Kevin in China #16 - It's not easy to catch a swimming frog

Kevin is back in the field, catching herps with abandon...

Return to Muyu

7 August

My first day back to the great town of Muyu. No more pizza, no more burgers, no more fries, no more cold beverages, just curious friendly faces. Linsen appeared in my room around 9am almost as if he hadn't missed a beat. I hadn't even told him I was back. I had gotten in at 11pm and without a Muyu card I didn't bother to call, and of course I wasn't going to call at 11pm. I'm guessing he walked by the hotel and Hi Yin or someone told him I was back. Emma had said Hi Yin was very excited when she heard when I was getting back.

Today was mainly catch-up day. Sending out emails and reading new ones. Around 6pm or so I set out for my old fashioned restaurant (Weishitan). The wife of the owner asked "one person?" - "yep" (it will be that way for the rest of my stay). I set down and ordered potatoes, peppers, and beef cubes, an incredibly awesome dish. While I was sitting there waiting for the food to come, some of the officers that usually hang around Yazikou (the "entrance" to Shennongjia) came in and saw me sitting by myself. So as soooo many other Chinese people, they invited me to have dinner with them. And, as with so many other occasions, they wanted to drink. One of the group members went out to buy a bottle of liquor while we let the initial food they had already ordered cook (throwing ingredients into a boiling pot).

Had two full cups of jiao that evening and was quite drunk. I was used to the relaxed view Beijing had of having a single beer, if that. The whole toasting and drinking was obviously a Muyu thing. After dinner we set out to go walking. We went to the local pool table and had a few rounds of pool, BUT, the Chinese pool balls are different. You have the one white ball that plays the same role, a yellow, blue, black, and magenta ball as well, and all the rest are red. I never figured out how the game is actually won. I thought you sank the red balls and then went for the colored balls, but had no idea what order of colors. I was wrong. Every time I sank a colored ball (or every time anyone else did) they just pulled it out of the pocket and placed it in the middle of the table. I guess maybe they just act as obstacles? I don't know. Whatever the case, I ended up going to bed pretty early that night, around 8:30pm I think.

8 August

Today me, Linsen, Xie Dong, and Liu Qiang (Leo Tang? Lao Tang? I haven't gotten him to write down his name yet) headed for Qianjiaping. I thought they had said Guamenshan, but when we pulled into the parking lot to Guamenshan the driver turned around and headed down the road to Qianjiaping. We got out and started walking up the trail. It was more of a survey of the road up to Qianjiaping, as we never made it up to the lower campsite. The road is 8 miles. We found lots of DOR Bufo andrewsi (Toad B), some "ground" skinks (I use that term b/c they look almost identical to Scincella lateralis back home), some Sphenomorphus skinks, and a few Eumeces skinks.

Once we decided to turn around and hike back down, I was in the lead and heard a noise off to my right. I saw a last portion of a black and yellow banded tail disappear behind a tree and head off towards some large rocks. I immediately jumped over all the brush and ran over to where the snake was heading just in time to catch him mid-body and he was moving between two boulders. About that time I hear Linsen say "what? A snake?" It is good he is a botanist and not in a field that requires capturing live animals because he is pretty slow on the ball. "Yes, da wong she."

It was a medium-sized king rat and unlike most of the previous king rats I've found, this one lived up to the other common name of "stinking goddess" and had sprayed me, my shirt, and my legs with musk. I think she had even gotten some in my eye because my eye was bothering me seconds after catching her. I tried to photograph her but she was pretty uncooperative so I had Lao Tang take a picture of me with her. She showed a slight bit of variation I hadn't seen before; the posterior portion was a lot darker and had less yellow than previous examples. Afterwards we let her on her way.

That was it for the most part. When we got back into town we had lunch together and they said that after dinner we would have "______." It's a term for late night meal basically. You are only suppose to have it after 9 or 10pm. So around 9pm Xie Dong came to pick me up and we met Linsen, his wife, Xie Dong's wife, and Liu Qiang for the late night meal. We ate at the same place that Hi Yin, Ci Ling, and I had eaten at. It is the spiciest restaurant in Muyu. The late night meal wasn't as spicy as it was when Hi Yin and Ci Ling and I had eaten there, but it was still spicy. They bring out a rectangular hot plate and you throw potatoes, green onions, garlic, and lots of other things on it.

