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
PENNSYLVANIA
October 2008
 2 of 2
PENNSYLVANIA
October 2008
 2 of 2
Of course, we had to go back in the fall.   After spring emergence it’s typical for Timbers to disperse, scattered throughout the summer forest, then rendezvous back at the den in autumn.  Naturally, we didn’t want to be left out.   Hiking towards the hibernaculum, Billy spots a Garter Snake, a new species for us on the ridge.      We arrive at the den site and check out the spots where we saw snakes in the spring.  Nothing at first, and we’re wondering if it’s too early, too late, or if they’re simply not coming at all.  On earlier visits a few individuals were found on different parts of the ridge, but we were still uncertain if the group we discovered in May would be returning to the same place in October.  Then standing on a big flat boulder, I look over the edge, and . . .     Satisfied that at least one Rattlesnake is homeward bound, I continue taking pictures while Billy turns around and scans the slope behind us.  “There’s number two,” he says, pointing to a dark coil at the base of a bush about 15 feet away. My eyes have barely focused on the new snake, when Billy says, “Number three,” and directs my attention to the shadow of a tree a few feet over. It’s just like spring again, only this time the excitement of discovery is suffused with a reassuring sense of familiarity.  It feels like we’ve come to visit friends, and so we do what comes naturally under such circumstances: we eat.   Billy takes out his peanut butter & jelly sandwich (as befits the founder of the PB&J Campaign, a movement that considers the environmental impact of our food choices; check it out) and I grab my sub (it’s not a herp trip without a stop at Subway).  We spread out on this great slab of table rock and dine in the company of Timbers  one below us and two more in front, out of striking range, but close enough to watch them breathe  and discuss the magnificence of Rattlesnakes.  We sit and have our lunch, the snakes resting in the nearby shade, watching us as we watch them.  There is no hurry, only relaxation mixed with adrenalin, a kind of herper’s bi-polar contemplation.   Eventually the Rattlesnakes retreat from the sun and disappear, so we go off in search of others.  As it turns out, we find only one more, already withdrawn into a crevice. The previous week my wife joined me as we met up with Billy and a couple of other friends.  Karyn usually doesn’t go herping with me, but she does enjoy hiking, so it was a nice chance to go for a walk together in the beautiful autumn woods, with the bonus of maybe seeing some snakes.  And it was a good thing she came along, because she turned out to be a great spotter.   At one point we’re walking by ourselves down a forest road and I hear a “hfff”, like a big puff of air, but I don’t see where it’s coming from.  At that same moment Karyn points out this large Timber crawling off the road into the edge of the forest.  Note the enormous string of rattles, 15 segments long, the largest I’ve ever seen.   And over by the den site I was so fixed on finding Rattlesnakes that I failed to notice a smaller snake right beneath my feet.  Karyn was walking behind me, and only when she said, “Eitan, you just stepped over a snake!” did I stop and look.  But even then I didn’t see it right away, because the Copperhead was covered almost entirely by a large leaf.  It was a great spot by Karyn, one of the many reasons I love my wife. Maybe I should bring her along more often.   For Billy’s great accounts of our October trips to the Timber den, be sure to read his blog entries dated October 17, 2008 and November 6, 2008.  
Eastern Garter Snake Thamnophis sirtalis
Northern Copperhead Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen