Water Moccasin At Hopeland Gardens In Aiken, SC

Hopeland Water Moccasin


Water Moccasin at Hopeland Gardens in Aiken, South Carolina

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I felt like I needed to go down by the water near the swamp’s edge in Hopeland Gardens the morning I composed First.  That area, just before the wooden bridge closest to Whisky Road, is not some place I usually go, but something told me that I should (even if it was for nothing more than to see if there was anything worthy of pointing a lens at).  On my way down the hill I scared a snake, but it didn’t go far and was trying to be still even though most of its body was exposed.  Since it was going away from me, I couldn’t see its eyes, and I didn’t feel like there was a composition worth pursuing.  It looked like it could be a water moccasin, but I figured it was probably a water snake.  After never even seeing a snake the entire time I’ve created there, I couldn’t convince myself that it was a poisonous one.  I didn’t even think about it the rest of the time I was exploring other areas, but on my way back from the Rye Patch, coming around from the other side, I wondered if it was still there.  When I reached the area I was in earlier in the morning, I looked down and saw the snake once again.  It had moved up away from the water and was laying partially in the sun with about half of its body in shade.  I decided to see if I could tell what it was so I snuck down the hill a little closer to it and used the lens to magnify its eye.  It was a water moccasin!  A fat one (obviously it has been eating well).



Macro Water Moccasin at Hopeland Gardens in Aiken, South Carolina
Mug Shot

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I continued to carefully get closer and closer to the snake trying not to scare it as well as being VERY cautious.  I moved slowly and always kept on eye on it.  I was close enough to turn the lens horizontally for my Mug Shot composition.


I have some stock images of it that are within three to four feet from it, but without snake boots I was starting to get a bit nervous.  If I could have easily escaped, I might have been a little braver and possibly got even closer.  BUT, I had a HUGE disadvantage with the tree knees all over the place and the fact that I would have to go backwards up a fairly steep hill covered in slippery pine needles.  I had made up my mind that if it came at me, I was going to abandon the tripod and camera and come back for it later.  Trying to pick that up and get away from an angry water moccasin at the same time would have only made matters worse.


So if anyone was curious about the accuracy of the warning posters in the information areas, I can present proof that there are indeed poisonous snakes in Hopeland Gardens.  I will now need to be MUCH more aware of what’s on the ground especially while exploring near the swampy areas.  Either that, or start wearing my snake boots.


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Rat Snake At Cuddo East Unit Of Santee NWR In Summerton, SC

Rat Ring

Rat snake at Alligator Alley in Cuddo East NWR in Summerton, South Carolina
Rat Ring

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On the last full day of my SC AIR trip, I spent the afternoon back in Cuddo East.  As I walked along the driving trail through Alligator Alley, I noticed a circular pattern that broke up the normal lines in a tall tree trunk at the top of an embankment above a swampy channel.  After getting a closer look, I was excited to learn that it was a rat snake in an unusual position.  Perhaps it was simply timing or the right part of the season, but I only saw three snakes the entire week, and every one of them were good sized rat snakes.  Rat Ring was the only composition I was able to create that included the snake’s head.  Though I was a significant distance away, I may have scared it because it quickly disappeared.  I like how the snake is nonchalantly, almost lazily, resting its head on the thickest part of its body.  The snake’s pose creates a calm tone and brings a peaceful sense to the piece.



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Rat Snake At Hickory Top WMA Near Pinewood, SC

Rat Snake

Macro Rat Snake at Hickory Top WMA near Pinewood, South Carolina
Rat Snake

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I came upon the subject in Rat Snake while hiking on a trail in the Hickory Top WMA on the next to last full day of my SC AIR trip.  I was thrilled to find such a large snake (at least four feet long) just hanging out almost waiting for a photographer to come along and feature it in a composition.  While it appears to be staring intently, perhaps measuring every movement being made and assessing risk factors, the arc of its mouth seems to give it a smirk.  The high level of detail allows tiny pieces of a decaying tree (similar to saw dust) to be seen on the snake’s head, face, and eye.  After allowing several compositions to be created, the snake retreated back into the tree where it presumably came from and likely picked up the aforementioned particles.


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Water Moccasin At Phinizy Swamp Nature Park Plays Dead

Thanatosis….Or Not

Water Moccasin At Phinizy Swamp Nature ParkTo purchase a print of Thanatosis….Or Not click here
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I’m an opportunistic wildlife shooter.  That is, if there is an opportunity, I’ll create a piece, but I don’t normally go out specifically looking for those types of shots.  On this particular morning I was making my way through one of the smaller swampy areas, across the road from the main campus, in the Phinizy Swamp Nature Park, when I came upon what looked like a decapitated Cottonmouth snake.  I thought that, because I couldn’t see a tail or a head.  Just the body of a completely motionless, at least three foot long, snake laying there.  The CSRA was in the middle of a drought that eventually completely dried up that section of the park, but at the time, with my snake boots on, I was standing in about four inches of water.  I figured an animal had killed and dropped it when I disturbed their breakfast while sloshing through the weeds.  I was also thinking it would be pretty cool to have a Water Moccasin skin.  I did consider picking it up, but luckily that insane thought was quickly replaced with determining if it had a head before physically touching it.  I examined it the best I was able to, but could not ascertain if it was dead or headless.  Since I had my tripod with me, I decided to poke it with one of the legs and see what reaction that would bring.  I gave it a thump, and there was absolutely no response.  After a couple of seconds, I gave it two pretty good back-to-back bumps, and it still appeared to be dead to the world.  While watching and waiting for any sign of life, I thought, “I’ll give this one last try and then it should be safe to lift it up out of the water.”  So I gave it two more ‘this time I mean it’ pops and POW, in the blink of an eye, out comes an unhappy, hissing, white-mouthed monster.  I was scared (but just for a second since this wasn’t my first run in with one of these – I’ve got an even better story about another encounter that I wasn’t able to capture), but I think I was more startled than anything because I was beginning to believe that it was actually dead.  At that point, the photographer in me took over and as fast as I could I put the tripod down, grabbed the camera, composed the piece, focused, and hit the button on the remote switch.  The entire incident took place so fast that it was the only chance I got.  Before I even knew what happened, the snake had moved off towards the shore where the cattails and weeds were much taller.

I had a macro rig on the camera, so this piece is essentially a head-shot with the snake’s body as the primary background.  That also allowed for lots of detail in the head and mouth areas.  I like the eye, the oily surface, and the wetness which brings out a more saturated look across the body.

So kids, don’t try this at home or in a swamp near you.  While they may be “playing dead”, the operative word here is playing.

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