Friday, September 5, 2014

NAFHA Cruises the Southwest, Day 2: August 30th, 2014

Our Saturday started very early... before sunrise, even. Like two kids on Christmas morning, we started talking in the dark... "wanna get up?" We did. We figured we'd walk down to the diner for some breakfast and get on the road early. But the diner didn't open until 7:30 and it was about 6 AM. So, we explored the hotel area and the environs behind it.

The hotel's front yard was always full of birds... until I pulled out the camera!

This Saturnid moth was hanging out on the sign... with flying bugs... lots of flying bugs. This is why the toads in the back are so chubby!
Saturnid moth

On one of the roads behind the hotel, we saw this bunny... at 50 feet away, I couldn't get enough light for a good picture.
Jack Rabbit
When we got close enough, he rose up on tall legs and sprinted off... our first jackrabbit! Dozens more started flitting in and out of the tall grasses and bushes! It was hilarious, but we couldn't get any pictures!

Morning has broken...
And a flipped Sun Spider has spoken!
Sun Spider

I was finally able to get a shot of one of the many birds flitting around... #81, a Cassin's Kingbird!
#81 Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya)
(Thank you, Ashley!)

We saw some debris near a fence and went to inspect. It was a pallet filled with hay. Our presence interested some horses who thought they might get some food...
They reminded us of our cats quite a bit. Missing-our-kitties pangs set in briefly.

We got to the diner and got some breakfast. From my table, I spotted some Barn Swallows!
#82 Cliff Swallows ( Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
(Thank you again, Ashley!)

After finishing, we hit the road, to do a slow morning cruise. We saw some quail, who evaded my camera but at least looked comical doing it. I got a nice shot of a Eurasian Collared Dove, which I got a crappy shot of in Florida back at #21. My year end wrap-up will have the new picture.

So, we were driving along and lo and behold... a snake! And not just any snake... it was a favorite family of snakes- a Hognose!
Mexican Hog-Nosed Snake (Heterodon nasicus kennerlyi)
A Mexican Hognose to be exact! He had a wonky right eye.
Mexican Hog-Nosed Snake (Heterodon nasicus kennerlyi)
It was pretty mellow until he got too close, then it went into phase one of the floor-show.
Mexican Hog-Nosed Snake (Heterodon nasicus kennerlyi)
Mexican Hog-Nosed Snake (Heterodon nasicus kennerlyi)
Deeming us not worthy of any more drama, it crawled slowly off into the grass.
Mexican Hog-Nosed Snake (Heterodon nasicus kennerlyi)

Well, that was a good start!

The most ubiquitous bird the whole weekend was definitely our #82, the Western Kingbird.
#83 Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)
They were quick to fly, though and this is the best shot I could manage. But we saw hundreds of them, on every wire and on every fence.

It was 10 or 11 o'clock by now (depending on where we were standing) and thus it was time for the next meeting. This was held at the Chiricahua Desert Museum's Event Center. It was another chance to talk with all of our fellow herp friends. This Texas Horned Toad was also there visiting!
Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum)

The guest of honor was Dirk Stevenson from The Orianne Society, who talked about snake conservation, particularly for Eastern Diamondbacks and Indigos. It was a very nice presentation. I have donated money to this society in the past and if a cheapskate like me can, anyone can! Do it here.

After the talk, people were showing specimens collected the night before. There were plenty of beautiful animals. I will show some of them in a later post. Me? I went and herped the fence with some of the kids there! We got some Ornate Tree Lizards!
Schott's Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus schotti)
Andrea is calling Schott's Tree Lizards on these guys, according to range maps. Works for me!
Schott's Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus schotti)

It was the heat of the day and we had some time to kill before the cooling dusk and road cruising, so we explored potential cruising spots and went for some more gas. Near the gas station, I flipped a Desert Tiger Centipede.
Scolopendra polymorpha, Desert Tiger

We'd had a cool mountain path suggested to us and hit the Arizona side to look for it. We drove all over, up bad roads in our rental Ford Fiesta until it started to make noises. Damned if we could find the trail head! (We found out later that we'd seen it but since it wasn't marked, we didn't know!) We stopped along the road, though and I flipped the only scorpion we saw all weekend!
Flipped scorpion

We found a nice, trickling mountain stream and, once again, this lame New Englander just had to explore it!

