RSS

Tag Archives: bangkok

Ram 2 Night Walks

One new place I was able to search during the rainy season was a marshy area off of Ram 2 where a Thai friend of mine was house-sitting. She invited us to stay with her for a week. I had herped the area in the daytime already and found the Long-nosed Whip Snake that I mentioned in an earlier story, as well as a number of other reptiles and amphibians. It looked like a perfect spot to look for water snakes in night searches, but I had never been able to get there after dark, so I was excited about staying a few nights.

I had the time to go walking the roads and ditches near the home on a couple times. In the first couple hours after dusk, I mostly saw frogs:

Four-lined Treefrogs

Four-lined Treefrog

Four-lined Treefrog

Egg mass

Four-lined Treefrog egg mass

Green Paddy Frogs

Green Paddy Frog

Green Paddy Frog

Common Indian Toad

Common Indian Toad

Asian Grass Frog

Asian Grass Frog

Round-tongued Floating Frog

Round-tongued Floating Frog

The local park had a pond that was loaded with Malayan Snail-eating Turtles of all ages.

Malayan Snail-eating Turtles

Malayan Snail-eating Turtle

Malayan Snail-eating Turtle

Malayan Snail-eating Turtle

It wasn’t until my third walk of the night (about 10:30pm) that I scored my first snake. But it as a great one – a live Sunbeam Snake! This is an odd species that I’d been looking for for months and was excited to finally find alive:

Sunbeam Snake

Sunbeam Snake

They’re not related to any other group of snakes – they have an entire family just to themselves. I’m not sure why their scales have such an iridescent quality, but it was cool to look at. The unusual head was also neat. Despite lunging around quite a bit and sometimes twitching suddenly, it never once opened its mouth or tried to bite.

The next night I saw only frogs in my early looks again, but struck a snake almost immediately when I went out at 10pm.

Red-tailed Pipe Snake

Red-tailed Pipe Snake

Red-tailed Pipe Snake

Red-tailed Pipe Snake

I spent more time flipping over objects this night, and was rewarded with a couple more snakes:

Brahminy Blind Snake

Brahminy Blind Snake

Brahminy Blind Snake

Another Sunbeam Snake

Sunbeam Snake

Sunbeam Snake

The large species of centipede was also common here – these guys can easily reach a foot long. This one is eating a snail.

Stag Beetle

Later I made one more trip to the Ram 2 area. The only snake I saw that night was a Yellow-spotted Keelback. The first time I saw it, it disappeared into the marsh before I could get a picture. I’d never seen an adult Yellow-spotted Keelback in Bangkok before, and I really wanted to record it. So I waited an hour, then came back. As I slowly tramped through the long grass on the edge of the marsh, I spotted it again! This time I was able to grab it and place it on the sidewalk for pictures.

Yellow-spotted Keelback

Yellow-spotted Keelback

Unfortunately, while I was carrying it back it bit me. Really, really hard. Yellow-spotted Keelbacks are some of the nastiest-biting snakes out there, and this was no exception. I didn’t want to hurt the snake’s teeth, so he managed to get in a little extra twist before I carefully pried his mouth off. I obviously wasn’t going to wash the blood off in the marsh water, so by the time I had walked to a clean water source, my arm was looking pretty bad:

snakebite

The appearance is far worse than the actuality – the bite really didn’t hurt that much, and the wound was small, it just bled a bit. Still, it was by far the worst snakebite I’ve ever had (I’ve been very careful never to get bitten by a venomous species). What a way to end the night!

Advertisements
 
2 Comments

Posted by on November 17, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

Tags: , , ,

Khao Yai National Park Part Three: The River Trail

We wanted to hitchhike across the park to a highly recommended trail near a river. Our plan was to hitchhike to the trailhead, hike through to the waterfall at the opposite end, then hitchhike back to our place before dark. That, um, didn’t work out as planned.

We got picked up by a truck early, but it only took us halfway then dropped us off on the road, so we had to start walking. The sky was clear, the forest was beautiful, and we were enjoying our walk. After a kilometer or so I noticed movement high in the trees. I looked up and saw…gibbons!!! A whole family group (1 male and 4 females/young) swinging around in the trees! We both love these guys, they’re one of my wife’s very favorite zoo animals, and it was just amazing to get to see them in the wild, moving through real trees and being…natural. We couldn’t believe our luck that no one had picked us up for this stretch of the trip. We were able to watch them for some time, and it was one of my all-time mammal watching highlights.

