Trip Report: FL, March 2019

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Misenus
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Trip Report: FL, March 2019

Post by Misenus » March 29th, 2019, 11:40 am

In early March I went to Florida for a week to visit relatives and get a break from the barren winter wasteland of New England. I went with my wife and our three small children (ages 5, 3, and 1), which meant a fair amount of compromise for everybody. While I didn't find any of my top target snake species, it was a good trip with some good variety.

Backing up: in February, I was in Orlando for a few days for a business conference. I managed to get outside the city for a couple very brief trips and found a handful of herps, so I thought I'd tack those on here. On the day I flew in, I headed to a nearby state park for the afternoon. There were gopher tortoise burrows everywhere, and a few bleached skeletons lying around. Finally I found a live tortoise, who decided he would rather hang out in his burrow than hang out with me (see video here: https://flic.kr/p/2dFGLew).

ImageGopher Tortoise, Gopherus polyphemus (Daudin, 1801) by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

I didn't see much else besides anoles and little grass frogs. Once the park closed, I headed further west to the edge of the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve. I had hoped to cruise the dirt roads after dark, but upon driving a short distance in, it was clear that they were actually mud roads, and my rental car wouldn't be able to handle it. So I walked a bit of the Florida Trail instead. There were a few small gators in the adjacent canal.

ImageAmerican Alligator, Alligator mississippiensis (Daudin, 1802) by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

At dusk I found this yellow rat stretched across the path. The settings on my flash were off, and I couldn't figure out why at the time, so the pic came out crappy.

ImageYellow Rat Snake, Pantherophis alleghaniensis quadrivittata (Holbrook, 1836) by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

By the time I got the camera and flash in working order, temps had dropped significantly and I knew I likely wouldn't find any more snakes. I walked back toward the car and was surprised to see a spadefoot:

ImageEastern Spadefoot, Scaphiopus holbrookii (Harlan, 1835) by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

Other herps seen: a bullfrog/pig frog and more anoles. I went out once more the last day I was in town, but only caught a glimpse of a racer as it took off into the brush. Temps only rose to the 60s that day, so not great.

Fast-forward to vacation: we flew into Orlando late on March 9th, then drove a couple hours to my grandmother's place in central FL. On the afternoon of the second day, I got a chance to explore a nearby area where there was (or had been) a documented indigo snake population. When I got to the area--which a decade old study showed had tons of tortoise burrows--there wasn't a single one to be found, much less an indigo snake. The whole area was covered in cow patties and not much else. I explored nearby areas and found a river cooter coming out of the water.

ImageRiver Cooter, Pseudemys concinna (LeConte, 1830) by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

As dusk approached, I decided to cruise the dirt roads and was rewarded with my lifer pygmy rattler.

ImageDusky Pygmy Rattlesnake, Sistrurus miliarius barbouri Gloyd, 1935 by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

I also saw three tortoises in the area, one of which I stopped to photograph:

ImageGopher Tortoise, Gopherus polyphemus (Daudin, 1801) by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

ImageGopher Tortoise, Gopherus polyphemus (Daudin, 1801) by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

The next day the family went to Sea World, so no herping. But the following morning, we got up early to drive to the Everglades. The plan was to hit some dirt roads in south-central FL in hopes of cruising some snakes in the morning sun. Unfortunately, aside from a couple racers crossing the road, we saw no snakes all morning. We did see some cool feathered dinosaurs:

ImageNorthern Crested Caracara, Caracara cheriway (Jacquin, 1784) by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

Finally we made our way down through Miami all the way to Homestead and checked into our hotel. It was pretty hot, mid-80s, but I decided to check out a nearby area I had found on Google maps while the kids napped. I saw an iguana run across the road, but there was nothing at my destination except a bunch of trash (with nothing hiding underneath). I drove to a different spot, where I decided to explore a small, very dense hammock. I didn't see much, so I decided I would at least get a shot of an anole on my way out. As I was moving around trying to position myself, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. First shot is in situ. After I photographed it a few times, it slowly crawled down, across another branch, and up a higher branch to get away (second pic).

