#115 - Malaysia III Recap with Favorite Images

It’s been awhile, again. As promised, I wanted to do a little recap of my third trip to Malaysia, an adventure that was initially chronicled daily but quickly became less reliably documented. As bemoaned previously, typing the blog on my iPad and never figuring out the issue with Squarespace on iPad that prevented me from being able to add images to my text made me less motivated to blog. I’m not going to revisit the whole trip here, but instead will add some of my favorite wildlife images with some information on the animals depicted.

After visiting Malaysia in 2015 (Langkawi Island only) and 2017 (Sarawak, Borneo before Langkawi), my 2019 trip began on Penang Island. My primary photographic interest is macrophotography - taking photos of very small things like arachnids and insects at life-size (1:1) and sometimes employing a 2.5X magnifier (Raynox DCR-250) to enter the world of supermacrophotography. Although not truly macrophotography, I also broaden the scope of my primary imaging to include things as large as snakes. In other words, any images captured using my Tokina 100mm f/2.8 1:1 macro lens I lump into my world of macrophotography. This basically includes tiny jumping spiders to adult rattlesnakes.

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The item I needed most to take my macrophotography to the next level was a good flash diffuser. Harsh light is the bane of photography and photographers of all types are constantly looking to have the softest most even light in their images. Portrait photographers employ huge softboxes, etc. and macrophotographers and look for something that will surround their subjects with soft light. I have a number of units appropriate for my snake photos including a knock-off of the F-stoppers Flash Disc and other softbox diffusers that mount to my Nikon SB900 speedlight, but I needed something designed for close-up photography for smaller subjects. Every macrophotographer that I admire has some sort of DIY diffuser that is constantly evolving and I looked at what was being used by my favorite photographers. I contacted a few that had built amazing diffusers and then discovered that one of them actually was marketing his design and selling it through a local camera store. As luck would have it, he was from Penang, Malaysia and the camera store was in George Town, Penang just a taxi ride from the hotel where I spent the first four nights of this trip. So my Malaysia III images would benefit from an amazing diffuser I picked up for 180RM (about $43), saving me the frustration of buying the polypropylene plastic sheets and other stuff and trying to rebuild the wheel. Alex Goh’s design includes sturdy snaps so the diffuser can be quickly assembled/disassembled and stored flat for travel. And it is exactly what I needed.

Odontomantis  sp., Penang Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

Odontomantis sp., Penang Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

The one-inch long little flower mantis seen above was photographed within the first hour of using my new Alex Goh Macro Diffuser. I spent the morning at Hotel Equatorial experimenting with subjects found on their little nature trail and found that I could reduce my flash output to 1/4-1/16 power for great results. Insects and leaves are both reflective and here you can see great detail without any bright flash hot spots that I would have had if I was using my old ring flash or some lesser diffuser.

The next two images were captured just after the flower mantis. All of these images were sent via Bluetooth directly from my camera body (Nikon D500) to the Nikon Snapbridge app on my iPhone and have no post-processing other than compositional cropping.

Goldback Spiny Ant ( Polyrhachis  sp.),   Penang Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

Goldback Spiny Ant (Polyrhachis sp.), Penang Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

Orange Sharpshooter (Leafhopper) ( Bothrogonia addita ),   Penang Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

Orange Sharpshooter (Leafhopper) (Bothrogonia addita), Penang Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

After shooting these small insects for some time I came across a much larger subject. African Giant Land Snails are invasive species in other parts of the world and they were among the landscaping of the hotel. As I didn’t need to get so close and the diffuser therefore wouldn’t surround my subject, it was the first time I unsnapped the bottom piece that hangs and circles below the lens and used just the primary diffuser area to ensure my flash didn’t bounce back too much off of the hard shiny shell of the four-inch long snail.

African Giant Land Snail ( Lissachatina fulica ),   Penang Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/2 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

African Giant Land Snail (Lissachatina fulica), Penang Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/2 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

Hotel Equatorial Penang was a great hotel and it was a treat to have both the nature trail there where I took the above photos and great vistas overlooking the golf club with the sea in the background. The breakfast buffet was amazing and we spent a lot of time in full-on holiday mode, sipping cocktails poolside. Even when drinking and relaxing I like to have a camera nearby and thankfully I was able to capture an image of a Clouded Monitor Lizard that was foraging for earthworms in the grass beside the pool area.

Clouded Monitor ( Varanus nebulosus ), Hotel Equatorial Penang, Malaysia •  Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 120mm, ISO100, f/8, 1/160s

Clouded Monitor (Varanus nebulosus), Hotel Equatorial Penang, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 120mm, ISO100, f/8, 1/160s

Our first group outing on Penang was to have some fabulous street food and that is when I visited HIKE Enterprise to pick up the macro diffuser. Our driver then took us on some scenic tour of George Town, the population center of Penang, but I am one, a terrible passenger, and two, not much on history or urban areas. But the next day we all (14) had a different driver with a very large van to take us to Entopia, the butterfly park at the northwest end of the island. There I was able to put my new macrophotography set-up to more use.

