grazing there.
A drying farm pond was alive with turtle heads, or at least that's what it seemed until we got closer and realized they were actually dozens of diamondback water snakes Nerodia rhombifera clinging to the last patch of standing water. Then Daniel spotted a huge dark one in the weeds up the bank and leaped on it. To his joy, it was a 4-foot female Texas indigo snake Drymarchon corais erebennus. We saw another one, nearly a 6-foot male, on a nearby road at 8:50 pm. No eastern indigo in Florida would have been out in the open so late like that!
Later that night (June 23rd), first a very gravid 'western corn' snake Elaphe guttata meahllmorum graced the pavement. . . .
. . . . then 'round midnight, the first Mexican milk snake Lampropeltis triangulum annulata either of us had ever found was zipping across the blacktop. It was surprisingly hard to see; its red didn't show up in the headlights at all. It was a young adult male, and it sure looked prettier in the flashlight beam that night than in this slide taken later!
The I.H.S. finished Saturday night with a banquet, herp stuff auction, distributions of contest prizes & awards, and a great keynote slideshow by Dave Barker. No fieldherping that night as we prepped for selling at Randal & Bonnie Berry's Texas Reptile Expo http://www.texasreptiles.com/ the next morning.
That's me (in groovy green) and Daniel (in black) at our tables Sunday. The show ended at 5pm, and we were off to explore a new fieldherping alterna tive - the Trans-Pecos region of Texas for the next 5 nights!
Click HERE for Part 2 of this photo travelogue.
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