Tuesday, May 23, 2017

#64a - Tuesday, 23 May 2017 - Rodeo, New Mexico

Yesterday I filmed a little video showing the outside of my home for the next thirty nights. The whole idea was to embed it into this blog. Unfortunately, due to slow wifi and some technical difficulties, I can't share that quite yet. It is hopefully uploading to YouTube right now and I will be able to share tomorrow. So here's a photograph of my campsite. I think this is the nicest in the park as it is still in the corner off away from everything and is adjacent to the duck pond. It also has the best patio. In the pic below you will see a wooden table (pallet on legs) for grilling on the left, a nice fire pit in the foreground and a picnic table, all of which are right outside my doors and partially covered by my awning. You'll also note Jesse's play stand outdoors and the hummingbird feeder hung in the tree at far right.

This morning I did some laundry and am having a relax day. Last night I drove 100 miles (2 hours) to the Antelope Wells border crossing and waited there for the sun to set. I had tried to time my drive so there wouldn't be much of a wait, but I left camp about 30 minutes too early. Each time I drive from my camp at Rusty's east to Animas (16 miles) for fuel or groceries I have been seeing horned lizards at the highway edge if it is somewhere around 8-10 a.m. They are more active when the sun isn't completely blazing and retreat from the midday and afternoon heat in burrows. Last night, as I drove toward the Mexico border and Antelope Wells I thought I saw one again. There are a few species in this area, but the largest and broadest is the Greater Short-horned Lizard, which is only five or six inches long but has a back almost as broad and flat as my hand. I hit the breaks, swung an off-road U-turn and slowly creeped back north in my truck. Sure enough this bucket list species was basking on the pavement at dusk. I jumped out of the truck and approached, stupidly not bothering to grab my camera. I wanted to catch first and photo second, positioning the lizard on a natural background and not photographing it on pavement. First mistake. I would love to have that photo now. As I reached down toward it, the horned lizard (aka horny toad) surprised me with its speed. What ensued fortunately wasn't captured on film. It was a comedy of errors as the lizard darted back and forth and headed toward the roadside. Big, clumsy me was no match for even this super stocky and robust lizard's moves. It paused and darted, again and again, each time evading me and taking advantage of my height and girth. I simply wasn't agile enough or quick enough to bend over. Along the road's shoulder I picked up ground and went in for the grab. Just as my hand touched its extraordinarily broad and flattened back it scurried further out of reach and darted down one of the many holes that led to its tunnel. Foiled. I sat on the side of the road and cursed myself for not taking an image while it was calmly on the pavement.

This all occurred about ten miles north of the border. I was getting very hungry and also cursed my ill-preparedness at not having a sandwich or snack in the vehicle. I had a little siesta before leaving the RV two hours earlier and hadn't eaten since breakfast. I had no idea what Antelope Wells was and expected at least a small village where perhaps I could purchase a snack. Foiled again. It may look like a village on the map, but it turns out that Antelope Wells is nothing but a border crossing. I was in the middle of nowhere with no food for two hours in each direction.

Antelope Wells. No food in sight.
I took a few social media snapshots of the crossing, which had been closed since 4 pm and then sat watching the sun set over the Animas Mountains. I am not patient and didn't wait for dark. I began to creep slowly north on Highway 81. My normal "snake road cruising" speed is 25-30 mph, but I tried to go 10 so I wouldn't get too far before nightfall. A few nights earlier I had found four Painted Desert Glossy Snakes between mile markers 16-20. I was hoping that this stretch would yield other species. 

Near mile marker 6 – just a handful of miles north of Mexico – I spotted a snake coiled in the road. It was still light enough that I could see its stockiness and reddish color. I knew immediately that it was a rattlesnake. The Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes in this area are very red as that is the color of the desert here. It was simply beautiful with its tightly wound coils an adobe red. I put my truck in park and quickly jumped out. I had learned my lesson with the horned lizard and grabbed my macro camera set-up. When I am road cruising I have my two camera bodies set up - one with a 100mm macro lens and ring flash, the other with a 70-200mm lens and an external flash with a softbox diffuser. Thankfully, I captured the beautiful image you see here. But before I did I had to open the passenger door to grab my snake hook. As I went around the side of the truck I was surprised by another rattlesnake, almost identical in appearance to the one in the road, but perhaps four feet long instead of three. I grabbed my other camera and tried to position the snake for a photo, leaving the road snake coiled as it was. Western Diamondbacks are noted for their irascibility and are quick to throw themselves into a defensive positive with their heads held high and their necks in an S-shape. This one did not disappoint and struck at me repeatedly as it rattled loudly and slithered in reverse. Each time my snake hook touched it the snake used serpentine motion to keep facing me and striking while it moved quickly away from the roadside shoulder. I decided to let it be and return to the snake in the road. With good images captured it was time to move it off the road if for its own safety and nothing else. It gave me the same performance as its friend had, agitated and refusing to balance on the snake hook as it thrust its body away from the road. I ended up with two beautiful red diamondbacks rattling and striking and moving quickly into the roadside brush. It was interesting how two snakes that were about fifteen feet apart at the start of this encounter and eventually were about 25 feet away from each other ended up in almost exactly the same place. They both retreated to some bushes surrounding a soaptree yucca and their rattling was deafening. By now it was too dark to see and I went back to my truck to put on my headlamp and sip some water. I spent a little time with a flashlight looking for the snakes hoping to get another photo or two, but decided I had stressed them out enough. I got back in my truck and started slowly north. About a mile along I realized that I had neglected to record GPS coordinates so I turned back and looked for that soaptree yucca. I could hear the rattling from the road so it was easy to find the spot again. I use an app called Gaia GPS that allows you to create photographic waypoints so I took a picture of the yucca and used my iPhone to record the sound of the rattling bush.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox), Hidalgo Co., New Mexico

I'd say that the rest of the drive was uneventful, because I didn't find anymore live snakes. I did find one more Western Diamondback, also in this reddish color, but sadly it was on the slightly busier Hwy. 9 after I made it back 50 miles north to Hachita where I took it west. However, road cruising is never uneventful as you have to contend with hundreds of jackrabbits and hundreds of cottontails that seem to think launching into the roadway is a good idea when they see two tons of bright lights humming their way. I return to camp totally exhausted from my efforts to swerve and brake and accelerate as needed to minimize the number of hares and rabbits I trample. I would estimate that in the course of last evening's drive down to Antelope Wells at dusk and then road cruising at dark and driving 100 miles back to Rodeo I saw several hundred black-tailed jackrabbits and almost the same number of cottontails (both species, common and desert). In addition, the road at night is filled with racing rodents like kangaroo rats that are like psychotic gerbils as their plump little bodies and thick long tails streak from one side of the road to the next, crossing the two lanes of pavement in the blink of an eye.

I mentioned that today I am just relaxing. By that I mean I am not in my truck, not hiking and not photographing. I am just hanging out in my RV. I did a load of laundry this morning and checked out the clubhouse here to see if I could watch hockey there tonight. I also have been doing some Internet stuff. Yesterday I joined a website called iNaturalist.org. It allows you to upload images for identification if you don't know what you've found, but in my case allows me to ID for others or upload my images just to share. Even if I didn't interact with others it is a great place to store the same low-resolution watermarked images I post on Instagram and record the GPS coordinates and other info about each observation. I've only played with it for two days, but I am really excited about fully utilizing its potential and becoming part of the community. It's also a great way to find other peoples observations from the areas I visit and get locality information for species I am seeking. Sharing exact locations by precise GPS coordinates does have a certain risk as it can be used by collectors (read: poachers), but the trend today in scientific papers is to share this precise locality data and I don't imagine that someone is going to eradicate a species of scorpion or snake just based on my information, or that my not sharing info is going to prevent people from doing as they choose. It's all out there now and I choose to embrace the positive aspects.

Another Internet thing I am finally getting around to is building a new personal website. For many years exoticfauna.com was my primary home. Today it has been reduced to a single page and I started mjacobi.com before I left on this road trip. The latter was intended to be more about living on the road and doing some freelance design work and such, but I now wish to have one website that really focuses on my naturalist and wildlife photography adventures. Some of you may know that my SmugMug site is my true photo gallery and it even offers you the chance to buy prints of my images, but I don't really think it sees much traffic and I haven't been uploading new images there. 90% of the photos there are images of tarantula species taken in captivity. So the new site will contain my images of animals in nature and allow a better platform for everyone to view them than social media does. I will keep you updated on the completion of this site. I will just plug away at it here and there and probably spend a good deal of time finishing it when I am spending a couple weeks in Chicagoland in early July.

Note: If you haven't seen the first RV video I made, which gives you a tour of my Wheelhouse and was filmed in Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park back in March, click here to view. Hopefully tomorrow I will blog again with a link to the video I shot here.

Whirled peas, M

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