End of Decade Post: USA, Mexico, Costa Rica

Dedicated exclusively to field herping.

Moderator: Scott Waters

Post Reply
User avatar
Mike Rochford
Posts: 167
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 9:27 am
Location: Tucson, AZ
Contact:

End of Decade Post: USA, Mexico, Costa Rica

Post by Mike Rochford »

Been awhile! Five years to be exact... guess it's time for an end-of-decade post! For those that don't know me, I spent most of the last decade in southern Florida working on research projects with pythons...
Image

crocs...
Image

...and gators.
Image

I had more great adventures in Florida than anyone deserves in a lifetime.
Image

But about 1.5 years ago I moved to northern California and I'm having a blast out here. This post will cover some good times from both places as well as trips to Costa Rica, Mexico, and all around the US.

I should warn that this post might be a little salamander heavy. I'll lead with one of my favorites from the last few years, the Tennessee Cave Salamander (Gyrinophilus palleucus palleucus). On this trip we also managed to spot a Big Mouth Cave Salamander (G. p. necturoides) but it swam into some heavy debris before I could get a pic. And if I'm being honest, I got lost in the back of the cave for a few hours trying to find another one while my friends waited closer to the entrance. It was quite an experience and I'm glad I didn't end up an embarrassing news story. Finally figured it out. Phew!
Image

I started making rocket runs to the Appalachians pretty frequently in the last few years I lived in Florida. I wanted to see as much of the great salamander diversity as possible. Shenandoah Salamander (Plethodon shenandoah) was one part of that:
Image

But Florida had a few fun things as well. This 7.5-foot long Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon couperi) was spectacular to see in person:
Image

Depending on who you ask:
Image

A group of us, including longtime FHF member, Nick Scobel, turned up a couple indigos and a couple Florida Worm Lizards (Rhineura floridana) that day:
Image

I had the good pleasure of working with Nick for a couple years as well as another old school FHF member, Ed Metzger. Many caiman were captured (Nick's photo)!
Image

This male ranked among the largest we've seen in Florida:
Image

On one weekend trip I got to see the smallest salamander imaginable, the Patch-nosed Salamander (Urspelerpes brucei):
Image

And one of the largest, the Eastern Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleghaniensis):
Image

One night I happened upon a target that took me wayyyyyy too many years to see. Unfortunately, I was too late and another vehicle found this South Florida Mole Kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster occipitolineata) first.
Image

But in another part of the state with a good group of guys including Josh Young and Prestin Tomborello we came across a live kingsnake, this time the Eastern Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula getula).
Image

A trip home for good buddy and old time FHF member Chad Whitney's wedding allowed me the opportunity to see a Grotto Salamander (Eurycea spelaea) in Kansas, the state where I grew up.
Image

And I got to see a Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) with my wife and oldest son at the place where I saw my first. I thought this site was destroyed but as Chad told me, the horridus persist:
Image

Florida has horridus, too. This one was found directly on Interstate 10:
Image

How about some love for turtles? This target brought me to a gorgeous forest with steep ravines and exposed bluffs. In a shallow creek or river lives this most interesting turtle. It is flattened to hide under ledges in the stream. I started feeling pretty sick and almost ran out of energy to herp while looking for this but I stuck with it and eventually found this guy crawling around the bottom of the stream. Flattened Musk Turtle (Sternotherus depressus).
Image

A weekend trip with Prestin to the Carolinas produced an unreal number of Carolina Pygmy Rattlesnakes (Sistrurus miliarius miliarius):
Image

Image

Image

We passed this DOR without stopping and later met up with Bill Barham who had taken the time to investigate.
Image

Uncle Chip Cochran came to visit us in Florida so we went out one night and found a couple pythons and an eastern diamondback that my son still remembers:
Image

And I kept working but took fewer pictures as the years went on. Here's a rare pic from that time period of me in the field:
Image

A trip to the Pacific Northwest with the wife allowed me to encounter a few species that were new to me. Cope's Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon copei) is one I had long waited to see. These were common near many of the famous waterfalls of that region:
Image

Driving in circles in xeric habitat in Florida sometimes produces awesome snakes. But quite often they are dead. We were too late for this Florida Pine Snake and Short-tailed Kingsnake (Lampropeltis extenuata).
Image

