Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

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bgorum
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Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by bgorum » April 23rd, 2011, 5:25 pm

So Josh managed to shame me into making a post. Heck, we're only four months into the year and I was hoping to have a little more diversity by now, but what the heck, I'll just cheat a little with some warm blooded stuff and some landscapes. So my last snake of the year for 2010 was on December 5th, which is the latest I've ever found a snake out here in central New Mexico. I went herpless for the remainder of 2010 and the first month of 2011, but that doesn't mean I didn't get out to enjoy some of nature's other splendors.
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Sunrise @ Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

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Redtailed Hawk

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Mule Deer doe

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Snow Geese

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Speedy le Pew. Watching this skunk was funny. There was a car full of birders parked with all their binoculars pointed at some feathered descendent of the dinosaurs up in a tree, and none of them saw this skunk run right up to their car. However, they had a dog with them in the car that saw the skunk and was absolutely going ape shit while the humans were all blissfully unaware.

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Frozen Marsh @ Bosque del Apache. This was after we had some record breaking low temperatures that lasted for a record breaking long time in February.

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Redwinged Blackbird. I love Bosque del Apache! Of course I'd love it even more if I owned a really long lens, (how can something made out of metal and glass cost more than a really nice used car)?

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February 15th, finally a snake! This is a male western diamondback named Lucky. We first encountered him on the way to a den on October 30th of last year. He was also one of two diamondbacks that I found on December 5th of last year, so he was my last snake of 2010 and my first snake of 2011.
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Young of the year atrox I've named Junior. This is the only snake I've found this year at what used to be a very productive viridis den. More than once now I've had people tell me that in the past this area had lots of viridis and few atrox.

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Lucky on March 3rd.

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A different den and my old friend Rusty on March 11th. This male has been using this same den since at least the winter of 2007/2008.

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Same day, same den and a new large adult that I've named Oscuro.

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A snakeless trip to the Manzano mountains yielded this pinion tree.

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Rusty on March 15th.

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This is a male named Cinnamon. Last spring he was always laying out no more than a couple meters from Rusty. Today he was once again near his slightly larger buddy Rusty.

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Lucky on the 15th of March.

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Went back out to the dens on the next day. First snake up was a small striped whipsnake.

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Oscuro was back out in the same location.

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Next to Oscuro was this hidden subadult.

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Rusty was a little more visible than the day before.

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Nearby was this small reddish colored atrox that I have never seen before or since.

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Junior on the 16th of March.

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A different den and a subadult male and a young of the year snake that I've named Lil' Red. I know, I suck at naming things!

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Still on the 16th and I went to check on Lucky. Lucky was in his same spot and I didn't bother to photograph him, but right behind lucky was this smaller snake which I had never seen before.

On the 17th of March I went to look for dens in the Ojito wilderness. I found none and had to settle for some landscape photography. (It's about time for a break from all the atrox anyway)!
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Moonrise

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Dry wash

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Same dry wash

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Rock art

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On March 18th I was back out at the dens where I found Cinnamon (foreground) and Rusty (in back) laying out. Rusty seemed intend on investigating the underside of the rock he's laying in front of. He was moving his head along the ground, pointed down at a 45 degree angle and making lots of shallow tongue flicks. I watched him do this for a while (no photos) then decided to move on to another den and return to check on Rusty and Cinnamon later.

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I found Lil' Red out, who in this case did not look very red at all. Many people have commented on the red atrox that Josh and I have posted from this area. Some of them, like Rusty, Cinnamon, and Coppertop (who you will see later) are always very red in appearance. Others, like this individual and Lucky can appear reddish at times and pretty neutral at other times.

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I then went back to check on Rusty and found him in the process of crawling underneath the boulders where Cinnamon still was, and they were now joined by a small female. (Just as an aside, I love it when I can get shots of the snakes tails. The tails are usually not visible, which is unfortunate since they are really the single best feature for identifying individual atrox, as well as determining sex).

