Sunday, May 2, 2010

Copperheads and Other Wildlife

Author's Note (June 16, 2013): several people making comments about this post have pointed out that I incorrectly indentified the snakes I saw as copperheads, but in actuality, they were cottonmouths.  I wrote a corrective post here.

Prior to this morning, I had seen one copperhead in my life. After this morning, that number was tripled. I had an interesting hike near dawn for five miles along the west dike trail of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Along with the two copperheads, I saw two turtles on land, a harrier, three deer, various shorebirds, dozens of egrets, a muskrat, and a snake that zipped across the path too fast for me to identify. I really enjoyed this hike, especially seeing all the wildlife and hearing birds singing wherever I walked.

These yellow flowers were a nice contrast.

If you have ever brushed against a thistle, you know not to ever do it deliberately. If you haven't done so, trust me on this one.

I was thinking that this turtle was digging nest, but on the hike back, the turtle was gone and the shallow depression held no eggs.

This turtle was probably the same species as I found on my last hike here a couple of weeks ago. I think it is a mud turtle.

I love the views across the marsh.

Usually, if I get within 100 meters of an egret they fly, but this one didn't. So I captured his image. Their white is such a striking contrast to their surroundings.

I left the dike trail to hike down this old road. Note the two ruts from tires. I hiked in a rut to stay out of the tall grass, but still picked up a couple of ticks. After a while, it led to open woodland and eventually to views of the bay. I turned and hiked out, and it was in this very section shown here where I nearly stepped on a small copperhead. It pays to pay attention some times.

He was about 10 inches long and very fat. He was not agressive but assumed a defensive pose with his mouth wide open, his head back, and his body coiled a bit. He would vibrate his tail rapidly. I have heard that when they do this in dried leaves, it sounds a bit like a rattlesnake. I watched him for a few minutes, and then continued hiking. Back on the dike trail, I turned to start heading the 2.5 miles back the way I came, still excited about the copperhead and never dreaming what was ahead.

About a half mile up the dike trail, I ran into this big guy (or actually a gal, I think). She took on the same pose: mouth wide open, head back, and tail vibrating rapidly. She was not agressive but made it very clear not to invade her space. "You go your way, I'll go mine, and all will be fine," she said.

Here is a close up of the mouth - the fangs are very clear and positively identify this as a poisonous snake, and not a water snake, which has similar marking.

I was almost back to my car when three deer, walking single file about 30 feet apart, walked by through the marsh. They had no fear of me being only 25 feet away from them. I took a number of photos, and liked this one the best.


  1. Wow the shot of the snakes mouth is incredible.
    Why was it so fat? Is it because it just ate?
    I really like turtles!

  2. Hi Karen - yeah, that was a pretty cool shot. I think they are just a heavy bodied snake. The baby was pretty fat too, and there was a big tuft of feathers inches from it. I was wondering if it caught a bird? I am a big fan of turtles as well, always have been.

  3. I ventured to Back Bay in February and all I saw animal-wise were some noisy sea gulls.

  4. That looks more like a Cottonmouth and not a Copperhead: you were lucky.

  5. Hey! Well my name is Ashley and i couldnt believe that amazing picture you took! But im 14 but i was 13 when i got bitten by a Copperhead snake just standing on someones driveway and i haveto get rushed to 3 different hospitals and I finally got to Scottish Rite where they gave me 5 doces of anti-venom. And I currently have a scare on the outside of my left ancle. trust me it was very hurtful and now i am terrified of snakes(:

  6. Hi Ashley - that sounds like a horrible experience. Thank God you were able to get the antivenom. I have heard that poisonous snake bites are incredibly painful. Don't make you afraid of them or nature, just be alert and cautious out there. Things happen. You will have a great story to tell your kids someday. Keep enjoying life. Art

  7. That's definitely not a copperhead. It's a cottonmouth, giving it's characteristic defensive posture.