Herping Downtown Austin
View of the north bank
I'd been in Austin for three days of meetings, and the last day was absolutely gorgeous - sunny and warm, with the air washed clean by a thunderstorm the previous evening. I decided to take a long lunch and take a walk along the Colorado River, and perhaps do some turtle spotting. My hotel was right on the riverbank, so in no time I was heading up the walking trail shared by joggers, bicyclists and people out for a lunchtime stroll.
Keeping my eyes open for any likely turtles, the first thing I spotted was a snake, which is how these things go sometimes. It was a Diamondback Water Snake of fair size, basking right where the tall weeds along the bank gave way to the short cut grass of the river walk. I took a picture before approaching, but the snake was aware of my presence and quickly slipped over the bank and into the river.
Suitably encouraged, I now kept one eye on the grass and one on the river. Another hundred feet or so and I came across another Diamondback sunning itself in the same sort of situation. I was able to get a boot on this one before it took off, and managed to get it under control for some pictures. Since I had meetings to attend later in the afternoon, I didn't want to show up bloodied and stinking of Nerodia musk, which didn't make controlling this toothy stink bomb any easier. As I worked a few joggers and a woman with a stroller passed by on the river walk twenty feet away, probably wondering what kind of nutcase was out on the river walk today.
It turned out that aquatic turtles were out in force today too, and I managed to spot a number of them basking along the banks. Redeared Sliders were abundant, along with Texas River Cooters, a new species for me. I crossed over the river on a pedestrian bridge to check out a little backwater area, and spotted another new species, the Guadalupe Spiny Softshell. A number of these softshelled turtles had hauled up on a gravel bar, affording me a good look and a couple of pictures.
Along the way I scared up several more Diamondbacks along the banks, and on the other side of the river I found a different kind - a Blotched Water Snake, also sunning itself in a patch of weeds. As I quietly moved into position to take some pictures, I scared up two more that I hadn't seen in the weeds, and these snakes headed straight for the water. The other specimen was turning opaque and remained motionless while I snapped away.
More Diamondbacks followed, and more turtles. This, the north bank of the river, offered more opportunities for basking and so the turtles were out in abundance. These turtles were apparently somewhat used to the presence of humans, for they tolerated my approaching a lot closer than I normally get. Sometimes I'd cross that invisible line only the turtles knew about, and then a log full of turtles would launch themselves into the water.
All too soon it was time for me to head back to the hotel and take in more meetings and then catch a flight home. I would rather have spent the afternoon out on the river, but turtle spotting doesn't pay the bills. I had to laugh at myself - I'd spent the previous two days out in some great natural areas, but my best herping in Texas would be in the middle of downtown Austin!
Redeared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)
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