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I moved around to the other side of the boulders for a different view. Rusty was clearly trying to court the little female. He was rubbing his chin along her back, making short tongue flicks. It's interesting that he doesn't seem to mind Cinnamon (who is also a male) being close by while he does this. Cinnamon is noticeably smaller than Rusty, so perhaps he knows his place and Rusty knows that he knows his place. I also cant help but notice that these two males look an awful lot alike. More than once the thought has crossed my mind that they might be related. I have no idea what roll, if any, that could play.

On March 20th I headed out to the dens and ran into a Park Ranger and an Albuquerque police officer. I had seen the park ranger a number of times during the previous week (it was spring break) and this morning he commented on how I really must like it out here. Since I don't ever collect and really prefer a very hands off style of herping I have a little different view of law enforcement that many other people in the herp community. I figured the best policy was to tell them exactly what I was doing out there and avoid any sort of suspicion. So after getting reassurances from them that they would not share the location with the general public I took them to one of the dens. Old dependable Rusty was the only snake out yet this early morning.
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The APD officer seemed to think Rusty was pretty cool. I actually didn't get to show Rusty to the park ranger because he had to go intercept someone that appeared to be collecting rocks or something a little distance away, (turns out he was collecting dried cow pies). This is why I was up front with these guys. I figure they have a hard enough job to do, and now I am one less person out there that they need to be concerned about. Now whenever I run into them they ask me about how the snakes are doing, what I saw that day, etc.

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I moved on to another den and found a large male named Energizer in a small lava tube. This lava tube was 20-30 meters uphill from where the snake was last seen in November. The lava tube appeared far too small and shallow for the snake to have survived our record cold in February there, so I'm guessing it had moved during the spring.

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I didn't get back out to the dens again until March 26 and the first snake up was this small striped whipsnake.

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Energizer was still in his lava tube.

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On April 1st I headed out to the dens and the first snake I found was this large and new to me male atrox out on the crawl not far from Rusty and Cinnamon's usual hangout. The snake seemed really pissed off. It crawled beneath this boulder and hissed at me while I was still several meters away. This is really unusual behavior for atrox at a den in my experience.

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Not far away I found Rusty mating with the little female! I cant help but wonder if the pissed off male was aware that Rusty and the female were there and that might have been responsible for the snake's mood?

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Another view of the amorous couple.

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A juvenile at Rusty's den.

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And a subadult at a different den.

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On April 3rd I saw Coppertop for the first time since December. It's funny how one kinda starts to worry about these snakes when you haven't seen one of them for awhile.

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Also found two prairie rattlesnakes at the same den.
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I then made my way to Rusty's den and to my horror found a young couple there. What's worse is that the guy had a hook! Turns out they were just looking, and I feel kinda bad for being an "insert profanity here" to the guy at first, but I'm a little protective of these snakes. I hope everyone reading this realizes that there really is zero need to ever pull a snake out of a den. Getting a better view of the snake or a "better" picture is never worth potentially stressing the snake. Both Rusty and his girlfriend were laying out when the couple was there, and they were both still there later, so all is well.

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On the 5th Josh and I encountered this striped whipsnake. I took this shot from the trail.

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I moved in closer, at which time the snake immediately focused it's attention on the foot of my tripod as I set it down in the grass. I moved closer still at which time the snake rushed off of it's rock straight for the foot of my tripod. It quickly realized it's mistake and turned around and fled.

Of course, one cant live by snakes alone and I've always had a very soft spot for leopard frogs. I grew up in the middle Rio Grande valley of New Mexico and spent much of my childhood catching northern leopard frogs in the irrigation ditches around my house. Then about the time I graduated from high school they just seemed to disappear. So I was psyched to learn about a population of northern leopard frogs in Bernalillio county. Josh and I went to check the area out and saw and heard leopard frogs there.
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This is what the habitat looks like.

