Sunday, April 29, 2012

Suzio Report, Off Plot Part 2

What ho, Herpers!                                                                                               04/27/12

Roughly a year ago, I sent out a report on a trip that John and Devon Slone and I made to some cerberus dens. In that report, I mentioned getting lost, and being rescued by a combination of a friendly guy on an ATV and the fortuitous arrival of a forest ranger with a cell phone.

These same cerberus dens are the ones that Melissa Amarello is studying for her masters degree on the social behaviors of Crotalus cerberus-- AKA Arizona Black Rattlesnakes. Now that I have driven myself there, I can still say with some degree of certainty that I still couldn't find the place on my best day. As one who prides himself on his sense of direction, I've got to say that there is something about this place that drives my inner compass haywire.

For this reason, I will dub her study site "Haywire Mountains" in this report. The Haywire Mountains are roughly 6,100' in elevation, and are mainly composed of heavily forested (and heavily de-forested) ponderosa pines. I call this forest the "Evellyn Woods."  Contained with the framework of these Evellyn Woods are miles of nothing but trees, pinecones and pine-needle mulch. But there are the occasional patches of boulders to be found amongst the forest floor. These boulders, as well as the forest floor, are a land of shadows and sun. In short, the perfect environment for a snake that is brown-to-black and yellow to dwell. And also, a place that makes photography extremely difficult.

And so, bap! On 21 April, at 1145, I meet Melissa at the designated spot. We pile our stuff into her truck, and drive a dizzying maze of gravel roads until we arrive at the parking spot. We get out, we hike ten minutes, and stand before a place called "Caprock." Here we see seven cerberus. To put that in perspective, in my favored cerberus spot, I once went for five years without seeing one. 10 minutes in, we've got seven. I immediately notice that the same female cerb encountered in April of last year was in the exact same sport this year. With her are two yearling cerbs, coiled in the exact same spot as the year before--about a meter to her left. It is no small wonder that Melissa is recognizing on sight who these snakes are, and what their relationships are to each other.

For the next two hours, it's cerb after cerb after cerb. With each one, Melissa knows them by name, and describes what they did the previous year. I would say that I don't how she does it--but I do know. She spends a lot of time with them. And she is armed with plant cameras strategically placed to photograph them at one minute intervals. I know that I'm looking at some of the most thoroughly-documented rattlesnake dens in the country, if not the world.

Just after the third image in this report is taken, we hear voices. It's Brendan O'Connor and Kenny Sharrocks.

These are two of the guys who came upon these dens with the first load of bricks. We compare notes, and eventually wind up back at the trucks to have lunch. Brendan mentions finding a Mountain Kingsnake at one of the dens. This had me all sorts of jacked up to go, and Melissa promised to take me if I was a good boy all day, and promised not to get lost again. Try as I might have to get lost, she was keeping an eye on me.

Brendan and Kenny eventually buzzed off to God knows where, and Melissa and I headed for more dens, and further adventures, as will be noted in the images.

That night, we headed for Melissa's luxurious guest house. She offered to make me a vegan supper, which I wasn't so sure about. But I took her up on that, and it was quite good--perhaps save for the chipolte hot-dogs. (I guess that I am not permitted to call them hot-dogs.

Melissa's brand do not consist of lips and a$$holes). Anyhow, may cloaca was still burning for three days after eating these. But now I'm going to live to be a hundred--such are the benefits of going vegan.

Along with the meal, we snagged a bottle of wine from Melissa's impressive stash. I'm glad that I had the chance to see said stash, for a few hours later Marty Feldner and John Slone showed up. By the time we crashed, there wasn't enough wine left to get a mouse drunk.

And then we were back into the fray the following morning. My companions wove a herpetological tapestry around the dens. In no time flat, we were all following the cerbs which seem to have chosen this day to egress from the dens. By 1400 that afternoon, I threw the wuss of the century, and went home. They went on to discover other great things.

It's long past time to go to the images:

Pic 1: Neonate cerb on the prowl. Note the GORGEOUS head pattern on this little lady! 

Pic 2: Typical adult female cerb
Pic 3: A pairing. I was actually about ten feet above this pair for this image. My little camera did better than usual with the telephoto lens.
Pic 4: "Buford," and adult male that was hanging out at the "ATR" den.
Pic 5: Adult male at a den I call "Charcoal Den," due to the fact that there has been a controlled burn in the area.

Pic 7: A pregnant female. Note the pretty rattles some of these snakes have! 8-)
Pics 8 and 9: An alligator lizard and a female cerb hanging out together. Another one for the commensal powerpoint for sure! Note the eye on the snake.

Pic 10: Because I was a good boy, and didn't get lost, Melissa took me to the mountain kingsnake spot. Sure enough, it was out foraging in the pine needles.
Pic 11: Roger loses all restraint, and snags it. It was promptly released after a few images.

That's all that's fit to spit. I look forward to getting back to the plot this weekend. At least I don't get lost there!

Best to all, roger

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