Herper's Holiday

"Folks are getting too neat and tidy around here"


Jeff, Matt and Jim

Oh, the habitat!

Sceloporus marks the spot.


Zigzag Salamander

This is a tale of four guys from the Midwest getting together for a couple days of field herping.  It is also the tale of some serious herp journalers getting together, so you, lucky reader, get two separate accounts of the same trip!

I got an invite from Jeff LeClere (Herpetology of Iowa) to herp down in southern Illinois with him and a couple buddies.  What buddies?  Why,  Matt Ricklefs and Jim Scharosch, says Jeff.  You might know them from herpjournal.com.  Oh, yes indeed I do!  I've enjoyed following their Iowa and Kansas herp trips.  Let us all go herping, by all means!  A herper's holiday, in my own back yard, in my favorite place to be herping.

I met up with Jeff and Jim and Matt at the Super8 in Anna-Jonesboro on Thursday night.   The three had spent the day herping the Snake Road with some success.  Over a few beers, a glass of milk and some Mexican food, we talked about what the best plan of attack for the next couple days would be.  Friday looked to be the best day weather-wise, the forecast calling for sunny conditions in the 70's.  Saturday promised to be overcast with probable rain.  I thought we could start off the trip by visiting a couple of my favorite junk piles on Friday morning, and then visiting the La Rue Pine Hills Ecological Area later on.  Eventually we turned in and got some sleep before the morning's early start.

After a quick breakfast at the motel, we piled into Jim's truck and headed over to a nice junk pile I knew of, that had a fabulous assortment of plywood and metal to turn, along with lots of old trailers and automotive bric-a-brac.  We arrived only to find the entire junk pile was gone, with inhabited trailers and watchdogs in its place!  There were even a couple donkeys in a corral.  Nuts!  I was just there last fall! 

Oh well, I knew a smaller pile we could check on.  We moved on only to meet further disappointment - that pile was cleaned up as well, and replaced with anhydrous ammonia tanks!  I had one more small spot left with a few appliances and other junk to work, and following to form, that spot was cleaned up as well.  Three strikes and you're out!  I was looking forward to sharing some of my favorite spots with the guys, but this recent bit of neatness and the tidying up of the countryside was not helping me make a good impression.

Feeling somewhat embarrassed, I suggested that we head on over to La Rue, since I was out of junkpiles in the immediate area.  The sun was not quite over the bluffs on our arrival, so things were still a bit on the chilly side at 54 degrees.  No matter - there is always something to enjoy here.  We walked along the roadside, enjoying the spring wildflowers and checking under rocks and logs for salamanders.  It wasn't too long before we turned up the first herp, a small Zigzag Salamander, Plethodon dorsalis.  A lot of the Shawnee Zigzags look like Redbacks - not much Zig or Zag to the patterns on their backs.  Jeff turned up a nice Longtailed Salamander (Eurycea longicauda) as well.  If nothing else on a cool morning, there's always the salamanders...

We were loaded for bear when it came to camera equipment.  Matt had his trusty videocam; Jim had a killer new digital camera (Konica/Minolta Dimage Z2); Jeff carried his Canon 35mm and a video camera, and I had my battered but trusty Pentax K-1000..  We were gonna sure enough capture images of something...even if it was just Swallowtails puddling in the road.


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