I figured that I should at least try to get on here and contribute once a year so here we go. I thought about doing and EOY post with a shitload of pictures and not much text but I think some of the stories behind the finds are what make a good post. That being said here are my top favorite finds of 2018. Keep in mind these are my top favorite and not top best so you may see common species make appearances.
2018 saw a big change in my life as I graduated high school and started my college career at the University of Georgia in Athens. This obviously not only presented great opportunities in my academic life but also allowed me to explore a good section of Georgia on the weekends. A final expedition of the semester came earlier this month once I had finished my last final. My good friend Tyler Brock and I had planned to drive south and herp in the Alluvial Sandhills for a much-needed break. The first couple of days another good friend, Bronc Rice, would join us. On our first day of the trip we had almost immediate success with Tyler finding a small, but clean Indigo. However, on the second day, the weather report had double-crossed as per usual and a thick cloud layer had set in. We drove from flipsite to flipsite but still nothing. By around 2pm we had run out of ideas and I began to text mutual friends who knew the area better for suggestions. One said he had a nice flipsite and he'd send it to us in a bit. So here we are in a McDonald's parking lot waiting for our contact to send coordinates. 15 minutes go by and nothing so I decide to start perusing maps myself. I soon find a ramshackle house that looks safe enough to explore by herping standards. We get there and the area between the road and the house has been totally clear-cut but it still looks promising. We get out and as we start to head towards the house I notice a horrible looking piece of rusty metal about two feet in diameter right on the edge of the clear-cut. Absentmindedly I flip it and find myself looking at a neonate Pygmy. Day saved!! I yell to my friends and they don't believe it till they see the little guy. After a brief photo sesh, we release it and continue the search. The actual house has not much AC but a lot of potential. Just about then we hear a car horn and our eyes get wide. We walk to confront the fattest man in all of south Georgia dressed head to toe in orange with a pistol at his side. He asks to leave and we oblige but before I'm even back in Tyler's truck the guy hs left. Needless to say, that won't be my last visit to that property.
Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake by Kevin Hutcheson, on Flickr
Hogs hate me. Up until fall of this year, I had seen two and only one of those was from my home state of Kentucky. This Hogtober though I was determined to change that. I had already spent one weekend in the sandhills with the Orianne Society and I was addicted to the habitat. I was desperate to get out again and this time cruise my lifer simus. I texted Tyler and as always he was ready for a good adventure. We had everything in order and all we needed now was for the weather to cooperate. Famous last words right. Saturday morning came and we hit the roads and things looked promising, for about ten minutes. Sunshine quickly turned to overcast and when we cruised a fresh hit Canebrake our hopes dropped even lower. Still, we continued on and managed to find an adult Rat and flip a juvie Tantilla before the cloudy skies began to pour rain on us. After that, we called it a day and switched to amphibs. Come Sunday there wasn't a cloud in the sky, but the front yesterday had lowered temps into the 40s overnight. It was predicted it wouldn't get into the 60s until late in the afternoon. We figured we might as well give it a shot though, considering the day was still young. We did our best to kill time by downing Nutty Bars and visiting trash dumps but had nothing to show for it. Then finally on a rather good stretch of road, a glistening slug appeared before us. We simultaneously screamed and ran out of the car. Low and behold there was our little lifer simus and an absolute stunner at that, in my opinion. We went on to cruise two more hatchlings, one AOR and one DOR. Not only did I end that weekend with another species under my belt but with a lesson of patience in the sandhills learned.
Southern Hognose Snake by Kevin Hutcheson, on Flickr
Being a senior in high school has many advantages. For one, we're finished with testing at least a week earlier than the other kids. This naturally meant I could just up and leave with my best friend, Ananth, and embark on the herp trip of a lifetime through the Southern Appalachians. Ananth summarizes this trip amazingly well in his own post here: http://www.fieldherpforum.com/forum/vie ... =2&t=24805 I highly suggest you take a look at it. The last paragraph always makes me tear up a bit. Anyways our first night was to be spent in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky cruising for Timbers. We got to the road just before dusk and decided to take a short hike, finding numerous salamanders along the way. This hike took a little longer than what we'd hoped and by the time we got back to the car, it was a good hour into the night. We jumped back into the good ol' Prius and hit the road. Only about 15 minutes later we spot a snake up in the road. At first, I assumed it was the fattest Copperhead I'd ever seen, but as we got closer I could tell I was only looking at the half of the snake that was on the road. I was in fact actually staring at an unbelievably pretty Timber. I've had trouble finding Timbers in Kentucky despite their abundance so this was one heck of a way to start a trip I'll certainly never forget.
Timber Rattlesnake by Kevin Hutcheson, on Flickr
Throughout high school, I've had many regrets. Who can blame me, it was high school. But none compare to spring break of sophomore year when I decided to wade a ditch in an Arkansas swamp with a handheld flashlight instead of a headlight. That night I let a massive Amphiuma escape my net and it haunted me for the next couple of months. Flashforward: spring break of this year saw my dad and I retracing our steps through Arkansas. I had been set up with a contact who offered to show us Grotto Salamanders and there had been some talk about Amphiumas in the mix as well. The last day of the trip we met with Jeremy and he took us to a favorite cave of his which ended up holding 28 adult grottos! Those Grottos, though ugly, are incredible animals and nearly made it on to this list as well. By this point, we were all at a loss of what to do. Jeremy mentioned that we weren't far from a spot where he regularly sees Amphiumas and with not much convincing my dad agreed to stay an extra night. That night we arrived at a pond that bordered a swamp and a suburb, an unlikely setting to say the least. However, didn't take long for us to walk up on a two-foot, eel-like salamander in the shallow water. It took me a second to react to the freakishly cool amphibian, but with enough encouragement from Jeremy, I netted that one and another even large one not long after the first. I had finally redeemed myself from the escapee two years earlier and fulfilled my destiny.
Three-toed Amphiuma by Kevin Hutcheson, on Flickr
On the same trip that the Timber from #3 had come from my favorite herp of 2018 was also found. By this point in the trip, Ananth and I had wound our way down to the mountains of Western North Carolina. We had also pulled off every target so far, save one (the only target we'd end up missing). But later that night we'd be looking for a toughie: the Eastern Hellbender. A primordial animal that many hope to see in their lifetime. The area had been experiencing heavy rain so our site's water level was high than normal, but the watershed was very good for them so we had mixed feelings. As darkness fell we began to shine shallower sections we had scouted earlier that day but as the minutes ticked by all we were seeing were fish. As Ananth began to lose hope and I got bored, I started looking more closely for sculpins. I was scanning the bottom when I noticed a medium-sized shiner sticking out horizontally from under a rock. Perplexed, I drew my head further from the water get the entire thing in frame and as I did I noted this rock was long, skinny and had eyes! I screamed with delight as the massive Hellbender took another gulp and swallowed the fish whole. Within seconds Ananth had made his way to me and together we were able to photograph the beast. One of my favorite videos of all time I've taken is of the Hellbender with myself breathing heavily in the background hahaha!! The fact that we had seen Northern Pygmy Salamanders, one of the smallest species in the country, earlier that day made the whole experience all the better. Definitely, a moment that I will relive for the rest of my life.
Eastern Hellbender by Kevin Hutcheson, on Flickr
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