Early Summer Herping - Ontario, Appalachians, Illinois

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Aneides Aeneus
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Joined: November 15th, 2014, 8:54 am
Location: Lexington, KY

Early Summer Herping - Ontario, Appalachians, Illinois

Post by Aneides Aeneus » June 24th, 2018, 4:10 pm

Hey guys,

College has kept me busy, and I've had very little time to herp this past year, but by mid-May I had finished my finals and since then I've had more than my share of outdoors time. In this long post I'll do my best to describe the herping adventures I've had the pleasure to experience since May.

Just after school got out, I went up to Ontario to visit my grandparents. They are 85 and 91 or so, yet they love nothing more than to spend the day outdoors, hiking and birdwatching. I first went with them and my aunt (who is an avid birdwatcher) to Point Pelee National Park to catch part of the spring bird migration:

ImageCanada Warbler (Cardellina canadensis) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageOvenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageChestnut-sided Warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageBlackburnian Warbler (Setophaga fusca) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageCape May Warbler (Setophaga tigrina) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageScarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

We saw well over 100 flying herp species that weekend, and I would love to post more photos, but I know you guys want to see non-flying herp photos so I'll move on (you can find more bird photos from that weekend on my flickr).

The next weekend we headed up to my grandparents' cottage in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario. They and about 30 other families bought an entire county up there in the 50s or so; the land was super cheap because of a severe post-logging fire which had just ripped through the area, burning all the way down to bedrock in most places. Now it is a forested paradise, full of clear lakes and pristine marshes.

ImageLake at Sunrise by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageMarshy Creek by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

On our first evening there, I went out to a marshy area, where I found several leopard frogs and this ribbon snake:

ImageEastern Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Painted turtles abound in the area's marshes:

ImageMidland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

The next morning I went for a hike with my aunt through a powerline cut to look for snakes. On the way through the woods, I flipped up this blue-spotted salamander:

ImageBlue-spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Our best find in the cut itself was this very pretty milk snake:

ImageEastern Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

On the way back, we came upon this blanding's turtle crossing the road. While rare in most places, they seem to be doing fairly well in this large expanse of wilderness.

ImageBlanding's Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

We spent the afternoon swimming and visiting my grandparents' favorite old haunts. It was eye-opening to hear them describe how barren the land was when they came, and to see them point out tall, healthy maple trees and describe how they had planted them years ago. Their stories of this land really demonstrate how resilient nature can be if we give it a chance.

The next morning I went farther afield to search for an elusive but gorgeous snake... the smooth green snake. I had never seen one in the area, but my mom recalls finding one in her childhood there, and small rocky openings in the forest provide promising habitat. After an hour or so, we came upon one such opening, where a several inch thick layer of moss was all that covered the bedrock, and under a dry, decayed log I found an opaque individual of my target. The very next rock yielded this stunning specimen:

ImageSmooth Green Snake (Opheodrys vernalis) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageSmooth Green Snake (Opheodrys vernalis) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

After that it was time to leave. On the way out we stopped by an old building, where I found this adult milk snake:

ImageEastern Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

I can't help but post a couple bird photos from the weekend:

ImageBlackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageGolden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageRuffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageVirginia Rail (Rallus limicola) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

More scenery photos from the area:

ImageLakeside Marsh by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageInland Marsh by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr


After that, I headed back to my home in Kentucky for a couple days, before embarking on a trip with my herping buddy Kevin Hutcheson to the promised land - the southern Appalachians. On this trip we wound our way through the Cumberland Plateau of eastern Kentucky to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, returning just in time for Kevin to graduate high school.

We left on a Thursday afternoon and drove into coal mining country, where we would be spending the next day and a half. About an hour before nightfall we arrived at a deep ravine surrounded by sandstone rock faces and filled with tall hemlocks and thick rhododendron. Here, on a set of large boulders, we quickly found what may be my favorite animal of all time:

ImageGreen Salamander (Aneides aeneus) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Boy did I miss seeing these guys!

ImageGreen Salamander (Aneides aeneus) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

As dusk fell, we had the pleasure to witness them out on the rock faces hunting. Along one sandstone overhang, we also saw a couple of these eastern Kentucky specialties:

ImageCumberland Plateau Salamander (Plethodon kentucki) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageCumberland Plateau Salamander (Plethodon kentucki) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Also seen were several seal and slimy salamanders, a copperhead, and a worm snake in the process of eating a worm.

