Kevin in China, part 3 – The First Westerner in Town

Below the fold is the third report from Kevin. This time it really gets interesting, even fascinating! Hunting snakes, rural China, the people….Kevin has interesting observations about everything.
Since the way Kevin embeds pictures in MSWord makes it very tricky to extract them and still have them look decent, I urge you to go check out the photos he managed to upload onto Photobucket. Enjoy:

Xiagu report (she-ah-gu)
27 May
At first I was not near as impressed with Xiagu as I was with Jiuchong. It was much bigger and less personal. We arrived late afternoon on the 27th. Of course I wanted to unload our gear and start hiking. We started walking down the street, it took quite a while to walk somewhere where you weren’t surrounded by buildings. I mean it was still rural, and most of these buildings were small farms and such, but still.
Our “trail” was an asphalt road that eventually led down to the river. In contrast, in Jiuchong, you could walk out of the “hotel” and be maybe 100 ft from the river, and walking 5 mins north or south took you out of city limits/ village limits.
So, we were walking along the road and I spot something to my right. Up on the hillside is dense vegetation, and at this part there was a small clearing and all I could see was about 2 feet of a solid black snake. There was a 6 ft wall I would have to climb first, and then the gradient on the hill is close to 60-70%.
I thought about my options. I could make a running jump and force a hand up there and grab the 2 ft of snake I saw. The problem was, I did not know how big the snake was total and one of the few species running through my mind was the Chinese Cobra, Naja atra – I can’t remember if atra is Greek for black or not. The Black Tiger Snake’s scientific name is Notechis scutatus atra. The only other species I could think of was Ptyas mucosus. And without being 100% positive, I did not want to basically blindly grab a foreign snake I did not know for sure what it was.
Next I was trying to see the head, so I could get a better idea of the species. As expected, as I approached the snake started moving. The 2 feet I was staring at was the portion of the body just anterior to the tail and it was about as thick as that 76.5″ coachwhip I caught at midbody. The snake was very large as I could easily hear it moving through the brush as walked along trying to see the head and to see if there was an area where the wall was lower.
I finally ran ahead of the snake and took a running jump for the ledge. I was able to get my chest up there but there were no holds. Ling Sung quickly ran up behind me and grabbed my foot to try and give me a boost. I made it up there, but walking through the brush on such a gradient I was constantly falling, I’m not a good measure of gradient – it could have been more than 70% – steep enough that every other step resulted in slipping and nearly sliding off the wall.
I headed towards the snake but could not find it. It was a futile attempt, I knew, but I still had to try. Getting down was the hard part. After a lot of deliberating, I just decided to jump down. My boots were wet and muddy and it would have been bad to slip from such a distance, but I got down without any problems. My hands were all cut up pretty badly from searching for a hold while trying to get up the wall. I was happy. I like getting “field wounds.”
We continued down the road which went for quite a ways. We eventually decided to turn back. That night we stayed at a hotel in town, nowhere near as cool as the loft we were staying at in Jiuchong – this location had a TV, outlets, bathroom, etc – far too fancy.
28 May
We had breakfast with the local police officers. Most breakfasts consist of a tomato and egg soup, oftentimes lettuce or cabbage is also thrown into the boiling pot. After breakfast I wanted to walk by the area where we saw the snake that got away. Ling Sung said we could take a car down to the river, but number 1) I wanted to walk so we could see that snake, if he returned, number 2) I don’t have the money for paying for taxis everyone, and number 3) it’s downhill and good exercise, so I told him we wouldn’t take a car and would walk.
We packed up all the gear. My camera bag has basically been modified into my gear bag. I have the Rebel, and 3 primary lenses. I took out the real SLR and its lens and replaced those slots with bags. The back compartment had GPS, thermometer. The outside had a Nalgene attached to an external strap and my notebook attached by karabiner (that is spelled wrong most likely – the things rock climbers use to secure their lines; [I fixed it – B.Z.] ).
