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Pt. Reyes American Bittern vs "SF" (CA) Garter Snake

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  • debbie viess
    My husband David and I witnessed an amazing wildlife spectacle this past Saturday at Pt. Reyes. After a long morning in the field with BAMS (the Bay Area
    Message 1 of 6 , Mar 5 6:04 PM
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      My husband David and I witnessed an amazing wildlife
      spectacle this past Saturday at Pt. Reyes. After a
      long morning in the field with BAMS (the Bay Area
      Mycological Society), we headed out to Limantour
      beach, for a bit of sun and ocean, and, hopefully,
      wildlife viewing (I didn't count the semi-tame Axis
      and Fallow deer that blocked our paths on the Bear
      Valley trails).

      Just out of the Limantour parking lot, on a well-worn
      path to the ocean, we found ourselves alongside a
      freshwater marsh. Ahead of us was an intent couple of
      birders, spotting scope at the ready, peering fixedly
      at the edge of a tule marsh. I sidled up to one, and
      asked what were they looking at? The fellow replied,
      "An American bittern eating a SF Garter snake!"

      No way! My first thought was how weird that he could
      tell the species of snake from that distance. As it
      turned out, the fellow was Jim McGuire, Curator of
      Herpetology at the UC Berkeley Vertebrate Museum. Not
      only was he a reptile expert, but he had never before
      seen this snake in the field!

      The bittern wrestled with his colorful, reluctant prey
      at the near edge of the tules. Whenever he raised his
      head up, we got clear views of the battle, and what a
      battle it was. The brillantly striped and spotted with
      red, beautifully blue-bellied snake, wrapped itself
      around the bird's face and beak, desperately trying to
      prevent its own consumption. It put up quite the
      valiant fight, although at no time did we see the
      snake attempt to bite the bird.

      This went on for at least twenty minutes, and we drew
      an ebb and flow of curious Pt. Reyes visitors as we
      stood there, transfixed. The snake fought long and
      hard, grabbing onto adjacent vegetation and its
      tormentor as best it could. But in the end, the bird
      managed to mangle it sufficiently that it went limp
      and was, at length, swallowed.

      Fortunately, I had my digital camera, so Jim and David
      were able to get some great photos by lining up my
      little digital through Jim's spotting scope. His UC
      Berkeley herpetology class will have some exciting new
      reptile images, and my birding buddies can see images
      of a normally cryptic bittern festooned with
      technicolor snake.

      But although the snake had been subdued and swallowed,
      now the bittern had a new dilemma. This was a big
      snake, and certainly at least equal in weight to the
      bird itself. The bittern's crop was grossly extended,
      and his ability to fly in doubt, leaving him
      vulnerable to predators in turn. After our long vigil
      (and by the end, birders or not, we were all rooting
      for the snake) we left the bittern in peace to digest
      his hard-won meal.

      But the story doesn't end here. After David and I
      spent a bit of time at the beach, we returned along
      the same trail. While I was putting my boots on at the
      edge of the graveled path, David scanned the tules for
      the bittern. There it was, still. David called out to
      me that it was still hunting. I found this difficult
      to believe. That was one big snake he had just eaten!

      Instead of hunting, it turned out that the bird was
      washing off its beak, which David had noticed was
      covered in a froth. By the time I trained my binocs on
      the bittern, all I could see was a smattering of blue
      scales around his beak. The bird appeared logy (not
      unexpected with an overstuffed crop), his crop
      remained distended, and he was preening the feathers
      of his throat. Again we thought to leave it to its no
      doubt difficult digestion, and walked on to our car.

      When I sent the photos to Jim later that day, he
      responded that he was surprised to see the snake eaten
      at all, since the "SF" (actually CA) Garter snake is
      one of the few animals able to eat the highly toxic CA
      newt, and in fact is believed to store the poison and
      in turn become toxic itself. So our bittern fought
      long and hard for a meal that at best was regurgitated
      back up, or at worst, ended up sickening or killing
      the bird, too.

      Man, some days you just can't win for losing.

      Photos on the yahoogroups site:

      http://ph.groups.yahoo.com/group/CALBIRDS/photos/view/f461?b=1&m=s&o=0

      Click on photos to enlarge and for captions.

