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Posted by on 11/12/2015 in Uncategorized


Equipment Review: Lumintop Tool AAA


Welcome again fellow Field Venturers. As most of you know, I try to run this blog specifically tailored to those who do biological field work – whether that be professionally or recreationally – and obviously my main interest is Reptiles and Amphibians (though I will post a mammal or invertebrate from time to time.) In keeping with this, I like to offer gear reviews of whatever I can get my hands on, and oftentimes that means flashlights. Why? Because I’m out a lot at night, looking for critters. Usually I am interested in the big, really bright lights; but for this review I’m going to be scaling down and taking a look at the Lumintop Tool.

The tool is small – powered by a single AAA battery kind of small. Is completely concealable in the average sized male hand. Instead of a twist on/off like most mini flashlights, the Tool has a click-switch on the butt, and depressing the click switch half way controls the light’s intensity – the intensities go in order of medium (32 lumens), low (5 lumens), high (105 lumens), and there’s somewhat of a memory function – albeit a marginally annoying one – where if you turn the lamp off, it will come on at the next intensity. E.g. – if you turn the light off on high, the next time you turn it on, it will be on medium; if medium, then low; if low, then high. The memory function only ‘remembers’ for a few minutes, if you turn it on hours later it will start at the beginning of the medium – low – high circuit. The Tool’s charge purports to last 30 minutes on high, ten hours on medium and 60 hours on low. So far (using the Tool sporadically but regularly,) I think these are somewhat conservative estimates (although they might be more accurate if you use the light for an uninterrupted amount of time.) The Lumintop tool will cost you a mere $20 on amazon.

Overall Brightness – 9/10

Wow. Honestly, the only reason this isn’t given a 10/10 is because it obviously doesn’t compare to other lights in larger classes with a more robust power source… But, again: wow. The tool really surprised me with how bright it is given its size and AAA battery source. I’d take it road cruising for sure – in fact, it’s a really nice addition to just have in my pocket on a day-to-day basis when the suns getting low, conditions are good, but I just don’t happen to have my camera bag on me with its arsenal of lights. The high setting is actually bright enough to shine up arboreal lizards (chameleons, iguanas, etc.), albeit as a backup light, or perhaps a light that doesn’t look overly suspicious in an urban setting.

Width of beam9.5/10

Lamentably, most flashlights seem to prefer spotlighting to floodlighting. This isn’t a problem with the tool – it has what is perhaps a nearly perfect floodlight, spreading its lumens over a wide area. I’m really impressed by this; even the likes of the Fenix TK-45 (when adjusting for lumens) doesn’t give as nice of a beam width. The only light I have that does a better flood is the HP15 when paired with a diffuser, but the Tool gives even that a run for its money.

Throw 8/10

Balancing throw with beam width is give-and-take, but I actually think the Tool does the job of representing both very well. It is able to light across the field behind my house quite well, obviously not as much throw as a spotlight, but a great bit for most applications – especially those herp-related.

Water/Light Penetration 7.5/10

Listen, I really like this light after a few weeks of use, but everything has its limitations – don’t use it for shining for fish or aquatic salamanders and expect it to stack up to bigger, more powerful lights. That said, I was by no means disappointed with the way the light performed – just not overwhelmed either.

Battery 9/10

On one hand, AAA’s are a little bit more annoying than AA’s; but on the other hand, we would, by definition, be dealing with a significantly bulkier light if AAA’s were used. As is, I’m impressed with the output, and AAA’s are still widely available at most gas stations, and certainly any dollar store, Walmart, etc. – and there are plenty of both in the southeast. The torch itself lasts a goodly long time on its battery – currently I’m using a Amazon Basics AAA (non-rechargeable, though I intended to invest in rechargeables soon).


For a normal-to-large sized person, this light’s size is amazing given the output. Those with sausage fingers might find some problems with it and its small click-switch (I stress might, not entirely sure), but all others should love it.


All aluminum, 110 lumens, perfect diffusion for $20. Do I really need elaborate?

Dependability – 9.5/10

No apparent problems here.

Ruggedness 8/10

The Tool is entirely metal, so rugged overall, but I did have to dock it a couple of points for a potential problem: there is a slight gap where the tailcap and the head articulate to the body. This gap attracts grime, sand and dust. This isn’t a huge problem; it just requires a little extra care when opening the light to not allow any sand into the threading.

