Archive for the ‘reptiles’ Category

Eastern Copperhead

June 7, 2019

It’s almost inevitable: If you spend time in “Copperhead Country,” then you will see Copperheads. We do, and eventually we did.

An Eastern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) was observed during a photowalk with my good friend Mike Powell along a small forest stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

The first photo was taken as I peered cautiously over the edge of the fallen tree. I estimate the snake is approximately three feet long from head-to-tail — around the maximum size for this species.

04 JUN 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Eastern Copperhead

The last photo shows a little closer zoom and crop on the snake.

04 JUN 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Eastern Copperhead

Did you notice the fearless fly perched on the snake’s body?

The Backstory

Although it’s easy to see where Copperhead gets one of its many common names, it can be difficult to see them in some places in their natural habitat.

In this case, the snake was resting alongside a large fallen tree. Mike noticed the Copperhead after he crossed over the tree. Considering our remote location, we were very fortunate Mike didn’t step on the venomous snake.

See Eastern Copperhead for Mike Powell’s take on our close encounter of the Copperhead kind — it was both exciting and scary at the same time!

Related Resources

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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New discoveries in 2018 (non-odonates)

December 24, 2018

As 2018 is coming to a close quickly, it’s time to indulge in a little retrospection. This blog post features a few new non-odonates that I spotted for the first time in 2018.

Editor’s Note: Photos are presented in reverse-chronological order, based upon the date of the spotting.

Pandora Sphinx moth

This beauty was my reward after a long, mostly unproductive photowalk at Huntley Meadows ParkPosted on 24 September 2018.

20 SEP 2018 | Fairfax County, VA | Pandora Sphinx moth

Wild Turkey

Although I have seen signs of Wild Turkey at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, 10 August 2018 is the first time I’ve seen actual birds at OBNWR. Posted on 19 August 2018 and 10 September 2018.

Northern Black Racer (mating pair)

Look closely — both heads are shown in the following photo. Posted on 30 September 2018.

21 APR 2018 | Huntley Meadows Park | black snakes (mating pair)


Next post: New odonate exuviae in 2018 (by family).

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Common Five-lined Skink

November 9, 2018

A Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) was spotted during a photowalk at Occoquan Regional Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

This individual is a juvenile as indicated by its dark brown color and bright blue tail.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Northern Black Racer (mating pair)

September 30, 2018

A mating pair of black snakes, probably Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor), was spotted during a photowalk along Little Hunting Creek at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Information about this species, provided by the Virginia Herpetological Society, leads the author to infer mating Northern Black Racers are observed uncommonly.

Head hunting

The snakes were mating on a bed of Virginia Springbeauty (Claytonia virginica).

21 APR 2018 | Huntley Meadows Park | black snakes (mating pair)

My eyesight isn’t as good as it used to be when I was younger. As a result, it was challenging for me to find the head of both snakes. Look closely — both heads are shown in each of these photos.

21 APR 2018 | Huntley Meadows Park | black snakes (mating pair)

Head shots

After a few wide-angle shots, I turned my attention to close-ups of the head. I’m not sure I captured a head shot for both snakes.

Northern Black Racers have a huge, all-black eye with an “eyebrow” ridge that makes racers look angry and somewhat dangerous all the time. Source Credit: Kevin Munroe, former Park Manager, Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County Park Authority.

The “eyebrow” ridge is especially noticeable in the following photo.

21 APR 2018 | Huntley Meadows Park | black snakes (mating pair)

21 APR 2018 | Huntley Meadows Park | black snakes (mating pair)

From this viewpoint, it appears one of the snakes may be getting ready to shed.

21 APR 2018 | Huntley Meadows Park | black snakes (mating pair)

The parting shot

Direct eye contact can be unnerving when one is perhaps a little too close to a snake. Time to go!

21 APR 2018 | Huntley Meadows Park | black snakes (mating pair)

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

World Turtle Day

May 23, 2018

23 May 2018 is the 17th annual World Turtle Day.

The day was created as an annual observance to help people celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world. Source Credit: About World Turtle Day

21 MAY 2018 | Occoquan Bay NWR | small turtle (species unknown)

A small turtle was spotted along Lake Drive at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA, relatively far from Painted Turtle Pond.

