Authored by Thomas LaVine
You know that feeling you get, perhaps after a long day of working and finally getting to relax? Or after being away for a long time and returning home and just knowing that you belong there? That is exactly the way I feel when I herp where I grew up, in Cherokee County, South Carolina. It’s where I first learned about herps, and hands-on learning, of course, was my way of growing.
Herping in the foothills can be tricky, and at times it’s honestly uneventful—but it’s by far my favorite. My heart will always be there, because that’s where everything started. I hope you have that place, too.
This specific day is a perfect example of what it can be like here in good ole’ Cherokee County. Early to rise on a summer day, I set out with my wife to herp on some property my parents own, naturally one of my favorite places to be. I thought we should get out early to flip some tin. We get out and flip a few sheets and are greeted by a few Wormsnakes (Carphophis amoenus) and some Brownsnakes (Storeria dekayi). But the treat was this juvenile Northern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen). Of course, growing up in this area, I was always encouraged (like many of us) to be swift with the shovel when it comes to these delightfully curious, not to mention venomous, animals. Fortunately, there are plenty of others who would reject that hazardous teaching, and as a result, this guy was met with happy faces and a camera. This little juvie didn’t move around a great deal because he was in shed and not exactly feeling like playing a game of soccer, so it was great for observation! A more common pit viper in this area, I still love to see them!
Now, to a wonderful place that I love to visit is a little rocky hillside near a field. I typically had luck in the past with numerous species such as Eastern Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula), Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus), many Black Racers (Coluber constrictor) and Eastern Ratsnakes (Pantherophis alleghaniensis), along with sheds of other snakes. As we arrive to the spot, there is a nice adult C. constrictor basking at the base of this large rock that he is photographed on. Once again, a rather common sight, but no matter because I love to see them. Racers are one of my favorite species of snake because they’re not only quick, but so inquisitive and intelligent, as well!
Just shortly after this fellow was released and off on his speedy way, I notice some rustling in the leaves just behind me in the field. When I check it out, I am greeted by a large alleghaniensis! I didn’t measure him, but I would guess 4.5 feet would be pretty accurate. He was happy to bite and display his great size, so I photographed and left him alone so as not to stress him too much. It also stresses my wife if the animal gets upset, so there’d be a problem there, too!
After photographing this awesome ratsnake, we go check out a trail behind my parents’ house. Of course, my infinite wisdom led me to step right over this beautiful Rough Greensnake (Opheodrys aestivus)! It’s always good to have two pairs of eyes when herping. After he was pointed out to me, we spent a little time hanging out with it because it’s one of my favorite species, especially in the Piedmont! I have no idea if there is scientific validity to their habits differing according to the habitat that they’re in, but I always find them on the ground and have never found them in trees while in the foothills. But on the coast I have never seen them on the ground, so it’s funny how that works!
The day turned pretty slow once it started to get too heated, so to be honest I retreated, too. It may or may not have been for pizza and batman games.
We decided to cruise that night, and while we didn’t find quantity, we certainly found quality! Coming over this man hill (my nickname for the large hill on the road we cruise here—yes, there is only one road), we see what I initially thought was an extremely large Copperhead, but actually turned out to be a Timber Rattlesnake, my absolute favorite species to see in the Piedmont! After pulling ourselves together we grabbed some road photos, and he continued on his merry way. What a find! Shortly thereafter we were met with a beautiful young adult Cornsnake (Pantherophis guttatus). It doesn’t get much better for me! Cornsnakes are typically met with a great attitude from everyone, and how can they not be? Cornsnakes are fairly difficult to come by in my county, so it’s always quite a treat to see them, and Canebrakes are always a welcomed find.
In a nutshell, this is what Piedmont herping is made of if you do it right. This area tends to get looked over and doesn’t share fame with the mountains and the coast, but it is so special to me and to all the herpers who live(d) there. Whenever you need to get back to your roots, especially if you’re a herper, check the places where you were filled with wonder as a kid. My world would light up a million times because of a Ratsnake or a Copperhead. We cannot lose that wonder because that is what drives us to teach others about and to protect these amazing animals we all love. After all it was Baba Dioum that said, “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”
Thanks for visiting my neck of the woods for a moment—happy herping!