A Night in the Anza Borrego

29 May

Back to Basics

I have spent the time after returning from Las Vegas planning one of my own field herping adventures. I visited the Las Vegas Reptile Expo as you may know to cover it for this site. While my son Austin and I were inLas Vegas we had the opportunity to go out and do some field herping with a local and three other guests of the expo. To say it would turn out to be a night to remember is an understatement. For those close to me, they might find it unusual that I would attempt to go into the field in any capacity with more than two people. This is because it’s always been a long standing rule with me that I don’t go herping with more than two people at one time. Most times when herping with ‘large’ groups there are generally issues with who gets the capture not to mention the varying personalities have a tendency to clash. To avoid these potential encounters ‘gone south’ I would normally refuse to attend any field herping adventure that would include more than 3 people. Not just that, but I am a card carrying misanthrope as well.

I must admit, I was wrong about this particular group as we had a lot of fun while in the Nevadadesert searching for various reptiles including the ever elusive Savannahmonitor Varanus exanthematicus which is said by some (Dustin of Broncer’s Herpetological) to haunt the back country of the Nevada deserts. To understand this you’ll have to read Vegas Baby…Vegas!. Trust me when I say Dustin knows that Savannah monitors Varanus exanthematicus do not live in theNevada desert. It was a practical joke during our field herping journey that will live on in memories for quite some time.

So it begins…

Looking down at the digital clock, I see that I have about 45 minutes left of cubicle prostitution at the day job. Then a red light pops up on the Blackberry Curve. Internally, I am crushed with the thought of another night at home staring at the climbing statistics of the various blogs I write for. I speak a few expletives under my breath (still at the day job.) then pick up the phone. It’s a weather alert, stating high winds are to take place this evening starting at 5pm.

“Fuck!” I scream in my mind. Windy conditions do not fair well for finding the scaly creatures that I’m searching for, especially in the wide open desertof Anza Borrego State Park. I begin immediately devising plans of how to wrestle the single vehicle that my wife owns away from her to engage in yet another adventure which ‘won’t pay the bills’.  Suddenly, like a light shining from heaven it hits me. What is every child’s answer to any problem that they cannot solve? Mom; she could allow my wife to borrow her car to go to work and I could use our car to chase reptiles. That is how the night began for me.

The night would not be complete without a perpetual comedy of errors as was my luck. After spending over one hundred dollars in corrective monies we finally got on our way to the desert. We were immediately disappointed; the few reptiles that we saw in the beginning were DOR (Dead on Road.) It turned out a large proportion of people more concerned with driving off road vehicles than the local herpetofauna and often driving in excess of one hundred mph in order to reach their chosen destination crushed anything in their way without care. It was after all Memorial Day weekend when we are to honor the fallen who fought for our freedom to do such things as drive through the deserts searching for reptiles.

Within our first hour we saw approximately 4 DOR species in various numbers. We were quickly becoming convinced all that we would see would be the inevitable DOR snake or lizard. We paused shortly after entering the area known as Scissors crossing at some rock outcroppings hoping to find the desert rosy boa Lichanura trivirgata gracia while we didn’t find those, we did come across one of their prey items; the desert kangaroo rat Dipodomys deserti we couldn’t photograph the little rodent peering up at me through a crack in the decomposing granite boulder where it was hiding because our photographer left the camera in the car! I assure you it was an oh isn’t that cute moment, all I could see were two large somewhat bulging black eyes peering up at me begging me not to eat the body they were attached to.

Later in the evening we did eventually find some reptiles that were still alive and hadn’t been subjected to the ever present speeding drivers. One of the first of these was the interesting species known as the patch nosed snake Salvadora hexalapis which at first I mistook for one of my favorite desert species the desert glossy snake Arizona elegans eburnata. Driving through the desert looking for reptiles is not as easy as it may seem especially when the instinctual behavior of most reptiles is to freeze when a ‘predator’ is coming within range. We found all told about 6 various genera of reptiles throughout the night. One of which was an OMG moment for me personally as it was the first time my son Austin had actually ‘handled’ a wild venomous reptile.

We found a Colorado desert sidewinder Crotalus cerastes laterorepens which was on the side of the road and may have been injured in some way as its rattle was somewhat compressed when we came across it and it never sounded off as would be the typical behavior I would expect from this species. It also may have not had enough time to warm itself on the road by the time we had come upon it, regardless it was a prime specimen for handling purposes. Knowing the risks involved Austin decided he was indeed ready to handle his first rattlesnake. While I watched he did just that with all the professionalism of an expert snake handler.

Later on we finally encountered a live desert patch nosed snake Salvadora hexalapis, a few desert shovel nose Chionactis occipitalis annulata, and when we’re leaving the last snake we saw was the one I wanted to see. We captured and released a full grown adult glossy snake Arizona elegans eburnata as is the case with the entire evening and its errors the battery in camera died completely. So I have no pictures of the live glossy snake A. elegans.

Now before that happened I actually got to witness two things which I had known about but never seen in the wild or in a captive environment. The first being the desert banded gecko Coleonyx variegatus running across the desert floor raising its tail to look like a desert hairy scorpion Hadrurus arizonensis. The other was a hunting glossy snake A. e. eburnata raising its head to search the surrounding area. I don’t know if other field herpers get that strange feeling in the gut when observing natural behavior but man what a great sight to see!

I would suggest that you all get out and about to search for your favorite reptiles and please observe the local regulations about collecting wild species. We as herpetoculturists rarely if at all need to infuse the current bloodlines with wild specimens. Observe them in their natural habitat and leave them in the wild for those who would also enjoy seeing them. Why are you still reading this get out there and do some field herping!

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