06.28.20: Snake watching

A northern water snake stays alert in Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Oak Harbor, Ohio.

A northern water snake stays alert in Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Oak Harbor, Ohio.

Chasing birds, finding snakes … I hate snakes

But I don’t wait for an identification when I see a snake. I still react to every snake as if it was a copper-mouthed water rattler that is extremely venomous and has a personal vendetta against me.

I don’t like snakes.

There. I’ve said it.

I don’t necessarily have a fear of snakes. Let’s just say I have a healthy respect for a snake’s personal space and would prefer that snakes maintain a similar respect for my space. It’s not necessarily a phobia (I’m not an ophidiophobe). I’m OK if I know I’m going to see a snake, like at a zoo or if someone shows me one in the grass or water. I enjoy watching those. But when I discover a snake under my foot when I’m mid stride or I find one in a bush or high grass when I’m doing something else it gives me the willies.

I know most snakes are harmless. The chance of encountering a venomous snake in Central Ohio, where I spend much of the year, is about the same as getting hit by lightning while discovering a winning lottery ticket while getting a hole in one in the middle of bowling a 300 game. It’s a bit different during our time in Florida, where the odds of seeing a venomous snake is about the same as the odds of seeing sunshine. And that doesn’t include the Burmese python now found in south Florida, a monster of a nonvenomous snake that eats mammals, has devoured full-grown deer in Florida and has eaten two humans in Indonesia in recent years.

But I don’t wait for an identification when I see a snake. I still react to every snake as if it was a copper-mouthed water rattler that is extremely venomous and has a personal vendetta against me.

I guess I come by it naturally. My mother had an extreme fear of snakes and anything that could possibly be mistaken for a snake, like a belt on the floor, a hose or stick in the grass or a broken fan belt on the side of the road. 

I’m fine with other reptiles, like lizards, turtles or alligators (although I do give alligators plenty of space for obvious reasons). And despite what the 1974 Jim Stafford song stated, I don’t have a problem with spiders. Spiders are cool.

The snake in the photo is one that generated an “oh sh*t” response when I encountered it. My wife and I were in Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge along Lake Erie in northern Ohio during my 2018 spring trip to the area to photograph migrating warblers and other birds.

We were walking along an inlet off Lake Erie in the northern end of the refuge. It’s an area where we often encounter snakes, so I was paying close attention to my surroundings. Then I saw a warbler fly into a bush and disappear behind some branches. I looked through my camera’s viewfinder and searched the area, hoping the bird would hop to the front of the bush. Instead I found this.

The snake was probably 20 to 25 feet from me. Through the viewfinder and the telephoto lens it was WAY too close for comfort. But I still got the shot.

I think this is a northern water snake, although I’m not very good at identifying snakes. Northern water snakes are large and very aggressive (but non venomous) snakes I’ve seen in the area where I photographed this snake. 

You don’t want to mess with a northern water snake. They bite repeatedly if threatened and their saliva contains an anticoagulant, so the victim bleeds like crazy.

Of course, I don’t want to mess with any snake. Just getting this photo was scary enough for me.

Tech specs

  • Date/time: May 15, 2018, 11:55 a.m.
  • Location: 41°37'21.45" N 83°12'39.678" W (Show in Google Maps)
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II 
  • Lens: Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm)
  • Aperture: f/8
  • Shutter: 1/1250th second
  • ISO: 800