Malayan Oakleaf Butterfly ( Kallima limborgii ),   Penang Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/160s

Malayan Oakleaf Butterfly (Kallima limborgii), Penang Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/160s

Dark Blue Tiger Butterfly ( Tirumala septentrionis ),   Penang Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/160s

Dark Blue Tiger Butterfly (Tirumala septentrionis), Penang Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/160s

Paper Kite or Large Tree Nymph Butterfly ( Idea leuconoe ),   Penang Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/160s

Paper Kite or Large Tree Nymph Butterfly (Idea leuconoe), Penang Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/160s

Southeast Asian Treefrog ( Polypedates leucomystax ), Pulau Pinang, Malaysia

Southeast Asian Treefrog (Polypedates leucomystax), Pulau Pinang, Malaysia

The following day the same driver took us back through George Town and on to the north for a trip to Penang Botanical Gardens followed by a trip up Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera).

At the Botanical Gardens I wandered off alone in hopes of finding snakes off the path, but instead found dragonflies and a land planarian to photograph. Land planarians are terrestrial flatworms often called “hammerhead or arrowhead worms”. They are hunters that attack their invertebrate prey using both brute force and a combination of the adhesive and digestive properties of their mucus.

From the entrance gate to the gardens we took “jeep” rides up Penang Hill. It’s about three miles of extremely steep and winding paved road and a fleet of small off-road pickup trucks ferry people to the top. There Mark Pennell and his brother-in-law Alan and I broke away from our group after an arrival beer and lunch to look for critters. The goal was to find tarantulas and we succeeded in locating the terrestrial species of Penang Hill, Coremiocnemis cunicularia, in embankment burrows.

Broadhead Planarian ( Bipalium  sp.),   Penang Botanical Gardens, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

Broadhead Planarian (Bipalium sp.), Penang Botanical Gardens, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/200s

Black Stream Skimmer ( Trithemis festiva ),   Penang Botanical Gardens, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/160s

Black Stream Skimmer (Trithemis festiva), Penang Botanical Gardens, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/160s

Singapore (aka Malaysian Brown) Tarantula ( Coremiocnemis cunicularia ),   Penang Hill, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/2 power with F-Stoppers Flash Disc, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Singapore (aka Malaysian Brown) Tarantula (Coremiocnemis cunicularia), Penang Hill, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/2 power with F-Stoppers Flash Disc, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

After four days on Penang our group of fourteen, thirteen Bristolians from England’s west country and this intrepid American, boarded a very short flight north to Langkawi Island. We were later joined there by two more Bristolians to bring our party’s size to sixteen for two weeks at the amazing Berjaya Langkawi Beach Resort. It was my third visit, but Mark had been visiting Berjaya for more than 15 years and most of his family and friends had been there perhaps eight or ten times. We get treated very well, to say the least. Mark’s sister Chris celebrated her 60th birthday during our stay and we had an amazing sunset buffet dinner on the beach where the Tiger beer never stopped flowing and the catering staff outdid themselves and a three-piece band serenaded us.

But I’m not much on pool and beach and lobby cocktails. I’m after wildlife, I’m into hiking, I am looking for photographic subjects. Fortunately, you don’t have to go far as the lush tropical forest grounds of Berjaya are teaming with nature. The three most obvious mammals are the two monkey species - the gentle Dusky Leaf Monkey aka Spectacled Langur and the much less placid Long-tailed or Crab-eating Macaque - and the unique Sunda Colugo or Flying Lemur.

Sunda Colugo ( Galeopterus variegatus ),   Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 240mm, tripod, ISO400, f/9, 1/160s

Sunda Colugo (Galeopterus variegatus), Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 240mm, tripod, ISO400, f/9, 1/160s

Despite often being called a flying lemur, the Colugo (aka Cobego) is not a lemur and cannot fly. It is a very strong glider that leaps and glides from tree to tree at night to feed on tender leaves, shoots, flowers, tree sap and fruits. Walking after dark and seeing these 1-2 kg mammals glide down and bank onto a tree trunk is an amazing experience. Their wingspan is more than two feet and they can glide for over 200 feet without losing much altitude. During the day it clings to the tree bark using the camouflage of its fur to remain undetected by predators. The two species - Sunda and Philippine - belong to two different genera, and combined the two extant colugos are the only members of their family (Cynocephalidae) and even their order (Dermoptera).

It is fascinating just how many gliding animals there are in Southeast Asia. In Malaysia there are of course true flying mammals - bats including the colugo-sized flying foxes, but those that have evolved methods of gliding from tree to tree include squirrels, snakes, lizards and frogs. We were fortunate to see a Paradise Flying Snake (Chrysopelea paradisi) at Berjaya plus a number of Draco sp. “flying” lizards, as well as the Red Flying Squirrel.

When it comes to monkeys on Langkawi there are two: one which is an evil shit and the other beautiful and lovely. Macaques live in matriarchal societies and males are shunned from their groups after reaching puberty. This results in lone males living in isolation and often becoming very territorial and aggressive. Macaques will eat just about anything and scavenge through trash making an enormous mess and will confront and attack humans to grab their food or drink. I have been charged my big male macaques. I may be ten times their weight, probably more like 15, but they don’t care. With teeth bared they will charge and unfortunately one of our party got hurt when he fell a good distance while running from them. I mentioned in another blog entry that one male that had been harassing people by the pool got in a confrontation with another monkey and left it with a bloody pulp of a foot. I love all animals, but - yeah - macaques are evil shits.

