We usually use a penny to show the size of things that we’re photographing in nature but in this case, a penny would not do.
Luckily, Laura was up to the task! This is one of the Black Snakes that we met up with on our wildflower walk last weekend. It tried to scare Laura away when she got a little too close by rattling its tail, but these snakes are not dangerous.
Many thanks to Laura for helping show the size of this healthy, happy snake. Snakes are a great indicator of healthy, rich habitat.
Mary Lopresti put together a great article on the Northern Water Snake for us – They can often be seen in rivers and streams through Loudoun – so don’t be afraid, just watch and enjoy - they’re pretty cool snakes!
The Northern Water Snake
by Mary Lopresti
Sharing winter dens with copperheads, black rat snakes, muskrats and even beavers, water snakes emerge from their watery lairs in March or late April. As the heavy February snowfalls melt, the ponds, tidal creeks, marshes, and other bodies of water replenish and create the ideal habitat for a water snake. Water snakes are active during the day and night. When they are not hunting or hiding among plants on the water’s edge, the snake can be found basking in the sun on rocks, stumps, brush or in trees above water. Like all snakes, water snakes can climb. If startled while sunning itself in a tree, the snake will drop to the water.
Virginia’s most common water snake, found in all counties, is the Northern Water Snake. This large non-venomous snake is often mistaken for the copper head or cottonmouth snake (water moccasin), due to the similarities in their body markings. The Northern Water Snake’s colors vary from brown, gray, reddish or brownish-black with cross bands on their necks and dark blotches on the rest of their body. Their bellies can be white, yellow or gray with reddish or black irregularly shaped blotches. As a water snake matures, its markings become darker and less distinct. These snakes live only seven to eight years and typically grow up to four or five feet long.
Water snakes are live bearers, meaning that the eggs hatch inside of the female snake. After mating in April or June, anywhere from 30 to 70 baby snakes can be born at once. The mother snakes do not care for their young, so after birth in late August to early October, the baby snakes are on their own.
Water snakes are excellent swimmers whether they are on the water’s surface or submerged. They prey on fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, turtles, small birds, and mammals. In turn, they are prey to many different types of wildlife, such as: birds, raccoons, opossums, foxes, snapping turtles, bullfrogs and other snakes.
These snakes have a bad temperament and will defend themselves viciously. If provoked, the water snake will bite its enemy; it could also release scat or musk or even regurgitate its last meal. If you encounter a water snake or any snake on an outdoor hike, do not handle it! More than 80% of snakebites occur when a person is trying to kill or handle a snake. Your best defense to avoid a bite is to stay calm and slowly back away from it.
As with any wild animal, observe them from a safe distance. Be aware of the impact that you are making on the environment, while enjoying your time outdoors.
Ten people, including a couple celebrating their 27th wedding anniversary, participated in the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s free monthly bird walk, led by Joe Coleman & Larry Meade, at the Blue Ridge Center this morning and found 56 species in the fields and woods there.
After listening to a couple of Grasshopper Sparrows and the first of many (maybe 30) Indigo Buntings we carpooled to the southern edge of the center at the end of Sawmill Rd. From there we walked along the western edge of the field where we heard and saw a variety of birds including a couple of White-eyed Vireos but missed on the Blue-winged Warblers and Chats that nest in that area.
We then followed Butterfly Alley to Sweet Run & into the dense forest along the stream to the Arnold Rd Trail. Within 200 yds of entering the woods we started hearing numerous Acadian Flycatchers (about one every 100 yards or so) and a few Wood Thrushes, but not a single Kentucky Warbler or Ovenbird, both of which were common in this area just a few weeks ago. However, we did start hearing and then finally got great looks at several Scarlet Tanagers, a few of which were beginning to molt.
We took a side trip to Gordon Pond where we heard and saw a number of the same forest species as before and added a few more including several Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. After visiting the Gordon Pond we returned to the Little Turtle Trail where a few of us heard a Worm-eating Warbler.
After crossing Piney Run we took the Farmstead Loop back to the Visitor Center, arriving there about 12:15. There was a flurry of activity around the small pond near the Visitor Center, including a very cooperative Louisiana Waterthrush which posed for photos. We added a couple more species, including a Raven, while tallying on the porch.
When we drove back to Sawmill Rd to pick up our cars about 12:30 there was a Blue-winged Warbler in the hedgerow next to the parking area.
In addition to a lot of different butterflies, we also saw two large Black Snakes, one high in the trees where there was a lot of bird activity and one high on the side of one of the old stone houses on the center. There were also American Toads all along the trail and numerous green frogs at the pond. It was a great day for exploring Loudoun nature!
Al Eddy caught some great nature and wildlife photos during the walk and a few are included here in this post.
Number of species: 56
Green Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Red-shouldered Hawk, Mourning Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, ChimneySwift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, White-eyed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Fish Crow, Common Raven, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Blue-winged Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Scarlet Tanager, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Common Grackle, Orchard Oriole, House Finch, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow