Late April 2008 - Across the Gulf Coast, with a Short Visit to NY - NJ First.
Part 2 of a pair of related travelogues. Click HERE for Part 1.
In mid-April, I was invited to give my new PowerPoint presentation on "Herp Photography - Beyond Snapshots", to the Long Island, NY Herpetological Society. Friends Vin Russo and Rich Hume hosted me during my stay, including a run out to eastern Long Island to see what herplife was up early. We saw several painted turtles Chrysemys picta picta and a big snapper Chelydra s. serpentina, but missed any spotted turtles Clemmys guttata that might have been up. I also had the op to photograph specimens in their immaculate collections, so my first few shots are some 'naturalistic' shots of their animals.
Adult male (small) and female western hognose snakes Heterodon nasicus nasicus to demonstrate sexual dimorphism in size.
One of Vin's western hognose snakes was particularly feisty. Most of my shots were blurry, but this one caught the action nicely, including showing those 'rear fangs'.
Rich had hognose snakes too, but I was more taken in by his corns Elaphe guttata guttata, like this glowing striped amel bloodred....
....and this elegant Lampropeltis mexicana mexicana.
After my talks on Long Island, I headed down to the New Jersey Pine Barrens for a few days to visit my childhood ponds and see what was moving herpwise. Through Long Island Herp. Society members, I met a new friend, Gerry Wronski, who lived next door to my old woodlands stomping grounds and accompanied me herping one day. Here's Gerry in 'my' old woods with a northern redback salamander Plethodon cinereus found under debris in the background habitat. That may be the only salamander I photograph all year, and it had to be a stubtail! I used to find spotted turtles in a marsh (to the right in the pic below) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but saw only painted turtles and red-ears this time.
The Long Island Herp. Society guys also helped connect me with another long-lost pal, Bob Fengya, who is working for Bob Zappalorti's company Herpetological Associates. I lucked out in rendezvousing with them and third team member Mike McGraw in the Pine Barrens on their invitation to see their work-in-progress creating artificial den sites for snakes. I was able to see three different northern pine snakes Pituophis m. melanoleucus basking near their dens, plus two northern black racers. Here are all three of the pines, in-situ....
Showing broad views of the actual dens might reveal clues to their locations, so I'll just post a group shot of the four of us after a great day in the field. L - R: Bob Zappalorti, Bill Love, Bob Fengya and Mike McGraw.
I exhibited at a herp show in Palmetto, FL where the various vendors were very kind in allowing me to borrow their animals for naturalistic photos outside the building. This shot is a comparison of three popular frogs on the market --- African pixie frog Pyxicephalus adspersa, Colombian horned frog Ceratophrys calcarata and Argentine horned frog Ceratophrys ornata.
The Monday after the show (April 21, 2008) I was off on yet another trip. Me, Daniel Parker ('mudsnake6', www.sunshineserpents.com) and Anthony Flanagan ('Ant Man') headed off across the Gulf Coast for a long hunt, but not before spending a couple hours shooting some of Daniel's animals as he prepped for a week away from home. This attractive garter was found in the Gulf Hammock region and displays elements of Thamnophis sirtalis similis, the blue-striped garter snake
This next shot is titled "POLITICS". Poly as in many, and tic(k)s as in disgusting little bloodsucking creatures that try to suck you dry. This poor Everglades rat Elaphe obsoleta rossalleni had apparently already acquired a cluster of tiny ticks on a neck injury that went unnoticed when first captured in southern Florida a few days before. Amazing, eh? Kind of made me itch, but then Anthony surprised me when he asked if I'd send him an enlargement of this shot for a screensaver.
Our first day out took us to the Florida Panhandle where buddy Chris Lechowicz (www.graptemys.com) has a multi-year field study going on with his beloved map turtles. This was the quarry: Barbour's map turtle Graptemys barbouri, in this case a last year's hatchling.
Bill as the main turtle netter (* although occasionally it was easier to grab them by hand [inset]). I manned the net in the front of the boat all day as Chris steered us into numerous snags where the baby Graptemys, Trachemys and Pseudemys like to bask. I netted eleven turtles in those genera all day - not bad for my first day at it, I thought.
Chris clipped their carapace edges and recorded the data so each baby would be identifiable when recaptured again someday.
An adult male Barbour's map basking, a millisecond before it dove. Adults, and even sub-adults, are much more alert than babies, but this one must've been asleep to allow us to approach so closely.
Meanwhile on land, Chris's usual comrade at turtling, John Archer of IL, spent the day landlubbering with Ant and Daniel. They found 3 corns in Alabama, 2 under stuff and one crawling at dusk. The adults were mating when I opened the sack they were housed together in overnight. The colors of these examples, all from one county, sure ran the gamut from 'Okeetee' to 'Miami Phase'.
Group pic (even though we never all got to hunt as a single group), L - R: Chris Lechowicz, Daniel Parker, Anthony Flanagan, John Archer, and Bill Love.
Then the hunt continued into southern Mississippi where we worked our finds up from small game to larger game. Daniel and Anthony moved a mountain of tin at this spot after finding a copperhead near the top, only to claim a single, lonely ringneck snake at the bottom. Sometimes you just have to have faith in the next heap....
Garter snake Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis from southeastern Mississippi
Glossy crayfish snake Regina rigida from southeastern Mississippi
Pigmy rattlesnake Sistrurus miliarius barbouri / streckeri, kind of a dusky - western intergrade from southeastern Mississippi.
This cottonmouth cooperated nicely to show how it got its nickname.
The Gokey Boot Company would be proud that their product withstood a field test. Wait a minute! -- is that their snakebite-proof boot model ?
