Monday, June 25, 2012

More Fun with Pine Snakes

I have a backlog of stuff I need to write posts about, but considering the recent luck I've had in the pine barrens I'd like to stay on topic. As June is coming to an end and the dog days of summer are not far off, the herping season in the pine barrens is about to drop off considerably. The pine barrens becomes a formidable place in July and August, as temperatures average in the 90s and rain showers become few and far between. About the only species that seems to enjoy the brutal temperatures at this point in the season are timber rattlesnakes, which I'm hoping to encounter later in the summer. This past weekend marked the end of June and likely one of the last chances to see pine snakes before they become much more secretive in the dry summer heat. Some morning flipping produced a big gnarly Coastal Plains Milk Snake which looked much more "eastern" in appearance. Later on in the afternoon, a group of friends and I spotted this large post-partum female pine snake resting near the base of a pitch pine.

Northern Pine Snake - Pituophis melanoleucus melanoleucus

This was an exceptional looking pine snake with the exception of some major damage to her face. The bright white and rusty-red coloration in her bands is unlike any other northern pine snake I've seen. The major scarring on this female's snout was probably an injury she sustained as a youngster than has since healed over, she was in great shape otherwise and appeared to be very healthy. After a fruitless search for rattlesnakes, we ventured to some unique sandhill habitat in the heart of the pines.

An open sandhill habitat in the heart of the New Jersey pinelands. Sandhills are upland, savanna-like habitats on gently rolling terrain with an open overstory of Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) and scattered grasses and shrubs like Pine Barren Goldenheather (Hudsonia ericoides) and Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolia). This habitat is most abundant in the sandhills region of North & South Carolina. I was joking with my friend that this would be a textbook place to find a big pine snake, as it was so beautiful. Less than five minutes later, we were rewarded with this big girl on the move.

Northern Pine Snake - Pituophis melanoleucus melanoleucus

Easily the nicest individual of this species that I've seen and possibly the most beautiful snake I've ever seen in the field. This big female has no scars whatsoever and had a very bright white coloration, with brilliant patterning along her blotches. I only spent a few minutes shooting some photos of her and then let her on her way. A day I will certainly not forget anytime soon, this big female pine snake was something special to stumble upon. I can only hope the coming months will give me at little of a chance to see one of these magnificent snakes one more time.

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