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

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