Long-tailed Macaque ( Macaca fascicularis ),   Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 95mm, tripod, ISO400, f/7.1, 1/25s

Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis), Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 95mm, tripod, ISO400, f/7.1, 1/25s

The beautiful and lovely monkey is the Dusky Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus obscurus), which is also known as the Spectacled Langur. Technically, it is not a true langur but rather a lutung so I prefer referring to them as leaf monkeys, which is a reference to their preferred diet. They are peaceful monkeys that are usually found higher in the trees than the macaques, but around the resort they come to ground and accept fruit and nuts handed to them by tourists. Feeding wildlife is wrong and always a bad idea. In the case of the resort monkeys, it is too likely that someone will have a leaf monkey gently take an orange slice one day and think that is the coolest experience ever and then have disastrous results when it tries to hand something to an aggressive macaque.

Dusky Leaf Monkey ( Trachypithecus obscurus carbo ),   Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 92mm, handheld, ISO200, f/5, 1/250s

Dusky Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus obscurus carbo), Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 92mm, handheld, ISO200, f/5, 1/250s

Before the trip Mark told me of seeing a white Dusky Leaf Monkey during his June 2018 visit. We inquired about this monkey when we arrived but nobody had seen it in at least four months. Then one day while Mark, Alan and I were walking the grounds photographing the “flying” lizards or dragons (Draco sp.), one of the shuttle drivers stopped to tell us that the white “langur” had been seen near the guard gate at the resort’s entrance. We asked to jump in his shuttle and get a ride down there and were lucky to find the troop that included the female white monkey seeking midday shade and some tender leaves to snack on in a large tree near the large parking lot. I call this monkey “hypomelanistic”, meaning that it has reduced melanin or black pigment. It isn’t an albino or its feet, etc. would be pink, as would its eyes. Many people would call it leucistic, but that condition usually results in bluish eyes and this monkey definitely had normal dark eyes. Regardless of what obscure term you want to apply, it was a stunning monkey. Interestingly, it was noticeably the largest of the dozen or more in the group, and it didn’t like when other monkeys would come to close to it. It kept moving to where it could sit alone.

“Hypomelanistic” Dusky Leaf Monkey ( Trachypithecus obscurus carbo ),   Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 300mm, handheld, ISO400, f/9, 1/60s

“Hypomelanistic” Dusky Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus obscurus carbo), Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 300mm, handheld, ISO400, f/9, 1/60s

One of the outings I was looking most forward to on Langkawi Island was a return to the mangroves of Tanjung Rhu along the north coast of the island. Langkawi sits on the Andaman Sea (Strait of Malacca) off the northwest coast of peninsular Malaysia as close to Thailand as it is to Malaysia. When I visited two years ago we took a boat into these mangroves and were lucky enough to find a Mangrove Pitviper. This year we hoped to see one again. We were not disappointed - we observed three!

Mangrove Pitviper ( Trimeresurus purpeomaculatus ), Tanjung Rhu ,  Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 120mm, Nikon SB900 with softbox, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Mangrove Pitviper (Trimeresurus purpeomaculatus), Tanjung Rhu, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 120mm, Nikon SB900 with softbox, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Mangrove Pitviper ( Trimeresurus purpeomaculatus ), Tanjung Rhu ,  Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8, Nikon SB900 with softbox, ISO100, f/13, 1/60s

Mangrove Pitviper (Trimeresurus purpeomaculatus), Tanjung Rhu, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8, Nikon SB900 with softbox, ISO100, f/13, 1/60s

Mangrove Pitviper ( Trimeresurus purpeomaculatus ), Tanjung Rhu ,  Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 85mm, Nikon SB900 with softbox, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Mangrove Pitviper (Trimeresurus purpeomaculatus), Tanjung Rhu, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Nikon 24-120mm f/4 @ 85mm, Nikon SB900 with softbox, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

We also saw Common Water Monitors, White-bellied Sea Eagles, Brahminy Kites and drove out across the sea to a small island to see some roosting Flying Foxes, but besides the Mangrove Pitvipers the highlight of our boat adventure in Tanjung Rhu was Mark’s niece Emily spotting a female Hyllus diardi, one of the largest jumping spider species. It occurs in a variety of habitats but is most common in mangroves. I didn’t have my new macro diffuser with me and shooting from a rocking longboat isn’t easy, so the one-inch salticid was captured in a small jar and I photographed it back at Berjaya. Jumping Spiders are my favorite photographic subjects and these images are my trip favorites.

Heavy Jumping Spider ( Hyllus diardi ),   Tanjung Rhu, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/16 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/250s

Heavy Jumping Spider (Hyllus diardi), Tanjung Rhu, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/16 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/250s

Heavy Jumping Spider ( Hyllus diardi ),   Tanjung Rhu, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro with Raynox DCR-250, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/22, 1/60s

Heavy Jumping Spider (Hyllus diardi), Tanjung Rhu, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro with Raynox DCR-250, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/22, 1/60s

While staying at Berjaya I also took three evening hikes up through the nearby Oriental Village, into the forest and then up to Telaga Tujuh or Seven Wells Waterfall. The first two trips were with Mark and Alan and the last was alone on my last night in Malaysia. We observed a great deal of wildlife including Oriental Pied and Great Hornbills, monkeys, various bats, Tokay Geckos, etc., but for me the most interesting were the spiders and the scorpions. In addition to the local terrestrial tarantula (Chilobrachys sp.) we saw several times of huntsman spiders (Sparassidae) including two prize species - the Lichen Huntsman (Pandercetes sp.) and one of my favorite true spiders, Heteropoda lunula. Also photographed were a couple of Tokay Geckos. These huge geckos are often seen around the resort and I’d take voucher photos for iNaturalist with my iPhone, but I don’t really like photographing lizards on buildings, even if they are foot-long grey and rust-orange beasts with giant heads. So, it was also great to find Tokay Geckos on tree trunks during our night hikes and get some natural in situ photos.

