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Early Spring in South Texas

Due to just getting around to writing this report up, four months after the fact, I'm going to refrain from trying to recall every little detail and just focus on the photos.

In a nut shell, Scott Walberg, John Williams, Brandon Bowers, and I all decided to spend spring break herping south Texas. After leaving Missouri, I drove straight thru to north Texas before I put any effort into looking for herps. Brandon was waiting for me to pick him up in Houston but I couldn't resist flipping my way through the tan racer's range. For my efforts all I ended up with was a prairie kingsnake. I arrived at Brandon's house around eleven p.m. It didn't take us long to pack up his stuff and hit the road again. Our destination was about three more hours south in Corpus Christi where Todd Hughes and Todd LePittus were waiting up for us. Todd Hughes had graciously offered us a place to crash at his house despite our late arrival.

The next morning we hit a few of Todd's flipping spots where we found three southwestern rat snakes and my first lifer of the trip, a super sized checkered garter snake. I was the only one in the group that got overly excited over this one.



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Here's Todd Hughes and Todd LePittus with that checkered garter.

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After a trying a couple more spots that morning Brandon and I met up with Scott and John. We thanked Todd for his hospitality, said our farewells, and then the four of us headed south for Brownsville.

Along the way we dip netted a few wet weather ponds and scooped up a few barred tiger salamander larva, a new subspecies for all of us.

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The following days are a sort of conglomeration of events in my memory that take no particular order. This being the case, I'll just clump them together in which ever arrangement they come to me.

Our first night in south Texas was spent camping on Boca Chica Beach. From left to right: Me, Brandon, John, and Scott.

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The next day we flipped a few of these little south Texas specialties. Black-striped snakes.

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A large trash site that I had found on a previous trip produced seven Mexican Racers, I thought this was one of the coolest species of the trip.

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At the same spot Brandon flipped this plains black-headed snake and this patch-nosed snake, both of which were new for me.

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Rio Grand chirping frogs were regularly found throughout south Texas utilizing various types of cover.

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We hypothesized that heavy rains and saturated earth must have forced this Texas indigo to the surface where John flipped it under a large piece of plywood. For me this find made the trip, and I think the others would agree as well.

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This spot is as good as any to plug in a thank you to "Gus" Rentfro. Gus was kind enough to share a couple spots for my most wanted species the speckled racer and the cat-eyed snake; unfortunately, despite Gus's help, neither snakes were found on this trip.

One evening, while camping at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, I was walking to the showers when I noticed two brightly shining eyes staring back at me through the beam of my flashlight. The animal was cat-like in movement and size, so I couldn't help but get excited at the possibility of seeing an ocelot or a jaguarondi. The animal quickly leapt back into the brush along the side of the road but I had a feeling that, due to curiosity, it may hang around in the brush long enough to get a better look at me. As I closed the distance between myself and where the animal disappeared my imagination was getting the best of me and I was convinced that the animal I saw was an ocelot. Sure enough as I shined my flashlight into the scrub I saw two shining eyes staring back at me again; unfortunately though, the eyes belonged to a bobcat. I told myself that I should consider myself lucky anytime I get to see such a neat animal as a bobcat, but I'd be lying to say that I wasn't a bit disappointed.

The walk to the showers also produced this Couch's spadefoot

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One of the few nights we forked out enough dough for a motel room the skies opened up and the heavens let go of a rain as heavy as any I've ever seen before. Brandon and I were exhausted but we figured the rain might force some herps out on the road so we decided some cruising was unavoidable. I went to get Scott and John but they were both already sawing logs so we left without them. Anurans were everywhere; much of the evening was spent with Brandon running along in front of the car identifying frogs and toads in the headlights. We were hoping for a green toad but had no such luck, regardless we netted a few cool species including behemoth marine toad. We collected an example of each for a morning photo session.

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Another of the marine toad for size reference

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Texas toad

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Couch's spadefoot

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Gulf coast toad

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Leafing through piles of tin in an abandoned shed revealed about a dozen blue spiny lizards

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This Texas banded gecko was a welcome life lister.

