Panhandular Herping (continued)
There was rain the next morning, but the clouds moved off and the day turned out to be a sunny one. I got a late start, but was not going too far away from Tallahassee today - I was visiting some property owned by our friends to the east in Jefferson County, with a pond and an old farmhouse to investigate.
I started with the pond, which was in the back of the property. I walked slowly around, checking under logs in the wet margins along the edge. It wasn't long before I found a Dwarf Salamander (Eurycea quadridigitata) under a bit of soggy wood. Encouraged, I continued my circumnavigation, kicking up a few cricket frogs as I went. On the back side of the pond a large black water snake zipped by in front of me, from right to left, straight into the water. I wasn't sure what it was I saw - I knew it wasn't a moccasin, since it moved very quickly.
A little further on the identity of the mystery water snake was solved, when I chanced across another one crawling about an old tree stump. This snake was also nearly black, but showed the faintest traces of crossbars on the sides near the ventrals, and a light-fingered lift with a hook revealed some squarish blotches on the belly. A Banded Water Snake, Nerodia fasciata fasciata, despite the lack of any bands on the dorsum. This snake was calm enough to let me observe and take some photographs, until it decided enough was enough and slid into a hole.
Done with the pond, I headed back towards the road towards the old farmhouse, but got distracted by a bird swooping over a small pond near the road - a Swallowtailed Kite, my first. I spent a lovely quarter hour watching this bird wheeling gracefully over the water, dropping down to the water to catch a small fish and then climbing and circling above. What a treat to see this beautiful bird, one I was fascinated with since childhood, when I would look at Audobon's illustration of one clutching a small serpent in its talons.
The farmhouse was a bit of a disappointment. Although there was plenty of plywood and metal to look under, I could turn up nothing more than a few anoles. I got out my trusty Florida Gazetteer, and after a bit of map study I decided to head straight south to the coast, and herp along the Econfina River again. I had visited there back in 2004, and had come away with a nice Diamondback for my efforts.
I parked near the entrance to the hiking trail that ran along the river, and began my search. The sun was out, the temperature was in the low seventies, and I thought I might have a good chance to catch something out for a late afternoon bask. Fence lizards and ground skinks were plentiful as I walked along, and often the noise they made had me stopping to take a closer look, just in case. The trail ran through a mixed habitat of palmetto and pines, with more cabbage palms and oaks and bays as I got closer to the Econfina itself. At one point I decided to leave the trail and walk along the riverbank a bit to see what I could kick up, and I'm glad I did, as I stumbled across a very nice Gray Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta spiloides) climbing up the buttress of a large tree. What a sweet looking snake this was, with the ground color being a light tan or brown, rather than gray! I spent a while taking pictures, and just enjoying a different kind of look for a spiloides. I am learning to appreciate these under-rated 'oak snakes'.
Unfortunately it was time for me to take my leave as the sun touched the western horizon. The Econfina River has been a rewarding place for me to visit, and I will make sure to return again one day.
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