This Snake Freaked Me Out…

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Texas Rat Snake – photo by H. Valey

…until I realized it was a Texas Rat Snake, also known in some parts as the Chicken Snake. The scientific name is aphe obsoleta lindheimeri.

The Texas Rat Snake looks a little scary at first sight, mainly because they can grow to be very long (3 to 6 feet) and their defense mechanism is to freeze when they see you.  They also are known to shake their tails similarly to a Rattle Snake. This can be misinterpreted as the confidence of a venomous snake, but these snakes are constrictors and non-venomous. They do have a reputation for biting when cornered, but the bites are reported to be on the mild side and as mentioned non-venomous.

They are found primarily in Texas, but their range extends to Louisiana, Arkansas & Oklahoma.  No matter in what state you find them, their preferred habitat is one with Oak trees present.  Although I have seen them in parking lots before, and I saw one slither in through a mail slot on a mailbox once, most likely giving the mailbox owner a bit of a shock!

Their diet consists of rodents, and undoubtedly bird eggs and nestlings.  They are fantastic climbers and can find their way into birds nests pretty easily. An adult can take rodents as large as a fox squirrel. They are also good swimmers.

They are not considered threatened, but they are often the target of humans who come across them and kill them because they don’t know what kind of snake they are.

The picture up top was taken at a nature preserve.  The snake was in a pile of limestone rocks near many full grown oak trees.  The snake below, I spotted in the parking lot of an office complex.  Again, many full grown oak trees around, as well as leaf litter and limestone.  You can get a feel for how long these snakes can get in the video below!

For more information on Rat Snakes, visit these sites.

 

Banding Golden-Cheeked Warblers – Photo Essay

I tagged along on a Golden-Cheeked Warbler bird banding session with biologist Julie Murray from the Travis County Balcones Canyonlands Conservation office in Austin, Texas. The endangered birds are banded and re-sighted every year during breeding season to help scientists understand how many birds are returning each year, how long they live and how big their territories are, among other things.

Below is a photo essay of the banding experience.

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For more information on the BCCP and the Golden-Cheeked Warbler, check out these resources below:

  1. The Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan
  2. The Golden- Cheeked Warbler

Raven Cam at UT Texas

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Raven – photo by H. Valey

In some parts of the US, Ravens are pretty ubiquitous.  Here in Austin their appearance is a bit more rare, but it seems I see more and more of them every year.  Austin is a bird friendly town and in that fashion the Austin UT campus has set up a couple of cool bird cams this spring.  The first one was the Peregrine Falcon cam on the University Texas Tower and now there is a Raven cam.  A nesting pair of Ravens has set up a nest outside of the Texas Advanced Computing Center on campus and you can watch them raise their chicks online while you’re at work. Pretty cool stuff!

 

“Bye Bye Ligustrum” at Blair Woods

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The Pond at Blair Woods

Blair Woods is this cool little wooded preserve in Austin proper. It’s about 10 acres and was left to the Travis Audubon Society in the 80s by Dr. Frank Blair, who was a UT professor and a zoologist. It has a pond and a trail that winds through different habitat types including a woodland and savanah.  The pond is pretty interesting in that it was made by damming up a creek with homework papers that Dr. Blair had collected from his students.  He reportedly called it the “Dam of Words”. Continue reading

First Flowers of Spring

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purple Windflower – photo by Heather Valey © 2018

This year being no exception, the Windflower is one of the first plants to bloom in the spring, usually late february.  You’ll find it blooming in purple, white, blue and violet.  The blooms are about 1 and a half inches in diameter.  They aren’t big flowers at all.  Probably the main thing that keeps them from being stepped on is that they are one of the few plants not brown at the moment!

As you can see, the center of the flower forms a cone protruding from the base. Once the flower has finished blooming, the seeds fly away on the wind, which gives the plant its name.  After its brief blooms it will go dormant in the summer.

Continue reading