Saturday, June 27, 2009

"Local couple saves wild snake"

One recent evening Dave and I were minding our own business, picking blackberries from the canes growing wild across the road, when we came across a snake in our path.

Well, part of a snake.

At first we thought it had had an unfortunate encounter with the bush hog when the field was mowed a few days earlier. We prodded it a little, and found that it was intact and alive but mostly buried under brush and grass clippings. We had a Black Racer hanging around in "our" berries. No big deal. We'll just let it go on its way and come back to picking that section of canes later, we thought.

But it couldn't "go on its way." Because it had experienced an "unfortunate encounter" of a different kind - it had gotten itself utterly and hopelessly tangled into the black netting that we had draped over the berry canes to keep the birds out.

The thing at the top and running through to the bottom right of the photo is the snake. The thing on the left side is a piece of garden hose. The big black clump in the middle is the netting the snake was trapped in.

At this point we forgot about the berries. What do we do about this snake? We stood around, we prodded it some more to see how responsive it was. We could see that the netting was constricted around the snake, and were worried that it might get squeezed to death or something. We stood around some more, and the snake got plenty tired of us poking at it with a stick. It darted its tongue about and even "rattled" its tail, so it was strong enough to scare us into backing off. But it wasn't going anywhere.

Was either one of us brave enough to try to cut it loose? Yes and no. We (and by "we" I mean Dave) succeeded in cutting the snake's portion of the netting away from the main part covering the canes, so now at least if it moved it wouldn't have the weight of some giant swath of material and foliage pulling against it. But now what? Neither one of us was comfortable with the idea of getting in close enough to actually cut away the net from around the snake.

Then Dave had the idea to call up a fellow by the name of Dave Sagan who works with snakes and raptors at the Nature Center at Hocking College in Nelsonville, OH. We were hoping he might be able to offer us some advice as to how to handle the situation. By the time we spoke with Dave it was about 9pm. He suggested we wait it out for the night and that he'd check back with us in the morning. If the snake was still alive at that point, he would come out and deal with it.

It was, and he did.

I emailed my boss and told her I would be in late that morning because we had a "snake situation" that I had to stay home to watch be resolved. How often do you call in late with an excuse like that?! Luckily I have a cool boss, and she was very understanding.

I would estimate it took Mr. Sagan about 10 minutes to cut all the netting away from the snake. Unfortunately, I don't know how long he has been working with snakes, but I would go so far as to call him the "snake whisperer." During the entire time he worked with and held this snake, he was not bitten. He handled it with true ease and grace. He told us that if you don't approach a snake like a predator, it doesn't quite know what to do, and thus won't be aggressive toward you (not that I'm advocating that any of you kids try this at home).

The trap from which the snake was freed.

Once it realized it was free, the snake started to perk up. This Black Racer was probably about 4 feet long.

Mr. Sagan observed and examined the snake for several minutes. He determined that it had a full belly, so sustenance wasn't an issue for it. He concluded that most of the damage was cosmetic, and that it should be just fine otherwise. In the picture above you can kind of see the damage to the scales on the portion of the snake that is just below and to the left of Mr. Sagan's wrist.

It truly is a beautiful creature. Look how sleek and shiny it is.

If you look real close in this photo, you can see me reflected in the snake's eye!

Here's a closer look.

After he finished examining the snake, Mr. Sagan took it across the field to a location that was in direct sunlight, and let it loose in a spot where it could bask, digest its meal, and recover. We were very grateful to him for helping us with this situation. And we were glad to know that the snake would live to see another day due to our kindness, concern and respect.


Monika said...

What a great story. And amazing photos to boot - I especially love the close up where you're reflected in its eye. I can't say I would know who to call locally if I ever had a 'snake situation'. Kudos to your understanding boss too. As a side note, I can't believe you have blackberries ready to pick already! As another side note, I like how the new layout is progressing!

Meg said...

Yikes! Awesome story and a beautiful snake. I am very glad you got him untangled. He looks happy to be free. I so admire folks who can wrangle snakes and other "scary" creatures.

(I LOVE the new layout. The blue background is just right in my opinion.)

Ginnymo said...

Sure am glad you found that snake so it could be freed from that netting. It sure was tangled in there good. What beautiful photos of it! Love that close up!

Shellmo said...

You have a kind heart to save that snake! And that last photo was fantastic!!

Kelly said...

Heather...what a great post. I think it's one of your best so far. The photography is fabulous and the story riveting (I love snakes).

Vickie said...

I love this snake story. Beautiful images that show the true nature and grace of a snake. I especially like the way the story shows a change in the snake's attitude with a different approach. And I love your new template. I need a tutorial! I especially like that you can add a large image like the last one! And yes, the snake's eye. Nice!

David said...

