The Art of Flipping

The Art of Flipping

A Guide to Flipping

It is a lovely fall evening, sunny skies with a few passing clouds, and the temperature is in the mid-70’s and the humidity is near 60%.  I walk into my backyard and walk over to my dog Cody’s doghouse.  You know, the doghouse he never uses but we keep around anyway.  The dog house sits just in front of the woods, right next to my garage.  I walk over and flip it, just to take a little peek.  I quickly notice lots of squirming little critters.  In my mind I quickly determine what is earthworm and what is snake.  With my cat-like reflexes, I grab one, then two, then a third snake.  Looking in my hand’s, I realize I have two rough earth snakes and a ringneck snake.  This, my friend, is the Herping art of “flipping”.

Flipping, as far as I am concerned, is one of the most fun ways to herp.  I incorporate flipping into most of my herping excursions.  When compared to walking the environment or cruising, key advantages are noticed.

When you walk up on a reptile already out and about, you are typically detected before they are.  The critter is already planning an escape in the event you spot him.  When Flipping, the animal is likely sleeping or less aware of you.  This gives you the upper hand when you capture the animal.  (Side note: Catch and Release!).  Flipping can also be more productive than cruising or hiking during times when the herps are not on the move.  There are many times when reptiles are less likely to be active.

When to Flip?

In the heat of the summer, reptiles find cool places to escape the heat.  Most people think that reptiles being “cold-blooded” means the more heat the better.  Although warmth is needed, there are times when it is even too hot for herps.  Different species avoid heat at different temperatures.  This is covered more in the species profiles.  When herps are hiding from the heat, look for cover that stays shady most of the day.  You can also try flipping cover that meets the edge of a stream, creek, swamp, or pond.

During cool snaps in fall or spring many herps settle in for a siesta.  They will find some cover that will be the first to heat up once the sun comes out.  Tin or other thin cover that will be the first in sunlight are the best places to look during times it is too cool for most herps.  These locations tend to be a bit more dry than summer time hiding spots when it comes to reptiles.  Amphibians will still need moist spots.

Flipping a Tarp for Herps By Phillip Laxton Instagram:  plaxton53
Flipping a Tarp for Herps By Phillip Laxton
Instagram: plaxton53

When there has been several days of good feeding and everyone is digesting.  What do mean by several days of good feeding?  Lets say you are herping for Nerodia (water snake family).  They love frogs.  After 4 or 5 days of heavy rain (frog weather so it’s Nerodia weather), all the water snakes are full of frogs and hiding under cover to digest their meals.  Think of it like Sunday afternoon football.  All of us guys eat Sunday Diner then it is to the couch we go.  Nothing like a nap after a good meal with some NFL on in the background.

Flipping can have some con’s as well.  The biggest con, in my opinion, is they can be over used.  If you are herping on public property that other herpers know about, there is a good chance that object was moved recently.  I try to only move the cover on my property about once every 3 to 5 days.  Objects that are moved too much tend to be much less productive.  Flipping can also be back-breaking work.  I will cover this more later.  To keep my cover fresh and to save my back, I will evaluate the current environment and determine if hunting active animals or cruising will yield better results.

What is Best to Flip?

Some objects are better than others when it comes to making a good home for herps.  There are two categories of cover.  There is natural cover and artificial cover (AC).  Herps don’t look at it this way.  They will take advantage of whatever they can find.  But for the sake of discussion lets take a look…..

Natural Cover

Natural Cover By Phillip Laxton Instagram:  plaxton53
Natural Cover By Phillip Laxton
Instagram: plaxton53

Natural cover like fallen trees, rocky ledges, large areas of leaf and/or bark ground cover, and area’s of dense vegetation are perfect places for critters to hide.  I always look at the object and try to decide if the size and weight of the object is worth the energy.  I have found big snakes under very light cover and heavy cover.  Generally speaking the bigger the herp the bigger the cover but this is not an absolute.  Target the cover based on what herp you are targeting.  We will give tips for likely cover in each species profile.

Artificial Cover (AC)

When it comes to artificial cover, a whole article could be (and might be soon) written on it.  AC includes anything that would not naturally be found in the habitat.  Tin, plywood, piled or layered materials, household trash, old car parts, fallen signs, and the list goes on and on and on.  The key to AC is all in location.  The same piece of tin could yield poor results in one spot and 10-20 yards away it could yield very good results.

Sawmill Habitat by Phillip Laxton. Instagram: plaxton53
Sawmill Habitat by Phillip Laxton. Notice the boards are not packed tightly.  Leave room for Herps to hide.
Instagram: plaxton53

I have found that tin, plywood, and cardboard all produce good results.  I try to lay some in shade, some in sun, and some in between.  I place most of the cover directly on the ground.  I do have a few AC sites where I stack 2x4s.  When stacking be sure to stack loosely.  If your pile is stacked too tight, there will not be as many hiding places for your herps.  Avoid stacking heavy cover as well.  Remember that flipping is supposed to be fun.  Keep heavy cover at a minimum and never stack it.

I avoid garbage and household trash as it is unsanitary.  Tires seldom result in much.  I don’t know why but, tires never reveal anything for me but the occasional lizard.  I would also avoid roofing shingles for a number of reasons.  First off, they are heavy.  Secondly, they melt in the heat.  Thirdly, they tend to pack tightly.

There is little besides tires and roofing shingles that can be sued to shelter herps but, I have had just as much luck with light material as I have heavy material.  Keep this in mind.

When to Put AC Out?

The best time to put cover out is dependent on where you live.  Here in the Coastal Plains of North Carolina, cover can be put out any time after the herping season has ended.  I usually start placing it out in late fall and throughout the winter.  Spring growth begins early in my area so I like to have it out before spring begins.  Areas with snow cover throughout much of the winter may want to consider placing the cover before the harsh winter sets in.  If you wait until spring you want to be quick as herps begin to become active shortly after the snow melt in most places.  The key to placing AC is to get it out before the new vegetation begins to grow.  I still find myself placing AC throughout the year but any site placed before the vegetation grows will be ready as soon as the herps start moving.  Otherwise, you will have to wait for a little while to flip AC laid after the vegetation begins growing.

Tips and Tricks

  • Flip objects that are in shade during really hot days
  • Flip objects that are in sunlight during cooler days
  • Don’t over flip objects.  Flipping the same object too much can cause herps to begin to avoid it.
  • Try to place objects back exactly where you found them.  The micro-habitats found under objects make them more inviting to the herps.
  • Use AC in strategic locations.  Some in shade, some in sun, and some in between.
  • Keep it light!  Use heavy AC sparingly.  You will regret a lot of heavy AC.
  • Place AC before spring vegetation grows.  Locations with heavy snow fall may benefit from laying out AC before winter.
  • AC laid after the herping season begins should be left alone for a while to set up the micro-habitat.
  • Cheap and even free AC can be found at land-fills and abandoned property.  I have gone to construction sites and offered to take some of their scraps off their hands with good results.

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