Wednesday, October 19, 2016

October Copper. October 15 & 16, 2016

I refuse to let the season wind down, though my exhausted body wishes I would. The weekend weather looked promising, being better on Sunday, so our Saturday plans included the non-herping adventure of visiting the Rock and Shock show in Worcester. But that would be running until late, so we took a trek through a local Norfolk County spot (the one that was razed to the ground earlier in the year). While it has been making a decent recovery, the main part, Racer Alley, is still devastated.

On the way in, we flipped a few Redbacks. The cooler weather and slight rain has brought them to the surface again. This is a Burgundyback and a Leadback.

It was pretty cool, mid-50s, and we had light jackets on. The sunny spots were warm (duh...) and the shade was nippy. Andrea flipped an unlikely rock just before Racer Alley and found a surprise DeKay.
Didn't expect that! This is a good sign, this close to the destroyed Alley... we've been hoping for some fossorials (and the namesake Racers). Baby steps.

We went the whole way in, getting to our boards. They yielded nothing, but it was so pleasant just to be out, and we were fine with that. We saw a couple more Redbacks, one of which looked like this.

Because we're jerks, we checked on the DeKay on the way back. He was still there. We put the rock back and released him again. He sat in the sun, enjoying the warmth.

We headed to Worcester, done with herping for the day. We'd walked our 4 miles or so and felt satisfied. We did some birding on the turnpike. I think the owl statue is working just fine.

After leaving the show, the full moon over Worcester was big and beautiful.

Sunday was supposed to be very nice... sunny and in the low 70s. We wanted to hitch up with Ryan, who had done some more Copperhead recon the day before (with Dom, I think... hi Dom!), and I wanted to get back there to try to get Andrea her first MA Copper. Much to my delight, the son I never wanted, Matt, was in town very  briefly, and I asked if he wanted to join us. Though he lives  in a better-for-Coppers state, he hadn't seen one this year. Even better, our dear friend Teá could also join  in for a couple of hours. She was in search of her lifer Copperhead.

We met up at a common spot, Matt having driven there in his BMW.

We decided to make a perfunctory look around this area and scored a few animals. A familiar Green Frog was first...

This shy Leadback had been munching on an acorn... or not.

This red American Toad was noisily hopping through the leaves.

Like the toad, everything has been turning copper and red this Autumn.

We didn't spend much time on that side, though, because we wanted to get to Copper-town. We all went over to the new area and headed up the trail. On the way in, Ryan, Matt and I were about 50 feet in front of Andrea and Teá and I said something like "Pffft...girls... am I right guys?" (fully jesting, of course) and right then Andrea yelled up "Spotted!" Oops... I'm not a good misogynist.

They had flipped this Spotted Salamander, with a bonus Redback.
The Spottie was bowing his head, hoping we didn't see him. Spotted? What Spotted?

We got to the spot where Ryan and I had seen the Copper the week before, but nobody was up, so we carried on. Ryan took a turn and went up the hill towards a spot I haven't been to in quite a few years. Andrea and I trailed well behind our youthful friends. I was wondering which one of them was be the first to say "Whose idea was it to bring along the old folks?" It should be noted that Andrea isn't old by any stretch but her knees and steep hills do not get along.

Anyhoo, we were just getting to an open spot when, from just down the other side, we heard Ryan yell "Copper." We (very carefully) made our way to where the others were.
Sure enough, there was Teá's lifer, Matt's first of the year, Andrea's first Massachusetts specimen, my first of the week and Ryan's first of... the day.

Ryan was on fire and kept finding gorgeous examples of this species. Next up was a neonate, yellow tail tip blazing.
If a healthy young 'un isn't a great sign of a good population, I don't know what is.

The next four snakes...

While photographing that last one, Matt noticed that Ryan had almost sat on this guy...

We had made a goal of ten Coppers. It was a goal that it looked like we could hit. I have lost track of who found what by this point but Ryan, Matt and Teá all found snakes. Next up was this one...

