Archive for the ‘reptiles’ Category

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.

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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.

Skink

May 2, 2017

A skink was spotted during a photowalk along the Potomac River at Riverbend Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. The lizard is either a Broad-headed Skink (Plestiodon laticeps) or an adult male Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus).

This individual appears to have five (5) supralabial scales between the snout and the front of its eye, a field marker that indicates it’s probably a Broad-headed Skink.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Happy World Turtle Day!

May 23, 2016

The purpose of World Turtle Day, May 23, sponsored yearly since 2000 by American Tortoise Rescue, is to bring attention to, and increase knowledge of and respect for, turtles and tortoises, and encourage human action to help them survive and thrive. Source Credit: World Turtle Day, Wikipedia.

An Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) spotted at West Meadows Trails, Meadowood Recreation Area, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

An Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) was spotted on 14 May 2016 at West Meadows Trails, Meadowood Recreation Area, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

An Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) spotted at West Meadows Trails, Meadowood Recreation Area, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

A turtle is a good metaphor for the wisdom of slowing the rapid pace of day-to-day existence in order to enjoy some of life’s simpler pleasures.

I visited this location hoping to find several species of uncommon odonates, but I wasn’t so driven that I couldn’t take a few minutes to photograph an animal that I see less frequently than one might expect.

An Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) spotted at West Meadows Trails, Meadowood Recreation Area, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Opposing viewpoints

April 15, 2016

Michael Powell and I met for a long photowalk at Huntley Meadows Park on 11 April 2016. We spotted (and photographed) a Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor) during the morning and an Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) in the early afternoon.

Mike’s viewpoint

The following photo shows Michael Powell shooting the snake, up close and personal, using a field-tested technique I refer to as “Sandbagging the Grinder.” Sometimes Mike uses his camera bag for support and stability in order to shoot tack-sharp photos with a Tamron 180mm macro lens. “The Grinder” is my nickname for Mike’s macro lens because you can hear the internal gears grinding when it’s autofocusing — it’s loud, but hey, it works well in the hands of a skilled photographer!

Michael Powell photographing an Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

My viewpoint

An Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

The preceding photo is the next shot I took after taking the photo of Mike. I was shooting with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 superzoom digital camera — my go-to camera for long walks in the field. I was sitting on my Coleman camp stool. The camp stool enables me to get closer to subjects either on- or near the ground, without belly-flopping like Mike. And I think it’s easier to hold my camera rock-steady when I’m sitting on the chair with my elbows resting on my knees.

Editorial Commentary

Regular readers of the “Huntley Meadows Park Community” Facebook group know I recently commented on a post showing a young woman shooting photos of a Northern Black Racer by crouching on the ground about three feet in front of the snake’s face. I like to get as close as possible to the wildlife I photograph, but it’s important to do so safely. Snakes, especially Northern Black Racers, can move quickly and unexpectedly — when you position yourself in the line of fire in such a way that you can’t react and move just as quickly, you risk being bitten.

Both snakes that Mike and I photographed startled us when one minute we’re shooting photos and the next second the snakes slithered away like they were shot out of a canon! In this case, it’s possible I distracted the gartersnake enough to afford Mike the opportunity to get closer than he could have if he were alone. Only the snake knows what it was thinking at the time. But I know this: I would never do what Mike did. That being said, if one is going to risk being bitten by a snake in order to get some good close-up shots, then an Eastern Gartersnake is probably a lower risk than a Northern Black Racer.

Bottom line: Let’s be careful out there!

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Black snake

April 3, 2016

A black snake was spotted in a thorny thicket of greenbrier (Smilax sp.) during a photowalk along Barnyard Run at Huntley Meadows Park on 30 March 2016.

A black snake spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is either an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) or Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor).

This individual is either an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) or Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor). I’m guessing the snake is a Northern Black Racer, as indicated by the coloration on the underside of its body. Expert opinions are invited and welcome!

A black snake spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is either an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) or Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor).

Notice the milky blue/blue-gray color of the snake’s eyes, especially noticeable in the preceding photo. This may indicate the snake is pre-molting, that is, it’s getting ready to shed its skin.

Tech Tips: Photos like these illustrate why I prefer to shoot using single-point focusing and spot metering. In this case, I looked for a “window” through the vines and placed the focus point on the snake’s eyes/head.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Common Ribbonsnake eating a frog

March 26, 2016

The following time-series of photos, shot on 16 March 2016 during a photowalk along the Hike-Bike Trail at Huntley Meadows Park, shows a Common Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus) eating a Southern Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus).

Although the amphibian looks similar to Pickerel Frog (Lithobates palustris), I tentatively identified the species as Southern Leopard Frog based upon one of two field markers that were visible: distinct dorsolateral folds that extend the full length of the body (shown); a distinct white spot in the center of the tympanum (not shown). Sincere thanks to Alonso Abugattas — Natural Resources Manager, Arlington County Parks, Virginia — for verifying my identification.

A Common Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is eating a Southern Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus).

As shown in the first photo, the snake had a fatal grip on the frog by the time I spotted the pair.

A Common Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is eating a Southern Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus).

Notice the small green bubble, located on the frog’s dorsal posterior, that is visible in the second and third photos. I consulted the experts of the Virginia Herpetological Society for help in identifying the bubble.

The general consensus is the cloaca (a bag through which reproductive- and waste products leave the body) is inverted and protruded through the anus due to the internal pressure the snake is putting on the body cavity. If the frog were a female in reproductive condition, it could also be either eggs (unlikely due to color) or jelly being forced out, again due to pressure. Source Credit: John, Virginia Herpetological Society.

Just as I thought — the snake was actually squeezing the guts out of the frog!

A Common Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is eating a Southern Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus).

A Common Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is eating a Southern Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus).

A Common Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is eating a Southern Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus).

A Common Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is eating a Southern Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus).

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Brumation termination

March 12, 2016

A few days of record-setting temperatures appear to have terminated brumation for at least one species of snake at Huntley Meadows Park: several Eastern Gartersnakes (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) were spotted during a photowalk along the Hike-Bike Trail on 09 March 2016.

An Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

I heard this one before I saw it. In my experience, snakes slithering through leaf litter make a sound that is clearly distinct from leaves rustling in the wind.

An Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

When the snake saw me, it froze and remained motionless for several minutes — a survival strategy sometimes used by snakes when they feel threatened. I estimate the snake is 2.5 – 3.0 feet in length.

An Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Related Resource: Brumation break, by Walter Sanford.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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