Monday, December 7, 2009

Returning a Favor

In late August, my good friend Peter was able to make it up from Ohio for a day in the field. Peter had been kind enough to show me around a cool area of Ohio the year previous, so it was my turn to show him around my stomping grounds in southeast Michigan. Peter and I had compiled a list of species we wanted to see and set out in the mid-morning to search for our quarry. Our first stop is a place that is home to the Eastern Massasauga. Peter had seen them in Ohio, but not for some time so we were eager to hopefully come across one. We spent the morning scouring some upland fields with limited results, however we did flip this little gem.

Northern Red-bellied Snake - Storeria occipitomaculata

I don't see these terribly often in Michigan, nor anywhere, so we were quite happy to find this little snake. The weather continued to get warmer, so we decided to move on and return later to this site. We drovr about forty miles to the coastal marshes of southeast Michigan to search out one of Michigan's larger snake species, the Eastern Fox Snake. Fox snakes are listed as threatened in the state are in a bit of trouble. Peter and I moved along several rip-rap areas and finally managed to find this gorgeous individual just as a storm was about to move in.

Eastern Fox Snake - Elaphe vulpina gloydi

The storm rolled in very quickly and we ran to our car, almost immediately we were in a terrential downpour. The weather forced us to make a decision to head north to a well known site. We arrived to one of the worst swarms of deer flies I've ever seen, in fact I will never return to the site in August again. We did manage to fight off the bugs so Peter could see an intact tamarack bog, a unique northern ecosystem. We found several of these snakes along the boardwalk within a few minutes, the northern subspecies is quite attractive.

Northern Ribbon Snake - Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis

It was getting later in the day, and the weather had cleared in southeast Michigan so we decided to head back south to hit the spot we had started the day off with. I took Peter to a particular field that seems to be particularly good for Massasaugas. The sun was hitting it just right, so we spread out and began to traverse the field. The natural grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs make this place quite beautiful. This large grassland is adjacent to a fen area, this creates ideal summer grounds for the massasaugas. The snakes utilize these areas in the summer months for breeding activity and to hunt their favorite food, field mice.

Within a few minutes of traversing the field back and forth. Peter gave a joyous shout and I knew right away that he had spotted our target species. I ran over his way and he pointed to this.

This photograph perfectly illustrates how cryptic this species is and as to why encounters are so infrequent even in areas where they are common. This massasauga was a sub-adult around twelve inches in length and had a beautiful color pattern to it, hints of chocolate brown and red on a light gray background. Peter was enthused and so was I, it turned out to be one of the best days in the field I had all year. Hopefully in years to come Peter and I can continue to share these kind of field experiences with each other.

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake - Sistrurus catenatus

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