World Wildlife Day 2023 and Nature Photo Challenge #2: Eyes

Cooper’s hawk

Isn’t the intense gaze of the Cooper’s hawk above captivating? It can relate to both parts of the double theme for this short blog, as a symbol of the wildlife many people wish to conserve worldwide and as a fellow being with eyes that mesmerize.

Today is World Wildlife Day, a day celebrated to honor our earth’s wildlife and the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This year’s theme for this commemorative day is “Partnerships for Wildlife Conservation.”

The term “wildlife” can have two meanings. Some dictionaries and organizations use the word to refer to all animals (mammals, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, etc.) that are not domesticated by human beings. Others have expanded the term to also include plants.

Cleared fire line before a controlled burn

I contribute to the goal of wildlife conservation by volunteering at a local nature reserve to help with its upkeep. Our volunteer group, called the “Green Dragons”, removes invasive plants, plants native vegetation, and clears fire lines when controlled burns are done. The photo above shows such a line; it is patrolled by volunteers to watch for and quench sparks that might ignite materials outside the area being burned.

Our Green Dragons group cleared a fire line earlier this week and we were able to relocate several marbled salamanders to an area that will not be burned.

Fellow volunteer Mark also found and relocated a young brown snake.

We hope the weather collaborates and makes it possible to complete the burn before many of the animals begin brooding their young.

One reason so many people want to conserve wildlife and natural areas is because they enjoy watching the non-human life that sustains our planet. We sometimes don’t stop to think about how the animals also spend time observing us.

Fellow blogger Denzil Nature has challenged us to stop and consider the eyes that animals use to see us. Some have eyes that appear at least somewhat similar to ours. The dark eyes of the Eastern chipmunk, black racer snake, and short-horned grasshopper could fall into that category.


And then we have the wondrous insects who have compound eyes so very different from ours. The blue dasher dragonfly provides a nice example of that.

If you want to learn more about how different members of the animal world look at life, check out the wonderful book by Ed Yong, An Immense World. It’s fascinating and you can learn a lot about how various wildlife species experience the world using other senses as well! And perhaps it will inspire you to think of new ways to contribute to conserving wildlife.




Is this my year of snakes??

Lest y’all (“you all”, some Southern vocabulary is finally entering my repertoire) come to think that I’m only interested in the birds inhabiting my beautiful world, today I’d like to focus on a much less appreciated animal species – the snakes.

Green tree python IMG_3565© Maria de BruynI’ve gone for years without ever spotting a snake in the wild; this one to the left was a green tree python (Morelia viridis) seen at a zoo. Since I moved to my house with a yard, I still have seen them only occasionally or witnessed the effects of unfortunate encounters with them, like when my indoor-outdoor cat (I also have two indoor cats only, much to their dismay) was bitten twice by a copperhead (with some years in between).

This year, however, seems on its way to becoming the year in which I spit viper IMG_1787©Maria de Bruyn resee a record number of snakes (and Eastern box turtles). It began with a presentation at my camera club when a wildlife photographer brought in a pit viper for photo opportunities. I only had my old point-and-shoot camera with a no longer functioning flash so my photo was not so great; the poor snake’s cage was also surrounded by so many people flashing around it, I had no appetite for trying to get a better shot. I much prefer taking photos of animals in the wild (and sometimes a zoo).

Brown snake IMG_1633©Maria de BruynresLast year, I saw a few snakes, including at an Audubon Society presentation. In the wild, I came across this thin brown snake (Storeria dekayi) crossing a path at the Mason Farm Biological Reserve. It actually was kind of a pretty with the brown markings on its head. These snakes eat snails, earthworms and slugs, so you might find it useful if they are around your garden to cut down on the plant-eating slugs.


I also came across this Eastern worm snake (Carphophis amoenus Eastern worm snake IMG_1335©Maria de Bruynresamoenus) in my garden. These smallish snakes (growing to about 15 inches max) are mostly active at night and use their small pointed heads to help root in the soil where they find insects and worms to eat.

On walks with my brother, we came across Western rat snakes (Elaphe obsoleta) a few times. They come in different colors (yellow, gray, black) and can become quite large. This sizeable one was lounging in a tree during one of my volunteer shifts at Mason Farm. I only had my small point-and-shoot camera with me, so I didn’t think I was disturbing it much by taking some portrait shots but it did lunge at me at one point, so I backed up a bit.

Western rat snake IMG_4599©Maria de BruynWestern rat snake IMG_4614©Maria de Bruyn

The rat snakes are constrictors that suffocate their prey, such as rodents, frogs, lizards, chipmunks, squirrels, juvenile rabbits and opossums, songbirds, and bird eggs – the latter being the main reason that I have raccoon baffles on my bird box poles! I have come across them several more times in the past months.

Western rat snake IMG_0330©Maria de Bruyn resWestern rat snake IMG_6941©Maria de Bruyn res

Western rat snake IMG_7694©Maria de Bruyn res

Perhaps the most intsnakeskin IMG_3498©Maria de Bruyn reseresting sighting lately has not been a rat snake itself but its skin! They are very good tree climbers and this one obviously decided to shed its skin while hanging on a high tree limb in a park along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Appalachian Mountains.

The snake that has me most wary here in North Carolina is thecopperhead IMG_9661©Maria de Bruyn res portrait copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix), the only venomous snake in this part of the state. They can be very beautiful and actually will not attack quickly. When threatened, they will often vibrate their tail and release a musky odor. If they feel they are in danger, however, they will bite – as my next-door neighbor unfortunately discovered when he put his arms around a tree to tie a ribbon on and disturbed an unseen snake on the other side of the tree. He had to go to the hospital and had a severely swollen arm, describing the bite and its after-effects as incredibly painful.

copperhead IMG_9661©Maria de Bruyn resKnowing all this made me incredibly grateful that I encountered this snake on a cool early morning. Just before a nature walk, I needed to relieve myself badly and snuck off a path to do so before other hikers arrived. Perhaps distracted by the idea that someone might come upon me in an ungraceful position, I looked around quickly but obviously not thoroughly enough because as I half-squatted and looked down at my feet, I discovered my right foot was right next to this reptile. I backed away quietly but quickly and only later when I retrieved my camera from the car did I get a shot of this merciful snake.

Having read an increasing amount about snakes through Project Noah and coming across them more and more often has made me less fearful of these animals and able to much better appreciate their beauty and important role in our ecosystems. However, when I came home to find my female cat had cornered this young black racer (Coluber constrictor) in my dining room, my admiration for the species did not make me want to entertain it inside for a while, even though they eat rodents and my cats have caught a few mice in the house. I quickly went to get a box, caught it and brought it outside where it quickly slithered off.

black racer IMG_4898©Maria de Bruynresblack racer IMG_4905©Maria de Bruynres

Red-bellied watersnake IMG_8141©Maria de Bruyn resWhen our volunteer group at Mason Farm recently began a task of preparing wood for a new boardwalk, we discovered another native snake was keeping us company – a red-bellied watersnake (Nerodia erythrogaster). These somewhat short-tempered but beautiful reptiles consume a varied diet but mainly eat amphibians such as frogs, toads, and salamanders.

Red-bellied watersnake IMG_8162©Maria de Bruyn res

I took the photos from a distance as these snakes will bite repeatedly if they feel threatened – even if non-venomous, I don’t seek a snake bite as an experience. I do wonder if I’ll see some new kinds of snakes in the wild before the year is out though!