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 Post subject: A day to remember - milk flip-a-thon
PostPosted: May 7th, 2016, 10:09 am 

Joined: December 3rd, 2010, 12:06 pm
Posts: 1518
Yesterday (Fri May 6) Mark H and I went out to the west desert on another of our usually quixotic pyro hunts, in which we look for them in places nobody else has ever found them. Usually - but not always - we have the same result of no pyros found. This time we were going to hunt the Sheeprocks Mtns, a place I have never herped and which is not that far from town. Less than 2 hrs from SLC, maybe 1.5 from Provo. We both had stuff to do this weekend, so could only swing a day trip, not an overnighter - which is why we stayed close to town.

Weather was all to partly cloudy, some cool gusts to maybe 20 mph but mostly more like 5 mph out of the south, a burst of drizzle or two, and air temps 58-64 F. It's our favorite (or at least most common) weather for trying to day-walk a pyro in the Great Basin. The weather earlier in the week had been warm, up to maybe almost 80 daily, with lows in the mid-high 40's. Last weekend was cold and rainy - too nasty for reptiles, said Mark (I was at Mena AR for NAFHA National, another story). There were still a few mud puddles on the roads out there yesterday, which is unusual and boded well for snake activity.

One thing about the Sheeprocks - there is (or was...) a single milksnake record for there (Govt Creek I think), from ~1991 or so, of an animal that was caught in a wire-mesh trap on a UDWR herp survey. It actually died in the trap (they were only checking traps weekly) so the body was put into the Bean museum, where it can be seen today.

On the way to the agreed-on spot (***) we saw a nice-looking SW-facing rocky hillside @ 6100' (***). Perhaps a bit inspired by my recent trip to Arkansas, which featured some easy flipping (which sure helps rekindle some motivation, lemme tell ya), we decided to pull off "just for a quick flip". About 7 rocks into the quickie, Mark had a neonate milk in his hand. About 5 minutes later I had an adult. Within another hour and a quarter or so, we had another 2 adults and a subadult. 15 minutes later all milks were back under their rocks. This little open area (***) was about a quarter of an acre in size. No lie, it was damn fun. Way better than getting skunked.

All five milks were under rock-on-dirt, with under-rock substrate temps never higher than the air temp (usually about 62-64 F). Soil moisture seemed ideal - moist/humid but not cold and wet. Crickets, ants, and centipedes were plentiful, while we saw no scorpions and very few worms, no other snakes, and just a few sagebrush lizards. (***).

Incidentally, after this we went over to the Simpson Mtns. Flipped 9 skinks @ 6400' on a SE-facing rocky hillside, but flipped no snakes there, and - strangely - saw no sagebrush lizards. Compared to the milk spot, under rocks we found somewhat fewer crickets, similarly abundant centipedes, many more beetles, just one scorpion (rock-on-rock in talus - perhaps soil moisture was too high for them?). We thought "maybe we're a week or so early for this elevation and aspect?" Strange to not even flip a garter or racer (or - we wished - a milk or pyro) at the 2nd spot. But a great day for skinks.

Besides our flips, we walked a lutosus on-the-crawl in talus, and saw 2 couple gophers crossing roads that day (1 Sheeprocks, 1 Simpsons). The latter gopher was very alert & peppy at 58 F, the first about at 62 F. Talus air temp was maybe 60 F but a little warmer at the surface, between the rocks. Rocks did not feel warm, nor cold. With the weak sun through the clouds, and the breeze, rocks all day seemed right about air temp. Our temp guns said the same thing.

So - the west desert flipping & stalking/walking window is definitely open. Use it soon, before it ends for the summer, and we're stuck with boring old cruising. Besides the Sheeprocks, there are abundant other areas in the west desert just waiting for milk, pyro, ringer, skink, etc range extensions or vouchering.

(FWIW I got a few cellphone pics of the milks. Mark took better pics of everything. The milk series is going to the museum, with photovouchers.)

cheers


Last edited by Jimi on May 20th, 2016, 7:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: A day to remember - milk flip-a-thon
PostPosted: May 7th, 2016, 12:24 pm 

Joined: June 7th, 2010, 11:59 am
Posts: 430
Awesome job guys. More proof we need toget some ac on those juniper burn/ chain areas.
Wish I had gotten my butt out of bed to join you guys.

In my opinion you have a little too detailed locality info for a public forum. I've seen too many areas like that destroyed but your call.


