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
TEXAS
April 2017
 6 of 6
TEXAS
April 2017
 6 of 6
Driving north we enter the South Texas Plains. Towards evening we begin to cruise, spotting our first live snake on the edge of the road, where it reverses into the grassy shoulder. We jump from the car in time to catch it, we think, but a thorough search turns up nothing.  Might have been a Patch-nosed, but I suspect something different, because, as we’re about to find out, it’s Night of the Glossies. Whatever else we come across, it’s never long before we encounter a Glossy Snake.  Sometimes alive, sometimes DOR, but always making an appearance.  Even on foot, while walking a berm for just a few minutes, I can’t avoid nearly stepping on one.  And then there’s the Glossy that does the most complete vanishing act we’ve ever seen, crawling into a small clump of grass not much bigger than the snake, where it disappears right in front of our eyes.  No hole, no hiding, no slipping past us.  It just dematerializes, apparently beamed up to the Starship Enterprise. Of the 36 snakes we find tonight, alive or DOR, every third one is a Glossy. In all fairness, atrox are not far behind, accounting for almost another third of our tally.  Only a couple of Night Snakes, but what they lack in numbers, they make up for in sheer adorableness.     And what tarantulas lack in adorableness, they make up for in sheer coolness.     One of the things I enjoy about herping with Darin is that he’s equally interested in small game, not just trophies. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to target Tantilla, but they’re definitely on his radar as we travel through their range. So it’s cause for mini-celebration when this teeny-tiny lifer appears. For some reason, I always feel better when seeing Spadefoots.  I assume it involves a repressed memory of my mother. But seeing this makes me feel worse.  Much worse.  Hit by the last truck to pass us, the snake is still trying to crawl, but it’s stuck to the road. We pull it off, and wonder if the victim might survive ― the wound doesn’t look too severe ― but as we watch the snake struggle, we know it’s not going to make it.  Damn. In the AM we take daylight photos of two Tantilla for comparison.  One is another Black-headed Snake, and the other is even smaller, a Flat-headed Snake.    Also, a voucher of a second unfortunate Coral Snake from last night, another fresh roadkill, with no apparent external injuries.   And speaking of dead snakes . . . We just happen to pass through the town of Freer, on what just happens to be the day of their annual Rattlesnake Roundup.  We stop by and I take a look from the outside, briefly tempted to go in and bear witness, but I really don’t want any part of it.  It’s too bad that Texas roundups still persist, rather than transitioning to non-lethal festivals, as in other states (for an interesting analysis, check out this article). We roll on through Tamaulipan thornscrub habitat, towards a meet-up with Kyle and his friend, Santosh.     A late lunch, a quick nap, Kyle’s knock on the door, and once again we’re behind the wheel.  We start on dirt roads, which don’t produce much except a missed Coachwhip and a tossed Garter, courtesy of  Kyle and Santosh.  Darin and I strike out on snakes, but I am quite pleased to see the ever-delightful, though somewhat squishy and thorny, Texas Horned Toad.  The Texas bird-of-paradise couldn’t care less.   Back to the blacktop as the sun goes down.  OK, bear with me now; I promise I’ll cut to the chase.  Specifically, the rain we chase all night but never catch. There’s a serious squall line passing by.  The winds pick up, maybe 40 mph; the tall grass is blowing sideways.  In the dark distance, clouds silhouetted by lighting.  Wet would be good, but it’s dry where we are, so we drive towards the thunderheads.  Our aim is to cruise areas soaked by the passing storms, but when we arrive an hour later, no sign of rain.  The four of us confer and consult weather maps, then decide to take our chances further south, back to where Darin and I were the night before. Two hours later we hit the spot where radar promised us rain, but the ground is completely dry.  Disappointed but undeterred, we slow down and settle into search mode, expecting the inevitable Glossy Snake.  But the roads that last night produced 13 live snakes deliver only a single live atrox tonight.  Around 0300 we decide to head back to our motel, three hours away. All told, after driving 12 hours and over 400 miles, Darin and I saw nothing alive but a few Rattlesnakes, plus a Thornscrub Rat Snake found by Kyle and Santosh.  I can guarantee, that as of whatever date you’re reading this report, I’m still tired.              Last day of the trip. It’s been mostly trouble-free, with just a few annoyances:  my aching knee, Darin’s poison ivy, a flat tire, confusion at the rental car agency, one lousy motel, three hours lost to back-tracking (my fault), and some minor creature discomforts (fire ants, chiggers, irritating flies, swarms of love bugs, and one kamikaze bee that went after Darin  literally getting in his bonnet, stinging his scalp, and dying from the swat of said bonnet).  Most of our final day is spent driving back to Houston, with almost no stops to look for snakes, though we do see one basking on a fence. We had planned to hit some spots en route, but decide instead to detour and see what sites we can randomly find.  By dusk we’re at a beautiful State park, encouraged by signs warning visitors of venomous snakes.  But as in the beginning of our trip, temps are unseasonably low, and it’s too cool for any of our targets.  Except for maybe one. You’ll recall that Darin is capable of equal enthusiasm for smaller snakes, and one of those is the Rough Green.  Coming from the East Coast, I’ve seen plenty, but Darin is jonesing for his first.  More than once we made a point of walking habitat in search of Greens, or regretting it when we missed the opportunity.   So as we’re getting ready to leave, it occurs to me that, although it’s too cold for snakes to be active, those that sleep in trees might still be visible.  And just outside the park there is a road lined with just the right trees, and right now would be our last chance. It’s a particular delight for me that Darin spots the snake.  It takes both of us to get it down, me holding the light and giving directions, Darin squeezing through shrubs on the blind side, until he can grab and bend the right branch to bring the snake within reach.  A very satisfying finale, not only because of Darin’s lifer, but also because, like the trip in general, it’s a successful joint venture.  Good herping with you, buddy.     The amount of help we received from Robert and Kyle was exceptional, more than we could have hoped for. Both gave generously of their time, knowledge, and advice.  Their guidance anchored our trip, and much of our success was due to their assistance.  On behalf of Darin and myself, many thanks to you both.     
Texas Nightsnake Hypsiglena jani texana
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake Crotalus atrox
Plains Black-headed Snake Tantilla nigriceps
Couch’s Spadefoot Toad Scaphiopus couchii
Texas Coral Snake Micrurus tener
Flat-headed Snake Tantilla gracilis
Black-headed Snake (l) Flat-headed Snake (r)
Texas Horned Lizard Phrynosoma cornutum
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Thornscrub Rat Snake Pantherophis guttatus meahllmorum
© Darin Germaine
Northern Rough Green Snake Opheodrys aestivus aestivus