White-handed Gibbons (Hylobates lar)

A few minutes later, I walked to the side of the road to look at a little creek, and was surprised by an explosion of red. Three beautiful multi-colored birds started flying around me. They had green and blue, but were most striking for their bright red that seemed to cover the underside of their bodies and wings. They kept flying and perching, flying and perching, but didn’t stay still long enough to get a good picture. This was the best I managed:

Red-headed trogon (Harpactes erythrocephalus)

A bit later we got picked up again and that truck took us to our trailhead. Again, we couldn’t believe our luck that the little stretch of road we walked gave us two awesome sights!

The river trail was quite beautiful. It was a different-looking forest than the one we had explored earlier.

Between the muddy trail, our break for lunch, and our careful inspection of the trees (looking for flying dragons and other agamas), logs (looking for water dragons and vipers), and river (looking for crocodiles and otters), we made very slow progress. Unfortunately, even though we took 3 hours to go 2 kilometers, all we saw in those first two kilometers were some streamside skinks and sapgreen stream frogs, and I was getting discouraged. This was the good reptile trail?

And then, just like that, I spotted it. One of the crocs! It was sunning on a massive log stretched out across the water.

Siamese Crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis)

Siamese Crocodiles are in a perilous state in the wild. There are only a handful known in Thailand, and only a few hundred left in the wild worldwide. Most of the crocodiles you see in the parks are hybrids bred for their skins, not the pure native Siamese Crocodiles. The two individuals at Khao Yai were not seen until recent years, and thus were most likely introduced hybrids. In fact, Siamese Crocodiles had never been known to be native to this park.

In order to get a decent picture I moved close to the water. I was thinking “So where is the other one?” and images of it bursting out of the water towards me flashed into my head. I tried to hug behind a tree on the water’s edge to keep from offering a direct line to the water as I snapped my pictures, when suddenly a large object on that tree came to life. A massive water dragon! I only got a quick picture as it shambled away, but it stopped further out for some good pics. It was easily 40” long with a big body. I didn’t even know water dragons could get so big. What a spot!

Indo-Chinese Water Dragon (Physignathus cocincinus)

After getting our fill of crocodile and water dragon photos, we moved down the trail, and soon found two more water dragons.

A little later the trail split. A cable bridge stretched across the river, with red arrows pointing towards it. I knew the road and parking lot would be on our side of the river, but we figured that the bridge and arrow must indicate something important, so we decided to cross. The steel cables were pretty spooky for me to have my wife cross – they swung a lot and she could barely stretch herself enough to reach at the end. I kept staring at the fast current and imagining the huge waterfall that was only a little ways downstream. However, she was loving it, and actually called that crossing one of the highlights of her trip.

Unfortunately, the trail on the other side was less appealing. It headed steeply uphill and was muddy, an unpleasant combination. Leeches swarmed in great numbers. At one point we had to leave the trail and fight through vegetation to get around a pond that had formed across it. We saw several frogs, but the only real notable find was this turtle on the trail:

Asian Leaf Turtle Cyclemys dentata

After a kilometer of that we gave up and turned around to cross back. Later we wished we had that 1.5 hours of our lives back…

When we got back to the trail, the parking lot was only a little bit ahead. And there we found…no one. It was empty. It fact, the gate was locked. We were at the end of the road, 14 kilometers from our dorm, dusk was coming, and the day’s sunny skies were being replaced by ominous storm clouds. Suddenly we were regretting the day’s careful pace. We made a beeline down the road with the hopes of intersecting a vehicle as soon as possible.

Well, not quite as quick as possible. First I flipped a couple promising rocks, and found an adult collared reed snake.

Collared Reed Snake (Calamaria pavimentata)

Then we made our way down the road. Unfortunately, the rains hit a few minutes after we started walking and darkness came down only half an hour later. We kept going through the dark storm with only a flashlight beam ahead of us. We did see a number of frogs crossing (sapgreen stream frogs, darkside narrowmouth frogs, cricket frogs, and a northern treefrog), and I was amused to see a crab run across the road in the rain! I began to think about the worst possible places to run into an elephant.

