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Southwest Oklahoma through to the Upper Texas Coast

Being a fan of Norida (water snakes) and looking for a spring trip that wouldn’t take me too far from home (St Louis, MO) I decided to shoot for the Brazos Water Snake in North Texas.  After making this decision it wasn’t long until many other species made it onto the “to see” list taking me all the way down to the upper Texas coast.

 

My plan was to get in one more night of work on Saturday, then after stopping by home to pick up gear and my dog Quinn, I would hit the road and hopefully drive all night making it to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Southwest Oklahoma by the next morning.

 

After a long night and way too many tolls, I did indeed make it to the refuge by the next morning.  Upon arriving I was immediately very impressed with interesting habitat that seemed a mixture of mountains, desert, and prairie.

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These guys were roaming all over the refuge among buffalo.

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While we were very tired from the previous night’s drive, there was no time to waste and it wasn’t long before we were out poking around and turning rocks.  Just a few rocks into our trip we turned up a small Flat-headed Snake.  Having seen this species on many occasions back home in Missouri I simply let it go back under its rock without a photo.  Although many rocks were turned and many places explored few herps were found, possibly due to a cold front that had just passed through the area.  Regardless of the conditions, we did manage to find a few things including a couple of lifers.

             

The first was not only a new species for me but also a new family.  You would be hard pressed to convince some people that the Plains Blind Snake was even a snake at all.  To a normal person it looks more like the average earth worm than anything else (except for the forked tong).  I of course wish I had a photo of this neat little snake but due to its   constant movement and my wanting to get back to hunting, regretfully no decent photos were made.

           

After morning gave way to afternoon, things warmed up some and a couple lizards started to show up.  The first was a lifer for me, a Southern Prairie Lizard.  Then a bit later I noticed a rock that feral hogs were apparently trying feverishly to get under (hog damage was very extensive in the refuge).  I thought there may be something under the rock that the hogs wanted and sure enough upon lifting the rock I uncovered this Eastern Collared Lizard.

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Later that afternoon while Quinn was chasing Blanchard’s Cricket Frogs in two feet deep mud (no worries he couldn’t catch any) I flipped this little diamond-backed Water Snake under a piece of drift wood.

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This Plains Narrow-mouthed Toad was the last herp of the day found on the way to camp.

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The next day I had plans to meet up with Mark Pyle of the Dallas Fort Worth Herpetological Society about three hours further south at the Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) National Grasslands.  Mark was generous enough to take a day off of work to show me around his stomping grounds.  Most of the day was spent flipping rocks on warm, grassy, south facing hillsides.  Very dry conditions made flipping tough but we still managed to move enough rocks to find a few herps.  The first of which was this slightly opaque Great Plains Rat Snake.

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Here’s Mark with that same rat snake.

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A little further along brought my third lifer of the trip.  I would have probably let this lizard go thinking it was a Six-lined Race Runner just like we have back home if Mark had not pointed out that it may be a Texas Spotted Whiptail.

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Still further along the hillside I lifted a large rock to reveal this very nice looking Texas Rat Snake.

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Here’s Quinn and me with that rat snake.

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Later on we found another Great Plains Rat that was in much better photo condition under some junk where a trailer once stood.

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As evening approached we decided to do a bit of road hunting that led to the last highlight of the day, a distant group of Streckerd’s Chorus Frogs calling in the night.  Not being sure if the land was public, coupled with fact that a Texas landowner can legally shoot trespassers after dark, kept me from further investigation.  Besides just hearing them was enough to please me.

 

On the third day of my trip I had arranged to meet David Lyon in Dallas to check out his spot for Broad-banded Copperheads.  On my way I stopped off at what looked like a city dump to flip some good looking cover and came across a couple of these Prairie Ring-neck Snakes.

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This is technically the same subspecies we have in Missouri, but our variety back home is definitely not as quick to display and hold its brightly colored, coiled tail.

