A Blog Around The Clock

After getting over his sickness, Kevin moves on with his research…

Xiagu, revisited

26 July

No fever this morning. We finally left for Xiagu. The primary purpose of Xiagu was to get the exact coordinates of that one Azemiops Mai Dachuan had found back in 2002. We were traveling with a full load, about six people, including Lao Tang, the guy that accompanied us to Bancang. One of the girls I was guessing was the entomologist, Linsen said she was a student at Wuhan. The Shennongjia photographer was also tagging along for the day. He was wanting to get pictures of me catching snakes and what not.

The ride was about three hours and we arrived around noon. I asked if Wang Ming was around but he was out and about somewhere. So the only thing to do at that point was to start walking. I suggested we walk down to the river. So Linsen, Lao Tang, and I headed down. Nothing was in the ditch, but I was thinking about some other ideas. If I were able to get the materials to make some funnel traps, I could line ditch with probably 10 traps, check them each morning and I am pretty sure I would catch a good number of species – problems include, finding the materials, finding the time to make the traps, and then the fact that I would only be in Xiagu for a couple days – but it is something I need to look into for 2008 if I am able to come back.

We walked all the way down to the check post at the base of the river and had some tea with a couple of the officers. Linsen disappeared somewhere. Eventually my basketball teammate from my first trip came down on a motorcycle and said he was taking me up the road a ways. I didn’t understand but I got on the bike anyway. He took me to the bridge where Linsen was waiting. Linsen said the owner of the store had caught a “jian wen fu” (Sharp-nose Viper/ Hundred Pace Snake/ Chinese moccasin/ Deinagkistrodon acutus) and that it was alive. She said she would sell it for 140 Yuan per kg and would not let us see it otherwise. I thought this was pretty rude and it sounded like this girl has done this many times. The chance of a snake weighing a kilogram is pretty slim, so I told him I would pay for the snake (I really wanted to get some photographs). I said we needed the location as part of the deal though, as well as date and time. She brought out the snake and I dumped it on the road. It was gorgeous. It was a decent size, but nowhere near as big as the one that was in alcohol over at Zong Xu’s aunt’s house. I took a couple pictures on the road and bagged the snake. We took a car back to the police station where I saw several familiar faces, including Wang Ming.

That night at dinner he wanted to serve me alcohol of course, but I explained that I was just getting over a sickness and that if I’m going to have alcohol it should just be beer. He was fine with that. After dinner we headed downstairs to the common area where the TV was and as soon as I walked into the room my eyes went immediately to the upper right corner of the room where a little gecko was watching the commotion. This was the only gecko found in Hubei, the Japanese Gecko, Gekko japonicus. The setting reminded me so much of Australia that first night on Heron Island. Courtney, Melissa, Alberto and I were sitting on the porch just chatting and out of the corner of my eye I see some movement up above us on the porch wall. Looking up I see a whitish gecko just minding its own business. The Japanese gecko was very similar to the Mourning gecko I caught in Australia. Both were whitish in color, similar size, but mainly the situation in which the two geckos were caught is what connected the moment to Australia the most. I was quite pleased, we had found another new species (for us, not for the reserve).

Because so many other people came along with us this time to Xiagu there wasn’t enough room at the police station, so we had to stay at the hotel about three buildings down. Not a terribly big deal, but whoever constructed the bathroom did not know what the hell they were doing. The showering portion is at the highest area of the bathroom and the drain was not working too well, so half the room was flooded. I moved all my stuff to the dry side of the room, swept what little excess water I could back into the bathroom and just opened the window. The heat tomorrow would easily evaporate all the water.

27 July

Today the main plan on the agenda was to find the exact location of that Azemiops caught back in 2002. We (five of us) set out towards the town center to find Mai Dachuan to ask where the trail head was. As we were walking Linsen was pointing up at the mountains that border the backside of Xiagu and said it was up there somewhere. I bought a two-liter orange juice and we hit the trail head around 8:30am.

I was shocked at how much energy being sick takes out of you. Very early on the trail I was already feeling tired. As we rounded a bend, two of the other guys with us stirred up a king rat on a hillside. I immediately exploded into a run in order to cut the snake off and get in front of it but it was in waist high grass and all I could do was hear it as it slithered through the dry grass into a big rock outcropping. I went ahead and took a GPS reading and temperature reading. It was now 9:30am and 94ºF.

We continued on, stopping at houses here and there for tea or a rest. Around 11am we hit the final house and Linsen pointed to some rocks at the base of the mountain and said that is where the snake was found. I walked over to photograph the habitat and get a GPS point. I looked at the elevation of Xiagu and compared it to where we were. We had only hiked 700 meters and I was exhausted. I couldn’t believe a sickness could have such an impact on my ability.

We started the hike down. The scenery was gorgeous as usual. Linsen decided to sing his tradition song while we hiked down. Many of the Chinese I have met have wonderful voices, but Linsen does not. His song goes like: “snake, snaaakkeee, snaaaaakkkkkeeeee” over and over again. Absolutely tone deaf. I cringe every time he breaks it out, which he does at almost every station at least once. We made it down much faster and when we got to the police station we gorged ourselves on watermelon. A couple of the officers went down to the river to go swimming. I wanted to go, but was too tired. I just went back to the hotel with my juice and slept for a few hours.

Nothing special happened that night. Vanessa called me to tell me the new plan about Beijing. I now had to return on the 29th and we were getting a bus on the morning on the 30th to head to Yichang and see the Three Gorges Damn, and would take a train to Beijing on the 31st.

