Second Day in Hellhole

By Gene Ott

Saturday (05-07-05), after a good night's sleep at the hotel, we are a complimentary breakfast there. Then we headed to the swamp. The clouds of the day before had disappeared and temperatures were rising. We were all re-enthused.

At the camp area, we joined the assemblage of about 26 attendees. As in past years, separated into groups of 3 to 6. Each group was lead by an experienced herper. I took a group in my van and Win led a group in his jeep. We set out in 5 or 6 different vehicles. After every couple of hours, we would meet up at the camp area and switch passengers so everyone had a chance to accompany each of the herpers. Each of us herpers have different strengths.

I was the last to leave the campground. Temperatures were still cool, but the sun was shining brightly. I decided to take my group down Hellhole Road. I hoped to find a Kingsnake basking on a rootball. One of the groups before us was also taking Hellhole Road, so we stopped near the head of the wilderness area to walk the road some and let the others get well ahead of us. After a short while, we noticed that the group ahead of us was crowded to the sunny side of the road. Several in this group were snapping pictures. This was a sure sign that they had found something. We piled back into the van and drove to the gathering. They had found a large Cottonmouth basking while it floated on the surface of the water. The snake was very cooperative and stayed around for all to get a good look at it.

We split back into our respective groups. As before, we walked the road so that the other group could get ahead of us. One of my group, who had been on previous annual trips to Hellhole, used his keen eye to spot a small Cottonmouth sequestered on the side of the water-filled roadside ditch on the shady side of the road.

About noon, all attendees returned to the camp area to share observations and eat lunch. Win's group had found an adult Mud Turtle, a small Snapping Turtle, a beautiful adult Green Treefrog, and a juvenile Black Racer.

In the afternoon, I took my group southeast of the swamp and into the pinelands. It was here that I made my best find of the weekend. An adult Eastern Glass Lizard lay in the middle of the road. I stopped and quickly jumped out, expecting it to scurry into the roadside grass. The lizard did not move. After taking pictures of the lizard, I had to prod it into leaving the road. This was my first find of a live Eastern Glass Lizard.

Scattered in wetter areas within the pinelands were Hooded and Trumpet Pitcher Plants.

Toward the end of the afternoon, I finally sighted on the road my first and only Eastern Kingsnake of the weekend. It was a young specimen about 30 inches long. Like most other kingsnakes I have found on the road in Hellhole, this specimen did not freeze as we came upon it but scurried off the roadway. I quickly stopped the van and jumped out. With a diving leap I grasped the snake in the adjacent ditch.

The air temperature dropped to below reptile comfort levels after sunset. If the temperature had remained warm, we would have done some night searching. As it was, we prepared our suppers at the campground and then settled in for the highlight of our weekend. In addition to being a conservationist, Jeff Holmes is an excellent recording artist. Jeff entertained us all with songs of contemplation, passion, and humor.



January 17, 2006
Contact: South Carolina Reptiles and Amphibians