Finding the King of American Snakes

Submitted by Answers contributor Quietman
Spent a week at the beach, Holden to be exact, and while there did a bit of research in the Green Swamp, a marvelous 350,000 acre wilderness bordering Nature Conservancy lands near Shallotte, NC,  one of the towns near Holden Beach. I took  a couple of days while at the beach to get credit for my classes with the North Carolina Wildlife Commission, Public Education Division.
We have been working mainly with trying to find evidence of the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, an endangered species here in North Carolina. Although more common in other states, we are at the northern edge of the snake’s range, and clear cutting back in the 60’s pretty much wrecked most of its habitat.
The Green Swamp is home to a variety of wildlife. Black bear roam the area, along with coyote, fox, bobcat, alligator and deer. The waterways team with fish, largemouth bass, bowfin, redfin pickerel among them. Spectacular birds inhabit the area, various raptors including bald eagle, osprey, and several hawk species. Pileated woodpeckers, white ibis, various herons and numerous songbirds.
We began our  trek into the swamp on an old logging road, whose sandy surface was crisscrossed with the tracks of numerous creatures. One in particular made us nervous, a black bear had used the track recently, and his prints were sunk much deeper in the sand than mine, and I am 212 pounds. A family of raccoons meandered across the road and disappeared into the swamp, followed by a doe with twin fawns.We moved along the edge of a broken pine forest, and saw numerous snakes, including two huge cottonmouths, lying on a log in the creek, sharing it with a couple of eastern river cooter turtles.
We hadn’t gone far into the pines, when Matt said he heard something like a rattler buzzing. It stopped (I never heard it) and we moved closer to the creek and crossed over on an old hand bridge.
Deer flies buzzed around, and a few of them decided we were tasty, we both had several bites when we returned to the car. Really pesky varmints, and hard to swat!
After an hour of walking around and turning logs over, we found a small timber rattlesnake. He never rattled, just sat still, watching us. He had a bulge in his middle, indicating he had recently eaten some unfortunate rodent.
We came back to the bridge, and saw two five foot alligators lying on the bank of the creek just down from the bridge. They seemed to be asleep, so we allowed them their repose, and went back to the pine scrub forest. Pileated woodpeckers were everywhere. Their raucous cries filled the air, and their brilliant colors of black, white, and red just stood out so well in the forest.
After a few minutes, we again heard the distinctive whirring of a rattlesnake, and honed in on another timber rattler, nearly four feet long. This guy was wide awake, coiled and angry! We got as close as we dared, and he struck out at us again and again, but luckily we stayed clear of his attempts.
We went across the road, and followed the bear tracks for about two miles, but never came upon him. From the tracks, it appeared to be a good sized boar. We came back to the vehicle, and dined on turkey sandwiches and Yoo-hoos! Delicious fare when one is hot, tired and hungry!
We drove a couple of miles down to the Nature Conservancy lands, parked, and entered the pine forest. This area is famous for the endangered Venus flytrap, a carnivorous plant found only in Carolina swamplands. We didn’t find any, but they are there in numbers.
We decided to search an area that appeared prime habitat for the diamondbacks, with scattered long leaf pines, and dense understory growth nearly knee high.
It was very nearly a big mistake…
After searching here for an hour, we decided to go back to the vehicle, and head back to the cottage, maybe hit the surf before dinner. After walking for about a half mile, we again heard the sound of an upset rattlesnake, but this was different somehow, slower, but deeper, more ominous. It seemed to be all around us, and we were not wearing leather snake chaps, and the vegetation was knee deep, as I said before.
We froze, and tried to home in on the sound. Matt was afraid to move, but I had to find the snake, as I was sure it was an eastern diamondback. We waited, and the sound would rise, then fall, but seemed never to cease totally. Finally, Matt said the he thought it was coming from an area just to our east, around a lightning killed tree. The ancient tree had burned from the inside out, and a hole at the bottom looked like a good place for a snake to hide out. I took a couple of steps toward it, then the awesome whirring began again, this time right in front of me!
I took a stick and parted the grass, and there in front of me was an enormous eastern diamondback rattler!
I fumbled for the notepad, and logged in the coordinates and time, estimated the length of the snake (five foot six inches) and asked for the digital camera from Matt. He edged closer, and taking the stick, he parted the grass for the shot. No snake!
We searched around the grass for a while, but began to feel distinctively very creepy, as we were in close quarters with the most dangerous snake on the continent, and we could not see him, but knew he was there!
We edged our way slowly out of there, disappointed, yet elated.
We had located the quarry.
Back at the car, a noise up the road got our attention. A female bear with two cubs in tow made for the creek, but stopped long enough to wait for a third cub to come up. The family moved off without so much as a glance toward us.
We didn’t go back the next day, as the fish were biting very well in the surf, so we stuck to that. Still, it was a great excursion, finding the king of American snakes, and all the other wonderful creatures that live in the magical Green Swamp!

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