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 Post subject: Re: A day to remember - milk flip-a-thon
PostPosted: May 7th, 2016, 4:05 pm 

Joined: December 3rd, 2010, 12:06 pm
Posts: 1518
Thanks Brian. I really do feel that my little Ouachita visit last weekend helped me get my milk game on - just by pumping the enthusiasm. I've been out quite a bit lately looking for unicorns - a guy gets burnt out not finding much! So a little balance was in order. Yesterday helped, unexpectedly (I left home expecting yet another nice hike with pretty flowers and scenery, and a few individuals of the usual 5-6 squamates).

Quote:
In my opinion you have a little too detailed locality info for a public forum. I've seen too many areas like that destroyed but your call.


I take your point - truly, I'm glad to have you make it publicly - and I understand your orientation. Mine is a little different, as is my perspective. My "why" is a little different (though we have far more in common, than in difference). Bottom line, I want more effort out there - with reporting of finds! - so we can accelerate the discovery & public description of the true distribution of the species. The actual habitat - the realized niche, I mean - is not going to be "destroyed" with some flipper effort. A relatively microscopic huntable area will be degraded - in inverse proportion to the hunters' field ethics - until natural processes restore it to what it was; hunters will suffer from their own overzealous efforts, but in my opinion the snakes themselves will not.

Also, as a "fish and game" guy I honor my mission to promote and increase enjoyment of the resource. Secrecy and heavy regulation are legitimately used, in select cases, to secure the other part of the mission - to ensure certain vulnerable species' perpetual existence. But as I began to explain above, I don't think the secrecy (or the heavy regulation) are warranted in this case - that of a widely-distributed habitat generalist with a very small huntable seasonal & weather conditions window in virtually all of its Utah distribution. Many state "fish & game" herp programs in the US are - IMO - far too slanted to the secrecy and the hands-off side. Just like on the other extreme, some programs around the country seem a little wastefully bloodthirsty (just killing, no utilization whatsoever). "Varmint plinking" for example - just slamming some lead into a body, and then looking for the next body. Personally, I actively, consciously reject the over-slant in either direction. I think everyone should struggle to keep the balance between extreme "enjoyment" and extreme "protection", and not just default into one path or the other.

Correction on the date of the whole-body Sheeprocks specimen in Bean - it was more like 2001 than 1991.

cheers


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 Post subject: Re: A day to remember - milk flip-a-thon
PostPosted: May 7th, 2016, 5:00 pm 

Joined: March 6th, 2012, 12:45 pm
Posts: 508
Location: utah
Great finds Jimi, I drove through that range last fall hoping to find a good place to flip for ringnecks. Found a few places that looked good.


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 Post subject: Re: A day to remember - milk flip-a-thon
PostPosted: May 7th, 2016, 5:22 pm 

Joined: June 8th, 2010, 7:12 am
Posts: 8025
Location: Hesperia, California.
Jimi wrote:
Also, as a "fish and game" guy I honor my mission to promote and increase enjoyment of the resource. Secrecy and heavy regulation are legitimately used, in select cases, to secure the other part of the mission - to ensure certain vulnerable species' perpetual existence. But as I began to explain above, I don't think the secrecy (or the heavy regulation) are warranted in this case - that of a widely-distributed habitat generalist with a very small huntable seasonal & weather conditions window in virtually all of its Utah distribution. Many state "fish & game" herp programs in the US are - IMO - far too slanted to the secrecy and the hands-off side. Just like on the other extreme, some programs around the country seem a little wastefully bloodthirsty (just killing, no utilization whatsoever). "Varmint plinking" for example - just slamming some lead into a body, and then looking for the next body. Personally, I actively, consciously reject the over-slant in either direction. I think everyone should struggle to keep the balance between extreme "enjoyment" and extreme "protection", and not just default into one path or the other.
cheers


gee... that sounds familar... :crazyeyes:
Additionally, we (Nafha) seem to have built-in diametrically opposed warrants contained within the scope of our Purpose Statement in our Bylaws, in that we propose to both conserve natural bio-diversity and habitat, while simultaneously inspiring “all people to enjoy and protect wild herpetofauna”. Indeed, it is the dichotomy between ‘enjoy’ and ‘protect’ that gives rise to the various opinions concerning the dissemination of ‘Locality Specific’ information. I would humbly suggest that the word ‘and’ is in fact the means to bridge this divide, by identifying the best level of publicly releasing locality information that will assist those seeking to ‘enjoy’ and satisfy those seeking to ‘protect’ while providing the unsavory element little to no advantage.
8-) :beer:


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 Post subject: Re: A day to remember - milk flip-a-thon
PostPosted: May 8th, 2016, 5:11 pm 
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Joined: June 10th, 2010, 8:49 pm
Posts: 1036
That is some great work out there.


I know how hard you work at this.

