Tag Archives: southern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix)

The one that got away

Jain recently said in a comment that she found it a bit of a relief to know I harbored no magical photographic powers, that I did in fact miss opportunities from time to time.  I laughed about that because, like all photographers, I tend to share the presentable images, not the numerous mistakes and poor shots and otherwise unsightly pictures.

Which brings me to April 14, 2010, when I posted this on Facebook:

Copperhead on the patio.  Nearly stepped on it when I walked out the door.  To say we surprised each other would be to understate matters tremendously.

In point of fact, it was a southern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix), a venomous snake, and this is the serpent in question:

Blurry photo of a Southern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix) (20081004_13084)

Given how stunning these reptiles are and given the unprecedented opportunity to be so close, how could I possibly screw up the photo?  Well, let me tell you a tale…

There are two sets of French doors in my home.  One is in the bedroom and the other is in the office.  Both open to the patio.

On that warm spring day, I opened the bedroom door and stepped out.  Before my foot hit the ground, I became immediately aware of something right outside the door.  Something right under my foot.

It was the copperhead.  Apparently it chose that spot to grab some afternoon sun.  What it didn’t know was that its position put it right in one of my worn paths leading to the patio.

At that specific part of stepping outside, I had my own forward momentum to deal with, but I also had the momentum of the door which I had already started to pull shut behind me.  The combined inertia would basically push me out the door no matter what else happened.

On top of that, my right foot already hung above the snake and carried its own downward momentum pulled by the force of gravity.

Basically, all the physics added up to a major quandary: I couldn’t stop and I couldn’t finish stepping down, so what to do?

I did what anyone would do: Even as my existing motion carried me through the doorway and toward an encounter which would be ill advised for both parties, I used my left leg to push up so I could hop over the snake.  This kind of last-minute change in an otherwise committed movement rarely works out with grace.  In this case, knowing that became doubly complicated by the fact that, suddenly realizing its predicament and choosing to scoot from beneath impending doom, the snake moved.

It moved into the spot where I hoped to land my clumsy hop!

At this point, it became an entertaining dance of me doing my best to float on air whilst avoiding a serpent who became increasingly worried for its health and therefore moved with more purpose.

I stumbled, hopped, skipped, and made it across the patio in what had to look like the worst ballet ever performed.  And even as the snake slipped between my hopscotching feet, I rebounded off the fence at the same time that I grabbed it to stop from tumbling face first to the concrete below.

With the camera held in one hand, my body dangling precariously from the fence with my feet splayed behind me in a frozen fall, I snapped the shutter purely by accident.

By the time I righted myself, the snake had vanished around the corner.  I couldn’t blame it for beating a hasty retreat.  I certainly posed no threat other than being the looming giant who would crush you while clumsily falling atop you.  And I had to believe the snake shook its head as it left while simultaneously thinking to itself, My word, man, learn to walk already!

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[1] No, I’m not too proud to share bad photographs.  In fact, it’s cathartic.

[2] There are seven venomous snake species in the DFW Metroplex, four of which I’ve seen and/or 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), massasauga (a.k.a. black rattler or black massasauga; Sistrurus catenatus), 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) and pigmy rattlesnake (a.k.a. ground rattlesnake, eastern pigmy rattlesnake or bastard rattlesnake; Sistrurus miliarius), the other three venomous species in the area, I have yet to see around the lake.  ‘Yet’ being the operative term.  (I have seen those species elsewhere.)

[3] There are at least 30 species of nonvenomous snake in the DFW Metroplex, so there’s no need to worry.  The odds of encountering a venomous snake are quite small, and the vast majority of snake sightings are of nonvenomous animals.

[4] Copperheads might be venomous, but they are docile creatures who focus on escape before defense.

Kicking logs

People think me mad when I say they should kick a log—at least once, if not a few times—before stepping over it.  While meandering about the Audubon nature trails last January, I said as much to a group of teenagers who had lost their way through the maze of woodlands as they spent the morning picking up trash (an admirable weekend endeavor for young people, something else I said to them before they ventured on).

They stumbled upon me as I knelt above a ravine photographing anything that caught my attention.  I heard them coming for some time, most of which entailed this oft repeated question: “Where are we?”

After seeking my guidance on how to get out of the forest and back to civilization, and after I told them I felt sincere gratitude in seeing them putting their weekend toward collecting refuse others had carelessly left behind, I added in parting words that they should not step over any logs unless they kicked them first.  “A few times would be best,” I added.

“Why?” one of the young ladies asked.

“Mostly because of what you can’t see,” I replied, “like snakes.”

A collective shiver ran over the dozen or so young adults, yet agreeable nods from most of them meant they understood.  They were, after all, in nature’s realm.

Truth be told, fallen trees provide marvelous cover for a variety of wildlife seeking a bit of refuge from a predator, a cool spot of shade in which to recuperate from the day’s heat, a place to sleep or something to camouflage them as they stealthily await the opportunity to ambush prey.

So during a recent jaunt to those same trails on the western shore of White Rock Lake, I found the proof I needed to justify the “kicking logs” approach.

Unlike my previous visit when the starkness of winter made the area ghostly and open, I found a very different world this time.

A trail leading through dense woodlands (20081004_13064)

Lush greenery filled every corner.  Trees swayed gently in the wind as verdant foliage reached toward the heavens.

A trail leading through dense woodlands (20081004_13068)

The first dappling of fallen leaves touched the trails beneath a canopy of life, and the underbrush seemed to reach out in vivid detail.

A trail leading through dense woodlands (20081004_13074)

It behooved me to carefully watch my surroundings, from the ground beneath my feet to the air that brushed my cheeks to the leaves and branches that surrounded me on all sides.

More than once I nearly stepped through a massive spider web or put my foot into an anthill.  And that says nothing of the scorpions and wasps that lurked about as they started their day.

But it was when I approached a fallen tree across the path that I remembered how best to get over it.

I gave it a few flat-footed kicks to rock it back and forth.

That’s when a southern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix) slithered out from beneath the log and stopped fully across the path right in front of me.

Because of the cavernous dark created by the woods, the few images I took at that moment showed nothing but a shadowy blur as the snake proceeded from the trail into the brush to my left.

I followed.  At a respectable distance.

A southern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix) slithering off into the underbrush (20081004_13086)