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
SOUTHEAST
March 2004
 3 of 4
SOUTHEAST
March 2004
 3 of 4
This is the day that drew us south in the first place:  Today we search for Canebrakes.   Get up early and drive to the appointed site where, after months of correspondence, I finally meet Richard.  By now we feel like old friends, and being together in person just confirms that feeling.  Sometimes you just luck out.   Richard had recruited a number of buddies to join the search, and as our group grows we decide to split up to cover more ground.  Ron and Danny head off in one direction with Bill, while Richard and I follow Mark into the woods.   The area has been scoured by fire, eliminating the dense, green undergrowth that would normally cover the ground.  The gray surface lies open and exposed, a lawn of ash in a park of charred pines and sooty stumps.   Without the wire grass and broad palmetto leaves, herps have taken to hiding in plain sight.  We nearly step on this motionless Garter till Richard points at our feet and says, “Snake!” We walk from one site to another, unfortunately seeing less than expected.  Mark encourages us with stories of snakes he has found here before, as recently as a few days earlier.  The colder weather has driven them back underground, but he assures us this is the place for Canebrakes, and he feels certain that one will still be found on the surface.  Of course, Mark keeps saying that after every unsuccessful spot, and I begin to prepare myself for disappointment, when without fanfare he casually says, “There’s one.”  He points to an elevated tin, and in the shadow along the edge I see my first wild Canebrake!         To Mark and Richard this is commonplace, but to me it’s a triumph.  I want to let Ron and Danny know, but they are far off in another direction, and even if I could contact them, there is no way to explain where we are.  Only Mark is intimately familiar with our location, displaying an astonishing knowledge of these woods and the resident herps, right down to individual snakes and where they are likely to be.   We seem to be wandering aimlessly, but Mark knows exactly where we are going.  “There’s a stump up ahead where I’ve seen Canebrakes,” he exclaims, and as we approach he says, “Like that one.”  Sure enough, there’s a snake sunning itself on the stump, but it starts slipping away before I can get out my camera.  Just manage to squeeze off a shot as it disappears into the hollow interior. We meet up with the others who, unfortunately, found even less than our group.  Receive congratulatory curses from Ron and Danny for my seeing a Canebrake while they did not, but I assure them they can look at my pictures.  They are not amused.   Move on to another area and fan out across the open ground between the pines, searching the barren surface for any sign of herps.  Suddenly someone says, “Diamondback!” and we all freeze.  Off in the distance, coiled near a stump, we can make out the circular form and diagonal lines of an EDB.   It all seems so strange.  Under ordinary circumstances the snake would be surrounded by camouflage, completely cryptic and unnoticeable even from a few feet away;  now we can spot it from across the forest.  Eventually it notices us, too, and slowly it crawls into a tunnel beneath the roots of the stump. This is a different kind of snake hunting for me, this walking about in empty spaces, looking for animals out in the open.  I’m used to marching through vegetation, pushing aside cover to find hidden herps, straining to decipher the shape and pattern of concealed critters as they blend into their surroundings.  Instead, this feels like beachcombing the woodlands during a parched low tide, stumbling upon reptiles scattered like driftwood on the dry forest floor. Most snakes survive the fires by seeking refuge underground.  Unfortunately, not all creatures can escape so easily.  This first Box Turtle seems to have gotten by relatively unscathed,  but the second one is terribly injured, its scutes cracked and peeling from the intense heat.  Incredibly, it’s still alive.  These resilient reptiles sometimes recover from the most extreme wounds, and we hope this poor guy still has a chance.   This is a surprise.  We are in uplands pine forest, far from any water, and the last the thing I might expect is a Cottonmouth.  Bill explains that sometimes they migrate into the woods to seek underground shelter for the winter, emerging in the spring to bask and warm up before descending back into the lowland swamps.  That’s just what this one is doing, perched above the entrance to its hibernaculum.     I see Bill coming down a hill and ask if he’s had any luck.  “No.  Worse than that,” he deadpans, “found a Racer.  Wanna see?”  Most herpers aren’t fond of these nervous, nasty snakes, but this one remains surprisingly calm, perhaps because it’s cool. That is the last herp of the day.   We say our thank-yous and good-byes to Mark and Bill and head off towards tomorrow’s rendezvous with Richard.  On the way, however, we have to make a detour.    Ask any herper of a certain age for the greatest influences on their early interest, and you’re sure to hear mentioned the name of Carl Kauffeld and his classic book, Snakes and Snake Hunting.  These were the stories that fueled a generation of snake hunters, that made us want to take off for the field and re-create adventures we’d only read about in books.  Kauffeld described destinations where the dreams of a young herper could come true  Ramsey Canyon, the Pine Barrens, Okeechobee  but no place more magical than the hunt club of Okeetee in South Carolina.   Now off-limits to herpers, it’s become a legend, a fixture in the imagination and collective memory of those of us who read and re-read the indelible tales.   And so it was that we find ourselves making a pilgrimage to pause for photos beneath a symbol of childhood inspiration.  Then speed away, grateful we weren’t shot.         
Eastern Garter Snake Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis  
Canebrake Rattlesnake Crotalus horridus Southern coastal plain form of Timber Rattlesnake
Yellow Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta quadrivittata Although the locals call them Yellows, these Rat Snakes are an interesting intergrade.  Bearing blotches and a darker complexion more  characteristic of Gray or Black Rat Snakes, they also combine the typical stripes and mustard coloration of Yellows.
 Danny Mendez
Eastern Box Turtle Terrapene carolina carolina
Eastern Cottonmouth Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus
Southern Black Racer Coluber constrictor priapus
 Danny Mendez  Danny Mendez  Danny Mendez  Danny Mendez