Shooting “Lucky”

The first day of June seems like the first day of summer, and today it definitely felt like summer. The temperatures topped 90ºF today with humidity above 40%, and the lens of my camera fogged as soon as I took the lens cap off. But it turned out to be a great day to take some photos of a young person photographing a snake. I had that in mind as a possible cover photo for my book that’s working its way through the publication process at Texas A&M University Press.

Readers who want to learn about the natural history of reptiles and amphibians will find, in that book, plenty of vignettes of snakes, turtles, frogs, and other herps living their daily lives. In the process, they will read about how they eat, how snakes move, the adaptations of American Alligators for aquatic life, how Marbled Salamanders lay eggs in just the right places, anticipating spring rains, and so on. Later chapters talk about how readers can go into the field and find these animals, along with some cautions about getting guided practice and experience in order to stay safe. Although I think the book is practical and well-researched, there are places where I try to describe how a day spent in the field can make you feel. The book is full of objective facts, but I hope the subjective experience, the beauty and sense of peace, shine through.

Embry shoots Lucky, the Great Plains Ratsnake

At any rate, my goal this morning was to get a photograph of a young lady doing what field herpers do: photographing some stunning creature. My luck is not the kind where you just go and hope you find something; I brought along a trusty Great Plains Ratsnake, “Lucky” by name, as a photographic subject. If you watched the TV interview with me about the book, Herping Texas, on the College Station PBS affiliate, you have seen Lucky. I brought her along to give the camera something to focus on much more telegenic than the co-author! And today, she posed nicely and stayed put while I took several photos of Embry photographing her. Embry remained cool and poised while the temperatures rose and I wiped the condensation off the camera lens. It was truly like a sauna out there.

The rest of our walk included lots of butterflies. Embry’s mom and I identified Tiger Swallowtails and a Common Buckeye, along with the smaller sulphurs and a Pearl Crescent. Not all the invertebrates were as welcome as these butterflies; the black-and-red paper wasps (a species in the genus Polistes, I believe) were very active today. I did my best to advocate for them, saying that they really didn’t want any trouble, and we walked past several without any problems. Embry and I traded stories of childhood trauma involving invertebrates – she with wasp stings and me with a tarantula.

American Alligator

At the marsh, we saw a young American Alligator sunning itself on some broken remnants of a boardwalk, and we looked for Green Treefrogs. These frogs make the night quite magical when a chorus of male frogs is calling with their honking and quacking voices across the marsh. During the day, they hang out quietly on vegetation and are usually well-camouflaged and often not seen. However, Embry’s mom took the treefrog prize today, spotting one of them snoozing away on the stem of a big reed. And while I took a so-so picture of it, Embry’s was a much better photo. The treefrog was a highlight of a muggy, hot, but wonderful morning walk. A big “thank you” to Marsha and Embry!

Embry’s photo of a Green Treefrog
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