I’ve threatened for a while to kick off a Big Year in search of amphibians and reptiles, much like some birders do. 2019 wasn’t a Big Year on purpose, but when the smoke cleared, it was certainly a ‘big-ish’ year; a thousand-plus herps observed (and vouchered in HerpMapper), spread across 380 species, and 194 lifers. Here are many of the highlights from this awesome year, so big-ish I had to split it up among a half-dozen posts.
‘Hot Stove Herping’ is a phrase I coined years ago, for use in end-of-year posts on the old Field Herp Forum. I stole it from baseball; members of the ‘hot stove league’ huddle together during the cold winter months and talk baseball until spring and the game come back. In a similar fashion, field herpers living in moderate climates hunker down amid the cold and snow and think of the year that passed, and dream of the coming spring.
Peru was first up for me in January, as it has been since 2011. Matt Cage and I spent a few days in Tarapoto, up in the foothills of the Andes, which netted us a number of cool frog species.
From there we moved downhill to Iquitos and the two Amazonian field stations, where we lead herp tours in rain forest habitat. Even after seven trips to the area, there are still new herps for me to find.
Once at the field stations, we’re only limited by our endurance – we can walk forest trails day and night in search of herps and other interesting creatures.
We also have small boats at our disposal, for birding in the early morning, and for eye-shining caiman and tree boas at night.
Walking a trail late one night, Matt and I encountered a large (>2 m) Amazon tree boa in ambush mode along the trail. Once they reach a respectable size, they can pluck small mammals off the ground, which provide more calories than birds.
Typically we don’t find large numbers of any snake species – we’ll see one or two each of many different kinds. Red vine snakes typically turn up on each visit.
Horned frogs don’t turn up every trip, but we have seen them on the past three trips – perhaps we’re getting better at finding them.
We seem to have bushmasters dialed in, and this year we found two on a single night.
Bob Ferguson, one of our clients, found the second bushmaster on his own, and Matt and I were very happy for him. It was also the smallest one found to date at the Santa Cruz field station, under 30 inches.
Rain in the afternoon increases our chances of seeing salamanders out at night. We typically see two different species although it may be a species complex.
The western green tree viper (Bothrops bilineatus smaragdinus) is one of the rarer serpents. This was the second one I’ve seen in seven trips.
A first for me was this ringed caecilian (Siphonops annulatus). Very difficult to photograph.
I’m still hoping to see a pipa toad carrying young on its back.
In 2018 we found an awesome cribo that was >7 feet in length; this year, we found a wee one, not much more than a neonate but well over 16 inches in length.
It was another successful trip, and of course there are more photos of more species in the slideshow at the bottom. I’ll end it with this cute little leptodactylid.
In March, I headed to southern Illinois with friends Justin, John, and Jeremy for Operation Snoring Thunder – our annual survey for crawfish frogs. The night was rainy and the frogs were out in numbers.
Along with crawfish frogs, salamanders are also on the move during rainy nights.
Also in March was a trip to North Carolina, where Josh and I got out on a warm day. Eastern painted turtles were a lifer for me.
I also added eastern river cooters to my list.
I also managed to photograph some American toads in amplexus.
April found me in Indiana, surveying for spotted turtles and other critters with friends John and Greg.
I never get tired of seeing brown snakes.
More interesting ‘by-catch’ – blue-spotted salamanders.
In May I got to participate in surveys for bog turtles and timber rattlesnakes.
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to see these rare and threatened turtles, and to help find a few. Long may they stump around in bogs!
The timber rattler survey was also interesting. I helped to process (take data and photograph) more than two dozen adult timbers.
These eastern horridus don’t look much like the ones I see in Illinois.
That’s all for part one – SE Asia gets covered in part two!