Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Day of Spots & Serpents

Things have begun to return back to normal for the month of March here in Michigan, today is is a mild 52 degrees with a stiff breeze. The week long streak of high temperatures in the 70s and 80s has gone for now, but may return early next week. Sunday was the last day of this early warming trend stuck around the state and temperatures reached the high 60s. I decided to go out with friends Chris Boguslawski and Kara Pattison to a healthy fen in hopes of turning up a few serpents. After being startled by a huge Blue Racer and not getting a hand on it, I was pleased when Kara snagged this placid individual a short time later.

Blue Racer - Coluber constrictor foxii 

Blue Racers are always a handful as they have a particular affinity of striking right at the face. For whatever reason, this individual was beyond docile and actually tried to hide its head during the photo session. It did make for a cooperative photo subject though, instead of trying to get away as fast as possible. We parted ways and continued on. We came to an area with an excess amount of crayfish burrows and the sun had reached its highest point of the afternoon and the temperature had risen considerably. I was confident that there should be a rattlesnake in the area and less than a few minutes after I said, "we're going to find a massasauga here," I spotted this textbook individual coiled in the midday sun.

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake - Sistrurus catenatus catenatus

A beautiful snake indeed, I will never tire of seeing this species in the field. A friend from New Jersey recently told me that he thought massasaugas are the least attractive of all the rattlesnakes. C'mon, man. This big girl was particularly plump and ornery, which may indicate she is gravid. We spent a few minutes playing snake paparazzi and then parted ways. I had just put my camera gear away and joked with the group that we would find a snake in the next two minutes because I had taken the time to put away all of my equipment. Sure enough, I snagged this nasty snake just a few minutes later.

Blue Racer - Coluber constrictor foxii

If the snake we encountered earlier was on the low end of the racer spectrum, then this snake was on the extreme high end. It struck repeatedly at anything that moved including my camera bag, a hat, the camera, and us in general. It stood tall, puffed its throat out and made for a great photo subject. Blue racers are always an enjoyable find in the field, and I don't get to photo them too often outside of the spring because of the thickness of cover later in the season and their escape ability. As we were leaving area, I spotted a large shape moving in some shallow water and pulled this guy out for a few photos.

Blanding's Turtle - Emydoidea blandingii

A large and very old male Blanding's Turtle, my fourteenth in the past week and a half. We didn't bother him much and parted ways to head off to another site. After arriving at our destination, we walked for awhile and eventually came to a small vernal pool where we noticed a few small turtles basking on some fallen trees within the pool. Upon closer inspection, these were very special turtles indeed.

Spotties! Several others had dropped into the water before I could get a shot, but this male & female stayed up long enough for me to take this shot from a long distance. Spotted turtles require clean, shallow bodies of standing or slow-flowing water with muddy or mucky bottoms and aquatic or emergent vegetation. This makes them denizens of swamps, fens, bogs, and even vernal pools at particular times of the year, particularly in the early spring. We snuck in a little closer in hopes that the group would come back up to bask but they never did, we were fortunate enough to grab this stunning little male who decided to stick his head up too close to shore.

Spotted Turtle - Clemmys guttata

At four inches in total length, spotties are undeniably cute. Their size and brilliant markings make them a coveted turtle in the pet trade. Unfortunately, this coupled with habitat loss and degradation has caused drastic declines in Spotted Turtle populations, especially in the Great Lakes region. This gorgeous little male was one of the nicest examples of the species I've ever seen, and after a brief photo session we parted ways. It was a great way to end a fun day in the field with some good friends and was certainly one of the highlights of the spring so far.

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