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Herping Paraguay, Part II

Picking right off from where we left off…

 

After our evening in Fili, we decided to hit the road and head off to Parque Nacional Defensores del Chaco (Defenders of the Chaco National Park, or DNP as we called it); a few hours north.

On the way there we were treated with a lot of wildlife – unfortunately little of it was herpetofaunal, but even the birds in Paraguay are something to behold. The one herp on the way up was this Spirit Diminutive Snake (Psomophis genimaculatus) which is evidently not a commonly seen snake (whether it’s rare or not is hard to say in a country as little-herped as Paraguay.) It reminded me of a Pinewoods Snake back home.

Other animals from the drive up,

 

Jabiru Storks, a very interesting looking bird.

 

Caracara – there are several species in Paraguay. We have Crested Caracaras in Florida and I always thought it odd that they would have the name “Face-face” – but evidently the name is Guarani, a native language from Paraguay (and spoken by more of the population than spanish!) and it’s onomonopedic (is that a word?), sounding like their call.

 

Other things seen on the drive out:

 

I was happy for an upclose look at a Rhea after missing on pictures of them in Bolivia a couple years earlier:

 

The Bottle Tree; one of the most picturesque trees in the Chaco:

 

We got permission from one of the rangers to set up a tent onsite, so we pitched it and explored the grounds around the ranger station:

 

Beka found a young goat that she liked: I told her not to get too attached.

We headed out from the ranger station to drive the main road; it looked something like this:

 

 

We were hoping to get a little ways down it and to Cerro Leon, an interesting formation – a hill of sorts in the middle of the vast, flat Chaco. On the drive there we saw a couple of rabbit-like Chacoan Mara:

 

Water being as scarce as it is, any mud hole was an important resource for Lepidopterans (moths and butterflies) and we saw them by the hundreds:

 

There were also ubiquitous Armadillos – Paraguay actually has over a dozen species:

 

Finally we arrived at Cerro Leon and hiked up to get a view of the Chaco from on high:

 

That night we had an unfortunate realization that snake activity might be a bit depressed: a big, bright full moon. We saw one snake, a Yellow-bellied Leophis (Erythrolamprus poecilogyrus), and some other non-herps as well:

Interestingly enough, despite fact that this was the most remote place I’d ever been, I ran into someone I knew there – Paul from Fauna Paraguay (http://faunaparaguay.com/). I’d emailed back in forth with him quite a bit prior to coming; and he was having similar sparse luck on animals for the evening. The next morning after a late night of cruising we hit the road to return to Fili. On the way, interspersed between big trucks coming down from Bolivia we saw a peculiar shadow in the road.

Sure enough – a beautiful Argentine Boa. The color variant in the Chaco is absolutely gorgeous.

Posed up:

 

That’s all for tonight, hang around for part III

 

 

 
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Posted by on 14/04/2014 in Tales From the Field

 
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Herping Paraguay, Part I

Hello all,

 

It’s been two months (and change) since I’ve posted – I’ve been spending time either in the great white north, down in Florida working on my thesis, and doing a little herping here and there. I also just finished up the bulk of the writing on my second book, a children’s story about a pack of dogs in the Paraguayan Chaco; and as such I’ve been thinking about Beka and my last trip there in April of 2011, when we went to teach at the New Tribes Mission Ed Camp. This was covered in detail in an issue of Herp Nation magazine, so if you’ve not checked that out please do – http://www.herpnation.com/issues/issue-no-14/?simple_nav_category=issues – not wanting to upstage the paying gig, I’m going to keep the narrative here to a minimum (but throw in a couple of pictures that didn’t make the cut in the HN issue.)

 

Paraguay; I’ve been in love with the place since going there in 2005. I’ve been to quite an array of countries: Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, Germany, Poland, Austria, Peru, Bolvia, Brazil – but none of them are quite as amazing to me as Paraguay. I don’t know if I could quite explain it, except to say that there’s a certain freedom and mystery there that can only come from a country so wild and sparsely population. I say wild, but there’s also a certain sophistication there, probably brought on by the large mennonite population in the Chaco, the northwestern part of the country.