Image

Before moving to California I made a trip with friends for a wedding and did quite a bit of herping. We had a good time with some of the newly-described legless lizards. Met up with forum member Chad Lane for much of this including the search for this Southern Sierra Legless Lizard (Anniella campi). We hunted for a little while before finally turning one of these up after Chad suggested we hunt the slope that was getting more sun. It was a miserable night camping prior to finding these. 40 degrees and very windy. Was very excited to swipe my hand through the soil and see this lizard. It was a pretty large individual.
Image

The Temblor Legless Lizard (Anniella alexanderae) was much less of a challenge:
Image

And we had strange luck with the Bakersfield Legless Lizard (Anniella grinnellii). We flipped two deads individuals under a large cover object which gave a little hope to keep trying. I swiped some loose soil under detritus (Florida-style) and turned up this live one.
Image

SoCal had the usual suspects:
Image

Image

Image

Back in Florida a night of searching shallow, drying marshland produced a lifer I'd wanted to see, the Everglades Dwarf Siren (Pseudobranchus axanthus bellii). The vivid colors on these make them one of my favorites:
Image

Our first vacation as a family of four was to Costa Rica. Despite having observed and captured countless American Crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) in Florida, I felt it was necessary to go the well-known Tarcoles Bridge and see the congregation of crocs. Some were quite large!
Image

Best snake of the trip was dead... Crotalus simus:
Image

But I was ecstatic to find my first Eyelash Viper (Bothriechis schlegellii) on a night hike by myself:
Image

And as far as lizards go, they don't get too much cooler than this Yellow-spotted Night Lizard (Lepidophyma flavimaculatum):
Image

And there was no shortage of Red-eyed Tree Frogs (Agalychnis callidryas):
Image

The scenery was alright:
Image

Another rocket run to the north from Florida resulted in some cool cave and salamander finds. It may not look like much... but I was 100% stoked on this Georgia Blind Salamander (Eurycea wallacei).
Image

This Green Salamander (Aneides aeneus) was a total surprise while searching for Prestin's lifer Pigeon Mountain Salamander:
Image

And we were lucky to see this Alabama Waterdog (Necturus alabamensis). Most of their habitat is badly degraded and they have disappeared from many streams within their relatively small range:
Image

A Southern Zigzag Salamander (Plethodon ventralis) might be common and boring to some but I thought it was a great looking animal. We found a couple under rocks outside a cave entrance:
Image

I've seen just about every exotic species in Florida but one that gave me a bit of trouble was the Jamaican Giant Anole (Anolis garmani). This individual was everything I could've hoped for... large, vivid, and not shy:
Image

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) in Everglades National Park:
Image

And a nice croc further down the road:
Image

I've been lucky to visit the remote beaches where crocodiles nest and have eggs hatch in my ends. If it weren't for the bugs, it would be a nice place:
Image

This exotic skink goes by many common names and was formerly in the genus Mabuya. I'd been trying to hunt these down for about a year when someone sent me a pic of one from a new county. Walt Meshaka first reported this species from Miami-Dade County in 1999 on the grounds of Dr. David Fairchild's former estate. I was fortunate to see several of these at a new population in Broward County. Never did get my hands on one... fast little buggers! This is a nice male of what is now known as the Many-lined Sun Skink (Eutropis multifasciata). Although that name might not last long from what I'm told:
Image

Some anoles in southwestern Florida might be Allison's Anoles, also known as Blue-headed Anoles (Anolis allisoni):
Image

Okay... now for some really fun stuff. I was really itching for a Mexico trip so after much planning I got on a plane and met Ed Metzger, Chris Gillette (another longtime FHF member), and Michael Lovecchio in Mexico City. We found some AWESOME stuff but I was also incredibly humbled by how much we missed. The best animal of the trip, in my opinion, was this Emerald Horned Pit-viper (Ophryacus smaragdinus):
Image

This Mexican Pygmy Rattlesnake (Crotalus ravus ravus) was found after dark on a road through amazing habitat in Puebla.
Image

Chris flipped this killer pair of Huamantlan Rattlesnakes (Crotalus scutulatus salvini) under a rock just large enough to conceal them.
Image

Mexican Dusky Rattlesnake (Crotalus triseriatus). This would've been the nominate form before C. armstrongi was split from triseriatus. I found this perched on a rock at nearly 11,000 ft in elevation atop an old Volcano near Mexico City. At the time I didn't notice yellow trim along its blotches. Looks nicer than I realized! This was a last minute find before we had to fly out.
Image

