The Snakiest of Springs.

****TRIGGER WARNING****
This post contains pictures of actual snakes. And of me holding one of those actual snakes. If you have a fear of snake photos, this post isn’t for you. Here’s a beautiful Luna Moth for you to look at and then just go ahead and click off of this page.

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It’s really bizarre that it’s still considered Spring – or bizarre in Alabama, at least. But it is. Despite the 90 degree temperatures and the daily risk of dehydration, I keep reminding my whining children, “OH YOU JUST WAIT. You’ve forgotten what Summer even feels like.”

Because I’m an encouraging, uplifting, understanding mom like that.

But. This Spring has been a delight for a wildlife-energized person like myself (what kind of vert are you if you’re energized by reptiles and amphibians? Maybe I’m not an introvert after all – I’m a reptivert.) Because, at least in Birmingham, the snake population has exploded.

(This may not sound like good news to the rest of you. But I promise. It is. Snakes are our friends. Well, most of them. And even the ones that aren’t our friends aren’t nearly as scary as you think.)

(And I’m SO energized. So that’s a plus.)

We’ve seen plenty of lizards and toads and turtles as well,

IMG_1521 s Eastern Fence Lizard – look at his fabulous glowing blue belly.

180531 Peavine After Tropical Storm IMG_9555 s 2We found another one that had more of a teal belly.

IMG_1522 s Eye of Toad fascinates me.

180410 MOSS ROCK PRESERVEIMG_0611 s This was a tiny baby snapping turtle. Not so scary when they’re miniature. But still just as prehistoric.

But the Snakes, They have been especially remarkable. I have literally seen more snakes in the wild this year than I have seen in my entire life – and that is not an exaggeration. Whatever happened this winter, it was perfect conditions for Snake Babymakin’. I have even lost count of how many we’ve seen – which has never happened in the history of ever.

It all started with a friendly King Snake that we found when it was still cold enough for me to easily catch and hold him (yes. I do hold snakes in the wild. Usually after I confirm that they’re not venomous.)

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Isn’t he adorable?

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He let all the kids pet him and was happy to be our friend, and even stuck around for a minute after I put him down, then slithered off to do whatever it is he does when we’re not around to entertain him.

After we saw him, snakes began showing up everywhere. In years prior, I’ve mocked people who stay out of the woods for fear of snakes – I would tell them “We hike all the time, I actively look for snakes, and I can never find any! The chances of you seeing one are nearly zero.” We would see snakes on maybe one out of every 50-75 hikes. But this year, they’ve been increasing to the point where we’ve recently seen a snake on almost every hike, and earlier this week I saw a snake a day for three days in a row.

180605 Cahaba River NWR Trail Piper Interpretive Trail IMG_8624 s 2I climbed a small hill to get a better look at this guy, who I thought was another friendly King Snake. Turns out he was a Black Racer (also not venomous), which he proved by shooting down the hill at a spectacular speed headed straight for the rest of my hiking party, then made a sharp right turn and raced down the trail and back up the hill far away from me. I don’t know if my sister-in-law has forgiven me for the increase in heart rate that she may still be suffering from, but to experience how fantastically fast a rather large Black Racer can move was totally worth her unending ire.

Our tally of snakes has included King Snakes, Black Racers, Rat Snakes, Garter Snakes and two baby Timber Rattlesnakes – both of which Noah spotted.

I told you about his first rattlesnake find in this post – where Noah saw it while we were taking a group photo (and apparently the snake did not want to be a part of our selfie.)

180430 Hikers for 11.2 mile hikeIMG_6628Us, with Noah pointing at a snake…

180430 Oak Mountain 11.2 miles IMG_1433The snake, right in front of the group but oh-so-hard to spot – for everyone except Noah.

I misidentified it as a Copperhead, knowing that it was venomous but not recognizing the rattlesnakiness of it. But I had my favorite Twitter Biologist, @AlongsideWild, identify it for us.

Then, just a few days ago at my parent’s house, Noah, Ali, and their cousin Tessa went for a walk. My parents have a few acres of woods with trails on it, and my Dad had told them that they could go for a walk if they stayed on the trails (which they know very well) and came when he whistled for them.

A little while later, Dad whistled, we heard Noah yell “We’re comin’!!” and a few minutes later they showed up as promised.

Which is when they told us that during their hike, Noah had spotted a snake.

He had calmly stated, “Snake.”

The girls couldn’t see it, so he carefully pointed it out and said “It’s a baby Timber Rattlesnake.”

They all quietly walked away in the other direction and continued on with their hike until Dad whistled them back.

