All text copyright  Eitan Grunwald.  All photographs copyright  Eitan or Ron Grunwald  except photographs by others are copyright per photo credits.  All rights reserved.  Terms
CALIFORNIA
April 2009
1of 6
CALIFORNIA
April 2009
1 of 6
It was time to defeat my nemesis. For years I’ve been plagued by the curse of the common snake, and for me, no everyday species has been more elusive than the ubiquitous Gopher Snake.  It was a target on all my previous western trips, and after four attempts totaling 22 days in the field, I had managed to find  drum roll, please  just one, and that was eight years ago.  Enough is enough.   This time around I’m determined not to fail, but I know help will be needed (pathetic, isn’t it?).  Fortunately, it comes in the form of Darin and Devin, two outstanding herpers who generously invite me to join their weekend getaway to the mountains and deserts of California.  (I was also lucky enough to spend the second part of my trip with Kevin, another excellent SoCal herper.)   D & D pick me up and we escape the suburbs of L.A., heading north towards the Sierras.   The freeway falls behind as we wind through gentle foothills, the road separating tawny grasslands that stretch out on either side.  I’m not expecting to see snakes until we reach our destination high up in the mountains, but Devin is driving, and he’s already herping.   Innocent in the ways of California, I’m taking in the scenery, not realizing we’re in prime Pituophis habitat and I should be watching the road.  I’m jolted from my sightseeing by a swerve and a sudden stop, followed by the calm voices of my hosts saying, “Eitan, all yours.” I open the car door, look back, and begin to run.  There beside the road, at long last, is the mythical Gopher Snake.  So, they do exist, after all.  (Cue derisive laughter from all western herpers, including infants.) I savor the victory, and then we move on, rising into the green Sierras. Park the car, and slowly hike our way up a steep mountainside meadow, pausing now and then to catch a breath, only to have it taken away again by the view. Finally, we reach an outcropping of granite and begin to explore the rocks, where a juvenile Gopher Snake is waiting for us.  Two in a day!  Take that.   Devin leads us to his special spot, a few flat rocks embedded at the base of a boulder.  “I almost always find something under here.”  We start to flip, and sure enough, he’s right.  Better yet, it’s a lifer for me. We’re so completely absorbed taking photos of the Racer that we never see the Rattlesnake.  At least, not until Devin looks up, and shouts “Oreganus!”  He points, and there’s a juvenile coiled inches away from where we’re sitting.  We whoop a bit, surprised and delighted, especially me.  It’s another lifer, my second in just a few minutes. One more rock to flip, and, yes! the curse is lifted for good (at least when it comes to Gopher Snakes). I know my hosts are disappointed that we didn’t find a Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata), but I’m very happy with the results:  two lifers, and the end of a long-time search.  We make our way down the mountain, returning to the arid landscape of the foothills, driving towards tomorrow in the Mojave.
Pacific Gopher Snake Pituophis catenifer catenifer
California Striped Racer Masticophis lateralis lateralis
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake Crotalus oreganus oreganus