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 Post subject: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 14th, 2010, 2:39 am 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
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Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
In mid-Autumn the days in Northern Taiwan are still hot, yet not as oppressively hot as in summer; however the nights have cooled down significantly. At my main stomping grounds up at 2700 feet behind the house I can now see my breath at night, and only the hardier snakes come out at those temps around 70 F/21 C. There is one extremely rare species, Ovophis monticola, that loves very cool, almost cold nights, so this is the time to find it - unfortunately, it's so scarce that no sightings were recorded between 1930 and 1980, and I've seen this animal only twice myself, so I don't think it's worth all the time, gas and hassle.

The day temps up there are now in the mid-seventies, with cool mornings and (late) afternoons, so there are less and less chances of seeing many snakes there. Autumn is the big pig-out time in preparation for brumation, hence the snakes have moved onto lower elevations - and the smart hunter follows his prey. Since yesterday, I've been doing my daily ditch hikes along a lovely five-mile stretch of forest road in the midlands, at about 900 feet. It's officially called "Cherry Blossom Boulevard", onaccounta the hundreds of ornamental cherry trees (Prunus serrulata, the dark pink variety) lining the road on both sides, and luring thousands of tourists every March. Internally, we prefer the moniker "Toad Road", because the first few times we cruised there in late winter 2009, the tarmac was covered with such immense numbers of Bufo bankorensis that you were guaranteed to squish at least half a dozen per mile even if you were riding a scooter.....

The entire road runs through a mix of dense lowland and midland forest, interspersed with many creeks, and apart from the small farmsteads on the bottom of the valley which the road encircles, on the other side of the road there are no signs of human settlements whatsoever - pristine jungle all the way up to the summits of Yangmingshan National Park. The area teems with wildlife: birds, fish, insects and small mammals galore, lots of herps, and even wild boar which have become extremely rare this close to Taipei City. The vegetation is richer than on the mountain tops, and even if you don't spot any herps, there's always something to feast your eyes on: kingfishers, Taiwan Blue Magpies, red-bellied squirrels, and stunning views of the valley below.

My initial walk yesterday yielded promising results: a Ptyas dhumnades in its breathtakingly pretty hatchling stage, and two neonate Mock Vipers, one beige, the other charcoal grey with black dorsal pattern. Finding three snakes during two hours of walking is not too bad for jungle environs, so my hopes for today were high - and they were fulfilled.

Now, I could start the main story launching into the same spiel as with the other cobra tales - how I spotted it from the car, jumped out like a Screaming Eagle, snakehook in teeth, and heroically gained control of the furiously spitting animal while simultaneously parking the car, readying the camera, and tearing the wrapping off a pack of chili-flavored dried tofu. But sadly, no dauntless stunts were involved in the catching of this here specimen. Instead, I was walking inside the ditch, admiring the legions of red-and-black striped millipedes milling around (that's where they got their name), enjoying the morning sun, and thinking of the nice bottle of green tea-flavored sports drink awaiting me at the end of the walk, when suddenly from the leaf litter below my feet emerged this tiny, black, squat Naja atra that looked like a dead ringer for one of its conspecifics I had found a couple weeks earlier on that very road - only of truly lilliputian dimensions. I hooked it onto the road, and it immediately began its hard-wired Scary Dance....which at this miniature scale looked so preposterously adorable that for a moment I forgot I was standing eye to eye with an animal that could introduce me to a world of massive grief if I didn't pay proper attention at all times. A minute later, though, that fact was driven home when I had to decide what to do with the snake. Considering my record for escaped elapids (don't ask), there was no way I would bring the cobra home for a photo shoot, but the roadside didn't lend itself for photography either, so I thought it best to bring the snake someplace more photogenic, but in the woods. Unfortunately, to achieve that goal I had to bag the cobra....and I'm not really big on bagging hots. As a rule, we don't touch them at all, and even if we did manage to get a venomous snake into a bag, it could still bite the bag carrier/handler through the cloth. I ain't gettin' paid for all this snake foolery anyway, so why chance it? But there was no other option save for balancing the snake on the hook for the next two miles, and after much swearing, sweating, and almost messing my knickers, I finally managed to hook-flick the animal into the bag which I was holding open with the tongs (no, it wouldn't have worked vice-versa - the Gentle Giants don't close tight enough to secure small snakes of this size). I hastily tied the bag, fully aware of the angry, venomous serpent just a few inches from my hands (I really should have used the bigger bag!) and then transported the package on the end of the hook to the place I had intended for a photo session.

Arriving at the photo spot, I first shook the cobra out of the bag onto the bench and had a closer look at it. Instantly, I was treated to the formidable wrath only a cobra can deliver with all its impressive manifestations - hooding up, hissing, lunging at the enemy, repeat until enemy shorts are soiled. But this one was the flea circus version: the lunges hardly exceeded two inches, the hood was barely visible, and the hisses sounded exactly like those "Sound & Steam" kits you install in HO scale locomotives - pitifully thin fizzles almost inaudible over the racket the birds and insects were making.

