Praying for Snakes and Birds

As the days shorten and cool, it’s once again a pleasure to be out-of-doors.  In my spare time, I’m re-configuring parts of my garden (when am I NOT re-configuring parts of the garden?), and enjoying the seasonal change from summer to autumn.

In my compost area, I was wrangling rogue fallen leaves and when I peeked into an empty bin, discovered this slithery fella.

A young Texas Rat SnakeElaphe obsoleta lindheimeri,  I imagine it’s the offspring of a adult snake that I saw in June.  Several times, the Blue Jays were yelling at something in the back corner of my garden.  I’d investigated, assuming that they were screaming at an owl, but they were looking down at the ground and not up into trees.  After several inspections driven by the jays’ caterwauling, I finally I saw a bit of a good sized snake.  The snake was mostly nestled under groundcover, but enough was visible showing a circumference several inches, meaning that the snake is most likely 5-6 feet long.  I left the snake alone, not out of fear, but because rat snakes are good predators to have in the garden.

The Blue Jays were quiet after that, but a few weeks later I heard the alarm calls of a crowd of Carolina Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, and Black-crested Titmice as they fluttered around my back neighbors’ large elm tree.  The little birds were inspecting something in the crotch of large limbs, and only once I grabbed my binoculars could I see that it was several bits of shed snakeskin hung on the bark of the tree.  Rat snakes can climb trees, so I was certain the skin was the remains of my snake.  I emailed the neighbors and they were excited about the find, but never saw the live snake.

Fast-forward through summer and I suppose eggs were laid and snakes were hatched.

Once I snapped photos of the binned beauty and dragged the Hub out to see our slinky friend, we deposited the little reptile in a different part of my garden.  I hope it eats lots of rats and mice, but not the various birds that are around.  Alas, birds and their eggs (remember, rat snakes climb!) are part of rat snake diets.

Predators eat.

 

After checking the honeybee hives recently, I spied this smaller, but no less deadly, predator hanging out near our hive, Scar.

“Arms” held aloft, perhaps this adult Praying mantisStagmomantis sp. is praying for me to go away so that it can continue its dinner hunt.

Mantids eat a variety of things, most of which are smaller than themselves, including honeybees.  Flies, butterflies and moths, as well as other insects are also on the mantid menu.  When I checked the next morning, the mantid was gone from this spot, but is probably nearby.

Fall bird migration is underway as they travel from their northern breeding grounds to winter in Mexico, Central and South America.  I’ve seen a Nashville Warbler, Leiothlypis ruficapilla, on several occasions, finally catching it still enough for a couple of shots.

Actually, I have no idea if this is the same warbler I’ve spotted several times, or simply another Nashville sojourner, though all the ones I’ve seen have been male.  Nashville Warblers breed in Canada, migrating southward through a wide swath of the United States, and wintering in Central America.  I’ve seen individuals of this species in my garden before during spring migration, but never during fall.

The only other migratory bird in my garden has been a Yellow Warbler, flitting late one afternoon around the pond.  Their flashing sunshine yellow feathers are hard to miss.   I also saw a magnificent hawk at my pond, but I had bumbled noisily out the back door and so startled it, causing it to take flight immediately.  When will I learn to first look through the glass to check out the surroundings before I open the door and scare everyone away?

There’s never a dull moment in the garden–one just needs decent observation skills and to practice quiet, subtle movements.

I guess I have some work to do.

 

21 thoughts on “Praying for Snakes and Birds

  1. I think your observation skills are really good. All the happenings in a backyard garden is truly amazing. I have had the same Rat Snake/bird experience. It seems to be the only snake they fuss about. I’m the only one that screams at Copperheads.

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    • I would agree with you, but I need to work on my noise level! 🙂 I guess the birds know their enemies. It was really interesting that the little songbirds were twittering (the good kind) and inspecting the snake skin. They know it means danger for them. Ugh, Copperheads are really dangerous. I almost stepped on a rattlesnake once on a hike in Big Bend; my husband saw it and yelled at me to hop over it! It was only a baby…:) At my parents’ house in Corpus, coral snakes were not uncommon–they’re so beautiful!

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      • I’m sorry your friend broke her hip, that’s terrible. Rat snakes are not venomous, they constrict their prey and only if it’s smaller than they are. I wish her a speedy recovery and good health.

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    • Thanks, Chloris. Snakes are a vital part of the ecosystem and indicate a level of good health, so I’m pleased that they’re around. That said, I’m glad there aren’t any venomous snakes in my garden, like rattlers or coral snakes.

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  2. Oy – lots going on in your garden! Although it would take me a while to get used to their presence, I could use a rat snake or two in my garden. Have not seen signs of the rats we used to have in a while, but having snakes would be extra insurance. Or, maybe the fact that I haven’t seen any evidence of rodents can be attributed to the fact that I already have a snake inhabitant..? I mean someone with tidy habits ate all the tadpoles I was trying to raise this spring. Who knows what lurks out there…?

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  3. We spotted a praying mantis last night for the first time in this yard. Lifting the kids up to see it in the yellow garage lamp, they loved the size of its eyes and thus commenced a nice chat about predators seeing well to hunt.

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  4. Fascinating stuff, and I enjoyed your story about your experience, too. Great photos. I hope all the migrating species are out of the north now–we have a freeze warning tonight. Such a shocking transition today from near summer-like temps to near winter-like temps. Brrrr….

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    • I’ve seen several Nashvilles and this morning, a Lincoln Sparrow–I just love those little ones! We hit 99 F on Thursday–a record high–and then a cold front moved through in the wee hours Friday morning and the low was 47 F–that’s weird. We dropped 20 degrees in 2 hours. But I have to admit it’s so nice right now, but we’re dry and need some rain.

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  5. Isn’t this weather fine? It’s still a bit of a stiff wind here, but it’s beginning to lay, and in just a bit I’m heading down to Galveston Island, just to get out for a bit.

    Your comments about your blue jays making a ruckus makes me wonder whether mine sometimes are fussing at a snake. I’ve always assumed it was hawks that were bothering them, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be a snake. Right now, they’ve nearly stopped coming to the peanut stash, and I suspect it’s because there’s more native food around. Acorns and pecans are dropping, and there are berries beginning to ripen.

    Most people are saying the hummingbirds are gone now. I’m seeing plenty of ospreys fly in, and the mallards are back, but I’ve only seen one coot so far — probably a scout. When the coots arrive, “winter” won’t be far behind.

    Speaking of quiet, unobtrusive movement, I know someone who crawls on his belly through the Bolivar flats to get eye-level photos of shore birds. He says an approach can take as much as a half hour. The photos are beautiful, but I think I’ll stay mostly upright and take what I get in the photo department!

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    • Oh, it’s been gorgeous these last two days!

      The blue jays are great “watch” birds and you may very well have a rat snake. Birds don’t like them very much. I haven’t seen a hummer in about a week, but some overwinter here. I saw a monarch flit through the back garden this afternoon–the first I’ve seen in my garden this autumn, though I’ve seen them elsewhere.

      I’m impressed with your friend’s patience! That’s real devotion to the art, I’d say. I’m like you: I’ll squat, twist, turn, but eventually, I just have to take the shot, come what may!

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    • Thanks, Jason. The Nashville Warblers are such pretty little birds, but they don’t stay still for long and are hard to photograph. I guess that’s just a bird thing. As for the mantis and the snake, both were much more cooperative.

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