A Travellerspoint blog

A Hudson Herping Spectacular


semi-overcast 74 °F

Still TONS to catch up on—


Skip this post if you don’t like serpents. I’m not kidding!!

Today, I finally had a completely free day in May so I took Will M up on his offer to go herping again in search of New York’s two species of pit viper: Timber Rattlesnakes and my lifer Eastern Copperheads. Lucky for me, Will M is the most knowledgeable Eastern Copperhead den expert in the US and one of the top experts on Rattlesnakes, too, so I was in good company and had high hopes for the day.

So, I woke up just after 6am to catch a northbound Amtrak up the Hudson River valley. Will picked me up mid-morning, and we headed to his absolute favorite site for denning and sunning pit vipers.

The habitat was gorgeous. Soon, we arrived at the first snake den/sunning location which looked like a bright white spot of sunlight in the woods from a ways away. Vipers prefer areas on sunny south-facing hills with lots of exposed rocky outcroppings surrounded by woods.

We spotted a few raptors circling in the air like RED-TAILED HAWKS and this nice pair of RED-SHOULDERED HAWKS — very cool!

Welp, almost instantly, Dylan picked out our first snake of the morning, a beautiful yellow-phase Timber Rattlesnake that was already out sunning! SO Awesome!

It ended up being extremely docile with no rattling and eventually it simply just crawled back under the rocks. Though these snakes can be deadly, they are NOT aggressive — they are only ever DEFENSIVE if you step on them or pick them up (which you absolutely shouldn’t). So know your snake species, but no need for the unnecessary, media-driven paranoia! Like sharks, these are terribly misunderstood creatures.

I was SO stoked! Any time spent with pit vipers, especially in the northeast where they are harder-to-come-by, is time well-spent with majestic and awe-inspiring creatures. This is the only valid take on finding venomous snakes in the wild! :)

At a rocky outcrop nearby, we searched for Copperheads where Will has had them in the past but instead turned up a nice healthy adult in-shed Northern Black Racer, the largest of this subspecies I have ever seen and only my third ever!



Then, I spotted another snake: the other species of “black snake!” It was a nice large, fat Eastern Ratsnake coiled up on a tree nearby. This harmless species is another that was a lifer for me just last spring!


As we were walking along the highest point of our hike today, I spotted a pointed, tapered snake head poised underneath a nearby boulder and knew I had spotted my lifer Eastern Copperhead! Absolutely amazing!!!!! LIFER DANCE! (though a careful one in venomous snake country)

Wish it had been a better first view, but there is no reason to handle venomous snakes, ever, so we were satisfied with these partial views which are typical of this species in the northeast as they wait in ambush for rodent prey.

Not too long after, we stumbled into an area where a telltale buzzing alerted us to the presence of not one, two, or three, but EIGHTEEN Timber Rattlesnakes huddled among the basking rocks in our vicinity! Carefully watching where we stepped, we admired these fabulous, communal creatures in their full glory. Most folks’ nightmare is a herper’s dream!

And a nice male BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER rounded out the hike:

What an incredible time herping — my single best day of herping to date, for sure!

So, we ended the hike with an extremely respectable total of 24 individual snakes:
21 Timber Rattlesnakes
1 Northern Black Racer
1 Eastern Ratsnake
1 Eastern Copperhead — my lifer!

And a few quality birds, as well! Bird-of-the-day to the Blackburnian Warbler with runners-up to the Red-shouldered Hawks.

Stay tuned: tomorrow I head to Greenwich, CT with my friends Will S and Skyler to hopefully break the Greenwich Big Day record! Fingers crossed for an eventful day of birding!

Happy birding and herping,
World Life List: 1150 Species

Posted by skwclar 02:21 Archived in USA

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