Leaving the ravine, we hopped in the car and headed for a country road along a xeric ridgetop. It had already been an hour since sunset, but temperatures were decent and our hopes were high for some snakes. On our very first pass, we turned a corner to find this beauty:

ImageTimber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageTimber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Nothing else turned up for the rest of the night, but that was more than enough. Kevin and I have had a lot of trouble finding timbers in Kentucky, and this specimen was far prettier than what we had hoped for.

The next morning, we headed back to the same mountain, where we ascended a rocky powerline cut. Along the way we found a nice copperhead:

ImageNorthern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Towards the top, we reached an area where open expanses of exposed sandstone bedrock broke the forest cover.

ImageOpen Rocky Mountainside by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Here we found another copperhead, as well a narrowmouth toad, a rather uncommon find for us in eastern Kentucky:

ImageEastern Narrowmouth Toad (Gastrophryne carolinensis) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Along the edge of one opening was a pile of sandstone boulders. Kevin and I both felt like this was the spot. We carefully crossed the area and scanned for snakes, finding nothing, but then Kevin looked back and spotted our second timber of the trip coiled between two boulders. It quickly slid under a boulder, so we continued searching the openings, deciding to return before we left. When we came back, there was again a timber coiled there, and as we took photos yet another came out beside it, before both vanished into their sandstone refuge.

ImageTimber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Next we headed up to Black Mountain, Kentucky's highest point. Afterwards we visited a high-elevation forest of yellow birch, maple, black cherry, and yellow buckeye nearby:

ImageHigh-elevation Deciduous Forest by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Here, the mountain dusky salamander, a rare and restricted species in most of eastern Kentucky, abounds.

ImageAllegheny Mountain Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus ochrophaeus) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

We had a couple hours left before dark, so we headed to another deep, moist stream valley full of hemlock, birch, and rhododendron.

ImageEastern Kentucky Rocky Stream by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Here we found a decent selection of eastern Kentucky salamanders - cumberland plateau, slimy, seal, northern dusky, black mountain dusky, green - and a wood frog.

ImageWood Frog (Lithobates sylvatica) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageBlack Mountain Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus welteri) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageNorthern Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus fuscus) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

After a quick pizza dinner, we headed for what we expected to be the trip's hardest target - the wehrle's salamander. This species's range lies mostly across Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, but a tiny isolated population of unique, yellow-spotted individuals exists in the Cumberland Mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee. We headed up a sketchy dirt road barely navigable in my wimpy Prius at dusk, then began to work our way down, shining rock outcrops the whole way.

At the beginning of the night we found a large rat snake along a cliff face. Throughout the night, longtail, seal, mountain dusky, slimy, and cumberland plateau salamanders proved abundant, and one rogue ravine salamander turned up. We must've seen at least 40 of these guys:

ImageCumberland Plateau Salamander (Plethodon kentucki) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Most of the outcrops we searched were sandstone, but we got to a short stretch where shale layers were exposed. We thought this was promising, and clambered up the steep scree of shale gravel to the base of the outcrops, where low and behold...

ImageWehrle's Salamander (Plethodon wehrlei) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

...I spotted this juvenile wehrle's salamander. Success!

The next morning, we said goodbye to Kentucky, and headed southeast.

ImageCumberland Mountains, Kentucky by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

The fog in this photo conveniently hides the strip mining project that has destroyed much of this hillside. Strip mining has obliterated so many ridges just like the one we found the timbers on, and degraded so many picturesque stream valleys like the ones we visited with siltation and poisonous chemicals.

Anyhow...

Our destination for the day was a hanging valley in the valley and ridge region of Tennessee. The valley and ridge has some very strange topography, with flat meandering streams atop mountains; it also seems to be good habitat for a special salamander...

We arrived at our destination and began flipping logs along a flat stream valley. We found a longtail and a couple slimies, but overall finds were scarce. However, under a large rotting log I lucked out and found our target:

ImageMidland Mud Salamander (Pseudotriton montanus diasticus) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

We already felt lucky, but the next stream valley over produced two more of these pink beauties! Both were poking their heads out of crayfish burrows under logs, and despite our efforts we could catch neither. Later that day along another stream we found another adult mud salamander, two recent metamorphs, and a recent metamorph red salamander. We ended our exploration of the valley and ridge by visiting a waterfall where we found the only southern two-lined salamander of the entire trip.

That night we drove into the fringes of the Blue Ridge Mountains - salamander heaven! We hiked along a ridge with moist forests of hemlock and hardwoods, home to a whopping 5 Plethodon species. Along the margins of the road where we parked, toads and treefrogs were breeding and carolina mountain dusky salamanders were feeding:

ImageAmerican Toad (Anaxyrus americanus) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageCope's Gray Treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageCarolina Mountain Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus carolinensis) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

As we headed into the woods, we began finding these charismatic kings of the forest:

ImageYonahlossee Salamander (Plethodon yonahlossee) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Truly one of my favorite salamanders!