The plan for the next day was to go to Yazikou where cobras have supposedly been spotted. One of the refuge staff (now retired) had compiled a herp list and had listed the Chinese Cobra on it; Naja atra. Having been around Shennongjia almost entirely now, I have grown skeptical of this "sightings." Of course no specimen or photograph was taken. And I really think it is a case of misidentification, the culprit would obviously be Pseudoxenodon (the "false cobra"). The location of Yazikou is nothing special and looks like so many other places in Shennongjia. It sits around 1,600 to 1,700 meters in elevation and is very close to Dalongtan. At all the stations I go to, I ask several of the officers if they have ever seen a cobra. None of them have. They have a cumulative experience of over 40 years in Shennongjia. There is a river close to Yazikou, which is where the snake was spotted. Cobras are big, active, diurnal snakes and sooner or later one would be hit by a car if they were living in the area. All of these factors combined are what make me skeptical of the sighting, but we would check for ourselves tomorrow.

9 August

Today we headed off for Yazikou. There isn't much to walk. Yazikou is extremely small. It is basically the road portion between the entrance to Shennongjia and Dalongtan. Along the road is a river. We walked the road, keeping an eye along the banks of the river. We found several DOR Bufo andrewsi and several live Scincella modesta (the "ground" skinks). There was also a recently hit Pseudoxenodon macrops on the road. So this means that the species that is commonly mistaken as a cobra is present here... After walking for a couple hours we headed back to the entrance for lunch. While waiting (lunch always takes a while), I hunted the area around the entrance gate. I found another ground skink and a live Bufo andrewsi under a rock.

After lunch we went out again. We walked for another two hours before it started to rain and we called it quits. No cobras. I didn't see anything out of the ordinary that says "cobra." Yazikou looks just like Dalongtan, Qianjiaping, and so many other places. Where there is similar habitat, and similar elevations, there should be similar species, yet Dalongtan or Qianjiaping have never recorded cobras. I have asked Linsen to ask the guy several other questions, such as size (since cobras can reach over 6 ft and the Pseudoxenodon can only reach about 3 ft), what time of day, what the snake was doing, what did it do when it was spotted, and what month? Linsen said he would also show the guy several pictures of the Pseudoxenodon with its hood spread out and see what the guy thought.

10 August

Today we headed back to Qianjiaping, except this time we took the reserve SUV all the way up to the lower camp. We started hiking, with Linsen in the lead. It took me awhile before I realized we were at Qianjiaping because Linsen had to do some kind of "plant investigation" as he calls it. It was way too early. I think we left Muyu around 8am. At the lower camp someone had pointed at one of the mtn peaks and then we set off. There was no defined location. No GPS points to follow. Just walking until he thought he was in the area that the guy had pointed to. Liu Qiang, Xie Dong, and I all sat on a bunch of boulders waiting for Linsen and the taxi driver to find their place and come back. It was far too shady and cool for snakes. I searched every log and rock for some salamanders though, but no luck.

When Linsen finally came back we headed back down to Qianjiaping. While we waited around there for a bit I continued looking around. Back in July when the Stanford's where there, Adam had seen a juvenile Pseudoxenodon by a small shed, so I figured this was as good of a place as any to start my search. Walking over to the shed I see a ground skink disappear behind a downed board. My eyes followed the board to the end and I see the tail of a small brownish snake (with a pattern). I automatically assumed it was the same young Pseudoxenodon Adam had seen. I pulled the board away, figuring the snake had disappeared into the shed and was long gone, but it just moved underneath and didn't take advantage of the refuge only a few inches away. I was ready to grab the snake as soon as I flipped the board if it was still there.

