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Posts Tagged ‘snake’

With a mixture of horror and fascination, I watched as a large black snake slowly ingested a Southern Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus) that it had caught on Friday at Huntley Meadows Park. The frog was struggling and crying out loudly and then suddenly it was free. The lucky frog hopped away and the snake could only tell its friends about the one that got away.

When I first spotted the snake, it was holding the frog in the air. It appeared to have grabbed the frog by one of its back legs and was trying to adjust the frog so that it could swallow it. Unlike a Great Blue Heron that swallows its prey in a single gulp, the snake has to pull its prey in slowly. Little by little the snake seemed to get more of the frog’s leg in its mouth.

The frog continued to struggle, seeking to get some leverage so that it could pull its way out of the snake’s death grip. I didn’t see exactly how it happened, but all of the sudden the frog was free. It almost looked like that snake had released the frog, though that just seems so unlikely to have happened. Whatever the case, the frog was extremely fortunate—all of the previous encounters that I have observed between snakes and frogs have ended with the frog inside of the snake.

I was shooting with my macro lens, so I couldn’t zoom in closer, but I did manage to capture a sequence of shots that show some of the action.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A snake struggled mightily when snagged by a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). The heron looked a little confused by the actions of its prey and seemed to be having trouble figuring out how to grip the snake. I was a bit far away when I took these shots so I couldn’t tell for sure, but it looked to me that the heron eventually dropped the snake and the snake escaped into the thick vegetation.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I reached the boardwalk, I glanced to my right and realized that I was eye-to-eye with a snake that was loosely coiled on top of a bush. This Common Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus) seemed to have appointed himself as the official greeter of the day at the marsh, though I suspect that not all visitors welcomed his presence so close to them as they walked by.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What’s your first reaction when you see a snake? I was walking through the woods at my local marsh this past weekend when I spotted a snake curled up on the leaves. My first reaction was to move closer to get a shot of the snake.

The area was relatively open, but there were lots of leaves and sticks on the forest floor, so it was not really possible to get an unobstructed shot of the snake. I took a shot anyways, fearing the snake would leave, and include it as a second image here so you can see how the snake was positioned. I noticed that the snake’s head was in an uncluttered area and a clear shot seemed possible. I changed lenses from my telephoto zoom to my macro lens, set up my tripod as low as it would go, and moved really close, until the snake’s head almost filled the frame of my viewfinder. I took some shots in natural light and some with my popup flash. The snake seemed unbothered by my actions until I inadvertently moved a small branch when adjusting my position on ground and he slithered away.

When I looked at the images on my computer, I was struck by the degree to which my reflection is visible in the snake’s eye. If you click on the first photo, you’ll get a higher resolution view that shows me taking the shot (with flash this time).

I am not sure what kind of snake this is, but it looks a bit like a Northern Black Racer snake (Coluber constrictor constrictor) as described on the webpage of the Virginia Herpetological Society. I’d welcome a confirmation or correction of my identification from anyone with more experience with snakes.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Sometimes a coiled snake is prepared to strike, but this Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) was definitely not ready for action. The snake seemed total relaxed as it basked in the sun, curled up above the surface of the water on some dried up vegetation.

I really like the texture of the snake’s skin, but there was no way that I was going to reach out and touch it. Telephoto lenses are a good thing in situations like this.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Can snakes whistle? It sure looks like this Common Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus) is trying hard to whistle as he purses his lips and seems to be blowing air in this series of shots. Who knew that snakes had lips? This snake has lips that rival those of Mick Jagger and look a bit like they were enhanced with collagen.

When you shoot subjects, how close do you get to them? My general rule for wildlife subjects is to shoot them from a distance (so I can be sure of getting a shot) and then move slowly closer and closer. I was amazed at how close this snake let me approach—this first shot was not cropped very much at all.

I like the head-and-shoulders look of the first image (taking into account the fact that snakes don’t really have shoulders), which draws attention to the snake’s eye. At times, though, I prefer the shots that show more of the snake’s body and my favorite of this group is probably the third shot. I really like the curve of the snake’s body and the tilt of its head. It’s hard to see in this reduced-size image, but two little tips of the snake’s forked tongue are visible in its partially open mouth.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Now that it is spring, I have started carrying around my macro lens, which I was able to use to get this really close-up shot today of an Eastern Garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) at Huntley Meadows Park, my favorite local spot for nature photography. The snake was curled up in a mossy area and seemed to be a little sluggish. Consequently, he did not slither away when I got down low and moved in close to take this photo.

