Saturday, August 27, 2011

Suizo Report -- The "Other" BOR Gathering

Well, Herpers, 22 August 2011

The Biology of Rattlesnakes Conference (BOR) is now a month past. My reasons for not attending were many, and complicated. But the reason that sealed the deal of my non participation was the complete lack of vacation time in my hopper. No time off, no conference, end of story.

But I did use the weekends before and after the conference to entertain visiting dignitaries, as well as solid local friends. Unfortunately (for them), most incoming geeks did not plan on using the weekend before the event as herping time. Most arrived for the Wednesday icebreaker. Hence, they paid the severe penalty of going Rogerless for round one of the action. Let what follows be a lesson to the lot of them.

Image 1, below: Saturday, 16 July. Bernd Skubowins (left) rolls into town and joins Young Cage (right) and I for a trip to black velvet land. Bernd was visiting from Germany, and is a big fan of the pinesnake/gophersnake clade. He came to Arizona last year in September, and had zero luck seeing his first wild gophersnake. While gophersnakes are not difficult to encounter in this region, they become next to impossible to find when one is looking for them.
Image 2: All totaled, we found thee Arizona Black Rattlesnakes the morning of 16 July. The first one was the best. It was a big, beautiful orange and black male viewed basking coiled in the shade of a mighty oak tree, next to a deep-running soil hole that entered the tree at the base of some exposed roots. I know that the hole was deep, because before we could react, the snake promptly plunged into it, and we could hear the rattle singing merrily as it blazed to all the way to China.

Bernd found the next one coiled next to a downed log, with yet another deep running hole directly behind it. We were considerably more wary with this one. Young yanked it with his snake tongs for some staged photos. The snake was released at his place of capture when we were done. He was still sitting in the capture spot an hour later when we checked on him. A week later, a shed skin was observed in the deep hole where the snake had been poised. (Image by Bernd).

Image 3: Bernd also found the last cerberus of the day. At this point in the day, it was 37 C (98.6 F)­and we still had a long, hot hike back to the vehicle.
The ride into and out of the area has a high probability for a gophersnake encounter. Needless to say, we didn’t see any!

That evening, we joined Young again for a cruise of his sanctuary in the Tortolita Mountains, just north of Tucson. While Young was disappointed with the results, it was hard for me to bitch about the lyresnake pictured below: 

 And there is always great rejoicing when a Gila Monster crosses my path: 

As I had to get up early the next morning for a plot visit, Young dropped me off at my truck, and Bernd and he went on to find a saddled leaf-nosed snake. As I have not seen one of these in two years, I did feel some remorse over missing it. But poor Young was close to throwing himself on a sword. He has been spoiled by some of the best road cruising that Tucson has to offer. He felt that the evening was a bust.

C’mon out with me sometime Young. I’ll show you a bust!

The next night (17 July), Bernd and I took a drive out into the flats northwest of the Tortolita Mountains. Just as darkness was descending, we caught a glimpse of a snake sprawled on the shoulder of a paved road. We stopped, ran it down, and what do you think it was? We finally popped a gophersnake for Bernd (Image by Bernd):

In addition to the gophersnake, we scored seven sidewinders. This evening assured that I would beat my miserable total of 11 sidewinders last year. This excellent image of one of the seven was done by Bernd: 


We scored a war-wounded lyresnake close to my house at the end of the evening, which rolled over and died during our attempts to photograph it. No sense in showing an image of a writhing, dying lyresnake. After this evening, Bernd disappeared in a blaze of herping anywhere and everywhere with everybody but me. Thus endeth Bernd for the remainder of the week under discussion.

My next outing was the evening of 21 July. Jeff Smith and I met Mike Dloogatch and Linda Malawy, both of Chicago Herpetological Society fame, in the lobby of the hotel where the conference was held. Mike, Linda and Jeff were not quite in a state of readiness when I arrived. This allowed me 45 minutes time to be assailed by a crazed mob of rattlesnake aficionados, several of whom wanted to know where all the sweet spots around Tucson are. Yeah, sure, let me reveal all the honey holes to you guys, and then I can just go find new places. By the time we left the place, I was having a gushing man period. No small amount of time was spent reminding my companions of the finer nuances of the big hands and little hands on watches. The grousing continued for quite a duration, until Linda lightened things up a bit by saying how much she appreciated the efforts of the Border Patrol to keep our area safe. It must have been the fifty or so Border Patrol vehicles zooming all around us that inspired this comment. She even went on to say that she intended to send them a thank you note for all they do.

A thank you note? To the Border Patrol? Goodness gracious! Yeah­I’d like to send them a little note as well. But my note would surely insert a different accolade in front of the word “you.”

Thank you notes? To the Border Patrol? Jeez……….

The road we selected this night was, at one point, my own private sanctuary. But on this night, we shared it with two other vehicles jammed with people who were attending the conference. Yup, good idea! Let’s bring 200 plus herpers into our area, so that they can muck it up for those of us who pay our dues all year long. There was no hot surge of joy when these other herpers told us stories of lyresnake, tiger rattlesnake, and Gila Monster encounters. We had to make do with two black-tailed rattlesnakes, of which the one pictured below was the best: 

Mr. Dloogatch, Ms. Malawy, c’mon back sometime when the numbers of herpers are less-than-legion. We’ll have a quieter, more productive time, I’m sure.

On 23 July, the last day of the conference, we were able to coerce some of our visitors to ditch the geek gathering, and come out to play with us. Thus it came to pass that the following people, moving left to right in the image below, got together for some herping: Tying Boy, Ryan Sawby, Hans-Werner Herrmann, Harry Sweet, visiting Swedes Mats and Karl Hoggren, Gordon Schuett, and visiting Texan, Bill Montgomery. 

