We loaded up early on a Saturday morning and drove 9+ hours north to Heber Springs Arkansas. At some point near Texarkana the dominant form of roadside foliage changes from wildflowers to hundred foot tall pine trees. The goal of the whole trip was a weekend celebration of the end of the school year. I managed to fit in some late night hikes by the water, and some creekside wading.
Late in the evening we followed the sounds of toads and tree frogs to the edge of a cove near the lake. We set out with a small catch net, camera and an iphone flashlight. My grandparents had at least half a dozen mag lites in the house but not enough batteries to fill a single one. As soon as we walked into the trees we spotted two toads near the sidewalk.
As we hiked deeper into the woods and made it to the water line we ran into some trouble. The lake is flooded and the natural shoreline is covered by around 6 feet of water. We had to navigate through tree trunks, piles of brush, and many many spiders. As we made it to some rock outcrops we found a crayfish hanging out with its head out of the water. We sprung for the catch but it appears the crawdad was too fast for us.
We poked around in the rocks some more looking for frogs and toads. We came up on a very pretty looking slug that was on the hunt for its next meal. It gave us a wave and we made our way to the boat dock.
If you are interested in scaring yourself half to death, take a flash light and shine it under a boat at night. There seriously is nothing more scary than staring into the abyss looking for the next river monster to make an appearance. Turtles like to frequent the undersides of boat docks but we didn’t see any visitors that night. Nearly every post on the dock had a spider web on it, so we took a moment to snap a photo of those 8 legged residents.
The following day we headed out of town to a nearby creek to do a little fishing and hiking. The weather was mild but the ticks were out in full force. We had to stop nearly every 10 minutes and pick red deer ticks off our pants before they made it to our waistline. Our first Herp of the day was a large box turtle moving through the pasture.
This box turtle didn’t seem to mind getting picked up and overall had a really relaxed attitude. With all the rain Arkansas has been getting I saw quite a few turtles on the side of the road driving into town. Looks like the prospect of something good to eat and water flooding your house has the turtles on the move. Not long after we saw this one we ran into another much smaller and cuter box turtle.
We made it all the way to the pine tree grove and didn’t see much else. However, as we turned around, all of our commotion scared a rat snake out of the leaves. It made for high ground straightaway and climbed a tree with frightening ease.
Our last few sightings were not in fact herps but they deserve to be mentioned. On this particular day the forest was anything but quiet. Numerous birds were singing, the cicadas were out in full force and every few minutes the tree frogs would start singing. We heard a kingfisher sing but didn’t get to see it in person. We caught one cicada just as it had emerged from its molt. Back near the water we saw a large group of dragonflies that were hovering in and around a particular bush. They were very delicate and quiet, they looked and flew similar to butterflies.
I spend a lot of time hiking, and for the most part I hike in places where there are a lot of people. However, one unfortunate side effect of people using trails is that our presence tends to run off some of the more quiet and peaceful wildlife. There aren’t a lot of species that really can inhabit well in the world that we have created. We are noisy, destructive and we tend to ruin a lot of things we touch. However, we can do better and be better. There are still places that are relatively untouched by human hands and we need to make sure there is a space for those places in our future.
All photos taken by me.