The snake had not returned… We continued down the road, after walking around curves for about 30 mins some cops drove up in a Cherokee and asked if we wanted a lift. Since we had already passed the snake location I gave in. As we drove down to the check point station I saw a DOR in the road and yelled snake. Of course no one picked up on this and I said there was a sh-uh (in pinyin, spelled “she” with an accent mark over the “e”) in the road. It took awhile for it to register with Ling Sung and we had already traveled about 5 mins by car going 60 kph by the time Ling Sung said “you saw a snake back there?” – I shook my head in frustration and said “yes…”
They dropped us off at the check point and I was mainly inclined to walk back up the road, but it was quite a distance now and though it was a DOR, there was still a chance a scavenger could pick it up. But I refrained. We walked further down the road to a trail and started our hike.
A bit down the trail I saw a DOT (Dead On Trail) Takydromus septentrionalis lizard. We hiked until there was no more trail to hike. We turned around and started heading back. Ling Sung was stopping often to look at leaves and such. My assistant was a botanist (not sure if I mentioned that before or not). He also liked to rest often. I was tired too, but I was more tired of not finding any snakes than I was physically tired, so I kept on. I walked slower and flipped several rocks giving Ling Sung a chance to catch up.
Eventually I just sat on a rock and waited for about 10 minutes before hearing some distant calls. I walked back up the trail and heard Ling Sung calling my name, wondering where I was. It was a single trail, he couldn’t have gotten lost and if he would have just kept walking he would have found me. I was semi-frustrated.
It was around 12pm and so of course he was ready for lunch. All I wanted to do was continue herping, but Ling Sung is more of my translator than he is a field herping assistant, so I want to keep him happy, so again, I gave in.
After lunch I wanted to walk back up the road so we could see that DOR. I walked along the inner side of the mountain. One good thing about the road setup here was that before the mountain reaches the road, there is a huge curb system (obviously to keep tremendous amount of water flow off the road during a rain), but this also acted kind of like a drift fence situation. It would be a very steep climb for a snake to come down the mountain and back up to the road again – about a 2 ft high curb. As we walked I came up on a stunningly beautiful snake. Dead. It was a 42.5″ Mandarin Rat snake. I reached down to pick it up and heard Ling Sung saying “be careful.” For what?? It was dead.
This, however, was not the snake I had seen. This snake was off of the road in the ditch. We continued upwards and I finally came across the DOR. At first glance I was ecstatic. It looked like a Bungarus multicinctus (Many-banded Krait – extremely venomous) – but it was actually a nonvenomous Lycodon ruhstrati (a species of Wolf Snake).
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I was pretty tired that day. We had hiked from 9am until 4pm, minus a 1 hr lunch. As we passed locals I would say hello. Sometimes I just got blank stares, other times a smile and giggle from a girl. Ling Sung said they are very shy to say hello.
Again, hunting in China is reminding me of Kansas for some reason, perhaps Kansas in June or July, back when I was younger. In those days, the days prior to driving, I would walk for hours and find nearly nothing. I have determined that road cruising by foot and on trails, rather than roads, is just simply inefficient. China has reminded me of how unsuccessful and how hard habitat herping is and how grateful I should be of the Sandhills.
Another thing that has puzzled me is the lack of lizards. Granted, my mountain experience is my weakest point, but every other habitat I have hunted has lizards all over around midday – from anoles around the house in Charlotte, to lizards all over the Sandhills, to a plethora in the Keys. So this lack of lizard life has made me wonder if it is still too early in the year.
29 May
Mountain tactics are very different. I think the window of opportunity is far narrower. Earlier today, Mr. Wong, Ling Sung, and I went hiking on the north side of town. In the sun it was in the mid-80s, and if you dipped around a curve and put a mountain between you and the sun, the temp dropped drastically, to around the low-mid 70’s. So it makes me think, when that sun finally hits these spots, say around 10-10:30am, the snakes in that area will only have a few minutes to warm up before it is too hot.
