Arizona recap: July 8-18

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Arizona recap: July 8-18

Post by the_cw1 » August 27th, 2017, 6:57 pm

I had visited Arizona quite often as a kid 20sh years ago, but I didn't know what I was looking for or how to look for things. I loved the experience as a kid, however. As a native Michigander, I have a deep love of the mountains, rocks, and sagebrush. It's a far cry from the overgrowth of swampy vegetation that typifies Michigan herping. As far as I'm concerned, give me heat any day of the week over wet swamps! I happen to like my dry socks quite a bit.

The trip was ostensibly about helping my mom find a place to retire to, so many of my adventures were at night or in the early morning. I think I did quite well all things considered. :)

My big targets going into the trip were quite low: diamondback, sidewinder, and banded gecko. Oh...and a white speckled rattlesnake. I had NO idea it could possibly happen. I mean, come on, it totally wouldn't. Let's be realistic.

Why so little? I guess I have a sense of getting expectations in the right place. I've busted my butt for eastern massasaugas in Michigan and know how the game is. However, I also know that having your desires aligned with your knowledge is important. I knew absolutely nothing about herping Arizona other than basics of road cruising and that, all things being equal, hitting the monsoon season is important. And boy, did I ever hit it during the Monsoon season!

Also, I'm only posting my favorite pictures that "move the story forward." There are others, but I don't want to bombard you all with too many pics. I'm mostly a lurker here, but I do like contributing every now and again. :)
Disclaimer: I question some of my lizard IDs but I'm not losing too much sleep over it.

Day 1
I was in Phoenix, dead tired, and wasn't sure if I could even stay awake for a bit of cruising. I had been awake for 30 hours at this point, so the idea of having a long night did not sound fun at all. However, after hitting up a friend in Utah about when I should cruise, he said I should go for it. It was cloudy and there was a small drizzle of rain. There had been very little rain before this night so I knew I'd see something.

My first snake of the night was a nearly 4 foot DOR atrox. I never photo DOR, but I knew I was in the right location. It wasn't long before seeing something I'd wanted since a kid: a live atrox!
ImageWestern diamondback (Crotalus Atrox) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

I know you Arizona guys are bored with atrox, but man this was an amazing moment. I'd always wanted to see one and, even if this was a little guy, he was feisty and fast enough that it made it fun. Very pretty! And there were 2 other live ones that night too.

ImageWestern diamondback (Crotalus Atrox) macro by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

The night was amazing. The small amount of rain seemed like it brought stuff out of the woodwork. Saw several coyotes, too, and plenty of other guys out herping too. Arizona herpers love their big hooks, lol. Before the end of the night, I saw tons of toads too.

ImageSonoran toad (Incilius alvarius) macro by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

For a first night, I was incredibly happy. I got everything I wanted in a very real, important way. I mean, snakes on the first night when I was cruising a road I picked out via google maps? Can't go wrong there.

Day 2
I was meeting up with a friend that I had not seen in over a year. She and her husband are not herpers, but we did go for an amazing hike. He was a marine, so the idea of getting up on some weird rock formations appealed to him quite a bit (proving masculinity is awesome, haha). However, we did manage to see a really handsome lizard far up on this cliff.
ImageChuckwalla (Sauromalus ater) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

I'd never seen a chuckwalla and had NO dream I'd see one at all. I was beyond thrilled. And he was such a handsome little guy I think I made my hiking partners bored by nerding out about him. We saw several that evening.

I set out to cruise a road a buddy of mine recommended. I guess it had produced sidewinders consistently, and since I was already doing well for less than 24 hours I figured I should make the drive. You Phoenix natives: the traffic blows. Like, wow, awful stuff. :D

The night was almost a total bust for 2 hours, but I found this very pretty atrox that was just shy of 4 feet. Very friendly snake despite being so big. Never threw a strike and barely rattled.
ImageWestern diamondback (Crotalus atrox) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

