Sunday, November 4, 2012

Fall Snake Count

At the end of September WBS Naturalist, Trina Whitener and I, accompanied by several of our volunteers, participated in a fall snake count.

The data we were hoping to collect is for the Center for Snake Conservation, a non-profit organization based in Colorado.  Their mission is to promote conservation of snakes and their natural ecosystems and implement positive change in human attitudes toward snakes.  The count, which happens in the spring and fall, will give North American citizens the opportunity to lend a hand in snake conservation.

What I mean by snake count is that we walked the WBS property and documented the snakes we found.  The beginning of the day was a tough hike through the hills with only two snakes to show for our efforts.  However, I am glad to report that the remainder of our day met with more success!  We didn’t call it quits until ten o’clock that night, but what a day at work!
Three Toed Box Turtle
We started our day at around 8 A.M. and wanted to focus our efforts on the upper site, or the opened to the public portion of the property.  We devised a plan to spread out in a line and walk the woods, looking under logs and into rocky outcrops for any snakes hiding out there. Well sad to say for the first four hours we still did not have one snake recorded, but I did find a beautiful three toed box turtle basking in the morning rays.

As we approached our property line where it adjoins Lone Elk Park we headed towards the outer road to a rarely used parking lot to see what we could find.  We didn’t find anything until we were heading back to the WBS entrance.  Suddenly, from the side of a large boulder there was a flash of color, but before I could react the snake was gone.  As if on cue, from the other side of the boulder an Eastern Garter Snake darted to the nearest cover!  Two snakes on one boulder!  I had the feeling then that our quest was about to heat up!

In the afternoon we set off to the behind the scenes area of the WBS property.  The lower site is in a valley basin adjacent to the Meramec River—good habitat for any reptile or amphibian.  When we pulled up I suggested that we walk around the buildings while we waited for the rest of our party to arrive. 
Yellow Bellied Racer, a common non-venomous snake in Missouri
The first spot we checked was one of many sheds that had some old tarps on the side. Sure enough, when we moved the first tarp an Eastern Yellow Bellied Racer came roaring out towards the shed!  Once again the snake was gone within a blink of an eye.   Luckily Trina, who is one of our go-to people when it comes to snakes, identified the snake without missing a beat!

Soon after that we checked behind the breeding barn by a bunch of ladders, and out of the corner of my eye there was a tail sticking out of the leaf litter!  I snatched it up and pulled out another racer!  This was the first big snake that we got the opportunity to handle and take some pictures, so it was an extra special find for me.

The last place we checked before the night walk was the hillside behind our Education Training Center.  I pulled out my compass (that’s on my phone) and headed towards the nearest southeastern facing ridge.  This is a known hotspot for snakes on most any mountain, so that’s why I decided to head that way.  There at the top of the ridge was a massive Black Rat Snake sunning its self in the afternoon rays.  I called the others around and warned them to walk slowly towards this beauty.  We circled the snake to cut off any escape routes, and I moved in for the grab.  It was as simple as it sounds to catch the beast! Little did I know until my hands were on the snake that it was still cold, so the snake was very lethargic and easy to handle.  We tried to get our hands on any snake we saw so we could get measurements for the count.
A Copperhead, one of only three venomous snake species found in Missouri
During our night search Trina and I walked the train tracks and found the best catch of the day!  Little did I know that it would be directly under where I was walking! There it was, in all its beauty, an Osage Copperhead!  A great find for an ending to an amazing adventure at WBS!

Submitted by Adam Triska, World Bird Sanctuary Field Studies Coordinator


pennyo said...

When an elementary art teacher in St. Louis, I would introduce my classes to "volunteers" I would find. If a few kids were scared/reluctant to enjoy the visual and tactile beauty of snakes/turtles I displayed, after the "Art Lesson" ALL the kids would want to touch - I like to think I opened a few minds, and hearts!

Photog said...

Thanks pennyo for helping to dispel some of the prejudice and fears for those kids. It's amazing how fascinated they are by the reptiles once they get over the fears that have been instilled by movies, TV and adults.