The first poisonous snake I’ve ever photographed

30 April, 2017           The first poisonous snake I’ve ever photographed

The first poisonous snake I’ve ever photographed wasn’t at Pony Pasture. It was at Deep Run Park in western Henrico.

It’s better to open a blog post with an owl picture – everybody loves owls. I got a beauty a few minutes walk from the parking lot this morning. But I like this image a bit better – it’s the same bird, or its mate. I took this one at Pony Pasture Thursday morning at 11:00:

Always good to open a blog post with a picture of an owl

About the poisonous snake – the one I photographed at Deep Run is a Northern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix)  and the three pictures are at the very bottom of this page. So no one with an irrational fear of snakes will be caught off guard. Fear of poisonous snakes is rational. Fear of pictures of poisonous snakes is irrational.

Here’s another picture from Pony Pasture this morning. This is (please correct me if I’m wrong; I’m not positive) a Virginia Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana):

Spiderwort – there is nothing to not-like about this photograph

Wednesdays I usually swing by the Fulton Bank parking lot across from Stony Point to see if that pair of ospreys are “home.” Only one was there, presumably the female. I just could glimpse her face through the nest. I got there around 2:15. According to wunderground it was 70º, clear, 61% humidity, 3.5 mph breeze – that seems like moderate conditions, especially given the way I know it will be in July or August. But she sure is panting. It must be hot sitting on those eggs or keeping those babies warm. This pair was late; she’s probably still on eggs:

She’s hard to see – right in the middle – but you can see her panting. In April!

There is another pair a couple of powerline towers down. Too far for me to get a decent shot, but you can see this pair. I should have cropped out that crow on the right but left it in. You can see why people glimpsing these birds from far away while driving might mistakenly believe they’ve seen a Bald Eagle:

Far off pair of ospreys, with crow overseeing the operation.

Friday morning before I saw the copperhead I was passing Discovery United Methodist Church earlier than normal. There was a redtail on the cross. I believe this is the female. It was still early and the grass was saturated with dew. My guess is she’d been on the nest all night and she was saturated with dew. She kept turning different parts toward the sun to dry out. It was fascinating and enlightening to watch. It makes sense she’d dry her tail first. After this I watched while she stretched out her primary feathers and began to dry them: 

Red-tail tail feathers drying in the early morning sun

Immediately – it probably started before I even arrived – a mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) began harassing her. That cross is on top of a huge latticework support structure, a little bit smaller than a delivery truck but enormous. The mockingbird would fly up and dive and feint and flare around her, screaming constantly. She appeared to ignore it. Then the mockingbird would drop down and rest on the latticework for a couple of minutes. Then fly back up and harass her again. Over and over and over again. It appeared to be a ritual – they both gave the distinct impression they were just going through the motions. I’m sure she dries her wings there every morning. It is mesmerizing to watch. I took probably fifteen (or more) pictures of the mockingbird almost hitting her. And an equal number of the mockingbird perched on the latticework. If you’re looking at this on a screen you can zoom in or magnify, look closely at the mockingbird’s mouth. You can see that it’s screaming:

Mockingbird unwittingly (probably) makes the sign of the cross before moving any closer to this apex predator

Pony Pasture this morning was so pretty – it’s always so pretty. I was happy to get more pictures of the owl, though none were blog worthy. Working on those snake images Friday cast a bit of a pall over my blog-thoughts – it’s funny the way that happens. I’m a more-than-moderately outdoorsy person, but the actual emotional experience of photographing a poisonous snake in close proximity is way different from photographing any bird. Or flower. So a few more flowers from Pony Pasture this morning. Well anyway, here’s a multiflora rose:

Fragrant multiflora rose from Pony Pasture this fine April morning

It wasn’t sweltering at the river this morning – really it was remarkably pleasant – but we squeezed four miles of hiking into our morning and by the time we were back to check on the owls one final time, my boys were ready for a break!:

Chillers: Yuki (gardenia colored), Mackey (black dogs matter), Turner (coffee with too much cream colored)

Not at Pony Pasture (or Deep Run) but from our yard – about 7:45 this evening: 

The first lush rose Evelyn has coaxed from our yard this Spring:

When Mackey and Turner and I dropped Yuki off on our way home from the river his gracious owner Ariel gave us a spectacular Yuki-colored gardenia. I don’t name plants or wild animals, but I made an exception and called this gardenia “Yuki” – it’s his precise color. So we put the gardenia in our car and the whole way home it smelled like Yuki! You should be so fortunate! Here’s Yuki:

Introducing “Yuki.” He smells spectacular!

