The following is reprinted from February 2013.
Two of my good friends stopped by the bluebird factory one day just to say hello and chat for a while. Brothers from the Arcola-Essex community, Sandy and Willie Richardson got to know me right many years ago when I was trapping an overpopulation of beavers on the land of their aunt, Ms. Annie Richardson, who was an elderly but spry lady back then and is still spry and active today, an amazing lady. Their late brother, Spencer, was also a very good friend of mine. He was an avid rabbit hunter and owned a fine pack of beagles.
Sandy and Willie are members of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe, and whenever we get together the talk always turns to discussions about wildlife. This time we talked about bluebirds and snakes. They both have many of our bluebird houses on their property on Copeland’s Quarter, and they commented that they have recently seen bluebirds actively going in and out of their houses as if to begin nesting. I think that I convinced them that those bluebirds were not the local ones that have been here all year, but were bluebirds migrating south from northern states or Canada and were discovering the bluebird houses for the first time. They may continue on south or may spend the rest of the winter here and return to their northern home in late February when local bluebirds come back.
In early fall, when you see bluebirds going in and out of your birdhouses, and they hover in the air in front of your birdhouses, that means they are fixing to begin their migration flight to somewhere south, and they are imprinting the house and its location in their minds so that they can come back to it around the middle of February.
This time of year, when you see bluebirds going in and out of your birdhouses, they are most likely ones that have migrated from Canada or some northern states and are interested in the birdhouses.
In my younger days, we had real winters around here, and all of the bluebirds migrated south sometime before Thanksgiving. But over the years, the winters have grown milder, and at least half of the local bluebirds do not migrate. A good thing to do is to plant flowering dogwood trees, and their red berries will provide food for the bluebirds that stay here in winter.
Soon, our conversation drifted to snakes, with Sandy saying he had never seen a cottonmouth moccasin in Warren County. I said that I had seen very few in all my years, with the latest being in the Inez community.
If you take Highway 58 south out of Warrenton to E.B. Harris’ pastures, turn left on Ernest A. Turner Road, follow it to the dead end at the power line, go northeast down the power line to where Maple Branch flows into Fishing Creek and go upstream on Maple Branch, you will come to where five beaver dams had stopped up the branch. Wells Fargo Bank in Raleigh hired me to trap the beavers and remove the dams.
There was a well-worn game path to the beaver dams, and one day, my trapping partner, Terry, and I traveled down that path to check our beaver traps. On the way back down that path, we came upon a big cottonmouth moccasin curled up in the middle of the path. Its head was drawn back, its mouth wide open, fangs showing and jaws puffed up with poison. It was daring us to try to get by him. If you’re afraid of snakes, you don’t need to have a job like mine. I caught him back of his head and held him up while Terry took a couple of pictures, then I released him.
It is most unusual to hear of the sighting of rattlesnakes in this area, but it does happen. I told Sandy and Willie that I handled a timber rattlesnake just over a year ago. It was discovered by a park ranger on Interstate 85 in Warren County just a short distance over the Vance County line. It had been run over by an automobile, but was still alive.
Many years ago, I was told that, in Vance County, on the western side of Henderson, while clearing land to build Maria Parham hospital, a bulldozer uncovered a nest of several rattlesnakes. And in adjoining Granville County, many residents will attest that there have always been rattlesnakes on Bowling’s Mountain.
Sandy said that, back when he was a boy, he had seen joint snakes. These were snakes that broke into sections, or joints when threatened, and after the danger was gone, the snake came together. Sandy said that he had witnessed the breaking into sections, but had never seen one come back together. I said that I have heard the old folks tell of joint snakes, but have never seen one.
One of my favorite tales came from an old man who lived out in the country when he was a boy. Thanksgiving was a few days away, and his daddy bought a live turkey to eat for Thanksgiving dinner. (Back then dinner was the noon meal.) The day before Thanksgiving, they took the turkey to the chopping block and cut its head off with an ax, then plucked and cleaned it, and the next day they served the turkey for dinner. Later that day, one of the children began to holler that he saw a snake. It was a joint snake, and the daddy hit it with a stick. The snake broke into several sections. Knowing that the snake would come back together, the daddy picked up the snake’s head and threw it on top of a barn shed, knowing that there was no way for the snake to live without its head.
A couple of hours later, they heard the gobble of a turkey, but that couldn’t be possible because they had eaten the turkey for dinner. They went to investigate and soon found the joint snake. The snake couldn’t find its head, but had found the turkey’s head lying beside the chopping block and had put it on.
Sandy and Willie departed to go home, and I got back to work building bluebird houses. They each took a brand new bluebird house with them.