I had already started my "pounce" when I saw more of the snake's pattern. It was not a Pseudoxenodon but a newborn Protobothrops jerdonii (Jerdon's Pit-viper). "Whoa" I said out-loud and retracted my hand. The Reptiles of Sichuan book has been extremely handy. In this book it shows a juvenile Protobothrops, which is brown and tan and doesn't look a thing like the adult. Without this book I wouldn't have recognized the baby snake as Protobothrops. Granted I would have recognized it as non-Pseudoxenodon and would have inspected it closer before grabbing it. I removed my bandana from my belt loop and pinned the baby snake. Anyone that's been with me in the sandhills knows my pinning technique with a snake bag - same thing. The reserve does not have a juvenile Protobothrops and given the amount of ontogenetic change the species goes through, I felt the baby should be collected.

When we got back to Muyu we had lunch at the reserve cafeteria - excellent, more-than-you-can-eat meals at about 3 or 4 Yuan (about 40 cents). Afterwards we were going to go to Dalongtan but as with every day since coming back, it rained that afternoon.

That evening Hi Yin's brother had invited me for dinner. They (Hi Yin and her brother - the owners of the hotel) recently hired a new girl; Yi Li. Hi Yin and Yi Li have got to be the prettiest girls I have seen in China. Yi Li, like Hi Yin, is also from Bancang. After dinner, I get a knock on my door. Yi Li wanted to know if I would help her with her English. This was a pretty nice surprise. I told her I would be happy to and for the next hour or so we went over the tutorial papers Michelle had made up for me when I was learning Chinese. I told Yi Li I was leaving for Banqiao the next day and that she was welcome to keep the papers until I got back. Her English is very good.

11 August,

Today we headed for Banqiao (Ban-tiao). Banqiao is very close to Xiagu and I figured it wouldn't be near as good. Xiagu is positioned next to a river and Banqiao is much higher in elevation and further away from a water source.

As we loaded up the car, Linsen said I should be in the front in case there is a snake in the road, that way I can see it. Of course I didn't argue. About 10 minutes out of Muyu I yell "she! she! she! snake!" The driver finally stops. Linsen gets out as well and asks me where. "A ways back, it took awhile for the driver to stop, but it's dead, so it's fine." I walked back to the dead snake. It was about a 30" Sibynophis chinensis. It was an old kill, maybe two or three days old, but the collar around the neck was very clear. Most importantly was the fact that this was a species we hadn't found yet. It was in too poor a shape to turn into a specimen, but the museum already had one anyway. I got the GPS data and we were back on the road.

When we hit Banbiyan (the big tourist area with all the rocks at the top of the mtn) one of the cooks from Pinqian was waiting for a ride, any ride. So we opted to take her to Pinqian. If I have the time I would like to visit there for a few days before I leave. Aside from Xiagu, I think Pinqian has been my favorite. The snakes there are the densest (though not a lot of diversity) and the food has always been excellent. We went ahead and had lunch here, but had an hour to burn. I knew some good locations to check. I headed to the dry river bed where Rhabdophis nuchalis and Oligodon ningshaanensis (the former mystery snake) were abundant. It was a hot day and I wasn't too sure I'd find anything; both species were evening and night snakes. I came up on a large rock and flipped it over and underneath was another juvenile Protobothrops jerdonii. This one was opaque and had a meal. I pinned it. I really wanted to find out what it ate. It felt like a lizard, but the snake had a strong stomach and never gave up its meal. I took him a ways away from the town and let him go.

After lunch we continued on to Banqiao. Pinqian is not far from Banqiao, maybe 30 minutes. We arrived at Banqiao around 4pm and unloaded our gear. The beds here were as soft as the beds at Pinqian and were just heaven. Even in Beijing I had a hard bed. There's not much to do in proximity to the station in Banqiao. At Xiagu, Pinqian, and so many other stations, a short walk would at least put you in the woods or near some water. At Banqiao a short walk would bring you into a tiny town, or would send you back up the highway. Once at the little town if you wanted to reach a water source you would have to hike about 30 minutes downhill in order to reach the river. The hike along the way is nothing but crops, mainly corn and chili peppers. I knew no one would be up for hiking at the moment, not to mention it was too hot, so I decided to wait until after dinner.