Other 9.5/10

Everything else checks out – it’s an attractive light. I docked another half a point because of the memory function (see the introduction) and because the tailcap seems to attract pocket lint, but I can’t really compare that to any other light, as I’ve never had one small enough to fit easily in my pocket before. Not a big deal other than a minor cosmetic consideration.



Lumintop sent me this light for review purposes – I’d actually never heard of Lumintop prior to this and wasn’t expecting much. The Tool exceeded expectations, and it goes with me everywhere I go now. As a matter of fact, this light is one of the few lights I can recommend to anyone, even non-herpers. Keep it in your glovebox, in your pocket, anywhere a light might come in handy, and with the $20 pricetag it’s affordable to get a couple strategically placed around the house and in vehicles. If Lumintop’s other lights are of the same caliber as this guy, I can’t wait to get my hands on them and start reviewing them for Field Ventures! The Tool AAA and Lumintops other lights can be seen on Lumintop’s website,; check em’ out.





Posted by on 25/11/2015 in Equipment Reviews


To Everything There Is a Season…

First off, to those who read Field Ventures on a regular basis – allow me to apologize for the half a year silence. In that time I’ve been doing a lot of work (two jobs), traveling, and most importantly, welcoming my daughter, Chava Elizabeth, into the world and making the first steps in parenting. Although I’m a conservationist, I don’t jive with many that see humans as an inherent problem and who scold reproduction – we humans are capable of doing some terrible things to nature, but we also have a capacity to care for and restore it that is completely different and unparalleled in the animal kingdom – so having children and teaching them to live well as good stewards of the life and Earth they’ve been given is of utmost importance to me. All that aside, be looking for new Field Ventures post that should be upcoming on a more regular basis, with more experiences from the field, flashlight and other gear reviews, and all sorts of other stuff. Also, if you’re a herper, biologist or nature lover out there, Field Ventures would love to have YOU as a guest or regular blogger. We can’t pay anything, but we can give you an audience to educate and share in your passion for getting in the field. Email for more information!

Having just moved from the two-season South Floridian weather (wet/dry season), the seasons here are wondrous to me – an amazing cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth every year speaks to some of life’s fundamental truths. My herping season doesn’t really have to end because of salamander’s tolerance for extremely cold weather, but it really ‘heats up’ in March – and this is when I started finding many salamanders on the road with the rains, especially welcomed were the vibrant Red and Spring Salamanders:

Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber)

Blue Ridge Spring Salamander (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus danielsi)

Of course, dipnetting is a good way to see some cool critters:

Seepage Stream with dipnet.

Desmognathus conanti

The weather steadily got warmer and warmer from April on, and it wasn’t long before scaled ones began to make their appearances:

Northern x Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix x A. c. mokasen)

From there, things just kept getting warmer. I got out a little bit locally, but seldom broke out my camera for a long photo session – but either way, snakes, frogs, toads and salamanders were out and active, but as the summer continued the oppressive heat suppressed the salamander movement for the end of July and most of August. It was the age of snakes, and most nights yielded several individuals coupled with oppressive humidity – the kind that fogs up ones glasses instantly after stepping out of the car.

Amazingly though, the end of August began to produce nights that started to cool down to an almost chilly level. What sorcery is this? Sure enough, by the beginning of September some nights were getting downright cold. And so Fall came to western North Carolina. And with the return of the equinox came the resurgence of salamander movement, including dozens of these Bat Cave variants of the Yonahlossee Salamander (AKA “Crevice Salamanders”) in the proper locations:

Crevice Salamander (Plethodon yonahlossee, Bat Cave variant)

And others made their appearance. A typical drive at a road near my house:

Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)

Desmognathus conanti

Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens)

Blue Ridge Two Lined Salamander (Eurycea wilderae)

But all good things come to an end, and the frost begins to threaten regularly in my little corner of the world – and it leaves me to sit, dream, and await the rebirth that is the Spring.

Thinking of the things that might live in places like this montane wetland will surely get me through winter’s icy grip…

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Posted by on 05/11/2015 in Uncategorized


Clarkii by County: Lee County

     Posts of western North Carolina interest will be coming over the summer at some point, but let’s tie up some loose ends from Florida. Clarkii – with the cold winter, this post is as much for reminiscing on my part as it is educating.