This individual is estimated to be 1-2 inches in length. The genus/species is unknown. No obvious match is found on the Virginia Herpetological Society Turtles of Virginia Web page. I wonder whether it might be a species of “pet shop” turtle that was released into the wild.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Turtle shell

April 21, 2018

The following photo shows a shell from an unknown species of dead turtle that was spotted at Painted Turtle Pond during a photowalk at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

18 APR 2018 | Occoquan Bay NWR | turtle shell

The Backstory

I visited several sites in Northern Virginia in search of adult odonates (dragonflies and damselflies). I saw two Common Green Darner dragonflies (Anax junius) hawking smaller insects over a small field at my second stop; no odes were spotted at the other two stops. The start of ode-hunting season has been delayed by an unusually cool/cold spring in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The Common Green Darners that I saw are probably migratory, rather than “home grown.”

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Another black snake

January 19, 2018

A few days before I spotted the black snake featured in my last blog post, I saw another black snake at the same location in Huntley Meadows Park. In fact, I was so focused on searching for Great Spreadwing damselflies that I almost stepped on the snake!

This individual is probably an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis), as indicated by the appearance of its eyes.

22 OCT 2017 | Huntley Meadows Park | black snake

My close encounter of the startling kind shows the snake slithering along a carpet of leaf litter on the ground, heading toward one of several man-made brush piles near a vernal pool at a remote location in the park.

The last two photos show the snake moving around inside the brush pile. According to Kevin Munroe, former manager at Huntley Meadows Park, brush piles are “like a natural cupboard” where snakes hunt for small rodents.

22 OCT 2017 | Huntley Meadows Park | black snake

Eastern Ratsnakes have keeled scales, shown clearly in the full-size version of the preceding photo.

Keeled scales refer to reptile scales that, rather than being smooth, have a ridge down the center that may or may not extend to the tip of the scale, making them rough to the touch. Source Credit: Keeled scales, Wikipedia.

Thanks to Timothy Deering for sharing this field marker in a comment on my last blog post.

22 OCT 2017 | Huntley Meadows Park | black snake

Related Resource: Black snake, a blog post by Walter Sanford.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Black snake

January 17, 2018

A black snake was spotted basking on a man-made brush pile at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is either an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) or Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor).

25 OCT 2017 | Huntley Meadows Park | black snake

According to Kevin Munroe, former manager at Huntley Meadows Park, Eastern Ratsnake can be differentiated from Northern Black Racer by looking at their eyes.

Northern Black Racers have a huge, all-black eye with an “eye-brow” ridge (makes racers look angry and somewhat dangerous all the time), while ratsnakes have noticeably smaller eyes with a black/white pupil/iris pattern (which makes them look more friendly/human). Also racers would never sit still long enough for you to take pictures, or at least it would be harder. Ratsnakes are pretty laid-back and easy to approach, while racers are very skittish and quick to flee. Ratsnakes mostly eat small mammals and young birds/eggs, while racers feed mainly on other herps like snakes, lizards and frogs. Ratsnakes are stealth/tracking hunters that smell out nests of young rodents and birds, while racers are active chasers/hunters/sprinters, which may be why they have such different personalities. Source Credit: Kevin Munroe.

25 OCT 2017 | Huntley Meadows Park | black snake

Based upon Kevin’s guidance, I think this individual is an Eastern Ratsnake.

25 OCT 2017 | Huntley Meadows Park | black snake

Another black snake was spotted on the ground, about 20 feet from the brush pile. The snake wasn’t moving, but the vegetation was too dense to get a clear view of the subject.

Related Resource: Another black snake, a blog post by Walter Sanford.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

New discoveries in 2017 (non-odonates)

December 30, 2017

I’m an equal opportunity photographer. Although I tend to focus on photographing odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) I will photograph anything interesting that catches my eye. This retrospective features non-odonate new finds for 2017.

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

05 APR 2017 | The Beacon of Groveton | House Finch (male)

A House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) was spotted in the parking garage at the Beacon of Groveton, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon platirhinos)

An Eastern Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) was spotted at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park (HORP), Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Mayfly (Hexagenia sp.)

A mayfly (Hexagenia sp.) was spotted at Riverbend Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female subimago.

Northern Red-bellied Cooter (Pseudemys rubriventris)

A male Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) was spotted perching on the nose of a Northern Red-bellied Cooter (Pseudemys rubriventris), at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Blister beetle (Meloe sp.)

A blister beetle (Meloe sp.) was spotted at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

Wild Turkey feathers (Meleagris gallopavo)

A tail feather from a Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) was photographed in situ along Easy Road at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Eastern Gartersnake

November 18, 2017

An Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) was spotted during a photowalk along Easy Road at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

After taking a closer shot of the snake’s head (above), I backed away for a wider view that shows the snake is a little more than two (2) feet in length (below).

Eastern Gartersnakes can be differentiated from Common Ribbonsnakes (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus) by the presence of “dark vertical lines on the supralabial scales.” This key characteristic is shown clearly in the following photo.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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