As I prepared to take the first shots, a gentleman passing by got out of his car to see what the crazy bignose was doing. After introductions and a little chitchat, I explained to him that it's quite difficult for a single person to photograph a cobra any way but frontal, because after the snake's eyes have homed in on you, the entire head will follow all your movements. Thus, you need someone to distract the snake and make it turn its head somewhere else, and I asked him if he would help out. To my great joy, he kindly agreed to act as a lure for the cobra and happily paced up and down along the bench, the snake monitoring him all the time. He even was nice enough to take a few shots of me sharing the bench with the reptile. Alas, when I offered him to shoot a few souvenir pictures of him sitting next to this adorable little animal, he vehemently declined for reasons unknown :mrgreen:

One more interesting thing came of this episode: I was sitting on the ground in front of the bench taking close-ups, and suddenly realized that the snake was following my lateral camera movements. I took the opportunity to explain to the guy the mechanics by which Indian snake charmers get their animals to "dance", and then used the snake hook as a fake flute, "playing" an inaudible melody for the animal and swaying to the left and right. Lo and behold - the cobra followed each and every one of my movements. I think that could be a nice fallback profession, should my translation agency go belly-up someday...

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Chinese cobra peacefully drinking the nectar from a lovely Madagascar Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus). Ah, the serenity of Nature...
(the first one to fall for this will be publicly ridiculed in the next issue of Herp Nation)

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Beauty & The Beast - you decide which is which.

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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 14th, 2010, 2:53 am 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 3:39 pm
Posts: 380
Location: Concord TWP, Ohio
Hans, love the narration and the snake is beautiful! The last photo blew my mind at how TINY it is! It has to be challenging to keep telling yourself that this little squirt can take me down in a heartbeat...


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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 14th, 2010, 3:03 am 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
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Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
Thanks!

Dr. Dark wrote:
It has to be challenging to keep telling yourself that this little squirt can take me down in a heartbeat...

True dat. Sitting on the ground in front of the snake, I often found myself thinking about just picking it up by hand when I wanted to reposition it. Using a snake hook for such a little worm just doesn't seem to make any common sense, and you really have to fight your instincts that are telling you "you big + animal small = you grab."

Addendum: I've just been told by a N. atra collector that this snake is a yearling. Now I need to find even smaller ones, like this hatchling.


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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 14th, 2010, 9:48 am 

Joined: June 7th, 2010, 9:07 am
Posts: 117
Location: Syracuse, NY.
Not ashamed to say this at all (aside from not adding anything intelligent really), but that has to be one of the cutest damn snakes I've ever seen. I don't know if the ability to kill you adds or subtracts from it though haha.


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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 14th, 2010, 10:04 am 
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Joined: June 27th, 2010, 12:27 pm
Posts: 963
Location: Terlingua / Marfa, Texas
Hans Breuer (twoton) wrote:
Now, I could start the main story launching into the same spiel as with the other cobra tales - how I spotted it from the car, jumped out like a Screaming Eagle, snakehook in teeth, and heroically gained control of the furiously spitting animal while simultaneously parking the car, readying the camera, and tearing the wrapping off a pack of chili-flavored dried tofu.


HaHa. Just another day in the life of the unstoppable Twoton.

You REALLY need to write a book on your Taiwanese herping adventures. You could follow it up with a sequel from Sarawak.


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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 14th, 2010, 4:08 pm 
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Joined: June 9th, 2010, 6:17 am
Posts: 351
Ditto on the book! AMAZING writing and great photos! The flowers make a better backdrop than your usual drab leaf litter and rocks. Artificial to be sure, but most beauty ultimately is :D


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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 14th, 2010, 4:15 pm 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 12:40 am
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Location: Pennsylvania- Bucks Co. near Phila.
Precious!


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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 14th, 2010, 4:37 pm 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
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Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
Thanks, guys!

Quote:
You REALLY need to write a book on your Taiwanese herping adventures. You could follow it up with a sequel from Sarawak.

Damn, the snake's out of the bag. Thanks to friendly poking from another forum member - just this week, actually! - I'm now seriously planning a book on herping in Taiwan (with a possible sequel on Borneo). I'm currently sifting through inspirations for style and structure, and I think I would like to write a mix of Dick Bartlett's "In Search of Reptiles & Amphibians" and Stephen Spawls' "Sun, Sand and Snakes", with a bit of David Quammen and Hunter Thompson (BAD CRAZINESS!) thrown in for thicker flavor. Not that I'm even remotely as good as those guys, but if you're not gonna hit anything anyway, might as well aim high :-)

I'll keep all y'all updated, and in the meantime, please don't hesitate to recommend potential publishers to me that might be interested in something this eclectic and definitely non-mainstream....(maybe in another thread, though :-) )


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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 14th, 2010, 4:50 pm 
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Joined: June 27th, 2010, 12:27 pm
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Location: Terlingua / Marfa, Texas
FANTASTIC. I'm sure it will be a really fun read. I hope you don't try too hard to employ some other writer's style. Your own freewheeling approach is a fantastic mix of fun, educational, inspirational, humorous, and some times weird (in a very good way).