      Debbie Viess
      Oakland, CA
    • Deren Ross
      Debbie, Wow! Thanks for the great account and photo of this incredible and rare event. For those interested, Don Roberson has a great webpage on the natural
      Message 2 of 6 , Mar 5 7:30 PM
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        Debbie,

        Wow! Thanks for the great account and photo of this incredible and rare event.

        For those interested, Don Roberson has a great webpage on the natural history of this now rare snake. Here's the link: http://www.montereybay.com/creagrus/CAsnakeSFGarter.html

        Very Cool!

        Deren


        debbie viess <amanitarita@...> wrote:
        My husband David and I witnessed an amazing wildlife
        spectacle this past Saturday at Pt. Reyes. After a
        long morning in the field with BAMS (the Bay Area
        Mycological Society), we headed out to Limantour
        beach, for a bit of sun and ocean, and, hopefully,
        wildlife viewing (I didn't count the semi-tame Axis
        and Fallow deer that blocked our paths on the Bear
        Valley trails).

        Just out of the Limantour parking lot, on a well-worn
        path to the ocean, we found ourselves alongside a
        freshwater marsh. Ahead of us was an intent couple of
        birders, spotting scope at the ready, peering fixedly
        at the edge of a tule marsh. I sidled up to one, and
        asked what were they looking at? The fellow replied,
        "An American bittern eating a SF Garter snake!"

        No way! My first thought was how weird that he could
        tell the species of snake from that distance. As it
        turned out, the fellow was Jim McGuire, Curator of
        Herpetology at the UC Berkeley Vertebrate Museum. Not
        only was he a reptile expert, but he had never before
        seen this snake in the field!

        The bittern wrestled with his colorful, reluctant prey
        at the near edge of the tules. Whenever he raised his
        head up, we got clear views of the battle, and what a
        battle it was. The brillantly striped and spotted with
        red, beautifully blue-bellied snake, wrapped itself
        around the bird's face and beak, desperately trying to
        prevent its own consumption. It put up quite the
        valiant fight, although at no time did we see the
        snake attempt to bite the bird.

        This went on for at least twenty minutes, and we drew
        an ebb and flow of curious Pt. Reyes visitors as we
        stood there, transfixed. The snake fought long and
        hard, grabbing onto adjacent vegetation and its
        tormentor as best it could. But in the end, the bird
        managed to mangle it sufficiently that it went limp
        and was, at length, swallowed.

        Fortunately, I had my digital camera, so Jim and David
        were able to get some great photos by lining up my
        little digital through Jim's spotting scope. His UC
        Berkeley herpetology class will have some exciting new
        reptile images, and my birding buddies can see images
        of a normally cryptic bittern festooned with
        technicolor snake.

        But although the snake had been subdued and swallowed,
        now the bittern had a new dilemma. This was a big
        snake, and certainly at least equal in weight to the
        bird itself. The bittern's crop was grossly extended,
        and his ability to fly in doubt, leaving him
        vulnerable to predators in turn. After our long vigil
        (and by the end, birders or not, we were all rooting
        for the snake) we left the bittern in peace to digest
        his hard-won meal.

        But the story doesn't end here. After David and I
        spent a bit of time at the beach, we returned along
        the same trail. While I was putting my boots on at the
        edge of the graveled path, David scanned the tules for
        the bittern. There it was, still. David called out to
        me that it was still hunting. I found this difficult
        to believe. That was one big snake he had just eaten!

        Instead of hunting, it turned out that the bird was
        washing off its beak, which David had noticed was
        covered in a froth. By the time I trained my binocs on
        the bittern, all I could see was a smattering of blue
        scales around his beak. The bird appeared logy (not
        unexpected with an overstuffed crop), his crop
        remained distended, and he was preening the feathers
        of his throat. Again we thought to leave it to its no
        doubt difficult digestion, and walked on to our car.

        When I sent the photos to Jim later that day, he
        responded that he was surprised to see the snake eaten
        at all, since the "SF" (actually CA) Garter snake is
        one of the few animals able to eat the highly toxic CA
        newt, and in fact is believed to store the poison and
        in turn become toxic itself. So our bittern fought
        long and hard for a meal that at best was regurgitated
        back up, or at worst, ended up sickening or killing
        the bird, too.

