We took a trip to the Alvin Texas area to visit my wifes nephew and some other extended family members.While the trip was mostly a visit with relatives there was plenty of time for me to explore the areas in and around Alvin along with a few side trips to adjacent counties.We actually arrived late on June 30th to the Houston Hobby airport, by the time we had gotten our rental van, loaded it and gotten on our way it was nearly .Of course, as usual, I got lost looking for highway 35 and wound up on highway 45 instead, luckily, before I got all the way to Galveston we pulled over and Lynn got directions to Alvin, we took highway 6 from 45 and arrive in Alvin at around 12:30 AM, I saw one DOR snake on highway 6 about 5 miles from Alvin but didnt stop as it was late and all were very tired.We found a bite to eat at the local diner and were in bed by , this was going to be the earliest I think I got to sleep the entire trip
Thursday, July 1, 2004
The next morning we organized ourselves, picked up a few things from the local drug store that we needed and met my wifes nephew Michael-John and his son, Michael for lunch.After lunch he had to go back to work so we went over to the apartments that he maintains, met his boss (Dianne) and socialized for a little while.After that we went for a drive out highway 6 toward Galveston to find the local liquor store (Alvin is dry), Lynn picked up her fixings for B52s I spotted an abandoned lot that used to have a house on it, it was for-sale and it looked like a good spot to check for herps so I noted it in the back of my mind for later.We went back to the hotel and waited for Michael-John to finish some work and then he called us around to meet him and go to his place for dinner.
We arrived at Michael Johns house around on the 1st, he has a nice home outside of the Alvin city limits.Its 5 acres, maintained and mowed, there is a small drainage channel that encircles the eastern edges of his property.At dusk I decided to take a walk around his property to see if there was anything interesting and of course immediately ended up running into wildlife.The first animal of the trip was a Gulf Coast Toad (Bufo valliceps) which seemed to magically appear everywhere over the next hour or so.I counted well over 20 on his property and that was without looking very hard!
Next, we discovered a Green Tree Frog (Hyla cinerea), it was sitting on the windshield of Michaels 66 Mustang that he and his dad are restoring.I photographed both amphibians of course (both were new lifers for me as well).
I took one more walk around the perimeter of his property just as it was getting too dark to see and at the corner of his lot there is a small drainage pipe that leads under the road, I saw some movement and glimpsed the back half of a snake slowly moving into the pipe.Well, in one of my more stupid (and lucky) moments I decided to make a grab for the snake, it was definitely marked with some sort of pattern which is a good thing down in this area as the poisonous Cottonmouths are usually very dully marked or not marked at all.Anyway, I grabbed it and was immediately bitten as apparently the snake was not actually going down the pipe after all, it was probably coiling up near the entrance which is a good lesson to learn, if you can only see the tail you dont necessarily know where the head is at!In any event, the bite startled me momentarily and I let the snake go, I had moved it out of the pipe a little bit and it was larger than I though, I glanced quickly at my hand to make sure that there werent two puncture wounds like youd get from a pit viper and then I knew that at least it wasnt a poisonous snake! (not a good way to determine this by the way )Now I grabbed it in earnest and in on motion flung it from the drainage pipe and onto a grass area (as I didnt really care to be bitten again at least until I saw what kind of snake it was for sure!).Well, much to my delight and surprise it was a beautiful Speckled Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula holbrooki).After many photos and a little discussion and demonstration to the kids (and Michael-John) about beneficial predators, I released it back where I found it!(the prevailing attitude in this area of Texas is still the only good snake is a dead one )
Back at the house I discovered my fourth new lifer of the evening, a Mediterranean House Gecko.They turned out to be everywhere!More common than the common Green Anoles they were on the sides of just about any building that had a light on at night and I found them under debris and rocks as well.