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I returned another day to try to photograph calling leopard frogs and photographed this non-calling individual. I strongly suspect it might be the same animal as in the previous photo since it was in the same spot. I heard a male calling nearby and carefully worked my way into the cattails to find it. I managed to see it once, went back for my camera, and then it was gone. I had arrived in the evening with the idea that it would be easier to photograph them after dark. Wrong! As soon as the sun dipped below the horizon the one male I had been hearing completely stopped. Maybe when the weather warms up a bit they will switch to night time calling. I really have no experience with this species calling. Despite the adults being really common when I was a kid I never heard them call, nor did I ever see eggs or tadpoles.

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Back put to the dens on April 17th and I found Rusty out sunning in the morning.

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I moved on to check a couple more dens and found no other snakes. I decided to go back and check again on Rusty and on the way found this roundtailed horned lizard.

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When I got back to the den I did not immediately see Rusty, but I did locate this little female which I believe is the one Rusty was mating with on April 1st.
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The really cool thing is that Damon Salceis has photographs of Rusty courting this same female during the spring of 2008! The only thing I am less than 100% sure about is wether or not this is the same female from April 1st, since I never was able to see her really well on that day. But it is the same size, same general color, and in the same spot, so I'm guessing this is her. What's interesting to me is that I had never seen this female prior to this spring. I know female atrox only reproduce every second or third year, so now I'm wondering if possibly she chose a different den during the intervening years and only returns to this one (and her man Rusty) during those years in which she is going to reproduce. (A note to those people that don't know me- I like to think out loud, or in this case type out loud. It doesn't necessarily mean that I believe what I'm thinking, just that I wonder if it's a possibility. I also don't really anthropomorphize as much in real life as I do in these post). By the way, Rusty was resting beneath a bush just a couple of meters away, but I didn't bother to photograph him.

Finally that brings us around to yesterday. And what sort of rare and intriguing herps did I find on Earth day.
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The always elusive Uta of course!

Thanks for hanging in there!

Mourits
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by Mourits » April 23rd, 2011, 5:33 pm

Really nice in situ pictures!!! :thumb:

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herpseeker1978
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by herpseeker1978 » April 23rd, 2011, 5:46 pm

Great post as usual Bill! Great find on the uta! :lol: They can be difficult :lol: :crazyeyes: :lol: Great narration! I loved the skunk story!

Josh

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vincemartino
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by vincemartino » April 23rd, 2011, 5:58 pm

Your photography, as well as your obvious love and care for these animals, is inspiring.

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Mulebrother
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by Mulebrother » April 23rd, 2011, 6:06 pm

Awesome...
everytime you guys post these animals...i find myself scrolling back to the top to make sure this isnt san diego and some rubers! Nice stuff all around.

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Dan Krull
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by Dan Krull » April 23rd, 2011, 6:53 pm

Exceptional photography, a real pleasure to read. Thanks so much. You really capture the deepest sense of in situ. I felt like I was there.

Great.

Dan

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Kelenken
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by Kelenken » April 23rd, 2011, 7:17 pm

Those are such beautiful pictures, and it's so nice to read about how much you love these snakes.

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Kevin Price
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by Kevin Price » April 23rd, 2011, 7:53 pm

Great post and storyline to accompany it, and as always, wonderful photography. I think what I liked best was the fact that there was not one image of you, or someone else, holding any of them in their hands or from a hook; all shots are from where you found them. Great stuff.

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Hans Breuer (twoton)
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » April 23rd, 2011, 8:04 pm

At the risk of being excommunicated....while your herp photos are really nice, I enjoyed your masterful landscape photography much more. You sure have an eye for composition, to understate it wildly.

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herpseeker1978
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by herpseeker1978 » April 23rd, 2011, 8:13 pm

Here is Bill in his true herping form:
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and one from the past...
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and the things you'll do to get a picture...
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Josh

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crocdoc
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by crocdoc » April 23rd, 2011, 10:36 pm

Excellent post and photos, particularly (as Hans mentioned) the landscapes.