        Man, some days you just can't win for losing.

        Photos on the yahoogroups site:

        http://ph.groups.yahoo.com/group/CALBIRDS/photos/view/f461?b=1&m=s&o=0

        Click on photos to enlarge and for captions.

        Debbie Viess
        Oakland, CA






        Deren Ross
        (Home) 530-885-9740
        (cell) 530-308-5114
        Auburn, Ca






        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • seaslug92138
        Not to rain on anyone s parade, especially Mr.Jim McGuire, The snake you saw being eaten by the bittern was not an endangered S.F. Garter Snake (T.s.
        Message 3 of 6 , Mar 6 1:25 PM
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          Not to rain on anyone's parade, especially Mr.Jim McGuire, The snake
          you saw being eaten by the bittern was not an endangered S.F. Garter
          Snake (T.s. tetrataenia). If you were birding in Point Reyes, that is
          in Marin County. The S.F. Garter Snake is only found on the S.F.
          peninsula. The other subspecies called the California Red-sided
          Garter Snake (T.s. infernalis)is more widespread and is what you all
          were seeing being eaten. I used to live in Rohnert Park and found the
          California Red-sided all over Marin and Sonoma counties. Sorry for
          being a buzzkill but thought everyone should know.

          Thomas Myers
          San Diego

          Debbie,

          Wow! Thanks for the great account and photo of this incredible and
          rare
          event.

          For those interested, Don Roberson has a great webpage on the natural
          history
          of this now rare snake. Here's the link:
          http://www.montereybay.com/creagrus/CAsnakeSFGarter.html

          Very Cool!

          Deren


          debbie viess <amanitarita@...> wrote:
          My husband David and I witnessed an amazing wildlife
          spectacle this past Saturday at Pt. Reyes. After a
          long morning in the field with BAMS (the Bay Area
          Mycological Society), we headed out to Limantour
          beach, for a bit of sun and ocean, and, hopefully,
          wildlife viewing (I didn't count the semi-tame Axis
          and Fallow deer that blocked our paths on the Bear
          Valley trails).

          Just out of the Limantour parking lot, on a well-worn
          path to the ocean, we found ourselves alongside a
          freshwater marsh. Ahead of us was an intent couple of
          birders, spotting scope at the ready, peering fixedly
          at the edge of a tule marsh. I sidled up to one, and
          asked what were they looking at? The fellow replied,
          "An American bittern eating a SF Garter snake!"

          No way! My first thought was how weird that he could
          tell the species of snake from that distance. As it
          turned out, the fellow was Jim McGuire, Curator of
          Herpetology at the UC Berkeley Vertebrate Museum. Not
          only was he a reptile expert, but he had never before
          seen this snake in the field!

          The bittern wrestled with his colorful, reluctant prey
          at the near edge of the tules. Whenever he raised his
          head up, we got clear views of the battle, and what a
          battle it was. The brillantly striped and spotted with
          red, beautifully blue-bellied snake, wrapped itself
          around the bird's face and beak, desperately trying to
          prevent its own consumption. It put up quite the
          valiant fight, although at no time did we see the
          snake attempt to bite the bird.

          This went on for at least twenty minutes, and we drew
          an ebb and flow of curious Pt. Reyes visitors as we
          stood there, transfixed. The snake fought long and
          hard, grabbing onto adjacent vegetation and its
          tormentor as best it could. But in the end, the bird
          managed to mangle it sufficiently that it went limp
          and was, at length, swallowed.

          Fortunately, I had my digital camera, so Jim and David
          were able to get some great photos by lining up my
          little digital through Jim's spotting scope. His UC
          Berkeley herpetology class will have some exciting new
          reptile images, and my birding buddies can see images
          of a normally cryptic bittern festooned with
          technicolor snake.

          But although the snake had been subdued and swallowed,
          now the bittern had a new dilemma. This was a big
          snake, and certainly at least equal in weight to the
          bird itself. The bittern's crop was grossly extended,
          and his ability to fly in doubt, leaving him
          vulnerable to predators in turn. After our long vigil
          (and by the end, birders or not, we were all rooting
          for the snake) we left the bittern in peace to digest
          his hard-won meal.

