Mid-October. Time is running out; opportunities to get out into the field and observe amphibians and reptiles are whittled down to a precious few remaining days. Time to get out there and see what's left to see.
Ryan, Rich, Mike and Brian headed over to Illinois after a successful visit to Mingo on Saturday. We hooked up on Saturday night, and stayed up late tossing wood on the fire and talking about herps and herping and other herpers. Hanging out and talking with other field herpers is icing on the cake, a bonus beyond whatever critters you might find.
Breakfast, the first order of the day, was taken care of at the Southern BBQ Cafe in Anna-Jonesboro. When it's 40F at 7AM, there's time for eating breakfast. Our destination was a line of bluffs along the river. By the time we reached base of the west-facing bluffs, the air temperature had reached the mid-fifties, although the sun had a long way to go before warming up the rock faces.
Not every reptile waits for the sun, and before too long we found our first snake, a juvenile Black Rat Snake, newly emerged from a crevice and heading out for a chance at another meal. Rocky bluffs are good places for little obsoletas, and you stand a good chance of scaring up one or two. That being said, I must confess that this little gem was only my second Black Rat of the season, which tells a little of how the year went for me...
Our next find was a young adult Rough Green Snake, a good spot by Ryan as it was stretched out on a bit of shrubbery growing out of the bluff face. In short order we were to find two more Opheodrys, the beginnings of a tale within a tale that is told a bit further on.
We continued toiling along the bluff face, up and down over high spots and low spots, clambering over large boulders from recent (in rock-time, that is) falls. Ryan called out. He had a snake in a crevice. No, make that two snakes. Uh, more than two! By the time we all reached the spot, the total was three cottonmouths, a copperhead, and either a racer or a rat snake all jammed back into a two-inch-high crack that ran back farther than our lights could reach.
Mike Cravens spotted the first rattler, a neonate Timber lying inside the bare branches of a small cedar tree a few feet away from the bluff face. This was another good spot, and Mike quickly lifted the little rattlesnake onto a low ledge and placed a plant saucer over it while we got camera gear ready.
In the middle of this I looked into a low crevice and saw the distinct face of a copperhead staring back at me. "Copperhead!" I called out. As I was doing so Ryan was peering into an ankle-high crevice - "Cottonmouth! Two cottonmouths!" A pit-viper triple play, all within four feet of ledge. "Anyone want to head north and get a Massasauga? We could do the Illinois pit viper grand slam today!" said Ryan.
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