Another species that we hoped to encounter was the Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata). This incredibly rare species is hard to come by. Collectors decimated their populations in this region during the 70s, 80s and early 90s....which is an absolute shame. I've made this comment before in other posts, but it staggers me that someone would take a critter like this from the wild (where it rightfully belongs, not only for its own well-being but also so that it is available for others to appreciate) and hide it away in a glass terrarium.
Unfortunately, a combination of collecting, habitat loss and incredibly slow development and low reproductive output have put this species behind the 8-ball.
As such, I didn't know if we'd see one.
At first we saw only the evidence that box turtles were moving about, including some "divets" or "forms" dug into the soil by box turtles attempting to escape the heat, or hunker down for the night.
We were also fortunate enough to encounter some of the local box turtle stewards for this site, who were collecting box turtle eggs for a long-term head-starting program. The goal of this program is to find the nests of wild box turtles....bring their eggs into captivity and incubate them. This eliminates the potential for mortality due to mesocarnivores, such as Raccoons, Skunks and Oppossums which find turtle eggs to be quite a delicacy. Once the turtles hatch, they are released on-site at the locaion where their nest was first encountered.
So, we were fortunate enough to get a glimpse of some recently excavated turtle eggs!
The warm-blooded critters were giving us a show as well. We happened across this young White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) fawn. The group was within a few meters before noticing it. Even in this short grass, the tactic of freezing in place is very effective to avoid detection from we visually-oriented primates.
Sometimes they refuse to actually give in and make a break for it........
Photo by D. M.
While poking around, Dave managed to scare up a nesting pair of birds (his cat-like reflexes saved him from a scalping)....
But, Bullsnakes and Racers are not the only snakes present on-site! We came across this busy little gal as we walked over the sandy terrain: an Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platyrhinos). She was carefully excavating a burrow to deposit her eggs.
Photo by D. M.
After our successfull day at the first site, we decided to head out to a second site with a specific goal: to find a very rare species in our neck of the woods.
The landscape and sky combined in a very picturesque fashion, as we made are way to this particular location.
Lined snakes also have markings on each belly scale, that appear similar to two half-circles side-by-side. Gartersnakes belly scales are mostly without patterns.....
All-in-all it's a very poorly-understood snake. Small, non-descript, and fossorial (or living below ground most of it's life), it is rarely in the limelight and, thus, rarely attracts the attention of graduate students looking to complete master's theses and doctoral dissertations!