SNAKES. WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE SNAKES?

May 16, 2023

When I went outside to pay the guys who were mowing my yard, I noticed that the birds were really noisy and nervously flying from tree to tree. It was so noticeable that I commented on this, and one of the men said they were probably upset about the snake. Snake?

He said when he was mowing near the Bluebird house, he was puzzled to see an extension cord coming out of the bottom of the stovepipe baffle that’s around the post that the house is mounted on. When he got closer, the “extension cord” moved, and he realized that a snake was trying to get up to the nesting box! He intentionally bumped the post with the mower, and the snake crawled out and moved towards the fence on the west side of the yard. Great….

It’s hard to tell how many times this baffle has prevented predators (particularly snakes and raccoons) from getting the baby Bluebirds, but over the years we’ve learned that snakes can be very, very persistent and remarkably clever.

One night in 2014, a Black Rat Snake (also called an Eastern Rat Snake) was able to gain access to the nesting box by slowly and carefully s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g itself towards it while balancing on a small blueberry bush. We knew that the last Bluebird baby had fledged that afternoon (whew!), but after watching this athletic and gravity-defying feat from the back porch, we went out to the yard and gingerly evicted the snake.

We also moved the Bluebird house a little further away from the blueberry bush so there would be no repeat performance.

This was not our first encounter with a determined snake, however. In 2012, one (possibly the same one?) climbed on my roof to access a maternal colony of Big Brown bats in the louvers of my attic. (Bats? Yep, that’s whole ‘nother story.) Despite my desperate attempt to scare it off by using a hose to spray water on it, I couldn’t stop it from getting some of the sweet little baby bats….

Despite this, I don’t hate snakes–and I’m not necessarily afraid of them, as long as they don’t surprise me like this one did in 2017 in an unfinished part of my basement!

And for the record, I’ve actually gone out of my way to help snakes, such as the time in 2020 when we wrangled an injured snake on a roadway into a large container and took it to the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

But in any toss up between a snake and a furred or feathered creature, I’m going to be try to discourage the former and protect the latter. While I understand and respect the whole “circle of life” thing, I really don’t like to see it playing out in my back yard.

So after the guys finished mowing, I went out on the deck to see if I could see the snake. Sure enough, it was moving back into the yard from just beyond the west side fence. A frantic chorus of birds was starting up again, and I used the zoom on my camera to track its progress.

To my surprise, it bypassed the Bluebird house. I guess it remembered that it hadn’t been able to get past the hardware cloth at the top of the stovepipe.

But after going past the house, it turned towards an old propane grill in the yard. What was it doing? It seemed to be moving with a definite sense of purpose–and a plan….

Well. It climbed onto the propane tank of the grill and then made its way to one of the shelves.

A brave little Catbird was watching all of this–and fussing mightily!–from just a few feet away in the blueberry bush.

The mama Bluebird was keeping her eyes on the snake, too, from a nearby Tulip Poplar tree.

From its vantage point on the shelf, the snake stopped and looked directly at the Bluebird house, perhaps calculating distance and weighing its options. After a few minutes, it seemed to realize that despite the height advantage of being on the grill, it was just too far away from the nesting box to be able to reach it.

It wound itself back down, and once on the ground it moved towards one of the bushes. I’d noticed this earlier of course, but damn this was a long snake!

We knew we had big black snakes around here when we found this snake skin in one of the raised garden beds in 2011:

I don’t know where the snake went once the last tip of its tail disappeared, but soon the Bluebird parents were back to business as usual, feeding their babies.

That evening, after bringing in the bird feeders from the east side yard and switching out the card in the trail cam out there, I started reviewing the pics from the day. After zooming in and cropping, wanna guess what I saw in one of the pictures?

Hint: It’s not an extension cord.

Guess I’ll be watching where I step whenever I venture out anywhere in my yard!

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The Mouse in the House Trilogy – 2006

(This was originally on Simply Art-Rageous as a story on a page and not as a post.)

Part I: Breaking News: June 29, 2006

This evening, after several days of surveillance, there was a serious development in the “Possible Mouse in the Kitchen Cabinets” case (which is now known as the “Oh Sh*t! There IS a Mouse in the Kitchen Cabinets!” case.)

At approximately 11:20 pm on Thursday, June 29, Sealpoint Detectives Kian and Aja were on duty when the suspect (described as small and brown) made a desperate bid for freedom by running out of a lower cabinet.

He or she was briefly apprehended and thrown into the air (this is a maneuver that these detectives train for rigorously), but managed to escape to an unknown location under the refrigerator. Off-duty detectives in the area were alerted to the development and quickly provided backup.

A sweep of the refrigerator (with a yardstick) produced mouse-sized dust bunnies (which were immediately pounced upon) and numerous fake mice. With no activity or sound coming from under the refrigerator, the detectives engaged in “swat team” practice, using the fake mice to further hone their swatting, pouncing and throwing skills.

