Monday, July 1, 2013

The Good, the Bad and the Needlessly Tragic 6-30-2013

It was day two of our all-Herp vacation and we made plans for our old friend, Ponk. The weather was still up in the air and when we got there at 9ish AM, it was warm and cloudy... but dry.

Things started off promisingly... a couple of small Pickerel Frogs!

We decided we liked slightly overcast days. Because Water Snakes seemed to as well! This guy was right up near the path...
We'd gotten nice pictures of him and had no intention of handling him, except a family was watching us shoot him and thought he was a Water Moccasin. I assured them he was harmless, etc. etc. etc. and picked him up to show them that, even if he bit (I explained their teeth), I would walk away from it. He didn't bite OR musk!

A few yards up, another Water Snake slid into the water. I noodled for him...
And got him! The family came running back to see this one. The dad even touched him.
Nothing hammers home the beauty of snakes more than Andrea proudly holding one!

Then, still within 100 yards of the beginning of the path... we started seeing many basking Nerodia!

We were loving our Northern Water Snake success, but were hoping for some turtles. Unfortunately, our first turtle was this Painted who looked kind of ill...
Puffy eyes, much like the Slider from a few weeks ago in the same area. Once again, human ignorance made me sad... had the person who released a sick Red-Ear tainted all of the turtles in this section of the pond? Including our beloved Spotteds?

It's hard to say; we saw no Spotteds. Our only other turtle was this hatchling Painted taking on the world with vigor... and clean eyes!

While Andrea was tending to the turtle, I saw a dusty Water Snake wriggling between some rocks. I got him by the tail to try to slide him back...
but it was clearly a tug-of-war he was going to win. I couldn't risk injuring him. Here is proof of his existence:
By the way, he let stream after stream of musk loose into my hand while I struggled for this shot. I guess I had it coming!

We saw one other Water Snake in this stretch, but couldn't get a photo.. But still- seven in no time at all! I like it!

We got near the damned Golf Course, a place where Andrea feels uncomfortable, and I hit a sandy bit. (Not a sand trap.) This young American Toad was there!
I broke out into "he was a young American... Toad" and Andrea shushed me, not wanting to disturb the golfers. Hey- if they couldn't pick up the Bowie I was layin' down, they're just  not cool.

Redbacks? Where have they been? Well, the next stretch was indeed a stretch... we missed a skinny young Garter, but didn't see anything else! Finally, we saw some Redbacks.

We got near the populated part of Ponk and could hear voices from a distance. That always alters our plan of attack. We have to get into educational mode. It's not so tough here, since so many of the regulars know us. We talked to the lifeguard on duty and he said there had been a "large black snake" nearby recently and that we could help ourselves to the rocks and stuff.

We helped ourselves to a lovely Ringneck first!
This drew some folks over and we began our "aren't snakes fucking beautiful?" spiel.
Of course, the Ringneck charmed everyone!

This baby Milk Snake was next and everyone oohed and ahhed!

While Andrea was deep in teaching mode with some kids, I found this Garter crawling along!

I had been heading for this humongous skin... which was still moist. It had probably just come from the "large black snake" we'd been told of!
This was well over 3 feet!

So, all was groovy. We let the kids release the snakes. One kid tried to flip the (heavy) stone under which the Milk had crawled as he wanted to show his sister. I stopped him and did it for him, explaining that the animals are very fragile and if the rock is too heavy, an accident could happen. I related my Garter injury story from last week.

So, yay! We felt good. We educated, maybe creating future field herpers! We went on our way.

There was a Swan very near by.

How near by? THIS near by, muthafucker!

So, we've had the good (lots of Water Snakes... and snakes in general). And the bad (sick turtle). Now it's time for the sickening... the disgusting... the needlessly tragic.

We were heading out towards the second pond... the first time we'd ever really done it (it turned out that it was flooded and buggy, so we didn't give it much time. Besides...). We saw three of the kids from the beach, including the kid who was enamoured with the Milk Snake and Andrea. I called out "see any more snakes?" They said no. But there was a snake in one of the kid's hands.

They still had that baby Milk! And it was hanging from the kid's fingers limply.

I quickly took it from them and gently put it in my hand... very limp. I put him on his back and there might have been a slight movement. I was pissed! I walked away, into the woods and placed the snake next to a log and started reprimanding the kids, telling them that you can't  just handle them to death... just enjoy them briefly and let them go! I couldn't stay there... I called to Andrea as I left... they killed the Milk...

She said that they were all just about crying as she passed them. Good.

So, now we have a dilemma. Of course, we enjoy sharing our love of snakes, and who better to share with than with kids? But at what point does our education become wrong? We both feel just horrible at what happened. So much so that we will not be herping that (very snake-fertile) part of the pond anymore.

Who gets blamed? Me, for lifting the rock so the kid could "show his sister" and never actually release the snake alive? Well, he would have crushed it trying to lift the rock. Andrea, for teaching them to admire and enjoy field herping? Not a chance.

Of course, nobody is to blame. It is an unfortunate accident. A needlessly tragic accident. We doubt that any of the three kids will ever forget that moment. Sadly, I doubt we will either.


  1. I won't forget it. If I am showing snakes to kids, I will give an explanation of their anatomy, especially their single lung, which I suspect was compromised with a too-tight grip. I will also NEVER AGAIN walk away without making sure the snake has been released, and talking with an adult in charge.

    I don't think it would have made a difference here, though. That kid would have gone looking again.

    1. Yeah, I saw him searching for the Garter.

      I think more than a tight grip, it was a grip of any kind, an 85 degree day and a nocturnal snake no more than a week or two old. Stressed to death?