As opposed to a flat area, where snakes can bask a little after sunrise and slowly retreat as the sun rises further into the morning. As I think about “mountain tactics” more – I don’t recall seeing many lizards at Philmont, and aside from Alligator lizards, not many in Big Bend. Hiking in Colorado in the middle of June didn’t produce much either, but that was 1994 and I can’t remember every detail of that hike.
Finally some luck. Walking back from a trail I saw a glimpse of undulating black in the soil. I threw my gear off and ran over to the snake just to see about 3″ of the tail about to disappear down a hole. A cursory glance told me it was nonvenomous, however, the dorsal pattern did look like Azemiops (Fea’s Viper) – but the context didn’t fit that species. Plus, the majority of the snake was down the hole, so I knew I could tail it for now, examine the body and if it was venomous I could fling it out into the open and then re-capture it.
Ling Sung started to approach and I told him to back up – I’m sure it would take a lot of explaining if he walked over and all of sudden I’m flinging a viper at him. The underbelly was also yellow which didn’t fit Azemiops either. As I pulled more of the body out the dorsal pattern had the alternating bars going from the sides to the spine, like Azemiops, and the background color was right, but between the bars it was dirty with hint of another pattern – not as clean cut as any pictures of Azemiops I’ve seen before.
But of course, relying on pictures alone can be a fatal mistake. As I neared the head I drew my hand towards the base of the tail, ready to fling. The head came out and it certainly wasn’t Azemiops, but I couldn’t place it immediately. I knew it wasn’t venomous. The head reminded me of the facial pattern of African House Snakes, the dorsal pattern, like Azemiops, aside from the “dirt,” and the belly like a northern ringneck.
The snake had no interest in biting. Around that time Mr. Wong walked up – he had hiked with us earlier hoping to find a snake but didn’t have any luck. Then, when he left, we found something. I showed him that the snake didn’t bite and that he could hold it if he wanted – which he did (something Ling Sung was afraid to do).
We headed back to the station – we moved our stuff from the hotel to the police station since all of our off-time was being spent there anyway – dropped the snake off and headed back out again.
This time we hiked up another trail on the north side of town. We came across a dried up rock flow – not sure the proper name of this sort of thing – kind of like the mountains of NC, where you have a huge rock face, sometimes a single rock, that when it rains is one of the primary sources of runoff, but when it’s dry it is just a sleuth of continuous rock.
We started climbing and came up on a pool in the stone. At the base of the pool this frog was sitting. It was about shoulder deep, but it was a different species of frog at least! As impossible as China seems, especially with my assistant, I’d have to say, so far every day has revealed at least something new – whether dead or alive – and the primary purpose of this study is to catalog, so anything is successful basically, so long as we find something.
Ling Sung said we had hiked approximately 100 meters, vertically, from where the trail started – in about 30 – 45 mins. At the top of the trail was a house with walls made of mud. I don’t remember if I mentioned this in my previous write-up. China has been a clash of settings. You can be in the most remote location, the most dilapidated houses, houses with walls and a roof, no door – but every house has a satellite dish, and usually the only light you see inside is that of a TV.
Much of rural China has reminded me of what I picture 1940’s – 1950’s America to be like. All food is grown on your own property, there is no such thing as trespassing – we can, and do walk wherever we care. There are no distinct boundaries. Families get water from the river and boil it. Kids play in the street rolling bicycle tires with a stick, like kids would roll a hoop with a stick. Yet every house has a TV and satellite dish. Here was this house, walls made of mud, and in the corner, held up by a pile of rocks, was a satellite dish. It is just a strange sight.
Tonight was certainly entertaining. There was a power outage after dinner, so everyone at the station wanted to go for a walk. Where did they lead me? To a basketball court…
I tried to tell them I wasn’t any good. A girl, Chi Ling, came up to me and started asking me questions. Her English was very good. She said that they wanted to play a game of 3 on 3 and wanted me to play as well and that it didn’t matter if I was any good or not. So, reluctantly, I agreed.