Dinner of course comprised of several toasts. Luckily the host at Banqiao would give me shot glasses instead of a full cup. After dinner I suggested we walk to a place along the road where the river divides and goes around a pretty little island covered with rocks. They recognized the location based on my description and we headed out. We arrived close to dark. The place had a lot of slow moving water and looked like an excellent place for frogs, and therefore an excellent place for some aquatic snakes. I stumbled across a beautiful waterfall and spent about 15 minutes setting up my tripod and taking about 4 pictures, all of which turned out great. I walked around the island with the little bit of daylight left. No one had brought flashlights (about 5 people came on the walk). I had left my headlight in my bookbag in Muyu (unknowingly). So once it got too dark to see we started to head back.

12 August

Very hot today. Most of the day was spent inside. Linsen, Liu Qiang, and Xie Dong were busy gambling with some kind of game that uses cubes. I took the time to write up some more reports and work on some grants. I told Linsen we'd go out after 4pm.

We set out around 4:15pm. Linsen said we'd go to the river. We took the trail that leads to Sichuan Province, about 4 hours hike away. The trail led to a beautiful area where a smaller river converged with a larger river. There was a large rock bed with some vegetation that we looked around for a bit but didn't find anything. An old man in a house nearby said a large black snake lived there and has lived there for several years. We took a trail that followed the smaller stream. The entire hike was beautiful. We came across two other people heading home. One of them said she had seen a snake up the trail a ways the day before. When we got to the area we started searching all the underbrush but didn't see anything.

Walking up the trail a short distance I see a dead snake at my feet. It was a Trimeresurus stejnegeri, a green tree viper. The snake is almost solid green and would be confused with Cyclophiops major, the Asian Green Snake, except for the fact that the viper has a white and red line running the length of its body dividing the belly scales from the dorsal scales. This was another species I really wanted to find alive so I could photograph it. We had not seen one yet, so it at least provided us with another species. Someone had stoned the snake to death. We turned around and headed back to make it in time for dinner. I told Linsen we should come back in the morning and hike further.

That evening after dinner I wanted to go walking again. I had originally intended on taking the same route and heading to that rock island, but when we got to town I thought maybe we'd take another road and give that a try. Liu Qiang was the only one with me. From town there are four main "trails." One trail is heading south on the highway. This is the trail brings you to the rock island and eventually Xiagu. Another trail is going north on the highway. This leads to nothing. There is a trail that leads to Sichuan Province, which is what Linsen and I had taken earlier, and then there is one other trail that sets off in a northwest direction following the larger river. The latter was our trail for the evening. It was a gravel road with high slopes on either side. It didn't seem very likely to see anything, but I still thought maybe there was a chance.

As we walked down we bumped into a local. Liu Qiang asked him about snakes on this road and he shook his head and said "mei yo" (not have). After the conversation I asked Liu Qiang, "so this is a bad road?" He nodded. We still walked on. Eventually it got dark again and we turned back. The only herps for the evening were the calls of Rana chinensis in the river below.

13 August

Power went out during the night and I guess no one's alarm went off because it was an unusually late morning. The cooks are usually yelling "chi fan" (eat breakfast/ lunch/ dinner - depending on time of day) by 8am, 8:30 at the latest and it was now 10am. I was still in bed as was Linsen and everyone else. So much for the early start on the trail.

After breakfast we were finally ready to go. It was the typical four, me Linsen, Liu Qiang, and Xie Dong. It was already a hot morning. We reached the base of the trail where the two rivers converged and hiked to the west, following the smaller river that Linsen and I had walked along the day before. We came up on the same dead Trimeresurus and I showed Liu Qiang and Xie Dong. For the most part we were walking the stream rather than walking the trail. There would be a far more likely chance of seeing a snake by the cool water than in the scorching grass.