Spotted Bark Scorpion ( Lychas scutilis , Buthidae),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with softbox ISO100, f/18, 1/60s

Spotted Bark Scorpion (Lychas scutilis, Buthidae), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with softbox ISO100, f/18, 1/60s

Lichen Huntsman Spider ( Pandercetes  sp.),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Lichen Huntsman Spider (Pandercetes sp.), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Langkawi Brown Tarantula ( Chilobrachys  sp.),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/60s

Langkawi Brown Tarantula (Chilobrachys sp.), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/60s

Lichen Huntsman Spider ( Pandercetes  sp.),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with softbox, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Lichen Huntsman Spider (Pandercetes sp.), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/4 power with softbox, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Tokay Gecko ( Gekko gecko ),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/2 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Tokay Gecko (Gekko gecko), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/2 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

In situ  Purple-brown Huntsman Spider ( Heteropoda lunula ),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with softbox, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

In situ Purple-brown Huntsman Spider (Heteropoda lunula), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with softbox, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Purple-brown Huntsman Spider ( Heteropoda lunula ),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro with Raynox DCR-250, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/22, 1/60s

Purple-brown Huntsman Spider (Heteropoda lunula), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro with Raynox DCR-250, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/22, 1/60s

Purple-brown Huntsman Spider ( Heteropoda lunula ),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/60s

Purple-brown Huntsman Spider (Heteropoda lunula), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/60s

This certainly has become a photo blog. I just want to leave you with a couple more images from Langkawi. One is from the incredible sighting of a Reticulated Python killing an Oriental Pied Hornbill. Our group was meeting for dinner and as one couple was walking from chalet to lobby Julie was snapping photos of the resort with her iPhone. Just then a hornbill landed on the ground and she aimed her phone at the huge bird while continuing to snap pictures. To her surprise/shock/horror about an eight-foot long python came out of the rocks and attacked the bird. I was still in my room so Mark texted me while Kim ran up to my chalet. By the time I arrived on the scene all the human commotion had caused the snake to release the dead hornbill and disappear back into the rocks. But before those images (captured by Mark and his niece Emily), how about a giant cockroach, cicada, tree crab and a young tarantula in its burrow mouth?

Epilamprinae roach ( Pseudophoraspis  sp.),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with softbox, ISO100, f/18, 1/120s

Epilamprinae roach (Pseudophoraspis sp.), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with softbox, ISO100, f/18, 1/120s

Cicada (unidentified species),   Berjaya Langkawi Resort, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/60s

Cicada (unidentified species), Berjaya Langkawi Resort, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/18, 1/60s

Tree Crab (Sesarmidae sp.),   Berjaya mangrove, Burau Bay, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

Tree Crab (Sesarmidae sp.), Berjaya mangrove, Burau Bay, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2,8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with Alex Goh Macro Diffuser, ISO100, f/16, 1/60s

In situ  Langkawi Brown Tarantula ( Chilobrachys  sp.),   Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia  • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with softbox, ISO100, f/18, 1/60s

In situ Langkawi Brown Tarantula (Chilobrachys sp.), Telaga Tujuh, Langkawi Island, Malaysia • Nikon D500, Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro, Nikon SB900 @ 1/8 power with softbox, ISO100, f/18, 1/60s


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#104 - November Surprises

Sonoran Gopher Snake, young of the year

Sonoran Gopher Snake, young of the year

For four nights I left the cold water in my Wheelhouse kitchen dripping. Overnight lows, typically at about 4 a.m., were below freezing. The coldest day it got down to 20ºF at my Corral, and was just over 14 a couple of miles up canyon (500’ in elevation) at SWRS.

A few of the days the temperature barely got above 50 in early afternoon and I realized that maybe I wouldn’t see another live snake in 2017.

I was less concerned about tarantulas. I knew that Brent and I are spending the first week of December between Phoenix and Tucson and I know we will scare some up.

Sadly, the last snake I had seen was a young of the year Sonoran Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer affinis) that had just been struck by a vehicle. Nothing is worse in herping than coming across a snake writhing and twisting, disfigured by a wheel. It was eight days ago. Before the big cold spell.

So, yesterday, as I drove north on Highway 80 returning from shopping in the border town of Douglas, Arizona, it was a surprise to see a snake stretched across my lane. The temperature was in the low-60s, with the sun bright in the San Simon Valley. The first snake I saw appeared to be about two-and-a-half feet long. I had the cruise control set at 70 mph and it took a minute to come to a stop off the shoulder in high desert grass. As I ran back south on the highway, the snake vanished, which reinforced my suspicion that it had been a Sonoran Whipsnake (Masticophis bilineatus) . They don’t stick around to play.

