A Travellerspoint blog

Herping the Shawangunks

Hudson Valley, NY

semi-overcast 79 °F

On my free day here at the Mostly Modern Festival in Saratoga Springs NY, Will M and I were off again down to the Shawangunk Mountain range to photograph Northern Copperheads and Timber Rattlesnakes at their denning sites where we hoped gravid female snakes would be out sunning. Our plan would be to hit the spot where we had twenty-one snakes in May, and then to try a new den nearby that Will had mapped out using Google Earth (exposed, sunny rock ledges seem to be the magic formula!).

Upon getting out of the car, I was greeted with a chorus of birdsong included that of a HERMIT THRUSH, a wonderful denizen of upstate NY forests:

And plenty of OVENBIRDS:

The first mini sunning site where I had a nice yellow adult Timber in May produced this smaller, darker individual who looked rather hot (that would explain the gaped mouth). Awesome! We were on the board for the day. Also: note the shed beside the snake, we saw a lot of recent sheds today as well!

I photographed this male SCARLET TANAGER right where I had one a month ago — probably the same beautiful territorial male!

Will never tire of this view of the rest of the Shawangunks.

Then, as we were leaving our lunch break stop, Will accidentally flushed this female EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILL that then proceeded to do her “broken-wing display,” similar to that of a Killdeer — what an insanely cool observation and the first time I’ve ever seen one do this!

Then, I realized since we flushed her at such a close range that her nest must be nearby. Well, her “nest” consisted of two perfect little eggs that seemed to be just lain on a random patch of forest floor. What a bizzarre ground nester! We took a quick doc shot and then moved on so as not to disturb her. How awesome is this?!

The main den at the top of the ridge absolutely pulled through with a ton of snakes. This was so awesome — today was only my third time in the wild ever observing Timber Rattlers.

Aaaand…see the other snake back there? Yep — Northern Copperhead, the other resident viper species and only my second one ever!!

We were afforded incredible views of the Coppers, too, this time.

As well as, of course, NINE Timber Rattlers at this site. Holy moly!

LEAST FLYCATCHER was pleasant to find on the way down from the den:




Our next stop was at a supposed den location neither Will nor I had ever visited, so it required quite a bit of uphill climbing and trailfinding using the “blue dot” on google maps — we saw birds along the way such as this male BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER, awesome to see this species in breeding territory:

Same deal with this male BLACK-AND-WHITE:

And after QUITE a bit of bushwhacking, Will shouted “I’ve got one!” and sure enough, at a south-facing rocky ledge, we had successfully discovered another NY Timber Rattlesnake den! Absolutely out of this world!

We spent several minutes photographing the venomous beauties, and then bushwhacked our way downslope and back to the car. Along the way, I spotted our first nonvenomous species of the day: a nice Eastern Ratsnake!

That promptly slithered into a rotting log:

And we came across another, larger Ratsnake on our way out along a most treacherous dirt/rock road that was handled expertly by Will…

And his swanky Jeep! Love that car…

Our twentieth snake came in the form of a recently-road killed Timber Rattler that was most likely mowed over on purpose. People tend to view venomous species as “evil” or “pests” or “no good” which is an absolutely rotten, highly-misinformed attitude that is completely oblivious to the need for natural balance in our native ecosystems. Though not everyone needs to go out of their way to find viper dens like we do, lol, everyone should have the decency to swerve away from these guys on the road — this dirt road is at a slow enough speed and visible enough that there is really no excuse for this behavior. The Timber Rattlesnake is a state-threatened species here and over the years, habitat loss, over-collection by poachers, and extermination by ignorant people has made these snakes so rare that the only ones likely to find them are crazies like Will and I who actively search for them.

Reptiles and amphibians are keystone indicator species for healthy habitats, and the presence of large pit vipers in particular indicates the health of an ecosystem as they provide a key predator role in the food chain in the montane forests of the eastern US.

What a day! We saw 20 snakes today:
14 Timber Rattlesnakes (1 deceased)
3 Northern Copperheads
2 Eastern Ratsnakes
1 Eastern Gartersnake — unphotographed

And plenty of birds too! Bird-of-the-day goes to the Eastern Whip-poor-will with runner-up to the Hermit Thrush, both fun species to get on their breeding grounds just a stone’s throw away from the Hudson Valley. Awesome, and I hope to be back sooner rather than later! huge thanks again to Will…

Happy birding,
World Life List: 1151 Species

Posted by skwclar 04:02 Archived in USA

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Wow! Great pictures thank you!

by Mary Stevens

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