Reptilia

My little female cat, Astrud, stays mostly indoors.  However, she enjoys brief early morning tours of the garden and relishes her garden nightcaps after sundown.  I oblige her, especially with the evening forays, as the birds are done for the day, nestled in the trees and safe from cat eyes, teeth, and claws.  Astrud hasn’t exhibited much interest in nocturnal critters.  She watches the various moths and June bugs, wielding an occasional, lazy swat, but rarely acts upon any instinct to kill and eat.  As for the toads, she looks at them from a respectful distance and with slight disgust;  she has no interest in tangling with their warty hives.  However, Astrud has, once or twice, dismembered and partly devoured geckos.  I grieve at that bit of predator business, because I’m fond of geckos and like to see them whole and not scattered in bits and pieces.  But this time of year, there is little in the way of prey that she wants to dismantle.  She spends her evenings sprawled on the driveway, adjacent to the front garden, acting as guard cat, until she’s called in for the night. 

Recently, well before her time to come in for the night, I was surprised to hear her collar bell jingle near the back door.  I flipped on the patio light and saw what Astrud was interested in and jingling about.

It was a gaggle of reptiles!  Or maybe it would be called an assemblage of reptiles? Or troupe of reptiles?  I’m not really sure, especially since only one of the reptiles is actually a reptile.   A baby Texas Rat Snake, Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri, had joined in a reptilian huddle on the back patio.  Its cohorts were inanimate reptiles, both made of metal and which once belonged to my late father-in-law:  one represents a turtle and the second, Texas Horned Lizard.

Not too many weeks before this, I’d seen an adult Texas Rat Snake at my pond, which you can read about here.  Is this little one an offspring of that big adult?  Are there more of these slithery beauties around?  No doubt there are more, though not necessarily in my garden; like all critters, rats move where the food sources are plentiful.  Rat snakes have plenty to eat around here:  insects of all sorts, birds (especially baby birds), rodents of all sizes, and anything else smaller than themselves.  It is odd for me to see two rat snakes within a few weeks of one another, but it’s been a banner year for reptiles in my garden.

I think the baby Rat Snake was annoyed and not with its companions or Astrud, but with the clumsy, noisy (and nosy) humans.  We took photos from different angles and strategized about how to encourage the snake to vacate the patio and enter the garden.  After some deliberation and a squeal by yours truly (I was going to pick up the snake, but didn’t…), The Hub and I herded slinky to the garden, where it was, I’m sure, glad to be rid of us.

I don’t know if the snake has returned to visit its kin, but I’m certain it’s still around and that we’ll cross paths again, perhaps when it’s grown a bit.

The turtle and the horned lizard remain at their posts:  protectors of the patio, keepers of the container plants. 

 

Bird Watcher?

As spring bird migration swings through Texas, I’ve spent a fair few evenings on my back patio, with cell phone, binoculars, and camera all at the ready.  The cell phone is my link to Merlin, Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s bird identification app for phones; the binoculars help me with those close-up views of tiny, flighty birds;  the camera is handy, utilized in the hope of a decent photo of something, preferably a something with feathers.

I was about to wrap the watching up one evening, not too long before sundown and after an evening’s birding bust, when this fella slinked out from the limestone rocks which are dry-stacked around the waterfall of my pond.  

This slivery thing is the neighborhood’s resident Texas Rat snake, Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri.  Yes, it’s still around and for this particular appearance, didn’t annoy the Blue Jays, as it did when I last saw it, which you can read about here

I was quite shocked at the snake’s arrival and bumbled as I grabbed my camera; I managed only one decent shot of this lovely creature.  After a sip near the waterfall, and a languid look-see, it lifted its head and with the rest of its long body following, gracefully moved up and over and into the cavern that the piled rocks have created.

Named after one of its prey, Rat snakes also eat bird eggs and birds, especially chicks still in their nests.  I imagine Rat snakes will eat anything smaller than themselves.  I haven’t seen the snake since, nor have I removed the rocks to check if he/she is curled up, hidden from others’ eyes. I doubt the snake is there, as I’m pretty sure it was just a stop-over resting spot, supplying water and maybe, a meal.  Also, if the snake was still there, the Blue Jays would have, by now and vociferously, announced its presence.  There are toads in and around the pond, so rather than snagging a warbler for a meal, I’ll bet it was hunting toad.  Funnily enough, I’ve always fretted, just a little, about a mouse or rat setting up housekeeping under those rocks.  I guess I can now scratch that concern off my list. 

As to warbler watching, that evening hobby has ended: the warblers are apparently winging through Texas on a different path, or set of paths, and avoiding my garden.  It’s been well over a week since my last warbler sighting.  I know migratory birds are still observed in Texas, evidenced by birders posting on Facebook’s Birds of Texas group, chronicling the birds’ northward travels to find their mates and create their families.  

Darn.  Oh well, I’ll always have the snake.

I’m joining in today with Anna and her Wednesday Vignette.  Sometimes the vignettes are about gardening, sometimes not, but they’re always fun.

