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S. IL Day 3: Salamander sweep?

semi-overcast 66 °F

Still catching up...bird folks, don’t lose hope, this day had a great avian surprise between all the herps!

MONDAY, MARCH 29:

Ben, Oliver, and I started the day by meeting the Tolzmann family who had also come down for a few days in the Shawnee National Forest to try for another new salamander species for the year, Northern Dusky Salamander. Interestingly enough, this population is introduced yet still protected in Illinois for some reason. Salamander #15 for the year! Hard to see due to the glare but they’re there!
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There were some cool crawadads in the stream as well:
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On the drive out we got the best bird of the trip, the LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE! This is a long-overdue Illinois lifer for me and I was stoked to get it as Isoo and I had spent hours searching for this bird in southern Illinois last summer. They are uncommon and declining in the state due to habitat degradation.
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The next place we drove to was for the other Dusky Salamander found in the state, the Spotted Dusky, which we again immediately found after descending into the ravines where I had them last year. Salamander #16 for year and a lifer for all except me!
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We also got Oliver his lifer Southern Two-lined Salamander, #17 for the year!
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At this point, we only needed Marbled, Siren, and Mudpuppy for the salamander big year so we headed to nearby Heron Pond Preserve to look for Marbled Salamanders — it is probably the most reliable place in the state to find Marbled. While hiking the trails there we spotted a beautiful, large Midland Watersnake which is a different subspecies of the Common Watersnake than the Northerns we have up in Chicago, so a lifer subspecies was pretty cool.
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There were also two Plain-bellied Watersnakes sunning on the same group of branches!
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Also sunning were some huge Spiny Softsell Turtles which were the largest I’ve ever seen — easily larger than dinner plates.
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And finally, after about two hundred flips, I flipped a Marbled Salamander, #18 for the year! This was so gratifying since Tony had warned me these are much harder to find in the spring than in the fall.
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After lunch, we walked around Tony’s property at Wildcat Bluff to see if we could refind the Kings, Racer, or Milksnake for the others that I had yesterday with Isaiah and Tony. As you can see, we very quickly found a gorgeous Eastern Kingsnake right by where I had my first yesterday. As you can see, I was intent on a new fashion and it was amazingly obliging!!
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We couldn’t photograph any more snakes other than a Dekay’s Brownsnake — we had a few Ring-neckeds that escaped down holes too quickly for photos.
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Northern Slimy Salamanders were out in numbers on the rocky hillside
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But, we did flip a Mole Salamander under a board in Tony’s yard which was a huge, awesome surprise! It was great for us to see a terrestrial individual since we were thinking we would’ve had to resort to only finding the neotenic, aquatic individuals we had found yesterday.
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Next, we all headed to Grantsburg Swamp to check for any snakes or salamanders that could be found there, and almost as soon as we stepped out of the car we got Oliver, Ben, Simon, Peter, and Andrea their lifer Green Tree Frog! Awesome! It was a nice group of people: the six of us, plus Isaiah, Tony, and his friend Steve who is basically a walking encyclopedia of herps. I flipped this beautiful Cave Salamander, new for the year for the Tolzmanns:
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And a teeny tiny Northern Slimy Salamander:
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Oliver flipped this nice Midwestern Wormsnake which was a lifer for the Tolzmanns:
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Spotted Salamander was nice:
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And Isaiah flipped this neonate (young) Northern Cottonmouth which he handled with his hook and eventually put in his hat, despite being a venemous species! Isaiah has harped since he was 7 so has a great deal of experience with herping venemous snakes.
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I much prefer the smaller, fossorial, non-venemous snakes like this Ring-necked Snake which was a photographic lifer for the Tolzmanns:
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After dinner, the same group drove forty-five minutes in the opposite direction to check for Western Lesser Siren, salamander species 19/20 we ended for the year. After getting lost once, we arrived at a roadside swamp/ditch where we immediately started wading around in the water with nets. Within five minutes, Oliver and Simon had both spotted individuals darting away through the water, much too fast to catch.

But then, Isaiah smashed the net down on a ripple in the water both of us saw, and after bringing it up and picking through the weeds for a few seconds, we had a FREAKING WESTERN LESSER SIREN! By far the most longshot herp goal of the trip, we were absolutely stunned to net this elusive, aquatic salamander species. Just look at this incredible creature — it looks like an eel but is indeed a salamander:
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And it was crazy to touch — all I can describe is a cross between overly slimy tofu and overly watery jelly. We moved it to a bucket for better observation:
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Anyway, the Western Lesser Siren was the herp-of-the-trip so far and an absolutely insanely cool way to end the day!

Good birding and herping,
Henry
World Life List: 1125 Species

Posted by skwclar 14:20 Archived in USA

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