Oh well, it was good for a new species... a Striped Plateau Lizard!
STRIPED PLATEAU LIZARD  (Sceloporus virgatus)

On the drive back, we saw dozens of Mexican Jays, all of whom handed me my ass every time I tried for a picture. Andrea managed this one, an ID-able #83, the Mexican Jay.
#84 Mexican Jay (Aphelocoma wollweberi)

We tried another creek but I could only photograph a beautiful example of an Andrea! Best shot yet!

Our former New England neighbor Mike had invited us to visit him in the afternoon so we took him up on it! His two kids are great herpers themselves, and as smart as they come! They had rescued a batch of Tadpoles from a drying puddle and they were living and eating very well in a plastic bin.
We're not sure of the species but there sure are a lot of them!

We walked around his property a bit... his son caught and posed this Tree Lizard.
Schott's Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus schotti)

Another was in the barn area!
Schott's Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus schotti)
He had hoped to find us a snake on his land but no such luck.

Until we got back. It seems a Mexican Hognose was waiting there on his porch, just waiting for his close-ups!
Mexican Hog-Nosed Snake (Heterodon nasicus kennerlyi)
Mexican Hog-Nosed Snake (Heterodon nasicus kennerlyi)
Mexican Hog-Nosed Snake (Heterodon nasicus kennerlyi)

We sent him on his merry way, happy to have made his acquaintance. Mike's son then flipped the teeniest Striped Plateau Lizard of all time! All noggin and 1 1/2 inches of pure squamate dynamite!
STRIPED PLATEAU LIZARD  (Sceloporus virgatus)

That was an excellent visit with a very nice family! I hope to have the pleasure again some day! But now, it was dinner time. We ate (and photographed a Desert Cottontail) before hitting the roads. Not in that order, actually.
desert cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii)

Heading out, Andrea was pretty sure she had seen a snake off on a side road. We slammed it into reverse and sure enough she had! And it was another lifer! A Checkered Garter Snake!
Checkered Garter Snake (Thamnophis m. marcianus)
For a Thamnophis fan like myself, this was nirvana!
Checkered Garter Snake (Thamnophis m. marcianus)
Checkered Garter Snake (Thamnophis m. marcianus)

We checked down the dirt road where we had seen the two Mohaves the night before. No such luck tonight, but we pushed forward. We saw headlights ahead. They pulled over to let us by. A couple, a bit older than me in a white sedan. I gave them a thank you wave and went on for another mile or so. Seeing no snakes, we turned back. Eventually, I saw a snake ahead. We got out and found a decapitated and de-rattled Mojave. The bastards in the white sedan were out cruising too. But they were murdering. Slaughtering. It made me sick.

We got ourselves together. Andrea said "I want to see something cute and alive!!!" This Great Plains Toad fit the bill!
Great Plains Toads (Bufo - or Anaxyrus - cognatus)

We got back on asphalt and saw some parking lights. Our friend Kevin and his kids had cruised an assertive Mojave!
Mojave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus)
That's an impressive rattle!

Our next find was the beautiful and impossible to photograph Western Long-nosed Snake!
Western Long-nosed Snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei)
Being in Arizona (about a mile in) we couldn't pick him up to photograph, so we did our best as he squirmed out of our view at every chance!
Western Long-nosed Snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei)
What a beauty, a bit over two feet long! He reached the grass and was gone.