Three kilometers and 45 minutes got us to the first camp and the first signs of people, but no cars were on the road. Another two kilometers of pouring rain got us to the next camp, but still no one moving. Finally, a couple kilometers later, a spotlight truck came past us and let us jump on! That was a welcome sight, and a nice end to a very exciting day. Gibbons, trogans, crocodiles and water dragons…what more could you really ask for?

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 13, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

Tags: , , , ,

Khao Yai National Park: Getting out on the roads and trails

The first night a couple of Americans convinced us to take the spotlighting tour to fill out their group. Each night the park takes groups of 6-10 visitors out in a truck for an hour to spotlight mammals. I’d heard mixed reviews, but figured it might be a chance to road-cruise something and for just 50 baht it was worth checking out.

As we walked over, a civet ran across the service road right in front of us! Civets are a Asian/African carnivore somewhere between a cat and a weasel. This one was spooked and got up a tree before I could get my camera out, leading to this artistically unclear photo.

Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus)

On the next night I got several better looks at them (saw 7 total). One was eating banana peels out of a trash can:

I had concerns about the spotlight tour, but was encouraged when the light-man spotted three different civets from a good distance early on. Besides that we mostly saw sambar deer (~50) and barking deer (~10). Forty-five minutes in I saw a bright green line on the road. It looked too bright to be real, but the light man yelled “stop!” to the driver and I jumped out the back of the truck. Viper!

Unfortunately, it’s hard to communicate to a park guide “in charge” that you know your way around venomous snakes, so while I tried to get good pics he was shining his spotlight straight at it and telling me over and over to be careful. I tried to encourage him to redirect the light so I could get pictures but he wouldn’t take my word for it. There are probably rules about leaving park guests alone in the dark with vipers. As a result, the bright light washed out the head in the pictures. It was still a beautiful snake.

Vogel’s Pit Viper (Viridovipera vogeli)

The tour ended shortly thereafter, but walking back to the dorm we ran into another viper on the service road! It was raining at this point and the viper got off the road quick, so these pictures are only slightly better.

On our first morning my wife and I woke up early and went on a hike. Our main target was gibbons in the forest, then otters (or anything else) from a tower hide set up above a grassland and lake. The rain did a number on the trail, and it was a muddy mess with several wet stream crossings. From time to time we heard gibbons calling in the distance, but the only mammals we saw were squirrels (possibly gray-bellied squirrels). Still, the forest was beautiful, with lush vegetation, awesome vine networks, and trees of epic size.

The first herp was this awesome microhylid my wife spotted. I’d never seen this bright red coloration:

Berdmore’s Narrowmouth Frog (Microhyla berdmorei)

After a few hours of muddy hiking, we came across our first elephant sign. I really wanted to see some elephants, but it’s intimidating to imagine running into one in a place like this.

After a long hike though the forest, we broke into a different habitat:

With a new landscape came new herps. In fact, these grassland species were ones that I’d wanted to find in Bangkok, but had never managed to locate the right habitat for.

Three-striped grass frog (Hylarana macrodactyla)

Long-tailed grass lizard (Takydromus sexlineatus)

We also found this cute little skink in the area.

Streamside Skink (Sphenomorphus maculatus)

Habitat shot

This was the first and only place that we saw people off of the road. Other than the hide (which was also accessible via an 1 km dirt road), we didn’t see anyone on a single one of the trails we went on. Rainy season Tuesdays have their benefits!

As we walked back to our dormitory I saw a promising stick on the ground. Underneath it I spotted a tiny patch of scales. That revealed a baby snake the size of a milk carton straw.

Collared Reed Snake (Calamaria pavimentata)

Back at camp my wife took a nap while I explored a new trail. First I found this turtle sitting on land:

Southeast Asian Box Turtle (Cuora amboinensis)

Then this turtle was in the distance basking on a log:

Asian Leaf Turtle (Cyclemys dentata)

I gained a little elevation on the trail, and on one step heard a rustling in the underbrush. I thought it was a frog, but took a look and found a stocky lizard! One of my big herp goals was to see more interesting agamids, and this guy was a great start!