Ten minutes later I had just passed Apache, Arizona and the Geronimo Surrenders Monument. Apache sits along the highway where the road runs east towards the pretty much inaccessible Skeleton Canyon in the Peloncillo Mountains and the view on the left is the highest peaks of the Chiricahuas. There along the road is a tiny country school where the few local children are bussed for class.

I did a double-take even at speed at a clump in the middle of the southbound lane. A vehicle had just passed and an early thought was whether it could be something dead-on-road, but I also thought it might be rope or some sort of tie-down strap as it was in a coil, not out-stretched like most snakes are. I reversed my truck along the shoulder until I came even with the ‘clump’ and still wasn’t sure it was organic. But as soon as I stepped out onto the highway a young-of-the-year Sonoran Gopher turned towards me. As I bent over to scoop it up, I was greeted with the typical Pituophis bluff-hissing strike and soon had it entwined in my warm fingers.

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I have observed countless gopher snakes this season and, unfortunately, close to half were dead-on-road. That has been particularly true of the past couple months as the paved roads in southeastern Arizona and bootheel New Mexico sure take their toll on these amazing snakes. They are beautiful and so beneficial. Fortunately, it also seems like they are fecund.

Then today I had a tarantula surprise. I was doing maintenance around the RV and camp when the guy who runs the VIC stopped by the Corral. I opened my gate and he pulled his ATV in for a chat. Some time during our conversation I looked down beneath the front of the Wheelhouse and saw a very small mature male tarantula walking along, plenty warm in the midday’s sixty degrees. But I still had to wonder where it was before dawn while my sink water was still dripping to prevent freezing.

#98 - Another Visit

I hadn't seen Chad Campbell in far too long. I tend to lose touch with people even in the best of times, and heading out to live on the road at the beginning of 2017 didn't lessen that propensity. Still, more sociable people can always reach out to solitary me, so I am never willing to take all the blame. And Chad did just that with an unexpected text asking whether I'd pick him up in Phoenix if he landed there. I have no clue how long it had been since we'd had any contact other than liking each other's Instagram posts, but it didn't affect my reply. I told him Tucson or El Paso were cool as they are 2.5 and 3 hours away, respectively, but Phoenix (5 hours) was a no.

Chad and a Green Chile Cheeseburger at the Portal Cafe

Chad and a Green Chile Cheeseburger at the Portal Cafe

There is a very, very short list of people that have an open invitation to visit me and Chad certainly was on it, but after a few casual mentions last year to a few of the honorees of that mental list, I really didn't talk to anyone at all this year. As you read in the previous blog entry, my bonus dad Joel just visited and we had arranged that trip even before I left his house the day after his birthday in mid-April. He was set to spend my birthday here with me the first week of August and, other than visits by my arachnologist friend Brent Hendrixson, I didn't anticipate any other visitors. But Chad was itching to return to Arizona after his previous visits to Tucson for American Tarantula Society conferences that have since fizzled out, and without much hesitation he bought his plane tickets and I scrambled to switch with other volunteers to free up my schedule not one week after I had taken an entire week off from the Cave Creek Canyon Visitor Center in the northeastern Chiricahua Mountains to spend all my time with Joel.

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Jump ahead to another trip to Tucson the night before picking up a guest. Again I wanted to road cruise for sidewinder rattlesnakes, and this time a guy I met through Instagram had recommended a road west of the one I had cruised the night before I picked up Joel. Heading out past the Old Sasco Ruins through rugged Sonoran Desert into a stormy dusk, I truly felt in the middle of nowhere. Just off the interstate the town of Red Rock, Arizona is new modern suburbia, but quickly the cookie cutter adobe family homes give way to sandy desert grassland scrub. Then, out of nowhere, I came upon a massive feed lot and sights and smells that will turn you off of beef for life. Thousands upon thousands of cattle stood shoulder to shoulder and I looked away and picked up the pace before the strong odor became too much. The pavement then ended and the dirt road soon disappeared into saguaros reaching toward the purplish gloomy sky and I was swallowed by the desert. I was glad there was still light so I could read the warning signs about road closures, flash flooding, federal agents and more, and I drove deep into the desert between the mountains and back out to learn the area before darkness. The road had many steep dips that recent rains had filled with water and rocks and several crossings were of great concern. One held as much water as I'd ever want to drive my truck through (and I did it four times) and another was very wet but also very rough with big rocks that had washed into the crossing. There were many "stream crossings" and quite a bit of rough road. That night I tested my truck more than any other.

Portrait of that night's Sonoran Desert Sidewinder ( Crotalus cerastes cercobombus )

Portrait of that night's Sonoran Desert Sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes cercobombus)

Sonoran Desert Toad ( Incilius alvarius ), one of several from my Old Sasco Road adventure.

Sonoran Desert Toad (Incilius alvarius), one of several from my Old Sasco Road adventure.