Now to snake pictures. So if you’re not a snake person, come back next week. Otherwise, carry on – you’re in for a treat. 

Another thing about poisonous snakes – according to the Virginia Herpetological Society, we have three poisonous snakes in Virginia versus around thirty non-poisonous snakes. The three poisonous snakes are the Northern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix), the Eastern Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) and the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus). At least in Richmond and Henrico, there are zero Cottonmouths or Rattlesnakes. Copperheads, I’m learning, are widespread. They are extremely conflict avoidant and they almost disappear in the leaf litter. Their camouflage is remarkable.

Well anyway, almost to the snake. There are three pictures. Two have items I placed near the snake for scale. I’m aware that putting my hand that close was not a risk-free proposition, but I’d been watching the snake for some time. It was still cool out, and the snake was sluggish. Torpid. It wasn’t angry or upset or agitated – calm people and calm dogs and calm birds and calm snakes all have a similar behavior profile. Nothing unexpected ever happens with calm people and calm dogs and calm birds and calm snakes – we’re all quite predictable. The first picture is with my iphone. It’s 6.25” long. So I’m guessing the snake was around 30” long, average for a copperhead. The second picture is with my camera. The third one is the snake’s head itself. I’m not kidding – moderately outdoorsy, moderately well-read guy like me, it never occurred to me why they’re called “copperheads.” It’s a neat shot. Enjoy, and come back next week. And show this to your snake loving friends or anyone else who is interested. Copperhead with iPhone: 

Copperhead with an iPhone 7+ (6.25″) for scale

Copperhead with a Canon SX60HS for scale

Copperhead so if you live to be 100 you’ll always remember how they got that name

Have a great week! Pass this blog post around! Come back next week! All best, 




About Jay McLaughlin

I am a rehabilitation counselor. I have many friends with autism and traumatic brain injuries. They help me learn new things constantly. I hike with dogs at the James River in Richmond - a lot. I've completed an Iron distance triathlon a year for 11 years. My most recent was in Wilmington, NC in November, 2013. I currently compete in mid-distance triathlons. And work and hike and take pictures and write and eat.
This entry was posted in Birds, copperhead, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The first poisonous snake I’ve ever photographed

  1. Barbara says:

    The 4 poisonous snakes in Virginia have the slit in the middle of the eye. All the other non-poisonous ones have a round black eye.

    • Thank you! According to the Virginia Herpetological Society, the Northern Copperhead, Eastern Cottonmouth and Timber Rattlesnake are the three venomous snakes in Virginia. And as you correctly point out, our poisonous snakes all have elongated pupils and our 30 or so non-poisonous snakes all have round pupils. You can see this snake’s elongated pupils relatively well in the final picture. Thank you again for reading my blog and commenting!

  2. Justin Smith says:

    The copperhead is venomous, but I don’t think it’s poisonous.

    • According to the American Heritage Dictionary, venom is “A poisonous secretion of an animal, such as a snake, spider, or scorpion, usually transmitted to prey or to attackers by a bite or sting.” I believe it is correct English to use the words “venomous” and “poisonous” synonymously when referring to copperheads. But I’m not 100% certain.

    • Hi Justin – last night I got a comment of fb from a naturalist/linguist friend who makes a similar assertion. Kim’s comment is on the James River Park System facebook page – check it out. She thoughtfully provided a link to the following article:

      • Justin Smith says:

        That’s an interesting post about the poisonous garter snakes. Does this mean that your copperhead was not, in fact, the first poisonous snake that you’ve seen?

  3. Frank says:

    bad enough it’s a Copperhead — it appears to be in the midst of some poison ivy, not sure which would be worse!

  4. Pingback: Venomous snake video, my first fox, more | NEWFAZE

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