The morning of May 18 as I headed to White Rock Lake at sunrise, I stepped onto the wooden footbridge that so enamors me as I made my way to Sunset Bay. Somewhere in the middle of that bridge, the planks beneath me offering their soft voices under each footstep, I paused when something caught my attention in the water below.
Morning sunlight weakly dappled through the trees and left me in the relative darkness of dawn, yet my peripheral vision captured the stillness of some point of interest, some shadow near the creek’s bank that hovered at the water’s surface.
I slowly backed up a few steps, quietly moved to the handrail, then carefully leaned forward so I could look more closely.
So still that the lightless environment made me think it a stick or a toy, I leaned further over the railing before fully appreciating my discovery: a blotched water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster transversa) floating quietly as it waited for sunshine to offer its warmth and the day to offer a meal.
Carefully and without a sound, I put the camera on the wooden ledge before me and hoped the low light conditions and my precarious position would not result in photos of obscure blurs and unidentifiable silhouettes.
I also hoped the reptile would not flee due to my invasive activities above it.
Unfortunately, after only a few photographs—the one above being the only respectable one—the snake did take offense at my invasion of its morning, so off it went, making a quick turn that carried it under the bridge and out of sight.
Peering over the other side into yet more darkness, I saw the scaly beast skirting the bank, hugging the dirt closely and using every bit of cover it could find, so I stepped off the bridge and walked down the embankment toward the water.
Let me say this: playing hide-and-seek with a water snake with no direct light is akin to an exercise in futility. My footing was unsure and its position was superior. Grass, rocks, shadows and ledges offered up all the spaces it needed to remain hidden from prying eyes.
But when I slipped on unsure footing and landed on my ass just above it, the snake smartly dashed to the opposite side of the creek. As should be apparent from that photo, I wasn’t exactly in the best condition to capture an image. I simply held the camera out and pressed the button while trying not to fall into the water.
By the time I regained my composure, stood and looked, the snake had vanished beneath a rocky ledge with impenetrable darkness beneath it. I knew no matter how long I stood there that I would not see the snake again, so I turned and went on my way.
Three hours later after circling back to Sunset Bay following a marvelous walk, I casually strolled along the same creek where it runs headlong into the confluence at the lake’s edge. I was following an egret hiding in Dixon Branch behind thick foliage in hopes of snapping a picture or two when it came out from behind its cover.
Then a man nearby walking with his young son turned to me and asked, “Is that a water moccasin?”
My reaction was a triad of simultaneous actions: (1) ‘Water moccasin’ is not a scientifically recognized common name for a snake, I thought before discarding the sentiment as profoundly nerdish and unnecessarily condescending; (2) I removed the lens cap and turned on the camera; and (3) I focused my attention on the man and his son before asking, “Where?”
Because they stood right on the bank and my position had me some distance away, the tall grass and wildflowers blocked my view of what had them so enraptured.
He immediately turned back to the water and pointed just below his position, at which time, as if on queue, the snake made its way toward the center of the stream in the direction of the lake.
I had no time to add or remove filters, or even to change the camera’s settings. A duck had seen the snake and quickly moved to intercept it. The snake in turn increased its speed and changed direction to head into the lake’s deeper water.
Only two clicks of the button and two photographs captured measured the time it took for the duck to reach the snake’s position and for the reptile to vanish into the murky depths of the creek.
With the encounter ended, the man and I spoke briefly about what species I thought it was (blotched water snake being my first guess). We talked about the presence of venomous snakes in the lake as opposed to those like the one we had seen, which is non-venomous, and his son all the while chatted gleefully for having seen this large predator during a leisurely walk.
We parted company and I headed home. Oppressive heat and humidity could do little to squelch my marvel at the curious coincidence of seeing the same species of snake both at the beginning and end of my journey. I also noted that I suspected it was the same individual snake and not just the same species, although that assumption would be impossible to prove.