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Cool things I’ve found and also caught

October 8, 2012
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The past couple weeks have been extremely busy for me.  I’ve been working a pair of intersession nature camps at the Piedmont Wildlife Center.  They’re great fun in that I get to hang out with a bunch of nature loving elementary school students and run around outside all day long, but they leave me so dog tired I can barely walk in the evenings.  Them’s the breaks in the high-flying, lucrative world of nature camp administration, though.

Anyway, I have a series of photos, taken with my phone, of animals we turned up during the week. Some are really cool and I wouldn’t have much of an opportunity to use them otherwise so I’m dumping them here.  Have at them.

The first was not found at the camp, it’s a Black Racer I picked up while birding Eno River SP a couple weeks ago.  Prior to this, I’d never been able to catch one of these buggers, the name “racer” is appropriate. Their penchant for tearing off into the woods at the first opportunity makes things difficult for those of us without Usain Bolt speed and the ability to reach that speed while running through the forest.  But this morning was cooler, and the snake was easy to just reach down and pick up.  Still, it freaked out as soon as it was in my hand and bit me twice.  I would expect nothing less of a racer.

Now we’re to the real camp stuff.  The first is a hatchling Yellow-bellied Slider found near a retainment pond.  The little thing even still has its egg tooth which, for those of you not herpetologically inclined, is a little stub of bone that many hatching reptiles use to tear out of their eggs.  It drops off soon after hatching so this little guy could not have been more than a day or too old.  With the cold weather bearing down, this has to be a rough time of year to hatch.

While playing a morning game with the campers, a couple kids yelled over to me that they’d found a snake.  It turned out to be this baby Mole Kingsnake, the smallest I’ve ever see.  This species is fairly common in the Piedmont, but because it spends so much time underground (hence, the name “mole”), it’s not frequently encountered.  They’re easily one of my favorite species to find, as much for their fantastic pattern as their docile demeanor.

This next one isn’t a herp, but a butterfly.  When I was in Arizona in August, Swarovski’s Clay Taylor told me about a cool way to show butterflies to people using a used CD jewel case (assuming you still have a few hanging around).  After you net the bug, you slip it in the case and close it.  There’s enough room for it to sit with wings spread while you pass the butterfly around to show the relevant field marks.  The polystyrene doesn’t affect the scales on the wings so the butterfly is manhandled much less than it would be in your fingers.  Once you’re finished, you open the case and away it flies.  It takes a little practice to get the insect in the case properly (I let a few get out of my hands before I did it right), but if the enthusiastic response from the campers is any indication, it’s a great trick for butterfly walk leaders.  This one is a Viceroy.


The last critter is perhaps the most exciting.  While helping a camper find some isopods, I flipped a rock to find beneath it a tiny brown snake.  I fairly gasped as I reached down.  It turned out to be a Smooth Earth Snake, one of the most infrequently seen and enigmatic species in North America.  This was a real treat, as any number of snakes are more commonly turned up before this one, and not only was it a lifer, but it was a first record for the park.  Nice!

The campers were less than impressed, as it’s sort of a small, boring brown snake as opposed to the big and common Black Rat Snakes they were hoping for, but it was super exciting for me.

Anyway, more bird stuff coming soon, as fall has arrived in a big way in the last 48 hours and my camp gig is over for the time being.  Hopefully the clouds will pass on so that the camera gets some more usage too.  Onward and upward.

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4 Comments
  1. Allen permalink
    October 8, 2012 9:09 am

    Your post resonates with some of the non-birds I’ve been seeing around as well. Yesterday in Carrboro I found a small brown snake which seems as though it must have been an earth snake (I’ve seen a worm snake before and it wasn’t that). Never seen smooth or rough before, but the scales weren’t noticeably rough…

    And last week, I was watching a perched red-shouldered hawk when it flew down to a small tributary stream bank where I couldn’t quite see it. I approached and it perched up on a fallen log with a 2-inch diameter turtle hatchling in its grasp. It seemed to be having trouble getting at the “good stuff”, and was so focused it allowed me to approach within 10 feet!

  2. October 8, 2012 1:23 pm

    I love all of your herp photos! I’m especially jealous of your Smooth Earth Snake. Very cool. I found a number of tiny baby turtles this spring and summer but I didn’t know to be on the lookout for egg teeth (I guess I only knew that as a bird thing?) so I’ll have to watch for that next year.

  3. October 8, 2012 3:19 pm

    I love the CD case trick. Funny story, at my job I once ordered 500 CD cases for a training program we were sending out via CD. When they arrived, the black part where the CD goes was in one box and the clear outer case in another. Can you say “CD assembly party?” Not fun.

  4. jandunlap permalink
    October 9, 2012 4:14 pm

    Nate, I have something for you to find today and it’s about October birds and mystery and conservation – my newest Bob White Birder Murder Mystery, titled “A Murder of Crows,” which my publisher is offering FREE as a Kindle book at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009DOS2Y0 this week only! If you haven’t gone birding with my fictional Bob White, now’s your chance, so I hope you’ll download a copy for free today! And invite everyone you WISH was a birder to do the same…

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