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On The Trail: Sights and sounds and scary serpents


Wednesday, June 06, 2018

The question came from an intermediary — his son, my colleague — doubling back to my desk on his way out the door from work this week.

“Hey, by the way, my dad wants to know if you’ve seen that big buck lately,” he queried.

“Yes. Three or so weeks ago, coming home on a Wednesday night, I caught him in front of Clover Nook Farm feeding 20 feet off the road. Amazed at his girth, I spun around at Holland Farm to get a better look. From the body mass, I thought maybe it was an escaped Jersey cow. Nope. It was him alright. A big, beautiful, tall deer. Had to be my buck.”

He smiled.

“Oh, I’ll let my dad know. He wanted me to ask you. He hasn’t seen him yet but has seen a humongous track out back,” holding his hands apart and forming a wide heart-shaped opening between his thumbs and forefingers.

“Yeah, you tell him he made it through the winter. Can’t wait to see his rack this year.”

Speaking of which, I must admit to having another interesting deer sighting farther out in the same mowing a couple of months ago, this one just before dark on a Saturday evening. Again, I spotted the deer late in passing, slowed down near Holland Farm mulling whether to turn around for a better look and decided against it. That was a different deer. Big but much farther away, about 100 yards. What piqued my curiosity that evening was not the deer’s size but it’s color. It was the peculiar gray that drew my attention and almost knee-jerked me into banging a U-ie. I have an idea I’ll see that deer again if it remains in the flat, bountiful croplands.

Which reminds me, still no visible ill-effects from my dogs, both of whom were diagnosed by blood analysis to be carrying two tick-borne illnesses. Not only do they show absolutely no signs of illness, but I challenge a vet, any vet, to find a 14-year-old dog who runs any harder and stronger than my Lily. Though no match for 6-year-old son Chubby, she vigorously and joyously bounds like a trooper through chest-high hayfields begging for their first cut. Well, maybe that’s stretching it a bit. But remember, I knew Lily-Butt as a young dog, and witnessed her move through dense cover in her prime. Anyone unfamiliar with the strength, agility and endurance of a well-bred gundog busting through thorny tangles would estimate her to be middle-aged. Who knows? She may drop in her tracks tomorrow. But, trust me: she ain’t acting one bit sick, and the same can be said of rambunctious Chub-Chub.

Speaking of whom, noontime Tuesday, wet and wild, he flushed that hen turkey I wrote about last week for the first time in a week. Interestingly, again no sign of poults or a nest. Maybe she’s a barren hen. Then again, maybe she lost her brood to pneumonia or predators. I can’t imagine Chubby and/or Lily wouldn’t have found the little ones by now if they were near their mother.

What’s curious, though, is that again the hen flushed with a vociferous series of four or five putts and a demonstrative, feigned, off-kilter, broken-wing retreat loop away from an eager Chubby-Chub-Chub. Finally taking a straight-line path with Chubby gaining fast, the hen flushed in low, tantalizing flight with the dog close behind until disappearing faraway in the tall hayfield 200 yards south.

I gave him a whistle and soon saw his familiar white torso flashing back along the tree line separating the upper terrace from the floodplain. He got back to the point of the flush, furiously quartered in all directions, Lily joining in, but no sign of a brood. I was finally able to call of the dogs, so to speak, without tasting disaster. No, I can’t imagine the little ones were hiding nearby. Maybe, just maybe, the sweet fragrance of soppinh-wet red and white clover flowers saved them. We’ll see. I may yet get an interesting show from nature’s classroom in the coming days.

Oh yeah, one more thing before I go. In discussion with a woman I recently met — a developer and granddaughter of an old friend who owns a pile of forested land — she told me of a local snake I had never heard of. This endangered black rate snake is, according to an online description, “one of the longest snakes in North America, occasionally reaching lengths of 8 feet.”

This snake is a constrictor, like pythons and boas, and, according to my friend, “they can eat rabbits,” among other small animals. The same online report quoted above states that, “When threatened, rat snakes will “rattle” their tail, fooling other animals into believing they are venomous.” My source showed me YouTube video on a large, high-def screen of such a snake eating a gray squirrel, the unfortunate prey’s head and neck buried in the viper’s mouth, its body and tail sticking out.

“How can that snake digest it?” she pondered.

No clue.

Anyway, I’m not sure if I’ve ever encountered this snake in my travels. Maybe it’s what is commonly known as a black snake, or maybe what I’ve seen and identified as a black snake is instead this formidable snake. I can remember only two instances of meeting such a snake up close and personal. Once working, another time fishing. Can’t recall which came first.

I’ll start with the work incident. Running a surveying detail with a 16-foot rod in hand, I was working behind Bub’s Barbecue along the Sunderland/Amherst line. Waking through dense, brushy marsh, I noticed something ahead of me that I thought was black, three-inch, rubber or plastic hose. Not certain, I poked it with my rod and my worst fear was realized when it moved slightly, totally spooking me for the rest of the day. Big, black and alive, I concluded it was one of those black snakes I had heard of that can get large.

My other sighting occurred while fishing bare-legged in sneakers along a local pond that held beautiful brook trout. In an effort to get atop a hemlock tree’s root system hanging out over the western shore, I waded through shallow water to an adjacent, large, flat, dry stone I intended to use as a launching pad. Trying to land softly and avoid creating a detectable disturbance, I built momentum and leaped like only an adolescent boy can. Landing squarely on both feet, I gained my balance and sensed something moving to my right. Looking down I caught a large snake shooting away from me and off the outer edge of the overhang. Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I would not believe a snake could go airborne into the water like it did. It landed with a loud, splashy slap and swam away toward the opposite shore, not a comforting sight.

Again, I was totally spooked and jumpy on the return trip through brushy pond-side brush to my car. Anyone who’s lived it knows the unsettling feeling. Talk about heebie-jeebies, I had them big time. Every little twig that snapped across my bare legs nearly launched me into orbit. It wasn’t a joy walk.

I’ll never know if either of those sepents were black rat snakes, but both were indeed big and black and terrifying, and neither will ever be forgotten.

Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a senior-active member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Blog: www.tavernfare.com. Email: gsand53@outlook.com.