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At another spot under another pile of tin I found my first night snake.

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While flipping through another big pile of tin at the same spot, Brandon would lift a piece and I would hold it up with the rest. The best way to do this was while kneeling on the ground facing the tin pile. As we were getting towards the bottom of the pile Brandon asked if I smelt musk, I said no, and we lifted the last piece of tin. This is where I found myself facing the business end of a skunk that was positioned to let me have it. While Brandon was urging me to get out my camera for a picture the skunk and I had different plans that quickly took us both in different directions.

Moving on to another flipping site, John took a solid bite to the face while making a grab on this Schott's whipsnake.

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At yet another spot, I flipped this Taylor's ground snake

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This Texas tortoise, hanging out in the shade with Quinn, was found by Scott. This was one of my most wanted species of the trip.

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Another whipsnake was found under some cover next to an old adobe building that housed a huge colony of bees.

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By this point John had to get back to work leaving Scott, Brandon, Quinn, and myself squeezed into my Toyota Rav 4. The next couple of days were spent working our butts off in the hot south Texas sun searching for milk snakes under railroad ties. No milks were found but we did find a few other snakes including a plains blind snake,

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another patch-nosed snake,

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and a western diamond-back rattlesnake.

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Generally when a big rattlesnake is found, I have to get a "macho" shot of myself bravely holding the beast.

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This spotted chorus frog was found calling along with others in a roadside ditch.

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After a long and very tiring drive back to Houston I still had a day to kill so I figured I'd hang around and try a few spots known for coral snakes. In keeping with my theme, no coral snakes were found but I did get to see a southern copperhead and a couple Louisiana milk snakes.

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On my way back to Missouri I stopped off in the Southern Ouachitas of Arkansas to do a little salamandering. I was short on time but the stop did get me one more lifer, a Ouachita Dusky Salamander.

A BIG THANKS to Todd and Gus for all their help.

Following is a full list of amphibians and reptiles observed:

Rio Grande Chirping Frog Eleutherodactylus cystignathoides campi (lifer)
Cane Toad Bufo marinus (lifer)
Coastal Plain Toad Bufo nebulifer
Texas Toad Bufo speciosus (lifer)
Spotted Chorus Frog Pseudacris clarkii (lifer)
Great Plains Narrowmouth Toad Gastrophryne olivacea
Rio Grande Leopard Frog Rana berlandieri
Couch's Spadefoot Scaphiopus couchii (lifer)

Ouachita Dusky Salamander Desmognathus brimleyorum (lifer)
Southern Redback Salamander Plethodon serratus
Western Slimy Salamander Plethodon albagula
Dwarf Salamander Eurycea quadridigitata

Texas Banded Gecko Coleonyx brevis (lifer)
Mediterranean Gecko Hemidactylus turcicus
Texas Spiny Lizard Sceloporus olivaceus
Blue Spiny Lizard Sceloporus serrifer
Rosebelly Lizard Sceloporus variabilis
Great Plains Skink Eumeces obsoletus (lifer)
Four-lined Skink Eumeces tetragrammus tetragrammus
Ground Skink Scincella lateralis

Plains Blind Snake Leptotyphlops dulcis dulcis
Brahminy Blind Snake Ramphotyphlops braminus
Mexican Racer Coluber constrictor oaxaca (lifer)
Black-striped Snake Coniophanes imperialis (lifer)
Texas Indigo Snake Drymarchon corais erebennus (lifer)
Southwestern Rat Snake Pantherophis guttata meahllmorum
Texas Night Snake Hypsiglena torquata jani (lifer)
Schott's Whipsnake Masticophis schotti schotti (lifer)
Texas Patchnose Snake Salvadora grahamiae lineate (lifer)
Taylor’s Ground Snake Sonora semiannulata taylori* (lifer)
Plains Blackhead Snake Tantilla nigriceps (lifer)
Checkered Garter Snake Thamnophis marcianus (lifer)
Gulf Coast Ribbon Snake Thamnophis proximus orarius
Southern Copperhead Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake Crotalus atrox

Texas Tortoise Gopherus berlandieri (lifer)