Big female eastern hognose snake Heterodon platirhinos, melanistic phase found under the last corner of a huge frame of roof. This one would not stop playing dead, which posed a minor dilemma getting the shot below with the dorsal side facing up.
Here it is doing its thing as it looked most of the time. The odd 'habitat' (inset) seemed oddly appropriate in this case when this lovely critter in front of a barbeque restaurant crossed our path.
Copperheads Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix proved to be abundant on roads and under stuff. With traffic heavy on this road, we may have saved this one's life.
Several southern MS specimens together.
This one looked comfortable standing guard at the headstone base of a fallen soldier of the former C.S.A. (Confederate States of America).
I wonder if the abundance of copperheads had anything to do with this unusual fencing which I guessed might be aimed at stopping the movement of snakes....
Grey rat snake Elaphe obsoleta spiloides, a big girl of 5.5-feet, from southeastern Mississippi.
Four box turtles Terrapene carolina ssp. were found crossing roads, three of which got their pics taken.
Below: from Geneva County, Alabama.... Gulf Coast x Eastern Terrapene carolina major x carolina in appearance.
S.E. Mississippi.... Heinz 57 genetically.
Eastern 'toe' of Louisiana.... Finally what could pass for a pure three-toed box turtle Terrapene carolina triunguis.
Big female yellowbelly sliders Trachemys s. scripta were on quiet roads looking for nesting sites....
In the DeSoto National Forest of southeastern Mississippi we missed what we all agree had to be an adult black pine. It was laying across a side road as we zoomed past at 60+ mph. We all saw it clearly, but couldn't get turned around fast enough to find it, even walking the woods all around the direction it was headed. Feces! Feces! Feces!
No gopher tortoises were seen in the area either. I wonder why???
Some scenic structures along the way had 'snake' written all over them, but only one yielded a rat snake Elaphe obsoleta intergrade (below).
We found 7 speckled kings, 6 D.O.R. and one live. Daniel got the lone living specimen under tin in an open grassy field.
My younger companions have taken fieldherping beyond the crude, hand-drawn maps I used to use to mark hotspots I wished to return to in the future. They have a DeLorme Atlas - Gazetteer of every state we hunted in which to note good (or likely) locales, and just to find the little roads that regular state maps often don't show with any accuracy.
The same snake as in the above two pics above, later after shedding.
By the time we met up with my 'vintage herper pal' Terry Vandeventer near Jackson, MS for a guided hunt to the Mississippi Delta region in the northwest of the state, heavy rains the previous days had soaked the region. It didn't stop Terry from zeroing in on a MS Delta grey rat Elaphe obsoleta spiloides under the first piece of AC we flipped in that clump of trees and brush in the pic below.
My poison ivy meter was functioning on full alert, which is why only Daniel and Anthony are standing ass-deep in the stuff to check that next juicy-looking piece of tin. It harbored a western ribbon snake Thamnophis p. proximus (below).
The Yazoo River had flooded over and inundated many farms and woods while we were in the Delta. This major inconvenience prevented us from getting to many of Terry's hotspots, including the one where he'd found a fine red milk snake Lampropeltis tirangulum syspila a couple years before (below).
He brought it along for photos in case we didn't luck upon one, which is what happened. It greedily took a wild skink from my fingers and devoured it while we snapped dozens of pix.
This very dark phase corn snake Elaphe guttata guttata was from the very edge of the Loess Hills where they drop off into the Delta flatlands. It was sure a shame that we didn't happen upon it minutes earlier. In my usual manner, I figured 'Why let it go to waste completely?' and saved it for a pic at a photo session that afternoon. So, did you notice that it was dead in the pic?
In fact, we found many more dead snakes than live ones -- probably some indication of the number out seeking mates. The 'Death Line-Up' below is but a small, colorful sampling of the load of corpses to be delivered to the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, FL soon.... Can you name them all?
The "Delta Force" - Anthony, Daniel, Terry Vandeventer and me with one of two a black-masked racers Coluber constrictor latrunculus (close-up below) that we caught.
En route back to Florida, we decided that the large number of roadkills we'd picked up for the Florida Museum of Natural History needed to be balanced by one truly good day of finding live, healthy snakes. Where could we count on such a day in the field??? Southern Georgia! We worked our way across the southwestern corner of the state and rapidly started finding snakes like this husky grey rat Elaphe obsoleta spiloides.
Then we found an ideal-looking grassy field with lots of tin, a thorough check of which resulted in absolutely zero snakes being uncovered. We were incredulous that such promising trash failed us when Daniel walked over and bothered to flip an object that all of us have passed on turning many times....
None of us will probably ever pass by another old tire like that again without flipping it!
Perfect adult male and female!
We eventually found four live and three D.O.R. chain kings that day. We're not used to seeing too many getula kings on roads in Florida, but they sure were taking a beating in GA that day.
This is the way we prefer to see kings on roads....
Another live one showing a little more chain pattern....
Refreshed from the renewed success in GA, we decided that we couldn't call it a day without checking our beloved 'canebrake hotspot' near ________ Gee, I seem to have forgotten the location ;) With about three weeks 'rest' since I'd checked it prior (see Part 1 of this travelogue), the old spot once again called itself home to 3 canebrakes, only one ultra-nice example, with a huge meal lump, of which we took....
Practically home, we diverted our wanderings to cruise an area of the Brooksville Ridge back in central Florida hoping to luck upon a southern hognose Heterodon simus or maybe even a short-tailed snake Stilosoma extentuatum. Instead, we were skunked on the good stuff. Only two snakes were even seen on our final shot at fieldherping glory -- these giant junk snakes....
Nothing but indigoes Drymarchon couperi ! What a way to end a great trip!