About that time, the local school (one of the 4 buildings bordering the court) which was about 4-5 stories tall with a balcony at each level, let out for evening recess. So each level was lined shoulder to shoulder with kids – all watching the game. Apparently it doesn’t take much to impress them. I was able to hit a fair amount of distance shots, and when I checked into the mid-court, the guy guarding me was a push over. Also, once near the basket I could basically just stand there with the ball overhead and it was far from anyone else’s reach. Every time a basket was made, all the kids clapped and cheered. The other team was very fast and nimble. After about 30 mins I was worn out.
Afterwards the principal of the school told me that the children would love to hear me speak English. Always willing to give back I told him I’d be happy to and asked when he would like me to stop by. He said “how about now?” Figuring he was meaning tomorrow or something I was a little surprised but still had no problems. Since the city was in a blackout all the students were studying by candle light. The class had around 55 students. They asked me a few questions, had me read an excerpt out of a Chinese magazine that had English publications – the excerpt was talking about how Chinese children could learn to speak English (in preparation for the 2008 Olympics) by watching English movies, singing and listening to English songs, etc etc. The class seemed very happy I came to talk to them. Ling Sung said what I did probably had a big impact on them. I was very happy to hear this. I asked him how many westerners have come to this town. He didn’t know, but one of the officers chimed in and said “you are the first.”
30 May
By far the best day I’ve had in China so far. Today had everything. I met ZongXu today. Zong Xu, Wong Ming, Ling Sung, and I took a couple of motorcycles down to the base of the mountain near the river and hit a gravel road. We parked the bikes at a friend’s house and started to hike. Almost immediately Zong Xu and Ming saw a lizard. They tried to catch it but it got away. A few minutes later, another lizard. I guess they were trying to impress me, because they said they could catch it (as opposed to letting me catch it) – that lizard also got away.
We came across a construction crew that was working on clearing some rocks. We told them what we were doing and they said they had killed a snake the day before at 3pm and that it was in a bag down by the river. Zong Xu brought the bag up. I peered in to see a large black snake. I pulled it out and was basically staring at an 84″ Black Racer – Ptyas mucosus:
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That was quite a disappointment.
The snake that had escaped on that first day I am positive was a Ptyas. Later that first night I had looked at some pictures – the Chinese cobra is usually banded as well.
We continued along the trail, Zong Xu insisted on carrying my camera bag for me. Ming also wanted to carry the tongs for me. As we walked we saw a 5-6ft Ptyas by the river below, but the drop was at least 50 ft so jumping down was out of the question. As we scrambled for a way to get down the snake took off. Oh well, still an observation.
We hiked until we reached the end of the road and were about to head back. We came to a switchback that led up the mountain. Ling Sung said that there was a small town at the top of the mountain where a family had a snake preserved in alcohol (for drinking) and wanted to know if I wanted to see it. It would still count as a species for locality purposes, so I told him “let’s go” (this phrase was quickly adopted by Zong Xu and Ming – later in the week if they wanted to go hunting or after sitting down for a rest, they’d get up and simply say “let’s go”).
Ling Sung had said the town was about 13 minutes hike away but it felt like 13 miles. We went from broadleaf vegetation to pine trees. When we reached the top of the mountain all of the locals wanted to look at the American and play with the snake tongs. We continued on.
I was confused, I had thought the house was in the town, but I didn’t ask, I figured it was just a little ways out of the “city limits.” As we were walking along the cliff, Zong Xu pointed down below to some trails and houses – I thought he was just pointing out the scenery, but he was actually pointing out where the house was. As we headed down steeply I realized this and started thinking about how much hell it was going to be coming back up. We got the house, which was actually a relative’s of Zong Xu. Here we had lunch, and then they brought out the snake in alcohol.
The snake was an approximately 48″ Deinagkistrodon acutus; English nicknames are Chinese Moccasin, Sharp-nosed Viper, and Hundred Pace Snake; the Chinese name is Jin Wen Fu. They said they found the snake last September at 6am on the front porch. Zong Xu and Ming had a glass of the alcohol. I was offered and obviously declined. They took the snake out for me to measure, and before putting it back I showed them the fangs (since I don’t think they knew that fangs are in sheaths). The fangs were huge.
