favourite moments # 4 – crossing paths

This is a post in a series about favourite moments of nature observation that have occurred over the past couple or so years. It’ll help to pass the time spent indoors this winter as I wait to be back out observing insects, spiders, frogs and others.

We’re just about to take off for a day of hiking, but before leaving, I thought I’d post these photos taken on May 18, 2003. They’re of a Black Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta) that crossed paths with us while we were hiking the Moulton Gorge Trail at Frontenac Provincial Park. It was the first of three Black Rat Snakes that we would encounter along the trail that day.

This snake was a beauty. It was very large… definitely the largest snake I’ve ever encountered in eastern Ontario. I should have paid more attention to its length, but would guess its length as being in excess of 1 1/2 meters (around 5 feet or so). However, more impressive was how substantial a snake it was. The section just back of the head was probably about equal to my wrist, while the body was very large and muscular.

When we first came upon the snake, it lay quietly across the trail, so well camouflaged in the leaf mulch, ferns and mosses, that it resembled a decaying tree branch. It remained amost motionless for awhile, so I shot a few photos from different angles (above and below – click on images for larger views — I’ve left them quite large so that you can get a better “feel” for how this snake looks up close). It then began to move forward, slowly at first. I got out my video camera and shot some footage of it while walking a little to one side for a short distance. The snake seemed unperturbed by my presence.

After awhile, it began to pick up speed a little — it’s really quite amazing how rapidly a snake can travel when it wants to. I dropped back and just watched as it made its way in an almost straight line to where a fallen log crossed a small ravine. It lifted its head up and slid onto the log and crossed this “bridge” to the other side. I’m quite certain this was a well-traveled route for this snake.

We continued on our way, but encountered two more of these large snakes before the end of our hike. One lay basking on a large, flat rock in an opening in the forest. I sat down a few feet away. Once again, this snake seemed unconcerned by my presence, affording me some time for observation. These snakes are constrictors and, as their name suggests, prey upon rodents. We found all of three of these snakes in an area that seemed to have a very high population of chipmunks – probably making it ideal territory.

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5 Responses to “favourite moments # 4 – crossing paths”

  1. Peter Says:

    I’m surprised you managed to find 3 in one day just a few years ago. I used to see them frequently in the 80’s and early 90’s but for the past 10-15 years, they have been a rare sight for me.

    The largest I have seen would probably be around the 6 foot mark as well, sometime around 1990 at Charleston Lake. I recall it moving quite slow and seemingly unaware of the small crowd gathered along the trail to observe it.

  2. Duncan Says:

    That’s a nice snake, shiny and in good condition. Quite magnificent creatures.

  3. Cathy Says:

    Reminds me of the time a Blue Racer and I had an encounter in the Oak Openings region gof northwest Ohio. I’m not a snake person and when that creature actually lifted and started toward me I didn’t pause to admire his beauty – Momaaaa!

  4. Ruth Says:

    I just confessed the root of my snake phobia on my blog, and then I am startled by your pictures. Actually, a while ago, I looked at every snake picture in your archive in an effort to appreciate their beauty and place in nature. But, like Cathy, I will likely always experience a “flight response” if I come across a snake on a walk.

  5. burning silo Says:

    Peter – I think we got lucky because of the date. We also encountered a number of garter snakes along the trail that day, so I think they must all have just become active and been moving about.

    Duncan – It seemed a very healthy snake to me too. Absolutely beautiful.

    Cathy – It seems that quite a few people react as you do to snakes!

    Ruth – I swear I didn’t post the snake photos to scare you! (-:
    I image that I wouldn’t feel quite so comfortable around snakes if I’d grown up in a place where there were venomous snakes. Luckily, with only one small (and quite rare) exception, our snakes are pretty harmless.