Reds, Winders, and Geckos by Richard Bartlett on 2019-07-22 00:14:00
The first herp of the night, a young red diamond rattler.
Home was now about 2500 miles behind me and I was headed for a mountain grade that I had found on previous trips to be a wonderfully productive herping venue as well as incredibly scenic. And did I mention that because of typically high speed California traffic on a 2 lane roadway typified by many tight hairpin curves, it was also just a bit on the dangerous side, AND, and this was the most important part, along those dangerous curves, edged tightly by towering cliff-faces this road became the home of the coveted Coleonyx switaki, the Peninsula banded or Switak’s banded gecko. It was almost dusk now, but finally after my cross-country speedathon, my destination was less than an hour away.
And then I was making the final righthand turn…
Once on the mountain grade, one of the first reptiles seen was a juvenile red diamond rattlesnake, Crotalus r.ruber. At this inland location these snakes are not as brightly colored as many coastal populations, but they are nonetheless an impressive and welcome find. Although adults may exceed a heavy-bodied 5-feet in length, the one now before me was only about 2-feet long. I stopped, moved the snake to the side of the road, took a few pictures, and continued on.
Still on the descent I saw a California lyre snake, Trimorphodon lyrophanes, a California night snake, Hypsiglena o. nuchalata
. Desert banded geckos, Coleonyx v. variegatus
, and Peninsula leaf-toed geckos, Phyllodactylus nocticolus
. It was already a banner night.
At the bottom, at the far side of the town, the moving sands on roadside produced several very active Colorado Desert shovel-nosed snakes, Chionactis occipitalis annulata
, as well as an adult female Colorado Desert sidewinder, Crotalus cerastes laterorepens, the latter basking quietly on the still-warm pavement. It was a large, obviously gravid, and very feisty female. She struck several times in displeasure as I moved her onto the sand. Once on the move she looped across several yards of sand then stopped and coiled against the base of a creosote bush.
Back to the top then down to the bottom seeing zero herps. But then things picked up again. Up and down, up and down. Every banded gecko caused an abrupt slowing. Could it be, I wondered—could it be? I glanced at the clock. It was 0310 in the morning. The moon had disappeared from sight behind the towering cliff almost an hour ago. I decided to make one more run then head for the motel (that was still more than an hour’s drive away).
I drove down to a pulloff, turned around and headed up-grade for the last time. Whoops! Was that a lizard that I had just driven by? It was 0317 AM.There was no traffic so I backed up a bit and—yes it was a lizard. I parked, hopped out, crossed the road, and stared in disbelief at the lizard in my light.
After a decade of looking and more than 10s of thousands miles of driving, I had finally found the coveted Baja gecko. Fatigue was forgotten as I took picture after picture of the lizard. Knowing full well that I may never see another I bracketed, availed myself of several lenses, and went through a full set of batteries in the flash unit. Certainly I thought, as I walked to the car, some of those pictures should be satisfactory. Dawn was breaking as I drove into the motel. A full day’s sleep would be welcome.
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