Friday, June 12, 2009

Lunchtime In Sapsucker Woods

How long can you stare at a computer screen? Seriously, how long do you last before you lean back, rub your eyes, and finally stand, stretch, and walk away? I have no idea where my threshold lies but I fired right past it yesterday. I didn't pace myself, jumped right in without any warm up, and over exerted myself. After continuing to stare straight through the lunch hour (when did lunch ever last an hour, anyway?) I decided to refresh, regroup, and recenter with a late lunchtime walk through Sapsucker Woods.

I grabbed the camera in case I should stumble across anything photogenic, but I mostly just let my feet and mind wander. If I had to have a goal it was to check on the Great Blue Heron nest that I wrote about earlier.

Great Blue Heron NestParental Great Blue Heron stretching, preening; somewhere in there is the chick.

It's still there. Not only is it still there, the parents are still routinely visiting it, especially now that it includes a . . . drum roll, please . . . a chick! Monday morning, 08 June, Charles of Contemplative Nuthatch fame and Sapsuckerwoods notoriety (if you Twitter) watched a parent regurgitate a meal to a chick. On June 11th, Laura Erickson, Birdscope editor and known from various spots on the web including Laura's Birding Blog, Twin Beaks, and "For the Birds" podcasts, posted the first image of the chick.

During my tenure staring at the nest, waiting for an interaction that would be overwhelmingly cute or intoxicatingly horrific, nothing happened. One parent lay hunkered down when I first saw the nest, eventually stood and preened for what felt like hours, then disappeared - I never saw it fly nor re-hunker.

Water LilyWater lilies cover the backside of the pond, many blooming.
I'm not sure of the identity, could be the native Nymphaea odorata.

No matter. Decompression was complete, I started back towards the building. Along the Wilson Trail (north side) you cannot walk more than three steps without running into American Redstarts, one of my favorite warblers: strikingly beautiful, generously accommodating.

American RedstartAmerican Redstarts line the Wilson Trail between the
Sherwood Platform and the Fuller Wetlands.

The most interesting sighting wasn't avian at all, but reptilian. I stood on a boardwalk that stretches into the Fuller Wetlands, staring at the back of a painted turtle picking at some nondescript, brown underwater vegetation. While wondering how to shoot it (photographically, people, photographically!) I noticed a snake loosely coiled on a handful of bent reeds, laying over the water. The perch looked as precarious as the heron's stick nest, but it was clearly a solid support.

Northern Water SnakeTentatively identified as a Northern Water Snake, I welcome corrections
and/or thoughts by those more experienced with snake identification.

I made a few mental notes, took a few photographs, and quickly found an online field guide once back at my desk. Of the 17 species that occur in New York the best fit I found is a Northern Water Snake, Nerodia sipedon. The descriptions I found online seem to fit, though I don't see any trace of any pattern - just solid, dark brown. Which, I gleaned, older adults can show, while younger snakes typically show a banded pattern near the head. The lack of any pattern would suggest this snake is an old timer. Any thoughts or comments welcome and appreciated!

Northern Water Snake
Amazing how the day improved after a short walk in the woods.



Anonymous said...

I saw this snake or one looking like this the last time I was at a pond of water. It didn't look as well fed though.

Nice blog you have here. I came over for the firs time from Chris' blog.

My Birds Blog

jan m said...

We encountered several of these snakes sunning themselves near a waterfall on a bike trail we were riding along a couple of years ago.

laura K. said...

Excellent post. Nice shot of the American Redstart!!!!!

And I love snakes.


ramblingwoods said...

Oh..I like snakes, but hubby really doesn't. There was the cutest little garter snake sunning itself under my husband's hammock in the mulch. You never saw anyone levitate out of a hammock with feet never touching the ground when I pointed out the snake. LOL..OK that was mean...Michelle

Robby said...

That is definitely a northern water snake and a very handsome one at that. (note: water snakes, whether they are venomous or not are all biters)

noflickster said...

Hi everyone, apologies for being so behind on my responses!

@Abe - welcome here, and thank you for the comment! Glad you stopped by and hope you'll return. I had never seen, or maybe just overlooked, a snake like this so it really captured my attention.

@jan_m - I'm a complete newbie with these guys, but from what I read if you're near water, your're (probably) near a water snake! I'll be watching more carefully from now on, hopefully I'll get to watch one doing something, this one didn't move at all.

@laura_K. - Thanks! That redstart was insanely cooperative, letting me take dozens of shots. Happily, one came out reasonably well - it's dark under the closed-canopy, I have to get better with exposure settings!

@ramblingwoods - I have to admit, I admire snakes, I love how they perform their ecological role, I'm glad we have a family of garter snakes patrolling our yard, but they do give me the willies. I mean, they're very cool, but that moving with no limbs? And swimming?? The first snake I saw swimming really freaked me out!
I have to put on a very nonchalant, brave persona when we encounter them, I don't want my daughter to grow up with my affliction!

@Robby - I was hoping you'd confirm or correct my identity! This one was lounging (do snakes "lounge"?) a few feet off and a few feet below a boardwalk so I couldn't approach too close if I wanted to. Sadly, I only had my 400mm lens so I had to stand fairly well back to get a reasonable shot. I'll be watching for others from now on.

Thanks, all, for dropping by!

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