Photo hikes in nature can present one with surprises. We visited the Lorain County MetroParks’ Sandy Ridge Reservation hoping and expecting to see an assortment of birds native to that wetland. What we did not expect to see along the way is, well, what you see here: a couple of small snakes literally hanging from and on trees! The first was a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon) stretched out along the skimpy branch of a tree along the trail. When we first saw the dark-colored reptile, a spot of sun was shining on it from between the trees; perhaps it was catching some rays to warm its cold blood. The snake allowed fairly close approach and did not move at all during the “photo session.” On the way back from enjoying the birds — there’s a long hike through a heavily-wooded area between parking lot and wetland — we spied another little snake. Snake number two had hung itself vertically on the trunk of a tree, head curved out parallel to the ground. The tree-hanging Butler’s Garter Snake (Thamnophis butleri), like the water snake, held perfectly still during our entire time watching and photographing it. Snakes alive, what a surprise!
At Lorain County MetroParks’ Schoepfle Garden last Sunday, I spied two snakes sunning themselves on the bank of a pond. The snakes became aware of me but unpanicked, moved into the water and away at a leisurely pace. As they submerged and wriggle-swam, the pair changed from dark and dusty — nearly black — to their true shades of brown, revealing beautifully-patterned skins. As the larger of the two reptiles turned to meet its (apparent) mate which had gone in the opposite direction, it passed by a large bullfrog. Wary of the possible danger the frog, though too large to be swallowed, held perfectly still as the water snake passed.
Spring is really just taking hold around here so at Hinckley Lake, in the Cleveland Metroparks, things were fairly quiet on this warm day. I did a walk around the lake shore as more to get out in the fresh air and sunshine as anything. Along the way I enjoyed views of fresh greenery popping up from the leaf litter in the woods, the calls of many birds, and regular encounters with the many people who were also out to enjoy the day. Puffy clouds floated across the sky, casting spotlights upon trees flushed with colorful buds and new leaves, and highlighting them against shadowed wooded backgrounds.
The natural surroundings may have been quiet but if examined close enough, there were things other than plants to catch one’s eye. I stopped for a while and watched the single Great Blue Heron on Hinckley Lake as it fished; from the distance I saw it catch a couple, too! I watched a Common Water Snake swimming in a wetland adjacent to the lake.
I spied a Spiny Softshell Turtle (Apalone spinifera), my first in the wild, when it made a little move in shallow water. I shot a couple of photos of the turtle as it watched me, only its head above water. The softshells grow to be among the largest turtles in North America though this one looked to be more medium-sized.
On the walk back to the parking lot a beautiful little blue bird flitted from branch to branch in the trees and shrubs lining the path. I’d seen this bird (or another of its kind) in the general area before but hadn’t gotten a photo of it. Today I was a little quicker or the bird was a little slower, anyway I captured a few images of the little guy, one of which was good. Looks to be a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea). Delighted to have met! Back at the parking lot a man, just arriving, stopped and asked me if I got any good photos, saw any birds? I mentioned the heron but forgot the delightful gnatcatcher. Then again, it might have sounded a little too “birdwatcher-y.”
Yes, a fine day to get out and hike with a 20-pound camera pack on your back! It was really about the walk. Really!