Monday, October 31, 2011

A visit with a snake

One morning at the beginning of September Chloe and I were near the end of an entertaining early walk at Howarth Park. As we wound our way along the last trail before reaching pavement and the parking lot I saw something long and black stretched across the path. I stopped and bent closer to look and was delightfully surprised when the snake, for that's what it was, coiled it's tail and waved it about, revealing a brilliant orange red underside. Amazingly, the snake stayed right where it was and I sat down to spend some time in it's company. If I moved too close (and it had to be really close!) the tail would come up in a tight coil and wave about a few times then remain poised in the air until I retreated. There was a tannish band around the snake's neck, and the jet black upper part of it's body was shiny, as if wet, not what I would have expected from a snake. Chloe and I stayed about a half hour.

Ring-necked snakes (Diadophis punctatus) are found throughout the United States and in parts of Mexico and Canada. Nocturnal and secretive, they're seldom seen during the day. They're mildly venomous but, as I found, not aggressive. The venom may help incapacitate the salamanders, worms, slugs and insects that they like to eat.

Most of the resources I found call this snake  Pacific ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus amabilis). However, there seems to be some disagreement as to whether the different subspecies of D. punctatus are really different from one another.

Find out more about these shy snakes:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A fine day

Every morning, I begin my walk with a sense of adventure, wondering what I'll see as I wander about. Although there are days when not much seems to be happening, most of the time there's a least one thing that inspires me to draw or to ask questions or both. Some days there's so much going on that it's hard to contain myself! That's how it was one day in September, when there seemed to be excited activity wherever I walked. Joining in the spirit of things, I had a blast sketching birds as they moved about the edge of the woods gathering food. First year birds chased each other wildly through the trees. A pair of young juncos flew so close that I could hear their wings beat as the sped past me. A Downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) spent a good ten minutes demolishing an oak apple gall (Andricus californicus) to eat the larvae inside. Chickadees (Poecile rufescens) traveled through the treetops in search of insects to eat and a lovely but unfamiliar song led me to my first female Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana), a shy dingy yellow bird who I never would've found without hearing her first.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Jackrabbits in the cemetery

I almost never go sketching without Chloe. Even though she sometimes gets bored while I'm working, she always wants to go if I'm going. She seems to enjoy hanging out, at least for a while, and especially enjoys it if there's sun to bask in. One of the best things about walking with her is that she often leads me to the most interesting things to draw! With her fabulous ability to scent, she's led me to some subjects that I never would have found just by looking.

For a time this summer, large groups of songbirds gathered to forage and socialize in some trees in a cemetery near my house. I got up early each morning and walked over, sitting somewhere fairly inconspicuous to wait for them to arrive. They'd come in waves - first the juncos, then house finches, goldfinches, robins and, finally, crows.

One morning, as I waited, sketching Chloe, who is an excellent model when there's nothing else to draw, she grew increasingly excited, inching farther and farther away from where we sat. I was engrossed in my work and didn't really pay as much attention as I should have. Once I'd expanded my focus to the world and looked beyond the now trembling dog to see what had caught her attention so thoroughly, I was delighted to see two Black-tailed jackrabbits (Lepus californicus) resting on a hillside just below the mausoleum, blending amazingly well into the surrounding nearly dry grasses and weeds. They rested quietly for a while then one bounced off over the hill while the other hare did a few leisurely calisthenics, took a dust bath and loped off in the same direction as her companion had traveled.