 

After meeting up with David we checked out some great habitat for copperheads but at any rate still struck out.  In the mean time though I did score a Juvenile Blotched Water Snake; this was a significant find for me not only because it was a lifer but it was also the last of all the erythrogaster subspecies that I have seen in the field.  While setting up my camera to photograph this little water snake I let it hide under the small “hider” plate I generally use in these situations.  As soon as I was ready to take the photo I lifted the plate, but to my dismay there was no longer a water snake hiding under it.  I hadn’t put the camera together for nothing though, because near where we had found the water snake we also found this male Green Anole.

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A little later on that day brought another lifer, this Texas Spiny Lizard.

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After saying goodbye to David I was off for Palo Pinto County and the Brazos River, my original destination.  I arrived at the camp ground I had planned on staying with just enough light left to turn a few stones in hopes of a Brazos Water Snake.  No luck was had with the stone turning but being the warmest evening of the trip so far I was reluctant to give up hunting.  Thanks to a tip I received from another DFW Herp Society member, I knew of a good cruising road just north of my camp and decided to go for a drive.  About five or so miles down the road, just as I had been thinking it was too cool and too dry for any snakes to be moving, I had to make a hasty swerve to keep from running over my most exciting lifer of the trip.  I know Western Diamond-back Rattlesnakes come a dime a dozen for herpers that spend a lot of time in the west, but for me this quintessential Texas species was a thrilling find.  Wanting to make natural light photos of the snake I bagged it for a photo session the next morning. 

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Feeling much better now, I continued down the dark gravel road and soon came across this cool little Red-spotted Toad that after recording its locality data also was collected for the morning photo session.

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It was getting late so I decided to head back towards camp and ended up scoring another Western Diamond-back along the way.  Already having one in tow I let this one go along its way.

 

The next morning I awoke early due to wanting to make my photos and return the critters to the site of the collection before things warmed up too much.  After releasing my captives, I decided to drive the rest of the road to see if anything else was moving; I hadn’t gone much further when I came upon this beautiful sight.

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I jumped out of the car and grabbed a couple hand held shots like this.

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Being such an impressive animal I wanted to get a few standard field guide style shots so I ran back to my car to get my field hook and tripod only to return to see a rattle tipped, black and white striped tail disappearing down a hole on the side of the road.  I couldn’t believe it, I wouldn’t have found this hole if I had knew where to look, it was only about an inch and a half in diameter but apparently deep enough to hold a very large rattlesnake.  Oh well it was a great find for me regardless.

 

The rest of the day was spent hopelessly searching the banks of the Brazos in every conceivable fashion for its endemic water snake.  I honestly thought finding this snake would be a sure thing, after all I was a seasoned nerodia hunter that had been at it since childhood.  At one point I came across a few people that were just hanging out at the river and asked them if they had seen any snakes.  I normally don’t do this because it usually just results in wasted time and tales of coppermoccasins that stretched all the way across the road.  This time I was desperate though; they told me they had just seen a couple straight across the river hanging out around some big rocks and fallen snags.  A quick look through my binoculars confirmed their story in the form of a coiled basking water snake in one of the snags.  This being a broad deep section of river told me that it wasn’t ideal habitat for the species I was searching for but after coming all this way and not seeing another water snake all day, I had to be sure.  So in front of my audience of curious onlookers I entered the river and started the swim across. Making it to the other side I started quietly swimming along side the downed snag, all the while the onlooker hollering, “don’t go in there mister.”  Unfortunately my target turned out to be a rather unattractive Diamond-back Water Snake; I went ahead and grabbed it anyhow and it went to chewing on me all the way to the nearest bank.  This really set the onlookers into a panic; they kept on hollering to put that pissed off S.O.B. down.  I hollered it was ok and that it was harmless so they hollered back asking me what it was.  Without thinking I told them it was a diamond-back and just as I realized my mistake they went to hollering again, “mister please put that S.O.B. down its poisonous!” I did put it down and swam back across the river where I explained as clearly as I could that it was only a non-venomous Diamond-back Water Snake.  Even so I don’t think they were entirely convinced that I wasn’t destined for an early grave.