Flashing forward once more, the next morning I was back at Tucson International Airport early enough for a local beer. As I finished up and started towards Chad's arrival, he texted me that he was already outside having a cigarette, his very short flight from Phoenix arrived early. His first request, even before he had left Minneapolis, was that we head from the airport directly to In 'N Out Burger, the legendary West Coast fast food icon. Then it was off to a giant liquor store I had scouted the day before for a connoisseur's collection of West Coast India Pale Ales for Chad, plus a small selection of lagers for me including not only Grand Canyon pilsner but my beloved Imperial from Costa Rica. Then we headed east to Willcox for groceries and on to an area known to contain two tarantula species, which Chad had explored a couple years prior during one of his Tucson visits. Rain shortened our time - and unsuccessful search - at the tarantula site, and we pushed on back here to Cave Creek Canyon. Chad would be the first visitor to actually bunk in my Wheelhouse and we had groceries and beer to stow and food to grill. But first Chad unpacked some very generous birthday gifts he had hauled all the way from Minneapolis, incurring overweight bag charges in the process in order to bring me some special beverages and a coffee cup. There were two imperial stouts and a giant Ziploc bag containing eight pint cans of one of my personal favorites brewed in Minneapolis - Indeed Brewing Company's Mexican Honey Imperial Lager.

Chad's visit was only from midday Friday to midday Tuesday so we were working with limited time. Chad wanted to see tarantulas and rattlesnakes most and that he did. Saturday we made a trip into New Mexico and down into the Peloncillo Mountains to search for the tarantula I had pursued with Brent and his students only a couple weeks earlier. Successful in finding that special American spider again, I then took him to the scorpion site where I had taken four of Brent's students. 

Aphonopelma peloncillo , a Peloncillo Mountains endemic

Aphonopelma peloncillo, a Peloncillo Mountains endemic

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Chad had only seen Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes before, and he added quite a few more of those to his life list, plus many more first-time ('lifer') Mohave Rattlesnakes and one special encounter with the third species of our trip, my favorite, the Black-tailed Rattlesnake. And he found it himself! I had taken up South Fork Road and South Fork Trail in search of the Elegant Trogon, the rare bird people come from around the world to see here, and - though we didn't find the trogon - during a search of a cabin for jumping spiders Chad found a young blacktail a few feet off the ground, nestled in the rock exterior rock wall. The snake didn't move as we took in situ photos of how we found it, including the smartphone image to the left, and then Chad returned to my truck which was parked nearby to get the rest of our needed camera gear and one of my snake hooks. Black-tails are usually placid rattlesnakes and this yearling snake certainly was very cooperative as I then moved it onto a nearby group of flat rocks so that we could photograph it further. 

Chad's "lifer" Western Black-tailed Rattlesnake ( Crotalus molossus )

Chad's "lifer" Western Black-tailed Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus)

Another snake that Chad had repeatedly mentioned that he was hoping to see was a kingsnake. We have two here, the tri-colored Mountain King here in the mountains, and the Desert Kingsnake in the foothills and surrounding desert. Both can be very elusive so it was quite a thrill when one night's road cruising, the night we went down to the Peloncillos, included this beautiful black-hooded king.

Desert Kingsnake  (Lampropeltis splendida ), Hidalgo Co., New Mexico

Desert Kingsnake (Lampropeltis splendida), Hidalgo Co., New Mexico

Chad and I share a love of jumping spiders and he has become quite accomplished at doing true single-exposure macrophotography of jumpers using the same 1:1 100mm Tokina macro lens I use plus a 2.5X magnifier and a special light set-up. We were fortunate to find quite a few special jumping spiders during his visit. One was at almost 8400 ft elevation at Barfoot Park, and we also found cool jumpers right at my camp at the corral and a number of photo sessions took place on my picnic table.

Chad photographing a jumping spider in the high elevation mixed conifer forest of Barfoot Park

Chad photographing a jumping spider in the high elevation mixed conifer forest of Barfoot Park

One of Chad's images from the above photo shoot ( Phidippus toro , female) © Chad Campbell

One of Chad's images from the above photo shoot (Phidippus toro, female) © Chad Campbell

On Chad's last night here, we went for another dinner at Portal Cafe and then Chad chose to return to the corral to enjoy some beer, conversation and image processing over another night of road cruising for snakes. But on the way back into the canyon we were destined for one more snake during his visit, which he called his "snake-cap", and it was a special one at that.

Our "snake-cap", adult Sonoran Lyre Snake ( Trimorphodon lambda )

Our "snake-cap", adult Sonoran Lyre Snake (Trimorphodon lambda)

I don't know where I'll be next year, but if I am in the Chiricahuas I am hoping Chad will return and bring his girlfriend April with. We even talked about getting a small gathering of mutual friends together for more herping and spidering fun and more connoisseur brews and good food. 

This "spirited" Mohave Rattlesnake ( Crotalus scutulatus ) put on quite the show for Chad as it tried to "kiss" me

This "spirited" Mohave Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus) put on quite the show for Chad as it tried to "kiss" me

#96 - Adventures with Others - Another Endemic Tarantula and More ...

I spend most of time alone by choice. It fits my personality. It is my preference. And it allows for maximum flexibility. I am guided by whimsy and most adventures are unplanned. I may in one moment alter my course or choose not only a new destination, but a different activity. Many of my hikes or drives, if not most, unfold naturally and often surprise me. My experiences are treasured alone in glorious solitude and then later shared here or via Instagram.

