rotating banner

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Hairful of Snakes

Last Thursday was already a legendary day of herping, what with a Copperhead and a Black Racer, plus those salamanders in the morning. But I had no idea how awesome it was about to get. Enter Duke Forest.

Things started off pretty mundane, and being the late afternoon, there weren’t even birds singing from the trees around the gravel parking lot. As Mark, Ali and I walked down the path, I became startled by what I thought was a rodent running across my feet. Turns out, it was actually an enormous female Eastern Fence Lizard, probably fattened up to start laying eggs. She ran up a tree and just sat there while we watched her, and with a quick grab I managed to catch her. For a good half-mile, she sat in the palm my hand like an Egyptian sphinx, unmoving and beautiful.

Oddly enough, I've never seen a Fence Lizard on a fence.

I had to let her go at some point, and it’s a good thing I did, because not a hundred yards later, I heard a loud rustle of dead leaves on the forest floor. I saw two Black Racers, a smaller male and a huge female, racing down a nearby hill, and without a second thought, Ali ran after them at full speed. When I finally caught up to him, he had his hand down a snake hole, grasping the big female’s tail. With some careful effort, he was able to pull her out, and using Mark’s snake stick, we took turns holding the feisty serpent. Every once in a while, even from a prone position on the ground, she’d rear up and try to bite us on the hand. Not an experience you easily forget!

The big girl almost tagged my finger. Missed me by that much!

As we neared the concrete bridge, we heard the twittering of Chimney Swifts overhead, the truncated songs of Ovenbirds in the deep woods, and the descending melodies of Yellow-throated Warblers from atop old oaks. Truly, spring was here, and this did not escape the notice of snakes. Once we stepped foot on the bridge, Ali bolted into the water, catching Queen Snakes and Northern Water Snakes by the handful. All in all, we saw at least twenty snakes that day at the bridge, and the Water Snakes we saw ran the patterning gamut – some looked banded as they should, and some looked dull brown. But one looked exquisite, sporting bright rufous bands on an ecru background. By far, the prettiest Northern Water Snake I’ve ever seen.

Totally worth it - he nailed my hand, drawing his fair share of blood. My first battle scars!

At one point, mid-way between running after Water Snakes in the rushing creek, Ali reached into the water and pulled this guy out from between some stones. Turns out, we aren’t the best at turtle identification, because we waffled between IDing him as a Musk Turtle and a Mud Turtle. Of course, his lack of a hind plastron hinge over his back legs should have been a solid clue, but it wasn’t until later that we finally decided we was a Musk Turtle. Oddly enough, he didn’t musk at all, and didn’t live up to his species nickname of ‘Stinkpot’. Perhaps it’s because I’d been musked by captured Water Snakes all day, which smell just God-awful.

I almost wish he smelled worse - at least we coulda ID'd him right away!

After successfully photographing a sweet new turtle, Ali decided to go into crazy herper mode and grab a handful of the snakes we’d caught, placing them atop his head to look like the odd love-child of Twisted Sister and Medusa. After coming into some semblance of reason, he let them loose on the bridge, and snakes scattered in eight different directions. Quite the sight to behold, and an awesome ending to an epic day of herping! 

1 comment: