China post #31 - Great Wall herping

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Kevin Messenger
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China post #31 - Great Wall herping

Post by Kevin Messenger »

A link to the previous post, #30, YangShuo part II: viewtopic.php?f=2&t=8241

21 March 2020: the old links to this post have been broken (I was previously using photobucket), so I've had to go through this post again and update the links. As I go through it, I just wanted to reiterate how impressed I am with my parents. During this hike, they were both 60 years old. Since this post, I've done this hike several times with various individuals in their 20's and 30's, and in all these subsequent hikes, people complain at the 50% mark and want to end the hike. It is really impressive what they did that day, especially considering their age, and mom with a bad knee. End 21 March 2020 comment.

So I thought I could finish the remainder of the trip in one post, but once again, there were too many pics and I had to break it up again. This post is from a single day

29 July 08 (day 28)
Today we woke up slightly later than we had hoped (Scott and I were up drinking and chatting for awhile the night before). We had breakfast (bacon, eggs, and starbucks coffee) in the middle lounge area. Scott’s assistant, Xiao Feng (translates to “little phoenix”) served us. Afterwards we packed some leftovers for lunch on the trail and got our gear ready to go. The day was looking overcast and like it might rain. I wasn’t too pleased with this, but at least maybe it would bring out some basking snakes? One can always hope.

We piled into the SUV around 9:30am. The drive was a good 45 min away, IF one knows exactly where they are going. Prior to this Scott had only been to this location once, and at the time he wasn’t driving, he was a passenger, so he didn’t give it 100% of his attention. Scott told our driver where to go, but unfortunately we missed a turn on the highway and the next turn around was several miles down the road. After finally getting back to the highway and getting off at the correct exit, from here we would be trying to find a side road that “looked familiar.” First we went in one direction, found a somewhat decent road. We drove down it, just to come across a blockade of locals wearing “Olympic volunteer” sashes. Apparently the Olympics were causing a lot of local, small roads to close down (to foreigners). Scott said this was becoming a major pain to all of the ex-pats living in China. Scott described the location we were looking for and they pointed down the road in the opposite direction. So we drove down there, turned down another potential road. It was a ski resort. No one was around, we got out, flipped a little trash but didn’t find anything. The trash was carbon fiber, no tin or plywood. I really want to put some tin out in Shennongjia… Anyway, we drove back out to the main road and headed back in the original direction (east). We came up on another small road, turned down there, met up with another blockade. Scott said it wasn’t good that all of these small roads were getting blocked off and that it may turn out the road we want is going to be blocked off. He asked the people at this blockade about the location he was wanting, they said it was just down the road, but pointed in the right direction this time (still going east). We headed back out to the main road, went further east, and then Scott finally recognized the road we were looking for, and sure enough there was a blockade at the end of the street. We pulled up, told them what we wanted to do, we just had to register our vehicle and then we could continue through. Easy enough. We continued to drive in. Then we came up to a military check point… Again, this wasn’t looking too good. They came up to the window and simply asked if we had registered already, we told them we had and they waved us through. Cool.

It was about 11am by the time we hit the trail head. Our driver dropped us off at the trailhead, Scott said it would probably be a good 6 hours until we got to the pickup point, so off he went to go do whatever he wanted for most of the day. We each had about 1 gallon of water with us. Scott was carrying an extra gallon since Clayton was carrying our food.

It was still overcast. It actually felt very decent. I was starting to feel good about what we might find, so long as it didn’t start raining. Just so long as I found ANY herp on the Great Wall I would be happy. Scott said all the lacerta lizards he usually finds are when it’s very hot out.

Some of the flowers before we hit the wall:
ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

Even the beginning portion of the trail, before you got to the wall, looked like it could be promising on the proper day. I told Scott he should set some coverboards out in this area.

It was maybe a 5 min walk before you approached the ruins of the original Great Wall:
ImageDSCN7616 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr
(what the day was looking like)

This was another aspect of this hike that thrilled me; back in 2006 Vanessa and I had hiked one of the restored sections of the wall, but this was the original wall, left to time and weather.

For anyone that doesn’t know about the history of the Great Wall, the entire thing stretches some 6600 km / 4100 miles. The original wall started around 500 BC, was not made of stone, and was rebuilt around the 1500’s to what we know now. Several different dynasties contributed to the wall.