Rough-bellied Mountain Dragon Acanthosaura lepidogaster

On our second morning we had an uneventful trip to the tower blind at first light. On the way back the day got clearer and warmer, and the skinks were out in numbers. I think we mostly saw two species of skinks over the course of the trip, both of which showed up in several habitats:

Common Sun Skinks (Mabuya multifasciata)

Streamside Skinks (Sphenomorphus maculatus)

The trails that are around the visitor center certainly produced a lot of interesting animals. But several of my friends had told me that if we wanted to see some really neat reptiles, there was a certain river trail that we absolutely had to try out. That’s what we did next.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on November 5, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

Tags: , , , ,

Khao Yai National Park: Around the Dorms

Only a few hours outside of Bangkok is a national park that is simply wonderful for wildlife. To celebrate the end of our year in Thailand, in August my wife and I took a three-day trip to Khao Yai National Park. I had been looking forward to this for a long time and planned it with the help of several fellow herp enthusiasts. Conditions weren’t perfect and we ran into some problems, but the trip was awesome.

After taking a bus to Pak Chong, a songthaw to the entrance station, and hitchhiking to the visitor center on the back of pickup bed, we were in Khao Yai. My wife and I had planned to camp, but it rained much of the day and she didn’t want to spend the night soaked. Instead, we got a dorm for very cheap – no furnishings, but it kept us dry. Since it was a weekday and the rainy season, park accommodations were almost empty. That was good for wildlife visibility, and all these guys were seen right among the cabins and dorms.

Northern pig tailed macaques (Macaca leonina)

Barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak)

Sambar deer (Rusa unicolor)

enormous Black Giant Squirrels (Ratufa bicolor)

One night I tested the theory that porcupines liked to hang around dorm trash. My wife and I were alone in our dorm complex, so I went to the back of the other dorm that had more people in it. At 9:45pm I peeked around the corner of their building, and sure enough:

Malayan Porcupines (Hystrix brachyura)

On the next night I decided to set up a simple trap so my wife could see the porcupines she had missed the night before. All it took was a piece of food trash surrounded by empty water bottles on a bench in front of our window. We went to sleep, and at midnight the rain had stopped and we were woken by crashing water bottles. The surprised porcupine scurried off immediately after I snapped these photos:

I was happy to see that though the mammals weren’t very afraid of humans, they also weren’t “pet-like” and didn’t approach us for food from our hands. If you got too close they moved away. There were signs insisting that the animals not be fed and some threatened fines. This was my first National Park experience in Thailand, and I was happy to see that the attitude towards wildlife was more respectful and natural than some of the tourist-centered animal attractions I’d been in Thailand.

Unfortunately, one hazard of the area is leeches. Lots, and lots, and lots of leeches.

I didn’t know anything about their behavior – how they move along the ground like inchworms, advance towards you when they feel you coming, reach up trying to grab you when you walk by. There are few things creepier than watching leeches close in from all directions the second you stop moving. On the plus side, you usually notice them before they bite, their bites don’t hurt much, they don’t itch much afterwards, and they don’t carry any diseases that I know of.

The frequent rain was great for frogs, and quite a few species could be found near the accommodations and the surrounding forest and ponds.

Dark-sided Frogs (Sylvirana nigrovittata) (seen in every habitat and with some variation)

Microhylids were common and diverse.

Berdmore’s Narrowmouth Frogs (Microhyla berdmorei)

Ornate Narrowmouth Frog (Microhyla fissipes)

Darkside Narrowmouth Frog (Microhyla hemonsi)

Painted Narrowmouth Frog (Microhyla pulchra)

There was also quite a mix of other species. All of these frogs were found around the dorm or in the ditches on the nearest road:

Northern Treefrog (Polypedates mutus)

Round-tongued Floating Frog (Occidozyga martensii)

Gyldenstolpe’s Frog Limnonectes gyldenstolpei

Asian Grass Frogs (Fejervarya limnocharis)

Common Indian Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus)

Our dorm at night produced an array of geckos:

Flying Gecko (Ptychozoon lionotum) – the first one was out in daylight

Intermediate Bow-fingered Gecko (Cyrtodactylus intermedius)

Stump-toed Gecko (Gehyra mutilata) and Flat-tailed House Gecko (Hemidactylus platyurus)