However, as I get ready to go to Tucson this weekend to pick up Joel and share this wonderful wilderness for a week, I am still savoring memories from a two day adventure with Dr. Brent Hendrixson and seven of his students from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. Brent has visited the American Southwest for a couple of decades and usually leads a summer field course that visits many amazing places. This year's course was Biogeography of the American Southwest and before they visited me his group had explored Arizona's Superstition and Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park and the Grand Canyon. After they left here they headed to White Sands, National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns for the bat flight and Texas' Davis Mountains before driving home.

Cathedral Vista, Chiricahua Mountains. Photo by B.E. Hendrixson (second from left) with me looming behind a great group of students.

Cathedral Vista, Chiricahua Mountains. Photo by B.E. Hendrixson (second from left) with me looming behind a great group of students.

Last year Brent brought a different group here to the Chiricahuas for a single night and I had spent time with him and a few other students the month previous in both the Tucson and Phoenix areas. This year he had three nights planned for Cave Creek Canyon, but sadly they only stayed two. Still we made the most of the two days with adventures to the Peloncillo Mountains, Chiricahua Desert Museum and here within the Chiris.

While his crew set up camp at Sunny Flat Campground I joined them and met the seven students. Our plan was to head to the Peloncillos an hour and a half away to look for the endemic tarantula Aphonopelma peloncillo at its type locality. After spending over a week with eight people crammed in a van full of gear, the three girls were happy to be able to stretch out in my truck for the drive east into New Mexico and then south and southwest to the bootheel along the borders with Arizona and Mexico. Brent and the four guys piled back into their 12-passenger van that, as in years previous, was decorated with large tarantula magnets. The ladies were lovely and it was refreshing for this old loner to be surrounded by the vibrance and beauty of youth. Temperatures reached 109F in Animas where we turned south, but I had the A/C cranked and we listened to music from one of their iPhones.

Ninety minutes or so later, about thirty minutes after the paved road gave way to dirt and then rocky trail, we assembled in the chaparral-like oak woodland of the Peloncillo foothills. Last year I had searched the site we were visiting for the burrows of female tarantulas without success. I had found mature male Aphonopelma peloncillo while road-cruising for snakes, but had struck out when it came to locating burrows. That would change as the seven Millsaps students, their arachnologist leader and I dispersed and prowled the grassy area of the type locality (the precise location a species is described from). Having located the endemic A. chiricahua by pure chance (see #94), I was looking forward to finally finding a female A. peloncillo after last year's failures. It did not take long.

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Above is the silk-covered burrow of the first tarantula we located. This grassy field is grazed by open range cattle and among the cow piles and animal bones and ant mounds the students first found turreted holes belonging to wolf spiders or irregular openings belonging rodents. But within five minutes this distinctive silky entrance was discovered and Brent said to me, "You want the honors?" before explaining to his students that I had found and extracted tarantulas around the world. I used both flooding and tickling techniques and soon saw the gorgeous hairy legs of our prize.

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The beginning of her tunnel angled sharply another direction rather than descending directly into the earth so when she would retreat even a short distance she would be lost from sight. I alternated between pouring water down the tunnel to move her towards me and then tickling for several series before I was able to get my tickling twig behind her and tap her forward and out into the light. 

Aphonopelma peloncillo , Peloncillo Mountains, Hidalgo Co., New Mexico

Aphonopelma peloncillo, Peloncillo Mountains, Hidalgo Co., New Mexico

Some rain drops began to fall, but our group continued to search the meadow. I returned to my truck to get a container for the tarantula as Brent wanted to take a couple specimens back to Mississippi. While I was away they located another burrow and I brought more water so that Brent could take his turn at extracting one of these beauties. The image below is the second female, photographed at my campsite the next morning on a flat piece of rock.

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As long as we were in the Peloncillos I also wanted to visit the type locality of the endemic scorpion, Diplocentrus peloncillensis. It is perhaps my favorite U.S. scorpion species and I had luck finding it each time I had tried last year. Rather than black-lighting at night as I usually do for scorpions (super effective, very easy work), I had always just flipped rocks at the site, which is on a north-facing slope that holds more moisture. The three mile or so drive up the mountain road (Geronimo Trail) between the tarantula and scorpion sites is a bit rough, and Brent didn't want to do it in the rental van. So I invited four of his students to climb into my truck and we headed up to a scorpion area atop a hill that is surrounded by a spectacular vista. I gave the team quick instructions and within minutes they had found a handful of scorpions.

Diplocentrus peloncillensis , Peloncillo Mountains, Hidalgo County, New Mexico near the Arizona state line and not far from the Mexico border.

Diplocentrus peloncillensis, Peloncillo Mountains, Hidalgo County, New Mexico near the Arizona state line and not far from the Mexico border.

My group walked down the road a bit to photograph the vista and then, as the dusk skies began to darken and a few more rain drops fell, we went to rejoin Brent and the other three. I hadn't driven far back down hill when I slammed on the brakes. Although small, the unmistakable shape of snakes leaps off of the roads for me, and I looked out my window at an eighteen-inch gorgeous olive serpent with a brightly colored belly. Everyone got out of the truck to hold our prize Ring-necked Snake.