Anyways, all that aside until later. Beka and I arrive in mid-April in Asuncion, the country’s capital city. Within a day I was thrust into my first experience driving an manual transmission and we were off on the Ruta Trans Chaco (Cross Chaco Highway) towards our destination. On the way, there was some mixed feelings of thrill and disappointment, such as with this big guy, an animal I instinctively knew as we passed by, despite never having seen one in the wild before:

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Hopefully I’ll turn up a live Yellow Anaconda someday, but it seems this one had got going with the coming of the rains and got nailed on the Trans Chaco; an event I found was not isolated – a little while later we saw this poor guy:

A Tamadua – a species we had at the Zoo I was working at, but our individual wasn’t as blond as this guy. It was a depressing sight for sure. But, arriving in Filadelfia lifted my spirits. Filadelfia (Fili) is an interesting town – there’s a couple of supermarkets and stores, but most of it looks like this:

 

And stray too far from the central grid and you arrive at places like this:

or the occasional wetland:

 

In short, my kind of town. Despite the last couple of pictures, the Chaco is often a very dry place – the year previous, in fact, parts of the Chaco had gone 10 months without rain gracing their skies. Beka and I were very fortunate to have arrived during a very wet time. We actually arrived after dark (the previous pictures were taken later) with a light rainfall, so needless to say as soon as we got in and dropped our stuff off at the mission house we were to be staying at, we hopped back in the car and went out frogging. It was a fruitful night, and some of the Chaco’s best made an appearance.

 

Chacoan Monkey Treefrogs (Phyllomedusa sauvagii) were among the first seen; looking quite out of place crossing the road – they walk rather than hop and look about as odd as any human would walking on all fours:

 

 

Interesting color variant; some of these daytime pictures were taken the following day as Beka and I were holding onto a few specimens to show at the Ed Camp:

Granular Toads (Rhinella major) were also out in force:

And these might just be my favorite amphibians of the trip; looking like a gigantic version of our narrowmouth toads, called the Mueller’s Narrowmouth (Dermatonotus muelleri). The local missionary kids called them turtle frogs – an appropriate common name, I’d say, because they looked like little turtles when they walked across the road.

 

Another “familiar” (but not really familiar) face was this Chaco Frog (Leptodactylus chaquensis), which is a doppelganger of the Leopard frog in the US:

Then there was this Paradox frog (Pseudis paradoxa) – so named because of the fact that they actually shrink when going from larval stages to adulthood (similar to River Frogs in the southeast); they’re also strange because although they look like a Ranid, they’re actually a hylid. Go figure.

The Oven Frogs (Leptodactylus bufonius). Interestingly enough, these guys will often inhabit Vischacha (wild chinchilla) burrows.

Then came some of my favorites – the horned frogs. We saw two species, Ceratophrys  cranwelli and Chacophrys pierottii:

The two together, dorsal:

And shot from the front that Beka took:

And, a final find for the night, I thought I escaped Cane Toads (nasty animals!) when I left south Florida. Kind of, but not quite: another doppleganger, Bufo schneideri.

And one final Phyllomedusa for the night, P. azurea:

 

 

 

 

 

That’s all for part one folks – stay tuned for part 2 – Defensores Del Chaco and La Princesa.

 

 
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Posted by on 13/04/2014 in Tales From the Field, Uncategorized

 

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Next Meeting of the South Florida Herp Society – Featuring Shawn Heflick

Hey Everyone,

I know a lot of south Florida locals read this blog – the South Florida Herp Society is having its next meeting on February 1st at Wild Cargo Pets in West Palm Beach – 7pm.

We’re having Shawn Heflick (From the Nat. Geo show Python Hunters) speak – he’ll be giving a talk entitled “Reptile Conservation, Filming and Fun around the World”

Please come join us, it’s not too often we have TV stars at our SF Herp Society gatherings – meeting is $5 for non-members, but first time attendees are free.

 

 

ALSO – Come by Wild Cargo beforehand (12pm – 6pm) for the first SFHS Flea Market – a variety of herp-related products will be for sale; including 20, 10, and 5 gallon tanks and critter carriers: all for ridiculously low prices. We’ll be around in Wild Cargo’s back lot.

 
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Posted by on 17/01/2014 in Uncategorized

 
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Field Herping October – December 2013, Part II

 

I know, I know, everyone is filled with excitement after that intro, so we’ll jump right into it.

 

The time of year was right, so I made the 5 hour trek to Daniel’s place and join him, his son Mike and Jake Scott to go kick (ok, photograph) some herpetofaunal tail (maybe I should just say “Caudates.”)