Then this one, who was covered by leaves and gently excavated by Andrea (with a stick...)

Then Teá found this little guy tucked into a crevice, and we hit our goal of ten!
How she spotted this guy, I'll never know.

Sadly, this is where Teá and Matt had to leave us. We didn't have much time together, but we made excellent use of it... these ten were all found within an hour!! It was so good to spend a little bit of time with those two... it seems like forever since we last did.

So, we three remaining knuckleheads carried on. After refinding a few of the ones we'd already seen, I finally contributed to the ongoing count with this guy, wearing a leaf like a wig.
He played keys in the band A Flock of Coppers.

Ryan was peering off the edge of a tall rock and saw something that might have been bad news... a Racer was up and about as well.
Racers can eat Copperheads, though I'm not sure one would be doing that at this point in the year. (Or maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part.) At any rate, he disappeared into the rocks.

I was making my way up a rocky incline when I saw a Racer, too. Any place else, I could have attempted a catch for pictures, but I wasn't about to lunge after this slow-moving Racer (it wasn't super warm in the shade) when we've been seeing so many Copperheads, so he slid into a crevice under a rock and was gone. I got on my hands and knees and shone a light into the hole, but he was history. Getting up, I looked to my right. About 3 feet away was this.
I called,"Copper! Wait, that's a lot of coils... there may be two!" Repositioning, I could see another head... a huge one. The other guy was massive.

Ryan and Andrea made it over and we were all marveling at the grandeur of the double-wide pile when we noticed... another just to the right of those two. I went around the side for a shot.

I forget, but I think it was Ryan who first said, "That coil in front of the first guy... it doesn't look like his..." He got a stick and moved some leaves away... we had a pile of four!
The above picture has three noggins in it... the Corn Snake colored coils on the far right belong to the big guy, whose head is covered by the sticks and leaves.

Well, hot damn. We were at 15 Copperheads.

Two Copperheads here... Andrea and one that could make her day suck if she got any closer.

We'd earned a rest, so we sat in the sun and relaxed. Matt had earlier mentioned a toad hiding in a crevice up there and we found him.

We decided to look around just a bit more after resting but Ryan at one point said "Anyone want to get some food at Noodles after this?" and my mind filled with thoughts of pan-fried udon noodles and light peach lemonade and I became all distracted. We worked out way down through the rocky hill, keeping our eyes out. A small Garter whizzed past me and slid right into a hole. Long gone. Damn.

We saw a guy named Gus and I said "We've had fun, Gus."
That may or may not be true.

Well, this Leadback thought it was funny. He laughed like Lewis in Revenge of the Nerds.

So, we were walking back a path that I personally have walked a dozen times before when we saw a small squiggle crossing the path. The well trodden path that people were walking on. Instinct had me ready to jump after it when it hit the grass, but something dawned on me... and Ryan said "it's a neonate Copper." It sure was.
He stopped for a few pictures before sneaking off deeper into the brush.

Sixteen Copperheads, two of them babies. Sure, most were around the probable den site, but holy crap. We felt pretty darn good. The young 'uns face pretty much sums up how we felt after that trip...


  1. I have some (scanned) WW1 era notes on that spot written by a prominent local naturalist, and 16 is approaching his best numbers there for a single day, before the snakes experienced a precipitous decline- based on your very successful hike, it appears we are right on the cusp of the population reaching a healthy size again.

    I hope timbers can stage this kind of comeback in the future. Although I still have worries about incidental human contact with this copperhead population, which Ryan may have told you is on the rise.

    1. They certainly have been spilling out onto the well traveled path of late. I think "up there" is pretty safe, though who knows. Yes- the 2 neonates are an especially good sign that the population is doing fairly well.

  2. gus........hahahahahaha.........

  3. Holy crap ... This is unbelievable, almost surreal. WOW! I'm nearly speechless.