Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The angry snake weekend

June 14th

For the last weekend Eric was in town, before he flew off to Papua New Guinea, we decided to go herping (can you really imagine anything else?). Our targets were to find some super-rare, isolated populations in western NY - Blanding's Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii), Queen Snake (Regina septemvittata), Spiny Softshell (Apalone spinifera), and Fowler's Toad (Bufo fowleri). Before you get your hopes up about what cool herp species this post contains, we found none of these rare species.

We put up a good effort, though, and found a few nice snakes that I hadn't encountered yet this year (my herping and birding efforts have been sparing so far this spring/summer). Our first efforts, for the two turtles, were a total failure. The habitat we accessed was all wrong for Blanding's, so I guessed incorrectly on that. The habitat we looked for softshells in looked perfectly fine, and I bet we would have seen them out basking if the weather wasn't conspiring against us - cool and rainy in the morning. We also failed to find Fowler's Toad in this area. Have you ever gone out and tried actually looking for a toad? It's hard.

In the afternoon we focused our efforts on several creeks we thought had a good chance at finding Queen Snakes, a crayfish specialist. Instead, we turned up a boatload of Northern Watersnakes (Nerodia sipedon), including many brightly-patterned yearlings. Focusing on finding the Queen prize kept me from focusing on nice macro shots, but here's what I did get.

The first yearling Nerodia we found had something against us:

Then we uncovered a big momma Nerodia in shed. Given her positioning in this shot, it's a wonder that Eric still has a face:

This is what happens when an arm strays too close, and the rapid-fire mode on the camera isn't nearly rapid enough:

Another early find in the day was this beautiful Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). I've never encountered one with such a vibrant orange stripe before:

Also on the list of impressively colorful herps we found was this American Toad (Bufo americanus). I've never seen one so bright green:

Then Eric went on a spree, flipping both Storeria plus another Thamnophis in quick succession. First, he found a good-sized (for a Storeria anyways) Northern Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi). While it was plenty curious in Eric's hand, getting on-the-ground shots proved difficult:

Eric flipped another piece of cover and pounced on both a garter and a Red-bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata). The garter went into a wild and crazy spazz mode, biting at everything and nothing. I was so busy laughing and trying to get an in-focus shot that I didn't bother helping Eric try to control both snakes. He worked his hand down the garter's body, only to have it latch on.

Once the garter was disengaged and released, we turned our attention to the Red-bellied. It was a pink-belly, I believe they turn this color from the cloudiness of approaching shed.

In the same creekside field, Shawn pointed out a crab spider:

We exhausted possibilities at our first creek location and decided to try another. I had to get some pictures of the pretty scenery on the way out:

While hiking down a trail through fields to the next creek, Eric paused to flip some rocks and came up with another great snake, an Eastern Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum):

At this final location, we tallied mostly more Nerodia, including many of the bright yearlings I mentioned. Here is one in-situ, post-flip:

Had to get at least one belly shot:

Even though these guys were so small they could hardly latch on, that didn't stop them from lashing out. This weekend definitely had one of the higher percentages of bitey snakes of my various field herping trips.

When all our herping options (and us!) were exhausted, we called it a day. Eric went home to leave for Papua New Guinea the next morning, while Shawn and I visited my family for the rest of the weekend. My family takes such great pictures, I had to post them:

Grandma and Grandpa, celebrating their anniversary

Grandma, brother, Mom

Shawn and I. This picture made me realize just how long my beard had gotten, thanks to the fuzzy halo around me:Sister
Uncle, sister, and I


  1. Awesome post, amazing pics! I was thinking about your active herping while watching a garter snake in our yard last weekend - the first I've seen in over two years. Thanks for the vicarious herping expedition (and family trip, too).

  2. Great pics. Quite an adventure you had as well.