Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Week of Arizona Herping in 2012

Each year, Devin and I herp for about a week at a destination of our choosing. Last year was Florida. This year, like two years ago, we decided to travel to one of our favorite places to go...Arizona.

The two of us drove from Salt Lake City to Phoenix to meet up with a friend to spend the night and do a little road cruising. Being a Saturday, there was a little more traffic than normal, but we road cruised the back roads around Lake Pleasant. The reliable and friendly Banded Geckos were a nice find as always.

Red-spotted Toads also make their home around Lake Pleasant and patrol the night.

Without much luck finding live snakes, we found a creek and identified several Lowland Leopard Frogs.

We decided to get some rest, but on our way out of town, we stopped at South Mountain to look for carrot-tailed phase Chuckwallas. We found several, some with very dark bodies and surprisingly bright orange tails. The large, pretty ones were harder to photograph, but the younger one below was more cooperative.
Leaving Phoenix, we traveled to the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson.
A large Desert Spiny Lizard let us know that we were entering his territory.

Tree Lizards weren't so eager to let their presence known. They often run to the opposite side of the trees to remain unseen.

Walking in the late afternoon is one of the best times to encounter Regal Horned Lizards.

This "in situ" photograph is a Long-nosed Snake that was out on the crawl at dusk. Seeing it in my hands hardly does it justice, since this specimen was one of the largest and thickest I've found for this specie. (We found a couple more of these, but to save room on the post we sometimes don't include all our finds, unless they represent something noteworthy or a new species.)

 With the sun down, it's time to get in the car and try some more road cruising.
 Other than the high numbers of geckos, we also saw three live Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes (and 1 DOR WDB) on the roads outside of Tucson.
 A large, healthy Glossy Snake was also stretched out on a dirt road.
 We fell asleep that night to the sound of coyotes calling nearby not far from where we camped, and the next morning we got up early and walked some washes. We found three more rattlesnakes, but unfortunately, they were also all Western Diamondbacks. We hoped for some Tiger or Black-tailed Rattlesnakes, but it wouldn't be this time.
With his rattle going crazy and body poised to strike, we kept our distance.
To our joy, a plump Gila Monster strutted toward us in the narrow, rocky wash.
 The occasional pool of water in the washes also kept the Canyon Treefrogs out in the open.
Diurnal lizards like this Greater Earless Lizard ran around and kept tabs on our whereabouts. Other observed lizard species included Desert-grassland Whiptails, Canyon Spotted Whiptails, Side-blotched Lizards, and Zebra-tailed Lizards.

A Sonoran Whipsnake with head held high dipped under some rocks before being photographed, but this Western Diamondback was totally cool about us hovering over him with a camera.

We rested in the shade when the temperature reached the low 90s, but we stayed entertained by this vibrant Cardinal.

The heat lingered until the evening, but when we headed back out, we found this attractive Lyre Snake.

The second day out in the desert foothills around Tucson, we snuck up on some Eastern Collared Lizards.
 A close-up of the female.
The males are bright blue.
 A Coachwhip sat out in the open, despite its black coloration and the high temperatures.
The high temps sent us searching for herps lingering around the cool water. Below is a tadpole of what is believed to be a Lowland Leopard Frog.
Several Black-necked Garter Snakes were seen navigating the pools that weren't yet dried up.
When dusk came and the sun's rays lost their intensity, we headed up another wash and flushed out about six Javelinas that were reluctant to come out in the open much. They ran up over the hill, and this is the best picture we could get of one partly hidden by a bush in the center of the photo.
Sun setting in the Sonoran Desert.
This second Gila Monster seen on the trip was seen in a broad, sandy wash right before nightfall.
With night comes road cruising, and we were happy to find this Banded Sand Snake moving as fast as he could across a small backstreet. Thumbs up for herping!
Another morning and another diurnal snake. This Eastern Patch-nosed Snake tried to give us the slip by shooting up a tree. I hadn't seen that before with this species, and his stunt almost worked...almost.
Another Coachwhip brought another first for me. This was the first time I had witnessed a coachwhip playing dead after being caught. We turned our backs and came back after a few moments, and he had left.
 And then ANOTHER first....this marked the first time that we had found THREE Gila Monsters in THREE days!! Devin and I had found two in two days back in 2010, but this was pretty remarkable.
 This third guy was smaller than the first, but larger than the second. He was also the most aggressive of the three.

