A Travellerspoint blog

Herping the Hudson Valley!

New York

sunny 72 °F

Today, I got up at 6:30am to catch a bus to take me upstate for my last herping hike of the 2021-22 school year here in New York! Unfortunately, I have to keep locations from today secret because of the dangers of sharing herp locations online — poachers. Any New York herpers reading this probably can narrow it down to a few possible locations, anyway… My largest targets today were New York’s two vipers: Timber Rattlesnake & Northern Copperhead, though other targets included Eastern Ratsnake, Eastern Ribbonsnake, Northern Red-bellied Snake, Pickerel Frog, and Northern Red Salamander. With herping, you really never know — today I was just visiting this location because I had heard of these species being found in the vicinity before, but I really just narrowed the exact location down based off of looking for good habitat on Google Maps. We will just have to see!

The bus pulled into the station right on time and I was soon hiking uphill from the conveniently-close trailhead. There was a fair amount of birdsong including CHIPPING SPARROWS like this one:

The first vantage point along the trail provided absolutely gorgeous views of the river valley below.

And I spotted a TURKEY VULTURE:

Next, I spotted a seep alongside the trail so I started flipping for Red Salamanders. I didn’t find any of those, but soon enough a glistening, black snake caught my eye alongside the seep and I quickly realized I had my lifer Eastern Ratsnake! Absolutely awesome!

Here are some closeups of it:

And I had to get a screen-grab of holding it, of course!

Another nearby seep contained a Wood Frog, a species I had only seen once before today:

Then, I ventured off trail because I saw a rocky hill that looked like it would be great habitat to find vipers as they tend to inhabit areas near rocky outcroppings on hillsides in this part of the country. There was a male PRAIRIE WARBLER utilizing the scrubbier habitat on the top of the hill as his breeding territory. Good for him!

Then, after I had made it back to one of the main trails, I was startled by an extremely abrupt, and more importantly, extremely close, buzzing. I froze in my place, honestly rather startled, looked over my shoulder, and found that my lifer Timber Rattlesnake was warning me to “keep a social distance.” OMG! My biggest target of the day right on the side of the trail, and to think that if it hadn’t “warned” me, I could have ended up with a really harmful snakebite... My heart was racing for sure as it was just three feet away.

I slowly backed up, caught my breath, and focused on the task at hand: photographing this beautiful creature which is endangered in New York State!

To give some perspective, when I told another hiker later that I’d photographed a Timber today, his jaw nearly dropped to the ground. These are notoriously difficult snakes to find in New York because their preferred habitats tend to be high, inaccessible locations far from roads (I hiked almost 10 miles). This is due in part to habitat encroachment by humans as their population in the northeast has definitely decreased over the years.

All this being said, I spent a solid half an hour with this absolutely majestic, powerful creature, and we gave each other mutual respect from a distance. Rattlesnakes are horribly misunderstood creatures — they do us many favors by keeping rodents under control and therefore balancing our ecosystems, and evidenced by today’s encounter, they give a solid warning if you get too close. They never want to chase or hurt you, which is unfortunately what so many folks wrongly believe.

And of course, I have to end this set of photos with a disclaimer: it should go without saying, but never ever handle a venemous snake, even with a snake hook. This is as close as I was willing to get to the snake :)

It was hard to tear myself away from such a wondrous lifer. It takes most people many tries to get their first NY Timber Rattler so it was a perfect combination of luck, weather, and planning today that came together. A little ways down the trail, I flushed 4 AMERICAN WOODCOCK at exactly the same time, dang! Was only able to grab this crappy photo.

Further down, I had great views of a WORM-EATING WARBLER — great to see this bird on territory since it is a species of special conservation concern here in New York.

Next, I came upon a series of seeps along the trail that held great amphibian life. In addition to those below, I had Northern Two-lined Salamander and Eastern Newt swimming in these tiny, obviously fish-less streams. Green Frogs:

Anybody know what kind of tadpole? Bullfrog, probably?

And my highlight in this section was my lifer Pickerel Frog, a species I had missed at Cranberry Lake last week, so I was delighted to see it today. Note the square blotches on the back that separate this from a similar Leopard Frog.

Another riparian species I had that was a lifer was an Eastern Ribbonsnake, but true to form, it was too fast for me to catch and photograph. Gotta save something for next time!

The loop I took led me to several gorgeous lakes.

And I spotted this Eastern Gartersnake alongside the trail but decided against catching it since it had just swallowed a meal (which you can barely make out in this photo) and I didn’t want it to regurgitate its hard-earned sustenance.

A few birds along the way back were nice including MAGNOLIA WARBLER:



Yet another uncommon New York herp see today was this Common Five-lined Skink, a female in this case with the rusty head.

One unphotographed bird on the way back that was quite notable was a singing PROTHONOTARY WARBLER as they are scarce in this part of the state. I managed 50 species of birds which was decent given the mainly-homogenous habitat covered.

Another habitat shot to show the rocky outcrop habitat that dotted the landscape today. Just incredibly beautiful. Bird-of-the-day goes to the Worm-eating Warbler, but I have to make a special mention to the winner herp today which is undoubtedly the extremely uncommon Timber Rattlesnake. So dang cool.

Good birding (and herping),
World Life List: 1130 Species

Posted by skwclar 12:43 Archived in USA

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No holding frog today huh?

by Tian

Wow that Timber Rattlesnake was gorgeous! and the pics of the rattle amazing
I love that you have added the helping to the birding!!

by Kim

The hike was up hill !! Worm eating warblers like steep ravines I have been told and I saw one in Central - Eastern Illinois one time on the side of a steep ravine.
The Timber Rattlesnake is a High-lander. Maybe you , the Timber R. and the Worm eating W could petition the State of NY for an elevator. I cant seem to make a joke with this. Steve

by stephen fluett

Curious if you've been up the Harlem valley line to dover plains area. I know of many good spots, historic locations from the Kauffeld book, many of them still active. I know quite a few spots, many in fact, in duchess and ulster counties, particularly for copperheads, my expertise. Contact me for more info.. [email protected]

by AntidoteMan

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