Wes and I have had the chance to snorkel several days this past week while exploring different areas and streams here in the Smokies. While we always see an assortment of fish and greatly enjoy our time in the water, sometimes we encounter things that create a remarkable experience! This past week, it started out like all other late afternoon snorkeling visits, showcasing several schools of beautiful fish in unbelievably clear water.
Then as we embarked upon a journey into yet another pool and swam up to the cascade feeding it, Wes spotted what we’re always hoping to see . . . a Hellbender! We were both thrilled to see this beautiful aquatic creature which is one of the largest salamanders in the world and can grow over two feet in length! We carefully watched and videoed, as it slowly made its way up the cascade. It seemed to be having almost as hard a time as we were just trying to stay in place, but had the advantage of rough pads on its toes, giving it extra traction on the slippery rocks. Meanwhile, we carefully held onto rocks to keep ourselves in place, so we could watch it.
It finally managed to crawl into the deeper water where the current wasn’t quite as strong, and I was delighted to watch as it slowly crawled by while making its way upstream!
With wee little eyes and poor eyesight, it relies mostly on vibrations detected with a lateral line and didn’t mind at all, us observing it from a safe and respectable distance. It was truly amazing to watch and we couldn’t believe this incredible opportunity we had been given to observe this Hellbender who spends most of its day hiding under rocks.
We carefully and slowly followed along behind it and watched as it appeared to be hunting for food, which is mostly crayfish while peering and searching underneath rocks and ledges before moving on. The fish, especially the smaller bass, were as intrigued by this magnificent creature as we were, and kept swimming all around it, even going right down to it and bumping it with their mouths a couple of times!
As long as it let us, we continued to watch and observe in amazement as it crawled along, and at times it would crawl right by us, making for a great photo-op for Wes at one point! After resting there for a bit, he crawled underneath Wes’ arm and went along his merry way.
He had wonderful little white-tipped toes and wrinkly looking skin through which it breathes, sporting some of the best camouflage ever, and it could instantly blend in with the rocks, seemingly disappearing! We kept pinching ourselves to make sure it was really and truly happening and that we weren’t dreaming this amazing encounter up!
We said goodbye to our little friend and made our way up into other sections of the stream, and couldn’t believe it when we spotted yet another Hellbender! It too didn’t mind us watching as it slowly crawled upstream, occasionally being rolled over and sent backward by the very strong current!
Nonetheless, each time it gracefully recovered, almost looking as if it had meant to do that as a joy ride, and started making its way upstream once again. I watched and videoed as it went along until it found a nice large rock to go under, and it wasn’t until we were back at home and watching the video in slow motion, that we actually saw that I had captured another Hellbender darting out from underneath the rock and biting the one I had been watching! “WOW . . . What are the chances of getting something like that on video!” . . . we said as we watched it in slow motion again several more times.
What an amazing snorkeling adventure it had been and once again we were reminded of all the truly wonderful things nature has to show us if only we’ll take the time to go out there and patiently watch and observe.
~ In The Studio ~
While Wes has been very busy with office work for the upcoming Society of Animal Artists 59th Annual Exhibition at the beautiful Briscoe Western Art Museum, I have been busy at my easel and finished this miniature painting of a beautiful Painted Bunting, painted from a gorgeous reference photo taken by one of my Dad’s good friends. This painting will be featured in the upcoming show, A Tradition Of Excellence: American Women Artists. at the RS Hanna Gallery, in Fredericksburg, TX and runs from October 21st through December 7th of this year.
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Until Next Time . . .