          But the story doesn't end here. After David and I
          spent a bit of time at the beach, we returned along
          the same trail. While I was putting my boots on at the
          edge of the graveled path, David scanned the tules for
          the bittern. There it was, still. David called out to
          me that it was still hunting. I found this difficult
          to believe. That was one big snake he had just eaten!

          Instead of hunting, it turned out that the bird was
          washing off its beak, which David had noticed was
          covered in a froth. By the time I trained my binocs on
          the bittern, all I could see was a smattering of blue
          scales around his beak. The bird appeared logy (not
          unexpected with an overstuffed crop), his crop
          remained distended, and he was preening the feathers
          of his throat. Again we thought to leave it to its no
          doubt difficult digestion, and walked on to our car.

          When I sent the photos to Jim later that day, he
          responded that he was surprised to see the snake eaten
          at all, since the "SF" (actually CA) Garter snake is
          one of the few animals able to eat the highly toxic CA
          newt, and in fact is believed to store the poison and
          in turn become toxic itself. So our bittern fought
          long and hard for a meal that at best was regurgitated
          back up, or at worst, ended up sickening or killing
          the bird, too.

          Man, some days you just can't win for losing.

          Photos on the yahoogroups site:

          http://ph.groups.yahoo.com/group/CALBIRDS/photos/view/f461?b=1&m=s&o=0

          Click on photos to enlarge and for captions.

          Debbie Viess
          Oakland, CA






          Deren Ross
          (Home) 530-885-9740
          (cell) 530-308-5114
          Auburn, Ca
        • Ken Burton
          Even though this is now straying off topic, I feel compelled at this point to point out that the subspecies of common garter snake in Marin is the California
          Message 4 of 6 , Mar 10 5:38 PM
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            Even though this is now straying off topic, I feel compelled at this point to point out that the subspecies of common garter snake in Marin is the California red-sided garter snake, not the San Francisco garter snake. The latter may not even be a valid subspecies (if, indeed, there is such a thing).

            Ken Burton
            McKinleyville
            ----- Original Message -----
            From: Nate Dias
            To: calbirds@yahoogroups.com
            Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 1:20 PM
            Subject: Re: [CALBIRDS] Pt. Reyes American Bittern vs "SF" (CA) Garter Snake


            Shame on everyone present for not intervening
            IMMEDIATELY to save a breeding-age member of an
            endangered species! Especially a curator of
            Herpetology!

            I would have waded (carefully) into the marsh and
            saved the snake without hesitation!

            Yours disgustedly,

            Nate Dias

            __________________________________________________________
            Now that's room service! Choose from over 150,000 hotels
            in 45,000 destinations on Yahoo! Travel to find your fit.
            http://farechase.yahoo.com/promo-generic-14795097




            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
          • Ken Burton
            Sorry, everyone, for sending the previous message before reading this one. Ken Burton McKinleyville ... From: seaslug92138 To: CALBIRDS@yahoogroups.com Sent:
            Message 5 of 6 , Mar 10 5:40 PM
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              Sorry, everyone, for sending the previous message before reading this one.

              Ken Burton
              McKinleyville

              ----- Original Message -----
              From: seaslug92138
              To: CALBIRDS@yahoogroups.com
              Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 1:25 PM
              Subject: Re: Re: [CALBIRDS] Pt. Reyes American Bittern vs "SF" (CA) Garter Snake


              Not to rain on anyone's parade, especially Mr.Jim McGuire, The snake
              you saw being eaten by the bittern was not an endangered S.F. Garter
              Snake (T.s. tetrataenia). If you were birding in Point Reyes, that is
              in Marin County. The S.F. Garter Snake is only found on the S.F.
              peninsula. The other subspecies called the California Red-sided
              Garter Snake (T.s. infernalis)is more widespread and is what you all
              were seeing being eaten. I used to live in Rohnert Park and found the
              California Red-sided all over Marin and Sonoma counties. Sorry for
              being a buzzkill but thought everyone should know.

              Thomas Myers
              San Diego


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