After an hour or so we found a nice little shaded spot and decided to have a rest. As usual I got impatient after resting for 15 minutes and started looking around. I found a baby toad and figured it was probably Bufo andrewsi. I checked for a lateral stripe and there was a faint hint of a stripe so I figured, "oh yeah, definitely B. andrewsi." I spent the next half hour trying to tire the little toad out so I could photograph him. I have never met a more stubborn or energetic toad. I would place the toad on a large flat rock and as soon as I put my camera up to my eye he would jump out of frame. This continued as I said for about 30 minutes. I was eventually able to get some decent but not great shots, after which I let the little guy go.

We kept walking until about 1pm when we decided to stop for lunch, which like the Bancang hike consisted of crackers, cookies, and things like that. But unlike Bancang, we hadn't hiked very far at all. Xie Dong seemed pretty tired. While we were at our lunch break Linsen went off a little bit ahead. I again poked around the break area but didn't find anything. When Linsen got back he said he saw a treefrog. He was walking along and a frog in a tree jumped into the water. There is only one treefrog recorded in the reserve and that is Hyla arborea immaculata. I would very much like to find one. I was surprised when everyone started to head back. I felt it was an incredibly short hike. The hardest part is going to be the portion from the stream up to the town, other than that the entire trail length is basically flat.

We reached a portion in the trail where the trail divided in two. Xie Dong and I took one route, Linsen and Liu Qiang took another. We could see one another from across the stream. All of a sudden I see Linsen duck down into the corn field. I look at Liu Qiang and he says there was a "xiyi" (lizard). I figured it was a skink, but there was a slight fear that it was something else, which was later confirmed when Linsen was looking it up in a book that evening. It was a Takydromus septentrionalis that had eluded him. Xie Dong and I continued along our portion where we came up on a small man-made pond.

There was a large rock in the middle and I used my snake hook to flip it. Out from under the rock came a Paa boulengeri (Frog B). This animal has recently confused me again. I have been looking at pictures and the little frog guide book, which uses illustrations instead of photographs, and I am still unsure of the species. When I had determined that Frog B was Paa boulengeri with the help of Dr. Li, the only specimen was at the museum. The common name is "Spiny-bellied Frog" and though I didn't remember any spines, it's possible they are very small, and of course none of my photographs showed the belly, so I really wanted to catch this individual and check his belly. Which I did and his belly was as smooth as can be. So now I'm kind of back to square one. I have another guess on the species and that is Rana (Paa) quadranus. We'll see.

Not much further from this area we were walking along a small bamboo forest, immature bamboo, very thin and very dense. I heard a noise that could have been a lizard or a snake. It was slightly continuous like a snake but was so short in duration that it's possible it could have been a lizard. The thicket was far too dense to see anything. Either way I jumped at the sound and started parting the bamboo stands but the sound was long gone. The ground was littered with holes that I'm sure the animal ducked into.

When we got to the place where the two rivers met we decided to go for a swim. It wasn't as hot as it was earlier, it was now overcast, about 4pm, but hot enough to warrant getting wet.

As expected, the hike up to town was the hardest portion of the trail. When we got to town I bought four cold beers and waited for the others to catch up. Dinner that evening was superb. The food in Muyu and the Shennongjia is far better than Beijing, minus the luxury meals like Beijing Duck and stuff like that. Vanessa had said that Muyu was Sichuan style cooking. This made me feel a little better since one of my main goals was to try Sichuan food but I can no longer afford the trip to Chengdu. Not a single dish was bad. Often times they may have a single fish dish, or some kind of vegetable that I could do without, but tonight's dinner was great all around. A couple of potato dishes. One of which was goat and potatoes in a boiling broth. Some green beans with bacon. The always tasty cucumber dish. After dinner everyone from the station went down to the town to play a few rounds of pool. The pool table was an outdoor pool table and had seen many years. If you gently rolled a ball down one of the edges it would turn inward towards the middle, but other than that it was pretty good. Linsen had never played before and it was funny watching him try to play the first two rounds. A round of pool, despite how long it takes is 1 Yuan (12 cents).

