Honoring Herpetology: A Remarkable Encounter

There is a renewed bounce in my step, as sights of spring now fill my days. On hikes I see the grass rustle with life; lots of grasshoppers, quail, jackrabbits and lizards. Just outside my house in the last couple of weeks I’ve observed Pinyon Jays, Say’s Phoebes, a bouncing bright yellow warbler. And just outside my door, I found a White-lined Sphinx Moth, hovering above purple vinca flowers. I felt as if I was opening the door to an old friend. They are magnificent moths!

With all of this renewed life bustling about, I have found myself on a bit of a herpetological kick lately, sparked by a couple of recent findings. Just around the corner of my house I found a beautiful Bull-snake (Pitouphis catenifer) as we were heading out for a hike. For me, this was a welcomed sight! I love finding snakes. The encounter made me smile as it was my first snake encounter of the year. It was crossing a gravel side road, and so I made sure the snake stayed clear of the road and insured it returned to the brush again before leaving it behind. Not more than maybe 5 minutes from finding the Bull-snake on our way to the trails, I spotted another snake! It was a Whipsnake, a Desert Striped Whipsnake. Sadly, it was dead. It’s limp warm body felt as if had recently died. It must have just barely got hit by a car as just the very tip of its snout looked damaged.  I set it aside into the brush to let nature handle its remains.

Though sad to have found the poor Whipsnake dead, the other part of me felt stoked for a new season of findings! I recalled the days when my fellow naturalist colleagues and I would set out into the field, blazing through the trail-less desert in search of snakes or what-ever else we can find. I miss it. It was a lot of fun!  When I hike my eyes are always peeled but a part of me really wanted to experience herping like that again. So I think I will do some herping soon. It’s always so thrilling. For those who may not know what that is (though I suspect most, if not all of my readers already do…), herping is simply the act of setting out into the field in search of exciting herpetological finds: snakes, lizards, frogs, skinks etc.

Just the day after our first two findings, my partner returned home from his usual trail run, very excited to share some news with me. He said he spotted another snake on his run. This made me happy and really excited to jump back into some herping this year. As I squirm in excitement with all of these awesome findings, I recall some of my favorite field experiences. Several of which included herpetological finds. One in particular was utterly spectacular! And I realized it is one experience that I have never shared here on this blog. I think you are going to like this one.

One morning about 4 years ago, I set out for a very, early morning hike. When I started, it was still dark. As I walked I heard the mellow “Hoo-hoo, Hoo-hoo-hooo!” of a Great Horned owl which I spotted on the hillside close by despite the lack of light. I watched as its shadow-like figure swooped silently away into the desert. And again I heard the Owl just a little further off. After about a half a mile in, I heard and saw a mule deer bolt away from me. After several more lovely animal sightings, I followed the meandering trail. As I continued, the light from the sunrise began to flood the desert with a lovely, warm-colored light. I breathe deeply as I write this because, I just love those transitional moments of our day, in which our eyes are forced to adjust and re-adjust to the changing light. It’s like an awakening with each experience. Definitely a magical time of day. Anyway, just as my eyes began to adjust to the light of the new day and after a bit of climbing, I stopped suddenly to find a relaxed Western Diamondback (Crotalis atrox) on the trail! He had apparently just made a kill as I spotted the dead Merriam’s Kangaroo rat next to him! I knew that my day was made when I saw this and just bubbled with excitement. The rattlesnake seemed almost in a trans as he went from side to side slowly sizing up his breakfast. I watched as the snake ever so carefully, eased the Merriam’s into its mouth.

Luckily, I was able to shoot a short series of this process. To this day it remains one of my most favorite encounters. My mistake that morning was I that I left the house with a dying battery in my camera. So I was very, very lucky to have been able to capture it. If you’d like, you can read my original account of this experience HERE.

I hope you enjoy this series as much as I did!



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