Friday, July 2nd, 2004
I got up early and looked around the general area.Drove just outside of town and found a large DOR Texas Rat Snake on a bridge (sparing you the grizzly details here, it was pretty mangled.)When I was photographing it I took a look down in to the Bayou that ran under the highway (Hwy 35) and there was a huge snapping turtle stirring up things!There were also several other turtles (I think they were sliders but not positively IDd) that were much to quick for me to get a good look at.They really have great eyesight, I wonder why they have evolved to look upwards to see whats coming.I was not even close to them and they were diving for cover at the first sign of movement.
There was another side road that paralleled the bayou so I took a look over there as well.There was a large dead Armadillo on a small bridge overpass, the first of many I would observe on this trip, the seem to get slaughtered out here!More turtles in the water that I was not able to ID!I flipped a board and found a small Flathead Snake (Tantilla gracilis).It was unexpected and before I could get the camera gear rolling it disappeared down a crayfish hole.
I then drove over to that abandoned lot off Highway 6,there was a lot of rocks to flip and I found a Mediterranean Gecko that I captured and took back with me, a Gulf Coast Toad and an un-IDd skink It had a blue tail, thats all I can say
We met Michael-John at and headed off for our first major exploratory trip.We were headed for BrazosBendState Park.I didnt know what to expect but it sure was fantastic!
We arrived there a little after .It was hot, in the low 90s and humid but I didnt mind, we had spotted several deer and Alligators on the way into the park so I was pretty excited at the opportunity!
There was wildlife everywhere.Even with the large group of noisy people and Lynn and I lagging way behind we still managed to spot a ton of stuff.There were 6 of us total including Michael-Johns son Mike, the three of us and a friend of Mikes.I ended up with about 8 new bird lifers that day and added a few more on my return trip (see below).The herps were mostly American Alligators and Red-eared Sliders.No lizards were spotted at all, found the remnants of a Western Ribbon Snake also.Huge spiders, Golden Silk Spiders, everywhere.My first encounter with one was an accidental brush on a web followed by sheer terror as the huge spider was crawling up my leg and heading for the dark area which was under my shorts I am not good with spiders even though I enjoy photographing and observing them Something about them just creeps me out and I havent been able to overcome my fear of them yet.
We hiked about 3 miles around the loop trail, spotted at least a dozed gators and a ton of birds.There werent many people in the park either, probably no more than 10-15 cars in the entire parking lot which was huge.There were lots more deer, a family of raccoons that crossed the road with Lynn trying to photograph them, tons of dragonflies, lots of bullfrogs, etc.Here are some pictures from our hike...
On the way back to Alvin we stopped to purchase our pyrotechnics for the upcoming 4th of July festivities.Fireworks are illegal inside the city limits so you have to drive just outside of there and then there are firework stands BOY do they have great fireworks!You can buy just about anything that you can think of.I ended up spending a little north of $200 on stuff that ranged from sparklers and small firecrackers to large aerial displays.Best of all, I spotted a bird that I have always wanted to see!!!A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was sitting on some electric wires right outside of the stand.I grabbed my camera and was able to capture several good photos before it took off.The sure do have a neat pattern of flight and are quite acrobatic when grabbing insects out of the air.Here he is:
That evening we had dinner at a Chinese Buffet located somewhere off the 45 freeway.After diner we returned to the hotel and rested.
July 3, 2004.
Again (as became a regular pattern for the trip) I was up late studying my material and then up early to explore in advance of Lynn and Angelica getting up and getting ready.This morning Ijust took a walk along highway 35 that went past the hotel.There was a large thicket of briar along the freeway and some open area behind it.I was trying to get behind the thicket but never figured out how to do so.I was able to observe my second Green Anole of the trip, this one in a more natural setting so I took some photos of him as well, then caught him and brought him back for the girls to look at.Today was a non-herp day as we drove down to Galveston to see the sights.Michael-John had called to tell us that they werent going to be able to shoot off fireworks on the 4th at his bosses house (where the party was going to be) so we were going to shoot them off tonight.We picked up 5 pounds of shrimp in Galveston and then went to Michael-Johns for dinner.We were up until shooting off fireworks.Great show, tolerant neighbors.. couldnt do something like that in San Diego, the police would have thrown us all in jail for the noise we made.