Here is a map pulled from the internet:
https://images.app.goo.gl/Ck3f3hy7cvkBVoiC8


What would be a really fun study to carry out would be to do a survey of the herps of the Great Wall. Scientifically it wouldn’t have much impact, it would just be a cool little study to do. BUT, doing that would be the equivalent of studying a 30 ft wide transect running from eastern NC to San Francisco and then back east to mid-Missouri! Rest assured it would take a long time.

Still, walking on 400 – 500 yr old structures, looking for herps was just a cool experience. The scenery was amazing:

ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr
(hiking along the side, making our way to the top of the wall)

ImageDSCN7618 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageDSCN7619 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageDSCN7620 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

Seeing as how Scott has already found several snakes on the wall, it didn’t take me long to try and get in the lead. I’m kind of a stickler for my life list rules, if someone else spots the snake, even though I am on the same trip, and possibly right beside the person, it still doesn’t count, so I most certainly wanted to be in the lead in case anything was on the trail.

ImageBeijing landscape by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

We weren’t on the trail for even 15 minutes before we came across the first snake. I was in the lead and I saw some movement and a snake taking off into the tall grass towards some rocks. The snake disappeared into a small rock pile, which I swiftly tore apart and managed to get a hold of the snake before it disappeared any further. I wasn’t 100% on the ID other than it wasn’t venomous. I cleared some more rocks and excavated the snake from his hole. Scott and Clayton were running up the slope to see what I caught.

ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr
(this is where the snake was crossing)

I held the snake up for Scott to see. Previously on this portion of the wall Scott has found Dione’s ratsnake (Elaphe dione) and vipers (Gloydius brevicaudus). The snake sure didn’t look like a Dione’s to me, but I was going to wait until I got Scott’s opinion. He was definitely sure it was not a Dione’s as well. My mind searched my images of other China snakes and then one came to mind. It was a species that I most certainly was not expecting to find. “I think it might be an Elaphe anomala?”

ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr
(Scott and Clayton with the anomala)

A very cool, and interestingly patterned snake:
ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr
(one of my photographic goals was to get a picture of a snake with the great wall in the background; this one wasn’t quite what I was thinking about, but it was fine for the moment)

ImageIMG_7846 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageIMG_7849 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr
(showing Clayton how to sex a snake)

We were both very surprised. Scott had never seen this species here before. Well the day was quite a success and we had barely started. We photographed the snake for quite some time. It was also opaque, so we bagged him – I wanted to photograph him post shed.

Just to speed things up, here are some pictures post shed (after which, he was released at his site of capture):
ImageElaphe anomala by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

As I was photographing, and spending too much time as usual, Scott and Clayton moved on up the trail, and of course as one would expect, just minutes after taking the lead Scott yells “Viper!” I break into a run; well, as much as possible on the 30 degree slope, shedding my camera bag along the way. I had my collapsible hook with me for just such an occasion. As I neared Scott said that it was starting to slip into the rocks but since he didn’t have the hook he wasn’t going to grab it. As I got closer he said it stopped. I walked up beside him and he pointed it out on the rocks. Half of the body was sticking out of the wall. I extended the hook halfway and grabbed the snake by the tail with my hand. It immediately tried going deeper.

ImageDSCN7628 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

There were still several rocks between me and the head. I carefully started removing rock after rock. Eventually I got enough cleared that I could safely pull the snake the rest of the way out. I placed the hook under the forebody and gently lifted it out and back into a clearing where I placed it on the ground. It was a chunky female, obviously gravid. The snake wasn’t aggressive at all. The entire experience reminded me so much of hunting on talus out west. Thoughts of my trip to AZ from 2007 came flooding back. It was a really cool experience pulling a viper (Gloydius brevicaudus; common name is mamushi) out of the Great Wall.

ImageDSCN7632 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageDSCN7634 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr


We photographed the girl on the spot for awhile before taking her up to the tower just ahead to get some more pictures from a few different angles.

