Herping Away the Pandemic: The 2021 Herping Season

Field herping, or the act of searching for reptiles and amphibians in the wild, has been one of my favorite outdoor activities every since my first survey with the Southwestern Herpetologist Society. Reptiles and amphibians are just such beautiful animals and the intimate knowledge of their life histories that is required to find many of them makes this process so much more rewarding than other forms of wildlife watching. In 2019, I decided to conduct a personal field project all on my own while working on my undergraduate degree at UC Santa Barbara in order to learn how to find wild reptiles and amphibians in Santa Barbara and what conditions were most suitable for different species. The 2019 and early 2020 seasons were very productive and taught me a lot about field herping and herp biology. Unfortunately, the middle of 2020 season was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. I was forced to leave campus and move back in with my parents. Although I was able to make a few trips back out to Santa Barbara to collect data that season, I was mostly restricted to the Western Los Angeles County area where I live. This forced me to broaden the scope of my project from a focus on Santa Barbara to Coastal Southern California more generally. This transition also resulted in me finding a bunch of new sites to look for herps, although the herping season had ended before I found most of them. As a result, I prepared and waited for the 2021 season to arrive.

Now, as the 2021 season draws to a close, I can say that the wait was worth it. Both as part of my study and just for fun, I did more herping and saw more herps this year than I have ever done in one season. The weather was not optimal this year, with comparatively little rain and extreme temperatures for Spring, and yet I still saw more than ever before. What rain did fall was enough for chorus frogs and slender salamanders to be found in oak woodlands. I was also able to find my first Monterey Ensatinas, a species that is very spotty in its distribution in Southern California. Thanks to a few sites in particular, I was able to find dozens of gophersnakes and rattlesnakes, including some very unusually patterned and colored individuals. Unfortunately, several of my encounters with rattlesnakes this season were close calls, so I will be meditating on those experiences in preparation for future expeditions. I also found several nightsnakes this year, a species that I have not seen many of. Skinks and alligator lizards were found in great numbers as usual, but I was also able to find them in new places. Despite the dry weather, I found a decent number of Ringneck Snakes this season, including some of the most beautiful ones I have ever seen. This season was also my personal record for the most kingsnakes in one season, with three of them being striped-phase kingsnakes that I found in San Diego County. Additionally, I spent a decent amount of time walking creeks this season and have become much more experienced in looking for Pacific Chorus Frogs, California Tree Frogs, Two-striped Gartersnakes, and California Newts in such habitats. Other amazing finds for this season included a black-headed snake, a legless lizard, a striped racer, a whiptail feeding on a jerusalem cricket, my first arboreal salamander, and a rattlesnake feeding on a pocket mouse.

With the exception of finding Western Toads, I saw every species I wanted to see this season and then some. It was an amazing experience and I will not forget it, as it is probably the only season of Coastal California Herping that I will ever be able to experience as fully. I learned so much from all my encounters and I can't wait to reflect back on these experiences again when I finalize my project in 2022.

Anotado por tothemax tothemax, 17 de mayo de 2021 a las 05:49 PM

Observaciones

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Topera de San Diego (Pituophis catenifer ssp. annectens)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Enero 2021

Descripción

was under a metal sheet (see second photo). was relatively warm, but still cool to the touch. It was partially cloudy at the time of the observation and it rained heavily earlier in the week. The temperature under the metal was 63.1 degrees F and the humidity was 55.7% RH.

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Topera de San Diego (Pituophis catenifer ssp. annectens)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Enero 2021

Descripción

a subadult and hatchling under the same metal sheet. both were digesting meals. both were very warm. Weather was clear, sunny, and warm. last rain was 2.5 weeks ago. Has been sunny and warm since, with the last few days being significantly warmer. The temperature under the metal was 69.8 degrees F and the humidity was 47.2% RH.

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Topera de San Diego (Pituophis catenifer ssp. annectens)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Febrero 2021

Descripción

was under a metal sheet that I had found it under several weeks ago with a smaller individual (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/68181073). The temperature under the metal sheet was 54.6 degrees F and the humidity was 74.7% RH.

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Culebra Nocturna de Baja California (Hypsiglena ochrorhynchus ssp. klauberi)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Febrero 2021

Descripción

was under a metal sheet on the edge of open chaparral. let out a musky smell when handled. The temperature under the metal sheet was 81.6 degrees F and the humidity was 37.9% RH.