The rattlesnake I most wanted to see was the Tamaulipan Rock Rattlesnake (Crotalus lepidus morulus). Chris found this one basking among some rocks during a morning hike:
Image

We hiked one morning in some misty, foggy, damp, oak woodland at high elevation searching for Mexican Arboreal Alligator Lizards (Abronia graminea). No luck that day. But we went back the following morning when the sun was out and eagle-eye Chris found a couple.
Image

Tantilla in Mexico are phenomenal. This is the Veracruz Centipede Snake (Tantilla rubra), probably the size of a decent Regal Ringneck, for perspective:
Image

And we flipped a giant "Mexican Pine Snake" as I called them when I was younger. I believe somebody dishonored them and decided to call them gopher snakes. But here is Pituophis lineaticollis lineaticollis:
Image

In November 2018 I left Florida and haven't been back since! I don't have any regrets and I'm thankful for the opportunities I was provided but it was time to go. I drove from Fort Lauderdale to northern Georgia to meet up with Noah Fields who helped me see my first Four-toed Salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum):
Image

Got about two hours of sleep that night then drove almost straight to northern California without stopping because I had to start my new job ASAP. Taking the northern route was a mistake. So much snow!!! I remember being more tired than I've ever been (and for those that know me... I push the limits so this was bad) and having to drive in awful conditions. It's a miracle I made it BUT... I'm glad I did because I got to enjoy some of California's beloved salamander fauna. Of the 20+ species of Batrachoseps in the state, one of the most elusive is the Lesser Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps minor). It takes a well trained eye to distinguish these from sympatric Black-bellied Slender Salamanders (Batrachoseps nigriventris) but after some trial and error I finally found and identified a legitimate B. minor:
Image

And not long after that I went to meet another OG FHF member, Natalie McNear to look for Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamanders (Ambystoma macrodactylum croceum). These have an extremely limited range and only occur near the city of Santa Cruz. I got there a little sooner and lucked upon this one meandering through the rain:
Image

California is different than Florida:
Image

One species that had given me trouble was the Limestone Salamander (Hydromantes brunus) but I searched in a downpour and turned one up. This species, like so many salamanders in California, has a tiny range. It lives on rock outcrops in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Couldn't keep the camera out long in that rain so only managed one terrible photo:
Image

I'll never get tired of redwood forests and their cool inhabitants such as this Coastal Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon tenebrosus):
Image

Image

Spring is fun here:
Image

Image

Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes (Crotalus oreganus) are common:
Image

Image

Image

The kids love seeing them:
Image

And Northern Rubber Boas (Charina bottae):
Image

Now that I'm in California my out-of-state rocket runs are to Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Here are some finds from one of those trips. Eastern Long-toed Salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum columbianum):
Image

Image

Red-spotted Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis concinnus):
Image

Columbia Torrent Salamander (Rhyacotriton kezeri)
Image

Western Long-toed Salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum macrodactylum). I flipped logs for a long time at two sites before finally uncovering this after a little encouragement that they are still out. It was considerably hotter here than where I found the eastern subspecies. In other words, it wasn't covered in snow. Sometimes 65 F feels like a heatwave in the Pacific Northwest.
Image

In December I flipped a couple shed skins from Shasta Alligator Lizards (Elgaria coerulea shastensis) while looking for Plethodon stormi. I heard the ones in this area are nice looking so I made a point to go back and see one in the flesh. I was not disappointed. It's basically the Abronia of California.
Image

Happy wife, happy life. It's such a healthy lifestyle change to live out here. Everything is just better. This is the eastern Sierras near Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. We'll meet some herp residents from this area later in the post.
Image

Okay, okay... how about some zonata? Here's what was once the San Bernardino Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata parvirubra):
Image

A "Sierra Mountain Kingsnake" (Lampropeltis zonata multicincta):
Image

Anyone that has talked herps with me this year knows my biggest target and mild obsession has been finding what was once considered the “St. Helena Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata zonata).” It’s clearly not alive but dead snakes help me put the pieces together. Possibly a new locality (at least not vouchered from here to my knowledge).
Image

And here's a heartbreaker of a Coast Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata multifasciata)
Image

A recent find from the Sierras:
Image

Can I sneak in a captive success? Not recent but I guess most of it is not!
Image