So, Lee County – despite the long drive from my former residence, this county was a really enjoying place for herping – the gulf coast doesn’t suffer the same degradation as the east coast so good herping spots are abundant, especially for clarkii. Interestingly, true salt marsh habitat (instead of mangrove swamp) comes down much farther south on the gulf coast and Lee county boasts quite a few good examples with dotted with the occasional black mangrove. On one area on the mainland, many dark black and green individuals can be found:



And in nearby retention ponds, Florida Watersnake/Mangrove Snake hybrids are common despite the fact that the ponds themselves are saline:


But some of the islands off the coast in Lee county boast some impressive habitat, with just as impressive clarkii to match them. The habitat consists of interesting lagoons lined with mangroves, sandy bottomed with seagrass. The clarkii there were reds, yellows, tans and salt & pepper. I have only herped these lagoons once with Dr. Chesnes, but it was a exhilarating experience – we had been herping long into the night without any luck. We were tired and mildly disappointed, but our disappointment quickly turned when we found the first one laying in wait among some marsh grass. It’s one of those herping sites that gets etched into your memory and fills you with that warm-fuzzy feeling – what a cool area!




9  7 68

More to come – once again, be sure to check out my article on Mangrove Snakes in an upcoming issue of Herp Nation!


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Posted by on 06/04/2015 in Uncategorized


An Ambitious Year

Hello folks,

It’s been a long time without posting – but not without good reasons. I’ve got a little girl on the way (due in early May), we just moved to the mountains of Western NC, just bought a new/used car, and I just started two new jobs. But Field Ventures will keep going (and hopefully with some more authors) with field reports, gear reviews, and everything else except with a little more temperate herpetofauna slant. If you’re interested in writing for FV, let me know.

Despite all this business, I haven’t been idle. At the beginning of January I got out with a friend, Cary, and we went looking for the exquisitely beautiful Eastern Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum), and had great success early on:

IMG_3351 copy IMG_3349 IMG_3338


As we continued on that day and evening, we found both the marbled salamander (Ambystoma opacum, forgive the poor photo quality):


As well as the Mole Salamander (A. talpoideum):

IMG_3353 IMG_3364

‘Wow,’ I thought to myself, ‘3 of 4 Ambystoma in the region (central GA) in one evening! wouldn’t it be cool to find the fourth, the Spotted Salamander (A. maculatum)? Well, I parted ways with Cary and began the 4-hour return drive. The rains picked up and what did I see crossing my path?


The missing Ambystoma!


I’ve always appreciated the genus Ambystoma before, but on the long drive I began to contemplate: Wouldn’t it be cool to see them all? Well, money is prohibitive to get to the western US, but what about the Ambystoma east of the Mississippi? In addition to the ones I’d found already, that would leave the Jefferson’s Salamander, the Blue-Spotted Salamander, The Mabees Salamander, Streamside Salamander, Smallmouth Salamander, two species of Flatwoods Salamander, and one or two hybrid species. Why not give it a shot?

So, within a few weeks I visited a good friend for an evening in western KY, and he put me on the Streamside Salamander (A. barbouri):


And last week, I went east (with a little help) to find A. mabeei.:

IMG_3709 IMG_3698

6 species down, 5(ish) species to go!


Posted by on 16/02/2015 in Uncategorized


Clarkii by County: Northern Monroe

Continuing on our tour of Nerodia clarkii variation in Florida – let’s go a little south to northern Monroe County. I’m dividing the county into two because the Keys are a long string of island, and there’s some differences in clarkii variation between the upper and lower Keys. Once again, all this is in anticipation of an upcoming issue on Mangrove Saltmarsh Snakes in Herp Nation Magazine, Issue 18.


The Keys have what is potentially the most robust populations of Mangrove Snakes in Florida – This is probably due to a mixture of an abundance of habitat that is relatively competitor free – the Keys are free of the iron fist of the Florida Watersnake, which is a superior competitor and keeps clarkii from penetrating very far inland. Being Florida Watersnake free also prevents the hybridization issue I talked about in my last post. So just how abundant can clarkii be? Here are the results of about an hour of searching with a couple of research assistants:

Bucket o' clarkii

And the story gets even more amazing – a friend of mine boasts of finding more than 100 clarkii in a single evening of searching.

As you can see, a lot of the Keys clarkii are drab in color:



but you’ might also notice some muted copper colors in there – these colors will typically show up very well on the venter.


