Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Howdy Herpers,

A keen-eyed herper putting a whipping on a “Where’s Waldo” book can easily be compared to an Evelyn Wood speed reading demonstration. The pages ripple fast enough to create a breeze. The finger crosses the page with the same speed of motion as one might utilize in striking a match. To some of these people, “Where’s Waldo” becomes “There’s Waldo” quicker than a wood rat on a hot date. The dude stands out like goat turds in a milking pail.

I’d like to thank those of you who participated in our little game. Steve’s photo has inspired me to take more images of that sort of thing. We’ll play it again someday soon, only with more than one image. Hopefully, it will take more than two seconds to get a winner.

As none of you may remember, we left the Big Windy Six in a windstorm, with near-freezing nighttime temps. Against all odds, the group had managed to scarp up a western lyresnake, a black-necked gartersnake, and an Arizona black rattlesnake­not to mention scads of tree lizards. We also scrounged up a few canyon treefrogs, over 20 whiptails, a half dozen Clark’s spiny lizards, and 7 greater earless lizards­none of which received mention in the narrative. My bad!

Also my bad (and yours­as none of you seemed to catch it), the lyresnake in the image that was sent was quite dead. Steve found it writhing in the final throes of death in a boulder escarpment beside the road into the canyon. There had been some heavy quad traffic on the road that day, and one of them must have clipped it. As few things are more a cooperative model than a dead snake, we made good use of it.

Upon our arrival back at the guest house, there ensued yet another extravagant meal, followed by mass consumption of the liquid bread that Mike and I had chased to Safford to obtain. A roaring fire was set, and we surrounded it. As the flames winked out, so did we.

I awoke the next morning to a porch bustling with activity. Dave and Steve were frantically slipping on shoes and gathering camera equipment. Gery was viewed running off into the distance. He was dressed only in his skivvies and a pair of slippers. Being naturally curious about the event, I questioned what activity he might be engaged in. The response was that he had seen a bear approaching our porch just moments ago. Thusly informed, I could only assume­what with his vet skills and all, that he was going to give that beer-thief of a bear a beerectomy! Mr. Bear, mess with us once­shame on us. Mess with us twice­shame on you! It was a good thing for that bear that he could run faster than a half-naked veterinarian in slippers, or his shaggy carcass would have become a floor ornament. Pity any fool bear that runs afoul of Gery!

While half the camp made ready to photograph Gery in action, the guide made it a point to check the contents of the coolers. Once again, his heart fell right through his sphincter. Doggone if that bear, or his brother or sister, hadn’t got to us again! Despite the fact that each member of the party admitted to only having “one or two beers,” there were only ten left out of the sixty purchased the night before. Today would indeed be remembered as the day of everybody drinking “one or two beers.”

The three disgruntled bear hunters returned empty handed. The Big Windy Six dined on Barker’s leftover Texas Chili and steak fries. The breakfast of champions! Following the gut-cleansing feast, the battle plan for the day was discussed. First off, the morning air temp had been 13 C (55 F)­9 degrees warmer than the previous morning. This was encouraging. With but minimal dissention in the ranks, (thankfully, there was no mention of pyros), it was decided to make a bull run at the place that Steve had found his cerberus the day before.  

As we had to leave the guest house by 1100, it was determined that this would be the proper time to head out for our last big adventure. There was a frenzy of cleaning and packing everything in the trucks. Many hands made light work of that process, and in no time flat, everybody drifted off to bird watch and bear hunt. At 0900, the alert guide checked his thermometer­22 C (F = 1.8 x tempC +32­figure it out yourselves!) and climbing. Holy frijoles! Experience has taught me that 27 C is the prime temp for finding our quarry. We were going to get to that point in a hurry. There next ensued the necessary ear-splitting bellowing required to gather the flock, who ponderously returned as if on the wings of a slug. All bitched lustily about the change of departure time, but understood the need. The next half hour was spent with no less than five of the six ready to go, with one member missing. As soon as the missing one came back, another left. Such is the chronic flandickery of any group larger than one manifested. We FINALLY had all six together, and then it was decided a group photo was in order. 23 C and counting………

Two eternities later, both vehicles headed out, with Little White leading the charge. Once again, when Little White puked out its contents, there was no Great White to be seen. 24 C and counting! It became obvious that Gery and Mike had never witnessed a conniption, for they grew wide-eyed as the guide launched into a tirade about the contents of Great White. There was mention of old lady drivers. The missing trio was cussed, discussed, and re-cussed all over again. As the minutes dragged on, the cussing was lashed upon all of their ancestors­all the way back to Adam and Eve. When history was exhausted, their future generations were cussed­all the way forward to the battle of Armageddon. If there was any prophecy to the verbal drubbing, the fruits of their loins will be spear-fodder on the front lines of the future battle. All while suffering from small pox, leprosy, diphtheria, diaper rash, and the heartbreak of psoriasis in the process.

Eventually, it was decided that we had to back-track to see where in the wild blue yonder these guys might be. We met them at stream crossing # 112. When the guide inquired whether we needed to paint a line around them to see if they were moving, they grew edgy. They seemed to feel that the excuse for their lethargic progress was valid. In particular, Dave grew snippy about the old lady driver comments hurled in his direction.

The short story is that these guys carry dog-like instincts in their genes. Said bad genetics force them to chase any wild animal larger than a shoebox. The back-to-back bear chasing incidents might serve to demonstrate this phenomenon. The reason for the hold up, in this case, was that a mangy, skuzzy old coati mundi had crossed the road in front of them. They were powerless to do anything but lock up the brakes and give chase. They ran over hill and Dale to get a photo of the beast. Whoever Dale was, he was doubtlessly displeased about being trampled by them. Perhaps that will teach him to stay out of the way of geeks on a chasing rampage.