I decided to photograph the pictures of all the anurans found in Shennongjia from the little guide book so I'd have an electronic version I could look at, since sometimes Linsen has the field guide. When I came to Megophrys and started looking at some of the other species, I noticed one species that looked pretty similar to the baby toad I had found earlier. After photographing the book images I downloaded all the pictures from that day to the computer. I compared the baby toad images with the Megophrys and there is no mistaking it. I should have paid closer attention. I had noticed these features but didn't realize their significance. On the little baby toad, now identified as Megophrys boettgeri (a new species for Hubei Province), the shoulders are off color. The common name is actually "pale-shouldered toad." Additionally there is a pale "triangle" formed by the sides of the head and the back of the head. It wasn't a baby B. andrewsi. I was upset that I didn't pick up on these differences and what's worse is that I didn't collect the animal. I had several photographs that confirmed the ID no question, so at least I had something, but either way, I told Linsen tomorrow we should hike the same trail to look for the toad again, to try and catch the treefrog, to look for the Takydromus and so I could inspect the area where I had heard that noise that could have been snake or lizard, not to mention the possibility of a Trimeresurus.

14 August

We got up a lot earlier this time. Xie Dong either didn't feel well or something and didn't come along. It was just the three of us. We hit the trail head by 8:50am. The walk along the trail didn't reveal any morning snakes. Much of the trail was still draped in the shade and morning mist from the stream. We reached our turn-around point from the day before in an hour. Linsen took the lead to take us to where he had seen the treefrog. Looking at the images the night before he could not be sure of the species.

When we came up on a large rock next to a stream he slowed down and said that this was the spot. He pointed to an empty branch and said the frog was resting there and jumped into the water when he approached it. I walked forward slowly inspecting the large boulder and the branch where the frog had been seen. It is pretty hard to see a treefrog in the day from a distance unless you know exactly where to look. I was not hopeful. I followed the empty branch to the trunk of the tree and down to the ground. Nothing.

Continuing to walk forward I peered through some brush on the other side of the tree, and on a tree trunk on the other side of the brush was a huge frog resting about 7 ft in the air. I was pretty surprised we found it. I pointed and asked him if that is what he saw and he said it was. From a distance it looked like Odorrana schmackeri (Frog C), which we had found plenty of in Xiagu. I motioned Liu Qiang to get out my camera and he knew to get my telephoto lens as well. Attaching the lens and adjusting the ISO in order to compensate for the darkness I took some pictures just in case the frog managed to escape. Looking through the lens I could tell that the species was not Odorrana schmackeri but another species of Odorrana very similar, though I couldn't recall the species name at the time.

I told Linsen that I was wrong and that it is a different species and we needed to catch it. The frog was an easy jump from the stream. I told Liu Qiang to get to the frog's right, Linsen to the frog's left, and I would come up from underneath it and try to catch it. If it jumped one way or the other, they would be there to catch it. I positioned myself between the branch the frog was resting on and approached it like I would approach a fence lizard on the opposite side of a tree - getting a fix on the position, walking around until you can no longer see the animal (and the animal can't see you) and then getting close and grabbing blindly in the location where you had last seen the animal.

The branch was wide enough that the frog couldn't see me and I could see his legs so that made it easier. One aspect that was troubling me was the fact that it was a frog and there was a likely chance it would easily slip out of my hand once I grab it. I thought about using about a snake bag but opted for my bandana instead. I cupped my hands and inched forward and then grabbed the animal with the bandana and brought my other hand over top of the head. The frog gave out of light croak and was caught. The genus is called Odorrana because they smell, at least O. schmackeri does. This species was extremely sticky, like the glutinosus complex of salamanders. Linsen took some photos while the animal was in my hands and I told Liu Qiang that I wanted to take a few natural photos close-up. I told Linsen and Liu Qiang to stand in front of the river because if he decides to jump he is going to head straight for the water.

I found a rock a semi-good distance from the water. I had mountains to my back where I could easily find/capture him again if he decides to flee. I positioned myself and the subject and as soon as I lifted my hand he was off heading towards Linsen and Liu Qiang. They jumped in front of him and he did a 180º and started heading towards the mountains. I carefully put my camera down and joined chase. He managed to jump around me and started heading back towards the river. He was maybe one or two jumps from the waters edge when he was intercepted by a hackie-sac like kick from Linsen. After that block he started to head in between Linsen and Liu Qiang. I am still running at this point and hoping they will be able to corral the frog back towards land. He makes a final jump towards the river and over Liu Qiang's foot into the water. Not wanting a repeat of an escaped "new species" like the day before with the Megophrys I dove into the water after the frog. I made one lunge towards a rock the frog was swimming to. I managed to get a hold of the frog, but as one would expect, it was able to slip out and continue on.

