First Landing State Park

I went to First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach, Virginia on Friday, and saw a fair amount of neat stuff. We decided to beat the heat by walking along a bike path and over to a trail along the bay that offered some good bird viewing. The bike path went beside a cypress swamp, and then a side trail took us through a pine forest to the edge of the bay.

Read on for the intimate lives of reptiles, among others.


First up were the ubiquitous Eastern Gray Squirrels. Or, as I refer to them, Fuzzy-Tailed Tree Rats.

More interesting was when we noticed a couple taking pictures of something off the trail. I had no camera, so you’ll have to settle for prose and some links: Three Red-Bellied Water Snakes intertwined as if, well, exploring the snake swinging scene. I guess the good thing about being a snake is that everybody is on top.

Moving right along, we saw a Northern Red-Bellied Cooter, which I have always known as a red-bellied slider, but apparently it isn’t that closely related to the Yellow-Bellied Slider common in the pond in back of my folks’ place in South Carolina.

Further on, another Red-Bellied Water Snake, not as large as the others, was swimming along the edge of the swamp. I had heard the sploosh as I suspect it attempted to get lunch, possibly a small frog or insect. It was pretty small, maybe a couple of feet long.

We also saw numerous butterflies (mostly either Spicebush Swallowtails or one of the Fritillaries, but I didn’t get a very good look at any of them), damsel flies, and dragonflies, and I am not about to start guessing at what species those were. Generally I only spot really common things, so if you find out what’s common there this time of year, that’s what it was.

My companion also noticed a small worm wriggling strangely quickly along the trail–and it turned out not to be a worm at all but a baby, you guessed it, Red-Bellied Water Snake. You could see the eyes and red belly (hey, the name’s descriptive, OK?). That thing must have been no more than a couple of days, maybe even just a few hours, old.

The next thing we nearly stepped on (poor thing) was probably a Southern Toad. We saw another by the side of the trail later.

Finally arriving at the bay, we saw a Great Blue Heron, which was busy stalking and striking at small fish and frogs, and finally took off. It was joined by what we thought my be the white colorform of that heron, but the dark-looking legs suggested it was really a Great Egret, but it was only possible to tell this for a second as it flew before it was silhouetted against the sun and promptly landed and waded up to its body again (stupid bird, can’t it tell I’m trying to ID it?).

Flitting back and forth were several Eastern Kingbirds, and just as we prepared to leave, we saw a Raccoon mucking about among the reeds on a log, possibly washing tasty crustaceans? It wasn’t sayin’.

As we headed back, we saw an odd sight: a Red-Bellied Cooter at the edge of the trail, digging a hole with its hind legs. It had already cleared off the ground cover to the width of its rear shell, and was clearly digging a narrower, deeper hole with its hind legs. It was very upright and active, not evading us at all but watching us with what could be surmised to be body language suggesting that it didn’t watch us fixing up cribs, so would we mind moving on? It would take one hind foot, dig twice, then bring it up and move down the other hind foot and repeat the process. I presume it was a female digging a hole for eggs. It was not perhaps the wisest spot, but it was the edge of the trail so hopefully the ExTREEEME bikers won’t kill them. On the other hand, that species does not seem to be endangered. And, much like the Star Wars Couple, poor decisions will result in those genes being selected out.

Anyway, if you’re in the Norfolk area and want an outdoor alternative to the beach, I highly recommend the trails in that park.

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