Herpetofauna of Europe : sw usa (april-may 2014)
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Roadtrip to SW USA, with some herping
26th of April - 11th of May 2014

All pictures (c) by Jan Van den Bulcke and Jeroen Speybroeck. These and a few more, mainly touristy, pictures are here.

Since long, my dear friend Jan and I had the idea of doing a roadtrip in the States. As Jan had to attend a conference in St George, UT, a two weeks travel plan was forged. An ambitious route was put forward, stretching from Louisiana to California. As Jan is not into herpetology and our time was limited, the (literally) hundreds of species occurring along this trajectory received only limited attention. As such, this report will be notably more "touristy" than my usual reports. I also did not bother too much in pursuing species I had seen during previous trips to the USA (see menu items CA 2011 and AZ 2012). Nevertheless, I was able to admire the targets on my subjective shortlist.


the plan

Louisiana

After a late afternoon arrival at Houston airport, we headed east to Louisiana, where we would meet with LA herpers Armin and Eric and Kyle from east Texas. After midnight, we arrived at Armin’s house in the woods, where I was hoping to be able to see some Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) the next morning. With jetlag and herping excitement precluding most sleep, we got up with sleepy heads and disorientated brains. Hiking the beautiful hilly woods of Armin’s property, our local herpers succeeded in finding the target species and quite a few more species. Never having been east of Arizona in the US before, nearly all species were new to me.








Western Rat Snake (Pantherophis obsoletus)


Western Rat Snake (Pantherophis obsoletus)






American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus)






Kingsnake (Lampropeltis (getula) nigra)




Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)


Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)


Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)


Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)






Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus) - in situ


Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus)


Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus)

Texas

In the evening we met up again with Kyle in east Texas to do some cruising. This delivered my first ever Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) and some other species. We spent the night in Cleveland.


Green Tree Frog (Hyla cinerea)


Texas Toad (Anaxyrus speciosus)


FAIL... – Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis proximus)


Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)

The next morning, Jan was feeling rather poorly, so instead of making him sit through too much, I decided we’d better move further west. We still had a lot of places to go to on our schedule, and this early in the trip I was unsure if we could afford anything but a rather strenuous pace. I would have loved to stick around for a milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum), a cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) and sooo much more, but you can’t get it all if you are not in herper’s company only. I was actually pleased with myself for not being all that selfish, which surely caused some friction during “non-herping” trips in the past, and the canebrakes alone could have easily made the trip worthwhile.

So, west we went, stopping for my very first American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) at Brazos Bend SP. First, some Green Anoles (Anolis carolinensis) in the parking lot, favouring more artificial substrates than their Peruvian relatives from 2013.


Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)


Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)


Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

Then, some gators, hanging around a pier and obviously accustomed to getting a few scraps from the local fishermen, but this photographer wasn’t complaining.








American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)


American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)


American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)


American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)




white ibis





After enjoying the company of these living fossils, we headed west and spent the night at a lovely B&B near Canyon Lake, north of San Antonio.




black-chinned hummingbird


black-chinned hummingbird


black-chinned hummingbird




scissor-tailed flycatcher

After a delicious breakfast, we stopped for some turtle spotting along the Guadalupe River.


Texas River Cooter (Pseudemys texana)


Texas River Cooter (Pseudemys texana)


Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)


Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)





Then, we continued to Val Verde county and Devil’s River State Natural Area. I did some cruising after dark, but temperatures were low, so it became a totally unproductive night. We stayed in a motel in Del Rio, near the Amistad reservoir.


Devil’s River


Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)


?Texas Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis ?gularis)





The next day, we crossed the Pecos River and headed for Big Bend National Park. Temps were really low here, with a lot of wind, but the scenery was stunning. A big banded Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum) got away. We spent the night in Terlingua.


Pecos River




?Texas Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis ?gularis)


Trans-Pecos Striped Whiptail (Aspidoscelis inornata heptagramma)


Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus)




vermillion flycatcher


?Plateau Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis ?scalaris)


Southwestern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus cowlesi)


Greater Earless Lizard (Cophosaurus texanus)


Terlingua stay



The next day, we explored the NP some more, and then took the Camino del Rio west along Big Bend State Park. Along the drive, some hard to approach turtles were spotted. We spent the night at Presidio. I cruised the river road after dark, but again low temps and very strong wind, so results were poor again.