Day 3
The first two days had been relatively monsoon free. This night, however, was forecast to be quite a serious storm. I debated going out to cruise, but I knew I should head on out. I'd waited 20 years to be down here, how was I going to feel if I didn't make the most of it? The storms started right before the sun set, and it made cruising pretty rough. It was, however, beautiful driving through the storms.
ImageLightning on the horizon by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

Near the end of the night, I saw a decent looking atrox crossing the road. I had just been on that road a few minutes ago, so I'm glad he decided to come out and send me off to bed. Once again, a very nice snake. My atrox experiences were pretty calm, which was nice.
ImageWestern diamondback (Crotalus atrox) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

Day 4
This was my last night in Phoenix before making the drive down to Tucson for a few days, so I knew I had to make a trip of it. Up until now, I'd only been doing cruising and no night hiking. I figured I was by myself and didn't know the lay of the land and wanted to be safe. However, I was feeling a bit adventurous so decided to do something a bit out of the ordinary: to hike some washes this night. And, you know what, getting out of the car and hiking some mountains at sunset was worth it even if no herps were found.
ImageMonsoon sunset by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

It was a super weird night. The washes were crawling with palo verde beetles and tarantulas. I did manage to see a ground snake on the crawl but couldn't get a pic. So there was lots of stuff out but I just didn't know the game that well. Considering I knew a storm was moving in fast, I decided to get out cruising. Gotta make the most of my time.

ImageBanded gecko (Coleonyx variegatus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr
And I got the second thing on my list! I love banded geckos. I had flipped one as a kid 20 years ago but had not seen one since then. It was so cool seeing this little guy. However, the photoshoot was pretty strange. Right after this pic was taken, one of those palo verde beetles tried grabbing the gecko! It ran up to the gecko and the lizard bolted off faster than you could ever believe. It was quite the sight to see.

Within 2 minutes, I got the other guy on my list!
ImageSidewinder (Crotalus cerastes) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

A sidewinder! Again, I know these are common, but this was an absolute must for me on an Arizona trip. I was beyond thrilled to see this guy. He was VERY feisty and threw more strikes than all the other snakes I had seen up until this point. Go figure: all this time I thought these were super chill snakes overall. No accounting for book reading, I guess, or knowing that every snake is special. I saw one other sidewinder that night, too, and I was so thrilled. The coolest find, however, was still to be had.

ImageSpotted leaf nose snake (Phyllorhynchus decurtatus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr
This snake was an unbelievable find for me just because, if I'm honest, I had no idea what it was! In Michigan, it's easy to commit every herp to memory so it's more about finding the animal rather than knowing what it was. This was a special snake because I didn't know what it was. He was very chill and let me get one of my favorite shots I've ever taken. I left the area very quickly after that because it began raining so hard I was genuinely worried about flash floods.

Day 5
Tucson is a wonderful city. All things being equal, I think it would be where I want to move (to bad PHDs aren't so accommodating, haha). I knew a road I wanted to cruise that night and I was very excited to see what I find. The afternoon was spent hanging with an old friend, swimming, and relaxing. Gotta plan out the night trips man. :p

ImageSidewinder (Crotalus cerastes) macro by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr
Boom. More sidewinders. I love these guys so much. Feisty, fast, beautiful. What more can you want with a snake? There were several out that night, coupled with a glossy snake too.

ImageGopher snake (Pituophis catenifer) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr
I lived in Oregon for a few years, so I've all too familiar with gopher snakes. This guy was super tiny compared to some of the monsters I had seen back in the northwest. He was warming himself up on the road and was chilly to the touch. They're usually squirmy guys, so this was a nice chance to get a nice, calm pic. I packed up early that night because I wanted to go out for lizards at the crack of dawn the next morning.

Day 6
ImagePima Canyon sunrise by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

Up until this point, I had only seen the chuckwallas, the banded gecko, and a few lizards that were way too fast to get a clear look at. I decided to make a concentrated effort to target them this morning. I mean, my trip was more than half over at this point! Snakes are great and all, but coming all the way to Arizona and seeing no lizards seems like a waste of time. Pima Canyon was full of lizards. As soon as the sun popped over the mountain, they were out. It was a wonderful experience and took me back to being a kid. Who knows how I was able to catch these things by hand back in the day, lol.