What I also enjoyed was the narrative, which I could related to because I've been casually keeping tabs on a particular group of reptiles for a number of years as well (lace monitors, Varanus varius, rather than rattlesnakes).
bgorum wrote: I know, I suck at naming things!
You'll be happy to know that I have similarly lame names for my 'regulars' and I could also relate to worrying when one of them seems to disappear for a season.

Bob McKeever
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by Bob McKeever » April 24th, 2011, 10:12 am

Yep, I like atrox. Nicely done all around, especially the in situ at dens theme. Your vertical shot of "Rusty" crawling back into the rocks has to be on my top ten favorite Crotalus shots list now.

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Don
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by Don » April 24th, 2011, 1:09 pm

If those snakes are where I think they are, the historical scuttlebutt is correct. I never found atrox ........ ummm, west of town. But lots of viridis.

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Desert Raticus
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by Desert Raticus » April 24th, 2011, 2:56 pm

Great post - love the way you name the snakes! I have a lizard in Cottonwood I call "Bode," but I haven't named anything else (well, except the spiders that hang out in my house - they're all "Pat."). Your photography is beautiful - my fav pic is the black and white of the wash! Ha! What lens are you using?

btskanks
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by btskanks » April 24th, 2011, 4:48 pm

Incredible "series", i would love to see you countdown to birth of baby atroxes, and get pics! when do the guys and gals feed ? -dusk/dawn[to cold]? Ron

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azatrox
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by azatrox » April 24th, 2011, 6:39 pm

Wonderful series!

I'm in total agreement...when possible, in situ is the ONLY way to shoot....I just wish more people felt that way.

-Kris

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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by bgorum » April 24th, 2011, 7:38 pm

Thanks for the replies everyone!

Josh- I was psyched about the Uta. I think it was the first one I had seen in like an entire minute. I'm still looking forward to achieving the "Phrynosomatid trifecta". You know, a sideblotched lizard, a tree lizard, and a fence lizard all in the same day. A tall order I know, but one can always dream!

Kelenken- I do love those snakes and really nature in general. That's not too unmasculine is it?

Hans- you David Muench loving, Elliot Porter hugging, Jack Dykinga wearing, Ansel Adams worshipping commi! Thanks! I love doing landscape photography, but find I need to decide when I go out that I am either going to do landscapes or wildlife (usually herps). I think it is difficult to do both at the same time.

Josh- Could you please photoshop some hair onto my bald head before you post any more pictures of me!

Don- This whole atrox replacing viridis thing has really got me intrigued. I've read about both viridis and scutulatus being replaced by atrox in areas where overgrazing and climate change have led to grasslands being replaced by desert scrub. The area immediately around these dens is not grazed at all and while the area around the national monument does have cattle, it is still basically flat plains grassland where one would expect viridis and not atrox (and our finds while road cruising the area support this as well). Just as an aside, during the last several years I've seen Aspidoscelis uniparens replace A. neomexicana as the most common whiptail in Albuquerque. Another example of a more "desert adapted" species displacing a species adapted to somewhat less arid habitats.

Desert Raticus- I hope the names don't make me sound too silly. It's just easier for me to remember a snake's name than a number, or some more official sounding method of referring to them. The B&W of the wash was taken with my Nikon 10-24.

btskanks- A friend of mine told me that he has observed gravid females remaining at the dens all summer. You can bet I will be returning to check on this female (I've named her Dulce, because of her sweet disposition) and I would love to get photographs of her with her babies. That's a behavior I've never witnessed before in any species of rattlesnake.

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Norman D
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by Norman D » April 24th, 2011, 9:17 pm

Very nice observations and photos

Thanks for sharing

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Jason Mintzer
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by Jason Mintzer » April 24th, 2011, 11:46 pm

As everyone already said, great photos. Those landscapes are stunning.

