snakes alive

As I’ve probably mentioned recently, we haven’t been hiking off the farm too much this summer, mainly because the deer flies have been horrendous in a few of our favourite forests. Also, we’re trying to cut back on our vehicle trips, so we try to work our hiking adventures in alongside necessary errands. Yesterday, we decided to visit one of our favourite spots — Baird Woods in Lanark — while up in the Perth area. I’ve written about some of the creatures of Baird Woods a few times in the past.

After several weeks of very hot, humid weather, we’re now moving into that time of the year with warm days and cool nights. For example, today’s forecast is for 22C (72F), dipping to 8C (46F) tonight. We’ll still have the odd hot day — in fact, I see that Thursday is supposed to be 28C (82F), but cool nights will be the rule most of the time. From this point onwards, we’re likely to find snakes basking on rocks or in sunny spots along forest trails. That was the case yesterday when we came upon the above Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) in the Red Pine plantation part of the forest (click on all photos for larger views).

The snake’s scales looked very bright and fresh, and we noticed that its tail was a dull gray, leading us to think it had only recently molted. The snake’s “keeled scales” are quite evident in the larger versions of these photos — look for the raised lined down the center of each scale — especially easy to see on the yellow scales.

When I drew near with the camera, the snake coiled its body and kept its eyes on my camera lens. It also flattened its head and expanded its neck (see image below), making its head look larger, presumably in an attempt to appear more threatening. While taking photos from a few different angles, I noticed that the snake seemed attracted to the camera lens. I switched over to movie mode and shot this little .mp4 clip to illustrate the snakes behaviour. Unfortunately, with the digital still camera, once it starts shooting a movie, the focus can’t be adjusted — unlike with my DVcam — so the snake’s head goes out of focus, but it’s still fun to watch (assuming that you like snakes, of course). There are 2 versions of the footage – a higher rez movie (about 2.9MB), and a lower rez movie (about 1.1MB).

Leaving the above snake, we continued on along the trail. In the mixed part of the forest, we spotted another Eastern Garter Snake — this time, a very young individual. I picked up the small snake and shot a few photos of it twined on my hand (see below). It seemed fairly unconcerned about being held for a brief time before it was released.

Last week, I mentioned that I’d try to do a photo essay on my nature photography. I hope to get to that fairly soon. However, I’m also going to try to remember to include occasional notes about photography from time to time in my future posts. Consider this to be the first. The following are just a few random thoughts concerning the above photos.

Photography Notes: When I’m shooting snakes and many other small creatures, I try to get down to their level for at least a couple of shots. Top view shots tend to be a little boring and generally don’t give much of a view of the creature’s face. One of my cameras has a swivel body and the other has a flip out LCD screen that can be bent all around to different angles, so this is very helpful for ground level shots. Depending on the subject and how comfortable it seems about being photographed, I may take a few shots from above and down near the ground, and perhaps from a couple of angles. I also try to take photos that include the whole snake and don’t cut off the tail, *unless* I wish to take a head shot. As much as possible, I try to have the subject fill the screen on my LCD. If I’m not sure of the identity of a creature, I definitely try to get shots that will show its field marks and details such as the keeled scales mentioned above. I also try to remain aware of what is in the background. These photos have been somewhat cropped, but even in the original views, you won’t see a nearby shotgun shell except in one photo which I took as a “record” of the location where we found the snake. I should probably mention that, sometimes it can be useful to have an object appear in a photo with a creature if you wish to demonstrate size — for example, a dime or quarter as a familiar object to provide scale. In fact, that’s part of the reason I shot the last photo of the young snake on my hand rather than on the ground, as I wanted to show you how small it was.

As much as possible, I try to avoid having distracting objects in the backgrounds of my photos — such things as a tree branch looking like it is coming out of a deer’s head, etc… While not always possible to prevent, that kind of distraction can often be avoided by shifting the angle of the shot just a little to one or the other side, or lowering or raising the camera. Last note — If I see particularly interesting behaviour happening — as was the case when I noticed that the above snake was attracted to the camera lens — I usually switch over to movie mode and shoot a clip of that for my records.