ImageGreater earless lizard (Cophosaurus texanus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageOrnate tree lizard (Urosaurus ornatus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageClark's spiny lizard (Sceloporus clarkii) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

I was very happy to have such good luck. I must have seen well over 30 lizards in less than an hour. Nothing "rare" I think, but nearly everything was a lifer so how could I possibly complain? That night was a total bust cruising wise because of the heavy monsoons blowing through Tucson then, so I was even happier that my morning hike was so productive. Lizards, I feel, are really underappreciated in the herping community at large.

Day 7
My mom wanted to see Mt. Lemmon, so we took a trip up there. Truly it is a beautiful area and I think more people should check it out. I was hoping for a black rattler, but I knew that was asking for too much in the grand scheme of things. Gotta take what you can get.
ImageMt Lemmon Bug Springs trail by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

That night I decided to head out herping again. However, just like the night before, it was raining very heavy and the wind made the roads not too attractive for snakes. However, unlike the previous night, there were lots of toads out so I managed to get some good stuff that night. There were so many toads out I had to be careful driving!

ImageRed-spotted toad (Anaxyrus punctatus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageCouch's spadefoot toad (Scaphiopus couchii) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

Day 8
This was my last day in Tucson! So I knew I had to burn it on both ends to get as much as I could out of the day. So, I decided an early morning hike for lizards was a must.

ImageGreater earless lizard (Cophosaurus texanus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

ImageCommon side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

That night, I was meeting up with a fellow photographer to check out an area she uses quite often. It ended up being an amazing night! We found this guy super early in the evening, almost as soon as the sun went down.

ImageLong-nosed snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

After that, we saw tons of other cool things: killer bee hive, skunks, hawks, and lots of other small frogs and critters. The cool, wet winds coming in foretold another bad monsoon night and I could not be denied! I knew I was on the cusp of finding something amazing that night.

ImageSonoran desert toad (Incilius alvarius) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

It wasn't that, however. Toads were, however, out and about. As we were walking around a corner, I did spot something that brought the night together...
ImageTiger rattlesnake (Crotalus tigris) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

This guy was an amazing find! I could not have been happier finding a tiger. He was beautiful and, more importantly, I had no expectation I would ever find a snake like this! There's something particularly wonderful about the genuine surprise of finding something like this. The rain started shortly after we found the tiger, so we had to hike 2 miles back to our cars in torrential rain. I had a smile on my face the whole time! :)

And an idea entered my mind: if I could get a tiger, why not a speckled? Was I starting to get a bit greedy? Maybe, but a man can dream...

Day 9
My second to last day on the Arizona adventure was off to a...weird start. The weather was very cool and cloudy. I took a picture of my mom and I at south mountain to prove it.
ImageHole in the clouds by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

I think it was in the low 70s that morning. I wish I had a hoody! Haha. I'm sure if I really knew Arizona there could have been something amazing I could have found, but it was enough to get out there and get some cool pics (and do some hiking without sweating through my pants).

That night, I met up with a cool local herper who agreed to help me out. It was fun sharing stories and talking about things we want to do in the future. The night was off to a great start: almost as soon as we started driving, we saw something VERY conspicuous in the middle of the road...
ImageCommon kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

We were both totally floored! A healthy king has got to be on the top of almost any herpers dream list. A lifer for me in more ways than one: I had never seen a kingsnake before this! It was a fairly large king, too. And I was all too happy to get out of the road. Almost as soon as we got it, some drivers swung around the corner and would have killed him. Although the rest of the night was uneventful in terms of "big finds", I was all too happy with a king and a good story.

And finding the king brought the idea up again: if I could get a tiger and a king, why not a speckled? Maybe a concentrated search could get one, but let's not get carried away...

Day 10
The final day. The final night. It was finally down to the wire. I had seen basically everything I wanted to see except a speckled. Me and the local herping buddy decided to make a concentrated effort to find one, but I was not looking to be greedy.

