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
5 of 6
CALIFORNIA
April 2009
5 of 6
Kevin greets me with a Gopher Snake.  (Apparently it’s the law in southern California.)  This makes the third subspecies of my trip, a beautiful snake that Kevin is releasing on our way to the Colorado Desert. Our target is the Speckled Rattlesnake, which I’ve seen before in Arizona, but never in California.  Kevin leads us through canyons that have been productive for him in the past, but on this day we find only lizards. Towards twilight we return to the car and begin our road cruising for the evening.  I see large rocks on the pavement, and Kevin points out that sometimes they’re dislodged by the seldom seen Desert Bighorn Sheep.  “You mean like those over there?” I ask as we round a curve, pointing to a small group on top of a ridge.   Being a stranger around here I don’t realize what an event this is, but Kevin is whooping it up, excited by such a rare sighting.  We pull over, and instead of keeping their distance, the sheep come down to the road, right in front of us.  For nearly half an hour we watch them graze before the herd returns to the ridge, disappearing over the crest with the vanishing light.   Turns out that was the high point of our road cruising  not a single snake that night.  Same deal the following day, when we search a boulder field for Red Rattlesnakes, but find only lizards instead.  Nevertheless, I consider it a success, because these particular lizards are high on my list of herps to see in California. At first I see only Western Spinies.  Nice, but not what I’m looking for. On a distant boulder I notice the profile of a larger lizard.  I get closer, it turns to face me, and I’m excited to see a gorgeous creature clad in iridescent colors, a male Granite Spiny.   We spend the afternoon observing many more, amused by the territorial displays of males, who arch their back if we approach too closely.  Of course, this being California, I just assume they’re doing yoga.   Females are not quite as colorful, but this seems to suit them just fine.  Instead of showing off like the bold males, they seem more inclined, and better adapted, to simply blend in with their granite surroundings.   We head west for another evening of desert road cruising, which proves to be as unproductive as the previous night.  But en route we hike a narrow canyon, and much to my delight, high above us I spot another high priority lizard, one I didn’t expect to find.  It’s a Baja native whose range barely extends into California, so it’s not commonly seen in the United States.
San Diego Gopher Snake Pituophis catenifer annectens
Desert Spiny Lizard Sceloporus magister
Western Spiny Lizard Sceloporus occidentalis
Granite Spiny Lizard Sceloporus orcutti
Banded Rock Lizard Petrosaurus mearnsi