Sunday, August 21, 2016

Nonmetaphorical Snakes in the Grass

A close-up of the 2nd largest Northern Water Snake I've ever seen.  
I had my first snake encounter as a youngster in the early fifties, before I ever entered kindergarten. Not knowing what a snake was at the time, I received my intro to reptiles courtesy of a Northern Water Snake along the shore of Little Tonawanda Creek. As a result I became fascinated with snakes for a number of years, and while that fascination has waned a great deal, a water snake never fails to arouse my curiosity. 

Last week I was able to relive that very same first experience.  What began as a nature outing with my grandsons in pursuit of frogs, dragonflies, grasshoppers, etc. turned into something else entirely when my youngest grandson yelled, “Snake!”.  We watched them intently for a time and then set off for more exploring.  

The following morning I decided to return to the same spot alone that we had been the day before, this time with camera in hand in the hopes that some picture taking opportunities would arise, and did they ever!   

This is the same snake, its crossband markings quite vivid, with
 alternating dark blotches stretching from its neck all along its back and sides. 
I had taken several photos when I happened to look down and received quite a surprise. Hardly more than a foot way was a second snake and although its head and tail are hidden, it was easily the largest Northern Water Snake I’ve ever seen. It is looped rather than coiled and as is the case with older water snakes, this one’s pattern has all but faded, giving it an all black or dark brown appearance.   
This is the sight that greeted me when I happened to glance down to my right. 

By now I’m both surprised and curious, and I was intent on locating the head of this jumbo water snake. While trying my utmost to keep my feet stationary and perfectly still, and in the process doing a good impersonation of a contortionist, I twisted and turned my torso trying to locate the head of the second snake in the tall grass. I managed to locate the head of the larger snake and, as you can see, there are no vivid markings, its blotched pattern has definitely faded with age. It is massive for its species.

The milky, opaque coating over the eye indicates the snake is getting ready to shed.  
I was puzzled.  Three mornings in a row both snakes were located in the same location well away from their preferred habitat. There was a pond to the north, maybe twenty yards away, and a small, sluggish stream, forty yards to the south. Judging by the size of these water snakes, their habitat provides a readily available menu, one that is vast and varied. Both locations have frogs, fish, crustaceans and other critters that water snakes readily feed on. But instead, both snakes had stayed away from obvious food sources and stayed put in the grassy meadow and always in very close proximity to one another.  

Could this be the reason for the "snakes in the grass"?
There is one possible explanation I can think of. Each year the meadow and its tall grasses serve as a nesting site for dozens of Bob ‘o Links (pictured above) and a few other songbirds that nest on the ground. I can’t help wondering if, come nesting season, this pair of large and aged Northern Water Snakes take up residence in the meadow – at least on a part time basis – in a quest for bird eggs – a reptilian delicacy.  

Until next time
Jim & Claudia

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Spearfishing with Pastor Jeff Bartz

This Mutton Snapper made for excellent table fare. 
(Our camera is on the fritz at the moment so today’s blog post comes from the archives of my mind, reminiscing about a wonderful family outdoor adventure from not so long ago…………….)

It was late March of 2008 and my son-in-law, Jeff Bartz and I were treading water while catching our breath between dives. An Associate Pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Batavia, Jeff and I had earlier been discussing the numerous barracudas we’d been seeing while spearfishing and we agreed that it was probably not a good idea to target one of the toothy critters – there’s no telling how they might react.

We were on a week-long family vacation on the Bahamian Island of Abaco and Jeff and I intended to spend as much time as possible hunting for our dinner. By Bahamian law, spearfishing may only be done with a Hawaiian sling and wearing mask, fins & snorkel – no mechanized devices and no scuba gear.  Spearfishing with a Hawaiian Sling is tricky business. Attempting to spear a barracuda with a sling can be a risky proposition. 

With disposable camera in tow, Sammy Bartz displays a sea biscuit. 
Everyone in the family donned mask, fins & snorkel for this adventure.
Our routine was to rent a boat and motor through the Sea of Abaco and then beyond the barrier island of Man ‘O War Cay. A half to three quarters of a mile out, the sea floor is a vast maze of coral reefs, each of them an adventure in itself. This was the home of colorful fish, sting rays, sea turtles, sharks and much more. But each day we hunted for dinner and our intended quarry was grouper, snapper and lobsters. Here, within the confines of the deepest and largest reefs, those farthest away from shore, the sea is the color of several shades of turquoise. Beyond the outer reefs the water becomes cobalt blue and drops off into abysmal depths. 

Anyway, back to Jeff and the barracuda. I had just surfaced after a dive and was catching my breath when I saw this big, toothy critter just below the surface facing the open water to my left. He didn’t appear to be watching me, but with a barracuda’s eye placement being what it is, one never can tell. One moment it was perfectly still, only its pectoral and ventral fins moving ever so slightly, then, in the next instant a silver flash passed by my head – it was the 5 ft. long shaft of Jeff’s sling and I watched as it hit its intended mark.

Pastor Jeff, displaying his Hawaiian Sling prowess!
Was I surprised? Yes sir! Was the adrenaline flowing? You could say that! The Barracuda immediately went ballistic, heading to the surface, then downward, bouncing off coral heads. This went on for perhaps a full minute and all the while I tried to keep the wounded fish in sight. It finally expired on the bottom in 40 ft. of water, the spear still intact. Filleted and grilled with lemon pepper and almonds, it was delicious and enjoyed by the entire family.
The Bartz family in front of the cemetery at Man 'O War Cay.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Jeff is the Associate Pastor at Grace Baptist Church in my hometown of Batavia, NY.  He and Senior Pastor, Donald Shirk are two amazing men of God, following Christ's beckoning from Matthew 4.19; And He said unto then, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."  Worship Service is every Sunday at 9:45 am and they would love to have you come hear the Good News.

Until Next Time,
Jim & Claudia