The night got off to a great start. I had not seen an atrox in some time, and this pink one was very pretty.
ImageThat special look - western diamondback (Crotalus atrox) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

And the sunset was spectacular!
ImageArizona sunset by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

We split up at this point and I was checking every bush, every rock, and every tree to see if I could find anything. This trip had been an amazing success and my friends, both old and new, that had helped me were so very much appreciated. I was happy with what I had gotten thus far, so I was going to go and find my friend when I heard something on the wind.

"I've got one!"

So, I'm a runner. Like I try to run 4-5 miles every morning. But, boy, let me tell you, I sprinted faster than you could have every believed. And I was happy I had done so. Because, here I was in front of the ONLY thing in the world that could have taken a great trip to the very next level.

ImageSpeckled rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii pyrrhus) by phl_with_a_camera1, on Flickr

I was beyond excited. You know that kind of feeling where you find something that you've seen in books but, on a certain level, sort of doubt could really be alive? I mean, a *white* rattlesnake? That's so weird that it seems like a fake, right? But here it was, huge rattle just buzzing away, and I was right by it. Fist bumps were exchanged, and many thousand of pictures were taken right then and there. And, looking up at the night sky, I knew this was a perfect trip.

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Re: Arizona recap: July 8-18

Post by dwakefield » August 28th, 2017, 6:57 am

Great finds on your trip! Must have been a blast

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Re: Arizona recap: July 8-18

Post by the_cw1 » August 28th, 2017, 1:52 pm

Thanks! It was a wonderful trip. I feel very lucky to have seen so much without much experience. :)

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Re: Arizona recap: July 8-18

Post by John Martin » August 29th, 2017, 9:43 pm

I really enjoyed reading your post, mostly because of your infectious exuberance at every find. Reminds me of when I moved to Tucson wayyyy back in the '70's. Everything was new, I was road cruising about 6 nights every week for the first summer, plus many days of hiking the desert and mountains, lol. I'm really happy for you, as you did quite well, including ticking off all your targets. :thumb:

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Re: Arizona recap: July 8-18

Post by krisbell » August 30th, 2017, 12:20 am

Great trip, great finds and great story-telling!

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Re: Arizona recap: July 8-18

Post by the_cw1 » August 30th, 2017, 9:59 am

I was so excited to see just about everything. Here in Michigan, getting skunked is 100% possible even on what looks like a perfect day. I've only seen 1 garter snake in over a month, so I know a thing or two about taking what you can get. :)
Thank you for the kind words.

Thank you so much.

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Re: Arizona recap: July 8-18

Post by dinodan » August 30th, 2017, 5:44 pm

Looks like a south mountain blue speck to me. Awesome animal! One of my favorites. Great find and congrats!

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Re: Arizona recap: July 8-18

Post by John Martin » August 30th, 2017, 11:36 pm

the_cw1 wrote:@JohnMartin
I was so excited to see just about everything. Here in Michigan, getting skunked is 100% possible even on what looks like a perfect day.
I was born and raised in central Ohio, so I can feel some of your pain. I spent nearly all of my herping time in southern Ohio, where diversity was pretty good! :thumb:

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Re: Arizona recap: July 8-18

Post by Ribbit » August 31st, 2017, 10:56 am

I second the comments about how fun this was to read. Herping somewhere where most everything is new is such a blast, and you related that experience beautifully. Great photos too.


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Re: Arizona recap: July 8-18

Post by Jimi » August 31st, 2017, 2:40 pm

So...did your mom get any closer to a decision on where to retire?

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Re: Arizona recap: July 8-18

Post by the_cw1 » September 1st, 2017, 11:55 am

@ dinodan
Thank you! Seeing a spec was amazing, even more so that it was the last snake of the trip.

@ John Martin
I'm glad you have some empathy for my situation! Haha.
Michigan can be very good--I'll have a year in review post at some point that attests to that--but it can be particularly fickle. I have a buddy who lives near southern Ohio and boy the diversity there sure makes me jealous.

@ Ribbit
Thank you for the kind words. :)

@ Jimi
Asking the real questions haha. Yeah, there *has* been a development. She decided to fully retire and thinks somewhere near Gilbert is the spot for her.

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