Quick day trip to the desert

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gheaton98
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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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Capture.PNG (683.72 KiB) Viewed 570 times


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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Ross Padilla
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Re: Quick day trip to the desert

Post by Ross Padilla »

Great photos! :thumb:

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Porter
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Re: Quick day trip to the desert

Post by Porter »

Kelly Mc wrote:
October 7th, 2021, 8:30 am
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.
I almost got in a fight with a motorcycle gang this year :lol: I got back from road cruising, late and tired. 2nd to last day of my desert trip. and there was a motorcycle parked in my designated spot in front of the apartment/motel room I bought for the night. 3 doors down there was about 12 Mexican Indian looking bikers, of different ages, drinking on the porch and maintaining a quite mellow low key party. I asked them to move the bike, that I had paid to park here... they said, 'youll have to find another spot. Ours was taken too..." I was pretty exhausted and not in the mood. I squeezed in up against a wall and showed my pissed off frustration as I unloaded the rent-a-car. Thinking I was 23 again... in a tired mind.. not afraid to take on the world...and thinking about how I'm gonna break the first guys jaw, how Im gonna square up to the next, and taking note of the obsticles around me to utilize in my advantage. Slamming the door to the car each time, as an invitation to "step-it-the-F-up... " The porch went silent and some serious, dirty, long and hard looks were exchanged. The next morning, I woke up early to load the car up for the final herping day. They were also dispersing, and some fueling up next to me at the pump across from me. That's when I got the first look at what it said on the back of their jackets...Mongols 😳
Realizing how close I had come, respect set in that they didn't take my up on my angered temper tantrum. One halfingly joked to the other after seeing the look of understanding on my face, with a bit of surprise & respect..."I never seen anything like that. He was ready to take on all of us." Needless to say, I was pretty damn lucky...

I know that's random, but i couldnt help but be reminded of that. :lol:

I agree, what a great patch that would make :thumb: Thanks for posting that Jeff. I love seeing old drawings of herps :beer:

To the author, nice post :thumb: It was a tough year for rattlesnakes. You did good :beer: I tried my ass off for a shovelnose! No dice

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gheaton98
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Re: Quick day trip to the desert

Post by gheaton98 »

Porter wrote:
October 26th, 2021, 5:39 pm
To the author, nice post :thumb: It was a tough year for rattlesnakes. You did good :beer: I tried my ass off for a shovelnose! No dice
Thanks! I think I have an allotted 3 shovelnoses per year. Last year I had 3 of the Colorado desert ones and no Mojave, this year I had 3 Mojaves and no Colorado desert ones (and not for lack of trying on the latter!). I guess I need to use one of those up on Tucson shovelnose next year.

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Porter
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Re: Quick day trip to the desert

Post by Porter »

gheaton98 wrote:
October 27th, 2021, 9:40 pm

Thanks! I think I have an allotted 3 shovelnoses per year. Last year I had 3 of the Colorado desert ones and no Mojave, this year I had 3 Mojaves and no Colorado desert ones (and not for lack of trying on the latter!). I guess I need to use one of those up on Tucson shovelnose next year.
Nice 👍🏻 Nothing says desert serpent more than a shovelnose sandsnake 🍻 I think I’ve only seen the Colorado so far. I was going for Mojave and longnose. This girl I ran into on one of the roads I was cruising, found both on the same stretch of road, and I think she found multiple! :lol: she was looking for a desert bandit gecko and was pretty pissed off to hear that I had seen one Lol

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