A Gopher on the Golf Course

There are lots of gophers on the golf courses in northern Nevada, and I’m not talking about the little brown furry rodents that Carl Spackler went to war with in the movie Caddyshack.  Nope, the gophers I’m talking about are long and scaly.  I’m talking Gopher Snakes!

Whenever I visit my Dad at his home in Sparks NV, I  spend time in the surrounding desert searching for snakes and lizards.  The Great Basin desert is a harsh area characterized by very little rain fall, cold winters and hot summers, and it is mostly rocky and covered in sage brush.  Although many people associate deserts with snakes, I usually don’t find very many snakes or lizards besides western fence lizards.  In fact, I am able to find more reptiles in northern Virginia than in northern Nevada.

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So, I was talking with my Dad and some of his golfing buddies and they started telling me about the snakes they see on the golf course.  They described seeing many gopher snakes sunning on the greens and in the rough.  My Dad offered to take me snake hunting on the golf course he is a member of — I was excited!

The weather in Sparks can be unpredictable — to say the least.  In June, it can be 90 one day and then snow the next day!  The day we set off on our golf course snake safari it was about 80 — but the wind was blowing down from the snowy Sierras at about 30 miles per hour.  I wasn’t sure if the snakes would be out in wind like that.

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Snow on Mt Rose, NV in June

 

Dad received permission from the course manager to take me on a “tour” of the course.  We got on our golf cart and began our adventure!

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The views are spectacular in Nevada — you can see forever.  It was so nice just to be out enjoying our day.  Dad was careful to not to get in any of the golfers’ way and he knew right where the snakes were most likely to be.

Dad was also careful not to hit any fence lizards that were on the cart path.  (Fore! little lizards)

Then we totally lucked out!  Not only did we find a beautiful gopher snake, we found him eating a vole!  (Voles are little furry mammals that Carl Spackler would not approve of.)

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What an awesome day.  And the best part was how appreciative Dad and his friends were of the snakes.  They respected and protected the snakes  from other less herpetologically informed golfers.  Thank you guys!

A Quick Trip to Calvert Cliffs

Aaaaah… Spring!  It was 80 degrees with a stiff breeze when my brother Hawksbill Will and his friend Yuko (who were both visiting from Hawaii) and I headed out for a day trip to Calvert Cliffs State Park.

starting-the-hike-225x300Calvert Cliffs State Park is located in Calvert County, MD along the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay.  The park features 13 miles of hiking trails, salt and freshwater marshes, a sandy beach, and fossils from ancient marine creatures.

The park also features an abundance of lizards, snakes, turtles, frogs, and salamanders — my kind of place!

It was the first really warm day in almost 2 weeks.  We encountered our first herps in the pond near the parking lot.  Loads of red-bellied slider turtles and eastern painted turtles were basking on logs in the warm sun.  As we hiked further along the trail, we came upon a large freshwater marsh that was filled with even more turtles.  It was like turtle nirvana!

how-many-turtles-300x225In the same marsh, we also saw a few of Maryland’s largest frog species, the American Bullfrog.

bullfrog-263x300We also found a few red-backed salamanders and saw five lined skinks and one fence lizard.

cv-and-bay-300x225Once we reached the Bay, we spent some time eating lunch and looking for fossils and sea shells.  The air was very warm, but the water was icy cold.  That did not stop my adventurous brother, though, he dove right in and went for a swim!!!  Burrrr!

 

A Toadally Awesome Night

Posting by CobraCaroline

Bats, toads and salamanders — oh my!  And don’t forget worms!

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Naturalist Ethan Demontrates Worm Handling Technique

A small group of Reptiles Alive staff and friends, along with budding herpetologist Ethan, set off on an adventure of amphibian proportions last weekend.

Tuatara Tony, who is also a naturalist with Fairfax County,  arranged for us to have access to a western Fairfax, VA park after dark, so we headed out into the woods around 6 pm.  It was a bit cool with temperatures in the mid 50′s.  The largest full moon in years was also set to rise, so we a were unsure of how successful our herp search would be.

As we headed into the darkening woods, young Ethan was delighted and excited with each and every earthworm we discovered.  Ants and small spiders also caught his attention and he was sure to point out to each of us any small invertebrate we failed to mention as we carefully lifted logs and rocks.

We found a few small red-backed salamanders under the logs, but no spotted salamanders which we were hoping for.

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Red-backed Salamander – unstriped or “lead-back” color phase

We found a small vernal pool near the edge of the woods and Ethan saw his first mating pair of toads.

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American Toads

As we headed back into the woods, we followed a small stream that was filled with spotted salamander eggs.  It seemed we were too late to see any of the adults, but just then, Joe called out “Hey guys, I think I’ve found one!”  We rushed over and sure enough it was a big beautiful spottie!