 

Before giving up and hitting the road, I came across a couple local fishermen that were tuning stones in search of hellgrammites to use as fishing bait.  Upon asking about snakes they told me that in a few weeks they’d be finding them all over the place under rocks but for now it was just too early.  So maybe that was it, it was just too early.  This helped my bruised Nerodia hunting pride feel a little better so I hit the road not feeling like a complete failure.  Besides this spot is conveniently located in route to West Texas, a future destination, and would make a nice stop off along the way giving me another chance.

 

That night I had about a six hour drive to where I had planned to meet Scott Whalberg along with Robert Edwards and Tom Sinclair just north of Houston the next morning.  Along the way I drove a road that was historically known to harbor a good population of Massasauga Rattlesnakes.  I didn’t find any Massasaugas but I did flip three Great Plains Rat Snakes under a couple boards lying along the side of the road and came upon a Texas Rat Snake out on the crawl.  About four hours later I gave in to exhaustion and pulled into a truck stop for camp that night.

 

The next morning my target species were a Louisiana Milk Snake and a Buttermilk Racer; both species Scott had assured me were well within reach.  Scott wasn’t lying, within a few minutes of arriving at our first spot; Tom lifted an old piece of carpet and out crawls an opaque, adult Louisiana Milk Snake.  Just a few minutes later under a thrown out tarp I uncovered a nice little Buttermilk Racer.  Within the first ten minutes I had both target species for the day, to say I was pleased would have been an understatement.  Here’s (from left to right) Tom, Scott, and Rob along with the milk and racer.

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And a shot of the racer

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The next spot turned out to be a winner as well.  Getting out of the car Scott went immediately to a big pile of old carpet that looked just wonderful (something that only another herper could understand) and getting ready to lift it told me that I might want to come over for this.  Sure enough under the carpet lay this opaque adult buttermilk.

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But that wasn’t the only thing this great pile of carpet held; another layer down was this good looking Texas Rat Snake.

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While photographing the snakes another herper joined our group, John Williams.  This was John’s first buttermilk but not being there while the snake was found made it a bit unsatisfactory for him. (Not to worry as John redeems himself later on)

 

The next place was Rob’s personal tin site that he was generous enough to not only share with us but also leave undisturbed in the weeks previous to our trip.  This was a very well set up spot with piles of layered tin here and there placed under different conditions.  We ended up finding a nice little Louisiana Milk Snake and a colorful Eastern Hog-nosed Snake here.

 

Tom and Rob had to take off by this point but Scott, John, and I headed for another spot.  As an environmentalist I hate seeing sights like this but as a field herper I love it.

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(Here’s where John redeems himself)  Right away John dives and comes up with this gorgeous buttermilk he spotted out on the crawl.

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Note the bloody outline of a racers mouth on Scott’s left cheek he received while wrangling for us while we took photos.

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Here’s John with his racer

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Still at the same spot, we’re all wandering around on our own flipping trash when John announces that he found this milk.

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He shows us the piece of cover he found it under and it just so happens that Scott and I had both looked under that same cover on different occasions and somehow managed to miss it.

 

Stopping at another of Scott’s spots got us two more young racers; here’s one of them.

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I love the way that when they’re young they only have a few white spots getting more and more as they age.

 

We checked another spot with no luck, made plans for coastal herping the next day, and headed in different directions.  That night I did some road cruising on a road that Rob turned me onto and ended up finding my first Texas Brown Snake and a Southern Copperhead.

 

The full next day was spent along the upper Texas coast.  The very first spot we stopped at Scott flips a big opaque Speckled King Snake and very nonchalantly holds it up and says here’s one.  This was a lifer for John and an unexpected animal for me.  Apparently what Scott knew and we didn’t was that they are very common along these coastal areas.  Throughout the day we found many speckled kings, here’s Quinn and me with a few.