Jimi wrote:
Yesterday (Fri May 6) Mark H and I went out to the west desert on another of our usually quixotic pyro hunts, in which we look for them in places nobody else has ever found them. Usually - but not always - we have the same result of no pyros found.


This is truth....Glad to see the hard work pay-off!


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 Post subject: Re: A day to remember - milk flip-a-thon
PostPosted: May 13th, 2016, 8:53 am 
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Joined: October 12th, 2010, 10:05 am
Posts: 625
Location: Utah
awesome Jimi, but no pictures? That is just mean.


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 Post subject: Re: A day to remember - milk flip-a-thon
PostPosted: May 16th, 2016, 3:14 pm 

Joined: December 3rd, 2010, 12:06 pm
Posts: 1518
Quote:
no pictures


oh there's a few, I just need to remember how to do that 3rd party, hosted-pics thing

the variety was pretty cool, it might be worth sharing

cheers


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 Post subject: Re: A day to remember - milk flip-a-thon
PostPosted: May 20th, 2016, 8:02 pm 

Joined: December 3rd, 2010, 12:06 pm
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This post is sort of a coda to the one from Sat 5/7.

Since then Mark and 2 forum regulars have been back out there. They flipped an additional 1, 3, and 1 milks - none at the 5-animal spot, all at different spots from each other, and one of which was completely on the other side of the mountains from the rest. So now we've gone from a single 15-year old record, to basically 5 well-spaced records, represented by 11 individuals, in less than 2 weeks. Less than 2 weeks. This is the power of citizen science.

All 10 snakes flipped this month were released unharmed, and photo'd. All those records are going to BYU and/or - eventually, via my next HERP Data Request - DWR (I'm going to ask the surveyors that their finds ALL be put into BYU).

I think this is AWESOME! Thanks and congrats to all who contributed.

I think now the most scientifically-beneficial thing to do is to look elsewhere (and I've edited my original post to make it a little harder to just go back to the same area - if you really want to see it for "training purposes" or something, just PM me for directions). If you'd like to try your hand at documenting milks where there are few to zero known specimens, the following general locations - none > 2 hrs from SLC - would be great places to look (one is a known pyro range too, and several more are high-possibility pyro ranges; they probably all have ringnecks but most have no specimens of those either):

- San Pitch Mtns
- Valley Mtns
- Gilson Mtns
- Canyon Mtns
- Long Ridge (west of Mona Lake)
- West Hills (west of Levan)
- East Tintic Mtns
- West Tintic Mtns
- Simpson Mtns
- Keg Mtns
- Cedar Mtns

I suspect milks actually exist in many of the intervening valleys, but they just can't really be hunted because the roads are dirt (not good for cruising) and there's no natural or artificial cover to flip. The mountains (even some little hills with no names) on the other hand have flippable surface rock, exposed either naturally or by human activity (road cuts, road fills, railroad cuts, bridge fills, etc).

I enthusiastically support documenting anything you find with the HERP phone app, or other method of your choosing.

I think this weekend could be good. I think the bit of rain last night, combined with temps this week, make for good flipping conditions again. Most west-side reporting stations logged a quarter to a half inch of rain - probably enough to get or keep the snakes up, not enough to mess up the roads or the flipping. Tonight is warm.

Mark and I are headed out to the Cedars first thing in the morning, and will stay out overnight.

Good hunting.


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 Post subject: Re: A day to remember - milk flip-a-thon
PostPosted: June 10th, 2016, 6:25 pm 
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And what happened in the Cedars?

I checked the HERP database and saw some of last months milks that were flipped. Way cool...now, if someone can just tell me what the real difference is between a New Mexico and Utah Milk I will be happy. I'd like to think they are separate sub-species for a reason, but my accumulated info seems to point to them being the same...despite what some books will tell you. I would hate to have to lump them together in my Milk Snake book...but that might be new and different, and exciting... :lol:


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 Post subject: Re: A day to remember - milk flip-a-thon
PostPosted: June 12th, 2016, 9:30 am 

Joined: December 3rd, 2010, 12:06 pm
Posts: 1518
Quote:
And what happened in the Cedars?


The usual - we got several each of gophers, rattlesnakes, etc, and no Lampropeltis. We spent a day with good weather and found some good rocks, hillsides, and whole canyons for flipping, and then it turned cold (low 50s at best) and rainy and so we just used the next day to scout places to hunt later. But that's how it goes when what you're trying to do is find critters somewhere they've never been found - either they really don't occur there, or they aren't so easy to find (or else they probably already would have been). One of the cool things about Utah, from my perspective, is that there's still a lot of country that really hasn't been investigated much at all yet. There's still a lot of discoveries possible, and they might not even be all that hard to make - you just have to get out there at the right time. I really wish more people would get out and give it a shot - and then accurately & completely report their finds in HERP. Even if they feel the need for maximal privacy settings.

