Riverkeeper report: Jacked up

Published 10:27 am Monday, May 15, 2017

Spirit of Moonpie and I spent the 7th through the 9th on the Blackwater below Franklin. Air temps ranged from 46 to 72 degrees and the water was 67 degrees. Those are mighty fine temperature ranges for a Riverkeeper’s fish and critters.

Fine as that was, the trip did not start off so well. The water was high, and so when we got to base camp I knew I was going to have a bit of trouble unloading all that equipment. Well, more trouble than normal I should say. I was wearing my 17-inch boots, but still on the first foot out I slipped and a leg went back under the boat and that boot filled up with water.

A broadhead skink cuddles up to an orange belly water snake. The Riverkeeper said a herpetologist told him that water snakes don’t eat lizards. — Submitted | Jeff Turner

Now, 67-degree water ain’t that bad, been in it many times that cold and colder. The problem for me was that was my left leg, which being partially paralyzed creates its own set of challenges out there for me.

So now I was sitting on the floor of the boat with my bad leg hanging outside with essentially a bucketful of water hanging on it, and now I was stuck!

Couldn’t get my left leg in the boat ‘cause it was too heavy, couldn’t stand up because my tail was on the floor and right leg flopped over the seat. So I had to do some innovative maneuvering to say the least to get out of that predicament. But I finally did and wrestled the boot off and got it emptied. Total time spent doing all that, 20 minutes. Hey, ya got to do what ya got to do.

I was expecting the trash to be bad after those storms that came through before I left on this trip, but I actually was hard pressed to find any trash in the river. YEA! That allowed me more time to FISH for once. And fish I did.

After inventing a new lure out of necessity, I proceeded to re-stock my fish fry reserves. I caught 14 jacks (chain pickerel) five largemouth to two pounds, and several yellow perch, speckle and brim. I had so many fillets I had to call my dad to bring me more ice. It was a lot of fun and I needed it after what I have been through the past month with my dental fiasco.

Moonpie’s critter patrol was extremely active this trip, especially with the snakes. We saw five cottonmouths this trip. One small one was up in a bush, something I have never seen before in 50 years of being on the river and seeing hundreds of cottonmouths. We also saw the eagles and a juvy, a monster snapping turtle on a pine tree no less, which was odd.

Then we saw one of the oddest things I have ever seen out there. Well, OK. I have seen a lot of strange things for sure, but this is another. We were fishing along and saw this really pretty orange belly water snake laying on a log. As I looked at it, though, I noticed something else was there: two something elses. As I moved in for a camera shot, I saw that it was two broadhead skinks … right beside the snake, and one saw us coming and took off running DOWN the back of the snake. The other just was laying there beside the orange belly, and as I got my camera booted up the lizard actually cuddled up tight, like it knew I was going to take a pic of the blaze orange BFFs. Once again, never ever seen this before.

I even asked a herpetologist friend of mine why the snake didn’t snack. He told me water snakes don’t eat lizards. Imagine that. In the cold-blooded order of “Squatmata” there is harmony on the two rivers we call the Blackwater and Nottoway.

Note: Snakes and lizards are both members of the same “scaly” order of reptiles. Snake and lizard species together populate Squamata, the largest order of reptiles.The word “Squamata” means “scaly” in Latin, and the order includes both legged and legless reptiles.

JEFF TURNER is the Blackwater/Nottoway Riverkeeper. He can be reached at blknotkpr@earthlink.net.