And then during the early part of this spring, I was contacted by a friend and colleague who has spent the last few years researching this species. And it just so happened that his colleagues and him were coming to Michigan for a few days to search for Kirtland's Snakes to gather some data. They were kind enough to extend an invite and just like that I was on my way to a remote place to search for my white whale.
|A beautiful fen complex home to the Kirtland's Snake (Clonophis kirtlandii) in southern Michigan.|
The cool weather seemed perfect for rattlesnakes. A flip of a large coverboard revealed a large shed from a massasauga, but we pushed on. We found several old, damp coverboards along the way. With each flip, the anticipation grew. Would this be the flip? For an hour or so, the boards only revealed garter snakes and brown snakes. We eventually reached the opposite side of the stream corridor after hiking through a thick stand of cattails and found ourselves along an incredible looking board line. More than a dozen damp, weathered boards were laid along the edge of some taller cattails in a low mucky spot. About midway down, a flip revealed a small rusty snake coiled in the mud. At first, I thought we had simply flipped another Storeria but as my gaze focused, I almost couldn't what I was looking at. Clonophis!
There she was. A healthy adult female that was likely gravid and in excellent shape despite being deep in shed. The vibrance of her brilliant ventral scales was stunning, even more beautiful in person than what I could have imagine. I was lost in my own emotions, I don't even remember if there was yelling or what, I was just captivated by the snake.
After taking admiring the snake for a few minutes, we bagged the snake up to collect morphometric data and blood samples later in the day. It should be noted that these snakes were temporarily collected under proper permits and were released the following day. As we were walking back towards the car a short while later, a second Kirtland's snake made an appearance.
This snake was even larger than the first, a stunning adult female and also likely gravid. It was encouraging to be at a place where this species exists, but also appears to be doing rather well. I pulled out the camera gear and got setup to take my first photos of my last snake to see in Michigan.
|A gorgeous adult female Kirtland's Snake (Clonophis kirtlandii) from Michigan|