Monday, June 06, 2011

I rarely herp in isolated places. I'm rarely on a trail, given, but I could reach one in no more than half an hour of hacking, usually less. I find rare, beautiful creatures that the vast majority of the people on those trails zip past without realizing they are there. I don't want to disparage the broader joys of hiking or boating, etc. (walking on soil and rock, surrounded by greenery and majestic vistas, or gliding over the water, hearing the paddle dip and lightly splash with each stroke) but I feel privileged to experience another level of beauty in the landscape. I imagine that all naturalists, whatever their focus, share this with me. The botany nut who can read the history of the forest in the mix of tree species and their shapes, the birder to whom the general chorus of bird calls resolves into a long attendance sheet of species calling from their respective microhabitats, the insect lover who sees the metallic black beetle alighting on his shoulder as more than something to be simply brushed off.

Last weekend I spotted this hunky timber rattler (Crotalus horridus) basking quietly, ten feet off a busy multi-use trail.

I rushed my picture and note taking as a crowd of mountain bikers crested a rise in front of me. I don't think I was being selfish; even if 100 passers by would relish the sight of this beautiful serpent sitting calmly in its element, I fear the 1 who would tell his sadistic cousin, who would come back with his shotgun or shovel. Still I got that special feeling that I witnessed a world that most people passing through did not.

The trip had started with a black ratsnake (Pantherophis obsoleta). I had seen it far away on the main trail (Snake or stick? Is it moving? It's moving!) and had taken off at a sprint to reach it before it could exit the trail. It saw me too soon and doubled back into a tight thicket I couldn't penetrate, mockingly shaking its tail in the leaves as it receded.

Soon I dropped off the trail, down the mountain towards the rocks. I was heading for coordinates where we had found rattlers a few years ago, and as I rounded the top of a small cliff I saw this gorgeous vision.

I know most people don't love snakes like I do, but come on, isn't this the slightest bit endearing? Three adult rattlers, who could spread out if they chose, basked together in a neat cuddly pile.

Not only are they basking, they're doing it with a perfect view of the valley below on the edge of a cliff. I'm sure they chose the site for the sun and not the view, but it still makes for a lovely scene from a human perspective.

My snake antennae perked up at this point, but even so I was surprised to see this little yearling sleeping in the warmth of the sun filtering down from the mostly overcast sky (the sun did peek out every few minutes).

The slope was all smaller rocks than I'm used to seeing timbers in, rocks that almost all shifted and slipped as I tried to step gracefully on them.

I saw another a few yards away; let's assume I missed another ten who were higher or lower on the slope or better hidden.

I finally reached the coordinates, already feeling successful, and found this beauty stretched out and enjoying the weather.

I decided to take her cue and did the same. I found a perch ten yards above her, took off my boots, and had a drink of water. After ten minutes the clouds parted and the hotter sun let her keep her temperature up with less skin exposed, and she retreated under an overhanging rock.

On the way back I detoured to visit a mountain bog (again, just out of sight off the trail).

Here's a resident green frog (Rana clamitans)...

...and the remains of spotted (maybe Jefferson's) salamander (Ambystoma maculatum or jeffersonianum) egg masses.

I heard and saw the splash of some kind of turtle clattering into the water. Note to self: I really need to come back here earlier in the spring (or with binoculars) when there's less foliage to see what kind.

1 comment:

David Steen said...

Beautiful timbers. Great find; nice to know they're there if you know where to look.