July 4, 2004
Today is the party at Michael-Johns bosses house, we were planning on getting there around so I had the morning to go explore which I did.There are some old farm roads near MJs house so I went over there to see what I could find.I found a DOR Western Cottonmouth, A DOR Speckled Kingsnake and a DOR Broad-banded Water Snake.
We went to the party, it was OK, nice BBQ, played some pool, the kids road horses.We observed a large Green Anole on a fence so we of course took dozens of pictures of it much to the delight and amazement of the locals who thought we were nuts
We were wrapped up and ready to go by or so, Lynn was tired, Angelica was as well so that meant one thing for me!Night drive!!!
I drove extensively around the area, more DORs, not too many AORs, found another Broad-banded Water Snake, a couple of DOR Cottonmouths and a few squished frogs, a live Green Treefrog and that was about it.Was a little disappointing actually but the next day would be much better!
July 5th, 2004
The plan was to get up early and go back to BrazosBendState Park.I got up at but Lynn and Angelica couldnt get up, I think that the combination of hot weather, high humidity and the partying were taking their toll.I was tired too but decided that since this may be my only opportunity to see the area that I would go it alone.I said goodbye and was on the road by .I drove out to BrazosBendState Park, saw one DOR Water Snake on the way out, it was a Mississippi Green Water Snake.Arrive at the park at , before the park entrance was manned and appeared to be one of the first people there.There were deer everywhere!There was a group of about 15 right near the entrance including about a half-dozen young, took some photos and then proceeded to the same trailhead as we had been on a couple of days earlier.There was a British couple that arrived at the same time I did and we shared the entire park, alone!They had two huge camera set-ups on tripods, I think they were 600mm lenses but they may have been even larger, they were just gigantic, they would pause, set up and take pictures, I left them behind as it was quite exciting to be here early before anyone had a chance to disturb anything.
In the first half-hour I say about 12 Alligators and added several new birds to my life list including a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers and a Black Whistling Duck.I took the same trail and then veered off to another trail that led through some swampland and came out at a bridge and then an observation tower.Along the way, there was a big gator sitting at the edge of the trail, at least an 8 footer and possibly larger.I didnt even see him until I was right on him, luckily he wasnt interested in me whatsoever.The day was more humid than the previous couple and was quite warm by .There were clouds gathering quickly and it was evident that today may bring a few showers.I spotted another Green Treefrog on a cattail and was able to get one picture of him before he took off.
Also spotted another 3 egg-laying Red-eared sliders and I was able to get a few good shots of them laying eggs.Again however, other than the birds and gators, not much in terms of herp life.Still a very enjoyable walk.I left the park at about or so after hiking about 6 miles.The clouds were forming quickly now and raid was definitely in the forecast.There was a road just outside the park that I wanted to check out so I drove down it, it turned into a gravel road about 1 mile off the main highway, I found a DOR Broad-banded water snake, then it started to pour!I decided that perhaps I didnt want to be out here in the middle of nowhere in a deluge so I turned around and went back to the main road and then back toward the hotel.On the way I found a DOR Western Coachwhip that I photographed.
We were going to Kema today to check it out so after I got back and cleaned up we went back to Michael-Johns.Met up there with Lisa and Bill who were on their way to go buy a car so we took all the kids and drove down to Kema.I bought everyone dinner again at a Mexican restaurant off the 45 and then took them all back to Michael-Johns.We had dinner wrapped up by and so I took Lynn and Angelica on a short hike over by MJs.We hiked down the dirt road that had a bridge-out sign on it.There was no traffic so my hopes of finding something were high.I found a Texas Brown Snake on the road and we also spotted a ground skink but that was about it.I took the Brown Snake back to the hotel for photos and then released it back in the same area.
