South Texas - Day 2

We got up this morning at 0700 after being serenaded by the Tejano music over the hill most of the night. Tim decided to shower this morning so I birded the edge of the lake, but saw nothing interesting. We headed out to WalMart for gas, bolillos, and ice and then headed SE to herp down to the valley.

We stopped at a trash site a few miles outside of Laredo. Found absolutely nothing.

From 930-945 we stopped at another trash spot. There was lots of tin here and some old buildings.

trash piles

We found:
1 Great Plains Skink (Eumeces obsoletus)
1 Texas Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus)

Texas Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus)

1 Texas Patch-nosed Snake (Salvadora grahamiae lineata)

1000-1015 - We stopped along the road to photograph the Texas Toad (Bufo speciosus) from last night.
There were a pair of Least Grebes noisily courting and displaying in a pond right next to the road. These birds are considered specialties of the Lower Rio Grande Valley of south Texas (occurring nowhere else in the US), but can be found in small ponds quite a distance up into south Texas.

1030-1145 - Stopped at another trash pile along this quiet road. It was 67 when we stopped.

trash piles

Under the trash we found -
several Eastern Green Toad (Bufo debilis debilis)
1 juvenile Texas Spotted Whiptail (Cnemidophorus gularis)

Texas Spotted Whiptail (Cnemidophorus gularis)

2 Texas Spiny Lizards (Sceloporus olivaceus)
4+ Great Plains Narrow-mouthed Toad (Gastrophryne olivacea)

Great Plains Narrow-mouthed Toad

1 Reticulated Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus reticulatus)

Reticulated Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus reticulatus)

who wasn't very happy about having his photo taken (don't worry - no animals were harmed in the taking of this photo - the blood is Tim's!)

Reticulated Collared Lizard vs Tim Evans

3 Texas Nightsnakes (Hypsiglena torquata jani)

Texas Nightsnake (Hypsiglena torquata jani)

4 Texas Banded Geckos (Coleonyx brevis) - Here is an adult and a juvie....

Texas Banded Geckos (adult and juvenile)

This was what we found under one small 8" by 3" board! 2 Texas Nightsnakes, 1 Eastern Green Toad, and 1 Great Plains Narrow-mouthed Toad. It was fairly crowded.

all under one small board!

1200 - stopped at a pond along this quiet road. By now it was 70 and overcast. There are two ponds here so we walked over to look at the north pond. Saw lots of Rio Grande Leopard Frogs (Rana berlandieri) and found an old shed skin from a Texas Indigo Snake (Drymarchon corais errebennus).

shed skin fragments of Texas Indigo snake

The habitat here is very rough scrub, typical of the (overgrazed) South Texas Brush Country,

South Texas Scrub

but right around the pond there is more surface cover with many flowering plants

habitat around the pond

This change in microhabitat occurs within a few meters distance from the pond itself.

Feeding around the pond we saw several Great Kiskadees and Vermillion Flycatchers, more south Texas specialty birds.

Since it was midday, we decided to stop and make sandwiches and eat there. After lunch we walked around the south pond. We saw lots more Rio Grande Leopard Frogs, found the shell of a Yellow Mud Turtle (Kinosternon flavescens), and saw Scaled Quail, Great Kiskadees, Eastern Phoebes, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. The water level in the pond was very high. During hot summers, these ponds dry up completely.

We moved on at 1340. Now it was 70 and the sun had broken through the clouds.

1345 - 1400 - We stopped at a trash site that I had not stopped at before. There was quite a bit of tin scattered around in this sandy grassy area. There were several angry looking bee hives in the old house here, and having been attacked by killer bees a few years before in South Texas, I chose to avoid the old house! We walked around turning a few things here and there with no luck until I walked over and turned a piece of tin laying in some sandy grass (the rear piece in the photo).