 

But before that, we took a day to seek out one of my favorite groups of snakes, running into Mike Rochford and joined by Lloyd Heilbrunn along the way. Mike was newly married (Congrats again Mike!) and hoping for the road to spit him out a wedding present. Meanwhile in another car, Lloyd was also hoping for some good fortunes, and I was secretly pulling for him (I was in his car, after all.) After not too much time, bam!

 

This Southern Hognose came a few minutes after a pygmy, which for some reason I neglected to use my flash on.

 

Mike stuck around after we were on our way and had similar luck – maybe he’ll throw up a picture on the forum at some point.

 

Meanwhile, on with our journey, the next find was quite novel to me: I enjoy Box Turtles, and seeing the sheer size of one of these Gulf Coasters had me dumbfounded.

 

And look at that head!

 

Moving onwards, the sun set and we began to hike around. We were hoping for rain, to no avail. We nearly stepped on a couple of lurking Cottonmouths. Ok, maybe “nearly” is a bit sensationalistic. . .

 

But persevere we did, through every danger, toil and snare (see aforementioned). I was taking a gander at this little fellow for a while.

 

 

Finally, I heard a whoop from ahead.

 

Ambystoma cingulatum

Now that’s the stuff dreams are made of. We returned to our car, victorious, and headed to other areas. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem that too much was out and about – though I managed one additional lifer for the eve’; a River Frog.

 

What a weekend! Team Aquatica was victorious, though it was bittersweet as I had not encountered one of my targets for the weekend, the last of the Nerodia clarkii subspecies I had yet to find: the Gulf Saltmarsh Snake (Nerodia clarkii clarkii.)

 

So, I waited. Patience is one of those herping virtues that allows one to do things like have a life outside of herping: you know, have a job, family – all that stuff that people have been doing since time unmemorable. Well, a month later I hopped back in the car and back up to northern Florida for yet another reunion of Team Aquatica. This time the target was clarkii.

 

We met up with Jason and he promptly showed us four he had gotten earlier in the evening. Primed for action we got walking through the marsh…

 

And walking…

 

And walking…

 

And nothing…

 

Well, that was anticlimactic. Fortunately for you (and us) we sacrificed our health (late night) and sanity (see previous bracket) completely beyond what is reasonable, advisable or intelligent and decided it would be a jolly good idea to drive a little father north to another spot. We hopped out at a culvert and began shining – Mike had eyes like an Osprey and said he saw something on the edge of the salt creek. Well slap me silly! what did we see before us but the biggest, most impressive clarkii we’d ever seen (it was actually a first for Daniel, and I believe Mike too.) So I showed them my clarkii-wrangling expertise and did a flying leap into the knee-deep mud to find my writhing quarry in my hand:

 

 

(Please allow for a short intermission to allow my adrenaline levels to recede.)

 

What a beauty.

 

Happy with our victory, we headed to camp for a couple hours of sleep, and then on the road again. Once again, pesky terrestrial herps waylaid us on our journey. There was that one that nearly caused an accident when Dan laid on the breaks in front of me:

 

A young and beautiful Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

 

One Diamondback in a day is pleasant enough, two (for me) is rarely ever even worth hoping for. A Little later in the day, whaddaya know:

 

It did that funky thing EDB’s sometimes do where they’ll stick out their tongue and just let it sit there.

 

I was tempted to touch the tongue, and would have had the snake not been highly venomous

 

Another successful trip and pretty soon we’re in the month of December. I just finished the last class of my Master’s Degree and was up for a little celebration. I gave Josh Young a call to invite him on a trip to completely circumnavigate (or was it circumvent?) Lake Okeechobee. A more complete account of the day can be found here: http://fieldventures.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/a-schools-out-field-venture/ We got going around 7am, and quickly began flipping debris, turning up a Blue-tailed Mole Skink, which did not stick around for photos. Soon thereafter though:

 

Mmm, victory.

 

We kept on looking for our next target: Nerodia clarkii from Lee County. We scouted out some great looking habitat and began hiking as the sun went down. After a long while we turned up a good number of clarkii:

 

The vast majority were hybrids, looking mostly like Florida Watersnakes

 

Well, heck of a day so far – why not keep it going? I thought.