ImageYonahlossee Salamander (Plethodon yonahlossee) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

The locality's other Plethodon species also made an appearance - redback, white-spotted slimy, and northern graycheek salamanders. I still don't understand how so many species in a single genus can coexist without direct competition!

ImageNorthern Gray-cheeked Salamander (Plethodon montanus) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageWhite-spotted Slimy Salamander (Plethodon cylindraceus) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

And after much searching we found one final Plethodon species: the weller's salamander. This species tends to only occupy the highest elevations; as a result it is especially threatened by climate change. This locality is at the lower limit of their elevation range, so they can be hard to find.

ImageWeller's Salamander (Plethodon welleri) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

The next morning we headed up to Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Rockies:

ImageSouthern Appalachian Spruce-fir Forest by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

The drive up along the Blue Ridge Parkway is absolutely stunning:

ImageThe Black Mountains by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageDeciduous Forest in the Black Mountains by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

We also spent some time at a spruce-fir forest nearby, where we found the diminutive northern pygmy salamander:

ImageNorthern Pygmy Salamander (Desmognathus organi) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

There was no shortage of carolina mountain dusky salamanders there:

ImageCarolina Mountain Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus carolinensis) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Next we headed to an interesting boggy area, with forested wetlands full of river birch and red maple:

ImageWestern North Carolina Wetland Complex by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Here we braved the fierce mosquito population to find some interesting salamanders that aren't too common up in the mountains:

ImageFour-toed Salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageThree-lined Salamander (Eurycea guttolineata) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

We also found our first Appalachian woodland salamanders of the trip here:

ImageAppalachian Woodland Salamander (Plethodon teyahalee) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

That evening, we headed to a cold, rocky river to search for a truly unique animal. The hellbender, North America's largest amphibian, is threatened by widespread degradation of water quality due to pollution and siltation, but the clear and clean rivers of western North Carolina serve as a last stronghold for the species. We spend about an hour wading up and down the river, and just as I was giving up, I heard a primordial scream from Kevin - he had found this:

ImageEastern Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

We were giddy with joy. How could this trip possibly be better?

The next morning we headed towards the Great Smoky Mountains. Along the way, we stopped in a mid-elevation deciduous forest, where we found a couple more Plethodon (as well as a few common Desmognathus species):

ImageSouthern Gray-cheeked Salamander (Plethodon metcalfi) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageSouthern Red-backed Salamander (Plethodon serratus) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

It was mid-afternoon when we reached the Smokies. We headed up to the fog-shrouded spruce-fir forests at the park's highest elevations, where we parked and began our search. The first part of the trail consists of young, deciduous growth where the frasir fir trees have been hit hard by the balsam woolly adelgid. Though the forest here has been degraded, the seeps are still home to interesting salamanders:

ImageSanteetlah Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus santeetlah) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageBlue Ridge Spring Salamander (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus dunni) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

After about a mile, we entered some more intact, mature spruce-fir forest, where we began finding terrestrial salamanders in force.

The southern cousin of the northern pygmy salamander we saw the previous day, genetically isolated by the French Broad River:

ImageSouthern Pygmy Salamander (Desmognathus wrighti) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

An especially pretty imitator salamander:

ImageImitator Salamander (Desmognathus imitator) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

The red-cheeked salamander, a species found only in the confines of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our country sure has a wonderful national park system!

ImageRed-cheeked Salamander (Plethodon jordani) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Also seen were ocoee salamanders, our third representative of the semi-terrestrial mountain dusky salamander complex of the trip.

We also found this garter snake, active despite temperatures in the mid 50s Fahrenheit and heavy fog. Garter snakes can be pretty common at high elevations in the Smokies, although one enlightened hiker we met informed us that they were in fact copperheads.

ImageEastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

As dusk fell, we headed to the tiny range of the Cheoah Bald salamander. We hiked along a rocky hillside to a couple old overgrown rockslides, where we found 4 pretty individuals.

ImageCheoah Bald Salamander (Plethodon cheoah) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Also seen were two Appalachian woodland salamanders.

We set up our tent at a secluded campsite in the Unicoi Mountains. It was late, and we were very tired, but just as we were preparing to go to sleep, it began to pour. We had to go out cruising.

At first we found little besides sticks, leaves, and the occasional spotted dusky or blue ridge two-lined salamander, but we persisted and the night did not disappoint - we found four of these scarlet hot dogs:

ImageBlack-chinned Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber schencki) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

And in among the two-lined salamanders, we spotted this guy, a young junaluska salamander - my second ever!

