The Eastern Rat Snake, A Barn Companion

Hello Friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Eastern Rat Snake 52620a” and is available for purchase by the instructions at the bottom of the article.

Like most boys I was always fascinated by snakes as a kid. Scientifically of course. But I was also taught to never get close to them. I suppose that my parents feared that I would become too comfortable with the harmless varieties and accidentally get too close to the dangerous ones and get the “hurt juice”. So thus began my young adventures into the library. The internet was just science fiction and the most powerful computer one planet earth was the size of a building and belonged to NASA. So the next best thing was Encyclopedia Britannica in the School system. If you’re lucky they have a version that was updated in the 1850s and contained the sum knowledge of mankind. The encyclopedia had a lot of information. There’s even pictures of a snakes skeleton and a chart that points to different snake body parts.

The forked tongue seen in tonight’s feature image is what gives them their ability to track. It tells them what direction the smell is coming from.

Image Titled “Eastern Rat Snake 52620b” showing the round pupil.

Here in North America we only have a handful of venomous snakes to worry about and even less in West Virginia since we’re to far outside of the Coral Snake’s range. ( The coral snake is actually a member of the cobra family. ) here we only worry about the Pit Vipers. The Rattlesnakes and Copperhead. There’s unconfirmed reports of the Cottonmouth here but officially they’re not found here either. All of the put vipers have slit shaped pupils like a cat. In the previous image you can see that the rat snakes have round pupils. You can also see that he has a nostril but no heat sensitive pit.

Image Titled “Eastern Rat Snake 52620c”

As for snakes that were not in a book or on T.V. they were not quite as fascinating. In fact until I was about 16 years old they terrified me. It was a conditioned reflex. A behavior that I wasn’t really born with. Learning to overcome that involved me taking every opportunity to not just expose myself to the live snakes but to actually get to know them. As it turns out, the Eastern Rat Snake is pretty docile under most circumstances. This one in particular is downright friendly. He even has a name. I call him “De-Con”. That’s right. Same as the pest control product. And for the same reason. This one is a resident on my property. His job is to hang out in and around my sheds and eat as many mice as he wants. We have actually formed a loose relationship. I was able to get tonight’s photos because De-Con allowed me to stretch out in the grass with him and invade his personal space with the camera. I do occasionally have to remove him from the lawn tractor before I start it because he likes to curl up on the mowing deck. I have not tried to pick him up with my hand. He has no venom and isn’t aggressive but there’s a bit of a trick to picking up a snake without causing it pain or throwing it into panic. De-Con is a wild animal with a primitive mind that only understands that if something picks you up its probably trying to eat you. So instead I have a stick with a crude hook that I move him with. It really doesn’t take much and he’s learned that when I start messing with the mower it’s time to slip under the shed until the ground stops shaking. Today though I caught him just out sunning himself in the grass. It looks like he’s just finished shedding his skin because he’s so shiny and iridescent.

Image Titled “Iridescent Scales 52620a”

Finally, De-Con decided that he’d given the photographer plenty of poses and calmly made his way into the tall weeds on the edge of the forest. I was fairly satisfied with the encounter since it’s not every day that we actually see each other. In spite of the fact that he’s living in my sheds I only see him a few times a year. It’s in his nature to avoid contact with any human.

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Some Days Are For The Birds

Recently the warm weather allowed me to get out for a few minutes and visit the bird feeder at my dad’s house. Dad goes all out for his little feathered friends. The TV is on but he has his binoculars pressed to his face looking out the window at all the activity in the chestnut trees on the edge of the yard. The term “yard” is kinda used loosely at dad’s place. In general it’s any place where you mow plus just under the trees where the woods begin. As we observe the feeding dad recounts the events at the feeder over the past few days. He hasn’t actually named these birds out loud but he knows all of the species and individuals who frequently visit his yard. He tells me that the Common Flicker in tonight’s feature image is the boss of the yard and how he even challenges and keeps at bay the murder of crows that are larger and outnumber him. He talks about the covey of mourning doves and how one always lands on the feeder and tosses food down to the ground for the rest of them. A Pileated Woodpecker swoops in as dad talks and lands on a dead limb of a hickory tree. He hits the dead wood like a jackhammer and sends wood chips flying everywhere in his search for insects living in the wood. ( I tried to get a nice shot of the Pileated Woodpecker but he’s far too camera shy and took flight as soon as I stepped outside.) Dad has one mortal enemy at his bird feeder and surprisingly it’s not the squirrels. It’s a mob of Common Grackles that have run the bluebirds out of his yard and have even overwhelmed the Flicker on occasion. The former Marine came out in dad’s eyes when he postulated on how to defend his songbirds from the Grackles. A few minutes later he softened a little and said that God had a place for the Grackles too. Most of shots from the window didn’t really turn out well and so I put my wilderness stalking skills to work and began to ease myself closer to the feeder. Most of the birds scattered at first but soon the chickadees returned. Small and agile the chickadees figure they can be gone with a mouthful of food before the human can react. I remained as motionless as a stone until they began to ignore me. As soon as the others saw that I wasn’t chasing after the chickadees they also returned. Then finally the Flicker decided that it was time to let me know that this was his feeder. The others gave way to him as he came in for a landing. He dug into the seed mix and found the one he wanted. Then he flew directly at the camera so fast that I couldn’t adjust the focus. He pulled up at the last moment and landed on the branch above me. Few a few minutes he seemed to play peekaboo by popping out from the tree with the nut in his beak. Finally he tucked it into his hiding spot on an upper branch.