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And Scott with a few

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These coastal specks are much larger on average than the animals back home, and while not being as cleanly patterned as our Missouri specks, some of them come with super bright yellow speckling.  This one’s not a good example of the bright speckling but a nice snake just the same.

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John had to leave for work, but Scott and I stayed at it and were rewarded with this nice chocolate colored Eastern Coachwhip we flipped under some tin on the beach.

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After dark we did some road hunting before heading back to Houston.  The first snake found was a Mississippi Green Water Snake followed by a couple Coastal Ribbon Snakes, a DOR Gulf Crayfish Snake, and finally a Diamond-back Water Snake.

 

I only had until around noon or so my last day before I had to head for home in order to make it back in time to spend Easter with my family the following day.  This was a decision that was made for me between my mother and my girlfriend.  I was completely exhausted by this point but I figured I’d make the best of it and herp all morning then herp my way north on my way home.

 

I met up with Scott, Rob, and one of their friends and headed for one of Rob’s trash sites where he had flipped corals in the past.  No corals were found but we did find this textbook buttermilk that Rob spotted basking besides a pile of junk. 

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We then headed for a swamp/creek where we waded and walked the edges just generally exploring.  This landed us a few interesting species including a Yellow-belly Water Snake, Dwarf Salamanders, and a Gulf Coast Toad.  By now it was time to head for home so after a few well meant thank you’s and good bye’s, I headed north.  

 

On my way north I purposefully headed through Tan Racer range flipping junk and tin along the way.  One of the first stops I made was for a single piece of tin lying in a field next to an old building.  When I lifted it, all I saw was a large racer like snake take off.  After giving chase, until the point I was looking at it in my hand, I thought I had a Tan Racer but was disappointed to find it was just another coachwhip.  I then realized how wrong it was to be disappointed at finding a nice coachwhip like this one so I changed my attitude and went to taking photos of it.

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I did end up finding a Tan Racer but unfortunately it was very dead on the road.

 

From this point to Easter Sunday was just a miserable series sleepy drives in between naps but considering all the fantastic wildlife I saw and all the great habitats I got to explore I’d have to say it was a small price to pay. 

I owe a big thanks to the following people for either offering advice, sharing localities, or actually meeting up in the field:

 

Scott Walberg

Mark Pyle

Robert Edwards

D.J. Lyon

Michael Smith

Chad Whitney

Jimi Gragg

Walter D.

Kenny Wray

Chris Harrison

Total species and subspecies:

04/09/06

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, OK

 

Flathead Snake - Tantilla gracilis: 1

Plains Blind Snake - Leptotyphlops dulcis: 1 (lifer)

Southern Prairie Lizard - Sceloporus undulatus consobrinus: 3 (lifer)

Eastern Collared Lizard - Craphtytus collaris collaris: 2

Blanchard's Cricket Frog - Acris crepitans blanchardi: TNTC

Diamondback Water Snake - Nerodia rhombifer: 1

Great Plains Narrowmouth Toad - Gastrophryne olivacea: 1

 

 

04/10/06

Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) National Grasslands, TX

 

Great Plains Rat Snake - Elaphe guttata emoryi: 2

Great Plains Narrowmouth Toad - Gastrophryne olivacea: 2

Ground Skink - Scinella lateralis: 3

Texas Rat Snake - Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri: 1

Texas Spotted Whiptail - Cnemidophorus gularis: 2 (lifer)

Plains Blind Snake - Leptotyphlops dulcis: 1

Gray Treefrog - Hyla versicolor: many

Blanchard's Cricket Frog - Acris crepitans blanchardi: TNTC

Strecker’s Chorus Frog - Pseudacris streckeri: many (lifer)

DOR Western Ribbon Snake - Thamnophis proximus proximus: 1 

 