What I found most remarkable is that, from everything I've read about Black Racers, they're quite aggressive. All reports are that they'll strike without provocation.

After the snake was cut free, it began to act a little more aggressive. A couple of times, it opened its mouth and mad a few slow jabs at Dave but it still never bit him.

Nature As Is said...

Well I'm proud of did a great thing. No animal no matter what it is should ever suffer like that snake. I'm glad you got it untangled...I'm sure deep down it appriciated it too. My husband saw your post and he HATES snakes..he thinks your quite brave.

NW Nature Nut said...

Nice post! I like a happy ending and the photo of you reflected in his eye is very cool!

RuthieJ said...

What an incredible rescue story. I'm glad the story had a happy ending. Who'd ever think that they could get trapped in your berry netting? (Although I've seen instances where people with purple martin poles put yards of netting like that around their pole to keep the big black rat snakes from climbing the pole and eating purple martin eggs and nestlings.)

Julie Zickefoose said...

Lovely post and killer photos! You in a snake's eye--now there's a profile photo for a naturalist.
Amazing how different the face of a black racer is than that of a black rat snake--proportionately larger eye, heavier brow. He's so sleek and shiny!
Lucky you had a Mr. Sagan to help. I probably would have put a towel around the bidness end and had someone hold it while I cut the netting off. Easier said than done, I'm sure. He definitely had a full belly!

The Old Gray Egg said...

Up in northern Wisconsin, we don't have a lot of snakes. Mostly big pine snakes that are harmless (depending on who you are talking to). I don't know how you took that close up photo. Would you be interested in trading your nice camera for a nice pine snake?

Hocking Hills Gardener said...

Great Story. You do not see many of them anymore near here.There use to be many of them around when I was a Kid. They can be aggressive though. When I was six years old one chased me clear across a corn field.I never ran so fast in my life. I have been bitten and chased so I do not like snakes well at all.

Heather said...

Monika - As far as knowing who to call goes, we were familiar with Mr. Sagan because we had seen him out with the snakes at several local festivals and fairs, and Dave says he remembered him being quoted in a local newspaper article as basically saying "If you've got a snake problem, call me." And so we did. We were really fortunate to have someone like him to help us! As for the berries, I don't ever remember them being ripe this early in the year either, but then again, this is the first time we've netted them so that the birds didn't get to them... I think the birds ate them all before! We've already made a batch of jam from the berries, and we'll probably make a second batch this week!

Meg - Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I join in your admiration of those who are able to handle these "scary" creatures in a way that seem effortless. (And thanks for your feedback on the layout. I like the blue coloring, too!)

Ginny - I'm glad we found it, too. I'd hate to think what might have happened if we were unaware of its trouble.

Shelley - Thanks for your kind comments.

Kelly - Thank you (=blushing=). I didn't realize what a good story it was until I told it to a few of my co-workers and they were enthralled and excited. Glad to hear that you're a snake lover.

Vickie - I've never watched a snake be handled in the wild like that in person, and it was fascinating to watch Mr. Sagan employ caution and respect toward an animal that so many of us fear.
Adding larger images was one of the main things driving my change in template, so I'm glad it's working out.

Dave - As I mentioned to Vickie, I think Sagan's approach to the snake made all the difference in how it reacted. Aside from the "don't act like a predator" thing, I imagine that somehow the snake sensed that he was on "its side" and that there were no bad intentions. Even after he was freed and started to act up a little, I still think he was pretty calm. Although, if all of this had gone down in the middle of the afternoon with the sun beating down on everyone, who knows... things could have turned out differently.

Crista - Thank you. We were glad we could offer it assistance, and I would like to think that it understood our efforts in its own way.

Michele - Thanks. The happy ending is the best part!

Ruthie - Thank you. After we discovered it tangled up, I told Dave they should advertise that stuff as "Keeps birds out, keeps snakes in." (I've never heard of anyone doing that with purple martin poles - I've only heard of people greasing bird house poles.)

Julie - Thank you. I've never been close enough to a black rat to notice the differences (this is the closest I've ever been to any snake, period). Sleek and shiny is an understatement. However, we noticed that while it was still trapped in the netting that it didn't look quite so shiny. This worried us, but the sheen seemed to return quickly upon being cut free. I actually went back to a post you did last year about catching a copperhead in your yard for ideas on how to handle the thing, but we don't have snake tongs here. ;)

Graig - Hello and thank you for stopping by! I've never heard of a Pine Snake before, but I just googled it and they look pretty doggone big! Larger than this Black Racer we had, for sure! The very last close-up photo is just a crop down of the one above it. I was probably 12" away from the snake when I took it. I don't think I'm ready to trade in my camera for a snake, but thanks for the offer!

Lona - I'm sorry to hear of your bad experience with the snake when you were little. That's really too bad. Luckily we don't run into too many of them around here.