Not a great photo but just a few miles from our place in Santa Rosa where California Tiger Salamanders (Ambystoma californiense) are extremely rare:
Image

iPhone photo of a dank Arboreal Salamander (Aneides lugubris) and its oak forest surroundings:
Image

When we're not herping we are often tidepooling. Check out this nudibranch! The diversity and coloration of these critters is fascinating:
Image

In this tiny cave:
Image

...was this "true" Shasta Salamander (Hydromantes shastae):
Image

And along a road through some beautiful redwoods this Speckled Black Salamander (Aneides flavipunctatus) was hiding under a rock:
Image

In a larger cave than the previous one... after a cold boat ride by myself to an isolated area...
Image

...I encountered this seldom-seen creature, the Wintuu Shasta Salamander (Hydromantes wintu):
Image

A recent desert trip with the kids resulted in flipping two stellar rosy boas. Here's one in habitat.
Image

Oh, and I almost forgot about the time Ed and I joined Ashley Lawrence of Gator Boys fame and captured this Morelet's Crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii) that had been living in a Boca Raton, Florida golf course pond for a couple years. Strange things turn up in Florida. We also captured a Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) a few years before this. Here's the Morelet's:
Image

And the Nile just because (obviously, Chris' photo. Thanks, Chris!):
Image

I've been geeking out over ringneck snakes out here. They are incredible and vibrant compared to most eastern varieties. My favorite is the "Coral-bellied" (Diadophis punctatus pulchellus). I realize the taxonomy has changed but the subspecies make them fun.
Image

Image

"Monterey" (D. p. vandenburgii):
Image

Image

"Northwestern" (D. p. occidentalis):
Image

A funky Ensatina I turned up:
Image

Image

On social media we would have to put up with a lot of boop the snoot BS for this little Rubber Boa I flipped on the Sonoma/Lake county line:
Image

Onto the final stretch. Two weeks ago I visited the Owens Valley and Death Valley in search of the Nevada Shovel-nosed Snake (Chionactis occipitalis talpina) and some other beasts. I was stunned by the Chionactis that was crossing a road through a desert valley:
Image

Owens Valley has an interesting population of Mt. Lyell Salamander (Hydromantes platycephalus) that thrives in snow-melt streams running down the eastern Sierras:
Image

No trip to this area is complete without a Panamint Rattlesnake (Crotalus stephensi) and at least one herp photo with the snow-capped Sierras in the background.
Image

And a visit to see Black Toads (Anaxyrus exsul) that live in only one small lake in a remote corner of California:
Image

Image

And I'll end with a species that is always a blast to see no matter how common... a sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes):
Image

Image

Alright, it's been real everyone. Maybe we'll catch up again before 2030. Later!
Image

User avatar
Scott Waters
Site Admin
Posts: 679
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 3:08 am
Contact:

Re: End of Decade Post: USA, Mexico, Costa Rica

Post by Scott Waters »

Awesome. Good to see you.

Finding Helena (not as DORs, anyway), in my experience, is all about private property. Get that access...boom.

Scott
:beer:

DRDAN
Posts: 28
Joined: November 1st, 2017, 6:54 pm

Re: End of Decade Post: USA, Mexico, Costa Rica

Post by DRDAN »

Mike it’s been a long time indeed, that was a great post looks like life is treating you very well. Those lepidophyma are always a cool find and that shot of you and chip is classic lol. Looks like that male speck did a good job ;) if you make it down to the Salton Sink give me a shout!
Cheers
B

User avatar
Fieldherper
Posts: 245
Joined: June 11th, 2010, 9:46 am

Re: End of Decade Post: USA, Mexico, Costa Rica

Post by Fieldherper »

Truly awesome post, Mike!!

