Quick day trip to the desert

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gheaton98
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Joined: August 24th, 2021, 4:47 pm
Location: Los Angeles County, CA

Quick day trip to the desert

Post by gheaton98 »

With the temperatures cooling down, I thought I'd head out for the day to the deserts of Riverside county to find a few species I've missed so far before the reptile season is behind us. I originally had wanted to do some birding as the first stop, but this of course was derailed when I instead decided to make a long detour to try for long-tailed brush lizards. This species isn't even remotely rare, but they've somehow eluded me until now, and I've never done a targeted search. I gave myself thirty minutes to search through smoke trees and creosote before moving on, and right on schedule managed to find one of these lizards in the former:
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Urosaurus graciosus

I ended up finding this very close to where I saw my first Baja collared lizard this past spring, but rather than look for any mountain-dwelling lizards I continued on to look for a particular bird. There, I instead was treated to my first Gilbert's skink - apparently an adult - running into the brush next to the trail, another relatively common species I've somehow never seen until now (can you tell I'm incompetent at flipping yet?). I only got a shot of its back through grass, but that's better than nothing.
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Plestiodon gilberti

My main target for the day was a desert night lizard, which I found shortly after in Joshua tree woodland. I decided to finally put in some effort for this lizard after someone I know mentioned seeing many the previous weekend further north. I realized afterwards that the photos were pretty backlit. I've been using my 20mm Tamron f/2.8 lens for close-up reptile shots when I can, and this Xantusia was small enough that I found myself wanting a proper macro lens. Still, I'm somewhat happy with the photos, though I'm definitely considering a macro for next season. Having now found this and plenty of granite night lizards, my next Xantusia species is likely going to be quite a bit more effort (unless that vigilis split goes through).
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Xantusia vigilis

I was surprised to actually find the two main targets at this point, so I moved on to trying for speckled rattlesnakes - a species I've only seen DOR in San Diego. Given that it's probably a pretty bad time of year and I don't exactly know how to find these, the plan was to just do some hiking through rocks in Joshua Tree NP and hope for the best. To no one's surprise, I did not find any rattlesnakes, but I was treated to a desert collared lizard crossing the trail in front of me. I've only seen this species once before, in Inyo county, so this was a nice consolation prize.
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Crotaphytus bicinctores

Apart from reptiles, the anomalous rains that fell on the region earlier in the summer have left behind a few out of season flowers. Back when I drove through in August parts of the park had carpets of yellow chinchweed flowers in response to this rain. By now, these were almost entirely gone, but among the stragglers I found this fishhook cactus (Mammillaria tetrancistra) in bloom above an old mine, which according to Calflora is a whole 6 months off from its typical blooming month. Given I've never been able to see this species in bloom even in the spring, it was a welcome sight and a nice subject for photography.
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After heading back to the low desert for some dinner and waiting for the sun to go down I went to a popular road-cruising spot to try for some snakes. After several very successful June drives here, my last attempt here in August had yielded absolutely nothing, so I was excited to see the lower temperatures. Within 30 minutes I was treated to a very tiny Mojave shovelnose snake, which I assume was a recent hatchling.
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Chionactis occipitalis

I've never seen one with such a pink coloration, to the point where after getting home I thought it was an issue with my white balance, but now I don't think so. I can't find photos of juvenile Mojave shovelnose snakes, so perhaps this is just what they look like when they're young.

A bit more driving and I spotted a big California king crossing the road. This snake was not cooperative and would constantly sprint off into bushes where I couldn't safely extricate it every time I tried to get it to sit still for photos. After ten minutes or so I just took some voucher shots and left, but just getting to see one is always nice.
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The last snake of the night was a very tiny sidewinder. I've seen these before, but I don't see them often at all and it was my only one this year, so this was the highlight of the night.
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Crotalus cerastes

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Kelly Mc
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Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: Quick day trip to the desert

Post by Kelly Mc »

That was a good trip. Lizards on a stand, a trunk or a wall is always important to see.

Cerastes most often strikingly wee, mineral pastel elfin beauty. The Sidewinder of the ol West.

A sage accountant and predictor of heat, distance; bright spikes and graduating shade.

In the little shadow of a bent cactus flower. Thats how small she curls.

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Jeff
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Joined: June 11th, 2010, 5:01 am
Location: Louisiana

Re: Quick day trip to the desert

Post by Jeff »

GH
Those are the nice finds - the ones that take a little side effort to find and then the reward. Decades back I would occasionally find brush lizards if I banged into a creosote just right, but years later discovered that they are on every telephone pole in the Mojave! On a trip to the Mojave in 1970 I recalled from my lizard books that night lizards could be found under downed joshua tree limbs. In minutes I had found some Xantusia, and I think that was an early episode of using research to locate a target species (versus stumbling and blundering luck). However, I still rely heavily on the latter.

Kelly
Are you innately gifted with the ability to spew a few bars of lovely prose like some neonatal Paricutin?

Jeff

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Kelly Mc
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Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: Quick day trip to the desert

Post by Kelly Mc »

Im a fool for all of them. I dont mind!

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Jeff
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Joined: June 11th, 2010, 5:01 am
Location: Louisiana

Re: Quick day trip to the desert

Post by Jeff »

Sidewinder.png
This is my favorite sidewinder art, from the epilogue of Raymond B. Cowles' "Desert Journal: Reflections of a Naturalist", published in 1977, two years after Cowles' passing. I left the wording on the page for pertinence after nearly 50 years of prescience.

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Kelly Mc
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Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: Quick day trip to the desert

Post by Kelly Mc »

I love that.

If I was the leader of a desert guardian motorcycle club that made cars go around snakes on the roads, and moved them into the scrub and things like that, that would be the patch on our backs.

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gheaton98
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Joined: August 24th, 2021, 4:47 pm
Location: Los Angeles County, CA

Re: Quick day trip to the desert

Post by gheaton98 »

Jeff - I've never thought to look for brush lizards on telephone poles. I'll have to try that next time I'm in the Mojave. I imagine I've probably passed them in bushes before but just missed them. This one in a smoke tree just looked like a suspiciously offset branch when I spotted it.

I flipped this Xantusia under a joshua tree branch as well. I actually found four in an hour or so, but all but this one managed to get away into the brush before I could get a photo. Next spring I'll have to try for X. wigginsi this way in San Diego under other cover, though I imagine that will be a lot more difficult.

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Kelly Mc
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Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm

Re: Quick day trip to the desert

Post by Kelly Mc »

Vertical stands like trunks and poles are a great resource for lizards. A lizard can securely vanish in plain site, take advantage of dense slants of sunshine and instant shade, have a secure obstacle between him and a predator with minimal energy expenditure, zip up insects that seek to pause and bask as well.

In captivity free vertical Stand strategy builds are uncommon, even for canonized arboreal species like geckos and light agamids. Guys who have taken trunk running and dial-arounds to an elite level.

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