Thursday, September 4, 2014

NAFHA Cruises the Southwest, Day 1: August 29th, 2014

The North American Field Herping Association (NAFHA) was holding its third annual meet-up in Rodeo, New Mexico, in the Chiricahua Mountains. As Andrea is the Northeast Chapter President, we felt it would be a good idea to attend. Oh, gee... that means we'd have to meet a bunch of awesome, like-minded people and herp a brand new (to us) place and find nothing but lifers! Oh, dear... the sacrifices we make! So, we got an early (5:55 AM) flight from Boston and, with time changes, we got to Tuscon, AZ before noon. We enjoyed a lunch with Andrea's sister Lisa, who lives in the area. Then we hit the road towards our destination, a couple of hours away.

While in the Tuscon and surrounding areas, Arizona looked like any other place... lots of highway and shitty drivers. But at some point, the traffic dissipated and the scenery started to become something special. Soon, it felt as if I was driving into a GAF Viewmaster reel from my youth; towering mountains against a vivid blue sky...
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We stopped at a rest stop along the way. There were impressive boulders stacked on top of each other. I wanted to pose Andrea in front of one and as I clicked, she spotted something and pointed...
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She'd seen our first herp darting about on the rocks, a Greater Earless Lizard!
Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus)
He was warmed up and ready to go! It took about eleven shots to catch this one!

Our next herp that was up enjoying the same rocks was equally as difficult to photograph... a Sonoran Spotted Whiptail.
Sonoran Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis sonarae)

A couple more Earless followed...
Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus)
Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus)

... and we drove back into the Viewmaster.
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The next thing I found was, unfortunately, a speed trap. We were forewarned but my foot had become so comfortable on the highway where I was going 75 mph that it was tough to change position on the next stretch where it was only 55! The cop clocked me at 69. Oops... an $87 mistake. But it wasn't going to ruin my trip!

Upon reaching our hotel, the Mountain Valley Lodge and RV Park, we found our #80 bird of the Big Year, a (juvenile? female? juvenile female?) Great-tailed Grackle.
#80 Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)
I thought the adults around were Boat-tails, so I didn't photograph them. Stupid me. Live and learn.

So, we got to our room, which was huge, clean beautifully decorated and reasonably priced (I can't recommend this place highly enough!), got settled and headed out to the first meet-up: at a campsite in Coronado National Forest. We finally met in person some of our long-time internet buddies and made new friends to boot! A great group of people! One gentleman even looked familiar... Mike K used to sell books at herp shows in New England! We have purchased books from him before! Small world indeed! He has recently moved to a house about 10 miles away from where we stood.

There was a tempting creek running behind the camp and, as a Northeasterner, I just couldn't resist!
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I was hoping for a tree frog or a  Garter or something but... nope.

After the meet-up, dusk was rolling in so we got ourselves into gear for some road cruising. Most everyone had spread out and we were wondering where to go first. The setting sun produced lovely shadows on the scenery.
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Our first road-cruised critter was this Horse Lubber Grasshopper! It was massive, as grasshoppers go.
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We turned down a dirt road and slowly went along. It was there that we spotted our first snake of the trip, our lifer Mojave Rattlesnake!
Mojave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus)
We weren't sure what kind of rattler it was right away... but we stayed back a safe distance anyway.
Mojave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus)
Our rattler rule is to get as close as you can before it rattles. But we've only experience the more placid Timber! Mojaves have a serious hockey-temper and while we were still a safe distance away, this guy reared up and got into his defensive pose!
Mojave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus)
Looks ferocious, huh?! Well, he was a niblet; under two feet long, but he'd still pack a formidable bite. We got our pictures and drove on. He stayed in his pose and kept facing the car as we drove past.
Mojave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus)

Not too much further up, we saw a DOR Mojave. Sadness. But on the way back, we saw a mouse bouncing around and when we got up closer, we saw he who was also interested in mousing... another Mojave!
Mojave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus)
From the looks of him, he already had found a couple of mice. This guy was photographed from my open car door. He didn't seem to notice the giant silver car right there. The hopping mouse that we'd just seen might have just been envenomed.
Mojave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus)

We got back to the paved road and cruised a bit more but it started to dawn on us... we had been up for over 21 hours by now! The time change made it seem pretty early (roughly 10 PM) but we'd been up since Midnight:30 by this time! (Our alarm went off at 3:30 AM EST) So, we headed back toward the hotel.

I saw a pencil in the road. I noticed that it was a small snake, definitely road kill. I snapped a shot.
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Um, nope! He was looking up at me! I thought it was an Eastern Milk, fer cryin' out loud! What's he doing here?
Painted Desert Glossy Snake (Arizona elegans philipi)
It turns out to be a young Painted Desert Glossy Snake, Andrea's new favorite!
Painted Desert Glossy Snake (Arizona elegans philipi)
White belly and an overbite!!
Painted Desert Glossy Snake (Arizona elegans philipi)

A nice surprise awaited us on the roadside. It was big enough to make me turn around... A Sonoran Dessert Toad (formerly known as the Colorado River Toad.)
Sonoran Desert Toad aka Colorado River Toad (Bufo alvarius or Ollotis alvaria)
We'd seen these big toads at herp shows but this wild one takes the cake! Eyebrows by Divine!
Sonoran Desert Toad aka Colorado River Toad (Bufo alvarius or Ollotis alvaria)

We got back to the hotel and the Koi pond in the back was lit up so we went to look at it. Toads!! Lots of Toads!!!
Great Plains Toad (Bufo - or Anaxyrus - cognatus)
Great Plains Toad (Bufo - or Anaxyrus - cognatus)
Great Plains Toad (Bufo - or Anaxyrus - cognatus)
We think they are all Great Plains Toads but it's possible some are Southern Woodhouse. It looks as though their splotches are all symmetrical... that's what I'm going on. Any help is much appreciated!

This massive cow-flop of a toad was the absolute king of the pond. He sat in a high bird-bath near the top of the waterfall, surveying his minions and giving us the stink-eye.
Great Plains Toad (Bufo - or Anaxyrus - cognatus)
Great Plains Toad (Bufo - or Anaxyrus - cognatus)
King Bufo will let you live. This time.

Our hotel host was amused to see us out there in the dark, with our headlamps illuminating his pond. Helluva nice guy. He even brought us a stack of DVDs to hang onto should we be inclined to watch a film.

While many of our herping compatriots were camping, showerless and uncomfortable, we took hot showers and crawled into a very soft bed in a beautifully air-conditioned room. Did I feel badly for our friends? I don't remember... I fell asleep! Being old has its perks.

We didn't sleep long, though. We both woke up before sunrise... "remember that Toad?" "Those MOE-Javes were beautiful"... "Let's go outside!"

And that's what we did.

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