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After lunch Zong Xu suggested we swim which of course I was happy to do. We started walking down the stream, jumping from rock to rock. The stream was becoming less and less like a stream and turning more into a river. As we made our way down I was wondering if Zong Xu had a particular spot in mind or what. We had eventually gone so far that it seemed like he was leading us on a different path back – rather than going back the way we came.
Water travels in the direction of least resistance right? So whatever way it is going is obviously going to be the fastest way down, right? Right? The rocks were getting bigger, the gaps between the rocks were getting bigger, and the water was getting bigger. I was in heaven. This was incredible. The sights were spectacular. There were some spots that we could not cross by rock jumping and had to bushwhack through the mountain side and find a way back to the river. Other times we had to nearly rock climb as we would have to find grips in the rock face to swing around to the opposite side of a rock.
The next 2 – 3 hours was a combination of rock hopping, hiking, bushwhacking, and rock climbing. He and Ming were excellent rock jumpers. I am pretty good as well. Many times we would have to wait for Ling Sung – Ling Sung, who’s name supposedly means “born in the forest” – not “born by the river” was having trouble with some of the jumps. In his defense he is about the size of a Liani, maybe slightly taller by and inch or two.
Through the course of this trip I was taking several jumps across water which I would normally never attempt, but since this was the only way out, I had no choice. We had come across maybe 4 huge gaps, which were followed by huge falls and if you messed up it would certainly mean your life, but we saw such awesome scenery. Places you knew people never come to, simply because of the remote location.
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There were a couple locations where we would bushwhack until we found a place where water runoff had carved a small trail back down to the river. These runoff trails were often very steep with loose rocks and there were a couple falls, slides, and falling rocks to deal with, but no one ever got hurt (by hurt I mean seriously hurt).
While bushwhacking along one trail, Zong Xu and Ling Sung were ahead of me and Ling Sung said he saw a snake. Zong Xu had the tongs and started looking where Ling Sung had seen it. I was looking for a way to jump down and get ahead of the snake. While peering through the brush I learned that there is a Chinese Stinging Nettle far worse than the nettle found in Kansas.
After about an hour and a half we reached a portion that wasn’t impossible, but fairly far fetched as far as rock jumping came. Zong Xu just walked in the water around it. I have no qualms with getting wet, so I followed without hesitation. Ling Sung and Ming were still jumping rocks. The way I figured was that it would be likely that we would come across other impossible spots, and if walking in water is more efficient, then might as well get wet. Walking along, this time I was in the lead, I rounded a large boulder and saw a King Ratsnake (Elaphe carinata) bolt for the bushes – I quickly leapt on the snake and busted my knee up fairly bad in the process, BUT I had caught the snake so it was worth it
Shortly after that snake, we were walking along and ahead, resting in the water was a 76″ Ptyas mucosus. Zong Xu wanted to catch it, so I let him at it. He got it with the tongs but was afraid to grab the body. So he brought it to me and I showed him how to hold it (IF you’re going to hold a nonvenomous by the head, which I prefer not to).
We also caught another species of frog, colloquially called “Ching Wa” (Wa means frog).
So anyway, after about 3 hours total, we finally started to hear some voices, where they were doing construction. We were at the base of where they were blasting rock out of the mountainside with dynamite. As we walked up on the construction crew from the backside of their work area they seemed pretty surprised, especially with the bags of snakes and the American.
Oh yeah, there was also a snake on a rock on the opposite side of the river, but by the time Zong Xu and I got down from the current rock we were on and across the river it had vanished. We made our way back to the main trail. We didn’t get back to the motorcycles until about 6pm. The hike that day was from 10am until 6pm – I had incurred bruises, stings, bites, scratches from thorns, tears from rocks, was wet, sweaty, and sore – it was an awesome trip! We had seen 7 snakes, 3 lizards, and 3 species of frogs.
