We headed to the Blue Mountains on Saturday afternoon on the 21st of August. I was still battling a dang virus, but the location we were searching had the dirt road pretty much next to it so I gave in to pressure. Why wouldn’t I if I knew that I picked a possibly great location to discover a Broad-headed Snake (Hoplocephalus bungaroides) or an Eastern Small-eyed Snake (Rhinoplocephalus nigrescens). Both are venomous and potentially of a dangerous disposition meaning that I am even more excited to be able to see and photograph them. Two weekends earlier we were at another Blue Mountains location where the walk in and out was an absolute killer, so had this day’s spot been similar I would rather have stayed home. On the track were Stephen and his partner Shirley and my other good friend Graham “The Rock” Turner, who is basically a walking encyclopaedia of local wildlife; feathered or not. It’s always a pleasure hanging out with Graham as I am constantly learning from an expert who shares the same passion about the animals that I have so much respect and admiration for. Stephen (Steve) and Shirley are both keen nature photographers who think along similar lines to myself and just want to get out there to enjoy mother nature and leave only footprints. A great way to be if you asked me.
Graham holding a Blind Snake
We arrived at the peak which faces west into the late afternoon sun. A good starting point for our adventure. Reptiles like the sun’s warmth especially during winter so finding them in locations with a sunny aspect is a little easier than areas where there are shaded spots and/or habitat. But that does not meant that the reptiles will only be here or there; we have found snakes etc in the least likely looking areas too. So it’s not all about the perfect spot. A bit like not all images have to have the perfect light. There are of course countless photographers who only want “perfect light”. Good for them, for on days when the atmospheric conditions are not quite perfect people like me can go and enjoy nature for what it is: nature. To me, being a true photographer has always been about representing the truth I have seen. When I learned there was no Photoshop, no clone or healing brush tool, no cleaning of unwanted obstruction. Of course, in this day and digital age the tools are making photographers become more interested in how to remove items from the image than to learn how to capture an authentic natural history shot. In any case, I like – or should I say prefer – to remain as close to the natural image as possible.
When released, the snake was heading home, under a large boulder.
Doing the background research into the species I wish to photograph is half the fun. I remember how much effort I put into reading about owls, their preferred habitats and foods, their life cycles and researched records of sightings and spent a lot of time basically before I have finally seen my first Masked Owl (Tyto novaehollandiae). It was hours of solo spotlighting the local forests, listening to calls, researching during the day for likely hollows and finally after close to six months of effort I had a 15-minute encounter with a female Masked Owl. Was I rapt? What do you think? Of course! I was over the moon for the entire time. Then about two months later when I was spotlighting with my lovely wife and Steve in the same patch of forest we saw two Masked Owls!
The apparent eyes are only good to detect light or dark surroundings.
Researching reptiles is also the same amount of work as it is with owls, but the consolation is that we work during the day in the light instead of walking blindly through forests littered with cobwebs and other scary surprises to scare the crap out of us; like a surprise Death Adder (Acanthophis antarcticus) that may be lurking under the leaf litter. Ouch! We look over topography maps, use it with weather forecasts and historical data as well as satellite images to arrive at a plan as to where to go and when.
The claw on the tip of its tail allows the snake to anchor itself into position.
On this afternoon we did not find any of the venomous snakes we so longed to observe, record and photograph, but instead, my friend Graham managed to discover a Blind Snake (Ramphotyphlops nigrescens) which in my opinion should be called the Stinky Blind Snake as it emits a horrible odour when handled. Yuck! It apparently feeds on ants and has a very large claw on its tail perhaps to aid it in hanging onto the substrate or wherever it chooses to anchor itself. It has two black spots where the eyes would be so my best guess is that it can tell night from day, it still cannot see. It was a very lively specimen and photographing it was nigh impossible, hence why there is a hand in some shots. Sorry, sometimes I cannot work miracles.
Until next time, stay safe and enjoy these adventures.