The group was curtly reminded that this was a snake hunting adventure, and it was time to either defecate or get off the toilet. This time, Great White led the charge to the parking spot, while under the watchful eye of those in Little White. There were no further incidents involving furry vermin for the remainder of the trip.

Once both vehicles were parked side-by-side, one member of our party insisted that his snake hook was in the back of Little White. The careful packing job in the bed of the truck was hastily ripped from its moorings, and scattered across the countryside. Nope, his snake hook wasn’t there. Great White then received the same attention, and the hook was produced.    
25 C and counting……….

The surly guide sent them off, happy to be rid of the lot of them. Once the trucks were repacked, and his journal updated, off he went for a most adventurous urination. He chose a hefty catclaw tree to perform the deed. While in mid-stream, so to speak, a gorgeous adult alligator lizard rounded the trunk of the tree, and gave pause long enough for a deft left-handed swipe from the urinator.  While the grab was successful, more attention should have been devoted to everything else that was happening. Fortunately, the guide’s camouflaged shorts hide such mishaps effectively, and clothing dries quickly in the arid climes of Arizona. As the lizard was captured within spitting distance of the trucks, it was bagged and left in the shade for the others to admire, fondle and photograph upon our return. 

In no time flat, the guide passed the group’s tail gunner, Ralph. Once back on track, the guide began systematically weaving a herpetological tapestry around the near-vertical walls of the canyon. Once he was at the highest point of his ascent, the hollering started.

“Blah-blah, blah-blah!” Hollered one voice. “Blah-blah, blah-blah” hollered another. “ALL RIGHT! BLAH-BLAH” chimed a third. “DO YOU GUYS HAVE SOMETHING?” Hollered the guide. And then, the canyon reverberated with a confusing cacophony of thunderous “Blah-blahs” emanating from the gullets of multiple windpipes. The bellowing all merged into a melee of thundering echoes. Birds fell from the sky, blood flowing from their punctured eardrums. Stampedes of terrified elephants in far away India trampled hapless villagers not quick-witted enough to get out of their way. Way off in the Dark Continent, Tarzan heard our cries, and sounded his yodeling alarm. Apes of all manner surged to the rescue. Crocodiles and hippopotamuses plunged into rivers and water holes. Zebras, wildebeest, hyenas and antelope got all sorts of confused, frantically collided with each other, and suffered severe concussions. Every volcano on the Pacific Rim fired off a volley of smoke rings, an earthquake dropped California into the ocean, and the subsequent Tsunami engulfed Hawaii and Japan. 

Yep! One of the Big Windy Six had just scored The Black Velvet, and any perturbations caused by the reaction to this event were but minor trivialities.

The time is probably long past due where we let the images tell the rest of the story. Captions are above each photo. I'm trembling as I hit send, as this is the first time I've tried doing things right!

Pic 01 (Barten): Canyon Treefrog. My notes indicate that we saw five of these, but there were probably more than that. Always a delight to see, I hardly ever see them any more. This could be due to the fact that I don’t hang out around riparian areas much, but I hear from those who do that, like everything else, their numbers are down.


Pic 02 (Barten): Tree Lizard. The official count for these prolific lizards was 297. But as only three people were actually counting them, there were likely as many as 500 crossing our path.


Pic 03 (Barten): The coati that bogged down the early goings of this day.


Pic 04 (Barten): Ain't it cute? Can we herp now?


Pic 05 (Barten): My only contribution to this glorious turkey shoot of a day. One member of our party suggested that the infusion of red on the flanks of this alligator lizard indicates that it is gravid--much like leopard or collared lizard females show red when gravid. I would LOVE to hear any opinions on this, as I know next to nothing about them.

Pic 06 (Repp): The first Black Velvet of the day, found by Steve. I'm venturing a guest that this is a female, possibly pregnant. If either diagnosis is incorrect, I'd be happy to hear from the pros. I'm an atrox guy--give me a break! 27 degrees C, by the way.


Pic 07 (Repp): This would be Waldo. A neonate Arizona black rattlesnake. Note the food bolus--likely a tree lizard. Another Steve find--one of the better jobs of spotting a cryptic snake that I've seen. We left this snake completely undisturbed, I'm clueless as to the sex.


Pic 08 (Barten): Up close with Waldo. 27 degrees C


Pic 09 (Barten): Gery's turn to score! Once again, I'm only guessing at sex, but calling this one a male. 28 C


Pic 10 (Barten): Steve's turn again. I blew right by this one. Thank good news that SOMEBODY was alert. I gave this one a poke to see the rattles, and..........

Pic 11 (Barten): Basal plus 1 plus button. Uncertain of the sex of this animal, guessing it is coming around to its third birthday. 28 C


Pic 12 (Barten): The fifth and final cerberus of the day, found by Gery. Sex unknown, left undistrubed. 28 C


Pic 13 (Barten): The last find of the day came from the eyes of Ralph. Another alligator lizard. Almost as cool as a coati!


Pic 14 (Repp): A happy Steve Barten with Waldo. The joy on Steve's face is genuine. This is a great image to close with. For herpers, there are few things that can compare to a great day in the field, with great friends in a great place. What made it extra special was the fact that we thought we had been burned by the weather. This last day came through for us in a big way, and made it all worth the while. I look forward to the next one guys!


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