We got back to the station and Mr. Zhu (“Zh” in Chinese is pronounced “J” – so Zhu is Ju) wanted to host me for dinner. Everyone at the station seemed to like me a lot and wanted to be my friend. One police officer said he wanted to stay in communication with me, even though his English was “very poor,” as he put it. While waiting for dinner to get prepared, Mr. Zhu wanted me to arm wrestle the biggest of the officers – one of my teammates in the basketball game. He was at least my size, maybe an inch taller. I was sure he would win. I actually ended up winning. They all said how strong I was. I remember on the trail, Ming would point at my muscle and give me a thumbs up. It was pretty funny.
We had many toasts that night. I was never allowed to pour my own alcohol or beer (for them, alcohol = liquor, and beer = beer). There were about 9 of us dining that night and each one gave me a toast at one point. Oh, and toasts aren’t a “raise-your-glass-and-take-a-sip” type thing, in China a toast is a chug of said alcohol and mug. So by the end of the night, you are easily drunk.
31 May
This morning Ling Sung told me that today was a holiday on the traditional Chinese calendar – 5/5, and asked if we could rest for the day… After the epic hike from the day before I actually hesitated in my answer. After about a second I said “probably.” I was actually almost ready to sit back and lick my wounds. My legs had a built-up soreness of several days in a row now, plus my knee hurt like hell.
I told him that he was perfectly welcome to sit the day out but that I would probably go out at some point during the day. Then at breakfast I tried to compromise and told him that we could sit the entire day out if we went out that night to look for Deinagkistrodon. He agreed.
So far, I would not say a single night survey had been done – at least thoroughly – what I consider a night survey. About an hour later Zong Xu and Ming show up and say “let’s go.” I just smiled and said “ok.” I told Ling Sung that I wasn’t going to tell them no and that if they were able to go, then I would be able to go, but that he was still welcome to stay in, but he came along.
We started heading north, when we got to the house that the people had seen a Cyclophiops major at a few days before they said they had caught a snake up the road about 15 mins ago. They brought out a bag, I peered inside and there was a Taiwan beauty snake (Elaphe taeniura). I had no idea what subspecies it was though.
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Zong Xu said he knew of a guy that found 3 different species of snakes about 20 days ago and still had them. So we headed for his place. It was easily mid-90’s in the sun, and a huge incline. I found it amazing that it seemed each day produced a tougher hike than the day before. But perhaps it was just from the pent-up soreness for the past week. I wondered how many days had to pass of intense activity, day after day, until your muscles caught up.
When we got to the guy’s place he pulled out a huge bag. Inside were 3 king rat snakes, one Ptyas, and one Taiwan beauty snake. I picked up the biggest King Rat, which bit me several times. The species still had yet to live up to it’s nickname of “Stinking Goddess” – supposedly for the behavior of releasing massive musk glands when caught.
We headed home. Ling Sung promptly passed out. Zong Xu wanted to go swimming, though at this point in the day, the sun was low and it was overcast, about 5pm, but I still went. Ming came along too. I jumped in and let out a “holy sh** that’s cold!” – figuring I was safe to use such words since they wouldn’t understand. Ming started laughing. I asked him if he knew the meaning of that word, he nodded and said yes.
We went walking that night after dinner, but Ling Sung and I were the only ones with flashlights, so our night outing consisted of maybe 30 minutes… Not quite what I had in mind. Oh, forgot to mention, before we went swimming, Zong Xu and I went to the back of the station to photograph the “Ching Wa” from the day before. While looking for a location, there was a Taiwan Beauty resting on a branch right in front of us. When it rains it pours. Mr. Zhu had also caught a Taiwan Beauty that day at 4:30pm in his yard, which he delivered to me.
1 June
After breakfast this morning I wanted to see if Ming could give me a ride on his bike down to the river bottom and back, just to see if there were any DORs (I keep forgetting some people receiving this aren’t herpetology related, DOR is short for Dead On Road). I told him I would pay for gas. I jumped on, he drove down to the bridge, where I had intended on turning around, but he kept going. He continued and turned down the road we had gone down on the 30th, he parked at the same place as we had that day. He pulled out 2 water bottles from the back of his bike and said “let’s go.”