ImageYellow Rat Snake, Pantherophis alleghaniensis quadrivittata (Holbrook, 1836), juvenile by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

ImageYellow Rat Snake, Pantherophis alleghaniensis quadrivittata (Holbrook, 1836), juvenile by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

I did end up getting a shot of an anole.

ImageBrown Anole, Anolis sagrei Duméril & Bibron, 1837 by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

After dinner with the family, I headed into ENP and cruised around at dusk. I didn't see anything on the road, so I stopped at Flamingo to check it out as the sun was going down, then continued road cruising. There was tons of traffic--most of it coming into the park--which continued until I left at 1am. Not sure why it was so heavy.

This was my first trip to the Everglades, so naturally I had visions of Brooks kingsnakes and pythons every few feet on the road. Instead, I found absolutely nothing but a few DORs in the first couple hours of cruising. This was made worse by the car of herpers I passed, who told me they had seen a rat snake and a good sized burm. Getting a bit discouraged, I decided to do a little night hiking. The first place I picked was a poor choice, because the trail was narrow and overgrown. I snapped some shots of a Cuban treefrog (there were a bunch) and a toad, and headed back to the car.

ImageCuban Treefrog, Osteopilus septentrionalis (Duméril & Bibron, 1841) by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

ImageSouthern Toad, Anaxyrus terrestris (Bonnaterre, 1789) by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

I drove around a bit more and then decided to do some more night hiking to clear my head and give my eyes a rest. This turned out to be a cool habitat, but the trail was almost entirely a boardwalk, so not ideal. The only herps I saw were sleeping anoles.

ImageBrown Anole, Anolis sagrei Duméril & Bibron, 1837 by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

By the time I got back to my car it was about 10:30pm, and I was starting to wonder if I was blind, or cursed, or had lost the ability to road cruise. I saw what I'm 90% sure was a moccasin disappear off the side of the road, which gave me some hope. Then, just like that, activity started to pick up. I found the first of several moccasins, plus quite a few Nerodia. Traffic was still heavy, and there were lots of DORs--about 3 for every live animal I saw.

ImageFlorida Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti Gloyd, 1969 by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

ImageFlorida Water Snake, Nerodia fasciata pictiventris (Cope, 1895) by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

ImageBrown Water Snake, Nerodia taxispilota (Holbrook, 1842) by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

ImageFlorida Green Water Snake, Nerodia floridana (Goff, 1936) by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

The bullfrogs/pig frogs didn't stick around to be photographed, but some leopard frogs held still for me.

ImageSouthern Leopard Frog, Lithobates sphenocephalus (Cope, 1886) by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

The most interesting snake I found was what I *think* is a hybrid Florida water snake x salt marsh snake, based on this thread by Josh Holbrook: viewtopic.php?t=18161#p210022. Please correct me if I'm wrong. I didn't get a ventral look.

ImageHybrid Florida Water Snake and Mangrove Salt Marsh Snake, Nerodia fasciata pictiventris x Nerodia clarkii compressicauda by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

I saw more Nerodia and moccasins, and plenty more DORs. DORs included all the species photographed above, plus 5-6 ribbon snakes, 2 brown snakes, and 2 garter snakes. Temps were hovering around 70 now, so I made my way out of the park. Last snake I saw was another Florida water snake (not pictured) in 68°.

The next morning we got an early breakfast and went back to the park as a family. I really wanted to hike some coastal prairie habitat, which was difficult with the little ones. My wife carried the baby while I literally pulled the older two in a wagon. By the time we got a half mile down the trail, it was already getting pretty hot, so we headed back to the marina. I was hoping to see a croc, and noticed what I thought might be a couple on the opposite side of the canal. My wife let me rent a kayak while she and the kids ate ice cream. Sure enough, they were crocs.

ImageAmerican Crocodile, Crocodylus acutus Cuvier, 1807 by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

I paddled further up the canal and saw this big guy at the edge of the marina. Turns out I could have just walked over to see him. Oh well.

