April in Southern Illinois
Union and later Johnson Co., Illinois. April 8. 2005
Steve Coogan and I headed down for a day of herping and birding. We had no specific aim in mind, just whatever the day brought us, and the first thing it brought us was an excellent breakfast at the Southern Cafe in downtown Anna. The first snake of the day was a small Yellowbelly Water Snake, which I shot a quick picture of before it slithered into a deep layer of rock. Cricket frogs were out in numbers, and we saw a few Slimy Salamanders along the way.
By 1030 things were warming up a bit and we observed our first Cottonmouth, a two-footer skulking in the weeds. Ground temperature at the spot 74F. Hung around the area a bit to watch and listen to a couple male Prothonotary Warblers duking it out over territory. Toadpoles in abundance in several small pools of water. We spotted a nice trio of Painted Turtles out in the swamp, basking on a log.
A second Cottonmouth, a little larger, and another Yellowbelly. Leopard Frogs were out in abundance. Checked a couple good ledgy places for Crotalus but came up empty-handed. Lots of foot traffic on the road today. Heading back we spotted a pair of Wood Ducks up in the trees near the bluffs. This early in the year, the vegetation is thinner, making it easier to see birds like the Woodies.
We grabbed a bite and headed over to Johnson Co. to walk some tracks. Temperatures were climbing into the mid-seventies. Right off we spotted numbers of Fence Lizards and Ground Skinks, as we normally do. I turned up a nice Smallmouth Salamander and shortly after a Marbled Salamander, both under short sections of railroad tie on damp ground. The Marbled displayed the 'reverse unken' reflex, arching its body into a slight and rigid curve. with the head tucked under.
We spotted an adult Moccasin laying coiled up against one of the rails in the late afternoon sunlight. I took a temperature reading close by on the rail - 89F. The snake was caked with mud, perhaps having recently emerged from hibernation. I found a juvenile Moccasin under a railroad tie but was not able to get a picture of it. Finishing up, with the sun going down, we turned up two Copperbelly Water Snakes, both large adult females. A few feet away we spotted a big Moccasin, an impressive serpent with good body weight for early spring.
The rest of the day called on account of darkness. Dinner at Dolly's (of course) in Vienna.
Yellowbelly Water Snake (Nerodia
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