My friend Jason joined us for this leg of the journey, here’s him and Josh photographing one of the Veiled Chameleons from the evening:

 

A great day, for sure. That’s mostly the end of the narrative portion of this post, but I’ve also, of course, accrued some et cetera shots from one-night outings here and there, so here are some of those finds:

An axanthic Striped Crayfish Snake from an otherwise unproductive night:

 

I’ve found that I’ve hardly photographed any cornsnakes in the past couple of years. A shame, I thought and made it a point to photograph one or two this season:

 

One of five Bobcats seen one evening:

 

A group shot from a field trip with the South Florida Herp Society:

 

Oustalet’s Chameleons:

 

A Juvenile Veiled Chameleon from the same evening:

 

Another taeniata:

 

 

That’s about all everyone, thanks for looking… Hopefully Episode VI will be coming in a few months.

 

-JDH

 
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Posted by on 07/01/2014 in Tales From the Field

 

Field Herping, October – December 2013

I’m going to start posting some of my field reports on Field Ventures to make them a little easier to find/browse. Anyways, we’re going to take a couple of steps back to September – the 2013 NAFHA Annual Meeting. Although it was in the southeast, it was well outside of my usual stomping grounds, I managed to see a couple of lifers and a couple more species that I rarely turn up. And of course, most importantly I got to see a lot of old and new friends.

Part of the group checking out 8 or 9 baby Cottonmouths under a board:

The  man that took the helm in putting it together, Tim W.

During this trip Daniel Dye, Mike Dye, Jake Scott, Don Filipiak, Kyle Loucks and myself stuck together and concentrated on the more aquatic herpetofauna, henceforth dubbing ourselves a “Team Aquatica.” Two of our group photographing a Copperhead that waylaid us on the way to our swampy haunts.

The venomous beast itself:

Notice the superhero-like garb of Jake, aka “Ambystoma”

Some of the aquatic finds:

Almost immediately upon our arrival, Kyle got into action and turned up several Chamberlain’s Dwarf Salamanders.

And a Slimy too:

We spent a good bit of time around a single wetland looking for some rarities. Carpenter Frog:

Southern Dusky:

One of the small wetlands was in the process of drying up, and filled with little Lesser Sirens

And one of the main targets for Dan and Jake:

Don and I hiked around a bigger pond for a while and came up with one very photogenic Eastern Cottonmouth:

Some other finds from the weekend:

Twas a swell weekend indeed. On my return, Tim joined me in search of a few loose ends in Florida. High on his list was the Atlantic Saltmarsh Snake (Nerodia clarkia taeniata). The only problem was that conditions were bad (torrential rain inbound) and the area we were looking was 3 or 3.5 hours to the north of us. We were tired after a weekend of intense herping (or like 40 days for Tim), and we almost canceled it. We finally decided to forget the odds and to go for it – it was the determination that epic nights were made of, so Tim, Mike Rochford, Don and I, (with help from my clarkii-expert friend Jason) got hopped up on caffine and hit the road. Within 5 minutes of arriving at the site, we saw our first snake.

Success! Most of our 5 snakes were weird Nerodia clarkii taeniata x N. c. compressicauda x N. fasciata pictiventris mixes:

But finally we spied this looker – another lifer for me, N. c. taeniata:

A splendid evening, one I’ll not soon forget.

And of course there was the ever-time-consuming Thesis work. It was hard word and a few cool finds turned up, some incidental, some in the traps:

The rangers at the park said that Diamondbacks were the third most common snake they see. Despite this I didn’t see a single one all summer. This finally changed last October-ish. I was on my way through one of my wetlands, when I looked up and saw this:

My wife was my field minion that day and so I got a picture of her with it:

And one final parting shot of it:

And of course, I’ve done my share of looking for Mangrove Saltmarsh Snakes this year for a couple of research projects I’m working on. On one particular evening I joined up with a friend from UCF named Jason and a few others to hunt some clarkii.

We did well this particular evening:

That’s about it for this post. Next one is coming soon.

Thanks all,

-JDH

 
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Posted by on 06/01/2014 in Tales From the Field

 

Gear Review: Fenix HP15 vs Fenix HP25

Changing gears from my typical flashlight reviews, I’m going to compare two of the newest headlamps from Fenix – The HP 15 and the HP 25. Just a brief introduction to the two – the HP25  is equipped with two separate lights, a 180 lumen spotlight and a 180 lumen flood light;  and advertises a combined lumen output of 360 – this light will set you back about $70. The HP15, the successor to the HP11 and HP10, yields a single light that sports 500 lumens and comes with a diffuser that is similar to the HP11’s. Both of the lights have the typical Fenix headstrap, but the ’15 comes with an extra couple feet of cord between the light and battery pack that you can use to keep the battery pack off the head strap if you so desire – a nice little feature, especially when out in cold weather when having the battery pack in a pocket can mean some extra runtime.