ImageGloydius brevicaudus by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr


Afterwards we released her. This time I took the lead again. I told Scott, whoever ended up being in the lead should have the hook with them for any future situations similar to that. Maybe two minutes up the trail I look further down the wall and see another Gloydius viper coiled up in the middle of the trail. “Another viper!” I yell back to everyone else. I stopped quite a ways from it, so everyone could get to see it sitting there, plus I wanted to try and get some in situ shots and needed to put on my telephoto lens:
ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageGloydius brevicaudus viper, insitu by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageGloydius brevicaudus viper, insitu by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr


After awhile the snake picked up on our attention and started to slowly move off the trail into the woods. Very cool. So now we had hiked for maybe 20 minutes and we’ve already found 3 snakes! The day was certainly looking up. The clouds were starting to clear as well and the sun was starting to come out.

Looking back from where we started the hike:
ImageBeijing landscape by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

mom coming up the wall:
ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

Clayton was getting kind of hungry, even though we had really just started, but we went ahead and stopped for lunch:
ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

Scott pointed out the route we had ahead of us:
ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr
(the wall follows the ridge top)

After leaving our lunch stop we continued on, not far down the trail was a huge shed skin. Based on the size it looked like it could have belonged to a king ratsnake. Scott said some other Great Wall hikers had seen a king rat on another section of the wall.

ImageDSCN0773 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

It was finally getting warm enough that we were starting to see some lizards. So far all we had seen were skinks; Eumeces capito. The only other lizard active on the wall that Scott has seen were lacertas; Ermias argus.
ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr
(Eumeces capito)

With all the stops we were making catching and photographing snakes and lizards it was very obvious we weren’t going to make it to the end of the trail in 6 hours. Oh well, not that that really matters.

ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

It was a beautiful day, and an incredible hike. Mom, who had knee surgery before coming to China (surgery that was supposed to help her hike better), was doing great. Both dad and I were surprised and very impressed with how well she was doing.

Imagehiking the ruins of the Great Wall of China by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr


ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr


ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr


ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr


ImageDSCN7643 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageDSCN7646 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageDSCN7648 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageDSCN7650 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr
(mom took this twisted looking picture)

ImageDSCN7659 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

Eventually some lacertas turned up:
ImageLacertilia argus by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr


ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr



ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr


ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

The wall hike was intermixed with open areas where the bricks were in still pretty good conditions, and other sections that we could hardly walk through because the vegetation was so thick. I had no doubt we walked passed several snakes in these super dense areas. Unless the snake was in the open, crossing the trail it would be nearly impossible to see/catch.

ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

(one of my favorite pics from the hike, to give one a sense of how dense the vegetation was to hike through):
ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr


Well just so happens, on one of the times when I was in the lead again, moving through one of these dense areas a small snake moved across the path. I jumped on the snake, again, it didn’t appear to be venomous. It was in tall grass, so I wasn’t able to positively identify it until I pulled it out of the grass.
ImageDSCN7671 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

It was an Elaphe dione (Dione’s ratsnake)! Another lifer! It was way too tough to photograph him on the spot, so we continued on to a tower to take some staged photos:
ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageElaphe dione by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

After this little photoshoot we continued on. We had a lot of ground to cover before sundown.

yet another favorite scenery site from the hike:
ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr


ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageDSCN7661 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr


ImageDSCN7666 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageDSCN0796 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageDSCN0783 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageDSCN0791 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageDSCN0793 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr
(note the holes in the wall; this is where archers would shoot their arrows from)


ImageDSCN0795 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr


ImageIMG_7844 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr


ImageIMG_7885 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageIMG_7931 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageDSCN7676 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageDSCN7677 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageDSCN7680 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

Scott and Clayton took the lead this time, followed by dad, mom, and I was bringing up the rear. In the distance I thought I heard “snake.” I started to jog and kept my eyes on Scott and Clayton at the front. They were looking into some bushes. Dad started running toward their location. It was another viper, and it was about to get away. Dad didn’t have much room to work with, he couldn’t fit the hook without risking the snake getting away, his only option was to pin the snake. I arrived right as he was pulling the snake from the bushes.

ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageDad catching a Gloydius viper on the Great Wall by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

He showed Clayton the fangs:
ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

And then we released the snake to get some photos before releasing him back to his shrubbery:
ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageGloydius brevicaudus viper, on ruins of Great Wall by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr



The harsh sunlight wasn’t the best for photos…

The sun was starting to get low, we needed to hurry.

ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageChinese plant... by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

As I had mentioned before, one of my goals was to get a photo of a snake with the Great Wall snaking in the background; so far I wasn’t happy with any of the other wall/snake pictures. Scott saw a really cool platform that made for some good wall/snake photos:

ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageElaphe anomala on Great Wall by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr
(this was one of my favorite pics from my 2008 trip to China - if only the snake wasn't opaque, it would have been perfect)



We kept moving. Scott was in the lead. At one point he stopped, and quietly said “snake” – I rushed to his side, curious as to why he was still standing there (and wasn’t on top of the snake by now). It was a good distance away. He pointed it out. All we could see was one loop of coil sticking out from under a slab of brick, right next to the wall ledge. The best description for the coil we could see would be that it looked like a striped, chocolate California kingsnake, except the body was a lot thinner, like along the lines of a racer body. I was going to put my telephoto on to zoom in and at least get a photo of what we could see just in case it got away. As I removed my camera bag Scott said it was moving. I told him to jump for it. We both rushed the snake. It disappeared under the rock. He flipped the rock but nothing was there. We tore the vicinity apart for the next 10 minutes but to no avail… We had no idea what it was. Pattern wise it looked identical to a chocolate Cal king with a pale yellow/cream stripe down its back, just that it was much thinner.

Once we got back to the courtyard we looked up the species. It was a Coluber spinalis that we had seen. [text from 22 March 2020: I've since caught and photographed this species, so the following are photos of the species from a future outing, from the same location:]
ImageColuber spinalis by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr
ImageColuber spinalis by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

Well we were finally nearing the end of the trail. In the setting sun we found a few more lacertas:
ImageErmias argus by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

ImageBeijing 2008 by Kevin Messenger, on Flickr

The hike ended up taking us 8 hours and was about 21 km / 13 miles. I felt a lot longer than that, probably attributed to the steep slopes. It was an incredible hike. These last few days in China have been amazing. We had an amazing last day in YangShuo, an amazing bike ride, then came to Beijing and had one of the best hikes I’ve ever experienced. The hike wasn’t just intense, but it was so incredibly unique; hiking on the original Great Wall of China, finding herps left and right. We ended up finding 6 snakes, 3 different species, and both species of lizards. And of course there was all of the incredible scenery.

Dinner that night was at the courtyard, followed by another evening of herping the courtyard, in hopes of turning up a Rhabdophis tigrinus, but unfortunately we only turned up the same herps as the night before, frogs, toads, and geckos.

Since tomorrow is an even day, we don’t have access to a vehicle, so mom, dad, and I were planning on using this day to visit the Forbidden City, go to the library (to look for Chinese herp books), Tiananmen Square, the Silk Market, and anything else touristy there was to do. Scott of course would be sitting this trip out.

A link to the next post (conclusion to 2008): viewtopic.php?f=2&t=8485&p=99777#p99777

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SoutheastColorado
Posts: 86
Joined: June 19th, 2010, 12:56 pm
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Re: China post #31 - Great Wall herping

Post by SoutheastColorado »

Awesome, glad to see a pic of spinalis! How many snake species are located around the great wall?
William

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Kevin Messenger
Posts: 533
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 2:00 pm
Location: Nanjing, China
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Re: China post #31 - Great Wall herping

Post by Kevin Messenger »

That is kind of a hard question to answer, considering the Great Wall stretches some 1,600 miles. So as you progress westward, you are going to start picking up different species. It would be like saying "so what kind of snakes are located along I-70 from Washington DC to Colorado (a distance of about 1,600 miles)

In the area we were, you have Elaphe carinata, Zaocys dhumnades, Coluber spinalis, Elaphe davidi, Elaphe dione, Elaphe anomala, Elaphe bimaculata, Rhabdophis tigrinus, Gloydius brevicaudus. There are likely some others that I am neglecting, that is just what I can think of off the top of my head at the moment.

mikemike
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 12:37 pm
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Re: China post #31 - Great Wall herping

Post by mikemike »

Glad to see these posts again, Kevin! Thanks for reposting all of them.

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