I had really wanted to see a tortoise here, since I had observed them before in Utah and Nevada, but hadn't yet in Arizona. Lucky for us, we found a large male Sonoran Desert Tortoise just chilling out in the open.

On the way back to the car to bring a close to the morning's successes, we saw this 4-foot Gopher Snake stretched out on the ground motionless.
We thought our luck from the desert would carry over into our mountain herping, but as we drove from Tucson down to Willcox the weather began to change. The clouds gathered around the Chiricahua Mountains as we approached. Then, the wind picked up, the temperatures dropped low, and rain started to fall a bit. We thought this would be like the monsoon rains and bring everything out in large numbers, but all it ended up doing was coaxing out a few amphibians and keeping the reptiles out of view.
A Couch's Spadefoot Toad was one of the few things seen out.
 Afterwards, Devin and I were surprised to see a Tiger Salamander waddling across the road. Again, a first. I had never road cruised a salamander before.
We were unhappy about the lack of reptiles out, but a salamander was still a cool find.
The next day, the rain clouds cleared, but the temps were still lower than we anticipated. I guess you could say that the weather took the "cheer" out of Chiricahuas.
At least we found something. Here is a Striped Plateau Lizard.
And of course another amphibian. No herp trip seems to be complete without a Bullfrog here or there. This one was sitting in the middle of a flooded dirt road.
 We decided to leave the Chiricahua Mountains and try our hand in the Peloncillos Mountains. On the way, we stopped to look in a couple abandoned buildings. A Barn Owl flew out of the first one before we could snap a picture, but a wise-looking Great Horned Owl was more than willing to sit still in the second building.
 Unfortunately for us, the temperature was still about 65 during the day and the breeze added a chill. We just saw a few whiptails (surprisingly) and tree lizards, however we did also witness a mountain lion run across Geronimo Trail one night. Frogs were calling, and we found another Couch's Spadefoot Toad...too bad it wasn't a different species since there are three different spadefoots in the range.
 Also taking advantage of the recent moisture was a Great Plains Toad.
Devin and I were a bit frustrated at this point. The weather wasn't as expected, reptiles weren't in abundance, and Border Patrol (I could make an entire second post about my frustrations with them) were out in greater abundance than anything, and apparently herpers are publicly enemy number one to the US government. We stopped counting after being approached and questioned by 9 different agents! Time to get out of this place and head to the Huachucas for one last go at some montane species.
It was funny that we were awakened each morning, both in the Peloncillos and Huachucas, by turkeys.
 A mule deer taking a morning rest. We also found three skunks on the trip (no photos).
A Yarrow's Spiny Lizard watching us herp.
We saw two Clark's Spiny Lizards running around a tree, and one stopped to display and get photoed.
Our last amphibian of the trip was the Chiricahua Leopard Frog in Ramsey Canyon of the Huachuca Mtns.
 Finally, the weather warmed up for us, and we found this much-welcomed Banded Rock Rattlesnake.
 He was discovered while walking around a rocky hillside with talus. He rattled and gave away his location.
 We had to take several pictures, and we were stoked to finish off the trip with this species!
 Ideally, we would have loved to have seen other species that were on our wish list, but our week in Arizona turned up some exciting herps and lucky encounters. The ones that eluded us will have to wait for another herp trip.


  1. wow that was some beautiful herps! Any suggestions for good roads to do some night cruising on.

  2. Hi Danielle...sorry for the late reply. I guess it depends on what part of AZ you are talking about. To be honest, I haven't had the best of luck cruising the Tucson area, but I can provide a couple spots. Shoot me an email at jeffsmith84@gmail.com, and I can let you know where I cruised the banded sand snake, glossy, a Tiger Rattlesnake, etc. I can give a couple other areas further south of Tucson, too. The problem I have seen with Tucson is traffic, but there are some back roads you can cruise where you will hardly see 1 or 2 cars.

  3. i know it is not good to ask but its worth a shot. do you any good spots around the superstitions? email me @cadehowie33 if you are willing to share some information