Common Flicker hiding a nut in a tree branch

I watched him repeat this stunt a few times before I went back inside to visit with dad some more and share the photos with him. I’ve been told that some days are for the birds but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I want to encourage you to spend some time birding. The songbirds not only bring much needed beauty to the dull winter climate but also share their beautiful songs and impart a little peace to your morning.

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The Little Dragons

I have to admit that I never met a lizard that I didn’t like. Of course that might all change if I ever run into a Gila monster or a Komodo Dragon. Here in the Appalachian Mountains they don’t get much larger than this little guy in tonight’s feature image. The Five Lined Skink. The largest one I’ve seen was one about six inches long but in the eyes of a little kid with a vivid imagination it was a living dinosaur! I was never able to catch one but I always wanted to make a pet out of one so I could teach him to play Godzilla with my toy soldiers. In those days home movies were still shot on film but I had visions of setting up the scene shooting my own monster movie. It was during this endeavor that I learned about the trick tail. I was hunting for a big one that I had seen out by the barn. I was cautiously lifting up old wood an pieces of bark with a stick in case of a snake when I found him. My hands moved like lightning and I caught him! However the lizard had a surprise in store for me and the blue tail broke off in my hand. I looked down and saw the empty tail wiggling in my hand and started crying because I had broken my lizard. My kind and loving grandfather explained that it lets go of its tail on purpose and that the tail grows back. (Of course as a child I thought it grow back instantly like magic). At one point there was one with a forked tail living close to the house. It’s tail had not completely detached and the new one grew in next to the old one.

As an adult I smile and even speak to the little lizards on my property. I try to save some space for them on and around my property and in return they help keep the insect population in check. It seems that I got my pet lizards by simply leaving them alone and letting them do their thing.

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Tonight’s Feature Image is titled “Guardian On The Bridge” because he lived on the wooden foot bridge of my former home. Prints are available for purchase by contacting me on Facebook or by using the Contact Form on my website.

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The Little Hen At Daniel Boone Park

The rays of the warm sun dance in the ripples along the banks of the beautiful Kanawha River. She watches close as her children play in sunbeams. The look of total contentment on the little hen’s face is infectious as I watched her through the lens. Taking care not to disturb her moment of total bliss I stay back and take advantage of the zoom. I believe that she is living in her purpose. She finds her fulfillment in the joy and well being of the flock. She is a part of her world as opposed to passing through it. I watched as the others pass by her rock one by as if inviting her to join in with the aquatic parade as they gather into a cluster. Eventually she gives in and they all swim single file upstream and disappear behind the rocks. I returned my lens to its case as I set out to find my next subject and the next moment of peace to preserve. This image now hangs above my bed to remind me that I’m also a part of God’s creation. And, that I’m at my happiest when I’m living in my purpose.

Hello Friends and thank you for your support of my page. If you have enjoyed the photos or the writings please let me know by commenting and sharing my work on your social media. I also want to invite you to Follow Lloyds Lens Photography on Facebook.

Tonight’s Feature Image is available for purchase by contacting me via the Contact Form on my website or through the Message button on Facebook. I will need to know what size so I can reply with a quote. 😊

The Tale Of The Twisted Tree

The darkened sky hangs ominously overhead as a chilled wind races across the ridges. I can already smell the rain in the damp air. I quicken my pace as the first few drops begin to change the color of the pavement. The old gnarly sweet gum tree seems to reach out to offer shelter for those who pass by it’s grounds. It has stood here on this windy ridge for hundreds of years and witnessed the passing of many generations. There was a time when it was not so tall and strong. A time when the Shawnee hunting parties passed silently by in moccasins. Then came the lumberjacks with axes and saws. But the gum tree was too twisted and crooked for their needs. Then came the farmers whose cattle rested under its boughs. Finally, a workman came with transits and plumbs and cement. With the skills of an architect and the heart of a poet. He fell in love with the knots and twists in the wood. This ancient and weathered tree would be a centerpiece of his creation in the park. As the people came and admired the old tree it felt a new sense of purpose and loved them back. Today it stands on the rim of the New River Gorge and welcomes all who pass down the trail. Including a photographer who sheltered from the rain a few days ago and imagined it’s story. In your travels through the heart of West Virginia take a few minutes to view and enjoy the New River Gorge Bridge at the little park just outside of Fayetteville and stretch your legs under the friendly old sweet gum tree in the park.

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