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Topera de San Diego (Pituophis catenifer ssp. annectens)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Febrero 2021

Descripción

was under a large rock that had a hole underneath it. was clearly cold, but it was able to move around and flick its tongue. did the leaf-mimic sway. The temperature under the rock was 58.1 degrees F and the humidity was 82.9% RH. duplicate of https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/69587383

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Bejori de Cerca Occidental (Sceloporus occidentalis)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Febrero 2021

Descripción

was basking on a log. had a yellow color, possibly from brumation. duplicate of https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/69587803

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Lagarto Caimán del Noroeste (Elgaria multicarinata ssp. webbii)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Febrero 2021

Descripción

was under a large log. gaped when handled. The temperature under the log was 69.4 degrees F and the humidity was 47.0% RH. duplicate of https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/69590149

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Cascabel del Pacífico (Crotalus oreganus ssp. helleri)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Febrero 2021

Descripción

3 individuals under a metal sheet. one did not move, one was very sluggish but hissed, and the other was much warmer and rattled before escaping down a hole. The temperature under the metal was 61.1 degrees F and the humidity was 28.2% RH. duplicate of https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/70359478

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Cascabel del Pacífico (Crotalus oreganus ssp. helleri)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Febrero 2021

Descripción

was under a metal sheet with a gophersnake. was able to flick its tongue. the temperature under the metal was 65.1 degrees F and the humidity was 24.8% RH. duplicate of https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/70359725

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Cascabel del Pacífico (Crotalus oreganus ssp. helleri)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Febrero 2021

Descripción

was under a metal sheet. same green individual as (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/69268591), but under a different metal sheet several yards away. The temperature under the metal was 58.2 degrees F and the humidity was 25.5% RH. duplicate of https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/70360063

Fotos / Sonidos

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Marzo 2021

Descripción

was under a small rock. hatchling around 6 inches in length. The temperature under the rock was 53.9 degrees F and the humidity was 74.0% RH.

Fotos / Sonidos

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Marzo 2021

Descripción

was under a medium-sized rotten log at the bottom of a drainage in oak woodland. The area got light rain two days ago. lifted its tail when handled. handling was kept to a minimum. The temperature under the log was 51.4 degrees F and the humidity was 85.0% RH.

Fotos / Sonidos

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Marzo 2021

Descripción

was under a coverboard. The temperature under the board was 87.2 degrees F and the humidity was 51.4% RH.

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Eslizón Occidental (Plestiodon skiltonianus)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Marzo 2021

Descripción

was under a large rock. was so warmed up that it escaped twice before these photos could be taken! The temperature under the rock was 74.3 degrees F and the humidity was 68.1% RH. duplicate of https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/71286715

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Cascabel del Pacífico (Crotalus oreganus ssp. helleri)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Marzo 2021

Descripción

mating pair under a metal sheet. did not move. The temperature under the metal was 62.4 degrees F and the humidity was 63.8% RH.

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Cascabel del Pacífico (Crotalus oreganus ssp. helleri)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Marzo 2021

Descripción

was under a coverboard. flicked its tongue, but did not move until the board was placed down. duplicate of https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/71774840

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Falsa Coralillo del Noroeste (Lampropeltis californiae)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Marzo 2021

Descripción

was under a coverboard. was very calm and only rattled its tail and assumed a strike pose once. squirmed a lot when being posed for photos. The temperature under the board was 79.7 degrees F and the humidity was 40.2% RH.

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Lagartija Sin Patas del Sur de California (Anniella stebbinsi)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Marzo 2021

Descripción

Observed on a SWHS survey at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. was on top of the soft soil under the coverboard. tried to bite when held. The temperature under the board was 64.2 degrees F and the humidity was 89.7% RH. duplicate of https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/71977892

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Falsa Coralillo del Noroeste (Lampropeltis californiae)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Marzo 2021

Descripción

Observed on a SWHS survey at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. was under a coverboard. The temperature under the board was 80.9 degrees F and the humidity was 22.6% RH. duplicate of https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/71977957

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Salamandra Arborícola (Aneides lugubris)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Marzo 2021

Descripción

My first Arboreal Salamander. I have been wanting to see one of these guys for a while now and finally got lucky. Even after seeing one in person, they are still such a weird and mysterious salamander species. Will never get tired of finding these. Was under a medium log with hollow spaces in it. Was on the edge of a redwood forest.

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Falsa Coralillo del Noroeste (Lampropeltis californiae)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Abril 2021

Descripción

A banded and striped morph under the same board. They were in the process of coming out of their holes. The banded one escaped, but I was able to grab the striped one. It deficated and revealed its hemipenes when handled.

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Cascabel del Pacífico (Crotalus oreganus ssp. helleri)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Abril 2021

Descripción

was in the process of eating a small mouse when I scared it. It rattled profusely and took its meal into the tall grass. While I took photos of it, it regurgitated the mouse. I checked up on it over an hour later and the snake had left the mouse.

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Topera de San Diego (Pituophis catenifer ssp. annectens)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Abril 2021

Descripción

was warm and alert under a metal sheet. duplicate of https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/73705559

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Cascabel del Pacífico (Crotalus oreganus ssp. helleri)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Abril 2021

Descripción

was spotted in the process of crawling out from under a rock. When I checked it around 40 minutes later, it had coiled up in the grass next to the rock to bask. flicked its tongue, but otherwise did not seem affected by my presence.

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Culebra Nocturna de Baja California (Hypsiglena ochrorhynchus ssp. klauberi)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Abril 2021

Descripción

was under a large rock. tried to flee at first, then curled, and then tried to flee again. was very warm.

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Rana de Coro de California (Pseudacris cadaverina)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Abril 2021

Descripción

4 individuals on two adjacent boulders. two of them hopped into a rock crevice when scared. the other two stayed put.