Before breaking these lights down, let me get to something I love about each of them: The HP11 has been my workhorse for a couple of years now – that light is a work of art except for its one Achilles Heel: the hinge which the light pivots on, which is absolutely essential for adjusting the light to aim in the trees, on the ground, adjust for a hat, etc. breaks ridiculously easily after a couple of months in the field, leaving you to try to fix it with rubberbands and toilette paper (can you tell I’ve been there?) This is one of the reason’s I’d recommend getting these lights from a vendor with good customer service. This problem, it seems, is remedied in both of these lights: the hinge is similar to the one found on the HP10, which still works flawlessly for me after many a year of service. But let’s get to the specifics of the two lights.

Overall Brightness:

 HP15 – 9.5/10

 HP25 – 7/10

I’d hate to go in for the kill so quickly, but this is the area where the HP15 shines (pun intended) and the HP25 gets pummeled. The HP15 is just about as bright as a car’s headlight, piercing through the deepest night with ease. Another nice feature is the fact that there are five instead of three brightness levels, giving a little bit more opportunity for battery conservation if it’s needed, while still being ready to punch it up to turbo power. The HP15 get’s a shellacking here. Not that it’s not bright: it’s just no where near what one expects from a Fenix headlight – functionally it’s only 180 lumens, not 360. Not because one can’t have both bulbs on at the same time: you can, but who on Earth needs both a flood and spotlight at the same time? Realistically most of us are only going to use one at a time, leaving us with half the lumens.

 

Width of beam

HP15 –9.5/10

HP25 – 10/10

The obvious advantage of having twin light heads on one headlamp is that even without the brightness, each light will (hopefully) be good at their job. The HP25 is nice for a leisurely walk with its floodlight, so it gets positive points there. The HP15 has a similar diffuser to the HP11, which I love in both cases; but the HP15’s diffuser seems a little flimsier to me: thinner plastic and it’s not spring loaded; but it still does the trick, and does a good job at it

Throw

HP15 – 9/10

HP25 – 8/10

The HP15 does every bit as good at getting light out there as most hand torches do (at less cost); the lack of overall lumens in the ’25, however, translate to less throw. I gave it an extra half point for making the best of its luminous limits by having a narrow beam, but still the HP15 wins out again

Water/Light Penetration

HP15 – 8/10

HP25 – 7/10

Even CREE LED’s have trouble keeping up with the classic halogens in terms of water penetration, but the HP25 stayed close to the HP15 despite having about a third the effective lumens because of the tightness of the spotlight beam – it does make a difference

Battery

HP15 – 9/10

HP25- 9/10

            Both of these lights suffer from running through batteries if you ask of them the best they can put out. It’s not really a problem with the light, but more a problem with the user to remind oneself that you don’t need to do maximum warp on the lights at all times – but it’s kind of hard to remember when you know you can buy more AA’s at nearly every corner store on Earth.

Size

HP15 8/10

HP25 7/10

They both admittedly look a little awkward and flat to me, but still a good size all around.

 

Price

HP15 – 9/10

HP25 – 9/10

They’re both going for around the same price, and I’m honestly still impressed for the quality lighting you can get for such an inexpensive price.

Dependability

HP15 – 9/10

HP25 – 9/10

I haven’t had a problem with either yet, but will continue to carry out my punishing herping exploits and report back if problems arise.

Ruggedness

HP15 – 8.5/10

HP25 – 8.5/10

Despite being overwhelmingly plastic, I’ve been impressed at how both have held up: especially given that I bang my head a lot.

Other

HP15 8/10

HP25 7/20

Ok, I’ll admit it: the ’25 is kind of ugly.

OVERALL SCORE –

HP15 – 87.5/100

HP25 – 81/100

The HP15 is really a work of beauty, and has replaced the HP11 as my primary light. On the other hand, the HP25 suffers from having the two bulbs and, in a phrase, being a jack of all trades and master of none. This actually might work for some field ventures such as camping or stargazing where raw brightness isn’t really the issue, but for the majority of stuff, I’d go with the ’15.

 

JDH

My Buddy Josh Young sporting the Fenix HP25

As for me and mine, we go with the HP15.