28 July

Another scorching day. The morning was spent around town. Some officers went swimming again. The Chinese do not seem to do a lot of work. In Xiagu the officers primarily eat, sleep, drink, and go swimming. Every now and then they’ll go for a ride in their Cherokee. In Muyu, one person had a conversation with Vanessa, they said “we are lazy, we go to work late, take long breaks, and go home early.” At the reserve, most people show up sometime between 8 or 9am. Lunch is from 11am until 2:30pm. And then the place closes up at 5pm. I went down to the river to watch and sit in the shade but didn’t have the spirits to go swimming.

Later that afternoon I wanted to walk down back down to the river. Linsen was “busy” playing cards, so Lao Tang went with me instead. A neighborhood kid also wanted to tag along. As before, we didn’t see anything in the ditch. When we got to the check post the lady there said she had seen three Sharp-nose vipers that day. One by the river, under the bridge, the other right in front of the check post, both in the early morning. The third was at noon and fell on to the road from a cliff above, about a 20 foot drop. All were smaller than the individual we already had. I took the one GPS of the one that fell. Next time I go to Xiagu I need to be staying at the check post. That is where all the action is.

That evening, being my last, I wanted to do some night hunting. I told Linsen I wanted to walk down to the river and then walk the gravel road where Wang Ming and I caught that 78.5″ king rat from 7 to 10, or 8 to 11, his choice. He gave the usual response “this is too far to walk” – which it clearly is not. We have walked much more than this before, especially at Bancang, we walked for over 11 hours – oh and I used a measuring tool on google earth and followed the path to the best of my ability and it came up to be 13 miles. He said we could take a car down to the road and could walk from there. Fine, whatever, I’ll take what I can get.

We rode in one of the motorcycles with a plastic shell over it. The lighting was exceptionally poor and I was right by the drivers head practically trying to see the road in the dim light. If there was a snake on the road I would have seen it, but there wasn’t. We made it down to the gravel road and drove that for awhile. We eventually got to a place where we could do some walking by the stream. Almost immediately I found two Odorrana schmackeri sitting on the bank. I photographed the two but didn’t bother catching them (already had one). Right after that was a Rana chinensis. Continuing along we hit the end of the trail and turned around. It was about 9pm or so and easily in the mid-80s and quite humid. I was really hoping for a Sharp-nose Viper and could easily picture one crossing the road in this sort of habitat. We got back into the car and the driver took us to another place down the road where he had seen a few snakes in the past. It was also by the river but didn’t yield any serpents.

We drove up to the check post for one last look around. I went down to the river and started poking around the rocks. I found a little stagnant pool full of large pollywogs. On the surrounding rocks was another Odorrana schmackeri. As I photographed this frog, I noticed a reddish looking frog. It looked vaguely familiar but different. I had the choice of both photographing first and risking it jumping in the water after the flash, or trying to capture it first, but I was in a bad position to try and catch it. I opted for the capture. I jumped on the frog, but it found a hole in my hand quickly and was in the water. I started looking around, hoping to find some more individuals. I didn’t find any full grown adults, but there were a few large pollywogs with barely any tail left that were basking on the rocks. I went ahead and photographed these individuals first and then captured them, both of which were successful. The species looked very similar to Fejervarya limnocharis (Frog D from Dongxi) except that it was larger, the color was different, and the dorsal bumps were not as pronounced as they were in Fejervarya limnocharis. So right now the frog is still labeled as Frog F. Walking around some more I found a Paa boulengeri clutching to a rock face. The night was quite productive amphibian wise, at least four species, but alas, no Jian Wen Fu.

29 July

We packed up our stuff and headed back to Muyu. I was content with my three days in Xiagu. I got to photograph a sharp-nose viper, which we also brought back with us because the museum did not have a specimen, caught a new species of lizard, got the Azemiops locale data, caught a new frog potentially, and even if it isn’t a new frog, it is at least a new one for Xiagu.

When we got back to Muyu I had a lot to do. I needed to take care of the sharp-nose viper immediately, since he couldn’t stay in a bag while I was in Beijing for five or six days. I had to figure out what I was taking to Beijing; my camera bag, and then I had to fit everything else in my book bag. I left all my stuff with Emma who had run into some permit problems and was no longer allowed at Qianjiaping for a minimum of two months while the permits are cleared with the China central government.

Hi Yin wasn’t in. I was hoping I’d run into her before I left for Beijing, since the last time she saw me I was sick as hell, but no luck. I left her a nice note in Chinese (not pinyin) and went to bed early (we had to be at the bus at 6am).

Pictures are on Photobucket

Previously in this series:

Snakes On The Plain: Kevin in China
Kevin in China, part 2: Three Kinds of Natural Beauty in Jiuchong
Kevin in China, part 3 – The First Westerner in Town
Kevin in China, part 4 – Snakebites as a Daily Hobby
Kevin in China, part 5 – His Legend Preceeds Him!
Kevin in China, part 6 – The Mystery Snake
Kevin in China, part 7 – Bit By Snakes? Get Used To It!
Kevin in China, part 8 – The Dance and The Snakes
Kevin in China, part 9 – What Really Happened That Night, or, The Night Of Too Many Toasts!
Kevin In China, part 10 – “the poison of that snake, is not dangerous to people?”
Kevin In China, part 11 – How to avoid getting married in China, or, women are more complex organisms than venomous snakes
Kevin In China, part 12 – Chinese Ebola, or, Getting the Taste of Chinese Medicine