Abby with our colorful friend

Abby with our colorful friend

Regal Ring-necked Snake ( Diadophis punctatus )

Regal Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus)

When we got back to the tarantula site Brent told me that they had located and marked two more burrows and would leave them be if I wanted to record GPS coordinates. My friend Chad is visiting in three weeks and maybe I'll even take Joel down there to see one. Our plan was to wait for darkness a bit longer and then road-cruise our way back. Brent wanted to find at least one male and I was looking forward to showing his group a rattlesnake. Ten minutes or so after we began our drive back we came across our first - and only - male tarantula of the night on the road. The image below was captured the next morning at my corral.

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I was quite surprised that we didn't encounter more males, and for some time all I saw on the road was toads. We were driving faster than I normally road-cruise as the group didn't want to be up all night and I realized that I probably would miss any very small snakes. However, there was no way I would overlook a three-foot rattlesnake stretched out in the road, and I was soon excited to be able to show the students an adult Prairie Rattlesnake.

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The rest of the ride was uneventful; the roads oddly deserted by the live and dead snakes I usually observe. Even the jackrabbits and cottontails were scare, with mostly banner-tailed kangaroo rats and other rodents darting between pavement and shoulder grass. Back in the canyon I enjoyed a nightcap with the Millsaps crew, but they quickly disappeared into their tents leaving Brent and I to one last beer.

The next morning I spent a few hours doing my usual routine and then joined them at their campground at 9. One of the scheduled activities was to visit an area in Cave Creek Canyon past the Research Station where flipping rocks usually yields vinegaroons. Each student was required to give the rest of the group a presentation at various sites during their trip, and this day Abby, who is holding the Ring-necked Snake above, shared information about vinegaroons, not the least of which is their defense response releasing a chemical cocktail that includes a powerful concentration of acetic acid that gives these harmless “whipscorpions” their popular name. When Brent picked up the first one he purposely elicited a defense response so the students could smell the strong vinegar scent on his hands.

Brent shows a young vinegaroon ( Mastigoproctus tohono ) to the group while Richard takes profuse notes and O.C. ponders

Brent shows a young vinegaroon (Mastigoproctus tohono) to the group while Richard takes profuse notes and O.C. ponders

After a quick lunch back at their campsite, our next destination was the Chiricahua Desert Museum. I had spoke to owner Sheri Ashley in advance of the Millsaps visit and suggested that Brent contact her to arrange a tour. The amazing museum is equal parts reptile exhibit, snake breeding facility, desert garden, historical exhibit and gift shop/bookstore, and I knew the group would enjoy. But my expectations were exceeded when Rachel, one of the reptile keepers, took us to the off-exhibit buildings to view their behind-the-scenes reptile breeding operation. Some students had never held a snake and were apprehensive at first, but it was wonderful to see Marlee hold snakes as below.

Marlee with a Mexican Pine Snake

Marlee with a Mexican Pine Snake

When we eventually made it back to Sunny Flat Campground everyone was looking forward to relaxing in their hammocks. Brent and I sat sipping a beer and before long were quizzing the students about the biogeography of the Sky Islands including the Chiricahuas. Arachnologist became mixologist as Brent made me a couple of refreshing mint juleps to go with my Dos Equis ambers. We had a relaxing rest of the afternoon, but another thrill was about to come. 

We wanted to visit Cathedral Vista closer to dusk for group photos including the one that kicked off this blog, and walked down the road, made the short hike out to the viewpoint and then returned. Walking back a family with a young boy on a training wheels equipped bicycle headed towards us and said a snake had just crossed in front of them. Sunny Flat is a popular place for my favorite rattlesnake, the Western Black-tailed, and they seemed to know that was exactly what it was. We searched the bushes and grass where it was said to have gone to no avail, and Brent and I returned to the campsite. But one of his students, Liam, had continued to poke around the area and I heard him calling. I shouted back and forth and learned that the rattlesnake was right there in front of him so I grabbed one of my snake hooks and my camera and rushed back over to him. Sure enough, a gorgeous black-tail a bit over three feet long was at the grassy edge and I grabbed it. 

Brent hadn’t joined us yet and as he started our direction I had already told the family, who was now watching and Liam had told that I do this all the time so don’t worry, that I would relocate the snake so it wasn’t by their campsite. Two days earlier someone had reported a black-tail at the same exact campsite so I decided it might be time for me to move the beauty somewhere less frequented by kids on bicycles. I shouted to Brent to return to my truck and grab my big storage tub so I could contain it. He brought it over and then I had Liam hand him my camera so he could take the image below.

Me and a Western Black-tailed Rattlesnake ( Crotalus molossus )

Me and a Western Black-tailed Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus)

The following portrait of the snake was taken when I released it, coincidentally near the vinegaroon site from earlier that day. I excused myself from the group long enough to drive up canyon, release and photograph the snake, and then make a quick pit-stop to my Wheelhouse for some dinner. When I rejoined them later the group had set up a sheet and lamp to attract moths (and jewel scarab beetles that sadly didn’t come) and the students got to see sphinx moths and hawk moths and a myriad multitude of smaller moths and beetles. We hung out for a couple more hours before I bid them goodnight. The next day I had to man the Visitor Center and, after stopping to say goodbye, they pushed on to the final five days of their adventure.

Crotalus molossus

Crotalus molossus