A Travellerspoint blog

S. IL Day 1

Illinois

all seasons in one day 71 °F

Well, I have to admit I’m pretty badly behind in posting here, but better late than never. Warning: if you are not into amphibians and reptiles, this may not be the post for you since the focus of my recent trip was HERPING!

SATURDAY, MARCH 27

On saturday, Oliver, his father, and I headed downstate to Snake Road and other herping hotspots to hopefully clean up the majority of the remaining salamanders for our salamander big year, as well as to try to to catch the incredible snake migration at Snake Road and other places.

Our first herping location was the forests of eastern Illinois where we were after Eastern Red-backed & Four-toed Salamanders, the latter of which would be a lifer for me. It took minimal effort to find the more common of the two, Eastern Red-backed in its “lead back” phase:
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We saw many in the darker phase and only this one with a red back! Interesting.
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And finally I flipped our lifer Four-toed Salamander, the smallest ‘mander in Illinois and a state-endangered species! Cool!
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It was a great first stop!

At a gas stop in Mt Vernon we spotted this NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD, a bird much easier to find down here and very scarce up by Chicago:
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TURKEY VULTURE:
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Finally, after reserving a camp site at Pine Hills Campground in far southern Illinois, we made it to nearby Snake Road where Oliver’s Illinois lifer FISH CROWS flew over with their characteristic nasal calls. Amazing!
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Not too far into the walk I flipped Oliver’s lifer Northern Zigzag Salamander, an absolutely tiny one! Very similar to the Red-backed except for the fact that the red extends the entire length of the tail on this species as opposed to stopping to make way for a black tail on the Red-backed. Thanks for the ID tip, Simon!
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And soon after that I also flipped Oliver’s lifer Long-tailed Salamander! These are really good additions to our salamander big year (up to eleven species for me) and we were stoked to see them.
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And before long, Snake Road started living up to its name. We saw the most common snake of the area, the Northern Cottonmouth, again and again as these slithery serpents crossed the road and clung to the bluff faces. We made for certain to keep our distance since a bite from one of these is a direct ticket to the emergency room, and possibly the deathbed.
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We ended up seeing thirty-even Northern Cottonmouth throughout our hike! Incredible.
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We also met up with a herper named Steve who happened to know our friend Tony who will be herping with the rest of this trip. It was great talking with him and he had some good insight into our herping locations for the weekend. At one point he pointed out a Black Rat Snake (harmless, unlike the Cottonmouth) so I took the opportunity to take a selfie with it! They tend to be very docile.
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The best sighting of the day by far was this youngish MISSISSIPPI GREEN WATERSNAKE, an Illinois threatened species — Snake Road is the only reliable place in the state to find this uncommon species! It was a lifer for us all and super awesome to see.
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We ended up seeing 32 snakes today: 30 Northern Cottonmouth, 1 Black Rat Snake, 1 Mississippi Green Watersnake.

One heard-only noteworthy bird from Snake Road were a number of singing LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH, my first of the year and usually one of the earliest-arriving breeding warblers!

Frogs were also common including the tiny Blanchard’s Cricket Frog:
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Southern Chorus Frogs:
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Central Newts are to be expected for a keen observer at Snake Road, and we saw about four.
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One other huge treat was a Green Treefrog after it got dark, as well as a Long-tailed and a Northern Zigzag Salamander under the same log!
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Two BARRED OWLS duetting rounded off a wonderful evening hike of Snake Road. Bird-of-the-day to the Louisiana Waterthrush with runner-up to the Barred Owl, which we also heard from the campground while we were waiting to see if the surrounding tornado warnings would effect our immediate area. Lol — it was an eventful night for sure! Herp-of-the-day to the Mississippi Green Watersnake with runner-up to the Four-toed Salamander — it is a rare day one gets to see these two species in one day. It was an incredible day!

The one crazy thing that happened is that it started storming after our Snake Road excursion, and to our surprise there were even tornado warnings surrounding the area. So, we hesitated in setting up camp and instead did a little bit of road cruising in the rain, finding many American Toads crossing the road. In this photo you can see the incredible variation found in this species at more southern latitudes. Unfortunately about half of the hundreds of toads we saw were recently crushed — quite a shame as amphibians play a vital role in their ecosystems.
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Southern Leopard Frog:
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And Spring Peeper:
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And then when we finally tried to set up our tents, everything got soaked in a pinch so we deemed it uninhabitable to sleep in our drenched tents. We commenced calling every single motel in an hour radius to constantly hear “No, sorry, we’re all booked.” It was incredibly frustrating and we think it was due to various factors: campers moving to motels due to storms like we did, families driving down for Florida and stopping short of the even-worse storms to the south of us in Kentucky, and apparently a large volleyball tournament in Cape Girardeau, MO just cross the river from us. Finally, we snagged two rooms down in Metropolis, IL after being on the phone for twenty minutes with the most ridiculous agent who spent the majority of the time asking the most inane questions. Just icing on the cake of a rather crazy evening! We ended up checking into the motel shortly before 2am.

More to come tomorrow — we will be after more salamanders (fingers crossed for Marbled, they are harder to find in the spring) near Tony’s place, as well as any snakes we can get our hands on!

Good birding and good HERPING!
Henry
World Life List: 1125 Species

Posted by skwclar 06:22 Archived in USA

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Crazy fun! Where can we look here when you come out this summer?

by Poo

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