I asked Noah to take me back to the snake, partially because I love observing snakes and partially because I was very curious as to his identification accuracy. As we walked, he told me about the characteristics of the snake – “It had stripes like the other Timber Rattlesnake we saw, and a triangular head. But I don’t know many snakes, so it could have been a different kind.”

Considering that I rarely correctly identify snakes on the first try, I was skeptical.

When we arrived, the little baby was in the same place, and I snapped a few pictures of him while Noah tugged on the back of my shirt and asked if I could please get further away.

I felt like Noah’s identification might have been right.

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I sent the picture to @AlongsideWild, and he confirmed: Noah had been right. It was yet another baby Timber Rattlesnake.

I had never been prouder of Noah. For his eye to spot it, his calmness in making the girls aware of it and then redirecting their hike, and for his accuracy in identification. He might not have the same love and excitement for the snakes as I do (which, hey, is probably a good thing since he’s a seven-year-old boy), but he’s proven himself as the better amateur herpetologist.

And of course I was fascinated by the snake itself. Although the pattern was the same, his markings and colors were so much bolder and a different color palette than the last Timber Rattlesnake we saw – it was as if they were each wearing a different shade of camo. The brown one was much creepier because of how well he blended.

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But despite their color differences, Noah recognized their like characteristics and knew they were the same kind of snake.

So. If you’re not so sure about the woods and need a guide that can keep you safe, Noah is your guy.


Editor’s Note: If you think I’m being rather nonchalant about a dangerous animal, snakes don’t want to hurt us – they have better things to do. And remember – I live in Alabama. Everything here can kill you, from the plants to the animals to the weather. If you need a refresher course, read this post. But it’s still totally worth it to live in this beautiful state.

The Perfect Puddle Fail.

I’ve been a bit obsessed with puddles lately. Which is convenient, since we just had a Tropical Storm come all the way up the middle of our state.

(Granted it wasn’t a Tropical Storm when it reached me, but it was still pretty dang wet.)

I don’t usually get hung up on getting a specific shot, but in my head I’ve had this “perfect” puddle jump for months that I just needed to capture.

The original idea was to be directly above a child who was jumping down into a puddle while looking at the puddle, and get the top of their head and body going down, but their happy face in the reflection of the water.

(I don’t know if that makes any sense but it’s BEAUTIFUL in my head.)

However, this particular shot, I have discovered through scientific analysis, is impossible in a Physics sort of way.

It turns out that puddle reflections are super tricky – sometimes they’re in color, sometimes they’re in black and white, and if you’re directly over the puddle shooting down, they’re not there at all.

I spent parts of three days trying to get this specific shot, with much help from my kids (especially Ali, as Noah prefers contrariness.) But I haven’t been happy with the results.

I even named this entire night of photos “Failed Puddle Jump.”

180525 Semi Failed Downtown Puddle ShootIMG_0102 s

I mean they were cool, but they weren’t what I wanted.

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I was puzzled by myself, because I’m really not usually this particular and specific with my photography. But there was just SOMETHING missing. Something I had to capture. And these weren’t it.

180525 Semi Failed Downtown Puddle ShootIMG_0049 s

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So I tried again Tuesday at The Botanical Gardens. Ali was all in, so we shot several rounds of jumps while Noah whined and loitered in the background.

I was fairly happy with the results – Ali looked completely dreamy in a few – but they still weren’t *quite* there.

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Tuesday night, Chris took us all on a surprise End Of School Year Celebration Night. We ate dinner at a new restaurant, then he took us to Target and gave us each gift certificates to blow on whatever we wanted, then we went up to a downtown parking deck for me to get to shoot the sunset. I was informed that this was the third of four stops, the fourth one being another mystery stop.

While we waited on sunset, I noticed that there was a perfect puddle. And Noah was in an especially amenable mood. So we worked on getting my unattainable shot.

We tried it from one angle.

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Oh yes. The reflections were in color (aided perhaps by the fact that he was wearing the outfit in which I’ve nicknamed him “Dayglow.”)

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Then another angle, and it was even better.

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We were SO CLOSE.

After circling the puddle and studying it with all of my analytical geometry skills intensely tuned in, I finally decided on the perfect angle/lens combination to shoot with the fullest city backdrop.

I realigned Noah and humbly requested his ongoing participation…

“Just one more time! And by one more time I mean as many times as it takes to get it right.”

Shockingly, he was all in. “Okay, but let me take off my shoes real quick. They’re getting super wet.”

No problem.

So he backed up.

We rechecked the angles.

I gave him leap coaching (“one leg out – not a hop – a leap”), and we lined up the shot.