ImageAmerican Crocodile, Crocodylus acutus Cuvier, 1807 by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

ImageAmerican Crocodile, Crocodylus acutus Cuvier, 1807 by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

I saw a couple more crocs in the water; it was windy and cloudy, so there wasn't much basking going on. It was entertaining to see other kayakers and canoers go right past the crocs, completely oblivious to their presence.

ImageAmerican Crocodile, Crocodylus acutus Cuvier, 1807 by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

On the way back I got some more shots of the big guy, who was still napping but kept an eye on me.

ImageAmerican Crocodile, Crocodylus acutus Cuvier, 1807 by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

It was quite hot at this point, so we decided to head out of the park. Just as we were loading the kids into the car, someone told us to come look in the water. A manatee was catching drops of water from a leaky hose on the dock.

ImageWest Indian Manatee, Trichechus manatus Linnaeus, 1758 by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

ImageWest Indian Manatee, Trichechus manatus Linnaeus, 1758 by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

Someone turned the hose all the way on, and no fewer than six manatees emerged, jostling each other to get at the fresh water. A cool and unexpected treat to see them up close.

ImageWest Indian Manatees, Trichechus manatus Linnaeus, 1758 by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

After leaving the park, we made the requisite stop at Robert is Here for fruit smoothies. A number of agamas were lying around.

ImageCommon Agama, Agama agama (Linnaeus, 1758) ♀ by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

ImageCommon Agama, Agama agama (Linnaeus, 1758) ♂ by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

We all took naps at the hotel, and after a quick dinner I drove back into the park in the early evening. I saw a guy pulled over, looking at something on the edge of the road. I slowed down, assuming he had found a snake. Nope, glass lizard. Anyone know which species? Unfortunately my macro lens wasn't handy at the moment, so I had to shoot this crappy pic with my 50mm lens.

ImageGlass Lizard, Ophisaurus sp. by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

After dark, I decided to hike a bit in the coastal habitat I had briefly explored in the morning. Unfortunately, it was still very windy, and slightly cooler than the previous night. I walked for a half hour or so and saw only this tropical house gecko.

ImageTropical House Gecko, Hemidactylus mabouia (Moreau de Jonnès, 1818) by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

I hit the road again and had another slow start. A passing car of herpers said they had found a rat snake and some salt marsh snakes. Pretty soon, I cruised another moccasin, followed by the same Nerodia species I had found the night before.

ImageFlorida Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti Gloyd, 1969 by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

ImageFlorida Green Water Snake, Nerodia floridana (Goff, 1936) by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

ImageBrown Water Snake, Nerodia taxispilota (Holbrook, 1842) by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

At one point, I saw something large-ish on the opposite side of the road. I hit the brakes and put the car in reverse. When I rolled down my window and shown my flashlight at it, sure enough: a python, about a 7-footer. As soon as the light hit it, it lifted the front half of its body up, swung around, and shot into an impenetrable wall of vegetation before I could even get out of the car. It wouldn't have been a lifer for me, so I wasn't as disappointed as I might have been. Still a bummer. Temps were down around 70°, so I decided to do one last walk on the way out of the park, this time in some pine habitat. The only herps I saw were a few greenhouse frogs, which were a pain to photograph.

ImageGreenhouse Frog, Eleutherodactylus planirostris (Cope, 1862) by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

I left the park, finding a few more moccasins and Nerodia. Traffic was much lighter that night, so there were also fewer DORs.

The following day, we drove back up to my grandmother's place and did family stuff for the day. The next morning I had one last chance to get out. I left pretty early for another place that has indigo snakes, hoping to catch one sunning itself while temps were still cool. The scrub habitat was great, but I found very few tortoise burrows. A small corn snake was basking outside a rodent burrow.

ImageCorn Snake, Pantherophis guttatus (Linnaeus, 1766) by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

A bit later, I turned a corner and saw this racer basking. I was really surprised not to see more racers on this trip; in the past I've seen tons of them.

ImageSouthern Black Racer, Coluber constrictor priapus Dunn & Wood, 1939 by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

I also saw several green anoles, which seem considerably rarer than they used to be in central FL.

ImageGreen Anole, Anolis carolinensis Voigt, 1832 by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

The next day we flew out of Tampa to Atlanta to see my wife's grandmother. She has a place in nothern GA, and my wife was kind enough to give me a day to look for hellbenders in some of the creeks in that area. I headed north, stopping at a couple places before crossing into NC. Temps were in the 50s, and the creeks were pretty high (and absolutely frigid). In some places that I imagine would be promising in the summer, the water was just too fast-moving to make any real search practical. Other areas seemed good, but I struck out. At the end of the day, I flipped some small rocks on the edge of a creek and was rewarded with this seal salamander.

ImageSeal Salamander, Desmognathus monticola Dunn, 1916 by Patrick Randall, on Flickr

Overall, it was a good trip. I learned a lot about the Everglades and got a reprieve from the snow and ice. If I get a chance to return to ENP, I have some ideas about how I'd plan the trip differently, where I'd go at what times of day, and what species I'd prioritize. Meanwhile, the herps in Massachusetts are just starting to emerge, so the fun continues. If you want to see all the pics from my trip, including birds and inverts, check out my Flickr page:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/animaliaproject/

Thanks for looking.

Jimi
Posts: 1843
Joined: December 3rd, 2010, 12:06 pm

Re: Trip Report: FL, March 2019

Post by Jimi » March 29th, 2019, 12:07 pm

Ah, compromise, AKA "everyone is somewhat disappointed". Still, sounds like a great little family trip - and who wants to "beat" their wife and kids anyway, right? Ha ha. Maybe the oldest one will remember some of it.

Congrats on thawing out for a bit. No way could I live up there man. No way.

The spadefoot is a pretty good get. Not an animal you can just dial one up - you could go a bunch more times and see no more. So be happy for that one!

I'm gonna go with island glass lizard. Could easily be wrong though. Try keying it out?

cheers

Kfen
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Re: Trip Report: FL, March 2019

Post by Kfen » March 29th, 2019, 2:25 pm

Nice trip report. Thanks for sharing. While you may not have seen the species you were after, at least the Everglades are pretty much guaranteed to find something. My first instinct is Island glass lizard as well, but it has been a long time since I thought about them whatsoever, so I could also be wrong.
You did much better than I did in five days in North Central FL in Feb. I never made a post because the only notable herp I got a picture of was this coachwhip:
IMG_20190217_151624197-01.jpeg

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BillMcGighan
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Re: Trip Report: FL, March 2019

Post by BillMcGighan » March 31st, 2019, 9:45 am

Patrick, this post is up there with the fine posts on this forum of years gone by in that the combination of narration with pics takes us right along on the trip!
:thumb: :thumb: :thumb:

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CanebrakeRattlesnake
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Re: Trip Report: FL, March 2019

Post by CanebrakeRattlesnake » March 31st, 2019, 10:55 am

Beautiful shots! :thumb:

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Misenus
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Re: Trip Report: FL, March 2019

Post by Misenus » March 31st, 2019, 4:29 pm

Thanks for the input everyone. I agree that the glass lizard looks like O. compressus. You can't tell easily from the photo I posted, but there's a distinct black dorsal stripe as well.

Kfen, a coachwhip is a great find in my book. I still haven't seen the eastern variety.

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mtratcliffe
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Re: Trip Report: FL, March 2019

Post by mtratcliffe » March 31st, 2019, 6:04 pm

Looks like you had a great trip! Your photos are excellent!

For reference, your River Cooter is actually a Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis) and there are no Bullfrogs in the Everglades, so every large, green frog you saw was a Pig Frog!

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Misenus
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Re: Trip Report: FL, March 2019

Post by Misenus » April 1st, 2019, 6:45 am

Thanks for those corrections mtratcliffe. Fixed the cooter ID on Flickr.

Jacksnipe
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Re: Trip Report: FL, March 2019

Post by Jacksnipe » April 8th, 2019, 9:33 am

Hi Patrick,

nice trip and beautiful pictures! And you've found even more than I did. And I travelled all alone just focussed on herping 24 hours a day :mrgreen:

Thanks for sharing!

Frank

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