It is not known at this time if the suspect was injured in the initial encounter. It is also not known if he or she will be able to survive under the refrigerator, given the amount of dust and animal hair (that should have been vacuumed out weeks and weeks ago).

It is hoped (by some) that the suspect (who has committed no crime other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time) can be captured unharmed and released outside. Others, however, apparently intend to enforce the death penalty if the opportunity to do so becomes available.

Regular patrols continue in the vicinity of the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets, and it appears that no one will get much sleep tonight, including this reporter.

Stay tuned for further developments.

*******************************

Part II: The Siege Continues
July 2nd, 2006

SIEGE: n. The surrounding and blockading of a city, town, or fortress (or refrigerator) by an army attempting to capture it (or the mouse that is under it).

All available swat team members reported for duty on the evening of July 1, 2006, when intelligence indicated that a mouse that had escaped from the kitchen cabinets to a location under the refrigerator on the night of June 29th was still alive and in hiding under the appliance.

Highly sensitive and synchronized tracking devices monitored the activities of the suspect throughout the evening.

In a humanitarian gesture, food and water were supplied to the suspect, with the hope that he or she can still be captured alive and released. (A much better alternative than having him or her die of dehydration or starvation while under siege (and under a refrigerator).

If the suspect cannot be captured unharmed and released, perhaps this effort will later be seen as a last meal before execution.

Or as a last meal before execution and becoming a meal.

Within minutes of the food and water being delivered (via yard stick), the suspect briefly revealed himself/herself and eagerly drank and then ate, as (unclearly) shown in this picture.

Surveillance will continue through the night and updates will be posted when there are new developments.

*********************************

Part III: Independence Day!
July 5th, 2006

The “Mouse in the House” crisis came to an end (most fittingly) at approximately 11:00 p.m. on July 4, 2006.

On the morning of July 3, 2006, several days into the crisis, two “live catch” mousetraps were purchased. These are very cleverly designed devices:

When “set,” the door is open and the trap is tipped slightly. When the mouse enters the trap, the balance shifts and the door automatically closes. Ingenious.

The size of the traps made them a workable alternative for the small space available under the refrigerator and one was put into place at approximately 10:00 a.m. on July 3rd.

The suspect had typically become active around 8:30 p.m. each evening, but the detectives showed little interest in the refrigerator on the evening of July 3rd. Was this a sign that the suspect had expired, or was it a sign that he or she had escaped?

This question was answered later that evening when all six detectives and swat team members were seen patrolling in the basement. Somehow the suspect had managed to escape from its location under the refrigerator, avoid capture, and apparently seek refuge in a large, unfinished basement closet.

This complicated matters considerably. Having a mouse loose in a large house is worse than having a mouse under a refrigerator. The number of hiding places had risen exponentially, and the suspect now had access to walls, the attic, etc.

Also there was the matter of where to place the traps. While these “live catch” traps are designed to capture a mouse alive and release it unharmed, the trap must be in an easily accessible location and it must be checked often. If not, it literally becomes a torturously slow death trap for the unfortunate creature that wanders into it.

With no decision made regarding where to put the traps and with waning interest on the part of the detectives, it was hoped that the suspect had managed to find its way back outside.

This was not the case.

At approximately 11:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 4, 2006, Detective Riley was in the kitchen tentatively practicing his swat team moves on what was initially assumed to be a toy mouse. This reporter’s first indication that this was NOT a toy was the length of the tail, as most toy mice are quickly rendered tailless.

There was no noise. Despite the fact that there were other detectives off-duty and napping nearby, Detective Riley was the only one on the case.

This reporter broke the silence by saying several words (which will not be repeated here) and at that point the suspect began to run towards the dining room, with Detective Riley in pursuit. When it reached a corner in the kitchen, Detective Kian provided backup as this reporter searched for a suitable mouse-catching device. An empty margarine container was placed over the suspect, while a sheet of paper was placed underneath.

As the container was carefully being lifted, it became apparent that the mouse had suffered some form of injury, as there was a small amount of blood on the baseboard where it had been cornered.

The container was taken outside and gently set on the ground. It was hoped that the suspect would immediately flee. It did not. Still silent, it sat motionless in the container.

It was left for a moment while this reporter returned to the house for a camera, and this photo shows the source of the blood:

Apparently it was hooked in the nose by Detective Riley’s unclipped claw. While no doubt painful and certainly disfiguring, the injury didn’t appear to be life-threatening, and there were no other obvious wounds.

It was left alone again for approximately five minutes, and when this reporter returned, it was still sitting in the same position, essentially “cat-atonic.”

