Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Snake story, from a COG colleague

Rod Mackay, who is a fellow contributor to the Canberra Ornithologists Group email chat line "CanberrraBirds" sent in this message yesterday, and I have received his approval to republish it here. It is an "off-topic" posting (on a bird chat line), meaning it is not about birds. I am sure other bird people were as fascinated as I was.

As I said in my request to him, the story reads like a genuine David Attenborough moment - shame there was no video! The best I can offer is an image of a Red-bellied Black Snake which I took near Narooma 3 years agoHere is its head, with just a tinge of red scales visible along its side (if you enlarge the image).

Rod writes:

I witnessed an amazing sight when I went walking on Sunday morning on one of my favourite birding tracks at Durras. Surprisingly few birds, but at one point just off the track there's a soak (which is rapidly drying out due to summer heat and lack of heavy rain and now measures approx 3 X 2 metres). It contains a jumble of logs, some blackened by bushfires, which when wet can have a remarkably glistening snake-like appearance. On several previous occasions I have mistaken these logs for reptiles, then found when checking with the binoculars I had overlooked a real Red-bellied Black Snake.

On Sunday I detected the real Red-bellied Black straight away - and it was much more active than on previous occasions. It slithered into the remaining water, probably no more than 30cms deep (I didn't actually check!) submerging repeatedly then raising its head with forked tongue flicking. It was fascinating to watch. It made me wish I had my video or at least a camera.

Then suddenly the apparent tranquility was shattered as all hell broke loose. Brilliant red and glossy black coils flashed as the snake writhed and wrestled with something - but what? Just as I saw a grey/brown body the snake lost its grip and I realised the prey was an eel which quickly slid below the surface. More fruitless pursuit by the snake followed, after which it became motionless, with its head and about 20cms of its body raised in what I would think was a classic strike position. It remained that way for probably five minutes. Then in some debris on the edge of the water behind the snake there was a slight movement - detected by the snake - and this time there was no mistake as it grabbed its victim by the head. The evidence of the first strike was clearly visible & I presume the venom was taking effect as the struggles grew weaker and were soon over. Then it was dinner time as the snake proceeded to swallow its prey head first and whole (as snakes do).

My impression was that the RBBS was a very healthy specimen about 6 feet long and almost as thick as my wrist while the eel was about 40 cms. The whole episode, viewed from a distance of about 10 metres thru binoculars, took about 30 - 40 fascinating minutes.

Rod Mackay


Duncan said...

What an experience! I once saw a White Ibis downing an eel about a foot long and thought that was pretty good!

Tyto Tony said...

Gidday Denis,

Magic moment! Love those red-belly blacks. Once saw 1.2m snake strike and soon after devour another red-belly half its length. And they do love water so 'fishing' not such a surprise.

Tyto Tony said...

Gidday Denis,

Great report from Rod. I love red-bellies. Once saw 1.2m snake strike and soon after devour another red half its length. Similar bite-fight-wait-swallow pattern as Rod saw.

Mosura said...

Great observation! Thanks for sharing it on the blog.