We went back to the road where we'd seen the Garter (our rounds were far shorter than most folks, some of whom put 2000 miles on their rental cars over the weekend!) in hopes of another find. We got it! A Desert Painted Glossy Snake, far bigger than the niblet from the night before!
Desert Painted Glossy Snake (Arizona elegans philipi)
Desert Painted Glossy Snake (Arizona elegans philipi)
Hey, we're in New Mexico!
Desert Painted Glossy Snake (Arizona elegans philipi)

Pulling back out onto the road, we saw some tail lights and I thought a group was pulling some roadkill off of the road. Nope- a very much alive Mojave!!
Mojave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus)

Turning the corner and encountering more parking lights (we were all out tonight!), we found that our friends Ashley and Erik had cruised a very small Longnose, who had almost no red on him!
Western Long-nosed Snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei)

For a week before we arrived, there had been rain. A lot of it. That wetness paid off for us a couple days later; we started finding Spadefoot Toads by the bucketload! We started off with some Couch's Spadefoots-
Couch's Spadefoot (Scaphiopus couchii)
Couch's Spadefoot (Scaphiopus couchii)
Couch's Spadefoot (Scaphiopus couchii)

and then added a Mexican Spadefoot!
Mexican Spadefoot (Spea multiplicata)

We soon saw our first Tarantula, too.

Further up, another herp crew had found what would be our lifer Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, the top of my target list! A beautiful specimen.
Diamond-backed Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox
They moved him off the road and it rattled all the way back to a bush. And kept rattling. Even after everyone left. We had walked back to our car and as we drove back by the spot, he was still buzzing!

Not two minutes up the road, we saw more tail-lights. Our friends Daniel and his son Mike had another Atrox!
Diamond-backed Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox

We didn't seem to be able to score any Atrox of our own but we had our Spadefoot eyes going good! I brought one to Andrea while she waited in the car.
Couch's Spadefoot (Scaphiopus couchii)

She returned the favor at the next sighting... a Sonoran Desert Toad.
Sonoran Desert Toad (Ollotis alvaria)

Man, all of the toxins on our hands by this point!

Our next sight was an astounding one indeed. We had seen a large moving black clump in the road so we stopped to investigate. There was an awful buzzing. It was a Tarantula Hawk wrestling with a Tarantula. Massive Wasp vs. Large Spider! It was like a 50s Monster Movie!
The "Hawk" stings and subdues the spider, pulls it off and lays her eggs on him. The dead spider is then baby wasp food. (Thanks, Skye, for the info!) We felt very fortunate (in an odd way) to have witnessed this.

We cruised a live and kickin' Tarantula, too.

The crazy toad lady with another Couch's!
Couch's Spadefoot (Scaphiopus couchii)

We had gone pretty far this night and decided it was time to turn back. It had gotten fairly late and we might have already seen our last snake for the day. We soon saw another Hawk/ Tarantula tussle!
This time, the wasp didn't have the situation in control yet and when my headlamp would hit them directly, it separated itself from the spider. I'm sure though, as soon as we were gone, it was successful.

We missed our turn back to the main road. We turned around and barely found the right way. But we're glad we did. As soon as we hit the right road, we saw a snake crawling across. I jumped out to get in front of it. Andrea called out, "what is it?" I gasped, "a... King..."
Over three feet of serpentine perfection in the form of a sublime Desert Kingsnake was crawling towards me. We were stunned.
Desert Kingsnake (Lampropeltis Desert Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula splendida) splendida)
Desert Kingsnake (Lampropeltis Desert Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula splendida) splendida)
Splendida indeeda! Breathtaking beauty!
Desert Kingsnake (Lampropeltis Desert Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula splendida) splendida)
Desert Kingsnake (Lampropeltis Desert Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula splendida) splendida)
Snake of the weekend right there. If we didn't see anything else for the next two days, that King would make it all worthwhile.

Hey, here's a Mexican Blond Tarantula!
Mexican blonde tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes)

Our last herp of the day was this wee sexy Mexi Spadefoot.
Mexican Spadefoot (Spea multiplicata)

I'd love to go into detail about the end of the day but it was well after one and we'd been up for 20 hours again. I'm not as young as I used to be! Get offa my lawn!! In truth, my head hit the pillow and I was gone... gone... gone, like a Longnose in the grass...

But I'd be ready soon! Another full day of fun awaited us on Sunday!

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