The container and suspect were carried further away from the house to a location under a nearby apple tree. This time the mouse was gently tipped out onto the ground. It remained motionless and with the aid of a flashlight, this reporter had another opportunity to evaluate its physical condition. Tail, ears, eyes, feet and body all seemed intact and unharmed.

A gentle nudge with the container caused it to blink its eyes. Another nudge with the container caused it to take a step forward. This picture was taken after it had taken another couple of steps:

Suddenly, as if waking up from a very, very bad dream, the mouse began moving; slowly at first, and then more quickly. When last seen, it was running towards the woods.

It is hoped that this little creature will recover from its injuries and live to tell the tale–OUTSIDE–to its children and grandchildren.

As for Detective Riley? He continued to patrol the basement for a while after this drama came to a close, but now he’s relaxing and no doubt congratulating himself on a job well done.

2006 Sharon K Barrett
No images or text may be reproduced without written permission

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Camping Road Trip – June 2022

In mid-June, we hitched up our Coachmen Clipper travel trailer and set out on an adventure to see family and friends.

The first day we traveled about 450 miles and stayed at a KOA near Dayton, Ohio in site #6.

The next day we made it to our first destination in southwest Michigan.

Site #59 in this campground was our home base for 5 nights.

We saw several black squirrels here. These are eastern gray squirrels with a “faulty pigment gene” (according to one source), and the highest numbers of these rare squirrels are in Michigan and in Ontario. Interesting!

On our first full day, we visited beautiful Silver Beach on Lake Michigan.

We ate a late lunch/early dinner at Silver Beach Pizza. Highly recommend!

While we were in Michigan, we also went to a car show….

…visited another Lake Michigan lighthouse…

…celebrated Father’s Day and a birthday…

and enjoyed a picnic lunch at the campground!

But the very best part of our time in Michigan? This, of course!

After our final goodbyes, we drove out to the lake again to watch the beautiful sunset.

The next morning we started towards Prophetstown State Park in West Lafayette, Indiana. I knew we’d arrive fairly early since it wasn’t a long drive, but I couldn’t find information about check out/check in times on the website or on my reservation confirmation letter.

When we arrived at the park a little after noon, we were told that the checkout time was at 2:00 pm. The people occupying our site hadn’t checked out yet, so the ranger suggested that we wait at a Walmart or grocery store in town until the site was open. Alrighty…

It was nice to finally get everything set up in site #216 for our 3-night stay.

The next morning we drove into town to meet two of my cousins and their spouses for breakfast, and we firmed up plans for a larger gathering that evening at a favorite restaurant. As for the middle part of the day? I wanted to go to a park and zoo I enjoyed in my childhood.

Columbian Park has changed a LOT since I was a kid. I did some of my first driving with my cousin Ken on the park’s “turnpike” back in the day, but I think this recreational feature and the giant slide are long gone.

The small zoo at the park has expanded considerably, however, and we enjoyed seeing all of the animals, including a kookaburra, wallaby, emu, river otter, and prairie dog.

It was also fun to interact with the goats–although one was determined to eat Wayne’s shirt!

It was a challenge to photograph the fluttering little jewels in the butterfly house, but these are a few of my favorite pictures:

Later that evening as we started towards the restaurant, Nine Irish Brothers in West Lafayette, we discovered that all of the traffic lights were out. Not good! And when we got to the restaurant where we had reservations, we learned that they were without power, too. Fortunately their other location was open, so we all drove across town and got seats in one of the large, private rooms. Fun times and great food!

Getting together to talk and eat was most definitely a theme while in Indiana! The next day we met at the historic Fowler House Mansion for lunch, and one of our other cousins and his wife were able to join us, too. 🙂

Before going back to the state park that afternoon, we stopped by Walmart to pick up a large watermelon and cantaloupe for the evening gathering at our campsite. From fruit to cheese to deviled eggs, chips, drinks, and cake, we all shared more food and laughter. Goodness, I enjoy these people!

The next morning we got an early start as we started towards home. Construction and detours around Indianapolis extended the travel time significantly, but once out of that, we had a pretty easy drive southeast.

I didn’t make reservations anywhere–I didn’t know how far we’d get–but we were able to claim site #31 at Krodel Park Campground in Point Pleasant, West Virginia near the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers. This campground is in a city-owned park that features a splash pad for kids and a stocked lake. While there appeared to be a few long-term campers, I think a number of folks were there for the weekend or just for the night, like we were.

Once on I-64 the next morning, we found that traveling on a Saturday actually involved less interstate traffic than during the week. Before long we were back in Virginia.

It was really a wonderful vacation, spent with people we love. We’re so thankful that we had safe travels, good weather, good food, and the health and opportunity to do a trip like this, and we look forward to future adventures.

Until next time,

Sharon & Wayne

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Virginia Beach – March 2022

Due to the pandemic, it had been over 2 years since Wayne and I stayed in a motel or hotel. With a rare free weekend, however, we made a (slow) run for Virginia Beach, traveling on Rt. 5 between Richmond and Jamestown.

