Herping the Tracks, Autumn 2005

Marbled Salamander

Smallmouth Salamander

Nice neonate Moccasin

Steve, Quinn and Mike

Ryan says "what do I do now?"

From under the rock


RR tracks ,
southern Illinois. 
October 2, 2005
Sunny, hot with high of 92F.
With Steve Coogan, Mike Cravens, Ryan, Rich and Kyle Thies.

Sunday morning dawned clear and...warm?  72 degrees at 7 AM.  Interesting.  We broke camp quickly and headed off to breakfast in Anna (Southern Kitchen Cafe, two thumbs up).  Afterwards we headed east; today we were going to herp along a set of railroad tracks, meeting up with Ryan Thies and Mike Cravens. We were the last to arrive.  Mike brought Quinn, his young Golden Retriever pup, and Ryan had come down with Rich, his dad, and Kyle, his brother. 

I got us off to a good start right off the bat by blundering  into a pocket of ground hornets,  who showed their displeasure by stinging me a number of times on the wrist.  One flew up my right nostril, which I managed to expel without getting stung. Several got inside my eyeglasses, and again I avoided what would have been some serious stings.  I took off running down the tracks like a madman and left the rest of the hornets behind me.  The rest of the day could only get better.

Moving down the tracks we ran into some of the regular faunistic components for the area - Fence Lizards, Prairie Racerunners, Ground Skinks, and so on.  Many of the Racerunners were young hatchlings.  Several Marbled and Smallmouth Salamanders were turned up as well.  I managed to find a nice male Spotted Salamander, but he scurried into a hidey hole before I could detain him for a photograph. 

At one point, river and swamp come close to the tracks, and at this point there is a large pile of limestone to protect the railbed.  This rockpile serves as a hibernaculum and rookery for Cottonmouths, and today a lot of them were home.  Some were out in the open, and others were under some of the rocks - I think we tallied close to twenty moccasins in this area. from small to large.  Off to the other side loomed a large hillside strewn with huge boulders.  Ryan and I clambered over the jumble in search of pit vipers, and managed to turn up a moccasin each.  It looked like good habitat for Timber Rattlers; whether any inhabit the area remains to be seen.

The day was getting some serious heat to it.  We reached an area where Copperbelly Water Snakes were common, but did not see any this day.  We also kept an eye out for Eastern Ribbon Snakes, but did not run across any of these either.  We did keep finding Cottonmouths, however, several of them on the tracks.  Near our turnaround point, Mike found a nice Rough Green Snake out in the open on the trackbed, and we detained it long enough for some photographs.   This one was hot and not wanting to cooperate, so we ended up shooting with a hand holding the tail.  These is one of those species I never tire of seeing.

On our way back we found a couple Eastern Box Turtles on the trackbed.  One sported a nice sprinkling of duckweed, giving us a clue as to where this turtle had been today.  We also found one last Cottonmouth stretched out on a rail platen, white maw open in defiance.

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