Not birds, not beachy

I have just a couple of photos that were taken during the beach trip but aren’t beach related, so we’ll throw them down now.

Within the first day, we would look out the back side of the condo over the moderate expanse of lawn there, bordered by a thicket that separated the lawn from the sound, and see a little medium-brown mound moving around at times. I knew them on sight, having dealt with them before, though it had been a while since I’d seen one, but then I had to explain it to the others (like usual, actually.)

“Is that a rabbit? It looks too small for a rabbit,” someone said.

“It’s a vole,” I explained.

“A mole?” This is almost inevitable. Nobody’s ever heard of them.

“No, a vole.”

vole, likely meadow vole Microtus pennsylvanicus, realizing the photographer is getting closer
This was taken one evening as I spotted one and stalked it with the long lens; the vole has just realized that I was closer every time it looked up from foraging. There are several vole species and they go by a variety of common names, but this is most likely a meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus.) They’re larger than mice (and moles of course,) yet typically smaller than a rat, but only by a hair, with shorter noses and shorter tails, only half the length of the body – pretty much palm-sized. Considered a pest in many places due to landscape and gardening damage, I’ve only ever seen them foraging like rabbits, snacking on clover flowers and such. There were two that appeared simultaneously, so we know it likely wasn’t the same one we kept seeing, and they seemed fairly mellow, but like rabbits, they didn’t hang around for close approaches. This one decided I was looking too shady (which I’m used to by now) and scampered for the thicket, but paused at the edge to finish its meal with an easy escape.

vole, likely meadow vole Microtus pennsylvanicus, pausing while slightly obscured by grasses
If you know your Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, you know why I named this image, “Bugblatter.” The vole obviously wasn’t so spooked that it felt it had to be out of harm’s way, it just wanted less lawn to cover, should the need arise.

The second day we were there, The Girlfriend and I were just coming back from a kayaking excursion, bringing the kayaks up to their storage spot under the condo, when I noticed something on the neighbors’ walk only a few meters off. A big something.

yellow eastern rat snake Pantherophis alleghaniensis quadrivittata coiled protectively at edge of walkway
Ah, the impermanence of scientific names! This is a yellow rat snake, often just considered an eastern rat snake, but the consensus seems to be that this is a subspecies, Pantherophis alleghaniensis quadrivittata – the eastern (black) rat snakes have recently undergone renaming, so it’s all up for grabs. You may note that this isn’t exactly yellow, and I had to do a bit of research on it, because it also lacked the pattern that I was used to from yellow rat snakes. The thing is, the yellows and eastern/blacks can interbreed, producing a combined pattern – which still looks different from this, so I don’t know if it’s a straight yellow rat snake with a muted color variation, or a crossbreed of yellow and black, or perhaps even a regional variant of yellow since it blended fairly well with the sun-bleached wood of the entire area. All I had handy at the time was the little waterproof Ricoh camera, that could only get up to 140mm equivalent focal length, so I had to go in close, whereupon my motionless friend here coiled back from its original outstretched position and favored me with a marvelous deep hiss, something that I don’t hear too often from any snakes in the area. Since the snake was pushing two meters in length, this was a notable warning.

yellow eastern rat snake Pantherophis alleghaniensis quadrivittata not as threatened anymore
I know rat snakes, though, and paid it no mind, and since I was moving slow, the snake immediately relaxed a bit, though probably still not wild about my proximity. Which was less than half a meter, honestly; I did a little video.

[That’s The Girlfriend’s voice in there, as she maintained a discreet distance.]

Since I hadn’t recognized that color variation (but knew it wasn’t dangerous,) I did a little research when back at a computer later that day – and still never found the color pattern. Suspecting that I might have a rare specimen, I kept my eyes open for the rest of the week, hoping for another chance – I would have captured it and done a full set of photos, head to tail, top to bottom. Though probably with some difficulty, since no one else would have handled it or even gotten within a few meters, so it could have been challenging. Of course, I never saw it again, even with the enticing pudgy little vole meals hopping around the lawn. Ah well.

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