Trip Details

Location: Pennsylvania and New Jersey

Weather: Mostly sunny, high of 67 degrees. Low to moderate wind.

Herpers: Eitan Grunwald, Jim Scharosch

Account by: Jim Scharosch

Photos by: Jim Scharosch (unless noted)

Day two started off with great weather which combined with yesterdays success to make me very optimistic and eager to get out. We had a drive ahead of us as we drifted back east, and along the way we picked an Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) off the road to save it from oncoming traffic.

A couple of cars had to stop behind us, and as the first car went by I looked up and instead of seeing the hand gesture I might have expected for delaying someone from reaching their destination, I got a thumbs up! I thought that was a good start to the day.

Soon we reached our parking area and started the long walk toward our herping destination. This too was an area Eitan had never been to. We walked a trail in the woods for a while, then broke out onto a black gravel road. It wasn't very hot outside, probably mid-sixties, but the black gravel in the full sun was already broiling. We had walked a ways when Eitan asked, "Is that a snake up ahead?" We both knew the answer. We could tell that it was a big Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) crossing the hot gravel about 150 feet ahead of us. Eitan took off at a pretty good clip as I tried to get my crappy telescoping hook extended and locked while jogging along behind. I made a good effort to wrangle the snake back onto the road, but it got off into the weeds enough that it wasn't safe to mess with it. I shot a little video of the four plus foot snake crawling thru the thick brambles. It kinda looked back at me as if to say, "Nice try" then crawled off. It was cool to see even if I didn't get any photos.

We left the road, but we cut down the hillside a bit too early and had to work our way through the forest. We came upon a talus pile that was still a quarter mile from the location we were headed towards, and Eitan found another timber on the crawl.

This coloration of this timber was very similar to timbers we see in Iowa, so it was cool find one like this. It coiled up and rattled at us the entire time we took photos.

Eventually we left the agitated timber and continued along the hillside. We walked a ways and could tell that we were looking at the area that Eitan's herping buddy had described to us. As I prepared to make the short hike up the hill to the ledge ahead, Eitan hit me with another "Shhhh, Quiet!" like he had the day before. I don't mind being told to be quiet when there is a timber on the other end of the order. I came over to where Eitan was and got to watch a three foot timber as it crawled down a dry rocky creek bed. It wasn't aware of our presence, or if it was it wasn't concerned. It was traveling with the determination of a snake that was headed somewhere. It didn't slow down as it glided over the rocks. It didn't stop to investigate any nooks or crannies in the rocks like a snake that hunts on the crawl would do. This was a lie in wait, ambush hunter moving from it's winter den site to it's summer hunting grounds. It was fun to watch. I broke out my video camera and followed it for a while. Eventually I got too close and it figured out I was there. It was cool to see it's reaction. It started to rattle first, then a half a tick later, turned around to look at what was trailing behind. It slowly drew up into a defensive coil and rattled away as we took photos.

I knew these photos were going to be better than what I had gotten the day before, so I was confident I would get my "iconic photo" of the trip.

I was happy to be in this area because it struck me as "classic" east coast timber habitat. It was forest with large talus fields and slides and big rock outcrops. It reminded me of a higher elevation version of parts of eastern Iowa, except with different rock types.

We finished up and moved up to the ledge. Eitan was looking on the talus slope, and I popped up onto the ledge itself and instantly spotted a big timber coiled below me. I called Eitan to come over, and as he walked over, I spotted a smaller timber wedged into a crevice a few feet from the big one.

Eitan came over and I said, "Find the two timbers!" He spotted the big one, and then pointed to a third timber I had not even noticed!

Photo by Eitan Grunwald

It was at this point that the big timber rattled and took off into a small rocky cave under a nearby rock. I was disappointed not to get any photos of the snake, but I noticed that it never pulled it's tail into the cave.

I went closer to the third timber that was laying out and it spooked into the crevice behind it, but coiled up right at the mouth of the crevice.

It was then that I noticed a fourth timber in a crevice that wasn't visible from where we were originally standing.

That was four timbers within ten feet of each other. I was four feet from where the tail of the first timber was sticking out of the small cave. I figured the cave didn't go back very far because the tail was still sticking out, rattling. Soon I saw the timber pull his head out of the cave. I quick grabbed my video camera from my pocket, assuming the snake would come out and crawl off to a different crevice to hide. I knew it was too agitated to slow down long enough for me to take photos so I figured video was my only chance. Imagine my surprise when the snake came out rattling, curled his head around and corkscrewed into perfect coil three feet in front of me. He then pulled his tail up underneath, laid his head down on the coils, stopped rattling and laid down to bask! I had never seen a rattlesnake coil up right in front of me except when coiling into a defensive position. It was really cool and I was glad I had it on video. I also got to take some photos of the snake now!

