Tuesday, June 4, 2013

It's like Wild Kingdom around here!

This past week has led me to wonder, "Why travel all the way to the Serengeti when I can see so much wildlife here in eastern Massachusetts?"

During my daily bike rides I've spotted deer (a whole family of them, darting across the path!), wild turkeys, woodpeckers, rabbits, garter snakes, countless chipmunks, groundhogs, and a hawk being mobbed by songbirds. I've been treated to the birdsong of a cardinal, hawk, barred owl, and mourning dove. Speaking of birds ... every time I exit our back door and walk down our driveway, Momma Robin protecting her nest of babies, screeches at me while she flutters over my head as I walk to the mailbox. Only I get this treatment, not my husband or O! And earlier this week, authorities shot and killed a bear in nearby Newton. I'm not happy they killed it, but still ... bears! Newton!

For the past couple nights, my husband and I have been awoken around 2 or 3 in the morning by a terrible racket outside our bedroom window. We went through this last summer. It sounds like human shrieking when you first jolt awake, but then as you listen, it sounds almost like a cat screech. Our house borders our neighbor's long driveway, which is lined with tall trees and we could tell the screeches were coming from the trees. We figured it was a fisher (or fisher cat, which really isn't a cat but a very ugly and rapacious weasel that's the bane of backyard farmers) raiding a bird's nest.

Last night I was working at my computer at 11:30, far past my bedtime, when the shrieking started. My husband, also up late, came running downstairs to check it out. He only went as far as the back porch. I was feeling brave, so I grabbed a crowbar and a strong flashlight to confront the cacophony. By now, O was up and lacing his sneakers for a midnight adventure.

(BTW, I am up-to-date on my rabies vaccinations. I used to handle feral cats, so I've kept up my vaccines just in case.)

I could tell the animals were up in one of the trees overhanging my neighbor's driveway, so I started yelling and banging the crowbar against metal to get what I thought was a fisher to bolt down the tree. The shrieking subsided, but I didn't notice any movement. I could see two blue eyes staring back at me in the flashlight's glare, but the animal didn't budge. Hmmm. Strange. Usually mammals take off the moment a human appears on the scene.

For the next couple minutes, the animal and I continued our stare-off. I would guess that the branch he was on was about 30' high up, so I couldn't get a good visual from where I was standing. I moved a little closer, but I didn't want to get right under him in case he fell or decided to run down the tree and at me.

The eyes would disappear and reappear every couple of minutes, moving slowly down the branch. O kept insisting it was a wildcat, but I noticed the branch wasn't really moving and there was no mass above or below the eyes.

I moved a little closer, and suddenly, I could see why the mass was missing: it was a 6' long black rat snake, making his way back down the tree with his midnight snack!

[caption id="attachment_2360" align="alignleft" width="300"]This is NOT the rat snake we saw, but it was about this big. This is NOT the rat snake we saw, but it was about this big.[/caption]

Holy crap! You should have seen me run!!! For some reason, black snakes give me nightmares. They tend to move fast, and I've figured out that it's the way snakes move that gives me the creeps. If I run across one and it's curled up enjoying the sun, I don't mind them ... but that darting out that startles me.

Anyway, around 12:30 we heard the shrieking again, so I'm guessing the snake went back for another snack. Or sent a friend. Shudder.

Today my neighbor (who heard me out there, shrieking and banging metal last night) and I inspected the tree. We found some small branches and a pile of leaves under the big branch where I spotted the snake. No birds or bird's nest to be seen. I'm hoping Mr. Snake doesn't figure out there's a nest of birds on the other side of our house. Yikes!

Today is laundry day but no way am I heading down into our fieldstone basement without O or my husband. We have caught so many mice down there I'm sure snakes would have no trouble finding their way inside either.


  1. EEWWW!!!! I hate snakes. Not only do I hate them, I am petrified of them. I become totally unhinged if I see one. I'm 100% serious when I say I would rather encounter a bear than a snake when I am out walking. If I were you I would never enter the basement again. I might even be tempted to put the house up for sale. :-)

  2. I kind of know what you mean re: unhinged. I used to be that way around *all* snakes, but I got tired of being scared all summer so I've slowly tried to get over my fear of them. It was difficult, but now when I see one in the garden or out on the trail, I get a momentary flash of panic and it goes away. That said, long black snakes still frighten the bejeezus out of me. Like you, I'd rather see a bear!

  3. Andrea, thanks for posting! I had no idea there was a northeast chapter of NAFHA -- my son will be so pleased to hear that. I'm not surprised to hear that black rat snakes are endangered/rare around here, as I've only seen two in my life in New England: this one and once, long ago, down in northeastern Connecticut (so black that it almost looked blue -- and long!) I have worked very hard to get over my fear because I know intellectually that snakes are wonderful creatures and terribly misunderstood, like you said. Plus, when you come across one, it's pretty evident they really want nothing to do with humans.

    I try to photograph every snake I come across during my bike/hikes -- 95% garters. I did spot a gorgeous milk snake in a stone wall in Chelmsford, but was too slow for the camera, and I've seen big fat water snakes at my parents' lake house in CT. If I come across "my" black snake again, I'll be sure to get a shot for you (before I run, LOL!!!)

    Thanks again for commenting. I'm going to check out your site. :)

  4. I also hadn't heard of them being in your area (which I think I've narrowed down to Concord/Bedford/Lexington-ish), but it really wouldn't surprise me to see them anywhere.

  5. Andrea, we're in Bedford near the Concord line. Snake heaven down by Great Meadows, which I'm sure you know about. :) My son is back from camp, so we're keeping our eye out for Mr. Black ... we were even talking about him tonight and wondering if he'd make an appearance! Last summer I must have seen a couple dozen snakes out on the trail, but this spring and summer I haven't seen one, which is weird because it was so chilly and they tend to bask out in the open. I'm curious if they'll start coming out again in the fall. Have you noticed this this year?

    Ha, can you tell despite my "fear" that I'm fascinated with the critters? When I was in India in 2008, that's all I wanted to do when we were in the backwaters ... look for snakes!


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