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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Nature on the Fly

Birding during the summer months is difficult, especially when one of us has a life list entirely determined by photography. This means that not only do we have to find birds, but we’ve got to find them during the day and in decent light. So when the weatherman screwed up the stormy forecast and the sun shone bright through my bedroom window yesterday morning, James gave me a call and we headed out to see what we could find.

Unfortunately, with the good weather came poor birding. Along the trail, we couldn’t find many warblers besides American Redstarts and Black-throated Blues, and even they didn’t want to come close enough for some pictures. Thankfully, a fast-moving raptor and a high-pitched screech made me look to the sky, where we found two circling Broad-winged Hawks. This is an odd species for me in that I’ve heard them call, and I’ve seen them, but never have I experienced both at the same time. The hawks flew fast, making photography difficult, but it was super cool to finally see this migrant in the Triangle.

I remember learning the call of a Broad-winged Hawk in college, but this is the first time
I've really heard it well in the field.

Checking the canal portion of the trail one last time, we came upon this friendly American Redstart hopping through the willows. When I say friendly, I mean it ventured pretty close to us, but like most warblers it seemed to stay behind a veil of leaves the whole time. Still, every once and a while it would pop out in the open and sing its song, allowing James to get some decent shots. Not quite the perfect shot we’re looking for, but we’ll keep at it!

How hard is it to sing out in the open? I mean, COME ON!

Other than that the birding at Mason Farm was unremarkable, and we headed home. That’s when Ali called and said he wanted to go herping, and I said, well, why not? James had to go home, so Ali and I headed for Duke Forest to do a little flipping. We didn’t find much, save for an active Copperhead that darted off as soon as we flipped his board. But under a random piece of tin next to an old barn, Ali spotted a small snake that piqued his interest, and he grabbed it to examine it closer.

At the time I took this photo, I'd narrowed it down to "snake sp."... still a long way to go!

It was a small snake, brown on top and pale underneath. This clearly marks it as an earth snake, but as there are several species around here, we had to be sure which one. Turning his binoculars the wrong way ‘round, we were able to use them as field glasses and check out the scaling, which turned out to be unkeeled. That, plus the random dark spots and rounded nose meant we’d found a sweet little Smooth Earth Snake, a lifer for the both of us.

They say this snake is hard to find; I wouldn't know. I tend to find such snakes rather easily!

Since I started herping earlier this year, I’ve seen this Smooth Earth Snake, countless Copperheads, my fair share of Mole Kingsnakes, and even a Pigmy Rattlesnake; but for some reason I’ve never been able to photograph the common Brown Snake, and I’m starting to think there’s something wrong with me. My herping career has been unorthodox thus far, and I’d like to keep it that way. I’d love to get rid of that nemesis herp once and for all, but for now, I’ll take all the hard-to-find snakes I can get!  

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