How spectacular is it that you can see that array of mammals, frogs, and geckos without even leaving the area of the dorms! Of course, the fact that we came during the rainy season was a big plus – some animals tend to be much more active during the rainy season, and the fact that there were virtually no other visitors around meant that those animals were probably coming closer to the dorms than usual. Still, there were plenty of species that we were only going to find if we got out and started looking in the deeper forest. That’s what I’ll share next.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 3, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

Tags: , , , ,

Snakes in the Market

In one of my first visits to Lumpani Park I came upon a juvenile Puff-faced Water Snake. Upon viewing and photographing the snake, an American tourist nearby got anxious and stated, “I ask only that you do not harm the snake.” Further inquiry found that he had bought the snake at a Bangkok market and “humanely” released it into the Lumpani Park lakes. My friend quizzed the guy and found that he had no idea whether the snake was a native species or whether it was venomous. We did our best to explain to him why releasing the snake had been a bad idea.

puff-faced water snake Homalopsis buccata

Releasing a captive animal into the wild, even a native one, is not good for the local ecosystems. Non-native species, such as the red-eared sliders in the ponds, the Norway rats in the streets, and the English house sparrows in the trees, may prey on, outcompete, or spread disease among local species. And even native species that have spent time in captivity are highly at risk for transmitting disease into the wild populations. If you purchase a captive animal and can no longer care for it, please find a responsible person to take over care for the animal rather than releasing it into the wild.

Sadly, the water snake we found is only one of thousands of snakes that get processed through Bangkok’s markets. Most of that trade is illegal. The vast majority of those snakes either die within the marketing process, die soon after they are sold, or are released into an unfamiliar habitat in the wild. Please only purchase snakes if you are extremely familiar with how large they will get and how to take care of them, and only buy them from licensed, legal snake breeders. If someone is selling the animals on the street of out of a market, it’s best to assume the worst and move on.

Here are a few images of snakes and other animals in markets in Bangkok:

Juvenile Reticulated Python Python reticulatus

Water Snakes for sale in Vietnamese market

IMG_1284

IMG_1280

IMG_1287

IMG_1281

IMG_1279

(note – the cage full of water snakes was a photo from Vietnam, courtesy of Alex Krohn. All of the other photos were taken by me in Bangkok.)

 
1 Comment

Posted by on October 25, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Chatuchak at Night

The complex of parks at Chatuchak is a beautiful place to walk around at night, especially during the rainy season.   On a single night I’ve seen as many as 8-9 species of frogs there, plus a few snakes, monitors, and turtles.  You can find the frogs anywhere, though several of the species are most likely to be found near water. Just follow the calls! Here are a few of my finds, most of them from just a couple hours in a single night:

Ornate Narrowmouth Frog

Common Indian Toad
Common Indian Toad Bufo melanostictus

They can puff themselves up huge when threatened
Common Indian Toad Duttaphrynus melanostictus

Round-tongued Floating Frog
Round-tongued Floating Frog Occidozyga martensii

Jumping to get away
Round-tongued Floating Frog Occidozyga martensii

Asian Grass Frog eating an earthworm
Asian Grass Frog Fejervarya limnocharis eating

Inornate Froglet
Inornate Froglet Micryletta inornata

Green Paddy Frog
Green Paddy Frog Hylarana erythraea

Brown variation of the same species
Green Paddy Frog Hylarana erythraea

Four-lined Treefrog
Four-lined Treefrog Polypedates leucomystax

treefrog calling
Four-lined Treefrog Polypedates leucomystax

Asian Painted Frog
Asian Painted Frog Kaloula pulchra

The fattest one of these I’ve ever seen
Asian Painted Frogs Kaloula pulchra

A few reptiles to break up the amphibian streak:

Malayan Snail-eating Turtles
Malayan Snail-eating Turtles Malayemys macrocephala

On the first night that I tried looking around the park, I’d been finding plenty of cool things when I suddenly realized that closing time was close and I had no idea how far I was from the entrance. I started jogging to try to find the way out as quickly as possible. About 4-5 minutes into that I suddenly saw a nice thick snake crossing the path!

Banded Kukri Snake

disappearing into hole

I’m sure that there’s lots more in this park that I haven’t found. Thanks for taking a look!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 19, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute (Red Cross Snake Farm)

Early in my time in Bangkok I had a friend tell me that there was a great snake farm in Bangkok that I should check out. Apparently there’s a “bad” one that is just a tourist trap where snakes are basically abused, then a good one run by the Red Cross where snakes are cared for well and used for venom research. The good one is the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute – I got to visit it and it was fantastic.

