July 4th Weekend 2013

Some pictures from the 4th of July Weekend.

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Many thanks to the good folks at Bug Guide for identifying the predatory Robber Fly.  (The insect dining on the bee in one of the photos.  Asilidae Proctacanthus rufus)   At first I thought it might be a hairy-headed dragonfly. Just kidding. Dragonflies generally don’t have hairy heads and cannot fold their wings like the insect in the picture.  I posted the picture on the Bug Guide site and had a positive ID within an hour. Amazing.  http://bugguide.net

All photos are copyrighted and cannot be used without permission of the owner.

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Birds of Back Bay – Common Yellowthroat Warbler

Common Yellowthroat Warbler

Common Yellowthroat, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia, photo, back bay bloggerScientific name: Geothlypis trichas

Family: Parulidae

The Common Yellowthroat is classified with at least 13 subspecies.  It is a common migrant from the tropics and may be the most widespread warbler in North America.  Its characteristics vary by region.  It is elusive and is most often heard before seen.

Description (Eastern variety described):

Size:  5 inches on average with a wingspan of 6.75 inches. 

Male:  The most distinguishing characteristic is the broad black mask that stretches from the sides of the neck across the eyes with a grayish to white band that borders above the mask.  Olive-brown nape, back, wings, and tail.  The throat and undertail coverts are bright yellow.  Flanks are grayish.

Female:  Olive-brown.  Similar to male but lacks the mask.  The throat and undertail coverts are paler yellow. Flanks are pale gray.

Juveniles:  Similar to adult female.  First year males have a faint mask which darkens completely by spring.


The breeding habitat can be found primarily in grassy and brushy marshes and other wetlands with dense, low tangled vegetation or dense shrub. Less common in dry areas.  Common summer resident in our area (approximately April – August).  They winter in similar habitats from southern U.S., Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.  They migrate at night and many cross the Gulf of Mexico instead of flying along the coast.


Song – Loud series of “witch-ity, witch-ity”.

Call – Soft “jip”

Listen to the Yellowthroat at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Yellowthroat/sounds


The Common Yellowthroat is an insectivore.  While they mostly glean a meal while perched, they also forage on or near the ground.  Their diet consists of beetles, dragonflies, damselflies, bees, wasps, grasshoppers, flies, butterflies, moths, caterpillars, and other larvae.

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Easter Weekend 2013

Rail, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia, photo, back bay bloggerA young rail – maybe second season – looking for a meal in the marsh.  It is rare that I see a Rail in the open.  They typically hide in the reeds and the dense brush – at least when I’m around.  A second, adult Rail was lurking in the undergrowth nearby, but was too shy to come out for a picture.

The Rail may appear to be plump and juicy, but it can actually compress its body to move between the reeds without touching them. The saying “thin as a rail” has often been attributed to this bird species.  Rails also tend to walk everywhere rather than fly – or drive. Or take the bus.

Rail, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia, photo, back bay bloggerIMG_2397 bbb ed


I think this particular bird is the King Rail, as opposed to the Virginia Rail, but would appreciate a confirmation or correction from any experts who happen by.

This was such an unusual encounter (for me), I actually stopped taking pictures and sat down on the trail to watch the bird as it foraged in the water just a few feet away.  I quietly observed the Rail for a good fifteen, almost twenty seconds, when a couple of banshees on bicycles came barrelling around the bend and scared the poor little bird into the next county. Thanks guys! For some reason I thought the Bay Trail was for hikers only. I must have misread the signs.

Snake, Water Moccasin, Eastern Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia, photo, back bay blogger, baby


To the right: A baby Moccasin in the reeds.
(Click on images to enlarge.)

Common Water Snake, Nerodia sipedon sipedon, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia, photo, back bay blogger

Common Water Snake enjoying some sun.

Below: A couple of Water Moccasins. (aka Eastern Cottonmouth)

Snake, Water Moccasin, Eastern Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia, photo, back bay bloggerSnake, Water Moccasin, Eastern Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia, photo, back bay blogger

Brown Water Snake, Nerodia taxispilota, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia, photo, back bay blogger

<< Brown Water Snake.

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Ribbonsnake – March 10, 2013

The pictures above are of a young Eastern Ribbonsnake. (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus)

It was a pleasant surprise to see a Ribbon out so early in the season. The snake’s color appears muted and brown probably from hibernating underground for most of the winter. Either that or he was out playing in the mud and desperately needs a bath.