ImageJunaluska Salamander (Eurycea junaluska) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

We woke up late the next morning, and headed into the Nantahala Range, where we ticked another endemic Plethodon off our list - the red-legged salamander:

ImageRed-legged Salamander (Plethodon shermani) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

We spent the remaining part of the day searching for the shovel-nosed salamander, a highly aquatic Desmognathus species of the Southern Appalachian fast-flowing streams. High water levels due to a rainy week made things hard, but the second spot we visited looked very promising nonetheless - clear water and an abundance of riffles. After about half an hour of searching, I flipped a rock in a fast-flowing section and lifted my net to see a large shovel-nosed salamander. I joyously shouted to Kevin, but then I looked down to see the 1-inch-wide salamander sliding through the half-inch mesh of my net! No shovel-nosed salamander photos for me!

That night we went road cruising again for junaluska salamanders, but cruising conditions weren't great and we were quite tired from the past few days. We did, however, find a couple funny-looking longtail salamanders.

ImageLong-tailed Salamander (Eurycea longicauda) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

The next day we headed to a mid-elevation site in the Unicois. One of our favorite spots in the region, this trail through picturesque hardwood and old-growth hemlock forests is home to a couple of the region's cooler salamanders:

ImageTellico Salamander (Plethodon aureolus) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageSeepage Salamander (Desmognathus aeneus) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

I also took the time to photograph a couple of the more common species from the region:

ImageOcoee Salamander (Desmognathus ocoee) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageBlack-bellied Salamander (Desmognathus quadramaculatus) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

And with that we concluded our trip, and headed back to Kentucky. Rain nearly every night may have *dampened* our spirits and made camping difficult, but we saw nearly every target we searched for, and got to spend a week in what I believe is the most beautiful place on earth.

A parting scenery shot:

ImageThe Unicoi Mountains by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr


I had barely been home four days from this outstanding trip when Kevin and I embarked on yet another herping adventure, this time to Illinois. We owe a lot of our finds on this trip to some midwestern friends of Kevin's; I'd particularly like to thank Nathan Kutok, Evan Kirincich, and Isaiah "Loopy" Lieberenz for their help.

We spent most of the first day driving up. However, we did stop on the way up to find a super cool snake species - the kirtland's snake:

ImageKirtland's Snake (Clonophis kirtlandii) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

This species once occupied wet prairies across the midwest, and the disappearance of that habitat has caused this species to decline throughout its range. However, it has managed to hang on in some surprising circumstances - the two individuals we found were in an urban ditch between a four-lane highway and the mowed front laws of a suburban neighborhood.

The next morning we planned to meet up with Evan and Loopy to search some sandy areas in northeastern Illinois for snakes. We had some time to kill before meeting up with them, so we visited an interesting isolated population of southern two-lined salamanders in the Illinois River watershed south of Chicago. Two-lined salamanders proved to be as common here as anywhere else we've seen them.

ImageSouthern Two-lined Salamander (Eurycea cirrigera) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Next we joined Evan and Loopy, and headed to some cool sandy prairie habitat:

ImageNortheastern Illinois Sandy Prairie Habitat by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Our first find was this large bull snake, spotted by Loopy sunning on a pile of cinderblocks:

ImageBullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Next up was my first blue racer, an in-shed individual spotted sunning by Kevin, followed by this beauty flipped by Evan:

ImageBlue Racer (Coluber constrictor foxii) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

We went to a couple other sites, which didn't produce much besides racerunners. Things were heating up so I didn't expect much more that day, yet under a large board in a field Loopy and I found two very pretty milk snakes.

ImageEastern Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Next up was a young bull snake we cruised between sites:

ImageBullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Our last site was a field we walked, hoping for a hognose snake. None were found, but their prey were out:

ImageFowler's Toad (Anaxyrus fowleri) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

After that great morning, we said goodbye to Evan and Loopy for now, and made the long drive around Chicago, where we met up with a couple of my college friends. We were amazed to step out of the car in the Chicago suburbs to mid-60s temperatures; just south of Chicago temperatures had been in the high 70s! That evening we visited a small board line in a prairie.

ImagePrairie Habitat by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

With temps in the 50s, we weren't expecting much, yet the 7 or 8 boards produced 4 Chicago garter snakes, 1 eastern plains garter snake, a brown snake, and a fox snake!

ImageMidland Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi wrightorum) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageEastern Fox Snake (Pantherophis gloydi) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

As dusk fell, we met up with Evan and herped another AC site in a small field in the suburbs, finding more browns and Chicago garters, and another fox. A great end to a great day!

