All text copyright  Eitan Grunwald.  All photographs copyright  Eitan or Ron Grunwald  except photographs by others are copyright per photo credits.  All rights reserved.  Terms
FLORIDA
December 2002
1 of 2
FLORIDA
December 2002
1 of 2
       
Once again down in Miami to visit family over the holidays, so Ron and I take advantage of some warm, humid weather to get out into the field in the vicinity of Lake Okeechobee.   First stop is an irrigation canal choked with water hyacinth. We quickly spot four Brown Water Snakes and one Florida Banded Water Snake basking among the weeds.   Next stop is an abandoned building that was formerly filled with all kinds of trash. We are surprised to find it’s been cleared out and is now broom-clean except for a few snake sheds hanging from the rafters. We get an even greater surprise when we look inside an empty room and discover this 5' beauty crawling right out in the open.  The orange coloration and red tongue indicate that it's an Everglades Yellow Rat Snake, rather than the more common Yellow Rat Snake, Elaphe obsoleta quadrivittata. .   We proceed to a nearby pump house where I find a young Florida Kingsnake, Lampropeltis getula floridana, hiding under a long strip of black rubber.  While Ron goes back for his camera, I slip the snake into a pocket and continue walking along the canal.  I spot an Everglades Racer gliding through the bushes several feet above the ground, so I make a lunge, but the shrubs interfere and it’s gone.  For that matter, so is the Kingsnake, having crawled out of my pocket unnoticed.  So I’m left standing there having found and lost two snakes within two minutes, and not even a picture.   Ron returns and joins me in a curse, then the two of us separate while we explore in opposite directions.  Eventually I’m waiting by the car ready to leave, when Ron calls out from across the canal that he’s just seen a tail disappearing into the brush, at the same place where the Racer had gotten away.  He searches a few minutes, gets ready to go, then spots the Racer a bit farther up.  It taunts him by coming out to the road, then sliding back into the bushes.   Ron moves to that spot, searches some more, gives up, then gets another glimpse ten feet ahead, as the snake plays reptilian cat & mouse with him (to taxonomically mix a metaphor).  At this point it’s become a matter of family pride, so I return to combine forces and join in the hunt.  Expecting the snake to continue its advance, I strategically place myself in ambush position along the bushes that line the edge of the road (as if that’s really going to work).  But then I see a section of something dark, smooth, and scaly glide past my feet, and in a moment the elusive tease is finally in hand!   We head farther north, past the sawgrass and sugar cane plantations, towards the open prairies of cattle ranches set among pines and palmettos.  Down a dirt road we find piles of junk in a beautiful stand of live oak where we flip a couple of Ringnecks and a juvey Racer.     As it gets dark we begin road cruising and come across another 20 snakes, mostly various types of Nerodia  (Water Snakes) and Thamnophis (Garter and Ribbon Snakes), plus a few more Elaphe (Rat Snakes).  Majority are DOR, but we do find a few live ones. Temps turn colder the following day so we find virtually no snakes (only a couple of Ringnecks under cover); however, while hiking a sandy uplands trail through scrub forest we do add a new herp to our life lists, a Florida Scrub Lizard.  This relative of the common Fence Lizard (Scelporus undulatus) is restricted to just a few pine and oak scrub areas of southern and central Florida.  A more mobile resident of the same region is the Sand Hill Crane, seen here foraging on land converted to cattle pasture. With the cooler weather throwing a damper on herping we content ourselves with birding.  We’re really pleased to see quite a few Crested Caracaras, usually in pairs.  Some are perched on fence posts, some in flight, but most are scavenging roadkill together with Black Vultures.  These Mexican raptors have migrated to Florida where they seem to prefer the open fields and prairies near Lake Okeechobee.   The most exciting spot comes when we turn a corner and surprise a group of birds surrounding a dead raccoon.  There are several Vultures and a pair of Caracaras harassing a larger bird, which begins to lift off with the roadkill in its talons.  Only then do we realize it’s a Bald Eagle!  It gets off the ground, but I suppose our car and the Caracaras spook it into dropping the raccoon.  The Eagle flies to a nearby tree with the Caracaras pursuing it.  Unfortunately, by the time we get our cameras out it has flown away.   We pause by a roadside rookery, filled with squawking herons and ibises, and watch the sunset as birds circle and settle in to roost.
Brown Water Snake Nerodia taxispilota
Florida Banded Water Snake Nerodia fasciata pictiventris
Everglades Yellow Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta rossalleni
Everglades Racer Coluber constrictor paludicola
Southern Ringneck Snake Diadophis punctatus punctatus
Corn Snake Elaphe guttata guttata
Peninsula Ribbon Snake Thamnophis sauritus sackenii  
Florida Scrub Lizard Sceloporus woodi
Florida Banded Water Snake Nerodia fasciata pictiventris