He took off.

I snapped.

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Yes! Yes! It’s going to be PERFECT!!

…But then his lack of shoes suddenly and quite violently caught up with him.

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He slid straight through that Public Parking Lot Puddle, coating his butt with the layers of slime from decades of tires and shoes and bubble gum and spit and who knows what other unspeakable bodily and non-bodily fluids.

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He came out the other side looking like a bog had attacked his backside, and also crying and holding his shoulder.

I feverishly rooted around in the back of the car to find a towel, but only found a blanket – good enough. I wrapped him up and checked on the rotationary abilities of his arm – it still functioned, and he had calmed down.

Then I checked my camera.

And WE GOT THE DANG SHOT.

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And we all lived happily ever after.

(Except his shorts.)

(And possibly his puddle jumping career.)

(And also there is the issue of my Mommy Guilt.)

(But Mommy Guilt never goes away so you might as well get the shot if you’re going to suffer from it anyway.)

The End.

p.s. – My apologies to the Ice Cream Shop that was our fourth stop. I do hope we didn’t leave any Parking Lot Bog behind in your cozy booth.

A Letter: From the Cat, To The UPS Man.

Dear Bringer of Brown Squares,

Hi. I am the cat that calls the porch of the blue house my own. They call me Thomas, but others call me Midnight, Snape, Voldemort, and That $%*#& Stray Cat.

You brought a couple brown squares and left them on the porch today, as you usually do. I always like to try and read the letters on the squares.

A-M-A-Z….

Obviously, the squares come to herald how amazing I am.

But I felt the need to apologize for the state that you found my home in. The Owners of The Blue House hadn’t discovered my extremely generous gifting yet, and so…you had to step around some things.

You had to SEE some things.

For one, the dead and fully in tact chipmunk to the left of the front door. I left that one for the humans – they do love protein.

For two, the decapitated chipmunk, with the best pieces of intestines laid out as fancy as a formal dinner at Downton Abbey, on the welcome mat. That was going to be my pre-lunch snack, once it had attained more of a rubbery patina.

For three, the generously sized watery portion of chipmunk-related vomit on the third porch step. I’m sure that was hard to maneuver around, especially with those large brown squares in your hand.

That was to remind the humans how despicably they treat me.

These tortured corpses weren’t intended for you, gracious provider of material happiness encapsulated in brown squares, but for the Wicked Lords of the Manor, whom I despise with the heat of a thousand suns.

(And also, puzzlingly, whom I love and adore. I’m a complex being.)

The problem is, they quit feeding me. After screaming and yelling with what I can only imagine was uncontained glee at my increasingly graphic presents on their porch, they showed their appreciation by ceasing the provision of bowls of my cardboard-like nutritional substance.

I don’t understand.

I think they thought I would move on, to stay at one of the MANY other neighborhood houses that I frequent.

But, even after I go collect my half-dozen offerings of cat food from the other neighbors, I prefer them.

I prefer to stay at their windows and meow day and night.

I prefer to vomit directly into their electrical outlets.

I prefer to feast upon furry friends on their porch, leaving science projects for the kids – I mean, how else are they going to find out that Chipmunk hearts and lungs and intestines and livers are so easy to identify?? And discover how microscopic but Mortal-Kombat-looking a Chipmunk spinal column can be? I’m basically providing lab classes for their homeschool, free of charge. You’re welcome, Evil Overlords.

And it’s really no trouble – the tasteless tic-tac-toe shaped food they gave me just made me lazy. I much prefer the fresh catch of the day. So now I leave ten times the amount of corpses on their front porch. That’ll show them how good their strategies are.

And anyway. I sometimes catch The Lady of the Manor taking pictures of my leftovers. So I suspect she secretly appreciates it.

Swimming-Through-Life-Chipmunk-IMG_0793Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming…

But, I recognize that perhaps my banquet tables were a bit unsettling to your brown square delivery. You maybe were jealous of my adoration and provision for my host family. And I wanted to apologize. For all the feelings you must have felt, as you stepped over that large biley pile of intestines, and gazed upon my upcoming snack that was being perfectly seasoned as it baked in the sun.

Perhaps next time, if you could just slip a bag of cat food into that brown square?

That’d be great.

Sincerely,

Thomas the Cat.

p.s. Whatever you did totally worked! Thank you, deliverer of brown squares. They have ended their strike against me and have reissued their provision of tic-tac-toe food. Although now they’re serving it all the way around the back of the house. I think they think it’ll make me leave my presents back where no one can see them. Heh. Now WHY would I do that.