The sun had now set and the woods were getting darker.  We saw a few bats fly over head, along with the low flying jets landing at Dulles airport. Between the roars of jet-engines, another more melodious sound could be heard.  We started towards the trilling calls.  They seemed to be coming from a large vernal pool in the middle of a gas line cut in the woods.

As we drew near the pool, the music of toads became louder and louder.  I could not believe my eyes or ears!  I saw and heard more toads than I have ever seen any where!  The water was alive with toads.  Swimming toads.  Hopping toads.  Toads climbing on each other.

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Mating Ball o’ Toads

It was truly toadally amazing night.

Delmarva Reptile Fest a Spectacular Success

Posting by CobraCaroline

I awoke early on Saturday morning to start loading live reptiles for the 3 hour drive to Pocomoke City MD.  Snakes, lizards, a tortoise and an alligator all got comfy in their car seats and relaxed while I drove the reptile van across the Bay and through the heart of the Eastern Shore.

Arriving in Pocomoke City, I noted the sign welcoming Reptiles Alive into town.  How awesome!  I LOVE this little “city!”

I parked at the back of the Delmarva Discovery Center (DDC) and went in to find my friend Jennifer Rafter, the DDC’s Curator.  We had an early quick lunch of soft-shell crab sandwiches that I had picked up at a local seafood market and then got to work setting up for the shows.

There were already lots of visitors at the DDC, and they were having a great time enjoying the exhibits featuring the Delmarva’s natural and cultural history and the special attractions that had come for Reptile Fest.

Local artist Jenny Somers painted and displayed her amphibian and reptile artwork that included beautiful wine glasses with red-eyed tree frogs and snakes painted on them and awesome herp paintings.

Heather Cunningham along with Maria and Will Beckey staffed a display featuring the Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas.  The Atlas’s mission is to determine the distribution of amphibians and reptiles in Maryland.

Lots of volunteers and DDC staff including Brooks Olney, Katy Fleming, and Victoria Overholt were on hand to help out with the special temporary display the DDC had set up featuring live snakes and turtles found in Delmarva.  Visitors even had the opportunity to safely pet a live corn snake at this exhibit!

Shannon Chandler and managed the craft area with supplies and volunteers to help children create frogs of their own!  This was a VERY popular activity and the frogs they created were so cute.

Jennifer and DDC intern Raymond Zeintak assisted me with setting up the performance space for the live animal shows.

At 1 pm, I started the first show.  The performance was packed with eager children and adults who were excited to see what exotic creatures had come to visit.

Soy the Honduran milk snake was the first reptile of the show and he caused a stir of “oohs” and “aahs.”  At 5 feet long, his shiny orange and red scales are really eye-catching.  The audience listened intently as I explained how people and snakes are the same on the inside.  They also learned that snakes are afraid of people and that the best thing to do if you see a snake is to “Just leave snakes alone.”

Next, we met an animal from Down Under:  Teliqua the blue tongue skink lizard from Australia amazed the audience with his super cool blue tongue.  Children and parents alike jumped with surprise when they heard the end of my story about the time a blue tongue skink met a dingo dog.

Super tough girl Janis the leopard tortoise from Africa came out next.  As always, everyone LOVED her!  She is so big and pretty with her black spots.  Everyone learned what a turtle shell is made of and what happens when a tortoise meets a lion.

What is the biggest lizard in the world?  The Komodo Dragon – which is actually a type of monitor lizard.  And we met a member of the dragon family when Logan the Nile monitor lizard was introduced.  Gasps of awe could be heard as everyone saw him – he is impressive!  He is over 5 long with beautiful yellow spots and a huge long forked tongue.  And the story about the mommy crocodile, the Nile monitor lizard and the pizza is always a favorite with audiences of all ages.

The grand finale featured Moonlight the albino Burmese python.  Moonlight is still growing, but she is already a crowd-wower at 8 feet long.  Her yellow and white colors and easy going attitude seem to make her favorite , even with people who are a bit afraid of snakes.

After a wrap up with Moonlight, I concluded the first show by inviting any audience members with reptile questions to come up to the table and I would be happy to talk with them.

I repeated this process two more times that day.  All three shows were completely filled up with people.  In fact, there were over 200 people at the Delmarva Reptile Fest that day!

After the event was over and the DDC closed to the public, Jen and I discussed how successful the day was.  We decided to start planning for next year!  So get ready for the 3rd Annual Delmarva Reptile Fest at the Delmarva Discovery Center in the winter of 2012.

Sssssee you later alligators!

I would also like to give a BIG thank you to DDC Executive Director Brian Garrett, all of the members of the DDC board and the residents of Pocomoke City for being so kind and welcoming to both myself and the reptiles.  Thank you all!