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Tritón de California (Taricha torosa)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Abril 2021

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Culebra de Agua de Dos Rayas (Thamnophis hammondii)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Abril 2021

Descripción

was basking on the Southern face of a boulder. was a foot above the water line and a foot or two away from a California Treefrog, though it seemed more concerned with basking. duplicate of https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/75274148

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Rana de Coro de California (Pseudacris cadaverina)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Abril 2021

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Tritón de California (Taricha torosa)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Mayo 2021

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Culebra de Agua de Dos Rayas (Thamnophis hammondii)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Junio 2021

Descripción

Was on the shore near the creek edge and immediately slithered into the water when I came up on it. One of two yearlings I saw today (the other fled before I could get a photo of it).

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Bejori de Cerca Occidental (Sceloporus occidentalis)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Junio 2021

Descripción

This lizard was seen in the exact same spot an hour after this observation's recorded time.

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Rana de Coro de Baja California (Pseudacris hypochondriaca)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Junio 2021

Descripción

hopped into the water from the creek edge. This year's metamorph.

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Tritón de California (Taricha torosa)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Junio 2021

Descripción

was regenerating the tip of its tail

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Rana de Coro de California (Pseudacris cadaverina)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Junio 2021

Descripción

two individuals shown here. The first hopped up to the second and settled in.

Fotos / Sonidos

Qué

Culebra de Agua de Dos Rayas (Thamnophis hammondii)

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Junio 2021

Descripción

had a bad eye that looked like either a natural deformity or the result of a peck from a bird.

Fotos / Sonidos

Autor

tothemax

Fecha

Junio 2021

Descripción

was eating a jerusalem cricket. a separate observation has been made for the cricket

Comentarios

Wow, what a great season, Max! That is a huge variety of reptiles you found, and some, a lot of! And finding some of your first Monterey Ensatinas, that’s awesome. I’m glad you were able to see so much. So herping is best in those areas in spring? What about summer nights?

Anotado por desertsolitude hace 8 meses (Advertencia)

In general, the Spring season is the best time to find reptiles and amphibians in North America. Although the milder temperatures force herps to become inactive at night, this actually makes it easier to find them by flipping cover objects, which is by far the best way to find lots of most species in non-desert habitats. This is also when the mating and egg-laying seasons occur, as well as the first feeding and sheding events, causing lots of herp movement. In coastal Southern California, amphibians start to become active after the first heavy rains (Usually late November to early January) and stay around until the breeding ponds or substrate moisture dry up (April through late May). Reptiles on the other hand usually become active around mid-February and remain easy to find under cover objects until the start of May. Sometimes this window is larger or smaller depending on weather and location (looks like it was smaller this year).

When the Summer months arrive, amphibian activity sometimes continues in places that still have filled breeding ponds, though it usually stops in most places. Snakes can be found during the Summer nights given the right conditions, but it is generally less productive and I have no experience with that at all. In general, the deserts are the places to herp in the Summer because the nighttime temperatures stay warm for reasonable periods of time, allowing nocturnal snakes to become active at their preferred time of day.

Anotado por tothemax hace 8 meses (Advertencia)

Thank you for that explanation, I see the differences now in relation to the coast area of Southern California and whether the creature is a reptile or amphibian. Do you place some of the cover boards in certain areas and return to them later? Are there certain areas where people do that and everyone checks them periodically?

Anotado por desertsolitude hace 8 meses (Advertencia)

There is a complicated methodology about cover object placement, but yes, a herper planning on putting out boards finds an area that he or she wants to sample, places the pieces in strategical places, and then lets them sit for a while before sampling them. I have formed and added to several board lines to collect data for my project, but it's hard work making them and there is always the chance that your board lines may not produce much for several years! I mostly go to known sites that others have created, always making sure to put everything back the way I found it. There are lots of famous board lines in the Southern California area, but they are usually well hidden and herpers like to keep their locations secret so that collectors do not find them and the boards themselves are not moved out of place. Some herpers also seem to want to keep the sites to themselves, a practice that I do not agree with if. How often people check the sites depends on the person. I know some people who won't check a site until three months have passed since their last visit, others will check it once a month. I check my sites normally every 2-3 weeks for each site, although I almost never visit the same site more than once every 2 weeks. Since I know you pretty well, I can take you to a spot or two and show you the ropes of flipping if you are ever out near me in the Spring or late Winter.

Anotado por tothemax hace 8 meses (Advertencia)

That sounds like a lot of work if some board lines may not see any reptiles for years, that is crazy! That is really nice to hear that everyone who does the boards is careful to not share locations with collectors - that’s good! I figured people must be doing boards to some extent, but not to where there’s famous board lines. That’s pretty neat. What a cool hobby and way to collect data for research. You found a lot of herps this season. Thanks for explaining how the boards work, Max! That would be really fun to go checking under boards next late winter or spring, I’d enjoy that, thanks for inviting me to show me

Anotado por desertsolitude hace 8 meses (Advertencia)

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