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Desert Trip - Jim Buskirk 




Upon occasion, Jim Buskirk takes to the wilds and regales folk with a travelogue of his journey upon his return.  Reprinted here with permission is one such account of a trip he took this Spring




Hello Friends,


Back at the desk again:  The 3-day odyssey of 835 km. with Jarmo P., known to at least some of you, was well worth it.  I am exhausted but happy, with sore back and shoulders from various acrobatics employed during our final photo session, and from having done all the driving. 


Ten minutes after we arrived in the desert (= 6.5 hrs. after we left home) on Friday afternoon, Jarmo found a hatchling GOPHERUS AGASSIZII, walking about on a windswept, extremely dry slope of a berm.  I could not believe his good fortune!  Finding a hatchling tortoise is among the least likely achievements

of desert herping, yet it was our very first herp!  During the remaining 3 hours of daylight we continued to hike in that area, and drove to another site, but saw only a few lizards, and beautiful desert landscapes. 


Because it was so relatively cool (about 17C when we found the hatchling at 16H18), and because I hadn't been sleeping very well, we decided to stay in a motel rather than set up the tent.  In fact, we stayed at the same place both nights ($18@ x 2).  We had comfortable beds, TV, hot showers, and rumbling freight trains during the night.  That first night we celebrated with several beers.


On Saturday, another sunny but cool day, we decided to explore backroads near the motel.  After a few false starts we found a long, unpaved road going east which crossed a few low hills and many dry wadis.  Some of the habitat was degraded from previous attempts to grow alfalfa, or to graze sheep.  We encountered only 1 other vehicle all day, and its driver thought we were crazy to be driving the big Buick on such a road.  But I had no trouble  (Jarmo was amazed at my driving skill!).  However, eventually we reached a sea of loose sand, and turned around.  At 2 unlikely sites, bone dry and with only scattered shrubs, we saw a small adult desert tortoise near the roadside.  We took many photos, but didn't touch either tortoise (nor the hatchling the day before).  One of the adult tortoises was fully pulled into

its shell; I suspect that the driver of the other car had stopped to handle it.


After we turned around, we decided to explore some nearby buttes, resembling the "kopjes" in Africa in which MALACOCHERSUS and HOMOPUS SIGNATUS occur.  These were rock castles, miraculously rising from the desert floor.  We found a road, which ended in a sort of rustic parking lot next to the nearest and largest butte.  Immediately we saw a chuckwalla, SAUROMALUS OBESUS, the first of 6.  We circled all or parts of 3 of the 5 buttes after which I took a brief rest near the car.  In my absence, Jarmo saw and photographed a gopher snake PITUOPHIS CATENIFER (same sp. as the one which bit me during our first trip, near here), and the only collared lizard CROTAPHYTUS INSULARIS of the trip.  Later that afternoon, from the car, we saw the only leopard lizard GAMBELIA WISLIZENI of the expedition.  In decreasing order of abundance, the other lizard species seen were UTA STANSBURIANA, CNEMIDOPHORUS TIGRIS, CALLICEPHALUS DRACONOIDES, and only 2 SCELOPORUS MAGISTER.  I concluded that it was not warm enough to see either a horned lizard PHRYNOSOMA PLATYRHINOS nor a desert iguana DIPSOSAURUS DORSALIS.  Not seeing these was our only



Finally reaching a paved road very late in the day, we explored one last, very dry roadside area where tortoises were said to be common.  I saw only a possibly active tortoise burrow, but as we headed toward the car, I encountered a beautiful coachwhip snake MASTICOPHIS FLAGELLUM.  These nervous snakes do not allow even patient approach, so I was obliged to catch it in order to ensure photographic opportunities.  Even after the snake calmed down, it was never motionless, to our frustration, as one or the other of us tried gently to restrain it so the other could take photos.  Of course, I'm hoping we'll get some good photos of our wildlife encounters, and of the dramatic scenery.


Sunday morning was sunless and nearly cold, so we didn't even try to look for any more herps.  We were amazed to have found active tortoises under such harsh environmental conditions the previous 2 days, and very thankful.  We made a few stops on the way home (to photograph a rare variety of cactus, for example), such that our time on the road was nearly 10 hours.  We had seen a coyote and a golden eagle from the freeway on our way to the desert, but no such large animals in the desert itself.  Rain came to the desert not long after our departure and I hope that the apparent drought which we saw will be much alleviated. - World Chelonian Trust

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