FH

User avatar
Porter
Posts: 2140
Joined: March 19th, 2011, 6:43 pm

Re: End of Decade Post: USA, Mexico, Costa Rica

Post by Porter »

I’ve only got time to scan through and read bits and chunks right now… But awesome post :thumb: That shot of the kid crying in the foreground of the indigo with you guys doing work in the background is classic and may be the best field herping photo I’ve seen that has a child involved :lol: Based simply on its Comedic aspect haha (not sure if Ill have time for this, but if I find the time, do I have permission to draw that photo…?) It’s like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Dig all the fieldwork pics with the crocs and gators. Coral ringneck are definitely the most beautiful. my favorite snake. Sidewinders will always be my favorite rattlesnakes. Thanks for sharing the wintu...Didn’t know they existed 🍻 I need to get a boat soon... 🤔 🚣‍♀️ (Gigas and ybr aquatic insitu) Looks like that day was a fun adventure 🤙🏻

…And the funky Ensatina :thumb:

User avatar
Mike Rochford
Posts: 167
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 9:27 am
Location: Tucson, AZ
Contact:

Re: End of Decade Post: USA, Mexico, Costa Rica

Post by Mike Rochford »

Hi Scott! Good to be back! I definitely need to work some private property. I've got a particular spot in mind but I also worry I'll get shot going to the door to ask permission. :)

Brett! Long time, indeed! That male definitely got the job done! So cool to see the little ones show up. Glad you're still down south. Will definitely let you know if I'm headed that way!

Fieldherper- Glad you're still hanging around! Thanks!

Porter- Knock yourself out! The juxtaposition of our extreme joy and his dismay sums up the struggle of trying to maintain sanity in the early parenthood years pretty well. Wintu are cool beasts and the adventure is fun without or without the salamander showing up. A boat definitely helps for that one!

Cheers everyone!

Mike

User avatar
RCampbell
Posts: 93
Joined: June 10th, 2010, 5:45 am
Location: wherever poikilotherms can be found

Re: End of Decade Post: USA, Mexico, Costa Rica

Post by RCampbell »

Thank you for taking the time to share your decade. Wonderful seeing familiar places, a familiar face (Dr.
Cochran) and critters experienced by others with drive and passion!

I especially loved the snot lizards, made me miss parts of TN and Humboldt County, CA! One could spend a lifetime just stopping to look at each Ensantina for the phenotypic diversity, and it would not be a life wasted!
Your oddball reminded me of this beauty I was able to see hiking through fungus enriched redwoods in drizzle...
Attachments
_DSC2520-01.jpeg

User avatar
Josh Holbrook
Posts: 2196
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 7:11 am
Location: Western North Carolina
Contact:

Re: End of Decade Post: USA, Mexico, Costa Rica

Post by Josh Holbrook »

Spectacular, Mike. Your post is a true testament to how much I haven't seen out west (understandable, I guess, since I've only been west of the Mississippi half a dozen times.) Thanks for taking us there! :beer: :beer: :beer: :beer:

User avatar
BillMcGighan
Posts: 2348
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 8:23 am
Location: Unicoi, TN

Re: End of Decade Post: USA, Mexico, Costa Rica

Post by BillMcGighan »

Thanks for that one, Mike.
You brought back some of the forum quality from yesteryear!

User avatar
Kelly Mc
Posts: 4397
Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: End of Decade Post: USA, Mexico, Costa Rica

Post by Kelly Mc »

Beautiful works. The Sidewinder my favorite. This time around!

User avatar
Carl Brune
Posts: 488
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 10:22 am
Location: Athens, OH
Contact:

Re: End of Decade Post: USA, Mexico, Costa Rica

Post by Carl Brune »

Great post! Excellent decadal summary.

Jimi
Posts: 1930
Joined: December 3rd, 2010, 12:06 pm

Re: End of Decade Post: USA, Mexico, Costa Rica

Post by Jimi »

A blast from the past indeed. Good to see you're doing well.
And as far as lizards go, they don't get too much cooler than this Yellow-spotted Night Lizard (Lepidophyma flavimaculatum):
Yeah buddy; just a great genus all in all.

If it weren't for the bugs, it would be a nice place:
Yeah, but...hahahahhhhhahahhahahawoooooooo (bug-crazed maniacal laughter). Jesus those no-see-ums / sand flies / jejenes / scalpers. Pure misery. "Looks way better than it really is!"

ow that I'm in California my out-of-state rocket runs are to Nevada, Oregon, and Washington
The Great Basin offers a lifetime of exploring and discovering. Nevada rocks. Not always the easiest herping but it's hard to complain about the crowds!

Happy wife, happy life. It's such a healthy lifestyle change to live out here. Everything is just better.
Word, brother. And good luck with those boys too. Glad they aren't gonna be Floridiots. Ha ha. Santa Rosa's not the worst place ever.


Thanks for all the great pics and little story vignettes.

Post Reply