Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ahh, April

Every year in Michigan, I await the month of April to arrive. The months brings the arrival of spring, and the rebirth of live throughout the areas. Wildflowers bloom, frogs begin to call, and one species of snake emerges in the late part of the month throughout various wetlands in the state. This species inhabits tamrack swamps, bogs, fens, and wet prairies. If you guessed the snake I'm referring to is the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes, you are correct.

Every year, I bump into these snakes while hiking some areas of Michigan. And it seems that their April emergence is the best time to see them basking in the morning sunlight before the cover gets too thick later in the year. In April of 2008, I decided to take a morning walk at a particular area that is home to a population of these snakes. As I was walking along a trail I noticed this sight ahead of me in the trail.

It isn't uncommon to see these snakes out on the move, but it is still not a regular sight. This was a big gravid female abround the 24-25" range, and she was a little annoyed with my presence. However, she was by no means agressive, as she just coiled and buzzed at me. This was my first Massasauga of 2008 and a beauty at that.

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake - Sistrurus catenatus

A year later in April of 2009, I again returned to the same area in which I had encountered my first massasauga of the 2008 field season. My dad and I headed out for a morning hike on Saturday April 25th around 9AM to do some photography. Upon arrival at the site, we were greeted with the sound of what sounded like a hoard of American Toads in one of the ponds near the parking lot, hoard is a gentle word.

The pond is relaitvely small, but every spring the American Toads amass is this particular pond. Every year there seem to be a few hundred individuals in this pond at once, and this particular morning was no exception. There was never silence as multiple males were always calling in unison.

American Toads - Bufo americanus

After hanging around the symphony the toads had created, we decided to head out along the trails to see if anything was out for a morning bask. Late April is one of the most beautiful periods in Michigan, as the colors of a myriad of wildflower species cover the woodland floor.


Marsh Marigolds

Redbud along the Creek

Near the end of one particular trail, one of the large fens borders the trail edge. And in the spring, the sun hits this area in the early morning in a nice fashion, and provides ideal basking areas for rattlesnakes. We made it to the spot at around 9:30AM and the sun was hitting the fen edge perfectly.

As we were walking along the fen edge, I looked to my left and noticed a dark shape laying in some sedge grass.

I immediately motioned by dad to come over and have a look, and he was equally as excited to see this adult Massasauga layed out for a morning bask. Over the past few years, my dad has been able to be with me for several encounters with these snakes, and he has grown to love them just as much as I do. It was a great experience for us to see this serpent together.

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake - Sistrurus catenatus

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