I just smiled and followed, who am I to argue with someone who wants to go snake hunting. He insisted on carrying my backpack/camera bag. Ling Sung stayed back at the station, so I was on my own as far as communicating went. It was another hot day – but I noticed my legs were no longer sore! We walked to where we had seen the dead Ptyas the other day and turned around.
A couple of guys on motorcycles passed us. About a minute later, one of the guys was yelling “she” and looking down the embankment by the river. I took off running and started scanning the ground. I saw a glimpse of the body, the distinctive “gorgeous Florida King” look. I had to jump down a semi-good distance to get ahead of the snake, so I grabbed the ledge and jumped down, the snake quickly turned 90º and headed for the water. I caught him fairly easily. The cut I suffered from the rocks on the jump down hurt a lot more than the 6-7 times he lashed into me – though of any snake bite, I would have to say he did hurt a bit. He was 78.5″ with the build of a bullsnake.
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On the way back to town we ran into Zong Xu on his bike, looking for us, he had just captured a Taiwan Beauty about 5 minutes before. He took us to the location for GPS data and temperatures and to photograph habitat. Crossing the same path a few mins after that was this little guy that I was hoping to catch (Cyclophiops major)
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2 June
The last day in Xiagu. The next day was calling for rain. The entire day was overcast and most of the day was spent gathering data on our plethora of snakes, releasing snakes, and photographing snakes. I hadn’t gotten any Ptyas pics yet, so we took him out too:
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That first snake I had captured back on the 29th was an Amphiesma optatum, a new species for Hubei Province and the reserve:
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Basically our only outing that day was the hike out to release and photograph the snakes. Later that night one of the locals came driving up, saying he just caught a snake – it was captured at 9:11pm (almost the same time and date I caught a pine snake on the wildlife drive, but it was 9:11pm on 3 June 2002).
A sub-adult Dinodon rufozonatum – everything I have read doesn’t mention anything about the species being rear ranged, but I wonder. The snake has elliptical pupils, a distinctly triangular head and gives quite a bite for such a snake – but I haven’t had any reactions yet, and no books make comments on it. The name Dinodon does after all mean “terrible tooth.”
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After that I asked Ming if we could take his bike real quick and cruise the road one time. He was game. Zong Xu followed behind us on his bike. No luck. But when we pulled up to the station Zong Xu said a friend of his had some snakes he found a while back that he preserved and wanted to know if I wanted to look at them. He said he had a baby “jin wen fu” – aka, Deinagkistrodon, so I jumped on his bike and he took me to his place. He started pulling out jars of preserved snakes. He pulled out a couple at a time and set them on the desk, all I could say was “holy sh**” again – but not at the Deinagkistrodon, I could care less about that one, but at this little snake:
Azemiops feae – Fea’s Viper! THE snake in China I want to find!
I had a million questions for him, but it was extremely hard to get the idea across without Ling Sung. We headed back to the station to have Ling Sung translate. Apparently he found the snake at 10:30am in April of 2002. If it wasn’t raining on the 3rd we were going to stay another day and check out the location, so we could at least get locality data – but the next day it was raining. I’m hoping as things cool up in the higher elevations, I can hit up some of the lower elevation stations again, especially Xiagu.
Well that is about it for now. I am in Muyu right now. It is raining today, and raining tomorrow, and the day after that Ling Sung and I are heading out to the last lower elevation field station. Rather than typing the coordinates, in a follow-up email I will just attach the Google Earth file, there are too many points. We found 9 species of snakes in Xiagu, 11 if you count the Azemiops and Sibynophis that Zong Xu’s friend found, but since I don’t have locality data on them, I can’t count them.