 
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Posted by on 21/12/2013 in Equipment Reviews, Uncategorized

 

Keep Field Ventures Going!

Hey Everyone,

More posts are on their way, including some new lighting reviews; but with the new found free time I’m hoping to make Field Ventures bigger and better. How can you help, you ask?

 

1.) Subscribe! It’s the best way to keep up-to-date with posts, just fill in your email address over on the right –>

 

2.) Tell your friends about Field Ventures! Post a link or two on Facebook, or send out an interesting species profile or equipment review to a friend.

 

3.) Write for Field Ventures! Got some interesting herpetofauna or other wildlife nearby? Have a trip report with photos or a review of some new field gear? I’m looking for folks to join on both as guest bloggers as well as regular bloggers: enjoy sharing your knowledge and finds with the readers of both Field Ventures and Herp Nation Magazine. Email me JDHolbrook -at- gmail . com to inquire.

 

 

JDH

 
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Posted by on 18/12/2013 in Uncategorized

 

Area Profile: Jonathan Dickinson State Park

After having just about finished up six months of intensive field work for my Master’s Thesis, a bit of a description of where I actually did my work is in order: not only because it was (and is) an excellent place to conduct research, it too is a great place for the recreational herper, birder, hiker, biker and just about everyone else who likes the outdoors to get out and experience some of the most interesting habitat southern Florida has to offer.  This place is none other than Jonathan Dickinson State Park, nestled between Hobe Sound and Jupiter in Palm Beach and Martin Counties.

First off, let me be frank: if you’re a herper who’s looking for a place that will be like Everglades National Park with 20-snake days and such, Jonathan Dickinson (JDSP) will probably be a little bit of a disappointment to you. It’s a great place, but it takes a little sophistication (or diverse interests) to truly appreciate. You might now find too many big Mudsnakes crawling around, or Florida Kingsnakes or anything of that sort but what you will see will be wondrous nonetheless. Primarily I’m speaking of the habitat diversity in JDSP: scrub, flatwoods, sandhills, wetlands, mangrove swamp, cypress swamp, the mighty Loxahatchee River all knit together in a way perhaps unrepeated in all of the world. It is here, in fact, that one can be walking through the scrub with all the cacti, sand and palmetto it entails and end up right in the middle of a mangrove swamp. Or be walking through the flatwoods only to have it give way to ground littered with sundew and beyond it a sphagnum-filled bog. (The first time I had this experience, I nearly thought I’d been transported to a boreal forest!)

A Green Watersnake (Nerodia floridana) in one of the many cypress sloughs in JDSP

But don’t get me wrong: JDSP has an impressive array of species, especially in the Amphibian department. It’s true: despite the fact that it’s relatively dry when compared to the Everglades, one can find a wide variety of frogs and toads. Barking Treefrogs (Hyla gratiosa) and Pinewoods Treefrogs  (Hyla femoralis) deafen summer nights in the scrub, only to have their watch be taken over by Gopher Frogs (Rana capito )in the fall and winter. Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes (Crotalus adamanteus) are not uncommon for some (I went 5 months before I saw one, but the rangers insist they’re the 3rd most common snake after racers and coachwhips). And if you’re really lucky, you might see one of the parks resident Eastern Indigo Snakes (Drymarchon couperi). Birds aren’t absent either: there are a good number of Bald Eagles and Pileated Woodpeckers, and some of the small wetlands in the scrub keep gaggles of Hooded Mergansers.

A view from the top of one of JDSP’s sand ridges.

In JDSP, I recommend a hike along the west side of the railroad tracks and south through the park. That will bring you through some of the most scenic sandhills and eventually along a number of temporary ponds and wetlands: frog breeding hotspots when filled with water, and also a good place for some bird life. Towards the western end of JDSP is a vast expanse of pine flatwoods habitat – homeland of many an Eastern Diamondback – with a great number of sandy paths crisscrossing across the landscape, the Kitching Creek Trail in specific is a lovely one. There’s also ample opportunity to kayak in the Loxahatchee River, and there’s a splendid mix of fresh and salt water fish and other critters afoot between its banks.

One thing that can ruin a park experience, though, is an unfriendly park staff. You wont be having this problem at JDSP: all the staff is extremely helpful and knowledgeable about the area. Most important to my needs: they are very supportive of wildlife research within their borders and were a great deal of help as I conducted mine; believe it or not, this isn’t always the case with natural areas, so I was quite thankful for this.  So the next time you need a good day of experiencing the awe of nature to clear your mind, strap on a pair of boots and hit this local gem.

