A Travellerspoint blog

Biggest herping day EVER!

Southern Illinois

semi-overcast 69 °F


Today was the greatest day of herping in my life so far. And it is almost all in part to my wonderful mentor for the day, Tony Gerard, who was recommended to me by Simon Tolzmann. Targets for the day: Northern & Spotted Dusky, Marbled, Mole, Northern Slimy, & Northern Zigzag Salamander, as well as literally any snake (I’ve only seen a few species from this area).

After I made an unsuccessful attempt at Northern Dusky Salamander at a beautiful location in far southern Illinois (one of their only locations in the state)—

—I headed to Tony’s place and we met up for an absolutely insane day of herping. I won’t give locations online due to herp poachers out there, but the main 2 locations covered today included Wildcat Bluff & Snake Road. His place is awesome and they have some equally-awesome domestic turkeys. Some of them are for eating, some of them for pets. Incredible.

Camel Cricket while Tony and I were beginning to herp.

You know it’s a great day when your first herps of the day are lifers — MARBLED SALAMANDERS!!! Quite possibly one of the most beautiful salamanders I have ever seen.


Next on the docket was another lifer: NORTHERN SLIMY SALAMANDER, our only of the day — cool!

Giant millipede:

Short-tailed Shrew:

And an absolute stunner of a CAVE SALAMANDER. Coooool!

This LONG-TAILED SALAMANDER was Tony’s first at this particular location — amazing! We sure were having a lucky day.

A lifer snake was unexpected given the habitat but totally welcome — SMOOTH EARTHSNAKE!!!! This is typically a snake of more upland habitats but we surprisingly found it in a bottomland swamp habitat.

My lifer GREEN TREE FROG! A darker green due to the colder temps, Tony said.

CENTRAL NEWT, Southern IL’s bland subspecies of the Eastern Newt. Lifer subspecies!

AMERICAN TOAD, told from a Fowler’s because each dark spot on the back only has 1-2 warts as opposed to 3-4.

A really wonderful surprise was my lifer MOLE SALAMANDER in a super dry area — this Ambystoza sp. is typically closer to wet areas than where we found this one.

Pose with the Mole.


Beautiful view from today with fall colors.


BLACK VULTURES found alongside the road between locations were a fun southern Illinois specialty bird to see!

Next stop, Tony brought me back to try to find the Northern Duskies I had missed earlier in the morning. Turns out I had just gone to the wrong stream — just one stream over had plenty Duskies to spare! Awesome, localized lifer! This species was actually introduced to Illinois incidentally by fisherman and now resides in a few isolated Illinois streams and is protected despite its nonnative status.

Then, we drove about 40 minutes to the OTHER Dusky Salamander species in the state, Spotted Dusky Salamanders which are native to Illinois and on the far northern tip of their native range. We pulled up, hiked down into a different rocky stream and immediately found these guys, too! SPOTTED DUSKY SALAMANDER, possibly one of the most localized/rare amphibians in the state!!!

Another big treat was finding a couple of SOUTHERN TWO-LINED SALAMANDERS in this same tree — I had no success photographing this species three weeks ago at Kankakee River State Park, so it was great to finally get this species as a photographic lifer.

On the way out I found my lifer FOWLER’S TOAD — notice that it has 3-4 warts in every black spot on the back. Cool! Subtle field marks like these are super helpful in blth herp and avian identification.

It was an amazing day with Tony. By that time I had 9 salamander species, and the day wasn’t over yet! Next, my family and I headed to the world-famous Snake Road in hopes for more snake species for the day as well as maybe, just maybe, Zigzag Salamander. Tony told me that these are super challenging this time of year so I was just hoping to mainly snag some snake species for the day.

And that we did! This quick WESTERN RIBBON SNAKE dove into the cliff face only allowing for this one horrible but diagnostic pic of its streamlined black and yellow streaking with one single more orangeish ventral stripe (it would be yellow on an Eastern, or on Garter Snakes).

And a little while later, I hit the jackpot — I actually found one of the elusive little NORTHERN ZIGZAG SALAMANDERS! I wasn’t even flipping over everything I saw due to tiredness from the day so this one was just an extremely lucky flip! This is definitely one of the hardest species to track down as they range all up and down Snake Road (which is LONG), but they are not too common, particularly this time of year. INCREDIBLE!!! Ten salamander species in one day! This one is a look-alike to Eastern Red-backeds which are common out east.

BLANCHARD’S CRICKET FROG was a lifer today:

As was this PLAIN-BELLIED WATERSNAKE which allowed for a very close approach and then it suddenly bolted away through the grasses at an alarming speed. Crazy!

Oh, and a trip to Snake Road isn’t complete without its venemous cousin the NORTHERN COTTONMOUTH (or “Water Moccasin”) which is a dangerous snake and rather alarmingly, the most common snake on and near the road. I admired this beautiful specimen from a distance (one photographer made a surprisingly close approach to this dangerous creature). A long-overdue lifer!

And later I found an even larger specimen nestled along the cliff face, inching its way toward a hole in the cliff, presumably getting ready to hibernate for the winter:

On the way out I spotted this tree frog clinging to the inside of one of the posts of the gate blocking off Snake Road. Gray Tree Frog, maybe? Who knows...it was far down, in the dark.

Snake Road in the evening.

Later, my mom mastered the art of improvisation with what we are given as we didn’t have electric at our site for cooking in the hot pot. So, she brought the instant pot to cook by plugging it into an outside plug of the park’s headquarters! Crazy cool! I stayed with her during the process of making a gourmet chicken dinner using INSTANT POT in the one outlet we could find in this campground. Amazing. And the dinner was delish.

So once again it was an incredible day. Thanks SO SO MUCH to Tony for being so generous with his time and showing me some amazing herps!!!! Herp-of-the-day to the surprise lifer Zigzag Salamander at Snake Road with runner-up to the slightly -out-of-place lifer Mole Salamander. I attached the final herp list for the day below.

Good birding (and herping):
World Life List: 1120 Species (no recent life birds)

Salamander list: (26+ individuals, 10 species)
1. Marbled Salamander — LIFER 7
2. Northern Slimy Salamander — LIFER 1
3. Cave Salamander 1
4. Eastern Newt 2
5. Long-tailed Salamander 1
6. Mole Salamander — LIFER 1
7. Northern Dusky Salamander — LIFER 4+
8. Spotted Dusky Salamander — LIFER 6
9. Southern Two-lined Salamander 2
10. Northern Zigzag Salamander — LIFER-1

Snake list: 6 individuals, 4 species
1. Smooth Earthsnake — LIFER 1
2. Northern Cottonmouth — LIFER 3
3. Western Ribbon Snake — LIFER 1
4. Plain-bellied Water Snake — LIFER 1

Frog/toad list: 13+ individuals, 6 species
Green Tree Frog — LIFER 1
Tree Frog sp — 1
Blanchard’s Cricket Frog — LIFER 4+
Green Frog — 4+
Fowler’s Toad — LIFER 1
American Toad — 1+
Spring Peeper — 1

Eastern Box Turtle — 2

Posted by skwclar 23:04 Archived in USA

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Lovely photos! I especially like the one of the Western Ribbon Snake- it has compositional, light and textural features that I find artistic. This one belongs in an art gallery!

by liz cifani

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