Our mission was to score an Arizona black rattlesnake, so we headed right back to the same canyon that Bernd, Young and I had visited the previous week. The first find of the day was the large adult black-necked gartersnake viewed in the image below. I was so thrilled with Ryan’s find that I didn’t even double back to look at it. But I am grateful that Bill took the time to photograph it for us: 

Following that adventure in mediocrity, it was “Typing Boys” turn to score. I spotted a large adult male black rattlesnake coiled among leaf litter, next to a hole that led under a downed sycamore tree. While trying to get an image of the snake peacefully coiled in situ, it suddenly spooked, rattled, and bolted toward the hole. The lesson of the quick escape of the big cerb the week previous was not lost on me This time, I was on it like scum on a pond, snagged it with my Whitneys, and hauled it out into a clearing. I next deliberately placed myself between it and the hole it was seeking. And WHOA BABY!! I’ve seen many snakes go ballistic when cornered, but this was the most aggressive snake that I’ve ever faced. It was launching lightening fast knee-high strikes at me as it came on. At first, all it was trying to do was get around me­or through me, in order to get to shelter. After several minutes of this, all it wanted was a piece of me. While I was thwarting lunge-after-lunge with my snake tongs, my gullet was alternating between bellowing “CERBERUS!” and making little mewing sounds of absolute terror. The intensity of the fight in this snake was a dreadful thing to behold. Finally, Harry showed up to assist, and the two of us finally got it calmed down enough to get some images. One by one, the herpers began trickling in to the scene. The stock in batteries and memory cards must have risen sharply, and the shaded arena that the snake made its stand was well lit by the strobe-light effects of flash photography ensuing from all angles. Of all the shots to pass before my eyes of this very cool viper, the Bill Montgomery image that falls below ranks as my favorite: 
A gorgeous but very nasty snake!

Following this find, it was noticed that this cohort of herpers was cohesive, diligent, and dedicated. They wove a herpetological tapestry under a canopy of oaks, sycamores, and walnut trees, scouring escarpments under root systems, crawling over and around boulders, and fanning out in such a way that nobody violated another’s space. This group was definitely A-Team material, and I will herp with this group again any time that we can pull them together. Despite their well-exectued effort, a long period of finding nothing transpired.

Eventually, we reached a turn-around point. From the second it was ascertained that it was time to head back, the scent of beer was wafting in my nostrils. When it was noted that the habitat-infested stream that the A-Team was following was well-manned, it was determined that being the first one to the cooler was my main purpose in life. At the point where the stream makes a wide-sweeping bend, I made for a short cut that leads one over open ground, cutting 200 meters of rugged footwork out of the hike. As I blazed across the sparsely-vegetated, flat, featureless and highly over-grazed ground before me, the only thing on my mind was an ice-cold beer. Who would have thunk that somebody focused on such errant thought patterns would be the one to find the last cerberus of the morning?

But just as sure as $hit clings to a bedsheet, a sweet, sweet wayward female cerberus that had no business whatsoever crossing the open ground before me proceeded to do so. If anybody can find the easy ones­it’s me! It was the Roger Repp show today! I hang with such good herpers these days that it is never the Roger Repp show any more. And while I am always pleased to be the recipient of $hithouse luck, I would have much preferred that one of the visiting dignitaries--who were trying so hard, be the person to score. But that just wasn’t in the cards today.

And so, the hollering started, and once again, Harry was the first to join me. But this time, all we had to do was follow the retreating snake at a safe distance. She had nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. She eventually made her stand by coiling against the trunk of a scrubby mesquite tree. The gathering of geeks ensued, and much adieu over nothing transpired. As one who looks critically at every image I receive, without bias, I do believe that nobody else did this snake more proud than I. See image below: 

Whereas the first cerberus of the day was an absolute pistol, this one was pure sweetness and honey. We made several efforts to get her to display her rattle by gently trying to hook them out of the coils. As soon as we would get them out, she would pull them back in. As I was the main hook operator, Bill eventually felt inspired to inform me “She ain’t gonna show you her tail, Roger. This here is a decent lady.” Despite the chivalrous comment, Bill was quick enough on the trigger to deliver the best image of our lady showing us her stuff (and she is a bit modest­eh?):


We eventually made it back to the vehicles, and headed for a place that I call “Windy Knoll.” This place affords the shade of a majestic oak tree, which in turn is perched on top of a small, otherwise open hillside. The spot is aptly named, as its location puts it in the wind, so to speak, and also affords a stunning view of the vistas of the Rincon and Little Rincon Mountains. The puddle viewed in the image below was absolutely alive with the tadpoles of spadefoot toads: 

The last treat of the morning, as if we needed any other, was found on the road out: 

We took the rest of the day off, and reconvened at my house at 1800, choked down some pizza, and headed off for the Suizo Mountain Study Plot. Harry dropped out of the picture for this adventure, and Melissa Amarello and Jeff Smith joined us. All totaled, nine people hit the plot with all they had. But it was the Jeff and Melissa show all the way. Their first worthy find of the night was this DANDY lyresnake (image by Mats Hoggren): 


And, as mentioned in an earlier report, a new tiger rattlesnake for the plot (Mats Hoggren):

The road out led us to many more cool finds, such as this gorgeous little gophersnake:

Three of these (Bill Montgomery):
And finally, three of these (Mats Hoggren):


And now, it is all behind us. One full week of hard hitting herping and fun. I heard many wonderful things about the Biology of Rattlesnakes conference. I'm sorry to have missed it. But I know for sure that our own little Biology of Rattlesnakes gathering was also a great adventure in learning, friendship, and adventures. As always, we look forward to whatever comes next.

Best to all, roger

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