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Don
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by Don » April 25th, 2011, 6:23 am

That's interesting about the whiptails. neomexicana was certainly the head-whiptail-in-charge in the early 70's.

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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by pituophian » April 25th, 2011, 10:40 am

Hey- I know that Rana spot, actually heading out there today. That is an introduced population of pipiens out there, a buddy of mine had been monitoring the site for around a year before he found out that they were introduced. Nice atrox shots, have you been out there with Lorraine?

Ian

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Josh Holbrook
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by Josh Holbrook » April 25th, 2011, 12:26 pm

Masterful! Thanks for posting.

bgorum
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by bgorum » April 25th, 2011, 12:57 pm

Norman, Jason, Don, and Josh- thanks for the replies.

Ian- I wondered about the possibility that that population of leopard frogs might be introduced since there are apparently no others in the Sandias. Do you know if they were introduced as part of the restoration of that creek? Are you referring to Lorraine McInnes? I don't know her, but I am a little bit familiar with her work at Bosque del Apache from a presentation I heard her give. You can bet I was way interested in that presentation.

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Correcamino
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by Correcamino » April 25th, 2011, 1:43 pm

Fantastic pics and narrative Bill, always a pleasure to view your posts! Don't worry about the naming thing, you oughta hear a couple of mine, lol.
Rich

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herpseeker1978
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by herpseeker1978 » April 25th, 2011, 4:53 pm

Sorry Bill,

Is this better?
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or is this better?
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Josh

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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by pituophian » April 25th, 2011, 7:59 pm

Bill-
I will have to check on the details of the introduction and I will let you know. Was out there today and saw a couple of pipiens, Sceloporus cowlesi, and one Thamnophis elegans, not the best herping weather, but at least I didn't get skunked. Yeah, I was talking about Lorraine McInnes, we have gone down to her site to check out the dens which was pretty cool. We were able to see 7 of them at one cliffside den.

Ian

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Ian Jessup
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by Ian Jessup » April 26th, 2011, 10:59 am

That's an awesome post! I love seeing shots and hearing stories from individuals who go out to the same dens year after year and really get to know a population of rattlesnakes. I've only just started doing this myself, here in Colorado. Sadly, this will be my last year in Colorado and I'm finding that I'm really going to miss the population of viridis I've been watching over the last 3 years, and which have become the focus of some venom research I am doing. Last year, I spent a great week out with W.H. "Marty" Martin in WV and VA helping him with horridus counts that he does. He's been doing it a LONG time, longer than I've been alive, and I think about as long as my dad has been alive!!! Awesome stuff!!!! Atrox, along with several others, are on my list this summer when I make a trip down to NM/AZ for some field herping and photography. :)

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PatrickV
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by PatrickV » April 26th, 2011, 11:35 am

Cool. And the hawk in the first few is actually a ferruginous hawk so even better.

bgorum
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by bgorum » April 27th, 2011, 8:02 am

Thanks for the replies everyone.

Rich- if you and I ever cross paths I would love to discuss some of the things I've observed in these atrox in relation to the things you've observed in cerberus over the years.

Josh- I think the mohawk is a good look for me! My students would probably dig it!

Ian Jessup- when you get down to New Mexico this summer shoot me a pm or email and perhaps we can do some herping if it fits into your schedule.

PatrickV- thanks for the id correction on the hawk.

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Texas Blonde
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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by Texas Blonde » April 27th, 2011, 9:54 am

Really great post! I loved hearing the stories about the snakes, it does make you feel like you are there. The landscape photography is phenomenal! Thank you so much for sharing.

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Re: Like atrox? Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. :)

Post by bgorum » April 29th, 2011, 6:27 am

Texas Blonde wrote:Really great post! I loved hearing the stories about the snakes, it does make you feel like you are there. The landscape photography is phenomenal! Thank you so much for sharing.
Thank you!

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