Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Copperheads at Northwest Branch

                                                                                            Photo: Paco Martinez
Despite the temperatures being in the 60s for the last couple days, winter will officially be here in just over three weeks.  We've come to the end of one of the more spectacular fall seasons in recent years, and the brilliant red and yellow foliage has transformed into a drab brown carpet.  While we may miss the color, the good news is that we've come to the part of the year when our boulders are actually visible from more than 100 feet away, and we don't need machetes to clear a path through the undergrowth.  But before we go charging haphazardly through the forest, do you see anything unusual in the photo above?  How about now?

                                                                                            Photo: Paco Martinez
Although I've always kept an eye out for copperheads as I walk through the leaves, I was a little shocked when Paco Martinez posted these photos from Northwest Branch yesterday.  I mean, despite the cautions in Indy's guide about possible copperheads at areas such as Rocks State Park and Sugarloaf, even he says he's never encountered one while climbing, and I certainly haven't seen any.  But there it is, right in the middle of a relatively urban climbing area.

Does this mean that we shouldn't climb at these areas?  No, it just means we should be careful and aware of our surroundings, which pretty much applies to any sort of outdoor activity.  Despite our fear of snakes, we're fortunate to only have two venomous varieties in our area, both of which will generally only strike when threatened.  So in addition to scanning the ground around and ahead of us, we can be aware of areas such as logs or rock piles where snakes are likely to hide, and try to avoid them or move carefully past.  For example, jumping forward off a log while stepping over it, rather than stepping straight down and startling a hidden snake into striking.  Or if you're about to climb a boulder that can be easily walked onto from another side, go up and check the top for snakes beforehand.  I'm sure it might sound a little paranoid, but I can only imagine pulling through an already sketchy topout only to find yourself staring down a copperhead.  But like I said, I have no firsthand experience with them, so rather than claiming any kind of expertise I'll suggest looking at this information from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.  Be safe, and have fun!


Anonymous said...

Thanks Robin for posting this. I can't tell you the number of times I have consulted these two websites: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/Plants_Wildlife/vsnakes.asp

http://reptilesalive.wordpress.com/2008/11/19/the-10-most-commonly-seen-snakes-in-dc-metro-area/ in order to educate myself about snakes in the area and to lessen my fear.

Anonymous said...

I've seen copperheads several times @ NW Branch. There is a den near the trail head as you head towards Tulip Boulder, and another below Crimptastic. I've also come across them at Long Wall. As long as you don't step on them you're fine. They usually stay still.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting. Do either of you think that something should be posted at the entrance cautioning hikers to be vigilant?

Robin said...

@Paco- A sign might not be a bad idea, and I've seen them posted at several local trailheads before. Maybe something for the Neighbors of the Northwest Branch to look into?

@ Anonymous- Thanks for the heads up! Not surprised to hear they're in any of those locations. Paco saw his snake near the Pipeline boulder.

Anonymous said...

A sign might be a good idea, especially for hikers w/ small children and dogs. I should also mention that several years ago my neighbor's dog was bitten by one, and almost died.

I think people are, in general, unaware that they inhabit NW Branch. A little bit of paranoia isn't a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

I've asked the Neighbor's of the Northwest Branch listserv if there was a possibility that a warning/alert could be posted at the kiosk. If I have the chance I'll go tomorrow and check. If there is nothing I'll post something there.

I agree that a little bit a paranoia is not a bad thing, but will keep people more aware and hopefully enable them to appreciate the area a little more.

Michael said...

It's always good to be paranoid... who wants to be bitten by a snake - specifically these copperhead snakes? I'm not sure if I really want to see one in person. They are ambushers that because of their camouflage can approach prey without revealing their intentions. (Source: http://www.copperheadsnake.net/ )

Anonymous said...

Hi Robin, I just reported another Copperhead sighting to the Neighbors of the Northwest Branch homepage with photos of the snake in it's den, where it was keeping cool. It was spotted in the bouldering area this time. I have some photos, but do not know the specific boulder.
I haven't been bouldering since March due to a bicycle accident I had requiring surgery on my shoulder and 2 months of physical therapy.

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