We decided to try Brazons Bend one more time, this time everyone was ready are willing, we got up and were on the road by , I found a DOR Cottonmouth on the side of the road on the way there, we arrived at Brazos Bend around .It was another hot and muggy day, we hiked to the observation tower, more Alligators everywhere as well as egg-laying sliders.I flipped a log and there was a Gulf Coast Ribbon Snake under it (Thamnophis proximus orarius) unfortunately, I had my camera bag around my shoulder and wasnt able to grab it quick enough and it escaped into the water before I could photo it. I did get a good shot however of a Blotched Water Snake, they are very colorful here, lots of reddish color to them.
On the way back, Lynn spotted one of the highlights of the trip!It was a baby Alligator and a beauty at that!I walked right past it, it was about 18 long and was very colorful and it allowed us to photograph it quite a bit.I was going to try to catch it but as soon as I got within about 6 it took off like a rocket for the water.
We saw more deer, etc. but the day was getting warm and the clouds were building up again so we decided to head back to the hotel.
We didnt have any plans until dinner, when we were going back to MJs.I also was quite excited about the rain coming and what it may mean for the evening hours.Lynn had run out of cigarettes and her brand is not easy to find so I ended up driving half-way to Galveston to a cigarette store to get some for her.On the way back the skies opened up and came down like I have only seen once before, in Arizona during the monsoon season.The lightning and thunder were continuous and it was very hard to see through the pouring rain.I got back to the hotel and it poured for another hour or so and then finally let up around .A couple of inches of rain had fallen so I was excited at the prospect of night-driving, luckily the evening didnt amount to much and I had everyone back in the hotel by 9:30 or so and I hit the road.
There were amphibians everywhere, they were getting slaughtered on the road by MJs.The only ones I could ID were the Southern Leopard frogs, they were all along the road.I found a DOR Cottonmouth and then a DOR Blotched Water Snake, a DOR Broad-banded Water Snake and then an AOR Western Cottonmouth, a juvenile.He didnt want anything to do with me and also didnt seem very aggressive unlike what I had heard they were like.
Saw a few toads as well and head just an astronomical amount of frog calls, there were at least 5 different species calling but I couldnt locate any of them.I decided to drive out toward Brazos Bend again to see if I would have any better luck out there.I turned down a farm road near the park and was followed by another car that stayed right on my tail.As luck would have it a huge Copperhead was in the road directly ahead of me but I couldnt slam on the brakes so I had to turn into a driveway and then turn around.By the time I did so, he was gone.I noted that the snakes here do not stay on the road like they do in California and Arizona.They seem to be on the road only long enough to cross over it.
I was out until , had some fun but didnt see as many live snakes as I would have liked to have seen, for sure.
Last day in the Alvin area, had an evening flight home so I was able to take one more look around.I decided to go over to where the bridge was out by MJs and walk the bayou.It was a good decision!I got there around , it was already hot and sticky.I spotted a couple of large snapping turtles in the water and several others that I could not ID.Walking along the edge I spotted a large Water Snake in the vegetation but he took off and went under water before I could get a good look.I walked the opposite direction for about 1 mile and head some noise in the briars that line the rim of the bayou.There was a small Armadillo, he was following me, actually, I was following him, he didnt seem to care about me at all and that was great as I was able to take many pictures.While doing so we apparently flushed out a large Western Cottonmouth who I was able to snap three quick pictures of before he bolted off back into the brush.Again, not the slightest sign of aggression, actually timidity would be a better description of the ones I ran into anyway.He was so upset to see me that he actually did what I would describe as belly-flops across the ground, he didnt slither but rather lunged forward back into cover.
I got back to the hotel around and we were packed and ready to go by .We decided to take the day and drive the long way back to Houston which was cool as we got to see some other interesting things along the way.Another Alligator in an irrigation ditch along the side of the road, some sunning, baby red-eared sliders and a DOR Copperhead to end the trip.
Got back to the airport around and on our way home.