As you can see, there were many different species of snakes represented. Though there are a few exotics mixed in, the focus is on the species native to Bangkok, and nearly all of the common non-venomous species local to Bangkok are displayed. In addition, the snake farm had many of the vipers, cobras, and kraits native to the rest of Thailand.

Feeding time was neat – here frogs and frog legs are the default snake food.

In the morning they had a milking demonstration. Venomous snakes are milked to extract venom, which is then used in the production of antivenom which is given to snakebite victims in order to counteract the snake bite’s effect. After a short video on the history of the snake farm, a speaker talked about the venom program and what the antivenom is used for, then three employees milked one monacled cobra each.

There was a small, decent museum on snakes attached as well. Again, all the information was accurate and appreciated. I took a photo of their display of the results of snakebite. This is why you should not pick up venomous species – notice how many of the bites are on the hand, especially the right hand? It is very likely that the people who got bit on the hand were trying to pick up or kill a venomous snake. And the bites that are not on the right hand are on the foot – watch where you step when you’re in snake country!

Remember – if you are bit by a venomous snake, the most important thing to do is to stay calm, try to identify the snake (take a picture if possible), and have someone take you to the hospital immediately. The antivenom produced by the Red Cross Snake Farm is very effective, but the sooner you get it the better.

In the afternoon there was a snake-handling show but I wasn’t able to attend. Overall I was very happy with the quality of exhibit space and information at the snake farm – it was the most competent display of animals I had seen in Asia. I would recommend the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute to anyone who wants to learn more about our local snake species and the work being done to save lives.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 6, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

Tags: , , , , ,

An Ode to Monitors

My first herping adventure post was a monitor wandering through Lumpani Park. These giants are so ubiquitous in Bangkok that I thought it was about time I made another post. Honestly, once you know how to look, it’s amazing how many you’ll see!

Water Monitors can be seen at the temples and monuments:

When you visit the parks, you’ll see them just lounging alongside the canals:

Or even swimming in them!

Water Monitor Varanus salvator swimming

Sometimes they move through the water slowly, hunting for food:

Water Monitor Varanus salvator

Water Monitor Varanus salvator

Though they’re huge, mostly they only eat crabs, snails, frogs, and other such small creatures…or trash and dead fish when they can find it!

Water Monitor Varanus salvator eating fish

Water Monitor Varanus salvator head shot

They have a certain interesting appearance when they’re walking over land:

And they can make beautiful waterfall decorations

From time to time, they’ll even be hanging out up in the trees

Water Monitor Varanus salvator

You might catch them making baby water monitors

Young monitors, by the way, are very very small (these are only ~35cm long!)

Water Monitor Varanus salvator juvenile

Water Monitor Varanus salvator juvenile

But old monitors can be very, very big! (this one was over 230cm long! And fat!)

Water Monitor Varanus salvator

To get a better idea of the size of these beasts, here are some attempted scaled shots that friends of mine posed for:

water monitor in Bangkok

water monitor in bangkok, thailand

That’s all I have for today. Don’t let the monitors walk on by without noticing these fantastic Bangkok residents…

 
1 Comment

Posted by on September 25, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

Tags: , , , ,

Bangkok Stories and Herps in Unlikely Places

Though you may not believe it from reading my blog, I didn’t come to Bangkok to herp. I came to the city to connect with people, to explore the subtleties of culture, and to find ways to work in an NGO-type job that served people in need. Herping was just a hobby that I did in my free time. But when you’re in a city that’s as teeming with life as Bangkok, you can’t really make hard lines between finding wildlife and discovering culture.

One day I hit up a wild-looking spot I’d recently found on Google Earth. It was only a kilometer from my place, but impossible to notice unless you’re looking from the sky. When I got there I found tons of herp habitat interspersed with impoverished squatters trying to build a life on whatever land they could find. (One third of Bangkok’s nine million people live in slums or squatter homes.) At one point I began to walk up a trail when I realized that it led to someone’s tiny trash-built hut. I was about to turn to leave, but just had to flip over the perfect-looking mat lying on the turnoff to the home. Sure enough, a beautiful Red-tailed Pipe Snake was under the mat.

