Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: snakes

Snakes and Deer

Blotched Water Snakes

Blotched water snakes

Last summer I regularly saw a pair of blotched water snakes in the shallows of the stream near the bridge. Every day they were there, sitting in the current waiting for small fish and tadpoles to come by. When it got cold, they disappeared. After reading about Dave’s ceiling snakes, I wondered if they would come back this summer so I took a walk down to the bridge to see and sure enough, there they were just like last year.

I sat on the bridge and watched them for awhile, surprised that they should have come back to the same spot. I’m assuming, of course, that these are the same individuals as last year. Maybe they’re not and it’s just a really great spot for blotched water snakes to hunt. Either way, they didn’t seem to mind me sitting so close and even allowed me to take a few pictures.

While I was sitting there, I got the feeling that I was being observed. I turned around to have a look downstream and there was this guy:

White-tailed Deer on the Stream

White-tailed deer

He watched me for awhile, decided I was boring and moved on. I moved on too, walking down to the pond to see if any of the summer herons and egrets had arrived. Not yet. But there were plenty of grackles, and I heard the red-shouldered hawk calling up the trail beyond the pond.

It’s summer here now. All day, the heat and humidity crushed down and bounced shimmering off the asphalt, soaking through my shirt and slowing everything down to the summer lethargy it’s so easy to forget as soon its gone. Then it pissed rain. Thunderstorms and lightning. Tomorrow it will be scorching again and there will be no sign that water fell the night before. Such is Texas.

Shangri La

When my wife was growing up in Orange, Texas, Shangri La was a mystery. In the 1950’s, it was Lutcher Stark’s private garden, which he opened to the public. After it was destroyed by a snowstorm in 1958, Stark let it go wild and it became a dark and wild place walled off from the outside world. R has told me of the legends that grew up around the place and the stories people invented for what went on inside.

It seems that what was happening is that birds were nesting, alligators and snakes were thriving and nature was doing its thing. A few years ago, the Stark Foundation reopened it as Shangri La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center. It’s no longer much of a mystery, but it’s still wild.

American alligator (juvenile)

We visited last summer when the egrets and roseate spoonbills were nesting, and I even got some decent shots of the spoonbills and their nestlings from the bird blind. This time, since it wasn’t so hot, we were able to see more of the area. One of the first things we saw was the above young alligator sunning on a pond near the nature center. I’ve seen the adults in the wild but never a baby and didn’t realize the young sported such a brightly contrasting tail.


The boat tour through Adams Bayou gave us a look at an osprey that kept circling over the water. I’ve only seen these guys a few times and never when I had a camera on me, so I tried. I was hoping he would dive, but he seemed content to circle.

Eventually we came to the outpost where there is a massive beaver pond that’s unconnected to the bayou. The beavers moved away a few years ago, but their pond remains, the water thick and covered in a layer of very small fern that from a distance looks like a perfectly planed layer of mud.

Beaver pond

While the guide was describing the ecology of the region, the boat driver was busily collecting snakes. It was a little disconcerting how quickly and easily he found a water moccasin and a Texas rat snake. He released the moccasin so we could get a look at it. Its bold pattern surprised me, but he explained that this was a juvenile and they grow darker and lose the contrast as they age.

Water moccasin

After the trip up the Bayou, we walked through the grounds toward the heronry. The fish crows were conversing in the trees and as we walked closer we could hear the sqronks of the egrets and cormorants.

Fish crow

Nesting season really gets going in April and May when you can see anhingas, cattle and great egrets, roseate spoonbills and double-crested and neotropic cormorants by the thousands. Things were still getting underway for this year and the first spoonbill had only arrived a few days earlier (we didn’t see him), but it was a thrill to sit in the blind and watch these beautiful birds. I didn’t get any decent shots this time, and in all honesty, I didn’t try too hard since I think it’s good to sometimes just watch and be.

There was a volunteer birder working in the blind to talk about the birds and their lives. He told us that in the summer many of the egrets and spoonbill nestlings fall from their nests and since they can’t swim, they’re quickly snapped up by the alligators that lurk below the nests. I thought back to that baby alligator and couldn’t help but be reminded of the old saying “the bigger they are the cuter the ain’t,” which certainly applies to alligators even if they are just doing the job assigned to them by nature.

Old house by the heronry

This is the only shot of the heronry that I liked. The wrecked house in front is from the early days before that snowstorm in ’58. Those white things in the trees behind it are great egrets sitting on their nests.

Snakes on a Blog

Blotched Water Snakes

Lately, I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the other life that lives along the little stream that runs to the pond down the street. Summer birding in these parts can be a bit dull and besides, there is a whole ecosystem out there to enjoy and appreciate.

From the footbridge over the stream, I’ve been noticing these little snakes that like to sit in the water, likely waiting for minnows to swim by. I’ve seen as many as three at a time going in and out of the crevices in the rocks. A jogger stopped on the bridge to have a look and he told me he saw four of them a few days prior.

As a kid living in the Philippines, I learned never to mess with snakes, and I still don’t even though I know the poisonous Texas snakes and these aren’t them. According to Austin Reptile Service’s ID Page for blotched snakes, I’m pretty certain these are Blotched Water Snakes (nerodia erythrogaster transversa), a nonvenomous species. The one with the more pronounced pattern is a juvenile.

Despite the fact that they’re nonvenomous, I kept my distance and certainly wouldn’t pick one up and not just because I don’t think people should go around handling wild animals but because, well, those Philippine lessons die hard and it could be a cobra or a bamboo viper. Aren’t irrationalities fascinating?

Still, I enjoyed watching them cool in the water and on that 100+ degree morning, I wouldn’t have minded joining them.

Blotched Water Snake

Weekend Birds and Snake

The birds are singing a bit more and thus calling to be found. This mockingbird on one of the neighborhood trails especially so. He let me get pretty close before he took off, leaving me with perhaps my best mocker photo.

On Sunday R and I went to Hornsby Bend. On the river trail, we got a good look (and lousy shot) of this Crested Caracara perched high above the Colorado. We could hear, but not see, Blue Jays screeching at him from the nearby trees.

On the drive out, we had to stop for this Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, taking its time crossing the road.

After 20 years in Texas, this is the very first rattlesnake I’ve actually seen (heard lots of them, though). Strangely enough, the previous weekend, my brother was telling me he had just seen his first ever rattlesnake.

Halfway across the road, it stopped and started rattling. Not wanting to run over it and thus deprive the caracara or one of the many hawks swooping around the area of a tasty meal, I eased the car around it, but not before taking a few pictures.

Hopefully, it will be another 20 years before I see another one.

On the way out, with hawks screeching overhead, I spotted this Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, one of my favorite birds. I took his picture, figuring this might be the last one I would see until April.

Of course, I’ve seen quite a few on the way to work the past few days, but they’ll be heading south soon.

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