Quote:
the real difference is between a New Mexico and Utah Milk


The recent paper from the Pyron/Burbrink lab, which I'm sure you're read but I don't yet have your take on it, lumped all western milks into a new species, Lampropeltis gentilis (gentilis being the senior name (1850's?) among the 4 former subspecies, and taylori being the absolute junior (1960's?)). The authors didn't talk much if any about clades or haplotypes - let alone subspecies, a concept that is not alive and well among modern systematists - within each of their elevated species (I recall there being 7 new species created out of the mess formerly known as "Lampropeltis triangulum" - gentilis being just one). But they did take pains to point out, naming kingsnakes solely by appearance does not help further understanding of their actual relatedness. Actual relatedness is the point of the scientific names. Hobbyists can do whatever they like, and they/we do.

So yeah, among the 17 milks found last month in that formerly virtually-unknown area, to my (not-so-lampro-oriented) eye one could pull out phenotypic subspecies (perhaps now best referred to as color/pattern morphs) "taylori", "celaenops", "gentilis", and maybe even a pyro or two. Pretty funny huh? There was a TON of variation in appearance, which I find super appealing for whatever reason. You're pretty much the man when it comes to milks, rangewide - have you seen places in Kansas or New Mexico or wherever, that also have multiple "subspecies" pattern morphs present? Also, I don't think the 5 that Mark and I found got into HERP yet - I will ask Mark about it, he collected data & shot pics while I just flipped. I can send you the pics he texted me afterwards, if it looks like it'll be a while before HERP gets the records. Or the single record - it was just one little tiny spot after all.

Finally, I'm relieved to hear about your book. As in, it isn't a dead project. Is that right?

Quote:
but that might be new and different, and exciting...


Heck, it might actually simplify the layout and formatting of the book - less work! And, give you something interesting & educational to talk about, without having to do a lot of awkward hand waving about why the breadth of variation within a single former subspecies exceeds the breadth of variation among several former subspecies.


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 Post subject: Re: A day to remember - milk flip-a-thon
PostPosted: June 12th, 2016, 12:38 pm 
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The book is not dead, just evolving s-l-o-w-l-y...while I collect more data and take more bird pics... :lol:

I saw the DNA paper, and as you suspect I just disagree with lumping so much regional variation together under one species name. We all KNOW they are related...but the regional differences (overall gestalt, subspecies, whatever) need to be named for better recognition. However, I do NOT believe syspila should be in a different species from gentilis. That's just nonsense (I don't care what the infant DNA analysis says right now). They clearly intergrade over a large area with gentilis, and to drop the intergrade zones is just confusing for the general public and herpers alike. DNA is destroying our ability to teach future generations what the different critters are that they see in the wild. I can't believe the new Eastern field guide actually says that some animals (rat snakes, etc.) cannot be identified in the wild without a DNA test. What a crock. If this gets much more out of control I'll just rename them all Lampropeltis hubbsi and write a book about the regional morphs... :lol:

Yes, there are different morphs of gentilis in KS, and different morphs of celaenops, and different morphs in UT, but the gentilis morphs can all be lumped into the same subspecies by other characteristics too. This cannot seem to be done with taylori and celaenops, so I think I will lump those. Even Pales (multistrata) can be differentiated from gentilis, but there are questionable intergrade zones that are not well-defined yet.

Keep up the good work, and send me a dot map with milk localities in UT so I can draw an accurate range map someday... :thumb: You know, my psychic abilities only extend so far on these things...


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 Post subject: Re: A day to remember - milk flip-a-thon
PostPosted: September 7th, 2016, 2:46 pm 

Joined: December 3rd, 2010, 12:06 pm
Posts: 1518
Hubbs, got your (awesome hilarious!) voice mail, sorry I have yet to call you back. I'll get around to it.

I wanted to put up some milk pics from my May outing with Mark. There's a couple weeks left here in 2016 where I think it might be possible to cruise (low) or flip (high) some. Particularly in those areas of the state that got - or may still get - some decent rain (not the NW quarter...). So maybe here's some motivation.

Please put the rocks back nicely, put your finds in HERP, and resist the temptation to harvest without a permit/license/tag. If you don't like the regs, speak up, don't just stew over it.

habitat
Image

all the snakes were set on the same rock for pics - boring, sorry

the variety is kind of fun though - some look like "gentilis", some like coastie Z's, some like "celaenops" - which ones look like "taylori"? whatever that is...ha ha

whaddaya say Hubbs?

milk 1
Image

milk 2
Image

milk 3
Image

milk 4
Image

milk 5
Image

good hunting


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