Tag Archives: diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer)

New angles

I don’t always know what I’m going to photograph until I photograph it, and it’s never so much about setting up the shot as it is about capturing life in progress, nature in its natural state.  And I don’t care about the picture’s technical correctness but instead about how it makes me feel later.

A diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer) with its head above water while it rests its body below the surface (2009_03_08_012493)

Many of my photographer friends produce breathtaking images, much of it eliciting my jealousy for their skills and their access to that which eludes me.  Each of these people has a singular gift which translates into a signature, an impression felt as much as seen when their work is viewed.

A swift setwing (Dythemis velox) clinging to the tip of a twig (2009_07_07_026174)

But I hear so much about how to “setup the shot” so the picture is technically correct—rule of thirds and bokeh and all.  Nevertheless I’m left to wonder how much life goes by unnoticed while they’re setting up the shot.

A female eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) perched on a tree branch (2010_03_06_050806)

I’ve tried that method before, yes, and it can from time to time produce exquisite imagery that might otherwise have eluded capture, yet each time I focused on the mechanics of the thing, in the back of my mind I knew the meaning of the thing escaped me, for nature just happens, not posed or staged or manipulated, but rather real and visceral and now.

A female great blue skimmer (Libellula vibrans) perched on a dry reed (2009_07_19_027339)

I don’t mean technically correct images leave me feeling little or nothing.  On the contrary, often they grab my attention, cause my heart to skip a beat, catch the breath in my chest, leave me awestruck and inspired.

A male Texas oblong-winged katydid (Amblycorypha huasteca) standing in the bed of a pickup truck (20120608_00165)

Yet inevitably they leave me wondering.  Not about what the image shows, mind you.  No, I’m left to wonder about what the image doesn’t show, what might have been, what remained unseen and, therefore, unappreciated.

A female slaty skimmer (Libellula incesta) perched on barbed wire (20120624_00385)

The ubiquitous can be unique when caught in unexpected framing, the mundane can be marvelous when caught in the right light, and the everyday can be extraordinary when caught demonstrating life in progress.  Because—let’s face it—nature doing its thing, to me at least, is far more compelling than nature in a perfect image.

A female square-headed wasp (Tachytes sp.) perched on an old pipe (20120630_01137)

So unplanned and ad hoc, I will continue to photograph the wasp who turns her head to look at me, and that even if I’m unprepared.  I will continue to snap pictures of everything I see, and that even if I already have a million pictures of the same thing.  And I will continue to take notice of whatever nature throws my way, and that even if nature gives me no time to prepare, to plan, to setup the shot.

Crepuscular rays created by a distant thunderstorm at sunset (20120706_01357)

Because I’ve learned over many years that, with photos licensed for field guides and dissertations and government presentations and whatnot, when it comes right down to it, nature never shows the same face twice.  At least not when you’re willing to see it in whatever form it takes and at whatever angle it displays.

Besides, photography should never be about technically correct images but instead about seeing old things in new ways and new things in memorable ways, or at least that’s what I think.

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  1. Diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer)
  2. Swift setwing (Dythemis velox)
  3. Female eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis)
  4. Female great blue skimmer (Libellula vibrans)
  5. Male Texas oblong-winged katydid (Amblycorypha huasteca) in the back of my uncle’s truck
  6. Female slaty skimmer (Libellula incesta) perched on a barbwire fence
  7. Female square-headed wasp (Tachytes sp.) on an old pipe
  8. Crepuscular rays from a distant thunderstorm at sunset

Always fleeting

Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
— Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Sometimes they chase their shadows.

A velvet ant (Dasymutilla sp.) in flight (IMG_3659)

Sometimes their shadows chase them.

A giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) in flight (IMG_3537)

And sometimes their shadows hide beneath them, holding them up, providing the foundation upon which they travel.

A Virginia opossum (a.k.a. possum or tlacuache; Didelphis virginiana) trotting through a clearing (2009_04_19_016210)

Observing wildlife is one thing, but photographing it is another.  Because life is always fleeting.

A juvenile American robin (Turdus migratorius) in flight (2009_09_06_028805)

Sometimes together.

Rock doves (a.k.a. common pigeons; Columba livia) in flight (2008_12_07_000543_ab)

Sometimes alone.

A nutria (a.k.a. coypu; Myocaster coypus) swimming in calm water (2009_06_01_021672)

Sometimes in the city.

A cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) in flight (2009_05_17_019619)

Sometimes in the wild.

A diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer) swimming through a creek (2009_06_06_022472)

Sometimes up close.

A variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) in flight (IMG_3174)

Sometimes at a distance.

A Forster's tern (Sterna forsteri) in flight (2009_12_26_046986)

But always fleeting.

A white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata) in flight (2009_07_18_026922)

Yes, life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

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  1. Velvet ant (Dasymutilla sp.) flying over open ground in East Texas; this female will lose her wings and become a typical velvet ant as soon as she selects a good hunting-cum-nesting site
  2. Giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes); this is the largest butterfly in Canada and the United States
  3. Virginia opossum (a.k.a. possum or tlacuache; Didelphis virginiana); this is the only marsupial found north of Mexico
  4. Juvenile American robin (Turdus migratorius)
  5. Rock doves (a.k.a. common pigeons; Columba livia)
  6. Nutria (a.k.a. coypu; Myocaster coypus)
  7. Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) in breeding plumage
  8. Diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer)
  9. Variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)
  10. Forster’s tern (Sterna forsteri)
  11. White-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata)

put on your faces – diamondback water snake

Close-up of a diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer) slithering through dry leaves (2009_03_08_012928)

Diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer)

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W. C. Fields once said, “I always keep a supply of stimulant handy in case I see a snake—which I also keep handy.”  Humorous though it is, it speaks to something I’ve never understood: ophidiophobia (or ophiophobia), the excessive fear of snakes.

