Every herper, birder, mammal watcher or general wildlife enthusiast has one: the White Whale. That creature which, like Captain Nemo before us has caused us to mount our vessels, arm ourselves with a mighty spear (or snake hook) and depart on worldwide ventures, bent on killing (or photographing) our White Whale. I’ve had a couple in my day. Some embarrassing, and most just downright frustrating.
Like the Eastern Spadefoot (Scaphiopus holbrookii) – not necessarily a rare species, in fact, it is extremely widespread in Florida. I anxiously awaited every torrential rain, every tropical depression, suiting up with rain gear and saddling up in my flooded-road ready Rav4 (or the HRV/Herpetological Research Vehicle, as I like to call it) and hitting the roads, waiting for the screaming calls of the mass-breeding toad in a wetland or ditch. I even believed the spadefoots were mocking me: not one, but two separate times I heard single individuals calling from far away, only to stop when I got close. One night I even heard a chorus of them: just before sunrise as I lay camping in a State Forest. I sprung up from my sleeping bag, rushing to pull some clothes on and got to the small wetland they called from, only to have them fall silent mere seconds before I arrived. I finally found one in the oddest of places: a friend’s back yard in northern Florida on a rainless night.
But that’s not been my only white whale – there have been many. Interestingly, it seems for me that once I nab a white whale the jig is up and I usually can turn up others without much issue. Take hognoses – my favorite group of snake. I have literally put hundreds upon hundreds of miles into this group of snakes with nothing to show for it. It was when I turned up my first hognose – a Tricolored Hognose (Xenodon pulcher) in Paraguay (by the way, a story of my trip to Paraguay will be in an upcoming issue of Herp Nation Magazine); that I knew the other hognoses should come relatively easy (well, easier then before.) A little over a year later, and I have since turned up my lifer Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platyrhinos) and just recently, my lifer Southern Hognose Snake (Heterodon simus) as well.
White Whales provide for a constant source of frustration and entertainment mixed together, and are a natural side effect of any interest in wildlife. The interesting thing about White Whales is; you usually find them – when you do, you might do a happy dance, or a fist bump, but usually there’s another White Whale waiting in the wings.