Heck, I would be thrilled with a professionally printed collection of your best stories and photos from past FHF posts.

:beer:


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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 14th, 2010, 9:51 pm 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
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Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
Daryl Eby wrote:
FANTASTIC. I'm sure it will be a really fun read. I hope you don't try too hard to employ some other writer's style. Your own freewheeling approach is a fantastic mix of fun, educational, inspirational, humorous, and some times weird (in a very good way).

Heck, I would be thrilled with a professionally printed collection of your best stories and photos from past FHF posts.

:beer:


Thanks for the support, Daryl! I won't try to ape anyone else's style (I'm way too conceited for that :mrgreen: ), I just mentioned those authors as my main influences - Dick Bartlett for his wonderfully elaborate way of including every insect, plant and landscape element to weave a complex, encompassing picture of the ecosystems in question; Spawls and Quammen for their strong sense of humor, and Dr. Gonzo for the definitely required dose of BAD CRAZINESS (<- can't point that out often enough!).

It won't be just a printed collection of stories and photos from past FHF posts. The posts will definitely serve as a base to work from, and some will be expanded into larger stories, but an entire book gives you the freedom to include so much more, and I'm looking forward to do just that.


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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 14th, 2010, 9:58 pm 
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 4:05 pm
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Location: Kansas
It's funny seeing a cobra posed on impatiens. I have those flowers on the side of my house. It is hard to imagine a cobra crawling amongst them. :)

DAN


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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 14th, 2010, 10:06 pm 
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 4:05 pm
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Location: Kansas
Huh, I just went through and read the rest of your post. While I appreciate your joke... the flower from which cobra is so gently lapping nectar is actually an impatiens or impatient (Impatiens walleriana) not a periwinkle. It is so named because the seed pods, which you can see very well in your photo, explode when touched. The plant seems impatient to spread its seed.

Lovely shots, keep em coming.

DAN


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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 14th, 2010, 11:08 pm 
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Joined: June 11th, 2010, 10:19 am
Posts: 350
Location: Jyväskylä, Finland
Cobras are like buses, eh? First you can't find one and suddenly you post photos of them twice a week.

I like the idea of a herping book. I enjoy your style of writing, and so seem many others.


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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 15th, 2010, 5:51 pm 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
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Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
Thanks for the Impatiens correction! Of course, that's what they are! I made the mistake to look up the Chinese name (which is, fyi, 日日春 or "Everyday Spring") and believe the scientific name I saw on the first site.....

Quote:
Cobras are like buses

Thanks for making me spit my coffee all over the keyboard :-)


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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 16th, 2010, 7:25 am 

Joined: June 7th, 2010, 4:01 pm
Posts: 733
yo......cobras don't drink nectar!!!!!!!........they like maple syrup!!!!!... :lol: :lol: ......dudes.....we should all write a book!!!!!..... ;)


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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 16th, 2010, 7:32 am 

Joined: June 7th, 2010, 4:01 pm
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didja read keeper & the kept....and snakes & snake hunting by the "COACH"?..........you'll get some guidance from them.....ABSOLUTELY.....oh....yeah the one about guy that got wacked by the "f**king krait" ....his words.....and theres a book out there about some female that spent time in the bush....think its called "down low things"........ :sleep: :sleep: :sleep:


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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 16th, 2010, 7:37 am 
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Joined: June 27th, 2010, 12:27 pm
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Location: Terlingua / Marfa, Texas
bobassetto wrote:
and theres a book out there about some female that spent time in the bush....think its called "down low things"........


Haven't read that book, but I think I saw the video. :shock: :mrgreen: :lol:


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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 16th, 2010, 8:19 am 
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 6:45 am
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Location: One of the boys from Illinois
Nice series, Hans - what a pretty snake. I look forward to reading your book someday (I feel like I already am).

-Mike


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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 17th, 2010, 8:43 pm 
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Location: I love L.A.
That little thing is gorgeous!


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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 17th, 2010, 10:41 pm 
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 11:08 am
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adorable


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 Post subject: Re: Hello Kitty Cobra
PostPosted: September 18th, 2010, 10:25 am 
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 8:36 am
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Location: Sunny Myrtle Beach
Terrific set once again, Hans! Thank you.


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