Shawnee Trip, Fall 2004
An account of my fall 2004 herp trip to southern Illinois. I've made this pilgrimage nearly every year since 1978 and I haven't missed one since 1994. This account is a bit short on photos owing to some mechanical failures with my camera. You'll find another version of events at HerpJournal.com, Matt and Jim's excellent field herping site.
Friday October 1st was a sunny day when we arrived down at the La Rue - Pine Hills Ecological Area. Jeff had driven down from Minnesota to Iowa, and then the rest of the way with the Scharosch family the day before - quite a trek. The rest of us only suffered the 3.5 hour trip from central Illinois, although we ran into some construction traffic that made us late for our rendezvous.
Today's objective was to walk the Snake Road, and at this time of the year a late morning start is in order, since the temperatures remain cool until the sun climbs up over the Shawnee escarpment. A change in plans was in order from the start - a large tour bus was in the parking area, with the passengers already headed down the road. We decided to drive around to the southern end of the road and work our way north and hopefully avoid any crowds. The Snake Road has grown in popularity, and on the weekends it is not uncommon to run into a dozen or more people during the day. I can only hope that everyone in attendance respects the fauna and flora they encounter and observes the ban on collecting and harassment within the state ecological area.
There are new rules in place as of autumn 2004 - snake hooks or tongs are no longer permitted on the road, thanks to a rash of illegal snake collecting and some associated arrests. Any 'nudging' or 'coaxing' of venomous snakes for photographs would have to be done with walking sticks or whatever fallen branches were at hand. A snake hook is a very handy thing for moving hot snakes without causing undue stress - we really have no need to 'pin down' or pick up Cottonmouths, and I'm content not to touch them at all.
Air temperatures had reached 75 F as we started walking up the road - a warm October day was under way. Frogs and toads were the first herps of the day - Cricket frogs, Leopard frogs, and Fowler's toads. Jim got a nice-sized Northern Ringneck Snake. Some Longtailed Salamanders were discovered in a small rocky rill coming down from the bluffs. It was great to be walking again in this place, with the sharp tang of autumn's falling leaves in the air..
The day's first Cottonmouth came at 1230, an eighteen inch specimen on the road adjacent to the first swampy section. This snake was perhaps seeing its second autumn but still retained a clear and interestingly aberrant dorsal pattern, along with a bit of duckweed from this morning' cold swim towards the bluffs.
Under a trailside log was a nice Marbled Salamander, a species I've only occasionally seen here in La Rue. Up the road we went, crossing paths with Fowler's Toads and juvenile Fivelined Skinks, their blue tails flashing as they skittered in the leaf litter. Somebody turned up a nice adult Spotted Salamander near the trail as well.
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