CORRECTION: Fellow photographer and blogger Walter Sanford, who is much more of an expert in snakes than I am, has identified this snake as a Common Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus), not an Eastern Garter snake.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Deep in the cattails, this Northern Water snake (Nerodia sipedon) seemed to have taken refuge from the rising waters of the marsh after several days of heavy rainfall. The snake’s body looked a little thicker around the middle, causing me to wonder if it had eaten recently and was in the kind of food coma that I experience after a really big meal.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In the shallow water of the marsh, this Northern Water snake (Nerodia sipedon) patiently waits for its unwary prey, probably a frog. At one point its body began to vibrate violently and I thought it was getting ready to strike, but it turned out to be a false alarm. In the end, the snake turned out to be more patient than I was and I left without observing the snake capture its next meal.

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Click on the photo to see a higher resolution view of the snake.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Most of the time, when I see these green snakes, they are half-buried in a bush and it is impossible to get a decent shot.  yesterday, however, I almost stepped on this Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus) on one section of the boardwalk at my local marsh and was able to compose this shot before he slithered away.

The snake had stopped moving and was surveying the situation, sticking its tongue out repeatedly. I got several shots with the tongue extended, but I especially like this one, because it shows the forked tongue.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do Northern Water Snakes (Nerodia sipedon) blow bubbles in the water for fun, like I used to do as a child? Does it help them to attract prey? Are the bubbles simply a result of the snake remaining semi-submerged in the shallow marsh water as it waits for its next victim?

Whatever the reason for the bubbles, I spent some time yesterday observing this snake, hoping that I might see a successful hunt. In the end, I came up empy-handed, as the snake’s patience outlasted mine.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Soaring summer temperatures have caused the water level in some areas of my marshland park to drop and Northern Water snakes (Nerodia sipedon) can now be seen trolling these shallow waters for prey. Yesterday, in one small area I saw three of these snakes and managed to get shots of two them.

Sometimes the snakes will sit on brush and logs just above the level of the water, as in the first photo, while in other cases they submerge their bodies in the water, with their heads sticking out of the water, as in the second photo.

I like the way that the first image shows the details of the snake’s scales and like how the second photo highlights the marking on the snake’s body (and realize that some folks may find both images to be creepy).

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Snake eyes are often cold and menacing, but somehow this snake that I encountered yesterday seems to have warm brown eyes that look almost like he is smiling.

This snake, which I think is a Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), was curled up in some underbrush near the edge of the marsh. It was a real challenge getting a clear view of his head, the more so because I was using my 135-400mm lens that has a minimum focusing distance of almost seven feet (two meters).

For this shot, I used my tripod so that I could get an exposure of 1/30 second at f/9, with the lens zoomed out to about 350mm. I like the fact that I was able to capture some of the beautiful texture of the scales on his skin. You can easily see how I had to look for little sight windows through the brush, which is mostly blurred and hopefully is not too distracting. Finally, I am happy that I managed to capture some of the sinuous curves that help to guide the viewer’s eye to the snake’s head.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I haven’t seen a frog in a couple of weeks, but the turtles and snakes still make an appearance when the sun is high overhead, seeking somehow to warm themselves in the rays of the sun.

The first shot is a red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans), a type that I have featured before in blog posts. I find them to be amazingly photogenic. In this shot, I particularly love the reflection that he is casting. The blue of the water is a little unusual and reminds me a little of some of Monet’s paintings in which he used a similar blue.

Sunning turtle in the fall

The second image is a head shot of a Northern Water snake (Nerodia sipedon). He was stretched out in a grassy portion of the marsh, probably trying to expose the maximum amount of his body to the sun. I got down pretty low to get the shot and, as you can see, the grass made it difficult to get an unobstructed shot.

Sunning snake in the fall

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Walking along a boardwalk in the center of a marsh, I suddenly heard a sound that I had never heard before, a strange and eerie squeak. I had no idea of the source of the sound, but a man who was walking by with his family pointed it out to me. It was a frog that had been captured by a snake and was slowly being swallowed whole.

I leaned over the edge of the boardwalk and tried to take some shots of this terrifying spectacle, but there was too much grass between me and the two protagonists in this drama for me to get a really clear shot. The shot below shows the snake working to get past the frog’s hind legs. As you can see, the snake is swallowing the frog beginning with the legs. In a previous post, I showed a green heron swallowing a frog. The heron slid the frog down his throat in a single gulp beginning with the head. The process with the snake was more protracted and therefore more gruesome.

