Monday, April 20, 2009

Make sure you look down every once in awhile

Yesterday a Michigan birder, Chris Goulart, posted this to  His email tag is, significantly, miherp.  I think this is a timely and thoughtful reminder to us all who are not watching where we are driving while out searching for returning migrant birds. Other creatures are also active on the roads and trails as this is their mating season as well.  If enough time is spent in the field, we are bound to cross paths with animals other than birds. I received Chris's permission to reprint his piece in my blog.  

This image was copied from a May 16, 2007 entry to the now inactive blog titled Carolina Mornings:  Life on the Crystal Coast.

Just a friendly reminder about a wildlife safety related topic.   While birding this spring and summer, please make sure that you take some time to look down and watch where you are going, especially when driving and looking for birds.  During a recent time out birding in northwestern Ohio, I came across an early season Water Snake that had been recently run over by an automobile, but was not yet dead.  To watch this poor animal writhing about prior to expiring ruined more than just what would have been a good day birding.  What is worse, all of the motor vehicles in this area were observed to be birders and it is almost a certainty that the snake was run over by someone looking for shorebirds, ducks or raptors and not paying attention to where they were driving.

In years past I have seen crushed turtles at Magee Marsh, squashed snakes at Point Pelee, and splattered frogs at Tawas Point during the height of migration in April, May, and June.  Although it is not realistic to assume all of the carnage was created by birders, it would be unlikely that many of the herp specimens were not killed as a result of persons looking up rather than where they were driving.
In my experience when a snake is seen on the roadway many drivers will go out of their way to ensure its immediate demise.  I have also observed cars swerve to purposely kill all manner of other animals including turtles, salamanders and even birds.  I am absolutely certain that no one on this list would ever engage in actions like this, but it is worth mentioning.

If you are out birding, especially in any riparian type of habitat, please make sure you are always aware of where you are driving.  If you see any cold-blooded creatures warming themselves on the road, ensure you do not hit them.  Further, and this is always a judgement call, if it safe to do so, you may consider moving an animal that is in danger of being hit to safety.  There are a legion of circumstances where this would be a bad decision.  Snakes and turtles may bite if handled and any time you are running around on the street other drivers can create an immediate hazard to life and limb.  I would never advocate putting your life or well-being in jeopardy to save an animal.  But there may be occasions when it is possible to safely intervene and prevent an unnecessary loss of life.

In summary, take the wonderful opportunities to bird and enjoy this great hobby of ours and ensure you appreciate the safety of all creatures in their natural environments.

When Chris reviewed my blog, he identified my snake - a Desert Glossy Snake (Arizona elegans eburnata)
I add my own near miss from Fort Huachuca in southeastern Arizona last April, 2008.  We never saw this big guy on the road and were lucky we missed hitting him.  As Chris suggests we were looking for birds and paying little attention to anything else.  I had already driven past when I noticed him in my rearview mirror.  I backed the car up, without running the snake over, so we could take photographs.  I took several photos but this is the only one that was worth keeping.  We looked through Peterson's reptile field guide but could not find a match to help us with its identity.  We spoke to locals who, upon making certain it was not a rattle snake, proposed possibilities that included corn snake and rat snake.  I'm pleased now to have the correct identity. Thanks, Chris  

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