 

Reptile Rendezvous: Wildlife Wednesday, April 2020

I suspect my garden is a meeting place for reptiles, and has been, well, since the beginning of the garden.  My constant garden companions are the Green AnolesAnolis carolinensis.  They’re everywhere:  slinking from behind the decorative shutters of my home windows, sidling up the trunks of trees, scurrying  through the undergrowth of the garden.  Sometimes, they come into the house.  Last week, my husband came from the kitchen to where I was in the back of the house, an anole firmly clamped on his finger.  He’d seen it in the kitchen, attempted to corral the lizard, which only encouraged it to dash under the pantry door.  Once in the pantry, the lizard’s options were limited and the intrepid lizard hunter cornered and captured the misplaced green thing. Mr. Anole clamped down on the hub’s finger hanging on with all its might.  Husband showed me his prize, we both had a giggle, then he exited the house to return the rogue reptile to the garden.  I didn’t have the presence of mind to catch a photo of the finger-with-lizard-attached, but it was a quite a sight.  The anole didn’t hurt the hub (nor, the other way around) as its little teeth are…really little and can’t penetrate human skin.  But if you’re a small insect (also known as food), those teeth will inflict some damage.

There are plenty of other reptiles in the garden, as well.  The season of the noisy,  amorous American ToadBufo americanus, has arrived.  Added to the calming sound of the pond waterfall, are now the guttural–and loud!–croaks of these fellas, also in the pond. Looking for feminine toad company, the warty dudes sing mostly after dark, until about midnight.  I like their serenades but wish they’d dial it down, just a bit.  There are little tree frogs, too, that I’ve never seen, but hear each spring and summer, starting now and continuing through July.  Chirp, chirp, chirp go these little frogs, but fall mute as I approach where they sit in the dark, hidden from my eyes.

Recently, the Blue Jays alerted their avian friends (and consequently, the gardener) to this chap:

He/she is a Rat Snake, Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri, probably the same adult that I saw briefly last summer.  It’s a little hard to tell from the photo, but this slinky, slithery beauty is about four feet long.  It was lounging on the ground, stretched out along the base of my back fence which borders a neighbor’s property.

The neighbor was working in his back garden, so I peeked over the fence to let him know about the snake–he’s also a wildlife appreciator.  He grabbed a step-stool, peered over the fence and was thrilled to see the gorgeous snake.  We chatted for a bit, then I went indoors.  A little later, he emailed me to say that the snake had scaled (pun intended!) the 6 foot wooden fence and had plopped over onto their property.  Their sweet dog, Tula, was too interested in the snake, so he gently urged the snake to go under an attached fence, to lounge in his dog-free next door neighbor’s back yard.  He contacted the neighbor so that if she saw the snake, she wouldn’t freak out; he assured her that the rat snake isn’t harmful to humans.

Like most snakes, rat snakes are shy and avoid contact with humans.   They eat rats and mice (Yay!), but also birds, bird eggs, and other delectables smaller than themselves.  I’m not thrilled about the bird/baby bird meals, but to have a rat snake in the garden is a gift and confirmation of a healthy ecosystem.  

 

For the first time EVER in my garden, I observed a Texas Spiny LizardSceloporus olivaceus.

Green Anoles are common in my garden, but never-ever have I seen a Texas Spiny Lizard in my outdoor space.  I saw it crawling up the fence separating our back garden from my SIL’s garden.   I used the camera’s zoom feature as I couldn’t get too near this new garden buddy, as it was intent upon skedaddling as I moved in for closer shot.

When I worked at Zilker Botanical Garden, I regularly saw Texas Spiny Lizards; they were my garden companions in that place, much like the Green Anoles are in my home garden.   Like the Anoles, the Spiny Lizards eat insects, but also, smaller vertebrates.  Did you catch that that Anoles??

Spiny Lizards are bigger than Anoles by about three times in length, with more robust bodies.  They also have larger scales, with muted coloring allowing for their camouflage in native trees.  Spiny Lizards typically spend much their time in trees, so maybe they’ve been around, and inexplicably, I never noticed.  Regardless, I’m happy that one, at least once, graced the garden.

 

Then, there’s this clown.

I was watching a swarm of honeybees (yes, mine…) as they made their way to my SIL’s tree in the neighboring garden, when I caught sight of this character.  While I think that Mr. Green’s head (and that expression on his face!) is funny, I also think he’s a clever lizard.  He’s obviously lying in wait for a meal delivery of honeybee.  I’ve witnessed anoles hiding in the foliage of vines or perennials that also produce flowers visited by honeybees, then watched as Anoles snatch their bee prey at lightening speed, retreating into the protection of the foliage for a sweet, crunchy meal.

Nature’s cycles continue, even while we humans are locked-down.  If you’re able, now is a good time to observe events that progress successfully without human intervention and to take comfort in those natural happenings.  I recognize that I speak from a position of privilege:  I have a home, (nothing fancy), but nevertheless, a single family home with accompanying land where I’ve nurtured a full-of-life garden.  I realize that many (most) don’t have what I have and I know that I’m very, very fortunate. 

But nature is a balm in a world turned upside-down and inside…inside.  Be well, look out for your loved ones and neighbors, don’t gather in groups, but make your way outdoors if possible.  And wash your damn hands!

What wild happenings have you seen while you walk, or in your trees, or on the ground?  Please leave a link to your wildlife story when you comment here and good wildlife gardening and watching!