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
May 2012
1 of 3
FLORIDA
May 2012
1 of 3
       
I moved from Miami 30 years ago, and it had been that long since I herped the Everglades in spring.  Sure, I always get out for a day during our annual family vacation in December, but not the best season for snakes, and one day is never enough.  So it was time to make a spring trip to Miami for nothing but herping. I meet up with Chris Gillette, a major-league herper, accomplished photographer, and professional alligator wrestler (one of Animal Planet’s Gator Boys).  It’s a nasty day, gray and windy, and I have doubts about finding anything.  But Chris knows where to go, and I’m reassured by his confidence.  Turns out to be a place I’ve herped before without success, but apparently I was there at the wrong time, and headed the wrong way. Chris leads us in the opposite direction, and a hundred yards into our hike, I glimpse a big tail disappearing into the brush.  I spring forward, reach down, and come up with a Rat Snake, fat and over five feet long.  Success in the first five minutes! We continue walking, glad to know the weather hasn’t prevented at least one snake from making an appearance.  Then all of a sudden we see this: Another one, just minutes later! We quietly observe the motionless serpent, but when it begins to move off, Chris confronts the snake for a photo.   Up it rears, higher than any Yellow Rat I’ve ever seen, ready to launch from spring-loaded S curves.       And then come the Corn Snakes. The first is stretched out on a rock pile, a dark Miami-phase (known for their gray background color). We keep hiking, and they keep crossing our path.  Another one every 20 minutes or so, until we finish out with five.  Crawling through the grass, around rocks, even under our feet.  I mean, how great is that, when you have to watch where you walk, to avoid stepping on Corn Snakes?   .   Next day we rendezvous with Tim Borski.  Tim is a world-renowned fly fisherman, fly designer, and wildlife artist.  He’s also an extraordinary hunter (as in finding, not killing) whose current passion is herps. We search the edge of elevated limestone, looking for snakes basking above the wet sawgrass, hoping we won’t need to dive into thickets of poisonwood to make a catch.         Tim checks out one area, while Chris and I explore another.  We spot a Florida Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti) that slips into the water, and as the day heats up, Everglades Racers (Coluber constrictor paludicola) dart and disappear at our approach. Another common snake catches our eye.  Garters are plentiful in the Glades, but this one is unusually green.   While I’m taking photos of the Garter, Chris wanders off in search of bigger game.  And he finds it.  From a distance I hear Chris shouting, “AADOM! ERM!!  I move towards the sound, and his call becomes clearer: “EITAN!  BURM!! I arrive to find Chris holding a nine-foot female. She’s heavy with eggs, and has a completely calm disposition.  It’s a shame such beautiful snakes are causing so much havoc in the Everglades, but knowing the responsible thing to do, we arrange for its removal.       Tim rejoins us with nothing to report but Racers so we decide it’s time for lunch.  Back on the road we rescue an old beat-up turtle, who has the funny habit of tilting her head every time she pulls into her shell.   After a leisurely Mexican lunch (which reveals Chris’ horchata addiction) Tim takes off, so Chris and I return to the same stretch we hiked the day before, hoping to repeat yesterday’s success.  And once again we score a gorgeous Yellow Rat in the first few minutes.     We walk until dark, but no more snakes this time around.  In the meantime, mosquitoes have assembled in military formation and begin their assault.  We retreat to the safety of our car and decide to go roadcruising instead.       Not much happening tonight besides the usual assortment of Water Snakes, Moccasins, and Garters.  But Mudsnakes are always memorable, and this one is a bit different, with pale triangles on the side instead of the usual solid red.
Florida Redbelly Turtle Pseudemys nelsoni
Yellow Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta quadrivittata
Corn Snake Elaphe guttatus
Eastern Garter Snake Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
 Christopher Gillette
Eastern Mud Snake Farancia abacura abacura
Burmese Python Python bivittatus