For Photos: Many thanks again to the Chesapeake Butterfly Queen.
For Spotting the Snake: That credit would go to Zach, aka the Snake Whisperer, one of the finest young snake hunters in Southeastern Virginia. Zach also got some photos of the snake. If I knew where he posted them, I would include a link.

All photos are copyrighted and cannot be used without permission of the owner.

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Pictures from Back Bay 24 Feb 2013

Back Bay pictures from a Chesapeake reader. Photos dated 24 Feb 2013.

Click on the images to enlarge.

Water Moccasin, Baby, Eastern Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia, Snake, Photograph

Baby Moccasin asleep in the reeds.
Note the characteristic yellow tail
(somewhat muted) on the left side
of the photo.
Water Moccasin, Eastern Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia, Snake, Photograph

Adult Moccasin near a pond.

Deer, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia, Photograph

A Deer in the marsh.

A sort of goofy looking Deer. (It was chewing on a twig when the picture was taken.)

Rusty Hook, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia, Photograph

Rusted Hook.

The soft, delicate curve of the old, rusty hook reminds me of a sleeping swan.
An old, rusty sleeping swan.

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia, Marsh, Photograph
View of the Marsh.

Many thanks to our reader for sharing these beautiful pictures.

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Remember, all material in this blog and on this website is copyright protected and may not be used without permission of the owner.

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The Lady and the Moccasins

The following photos were sent in by a reader from Chesapeake, Virginia, who wishes to remain anonymous.

The reader is an avid naturalist who raises and releases Butterflies from her backyard Butterfly Nursery and Lepidoptiary.  She said in her email that she much prefers photographing butterflies, birds, bunnies and Bambi, but learned to take pictures of snakes while visiting Back Bay.

Wow!   A lady of the female persuasion who enjoys photographing slimy, slithering snakes!  Sounds like our kind of gal.

The reader went on to say: “The first time I encountered a snake in the refuge I ran screaming back to my car.  A normal reaction for someone with a lifelong fear of snakes.”

She continued, “It took some time, patience, practice and several spine-tingling close encounters to finally overcome my snake phobia.   But I’m glad I did.  They are truly unique, wondrous – even beautiful – creatures.”

We are also glad you overcame your phobia.   Your photographs are amazing!   Thank you for sharing them!

Reminder:  All photographs in this blog are copyrighted and may not be reproduced, printed or copied without the written permission of the photographer.

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Two Men and a Moccasin

From the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge…

The other day I watched two men paddling a canoe toward the small, sandy landing area near the Visitor Center.  They were about 30 feet from shore when one of the men yelled, “There’s a moccasin in the water,” and pointed toward the beach.

Sure enough, a Moccasin was swimming along the edge of the bay – its head held high out of the water.  The Moccasin swam past the beach, a couple of boat-lengths in front of the men, and settled into a stand of reeds some 20 yards away.

(Herpetological Clarification:  Moccasin, aka Water Moccasin, is more properly identified as the Eastern Cottonmouth.  Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus.  I’ve just always called them Moccasins, or Mocs.  Or A p p’s in my field notes.)

The men appeared quite interested in the Moccasin.  One of the gentlemen kept an eye on the reeds, while the other dragged the canoe onto the grass near their car.  Then each man grabbed a paddle and walked down along the edge of the bay until they found the Moccasin curled up quietly in the reeds – and began beating it to death with the paddles.

Can someone please explain that behavior to me?

At no time did the Moccasin pose any threat to the men, or to the canoe – or to anyone else for that matter.  The Moccasin was just taking a leisurely swim in the late afternoon sun. In its natural habitat.  In a Wildlife Refuge.

Now, I could possibly understand the behavior of the gentlemen if, for example, they had been stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the interstate for five and a half hours and some intoxicated idiot suddenly cut them off.  It would almost make sense – in some twisted, barbaric fashion – for the gentlemen to stop their car, pop the trunk, grab a couple of paddles – or tire irons – and beat the offending motorist to death.  Not that anyone deserves such a beating – and certainly not to death, but it seems to me that the obnoxious motorist was significantly more at fault than the Moccasin – and quite possibly much more dangerous.

Why then attack an innocent creature?  Was it because the creature just happened to be a snake???

Heck, used-car salesmen and politicians are snakes – but we don’t go around beating them to death.  At least not as often as we should – or as often as they probably deserve.  Just kidding!  My sincere apologies to any politicians or used-car salesmen who happen to be reading this.  No offense, I was just trying to illustrate a point.  (Oh, and by the way, Mr. Slick-Talker, that old Chevy Nova you sold my wife – the one that you said was such a “great deal”… Well, Sir, it’s a piece of junk. But I’m sure you already knew that.)