Tags: , , ,

  • Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • Trackback URI:
  • Comments RSS 2.0

8 Responses to “snakes alive”

  1. robin andrea Says:

    That gray tail-end of the snake is so interesting. I’ve never seen anything like it. Excellent lesson on nature photography. I tend to be much further away from the subject than you are, and so the background of the shots are mostly non-descript, out-of-focus colors. I never get close enough for a face to fill the entire screen. I just go for the shot that gives the most detail I can get. I think I am seriously limited by my camera, even though its telephoto range is quite good, but not good enough for the details I would love to have.

  2. Steve Says:

    I used to catch Eastern Garters all the time as a kid and early teen – but the smell (which doesn’t wash off) and one particularly bad bite (it was like having a curved row of fish bones piercing the skin) finally made me more of a watcher.

    Unless I find very small ones, like in your photo above. Those are irresistible. And I still catch ring neck snakes, king snakes, grass snakes… just not garters.

  3. Cathy Says:

    That is a most excellent snake. Your photography tips didn’t include suggestions for how to get off the ground after taking a low shot ;0D I was trying to get a mushroom shot a few days ago and thought I might have to crawl out of the woods on my belly.

    I’m saving the snake video till morning. I’m in bed and think I could use serene imagery before sleep. Ah, perhaps Sabrina in Queen Anne’s lace. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

  4. Wayne Says:

    Bev – an extremely fine snake, but then I always think they are.

    Photography hints are always appreciated. I have been more aware of those background things that seem to appear only after the photo has been developed (how did *that* get there?). The angle of photography is a great notation, as well as quickly determining the important parts (wing venation, for instance) and snapping some extras with the focus on those.

    Once in a while the lighting and posture is good enough that I can get all that in one photo, but all too often not.

  5. bev Says:

    robin – Does your camera have a close-up or macro setting? I do most of my shooting with my camera set for very close work, and then I move in as close as I can. I do use the telephoto for birds and in some other situations though.

    Steve – I rarely pick up snakes too for some of the reasons you’ve mentioned. I’ve only been bitten by a garter snake once, and that was when I was about 7, and one of my cousins tossed a snake onto me as a joke. Unfortunately, by that point, the snake was so angry that it bit me while I was trying to put it on the ground. Now, I usually just admire them without picking them up, mainly because I try not to disturb them.

    Cathy – Oh yes, the problem of getting back up after taking a photo! That happens to me quite frequently. When my back is feeling particularly bad, I skip taking photos of fungi and other small objects on the ground. Don will point out a mushroom and I’ll say “Yep, well, it’ll just be the one that got away” (-:
    Hope you came back to watch the snake movie. I thought it was quite amusing.

    Wayne – The larger snake had very beautiful markings. I’ve noticed such a variation in markings on this species and I love the ones that have a sort of checkerboard pattern on the dark stripes. I’ve noticed it on all of the gartersnakes I’ve ever photographed up at Baird Woods.
    Yes, agree with trying to get very specific shots of such things as wing venation. I tend to shoot a couple of aesthetically pleasing views, and then switch mental modes and go for the “science shots” when I’m photographing plants and animals. There are really two different reasons for taking photos, and as you’ve mentioned, it’s not always possible to shoot a photo that covers both bases..

  6. Mark Says:

    I wonder why the snake seemed so interested in the lens?

    Nights in the 40s … I remember those. It seems so long ago, like a different lifetime.

  7. Cathy Says:

    Ah-hahhahahhh! Just watched your video and my husband is going “What! What!?!” I was hooting! What a super neat video, Bev. Still, I’m glad I’m not just nodding off.

  8. bev Says:

    Mark – I’m not sure about the snake’s fascination with the lens. I sometimes think that certain animals may regard the lens as being an eye. A few years ago, I handed my DVcam to a friend to shoot some video of one of those giant European garden slugs. The slug behaved in a similar way to this snake — lifting the front end of its body up and stretching to the lens. It made for some very amusing footage! Btw, I’ve just posted a comment and a photo in reply to your comment about the pink cloud in my previous post.

    Cathy – Ha! Glad you enjoyed the movie!