One of the fun things about taking this route is crossing the James River on a ferry.

The forecast had originally called for strong storms on Saturday morning, but instead it was breezy, with bright sunshine and warm temperatures. Glorious! We went to Nick’s on Laskin Road for breakfast, and it was comfortable enough to eat outside.

Our next stop was one of our favorite places: First Landing State Park on 64th Street.

We’ve made many, many trips to this state park, but this time we saw something we’d never seen before–a Bald Eagle! And it was being pursued by two Ospreys!! I wish I could have gotten a picture as they flew overhead, but they were all moving way too fast!

A couple of hours later, we drove to another favorite place: Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. About 20 miles south of Virginia Beach, this narrow strip of land lies between between a bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

When we got there, the skies had become overcast and it was very windy. We parked facing Back Bay, opened the windows, reclined the seats, and just relaxed (and dozed) for 20-30 minutes.

In that short amount of time, the clouds moved off, the wind died down a little, and warm sunshine returned. We took the Seaside Trail over the dunes to the ocean, and marveled at the beauty all around us.

Atlantic Ocean at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia Beach, Virginia

Spending a day like this provided a much-needed opportunity to relax, reflect, and recharge.

I’m still very cautious about getting into situations involving crowds, but that evening the appeal of going to our favorite seafood buffet restaurant in Virginia Beach led us to take the risk. We wore masks except when we were seated at our table (many other people were doing the same thing), and we enjoyed an absolutely delicious meal.

There was a large and very loud group of people at one end of the room in which we were seated, and when they started singing “Happy Birthday” to someone at their table, everyone in the large dining room joined in! When the song ended–and after the clapping and cheering subsided–someone in the room started singing: “How Old Are You? How Old Are You?” to the same tune, and again everyone sang!

A gentleman at the end of the large table called out, “101 years old!” and there was even more cheering and clapping! Someone, somewhere in the room started singing, “May God Bless You, May God Bless You!” and one more time everyone joined together in song.

I’ll admit that part of me was still concerned at the thought of being in a room with a whole lot of people who were singing, but at the same time it was one of the sweetest and most moving things I’ve experienced in the last couple of years. Indeed, Sir – may God bless you, your family, and everyone else who shared a few moments of spontaneous kindness and humanity in this crazy, stressful world….

When we left the restaurant, we drove back to First Landing just before the park closed. I was delighted to see a Great Blue Heron fly towards us as we were parking. It was really too dark to get a good picture, but I’m always happy to see these big birds.

The next morning we started for home but detoured onto Rt. 17 North towards Yorktown and Gloucester Point. Someday we hope to explore the museums, shops, and restaurants in this area, but on this trip we just wanted to enjoy Gloucester Point Beach Park on the York River for a little while.

George P. Coleman Memorial Bridge
Weathervane on a gazebo at the park
Looking across the York River towards the Yorktown Waterfront
Ring-billed Gulls
Pelican
Blessings to the York River and to the Chesapeake Bay
View from the fishing pier
Looking for dolphins…. None spotted this time, but we’ve seen them here before!

We crossed back over the bridge, took the scenic Colonial Parkway to Williamsburg, then continued towards home. What a beautiful and restful weekend getaway!

Until next time,

Sharon & Wayne

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Red-Shouldered Hawks – February 20, 2022

Since 2019 I’ve followed the adventures of a Red-Shouldered hawk couple. I’ve watched as they’ve refined and refurbished the same nest year after year, as they’ve fed their babies, and as their young have taken some of their first flights.

This morning as we were driving by the tree where these birds have made their home, I commented that there was very little left of their nest. The storms and the strong winds we’ve had this winter have reduced it to only about 1/4 of its original size, and I wondered if they’d rebuild it this spring or abandon it. Wayne suggested that I take a picture to show its current state.

Right as I stopped the car and started to zoom in with my camera, I was stunned to see one of the birds–likely the female, due to the size–fly to the tree with several sticks in her beak! What incredible timing!

This was an all around “jaw-drop” moment, as the earliest I’ve seen them working on the nest in previous years was mid-March.

After arranging the sticks, the hawk flew to a nearby tree. While this was the only bird I saw, I imagine her partner was somewhere close as Red-Shouldered hawks are monogamous and mate for life. Since this is the fourth year that I’ve watched this pair–and they usually breed for the first time when they’re about 2 years old–this bird is likely at least 5 years old.

She flew off again, so I started driving away. We spotted her on another tree where she was apparently breaking off twigs, because we saw her flying back towards her nest with another load of sticks in her beak. I wish I could have gotten a video of this!

We look forward to another year of watching this beautiful family.

Until next time,

Sharon & Wayne

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