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Northern Illinois (09/18/04-09/20/04)

After many unsuccessful trips in St Charles County, Missouri hoping to find a Western Fox Snake and/or an Eastern Plains Garter Snake I had to admit defeat. It is quite probable that Fox Snakes are extirpated in the county due to the almost complete loss of habitat. Per reliable sources there are populations of Planes Garters in the county. I just couldn’t find one. The only thing left to do was plan a trip to northern Illinois where there were good populations of both species (along with a few other critters I wanted to see).
I decided on herping Kankakee County, famous for its Bullsnakes (and its crime). Before leaving I put out a plea for help on the Nature.net Reptile and Amphibian Forum. Dave Odd and Scott Albert both replied and offered their expertise to help me on my quest. Soon after we had a trip planned. Ryan Thies, my partner on many local herping expeditions agreed to join in on the trip. Our plan was to leave Friday night, arrive Saturday morning, and herp through Monday.
Our first day Ryan and I were on are own but still managed to find a very nice Chicago Garter Snake right off the bat, a life lister for the both of us.

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Along with the Garter we also found two Midland Brown Snakes. Soon after finding the snakes we encountered an American Toad, a lifer for Ryan, and some Northern Leopard Frogs, lifers for both of us. That evening while making camp, we noticed two mice that appeared to be either fighting or playing in the leaves so Ryan went over to check them out while I continued setting up camp. Completely unexpected I herd him shout snake! It turns out that the mice were trying to deter an Eastern Milk Snake from raiding there nest. That lucky encounter provided Ryan with his fourth lifer.

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The second morning we were to meet up with Dave, Mary, and Scott along with his dad Keith and little brother Tim. While waiting in Kankakee at Johnnie’s Restaurant for the last of our group to arrive Dave went out behind the restaurant and quickly returned with my first Eastern Plains Garter Snake!

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This was especially exciting since I had been looking hard for one the past couple months (thanks Dave). After a few more Plains Garters we were off to flip the tin fields of Kankakee County. Unfortunately flipping didn’t produce like it would have in the spring but we did manage to find a few species including: two juvenile Racers, a nice Eastern Hognose Snake, a Western Ribbon Snake (unrecorded in Kankakee Co.), a huge Garter, many Leopard and Bull Frogs, a Prairie Racerunner, and a large budding Cannabis plant! Before Scott, Tim, and Keith left they graciously invited us to DuPage County to hunt for Fox Snakes near a hibernacula they knew of.
Our third and last morning we planned on heading north to DuPage but first we did a bit more flipping in Kankakee. We managed to find another Garter, Racer, and hognose before leaving the county. Since we had failed to find a Fox or Bullsnake our first stop in DuPage was Scott’s home where he had invited us to photograph a captive Fox and Bullsnake he kept.

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After a leingthy photo session with Scott’s captives we were off to the Fox Snake hibernacula. On arriving we immediately started finding Chicago Garters under railroad ties. We then went on to find ANOTHER Cannabis plant which we posed by for pictures. Soon we were at the hibernacula, a railroad trussel made of rock with a few cracks in it. Peering into cracks we counted six adult Eastern Fox Snakes, lifers for both Ryan and me. Energized by our new life lister we went back to flipping ties. The next species found was a bonus. We hadn’t planned on finding Tiger Salamanders on this trip but were happy to have found them, again lifers for both of us.

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The last snake of the trip was a neonate Western Fox Snake found under a Tie, a fitting end to an overall good trip.

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A big thanks goes out to everyone who participated: Mary, Tim, Keith, and especially Scott, and Dave.