Soon, the one that had spooked under the crevice crawled out and did the same thing, and I got video of that one too! You have to see the video to understand how cool it was seeing this. It isn't often we get to see snakes doing their thing without interference.

We hung out for a really long time, just watching the snakes move around and taking pictures. Eventually we decided to move on, and I walked out to the edge of the ledge to see if there were any more snakes. I looked over a rock and could see that down in a small depression between two rocks there was another black timber hanging out. I took a quick photo, then stepped my foot down onto a lower ledge to try and get a better angle. I popped my head down to take a look at the two foot wide ledge I had put my foot on, and saw another three foot timber tucked up under the ledge about two feet from my foot. This snake wasn't rattling, but looked agitated at having my foot that close. I was a bit agitated too. I pulled my foot back up and noticed a lower ledge I could cross over on. This one put me about chest level with the "foot" timber, but a fairly safe couple of feet away. I snapped a pic of the snake that I think sums up it's mood at the time.

I moved along the narrow ledge to get a pic of the first snake I had seen here. I knew I was going to have a good angle if it was still there. I came around the bolder and there it sat. It knew something was going on, so it had lifted it's head off it's coils. It laid there, looking alert but undisturbed. It was a fantastic pose, so I shot away as quickly as I could. I knew if I could capture this shot I would have the image I wanted. When I finally got to see it, I was thrilled with the shot I got. To me, this was the iconic shot I was looking for that captured the essence of the trip.

Before we left I took a shot of the scene pretty much as it was when I first walked up on it. There were four timbers in this small area, and three of them are visible in photo, though one is pretty hard to spot.

We had another area to go to that was nearby, but we were sure we wouldn't be able to top what we had already seen so we skipped it and made the long hike back to the car. We drove back to New Jersey to meet up with one of Eitan's friends to look for copperheads.

We rolled in to the area where we were to meet up with Eitan's friend Jeff Loy late in the afternoon. Jeff's girlfriend Evelyn McNally was waiting there and Jeff rolled in soon after. Jeff was, to say the least, a high energy guy. He isn't a herper in the purest sense of the word, but he is an all around nature guy who enjoys seeing herps. The best way I could describe him is to say that Jeff brings the same energy to his love of nature that basketball commentator Dick Vitale brings to basketball. His mannerisms even reminds me a bit of Dick Vitale. Jeff and Evelyn were a lot of fun to be around. Even near the end of a long day of walking hillsides, Jeff's energy was infectious.

We walked the road up to Jeff's copperhead location. The first thing we checked was an unlikely rock sitting behind a cell phone tower. It was just a two foot thick rock sitting on top of gravel. After what I had experienced with Kyle's timber spot the day before, I knew not to doubt, but I did anyway. We shined a flashlight under the rock, and sure enough, there was a small Northern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortix mokasen) coiled there. Jeff mentioned that he had seen multiple copperheads under this rock on some trips. We didn't mess with the snake, just took a peak with a flashlight and moved on. (Oh, and if you are reading this Jeff, curse you for infecting me with flashlight envy. I just bought a Fenix LD12!)

We found a few more copperheads in various cracks and crevices in the large boulders that lined the mountain top. None were out so I took a few photos of the snakes in the cracks as vouchers.

We weren't going to try and fish any out of the crevices, and I didn't really care to bother them. I can't recall for sure how many we saw, but somewhere around five or so. While we were standing there talking, a nice bright Five-lined skink (Eumeces fasciatus) was crawling around on the rock face. I didn't try to get pics, but I shot some video that is included in the video of the trip that is at the top of the page.

When we finished, Jeff and Evelyn invited us over for pizza. We hung out there for a while and visited. It was a great wrap up to the day. We left late in the evening and drove the final leg back to Eitan's house, where we would be based for the last two days of the trip.

I can't leave this post without trying to put into perspective how great this day was. I would never try to rank my top ten field days of all time. It's too difficult to compare different experiences, and the trips that were freshest in my mind would have an unfair advantage. That being said, I will always remember the things I witnessed on this day of the trip, and if I did make a top ten list, this one would be in there somewhere near the top.



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