Jim Andrews showing a Black Rat Snake skin

On Sunday, June 3, after a day’s delay for weather, twelve participants led by Herpetologist, Jim Andrews set out in search of reptiles and amphibians at The Narrows Wildlife Management Area in Benson.  Our goals for the day were to find Black Rat Snake and Five-lined Skink, Vermont’s only Lizard. There are no official trails on the property so the day consisted of bushwhacking through brush, crossing fields and making use of overgrown abandoned roads. Our first stop was marshy area where we found Pickerel and Green Frogs. Higher up in a field Jim found beautiful Northern Leopard Frog, noting the green “halos” around the spots against a brown background. Going through maturing woods a Red Eft was found as was a Eastern Red-backed Salamander under a log.

Jim hard a bit of hard time keeping our varied group of individuals on task with many of getting distracted by birds, insects and plant-life. But one of his lessons about not walking in single file while looking for herps paid off when OCAS board member, Mike Winslow veered off track and found a Snapping Turtle. After a break for lunch by the narrow section of Lake Champlain that gave the location its name, we searched along some sun-lit ledges for Skinks and Black Rat Snakes, but unfortunately weren’t able to find any. But on our way back we found an unidentified snake skeleton and an American Toad.

But that wasn’t the end of the story, because Jim had  a backup plan. He led us to a nearby private residence where we were allowed to search tarp-covered woodpiles which make great warm and dry cover for snakes. Inside them we found many Garter Snakes, one or two DeKay’s Brownsnakes that escaped capture and one very impressive Black Rat Snake. Showing the toughness of the species and of snakes in general, this specimen was battered and scarred, possibly showing signs of having been run over by a car, but was still surviving despite that.

Of course, since this was an OCAS trip, we made sure to keep track of the birds we saw too, logging 44 species. The highlights of the day were what sounded like a Blue-winged Warbler and a Golden-winged Warbler, but without visual confirmation we couldn’t be sure of the purity of their bloodlines. Also, a Bald Eagle and Osprey overhead during lunch, and Common Guallinule heard calling from the marshes along the lake. A full checklist of the birds we observed can be seen on eBird.

We thank Jim for leading us on this very fun and informative adventure.

– Ron Payne