And some individuals also show copper blotches vibrantly on the dorsum:



A good many of the individuals in the upper Keys are brown in base color, but it’s not uncommon to see other colors as well, including a lovely gray hue –




And as always, the red coloration turns up now and again – I find one once every ten snakes or so in the Keys:



This coloration is not always a solid blood red, but sometimes will include muted yellows and such. I was previously under the assumption that the coloration/pattern ‘fades’ to solid red as they mature, but I’ve seen some blatantly-adult individuals that defy this assumption. Below you can see the same adult, but the pattern/color variation is a little easier to see. IMG_1027


And with so many snakes, they can be potentially found anywhere in the Keys – this is one of the few localities that I’ve herped personally where seeing them in the trees at night is a possible good searching method…. These following two shots are in situ (though I’ve spent hours trying to pose clarkii similarly on other occasions. I personally prefer it when they do it on their own.)







And a few other odds and ends to round off the northern reaches of the county, including some feeding shots. Unlike in nearby ENP where hiking seems to be useless, I’ve found the vast majority of my Keys clarkii hiking in shallow-watered mangrove swamps.


Feeding on a minnow:





That’s all for North Monroe – more to come! I just added a “Like” button on the right, so be sure to “Like” Field Ventures on Facebook. And Don’t forget to check out issue 18 of Herp Nation Magazine, coming out in a few months for my article on Mangrove Saltmarsh Snakes (


Clarkii By County: Miami-Dade

In anticipation of an upcoming article on the Salt Marsh Snake (Nerodia clarkii) in Herp Nation Magazine Issue #18, and the (hopefully) near completion of the data-gathering phase of my research on clarkii in southern Florida, I’m going to review some of my experiences with the species. Instead of a smattering of stream-of-conscious ideas and such, I’ve decided it would be interesting to systematically review what I know of the species in every Florida County I’ve come across them in. For my readership, I think the interest will be in the fact that a.) the foraging and movement ecology of clarkii seems to be different on a local level, in other words they simply act different in nearly every county; and also the pattern and coloration is extremely variable across their range (more elaboration in future postings, and of course the upcoming Herp Nation Magazine article.) So sit back, relax, enjoy.

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Let us begin from the familiar: Dade County – Everglades National Park. Yes, there are other sites in Dade from which to view clarkii, but ENP is rife with them and many herpers have seen the species there. For this reason, I’m sorry to inform you that if you’ve seen clarkii in ENP, you may not have seen clarkii. From our work so far, we’ve encountered 19 Nerodia clarkii-like animals there, of which sixteen have been hybrids between N. clarkii and the Florida Watersnake, N. fasciata, and only three have been pure clarkii. This is one of the interesting things about the species: they readily hybridize with Florida Watersnakes, especially in large-scale mixing zones such as the Everglades. Our work initially began in ENP where we were testing the use of traps for detecting clarkii. Without giving away the data, the interesting tidbit about clarkii at this population is that road cruising seems to be the best way to come across them, and it also seems to be one of the only productive ways to turn them up. Of course I’m not saying it’s impossible to hike them up in ENP, they certainly forage, eat and live outside of the roadways. However, perhaps because of the dense mangroves with extremely deep mud that makes the habitat difficult to search, or perhaps because they forage at different times or in different manners from other populations, we found only a single clarkii by hiking, despite much time spent looking. (And full disclosure: the clarkii we hiked was on a right-of-way, meaning it would’ve been road cruised in seconds had we not already been out of the car.)

Dr. Chesnes checking a trap for clarkii

Dr. Chesnes checking a trap for clarkii


Now on to the variation. Holding with their hybrid nature, most of the clarkii encountered in ENP are banded in some way:

Pure clarkii:

15263277375_149118d244_z clarkii x fasciata:

8737089472_6c2c5caeb1_zPure clarkii:


clarkii x fasciata:  8737101614_ea45180a5e_z

However, occasionally one will look a little more classic clarkii (not that I know what that is, and I can’t seem to find a great picture of one.) And it seems that the red trait is not a recessive one even when fasciata is in the mix, and hybrids will still often turn up with a clarkii bloodred coloration: this individual was a clarkii x fasciata:




That’s all for this segment, in the weeks ahead we’ll take a gander at Indian River, St. Lucie, northern and southern Monroe, Collier and Lee Counties – and maybe, just maybe a new county record or two. Don’t forget to check out issue 18 of Herp Nation Magazine, coming out in a few months for my article on Mangrove Saltmarsh Snakes (



NOTE: This research on Nerodia clarkii was partially funded by a Palm Beach Atlantic University Quality Initiative Grant, so many thanks to them. To help us continue our last few months of research, please consider making a small donation to Field Ventures