Equinox, schmequinox

When I lived in central New York, I used to laugh at the idea of Groundhog’s Day: “If the groundhog sees its shadow, we’ll have six more weeks of winter.” Seriously, half the freaking country considers mid-March an early spring. And the same held true for the Official First Day of Spring falling on the Vernal Equinox (March 21 or thereabouts) – we could almost always expect a good snowfall sometime after that point.

But we’ve had a couple of lovely days here recently, and while the grass is still brown and trees have not started to bud, I’ve been able to find some nice signs of “spring,” especially if I kept my sights low – in this case, down at the ground at the macro scale. While one of my two lens issues will soon be resolved, I decided to try another avenue for closeup and macro work. The 80mm macro lens for the Mamiya medium format camera isn’t intended to be used on any Canon EOS cameras, but mating together a body cap for the EOS and a rear lens cap for the Mamiya makes them fit together just fine, and the Mamiya has a auto/manual aperture switch that overcomes the lack of aperture control from the EOS system. Exposure is far from automatic, but this is simply one example of what can be accomplished if you’re willing to experiment. Both the flowers above and at right are barely visible while standing directly over them, measuring less than a centimeter at most. I don’t even know where to begin to look these up, so if anyone wants to chime in and tell me what these are, I’d be more than happy.

Finding these has been good, since I’ve practically been going through withdrawal without anything interesting to shoot. The red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks in the area have been courting, doing a lot of calling to stake territory and pausing at optimal vantage points throughout an area in pursuit of a mate, and I’ll probably feature a few pics of those shortly – I’m aiming for something more dynamic than merely perching against a drab sky, which is what I’ve captured so far. So while that quest is ongoing, I took to turning over some rocks to see what could be found.

The snails haven’t ventured out into the open yet, and rarely do even in the best weather (which for them tends to be very humid and out of direct sunlight,) but they can be convinced to pose a bit if you place them in the open and have a little patience. They’re also hard to identify if you don’t have a decent reference and are simply putting search terms in Google, so once again, chime in if you know your gastropoda. This specimen is about 5-7mm across the shell, and the shell aperture has three “teeth,” two on the outer lip and one centrally against the inner shell, making it seem awkward to try and squeeze past.

What surprised me the most, however, was coming across several members of the species Storeria dekayi, otherwise known as the common brown snake. These should not be confused with the various species from Australia bearing that name, since these are very small and not venomous, unlike every species of animal found in and around Australia save for some of the earthworms (and those are just a matter of time.)

While I’m rather unimpressed with the originality of anyone who names a species “brown snake,” I’m fond of the snakes themselves. Found under rocks and leaf litter, they’re a bit secretive but there’s a spot where I can find them dependably. I didn’t expect to see them active this early, and truthfully they’re not really active yet – several were found clustered under rocks that were absorbing the bright sunlight, warming themselves while remaining perfectly safe from everything except impudent nature photographers. They’re totally non-aggressive and easy to handle, and will often remain very still and count on their camouflage to protect them – when that doesn’t work they resort to finding cover rapidly. They’re also quite small, only a little larger than large earthworms and often mistaken for “babies.”

If it helps, here’s another view of my model, clasped gently in my left hand while the right juggled the camera. My little finger is the background (looking disturbingly aged from this close,) and the green line spanning the crease of the first joint is a measured 4mm – an average pencil measures 7mm. Even if these snakes were venomous, there wouldn’t be anything they could actually bite except maybe your earlobe. Since their diet is grubs and worms, it’s safe to say there isn’t any other species that pales at the sight of a brown snake, so it’s embarrassing that too many people freak out at the mere sight of a snake and feel inclined to kill them. It’s like being scared of fish.

We’ll almost certainly get another spell of cold weather here, but right now I’m enjoying the break and anticipating the arrival of more photo subjects. Really, I have to move to a tropical rainforest or something…

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