04/11/06

Wise Co, TX

 

Prarie Ringneck Snake - Diadophis punctatus arnyi: 3

 

Collen Co, TX

 

Texas Spiny Lizard - Sceloporus olivaceus: 3 (lifer)

Western Ribbon Snake - Thamnophis proximus proximus: 2

Green Anole - Anolis carolinensis: 3

Blanchard's Cricket Frog - Acris crepitans blanchardi: TNTC

Rough Green Snake - Opheodrys aestivus: 1

Blotched Water Snake - Nerodia erythrogaster transversa: 1 (lifer)

Texas Rat Snake - Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri: 1

Gulf Coast Toad - Bufo valliceps: 1

 

Parker Co, TX

 

Great Plains Rat Snake - Elaphe guttata emoryi: 3

 

Palo Pinto Co, TX

 

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake - Crotalus atrox: 2 (lifer)

Red-Spotted Toad - Bufo punctatus: 1 (lifer)

 

04/12/06

Palo Pinto Co, TX

 

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake - Crotalus atrox: 1

Blanchard's Cricket Frog - Acris crepitans blanchardi: TNTC

Diamondback Water Snake - Nerodia rhombifer: 1

Texas River Cooter - Pseudemys texana: 1 (lifer)

 

 

 

04/13/06

Liberty Co, TX

 

Louisiana Milk Snake - Lampropeltis triangulum amaura: 1 (lifer)

Buttermilk Racer - Coluber constrictor anthicus: 1 (lifer)

Texas Rat Snake - Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri: 1

Yellowbelly Water Snake - Nerodia erythrogaster flavigaster: 1

 

Montgomery Co, TX

 

Eastern Hognose Snake - Heterodon platirhinos: 1

Louisiana Milk Snake - Lampropeltis triangulum amaura: 1

Buttermilk Racer - Coluber constrictor anthicus: 2

 

Harris Co, TX

 

Texas Brown Snake - Storeria dekayi texana: 3, 1 DOR (lifer)

Southern Copperhead - Agkistrodon contortrix: 1

Southern Lepard Frog - Rana sphenocephalia: 1, 1 DOR

 

04/14/06

Brazoria Co, TX

 

Speckeld Kingsnake - Lampropeltis getula holbrooki: 7

 

Galveston CO, TX

 

Eastern Coachwhip - Masticophis flagellum flagellum: 1

Mediterranean Gecko - Hemidactylus turcicus turcicus: 2

Green Anole - Anolis carolinensis: 1

Gulf Coast Ribbon Snake - Thamnophis proximus orarius: 1

 

 

Chambers Co, TX

 

Gulf Coast Ribbon Snake - Thamnophis proximus orarius: 5 DOR

Mississippi Green Water Snake - Nerodia cyclopion: 1

Diamondback Water Snake - Nerodia rhombifer: 1

Eastern Yellowbelly Racer - Coluber constrictor flaviventris: 1 DOR

Gulf Crayfish Snake - Regina rigida sinicola: 1 DOR

Green Treefrog - Hyla cinerea: many

Coastal Cricket Frog - Acris crepitans paludicola: many (lifer)

 

 

04/15/06

Harris Co, TX

 

Buttermilk Racer - Coluber constrictor anthicus: 2

Mediterranean Gecko - Hemidactylus turcicus turcicus: 4

Ground Skink - Scinella lateralis: many

Green Anole - Anolis carolinensis: 1

Gulf Coast Toad - Bufo valliceps: 1

Dwarf Salamander - Eurycea quadridigitata: 5

Yellowbelly Water Snake - Nerodia erythrogaster flavigaster: 1

Western Ribbon Snake - Thamnophis proximus proximus: 2

 

Harden Co, TX

 

Eastern Coachwhip - Masticophis flagellum flagellum: 1

 

 

Tyler Co, TX

 

Tan Racer - Coluber constrictor etheridgei: 1 DOR