Red-tailed Pipe Snake Bangkok

Their defensive display is fascinating. It may be meant to mimic the venomous southeast Asian coral snakes or may simply be to distract attention away from the vulnerable head. Of course, this species is completely harmless and didn’t even try to bite me.

Red-tailed Pipe Snake Bangkok

Red-tailed Pipe Snake tail Bangkok

On a different night I went walking down Oh Nut Road. A fascinating aspect of Bangkok’s culture are “spirit houses”, the miniature shrines that can be found on intersections and everywhere else throughout Bangkok. You really haven’t been in the city until you’ve sat on a vehicle cornering at high speed when the driver decides to take his hands off the steering and wai the spirit house in mid-turn!

So while I was walking down Oh Nut, I passed a familiar old spirit house laying at the base of a tree. On top of the table that the spirit house sat upon was the biggest Tokay Gecko I’d seen in my life! I was almost dumbfounded by the size – it looked like a Gila Monster. The thing had to be close to 35 centimeters long, but what was most impressive was the head size and body girth. The spirit house setting didn’t look like a normal place for a Tokay to be, but it may have been driven there by the rain.

Though I could have grabbed the gecko right there, I instead tried an in-situ pic, and the big guy lumbered up onto the tree while I was trying to snap the photo. By the time he stopped moving and I was able to focus the shot he was well up the tree:

Tokay Gecko

When I lived in Bangkok I spent a lot of time volunteering with an organization that helped girls who had lived through terrible situations. As any tourist knows, thousands of women are trafficked to Bangkok from rural Thailand and foreign countries to satisfy the huge demand in the sex trade. Many of these girls tell stories of the brothels that are horrifying beyond belief. Though technically illegal the tourism income alone from the sex industry makes up 3% of Thailand’s GDP, so it’s not going away anytime soon.

One morning I helped one of the women at the organization take two young girls to the dentist. One of them asked to use the restroom and the dentist said, “Well, we have a restroom but there’s a snake in there.” It looked like I could be more helpful than usual today! The dentist (and the girls we brought) were quite happy to have me remove it. When I went looking it turned out that the snake wasn’t in the bathroom anymore, but with the dentist’s help I found it in the adjacent outdoor patio. It was only a baby, but it was the first Copperhead Racer I’d seen in Bangkok.

Copperhead Racer Bangkok

Copperhead Racer Bangkok

Copperhead Racer

I slipped him into a grocery bag and released him the next day in a nearby overgrown lot. Though it was only a few meters away from the original office, snakes are extremely secretive, and chances are that neither the dentist nor her neighbors will ever know the snake is there.

Such are the treats of herping in urban Asia. It is a far cry from the pleasant illusion of untouched wilderness that I would usually prefer to spend time exploring. Yet it also breaks through the wall of separation that modern urban society has placed between itself and nature, and reminds me of the real lives that people are living here in a manner that national parks and tourist spots never could. Herping these concrete jungles has brought this particular herper experiences that never could have happened elsewhere.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on July 2, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Keep Your Eyes Open

Often it pays to be on the lookout, even when you’re not explicitly looking for herps. One night I was waiting at the Lumpani bus stop, looking to catch a bus home after having just gotten back from a trip out of town. The bus took a little time coming, so I figured, “why not have a look at the canal while I’m here?”

What a fortuitous thought! Inside the canal were a number of Black Marsh Turtles foraging for food. I had never seen this species before – in fact, I had only just found out they existed 2 days earlier! The turtles must be nocturnal, as I had never seen them in many day trips to the park, but here they were in numbers at night. They seemed to be foraging for carrion and trash, and perhaps snails and crabs, on the edge of the canal. I caught some photos of their foraging:

Black Marsh Turtle

Black Marsh Turtle

And then snatched one of them and got a few pics of it up close. You can see why they are referred to as the “smiling” turtle.

Black Marsh Turtle

Black Marsh Turtle Siebenrockiella crassicollis head

Smiling Terrapin Siebenrockiella crassicollis head

In a place like Bangkok, where nature has still managed to hang on in so many parts of the city, it can pay to keep your eyes open no matter what else you happen to be doing at the time.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Herping adventures

 

Tags: , , ,