A woodland diptych (and the making-of)

Reflections of a dreamlike woodland in New Jersey, USA. Photos © Tom Bland.

Reflections of a dreamlike woodland in New Jersey, USA. Photos © Tom Bland.

Yesterday we went on a much-needed walk around a section of our local nature reserve, Greenbrook Sanctuary, part of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission here in New Jersey. We’d not visited for quite a while and we were keen to see if many of the brood II cidadas had emerged there (the answer was hardly any) and of course catch up on whatever birds had been passing through – they have a notice board where members can log their sightings and this is always our first port of call when we arrive. One thing that caught my eye were the listings of two different snakes; visitors had seen a black rat snake and a northern water snake. Not being a big fan of snakes myself I was nevertheless keen to see some, so we set off on our walk trying to balance the need to look up for birds and down for cicadas and snakes – not easy!

We decided to walk clockwise around Greenbrook Pond, which meant approaching the pond at the boggy south end and working our way around on the trails. This was where we had the first sightings of our bird highlight-of-the-day, a flock of cedar waxwings. At this end of the pond you can choose between taking a raised wooden walkway over the shallow water, or a path made of concrete paving stones which are only just above the water level and which gets you a little closer to the likes of frogs and, as we discovered, snakes. As you can probably guess, we took the concrete path – Diana walked ahead to look for a red-winged blackbird that seemed to be very alarmed about something, whilst I crouched down to work on the photographs seen above. These are reflections of the green canopy of the woods as seen in the shallow murky water of the bog, and I’ve made these available as a pair of fine art photography prints in my shop at Etsy. You can view the listing here: www.etsy.com/uk/listing/152443607

I was hunkered down low for quite a while working on these, squatting so to speak, but I was swiftly standing upright once again when Diana returned saying “there’s a snake right behind you!”. Sure enough, what I later identified as a northern brown snake had slithered up to sit on the concrete right behind me – so close that if I’d decided to rest my knees and shift my body weight backwards to sit down I would have sat on a snake, and I imagine not many people have done that…

As I rose the snake moved away and disguised itself very well among some tree roots. At its thickest it was probably about 3/4 of an inch thick but we couldn’t really judge its length and I was never able to even see its head. After referencing this PDF of New Jersey snake species at nj.gov, I’m almost certain it was a northern brown snake as almost all of the other snakes have markings that this snake just didn’t have.

The remainder of our walk was fairly uneventful in comparison. We found shed nymphal skins of the 17-year cicadas, and the holes they emerged from, but no live adults. We saw a flycatcher that we just couldn’t identify, turkey vultures, black vultures, a groundhog with a dashing stripe in its fur, and an even better sighting of the cedar waxwings that had made their way over to Patriot’s Leap. They’re very tame birds and we were able to get really close to them. The snake was the story of the day though and will be for quite a while I expect. I’m pleased I made these photographs despite not knowing there was a snake right behind me, and as a result I’ll always have this memorable story associated with them.

Prints available at Etsy: www.etsy.com/uk/listing/152443607

Woodland Diptych. Print 1. Photo © Tom Bland.

Woodland Diptych. Print 1. Photo © Tom Bland.

Woodland Diptych. Print 2. Photo © Tom Bland.

Woodland Diptych. Print 2. Photo © Tom Bland.

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