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Friday, March 30, 2012

Ol' Blue Eyes

Don’t you just love it when everybody’s schedules match up? Mark, Ali and I all had a free afternoon this past Thursday, and what a better way to spend it than to herp! As Mark was going to show up a little later, Ali and I decided to check out the creek that runs through Battle Park for whatever we could find. ‘Whatever’ turned out to be a whole bunch of adult Southern Two-lined Salamanders, a species that’s pretty common in our area and happens to love running water.

This is the most colorful one we found, in all its mustard-yellow glory!

In all, we caught five salamanders, a pretty good score for being literally on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus! After Mark showed up, we headed for the venerable transect at Duke Forest’s Gate 22. True to form, a Copperhead was back under one of the boards, thankfully right in the middle and away from anybody’s fingers.

Don't move - a Copperhead can't see us if we don't move!

Ali, being the crazy herper that he is, decided to pick up the venomous snake with the aid of Mark’s snake stick. I don’t know if I’ll ever reach the level of being able to hold Copperheads, but Ali seemed to have no problem with it. Heck, he even kissed the thing! Apparently you’re supposed to do that as a thank you to the snake for not biting you and injecting venom.

Yeah, pretty much the closest I'll ever get to a Copperhead!

We sat the snake down in an open area for better photographs, and he couldn’t have been a more generous subject. A far cry from the Mole Kingsnakes of late, the Copperhead just sat there in a perfect pose, allowing shot after shot, without moving a muscle. Of course, once he did try to get away, Ali employed the snake stick once again, and the Copperhead reared back and struck the stick. As we saw no dripping venom, it looks to’ve been a dry bite, and the snake stick seemed no worse for wear, but it’s a humbling reminder that these snakes are in fact dangerous.

Like the eponymous character in the movie Kill Bill - beautiful, yet deadly.

Off the transect, we flipped boards over by some dilapidated barns. Nothing much going on except a nice White-spotted Slimy Salamander and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher singing from the low trees. As we flipped one promising tin, Ali noticed a small black serpent, and immediately grabbed it. It was a Black Racer, but far from normal racer behavior, it didn’t thrash and refused to bite. Then I saw why.

Would that make it a Blue-Eyes Black Racer?

The snake, it turns out, was very close to shedding its skin. As it gets closer to molting, the membrane over the snake's eyes becomes cloudy, and in racers this leads to an interesting phenomenon – its eyes become a brilliant shade of Carolina blue. I could have photographed this docile little racer for hours, but after getting our shots, we decided to let it have some peace and quiet as it began to shed its skin. The whole thing was an amazing up-close experience that I rarely get to have with these snakes. But we had other spots to hit this afternoon, and like the Beatles song, the day just kept on getting better, and better all the time...

To be continued!

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