Sunday 19 June 2016

Herping trip to Georgian Bay - Day 2 of 2

The weather on day two was quite cool early in the morning; assuming it would be better herping if we waited until it warmed up a little, Todd and I decided to pack up camp right away, giving us maximum hiking time later.

By 7:00 AM or so we were on our way. The first snake did not take long to be discovered - I spotted this Eastern Gartersnake stretched out near a crevice where it had presumably spent the night (we had seen it crawl into there last night). This was the same location that Todd had located the Eastern Milksnake yesterday, so evidently it provided ideal habitat.

Eastern Gartersnake - Georgian Bay Islands NP

Only a few minutes later, a quick buzz brought our attention to this beautiful Eastern Massasauga on the granite bedrock, only a few dozen meters from where we had camped the last two nights.Somehow we did not encounter this snake in the previous days despite walking right past this area frequently. While snakes tend to stick to a home range, they often move about within this range in search of food, sex or better thermoregulating opportunities.

Eastern Massasauga - Georgian Bay Islands NP

Eastern Massasauga - Georgian Bay Islands NP

No matter how many rattlesnakes I see, I can`t help but stop to observe and photograph each one. Rattlesnakes are just such impressive animals, with many unique adaptations that enable them to hunt the prey they do and eke out an existence in this world. Finding Eastern Massasaugas certainly never gets old...

Eastern Massasauga - Georgian Bay Islands NP

We worked over a new area this morning as we had covered many of our other favorite spots on the island on the Saturday. In one particular clearing we cleaned up (well, Todd did). We flipped a few rocks with Todd discovering a Ring-necked Snake, several Red-bellied Snakes and an Eastern Gartersnake; meanwhile under my rocks I found nothing but ants! Todd also discovered our fourth rattlesnake of the weekend here, a snake showing a slightly different colour scheme than the three previous. This one had a slate gray background colour with olive/brown dorsal blotches, and dark gray blotches laterally. It was a little smaller than the previous ones too, though still a mature adult. Look at how many rattle segments are present. As snakes shed their skins, a new rattle segment is added each time. This isn't however a reliable way to tell a snake's approximate age since these segments will fall off over time. This snake exhibited a decently large rattle (for a Massasauga).

Eastern Massasauga - Georgian Bay Islands NP

Eastern Massasauga - Georgian Bay Islands NP

Eastern Massasauga - Georgian Bay Islands NP

We flipped a few more snakes under flat rocks throughout the morning, including several more Red-bellied and Ring-necked Snakes and our only Dekay's Brownsnake of the trip.

Red-bellied Snake - Georgian Bay Islands NP

No surprise, this Ring-necked Snake was "in the blue", meaning it will undergo ecdysis (shedding) soon. Snakes in the blue seem to make up a rather large percentage of the snakes I find under rocks and other cover objects.

Ring-necked Snake - Georgian Bay Islands NP

Todd scored this two-for one deal of Red-bellied Snakes; one of each colour morph! I seem to encounter these two colour morphs in roughly equal amounts; sometimes the slate gray individuals will be so dark they are almost black.

Red-bellied Snakes are closely associated with forests across their range, though they are often easier to find at the edges of woodlands and in clearings. Rarely growing larger than 30 cm, Red-bellied Snakes are inoffensive little snakes that prefer to dine on slugs. While it is quite rare to see Ring-necked Snakes out in the open, both Red-bellied Snakes and their cousins, the Dekay's Brownsnakes will both frequently travel in the open during the day, particularly during spring in fall or after a rain.

Red-bellied Snakes - Georgian Bay Islands NP

With our watches ticking closer to noon Todd and I made the decision to walk back to the boat and head over to the mainland. While the sun had been out all morning, some clouds were rolling in, the wind was picking up and it wasn't shaping out to be an ideal afternoon on the islands.

One last surprise was in order, however. While walking along a trail passing through a sandier area characterized by Eastern White Pine and smaller amounts of deciduous tree species, I thought I heard a snake slither as we walked by. Todd and I stopped and scanned for it, without any luck unfortunately. Just as we were about to continue onwards, I spotted the culprit - a beautiful little Eastern Hog-nosed Snake!

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake - Georgian Bay Islands NP

We were thrilled with this find - hoggies can be very difficult to encounter, as I mentioned in my previous post. To find one just cruising through the forest away from rock piles or cover objects is always fun, and this individual had a really unique dorsal pattern which I have not seen on any individual hoggie before. It was almost coloured just like the previous Eastern Massasauga from earlier in this post.

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake - Georgian Bay Islands NP

It does not take much for an Eastern Hog-nosed Snake to get riled up. They flatten their head and body to appear larger, hiss, and will even play dead if the aggressor does not leave. Our presence was enough for it to start the flattening process, as you can see below.

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake - Georgian Bay Islands NP

We left the little snake after a few minutes, wishing him the best of luck and many nice juicy toads in his future.

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake - Georgian Bay Islands NP

As these trips always are, it was over much too soon. Todd and I were both lucky to get away for a full weekend anyways as we are both quite busy this time of year completing breeding bird surveys for our respective companies. I can't wait for the next trip to the islands - the Georgian Bay population of Eastern Foxsnake has still managed to elude me.


Michael said...

Maybe your best two posts ever. 'Incredible shots of these magnificent snakes. Keep it up!

Josh Vandermeulen said...

Much appreciated Michael, thanks!