Tin where I found the Mexican Milksnake

Normally in south Texas, tin is only moderately productive because it is usually too hot. You can find lizards and sometimes active snakes like Coachwhips and Schott's Whipsnakes, but otherwise it is not the best snake flipping material for much of the year. Therefore, when I flipped it I was shocked to see an adult female Mexican Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum annulata) under it!

Mexican Milksnake (L.t.annulata)

Spurred on by my lucky find, Tim proceeded to turn the piece of tin right next to mine (in the foreground of the above photo) and found a 4 foot adult Southwestern Ratsnake (Pantherophis guttata meahllmorum) under it! It was quite a stout bodied adult, and I thought it would make a good "snake under tin" photo, so I got out the digital camera and asked Tim to put the tin back down for a second. It took about 15 seconds to get the camera ready and focused and then Tim flipped it again and......nothing!

There was a snake here......really!

This four foot heavy bodied snake had somehow slipped away. We checked nearby tin but couldn't find it! Under the next piece of tin I found the shed skin of a milksnake. It appeared to have come from the female I had found as it had obviously just shed in the last few days.

Around 1500 we stopped at another trash sight in Zapata county where we found Great Plains Narrow-mouthed Toad (Gastrophryne olivacea), a Texas Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus) and several Tarantulas

Around 1530, we pulled over near a pile of old fenceposts.

woodpile that contained Blue Spiny Lizards

Tim was hoping to find a Blue Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus cyanogenys) to photograph and I suggested this spot since I had found them in similar habitat in that area. He walked over to the woodpile then announced that he saw one and asked if I could help him get it. As I walked over, he told me he saw 2 more. We slowly dismantled the woodpile and saw at least 16 Blue Spiny Lizards ranging from yearlings to huge adult males. We also found a few Mediterranean Geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus) and a couple of Woodrats (Neotoma sp.). We, of course, completely rebuilt the woodpile.
Here is one of the Blue Spinys. It is dark because it was pretty cool this afternoon. Later in the trip when it was warmer, we found more and they were much lighter.

cold blue spiny lizard

1700 - arrived at Falcon Dam State Park. Camping here was only $8 per night for some reason (we didn't ask why it was cheaper that last nights state park?). We set up our tents and then headed back out to roadhunt.

1800-1845 - we wanted to drive down to walk along the brushy area below Falcon Dam. The road is closed at 1800, but the security guard told us to go ask the guys at Customs if we could drive around through their area and they said yes (we said we were birders). We walked down the trail along the river but saw nothing. The grass was really long here and it was impossible to see the rocks and woodpiles we had herped here before. I also found 2 ticks on my legs as we got back to the car! The only other thing we saw here was a Great Horned Owl on one of the lightposts as we pulled out to go roadhunting.

Roadhunting was fairly slow, but we did find
1915 - DOR Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) 69
1940 - AOR Checkered Gartersnake (Thamnophis marcianus) - 69, female
1945 - another DOR T. marcianus just a few yards from the live one.

Checkered Garter Snake - female

2130 - Got back to camp as it was too cool to hunt any longer. Had a shower and wrote notes while I had a beer overlooking Falcon reservoir. There were only a few people camped in the campground and they were all a long way from us. It was so much more peaceful than last night, with only some distant mechanical sounds, the crickets, some Paraques, and an Great Horned Owl to disturb the silence. There is nothing quite as pleasant to me as sitting outside after an evening shower to wash off the day's dust, drinking a beer an just listening to the night. In my field log, I wrote -

"I sit here having a beer at the picnic table overlooking the lake and the small Mexican hamlet on the opposite shore. Over my left shoulder, the sounds of a drilling platform about of a mile to the north. Ahead, a chorus of crickets, singing desperately against the man-made ruckus to find a mate. They are only disturbed by the periodic pkre-oooo of the Paraques in the scrub over my left shoulder and the faint whoo-hoos of the Great Horned Owl that we scared off of his calling post by the shower block. A periodic breeze sings across the mouth of my beer bottle. Some people bring radios when they come to a place like this. I can't imagine why."

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Chris Harrison