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Re: Re: [CALBIRDS] Pt. Reyes American Bittern vs "SF" (CA) Garter Snake

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  • 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 1 of 6 , Mar 6, 2007
      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 2 of 6 , Mar 10, 2007
        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

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        [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 3 of 6 , Mar 10, 2007
          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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