Southwestern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus cowlesi)




?Marbled Whiptail (Aspidoscelis ?marmorata)








Spiny softshell (Apalone spinifera)


Apalone spinifera & Trachemys gaigeae


Big Bend Slider (Trachemys gaigeae)


Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)

The next day, we did a big drive, leading us from Presidio, TX through New Mexico to the Chiricahuas in eastern Arizona. Along the way, some proghorns in Texas.




proghorn


proghorn

New Mexico

In New Mexico, I finally got to see some collared lizards, after previous failures.


border


Eastern Collard Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris)


Urosaurus ornatus?

Arizona

Late afternoon, I made a brief attempt to find the dullest of all rattlesnake species (Crotalus pricei) up the Chiricahua mountains, but again (cf. way too many attempts in 2012) no luck. I hate that species... ;-). We spent the night in Rodeo, NM.


the Chiricahuas



The next morning, we started with a visit to the charming desert museum in Rodeo and its nice reptiles collection. The reptile-themed shop particularly impressed me.


Chiricahua Desert Museum, Rodeo (NM)


Chiricahua Desert Museum, Rodeo (NM)


Chiricahua Desert Museum, Rodeo (NM)

We continued west and had lunch at Willcox, after which we explored the surroundings of a smelly wetland. The evening was spent near Green Valley and we cruised a beloved Santa Ritas road. Despite a coincidental encounter with a valuable AZ friend, the promising weather conditions provided nothing but a few common DORs on the most low parts of the route.




Wilson’s phalarope











The next day started with an agreeable hike in Sabino Canyon. The place may be busy during the weekend, but it still is worth the visit. After lunch, we fled the mid-day heat by driving up Mount Lemmon. In the evening, we cruised a lower road near Tucson, with once more a rather poor result. I did get a rather cool shot, though, of a raptor with its crotalid prey.








Canyon Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis burti)


roadrunner














Harris hawk


red-tailed hawk with western diamond-backed prey


Sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes)


Sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes)


Regal Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma solare)

Next up, was a must-see destination, the Grand Canyon. I wasn’t too keen on going to this touristy place, but Jan really wanted to see it, and it would be shameful for me to visit AZ from Europe twice without going there, which I realised even more afterwards. We broke up the drive by avoiding Phoenix, going east through the Mogollon Rim and spending the night at high altitude. I browsed for an AZ black (Crotalus cerberus) here and there but there was just too much icy wind all the time. The canyon itself was also visited under very windy conditions, so no herps, but the views are unbelievable. I didn’t expect it to be thát grand, honestly. Really, really impressive.


rates going up




Grand Canyon


Grand Canyon


Grand Canyon


Grand Canyon


Grand Canyon


Grand Canyon


Grand Canyon

California

By now, Jan had recovered from being ill for at least five days, so he wanted to make the most out of the second half of the trip. After the Grand Canyon, another NP that I hadn’t visited before, became an attractive destination, especially given the cool weather – Death Valley NP, California. A lot of it seems too barren and extreme to host a lot of fauna, reminding me somewhat of the stone deserts of northern Africa and the Middle East, but layed of herping (except for the occasional lizard) so Jan could bare with me for the desirables I had in mind for the very last part of our journey.




Zabriskie Point, Death Valley






























Zebra-tailed Lizard (Callisaurus draconoides)

Nevada

We avoided Las Vegas, but spent 3 nights cruising in suboptimal conditions for 2 species of rattlers I had marked as prime targets beforehand. In the daytime, we enjoyed the scenery and hiked the desert as well as alpine habitat on Mount Charleston. To my great joy, the cruising did deliver this time, so I got to see both rattler species I had been looking forward so much, one of which had been a target during my two previous trips to the States.


Hoover Dam




Chuckwalla (Sauromalus ater) pretending to sleep




Sonoran Lyresnake (Trimorphodon lambda)


Lake Mohave








Yellow-backed Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus uniformis)


Western Groundsnake (Sonora semiannulata)


Western Patch-nosed Snake (Salvadora hexalepis)




at the end of the 3rd trip with this species on the wishlist, finally success! – Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii)


Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii)


Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii)


Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii)


Speck and me






















Panamint Rattlesnake (Crotalus stephensi)


Panamint Rattlesnake (Crotalus stephensi)


Western Groundsnake (Sonora semiannulata)

In conclusion, we had a great time in the US. I was pleased to see Jan also falling in love with the vast desert landscape in all its serenity and diversity. A perfect roadtrip, including not so many but some fantastic herp species.


Mohave sunset

List of observed species


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