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:
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.