Sunday, June 10, 2012

 A week and a half ago I finally got out on my own to the mountains. To be clear, I have been delighted to take Magnolia out with me in search of reptiles and amphibians, but on this trip I reminded myself of how fast I can move on my own, how much more ground I can cover on my way across a mountain, how more nimbly I can hop boulder to boulder (one of my favorite activities).

On the way through the woods to the open areas with the rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) I found some beautiful, though not-at-all nimble, efts moving in their slow motion across rocks and logs. I guess I didn't check to see whether there was any water actually on the lens of my camera before I took the shot, so please excuse the blur. Efts are a terrestrial life stage of the red-spotted newts (Notophthalmus viridiscens) we so often see in slow, shallow water. The newts hatch out into aquatic larvae, spend a few years as terrestrial efts, and then return to the water as adults. Aside from their garish beauty, their slow, methodical pace makes them fun to observe (and catch). Their bright colors signal toxic skin secretions; they don't need to move fast, since not much would want to eat them.

I made it to the rattlesnake site ahead of time, it turned out. I had worried about the sun heating the rocks up too quickly, but I found no snakes sitting out to greet me when I arrived. I took fifteen minutes to sit, rest, and wring out my socks and insoles, which had soaked up quite a lot of dew on my hike through the woods. Still no rattlers.

I got up and explored elsewhere on the slope, but made it back in about twenty minutes.

Finally! Here was a snake sitting out in the sun just as I had expected.

She wasn't alone for long. I spotted this one crawling over the top of a neighboring rock.

And a few minutes later this one poked her head out and curled up alongside.

These are likely pregnant females, which spend the summer basking in open areas while their males and not-pregnant sisters spend their time hunting.

I checked out a nearby spot, where I found a couple rattlers; one was sitting pretty and soaking up the sun. The other, apparently warmed up already, was nosing around the edge of the boulder, apparently looking to coil up half-shaded in the bushes. This one in particular was a stunning snake, the velvety black edged with cream and russet. Some herpers may prefer the blondes, but I can't get enough of the black rattlers.

More of the mountain awaited, so I hiked around to explore for a couple hours. On my way by the first basking site, I found this sight:

This is why you generally don't find timbers in really sunny weather unless you already know where you're looking. They might leave a coil or two out in the sun, but the keep the rest of themselves tucked back in the shade.

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