Eventually it was over. I continued on with my day, feeling a mixture of awe and horror for what I had just witnessed.

Frog being swallowed by a snake (click for higher resolution)

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Throughout this dry summer, the water level in the marsh area of Huntley Meadows Park has continued to drop. I was shocked to see how low the levels were today. In an area where the water had previously been deep enough to support large snapping turtles (an open area outside of a beaver lodge), I now saw snakes, at least four or five of them. They were swimming in the shallow water and even burrowing into the soft mud in search of food. I am pretty sure they were all Northern Water snakes (Nerodia sipedon), a fairly large, non-venomous snake.

Face-to-face with a Northern Water snake

As I was watching the snakes, a couple came by and they said that they sometimes like to pick up these kind of snakes, examine them, and then release them. In passing, they mentioned that the snakes will bite hard and will release musk when handled. I don’t know why they thought I wanted to play with the snakes (trust me, I had no such desire), but they warned me not to be surprised if the bite wound bled a lot. According to the Wikipedia article on Northern Water snakes, the snake’s saliva contains a mild anticoagulant.

Northern Water snake, full-body shot

I did not see the snakes catch any prey, but the Wikipedia article states that during the day they hunt among plants at the water’s edge, looking for small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, birds, and small mammals. At night, they concentrate on minnows and other small fish sleeping in shallow water.

Northern Water snake focusing on a potential prey

One other interesting fact about the Northern Water snake is that—unlike many other snakes—they do not lay eggs. According to one academic article, the mother carries the eggs inside her body for three to five months and, on average, gives birth to 26 babies, each about 7-9 inches long. Once they are born, the babies are on their own; the mother does not care for them at all.

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Some days it seems like anything that catches my eye is a potentially viable subject. This was the case last Friday when I was walking in a marsh in a local park and came upon this snake. Much of his body was concealed, but the upper body was exposed enough for me to attempt a head-and-shoulders portrait. Oh, wait a minute, I guess a snake does not really have shoulders, so I guess I was attempting a head-and-neck portrait.

The snake was beautiful in his own way, with wonderfully textured skin and stunning gold accents around his eyes. I thought he was probably a garter snake, but after a bit of research I am now convinced he is an Eastern Ribbon snake (Thamnophis sauritus), not a Common Garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). If you are at all interested in the differences, there is a wonderful article entitled “Telling Garter Snakes and Ribbon Snakes Apart” at http://www.gartersnake.info (yes, that’s the actual web address).

As I was admiring his beauty, he may have decided to remind me that he is a predator as suddenly he opened his mouth wide, really wide. I was looking through the lens at him and the effect was magnified because his head filled a good portion of the frame of the viewfinder. My first thought was that he was sizing me up as a potential snack. I had the presence of mind to snap a picture before his mouth snapped shut. A vine covers part of his mouth in the photo, but I decided to include it to show you how wide his mouth really is.

Now I understand how he is able to do things like swallow frogs whole. I’m glad I’m a lot bigger than a frog.

Eastern Ribbon Snake Posing for Portrait

Eastern Ribbon Snake Sizing Me Up

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One evening this past week I was photographing lotus flowers at a local pond in a quasi-meditative state, enjoying the calm after a thunderstorm had passed.

The life cycle of the lotus, from bud to flower to seed pod

Suddenly a woman screamed out in my direction, “Snake, there’s a snake right behind you.” My first reaction was one of disbelief, because I was standing on a flat rock partially surrounded by water that was flowing rapidly between two man-made ponds. All at once I saw the submerged snake swimming strongly against the current. Then to my surprise the snake lifted his head out of the water.

My next reaction was to spring into action to take his picture. My camera was already on my tripod and I swung it around and snapped a couple of shots without having time to adjust my exposure or shutter speed. The image below is far from perfect but it gives you an idea of the cascading water and the snake poking his head above the surface.

Swimming snake lifts its head above water

After that brief photographic opportunity I returned to my peaceful pursuit of the lotus flower.

Sidewards-facing lotus (a variation of the lotus position)

It was only much later that I wondered whether I had encountered a poisonous snake. An article entitled “Snake Mistake” by Christine Ennulat in Virginia Living helps readers distinguish between the harmless brown water snake (Nerodia taxispilata) and the venomous water moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus). I am pretty confident the snake I saw was “only” a brown water snake.

Maybe I will react more quickly the next time someone tells me there is a snake right behind me. I might even get a better photograph!

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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