I can understand the fear of being bitten by a venomous snake.  That goes hand in hand with the fear of being in an airplane crash or falling into a vat of acid.

But the general and overriding fear of all snakes no matter the circumstances or level of threat?  That I just don’t comprehend.

Of serpentine surprises

I try to always keep snakes in mind when I walk.  No precaution is beyond me, whether it be kicking logs before stepping over them, paying attention to every footfall and what’s around it, keeping my eyes on what lurks in the understory, or intently watching for movement and listening for sounds.  Why be so mindful?

There are seven venomous snake species in the DFW metroplex, three of which I’ve seen and photographed around White Rock Lake: western cottonmouth (a.k.a. water moccasin, black moccasin or black snake; Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma), timber rattlesnake (a.k.a. canebrake rattlesnake; Crotalus horridus), and copperhead—both the southern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix) and the broad-banded copperhead (a.k.a. Texas copperhead; Agkistrodon contortrix laticinctus).

Texas coral snake (Micrurus tener), western diamondback rattlesnake (a.k.a. Texas diamond-back; Crotalus atrox), massasauga (a.k.a. black rattler or black massasauga; Sistrurus catenatus) and pigmy rattlesnake (a.k.a. ground rattlesnake, eastern pigmy rattlesnake or bastard rattlesnake; Sistrurus miliarius)—the other four venomous species in the area—I have yet to see around the lake.  ‘Yet’ being the operative term.  (I have seen those species elsewhere.)

Before anyone panics, however, I should point out that there are more than 30 species of nonvenomous snakes in the region.  The odds of an everyman seeing a venomous snake remain small; most people will never see more than a nonvenomous serpent.  Unless you’re like me, always looking, always walking, always exploring.  Then the odds change.  Hence my care when in the wild.

Nevertheless, I’ve had close calls.  A cottonmouth sunning in a field dashed across my foot when a couple of dogs approached from the opposite direction (the canines were dragging their human pets behind them); the snake approached before I could move, so I froze in place so I’d be less of a threat.  One of the copperheads I ran into in the fish hatchery had been hiding beneath a log; I kicked the log as is my usual practice, but the snake surprised me by moving toward me rather than away from me—and we came quite close to a physical meeting.

But those experiences cover 20 years of in-depth daily exploration of the park.  I can’t imagine anyone else having the same issue or having to worry about it.  The odds simply don’t support concern, especially since the lake has no existing reports of anyone being bitten by a venomous snake.  Too much human activity keeps the snakes hidden and confined to areas where people don’t go (except people like me).

So why the serpent stats?

The other day when afternoon temperatures soared and a clear sky offered nothing but constant sunshine to bathe the earth, I strolled through the woods along Dixon Branch, flicking ticks off my legs and battling a few early mosquitoes.  Then I reached a riparian clearing and stepped to the edge of the creek.  When I shifted my weight and leaned a wee bit closer to a bramble of vines and thicket, a very large snake erupted from beneath the verdant cover.  It slid down the embankment and hit the water’s surface with a splash.

A diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer) floating in a creek (2009_06_06_022468)

A diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer).  It had to be six feet/two meters long at least.  And it had been hiding in the brush not an arm’s length away from me.  Oops.

A diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer) swimming away from me (2009_06_06_022471)

The moment I swung the camera toward where it paused in the water, it took off swimming away from me.

Though nonvenomous, water snakes have a terrible disposition and a tendency to bite first and ask questions never.  Given their size and strength and the backward-angle of their teeth (evolved for catching slippery prey like fish in the water), they can do appreciable physical damage.

It goes without saying that I had been foolish.  Winter’s dearth of snakes—this year being more pronounced than any year since 1983—had lulled me into a false sense of security, or at least a stupid sense of ignorance.  My frightened serpentine friend gave me a surprise that served to remind me that the season has come for snakes, therefore it behooves me to act in accordance with that realization.

Because next time it might not be a nonvenomous reptile and it might not be so inclined to run away from such a nearby and easy mark.

Keeping my head above water

A diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer) with only its head above water (2009_03_08_012497)

Like this diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer), I’m barely keeping my head above water today.  In my case, the water is me being sick as a dog.  Mind muddied and fogged.  Body rebelling against me.  Somebody put the major hurt on me, that’s for sure.

Because I have little interest or ability to do more than drink warm tea and huddle beneath a blanket, and since I never want to leave you without something to do with all your spare time, why don’t you visit a couple of fun carnivals instead of loitering around here like you have nothing better to do?

Friday Ark #278 will float your boat if you like cats, dogs, birds, or pretty much any other kind of critter that host Steve runs across in his web travels.  This is one flood of creature comforts that you don’t want to miss.

House of Herps #2 is presented by someone I’ve grown rather fond of, Ted C. MacRae, one heck of a nice man with gobs of smarts and a sharp wit.  He’s done a bang-up job of hosting the carnival centered on all things amphibian and reptilian.  Hop on over there and slither through his fantastic presentation.

[of note on the snake: it was about six feet/two meters long, it lingered patiently in the creek while I snapped a photo, and its entire length draped back through the water and seemed to dangle gently from its head]