It was now heading towards the 2nd rock out. I made another lunge, by the first lunge my shoes and a portion of my shorts were wet, by the 2nd lunge I was making a belly flop in order to catch the anuran. My efforts were the same as before. I had a hand on the frog and it slipped through. I was on my last leg. As I laid on my chest on a submerged rock, I took my time to watch the frog swimming and made one last attempt and snagged the frog by a single leg. I couldn't believe it. Of all the places to grab a frog and to be successful, a single leg is one of the least. Had the frog escaped, it would have been home free.

I held the frog up by the single leg in hopes of admiration, but Linsen nor Liu Qiang understood the difficulty in the catch. They did understand the fact that I basically went swimming trying to catch this frog, but simply couldn't understand the feat in the final catch. It would be like fumbling a would-be home run with your glove and ending up catching the ball with your bare hand inches above the ground. The end result was worth it of course. I had the animal, a new species (that we hadn't found, not a new species for Hubei). I told Linsen and Liu Qiang that normally I would not go to such extents for a frog and would only do that for a snake, but since it was a new species that's why I went so far. I wasn't so much upset about my wet clothes, but I really hate hiking with wet boots and wet socks.

We took a small breather and then I started poking around some more. I headed upstream and jumped on a debris pile wedged between two large boulders. As I walked away from the debris pile I saw a small dark colored snake with a slightly blotched dorsal pattern and was in the air and on my belly again. The snake was in the debris pile and I obviously scared it out. She was about to make it down another rock when I caught her. It was a Pseudoxenodon macrops (the false cobra). An opaque female, about 24." This was the first time I have seen one practically at the water's edge. Most of the individuals have been in higher elevation spots such as Dalongtan and Qianjiaping and have been a good distance from water. Oh well, a find is a find.

We continued along the trail a bit more but didn't see anything worth continuing for and decided to head back. For the hike back we still had to stop by the location where the Megophrys boettgeri was found. I flipped every possible rock and didn't find any trace of the tiny toad. I wasn't surprised. I was hoping where there was one there'd be a chance of finding another but there were so many gigantic boulders that couldn't be moved and there could be hundreds of toads down there and I'd never know. Oh well. Maybe whenever I come back to Shennongjia.

We didn't see or hear any Takydromus escaping in the underbrush, no reoccurrence of the noise in the tiny bamboo thicket. I did catch a juvenile Eumeces elegans. The babies of E. elegans and E. capito look nearly identical. The only difference is that in E. elegans the mental chin scale is singular and in E. capito it is divided in two.

We were returning much earlier than the day before and it was much hotter, so we went swimming again. When we got back to the station every one was asleep.

That evening one of the directors of the protection zones came to have a meeting with the officers from Banqiao and Xiagu. As with any host and it seems anyone new that I have not met, there are many toasts. We didn't go out that night, just slept.

15 August

Today I kind of wanted to hunt the exact same trail because there was so much unfinished business, but realized I do need to look elsewhere. This morning was our last outing. We were heading for Muyu that afternoon. We took the trail that heads west along the bigger river.

The day wasn't very productive and not near as scenic as the other trail. We found a fresh DOR Pseudoxenodon still moving, a DOR Odorrana margaratae (the species of frog we had found the day before), and some Sphenomorphus skinks. We hiked for about four hours.

When we came back all the familiar faces from Xiagu were there. It is probably the last time I will see them. We had lunch, said our goodbyes and headed back to Muyu.

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
Kevin In China, part 13 - Back To Herping
Kevin In China, part 14 - The Lure Of The West: McDonalds and Chinese-dubbed Tom Cruise
Kevin In China, part 15 - Beijing

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