Archive for the ‘reptiles’ Category

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.

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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.

Pond pals

September 7, 2017

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

02 AUG 2017 | JMAWR | Eastern Amberwing (male) and water turtle

As soon as the turtle surfaced the dragonfly appeared out of thin air and landed on the turtle’s nose. I shot two photos before the turtle dove underwater and swam out of sight, but for a magical moment, the turtle and dragonfly were pond pals!

Editor’s Notes

Sincere thanks to Matt Ratcliffe, member of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group, for confirming my tentative identification of the water turtle. Now that the identity of the turtle is certain, I named the pair of pond pals Scooter and Cooter.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Northern Watersnake

June 13, 2017

A Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon) was spotted during a photowalk along Pope’s Head Creek at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Northern Watersnake

Look closely at the full-size version of the following photo. Did you notice the fresh blood on the underside of its body? Also notice the scar on the dorsal side of the snake’s body. The former is probably blood from prey; the latter is probably the result of an attack by another predator.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Northern Watersnake

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

If snakes could talk

June 1, 2017

In my experience, snakes flick their tongue frequently when they feel threatened by a predator. If snakes could talk, then this one might be saying “You’re making me feel anxious!”

10 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Eastern Gartersnake

An Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) was spotted along Pope’s Head Creek at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. A wider view shows the snake is approximately two (2) feet in length. Notice its tail appears to have been amputated and healed afterward.

10 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Eastern Gartersnake

A closer look at the snake shows several fresh injuries along the body, such as the gash near its head.

10 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Eastern Gartersnake

Several bus loads of middle school students were visiting the park on 10 May 2017. I saw three students downstream from me who were separated from the larger group. They were throwing rocks at something along the shore. As I approached them, they started walking in the opposite direction. I spotted the snake when I reached the same place where the students had been throwing rocks.

10 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Eastern Gartersnake

I’m guessing the students were trying to kill the snake before they saw me. So if snakes could talk, then this one might be saying “Thank you for saving my life!”

10 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Eastern Gartersnake

Editor’s Comments: What’s the take-away from this ugly experience? This is another example of “good thought, bad idea.” It was a good thought to schedule a school field trip to a nature park; it was a bad idea to lose track of several students! Middle school students require adult supervision at all times. Trust me, as a retired K-12 science teacher, this is the voice of experience talking. The teachers are lucky none of their students were injured when they were missing in action. The snake wasn’t as fortunate — it was injured as a consequence of the teachers’ negligence. Let’s hope the snake survived its injuries!

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake

May 24, 2017

The only downside — or upside, depending upon your point of view — to my new hotspot for hunting odonates is there are only two trails in/out and both paths are steeply-inclined. Going in, not so bad walking downhill; going out, not so much fun!

I stopped to catch my breath as I was walking up a long trail with a 45-degree slope. I heard a rustling sound in the vegetation on the left side of the trail, a little beyond where I was standing. I moved closer slowly until I spotted my first Eastern Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon platirhinos)!

10 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Eastern Hog-nosed Snake

Although the name for this snake is less than flattering, notice the distinctive orange fleur-de-lis shape on top of its head. The coloration of Eastern Hog-nosed Snake is variable; I was fortunate to see one of the more colorful ones.

10 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Eastern Hog-nosed Snake

I never had a clear view of the entire snake, but I estimate it was two-to-three feet in length.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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