Hope everyone is doing well,
Previously in this series:
Snakes On The Plain: Kevin in China
Kevin in China, part 2: Three Kinds of Natural Beauty in Jiuchong
Tomorrow at noon: Kevin’s report from Dongxi.

9 responses to “Kevin in China, part 3 – The First Westerner in Town

  1. First, I have to say that this is an excellent series of “journal entries” from Kevin. It has been mostly interesting reading.
    I just wanted to mention that there seems to be a typo in the following paragraph:
    “I had a million questions for him, but it was extremely hard to get the idea across with Ling Sung. We headed back to the station to have Ling Sung translate.”
    Perhaps “with Ling Sung” should be “without Ling Sung”? It seems to make more sense.

  2. You are right. I tried to do minimal editing – pretty much just spellcheck – but this may warrant an intervention. Thank you.

  3. hey there. Yes, unfortunately this version I typed up very quickly in a day and sent it out and didn’t even proof read it once. There are several other errors I have read and have corrected and have re-sent out to friends and family, but the blog version was obviously the first version. Sorry. The Jiuchong report also had some errors. Oh, one big error is that I was spelling Linsen’s name wrong. As I said, if it’s not written down, it’s hard to remember (or know how to spell)

  4. Friday Ark #92

    We’ll post links to sites that have Friday (plus or minus a few days) photos of their chosen animals (photoshops at our discretion and humans only in supporting roles). Watch the Exception category for rocks, beer, coffee cups, and….? We will add you…

  5. Kevin – wonderful herp accounts and the photos are terrific. I am envious!! Looking forward to any future reports. And thanks, for posting these to your blog, Bora. Great stuff!

  6. harry shankman

    I am an academic Herpetologist w/ experience in systematics, and Mus. Curating. Your article was quite long, so forgive my cursory read.
    The Azeimiops’ colour was off due to formalin corruption; the only other live snake i could not I.D. (The other was Elaphe taeniura; by the way: “atra” IS Gr. for black.
    Q: Did you ever get an I.D. for the snake you were holding? The pretty orange-rust w/ black markings?
    I had a Lycodon before: they seem to only like skinks, bnut are Readily discerned from B. multicinctus: it’s the outline of the head that gives them away. Lots of luck, and congrats. on your travels. I’ve been all over U.S., Australia, and 2 yrs. in E. Africa. Great herping there, if you know how to navigate the social barriers.
    Harry Shankman

  7. Enjoyable thread. Thanks for the effort in repurposng it.
    Presumably the herpetologist has written earlier about which species of snakes are eaten in which parts of China. All I know about that is what I saw in travelogues. I’ve had rattlesnake chili.
    I live a few blocks from the Angeles National Forest, in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, California. Around midnight, a few hours ago, I opened my front door, intending to put a bag of garbage in the garbage can, but there was a skunk 6 inches from the door, on the porch, so I closed the door very quietly. Didn’t let my dog out then. Another skunk had borne a litter in the hollow space under the porch and front steps. It was some years ago. We always whistled when we walked by there, to let them know we were there. Never a problem.
    We get possum, raccoon, deer, coyotes, and once saw a mountain lion close up. Bears are the top of the food chain, sometimes coming into town to be photographed in hot tubs. And rattlesnakes aplenty, plus other common species. Lots of fun for me, a city boy originally from New York, transplanted to California in 1968 to start college, aged 16. But the raccoons kept killing our chickens, being very dextrous at opening latches.

  8. ^^ Harry,
    Apparently I have moved some pictures around on the photobucket account, so the link is no longer embedded in this post, there are two snakes I can think of that fit the “orange-rust w/ black markings” – either the pic still visible above, a Dinodon rufozonatum which I think more of red with black markings, or Elaphe carinata, which I think more of yellow with black markings. Yeah, I’m Lycodon is easy to tell from Bungarus once you have seen two live specimens (or even two preserved specimens) – unfortunately I never got a chance to see either. The one black and white banded snake they had preserved at the museum I was never able to remove from the jar.

  9. Awesome stuff,let me know if you need help on any expeditions