ImageChicago Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis semifasciatus) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageEastern Fox Snake (Pantherophis gloydi) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

The next day we went out with a big group including Loopy and Nathan, and visited some of Nathan's spots in the northern Chicago suburbs. We found quite a few Chicago garter snakes, but besides a water snake no other snakes seemed to be showing up. We did find a couple nice blue-spotted salamanders in a wooded preserve though:

ImageBlue-spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

After lunch the group split up, and we headed with Loopy to another wooded preserve:

ImageChicagoland Urban Forest by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Here we found more garters, and several nice red-bellied snakes:

ImageNorthern Redbelly Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageNorthern Redbelly Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

We also found a tiger salamander - a species Kevin and I generally only find by road cruising during breeding season.

ImageEastern Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

We went with Loopy to one final spot close to his house, which produced our third fox, and a whole bunch of plains garters.

ImageEastern Fox Snake (Pantherophis gloydi) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

ImageEastern Plains Garter Snake (Thamnophis radix radix) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

That evening, Kevin and I drove on to the northwest corner of Illinois, home to some interesting species with distributions centered around the plains. That night we saw a couple gray treefrogs around our campsite - these were the northern species unlike the ones we see in Kentucky.

ImageCommon Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

The next morning we woke up early and headed to a sandy prairie, where we would search for our primary target:

ImageNorthwestern Illinois Sandy Prairie by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

It wasn't long before I walked up a couple ornate box turtle. This was a fun find - we rarely herp in their range.

ImageOrnate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Then Kevin spotted our target species active on a bare patch of sand - a gorgeous western hognose snake:

ImageWestern Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

It was quick to play dead:

ImageWestern Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus) Playing Dead by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

After that we were sort of at a loss for what to do. We had expected it to take much longer to find a hognose than it did. We drove up to an area home to lined snakes, but lack of cover made the search futile. We did find a couple map turtles crossing the road on the way up.

ImageCommon Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

Next we stopped by a promising looking abandoned building, where we found an enormous bull snake stretched out on the ground. We drove over to Iowa and ate lunch, just to check another state off the list, and we drove around some wetlands, finding many painted turtles but no blanding's turtles. We also took some photos of the mighty Mississippi:

ImageThe Mighty Mississippi by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

With little left to do in the northwest, we drove down to the central part of the state. On the way we stopped along the Illinois River in a desperate hope to see a smooth softshell turtle; we did see a softshell, but photos revealed it was a spiny. That night, we walked a rocky road cut in central Illinois, where we found a pretty garter snake, and Kevin's lifer prairie kingsnake (my second ever):

ImagePrairie Kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster) by Ananth Miller-Murthy, on Flickr

The next morning we got up early and headed to a rocky lakeshore home to graham's crayfish snakes. We spotted tons of water snakes, and two of our targets, but they were both quite skittish and we got no photos. We began the driving back eastward, stopping in the 95+ degree heat to walk around in some massasauga rattlesnake habitat, and arrived home that evening.

And with that our adventures were over. We had travelled from the eastern US's highest point to the Mississippi River. We had run through just about everything on Kevin's playlist - the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Arcade Fire, Johnny Cash, Black Sabbath, R.E.M., and everything in between - at least once. And we had seen more than enough herps to make up for 8 months of academic struggles and New England temperatures. I'm already looking forward to next time!

-Ananth

craigb
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Re: Early Summer Herping - Ontario, Appalachians, Illinois

Post by craigb » June 24th, 2018, 6:37 pm

All I can say is "Epic"...

Herping at its finest...

I cannot even fault the playlist....

Craig Barnes

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BillMcGighan
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 8:23 am
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Re: Early Summer Herping - Ontario, Appalachians, Illinois

Post by BillMcGighan » June 26th, 2018, 5:29 am

Lots of good stuff, Ananth. :thumb: :thumb:

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justinm
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Re: Early Summer Herping - Ontario, Appalachians, Illinois

Post by justinm » June 26th, 2018, 1:41 pm

Really incredible trip you had. I'm in Central Illinois and I'm sure you weren't but an hour from me looking for your last targets. Let me know if you come through Peoria area anytime. I'm happy to give a small tour.

Justin Michels

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Aneides Aeneus
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Re: Early Summer Herping - Ontario, Appalachians, Illinois

Post by Aneides Aeneus » June 26th, 2018, 5:36 pm

Thanks so much guys! Justin, I'll definitely shoot you a PM if I'm ever in the Peoria area.

-Ananth

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Jeroen Speybroeck
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Re: Early Summer Herping - Ontario, Appalachians, Illinois

Post by Jeroen Speybroeck » June 27th, 2018, 10:30 am

Great species array! Love those woods....

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