Barking Treefrogs at one of JDSPs many temporary wetlands.

 
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Posted by on 16/12/2013 in Area Profiles

 

Lifelist: Florida Pinesnake (Pituophis melanoleucus mugitus)

Country: USA

State: Florida

County: Okeechobee

Date: March 2007

Co-herpers: Jason Thullbery

Notes: My shots of the original were pretty bad, so I substituted in this one I found later. Jason and I had done a long bit of herping that week over Spring Break, and really hadn’t turned up that much. But we kept it up and the last evening we were rewarded with a small Florida Pinesnake which we’d originally mistaken for a Cornsnake when we passed it – if you want to read the whole story of our Spring Break Odyssey, it’s in A Field Guide to the Snakes of Southern Florida.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on 13/12/2013 in Uncategorized

 

A ‘School’s out’ Field Venture

Well, schools out for the winter: I just finished the last class of my Master’s Degree, and before hunkering down to write my thesis, I figured a little celebration was in order. Soon after such a decision, the question arises of what to do. It’s Florida and there are as many options for field herping fun as there are counties, species and natural areas. Well, it turns out my in-laws had been visiting and had forgotten a jacket at our house, but were a mere 3 hours away in Florida’s Southwest reaches, and that’s about as good of an excuse as I need. Given that the trip I had in my head was due to run me all day and most of the night, I needed a “herping bud” to make sure I didn’t fall asleep behind the wheel or die alone in the coils of a python (kidding about that second one) and my friend Josh Young was able to join me despite the last minute text.

 

Seven AM and we hit the road; flipping our way around Lake Okeechobee. Already it was hot, hotter than I’d expected (86 degrees or so was the high) and I figured flipping would probably be fruitless in terms of our target for the morning, Scarlet Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis elapsoides) – this is a small and fossorial species and although they can be very easily found under artificial human-generated cover (AC), the window to actually flip them is quite small and temperature-dependent. And we missed that window. But, though fruitless it was not pointless: just being out in the field and looking under boards is like opening presents on Christmas morning. We did find a couple of racers; a lump of coal, to keep with the metaphor, for many snake lovers. But I love seeing them out and about – such a prolific and successful species should be admired. But, even still, nothing else under AC, so it was time to mosey.

We drove on a bit and decided to try for an Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon couperi) – Not an impossible snake to find, but they take some effort: seeing the glimpse of a big, thick deep-black snake swagger across the road usually comes at the cost of lots of time and gas (or calories, if you are hiking them on foot.) And yes, I did use the term “swagger” – this species never seems in a rush to get where it’s going, and will slither with palpable confidence through the scrub or across the road; an impressive sight, but probably unfortunate as a 5+ foot snake is easy fodder for passing cars. So we turned down the road we were to cruise, as I said to Josh “This is where we’ll start looking for them.”

Five or ten seconds passed followed soon after by a anatomical chain reaction: an adrenaline rush. Sitting right off to the side in the road in the palmettos was a ~6 foot Indigo. Given this a federally protected species, it isn’t legal to manipulate them for photos, so I had to be content with only a couple of pictures that I was less-than-satisfied with, but ahh well. The best of the bunch:

 

Beautiful!

 

Victorious in this goal, we continued south to the southwestern Florida coast, stopping along the way for some delicious Barbeque. That evening we went to a coastal area and searched for Mangrove Salt Marsh Snakes (Nerodia clarkii compressicauda), a species I’ve been working with on a few projects over the past year. We turned up a few, some of them hybrids: but I’m going to dedicate some posts specifically to them a little later, so that’s all for now. It’s at this point that my friend Jason W joined up with us for some of the excitement. I don’t get to see Jason too often, so it’s always enjoyable to chat about herping adventures and whatnot.

 

Finally, the evening brought us to an area where the landowner was nice enough to let us look around for another species near and dear to my heart: Florida’s exotic Veiled Chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus). We didn’t find a ton, but we found a pair of beautiful males:

A little closer, believe it or not the hardest part of photographing chameleons is getting them to actually look at you:

 

Josh and Jason with one of the veileds:

 

And myself with the two of them:

 

A great celebration after lots of hard work. Expect more posts soon.

 

JDH

 
 
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