Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hardly a Savage Serpent

Early spring may be the best time of year to be in the hill country of southeastern Ohio. It's a particularly appealing time of year, as memories of ice, cold, and snow are still fresh. Thus, the burst of life is a welcome relief, and a reminder of the age-old turn of seasons.

Pinkish blooms of Redbud, Cercis canadensis, tint roadsides magenta in Shawnee. They are joined by other less conspicuous botanical earlybirds, whose greenish casts nonetheless do much to enliven the landscape. The green mists in this photo are produced by the ripening fruit of Red Elm, Ulmus rubra, and clusters of flowers of Sassafras, Sassafras albidum.
Scarcely any foliage has yet emerged, which is fantastic for birders. This situation will change rapidly, and before long our feathered songsters will be enveloped in the jungle-like leaves of the forest, and admiring them will be vastly more difficult. This tree is the first to unfurl its leaves; it is Yellow Buckeye, Aesculus flava.
By last Sunday, one of the earliest spring wildflowers was already on its way out, the blossoms becoming flushed with pink. This is Trailing Arbutus, Epigaea repens, a tiny heath of dry eroding shaded slopes.

This female American Robin was already sitting on a full clutch of eggs. I believe this observation would qualify as "confirmed" breeding for the Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas II. And good fortune smiled upon us as we admired the robin, who was probably much less enamored with us. One of the few cars that we had seen all day in the forest came crunching along the gravelly road, and who should be at the wheel but noted wildlife photographer Jeff Wolfinger.

And lo and behold, Jeff produced one of most beautiful and inoffensive reptiles imaginable, a Worm Snake! Truly a scaly stunner, these tiny animals look amazingly similar to earthworms, and when you first uncover one hiding beneath a rock, that's often the first thought people have.

Alicia Elmer boldly holds the writhing serpent, displaying little or no fear. I don't think the most extreme ophidiophobe could be too worried about a Worm Snake. This is about as big as they get, and frankly, they are rather cute. Bite? Wouldn't even occur to them, and even if they tried I suspect the victim would not even notice. Snakes are a fascinating part of our natural heritage, and it's a shame that more people don't get hand's-on experiences with them, like this.


butmonky said...

I saw a robin drop part of an egg shell in my backyard 2 days ago so I have baby robins somewhere in my yard.

Sandy Brown
Akron Oh

Susan Gets Native said...

Can't get too worked up about a worm snake, huh?
I didn't even know they existed until I read an article about how screech owls will bring worm snakes back to their nests to clean out larvae, etc. Owls hiring exterminators.

Anonymous said...

Nice wormsnake pics Jim. They are pretty great.
- Ben

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