Is the only good snake, a dead snake?  Or the only good Moccasin, a dead Moccasin?  Are we subscribing to the same outdated, misguided agenda as those who believed that the only good Indian was a dead Indian – or the only good Christian, was a dead Christian?  Or to the same short-sighted environmental practices that led to the demise of so many animal species, and to the near extinction of the Whale, the Buffalo, the Wolf and the Tiger.

Not to sound too much like a buffalo-hugger, I also commit my fair share of wildlife slaughter.  Deer Flies and Mosquitoes, for instance.  I kill them by the hundreds and the thousands without a second’s thought or hesitation.  And absolutely without remorse. Why?  Because the nasty, little insects are attacking ME.  Then again, if a Mosquito happened to fly across the bow of my boat some 30 feet away, chances are pretty good that I would not hunt it down and beat it to death with a paddle.

A couple of Moccasin myths…

Moccasins don’t “attack” people.   Nor do they “chase” people.

I’ve been around my fair share of Moccasins and, while Moccasins can be a little stubborn and hard-headed (like my wife),  I have never been chased or attacked, or even felt threatened in their presence.   I have, however, been chased and threatened by my wife.  (Just kidding, honey.  I promise to delete that before this is posted. )

More on Moccasin behavior in another post.

Speaking of animal attacks, I did a little research.  Did you know that, on average, approximately 4.5 million people in the U.S. are attacked by dogs every year?  Yes, you read that correctly… four point five MILLION.  By dogs!  And that those attacks result in an average of 21 deaths per year.

Do you know the average number of deaths resulting from snake bites per year?  Six. That’s right, 6.

Over three times as many people die from dog attacks than snake attacks in the U.S. every single year.  And these guys were going to beat a snake to death with their paddles.

Statistically speaking, shouldn’t they be out paddling poodles to death?  Or bees, for that matter?  Over 50 people die each year in the U.S. from bee stings.

Gentleman, drop the paddles and grab your fly swatters.

One more statistic and then I’m done.  In 2010, 211 children in the United States were killed by drunk drivers.  Two hundred and eleven.  CHILDREN.  That’s 35 times more children alone, than the total number of deaths from snake bite.  And those cowboys want to beat a Moccasin to death.   Gentlemen, if you really have an urge to beat something, please refer to the preceeding statistic.  I just might have a suggestion for you.

In case you were wondering, I did intervene and stopped the men from killing the snake.  I just wish I had those statistics to back me up at the time.  Instead, I politely and respectfully asked the gentlemen to please leave the snake alone.  In 25 explicatives or less.

By the way, I understand it is illegal to deliberately kill any native wildlife in the State of Virginia without a permit. (Except nuisance species.) Can anyone cite that specific statute?

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Research links:

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A week or so before the incident described above, I ran into one of the Refuge regulars – a professional photographer and friend to the wildlife – who reported finding a Moccasin under a rock near one of the ponds.

In and of itself, that statement doesn’t sound too far-fetched – finding a snake under a rock.  Unless you consider there are few, if any, naturally occurring rocks in the refuge; and there are no rocks of any kind around that particular pond. The pond is surrounded entirely by reeds and brush. The nearest rocks are part of the breakwater about 20 meters away. (Large breakwater-type rocks – very, very heavy.)

Apparently, some ______ (fill in the blank) saw the Moccasin curled up on the edge of the pond, went over to the breakwater, picked out a suitable rock and dropped it on the snake.  Nice.

The photographer told me: “I took some pictures of the Moccasin earlier in the morning.  Everything was fine.  I even shared the sighting with some refuge visitors who happened by.  Then I hiked down the Bay Trail. When I came back about an hour later, someone had dropped the rock on it.  I managed to nudge the rock with my snake hook – enough so the Moccasin could crawl out and slide into the water.  Who would do such a thing and why?”

Good question!

Fortunately, the ground around the pond is soft and somewhat forgiving, and may have helped cushion some of the rock’s impact; which is why the Moccasin was still alive when the photographer returned.  Unfortunately, the snake probably suffered many internal injuries.  Chances are it will not survive.  (Imagine dropping a large rock on a turtle. Or on something without a hard, protective shell – like a bunny rabbit. Or a snake.)

Does anyone see a pattern developing here???  Come on folks, this is a wildlife Refuge!!!

If you should see anyone interfering with, or harming the wildlife – any of the wildlife, please report it to a Ranger immediately.

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