I’m not sure I have the heart for all this wildlife monitoring, that’s the conclusion I’ve come to. There’s more drama than a reality television show, and believe me, this drama is way more real. There’s the story of the Mallard nest and the giant snake, which I’ve promised. There’s an update on Bluebird Nest #2. There’s news of the cardinals and the little brown rabbit and the lone Canada goose hatchling that is suddenly not so little. And of course there is my baby, my real baby, the one in Spain or Amsterdam or Portugal, depending on the day. Depending, most certainly, on the availability of WiFi.
(The good Lord is making sure I have plenty to distract me while she’s gone, that’s for sure.)
You will remember the bluebird nest and our beloved Harry, who fledged just three weeks ago. It was just about that time that we began to notice the mallards. The female (in particular) was hanging around our yard in such an insistent way we began to think something is up.
I think she has a nest in the Daylilies I said to my husband, who walked with me the five steps it takes to reach the spot from our brick patio. He reached in to part the flowers and sure enough, there on the ground, was this.
We kept an eye on that Mama after that, noting from her coming and going she must still be laying eggs.
After four days she disappeared. The male Mallard continued to hang around, down by the water’s edge. She’s on the nest! I said with great excitement. And then a very strange thing happened.
We had been in the day all yard, Tim and I, mowing, pulling weeds, working in our little garden. It was late afternoon when made our way to the shade of the downstairs porch (site of the bluebird nest) for a Job Well Done cocktail. We had hardly settled in when the female Mallard paddled in from Bickley’s Pond and beelined up to the Daylilies.
She crouched low as if to go in, then retreated. She moved two feet to the left, then back to the right, then back to the left again. She started in again, this time very tentatively ducking (no pun intended) under the bright yellow blossoms before disappearing into the bed’s foliage. In no time at all she was back out again.
I think she’s being coy because we are here I said. She doesn’t want us to know the location of the nest.
With that she did the tentative dance again, finally going back under the flowers. Within seconds she came flying out, in a rage this time as she took off for the water.
There’s a snake in there I said. There’s a snake on that nest.
Tim went to the garage for a long-handled broom. (He’s so smart.) I stayed back on the porch (I’m so smart, too) while he v e r y c a r e f u l l y parted the mass of flowers.
THERE IS A SNAKE ON THERE he said. Quickly followed by:
BRING YOUR CAMERA. WE NEED TO FIGURE OUT WHAT KIND OF SNAKE IT IS.
Thank heavens the Canon was already loaded with the big zoom lens because I wasn’t about to get near that flower bed. From my current location I aimed my camera in Tim’s direction. About that time I saw a gigantic slither go around the the backside of the bed. I could see neither the head nor the tail—just the long long long middle, a middle that did not resemble that of the “good” black snake I saw a couple of weeks ago in our driveway.
THAT’S NOT THE BLACK SNAKE I said sort of loud. SEE THE WHITE UNDERBELLY? SEE THE DESIGN ON ITS BACK? THAT IS NOT A BLACKSNAKE.
Tim stood there a minute, thinking what to do, then looked back toward me.
SHOOT IT! I said.
Now Cathy he said in a voice so calm. I can’t shoot it.
WHY NOT I said.
Well, for one, we don’t have a gun.
Dammit, I thought.
A hoe? I said, fully aware time was wasting. Do you want me to go get a hoe from the garage?
I’ll go, he said. You just keep an eye on the snake.
He did kill the snake, my hero husband, an act that gave me about three seconds of peace. That’s about the time my friend Jay Coles showed up, my friend who is director of South Carolina Wildlife Center and who knows about such things.
LOOK AT THAT SNAKE JAY! I said. HE WAS EATING THE DUCK EGGS SO WE HAD TO KILL HIM! ISN’T HE HUGE? IS IT A DIAMOND BACK OR A WATER MOCCASIN?
It’s a King Snake, Jay said, the only snake that actually eats venomous snakes and keeps them off your property.
Oh no I said quietly.
I had a bit of snake guilt, I must tell you, wondering if all of snakedom and the universe would conspire against me for interfering in the natural order of things. But in a few minutes the female Mallard returned to our yard and this time, she brought the male with her. She was clearly surprised to find the snake gone and she returned, cautiously, to the nest and the eggs.
Five days later, my curiosity getting the better of me, I asked Tim if he’d check on the nest. I was most interested to know how many eggs had survived and if, by chance, any of them had hatched.
Do you want to come and bring your camera? he asked.
Um, no thanks I said.
He took the trusty broom, parted the foliage, and guess what he found?
There on top of the nest, coiled and feasting, Big Snake #2.
This time, we left it all alone. We’re not sure what kind of snake it was (hoping it was another King), but we do know the nest was completely wiped out.
Even though the nest was a fail, the Mallards have been hanging around. I am always happy to see them: they’re quite a devoted pair.
I hope there will be new nests in safer locations. Nesting boxes, perhaps?
For now, I’ve got all I can say grace over with the second set of bluebird eggs. I haven’t seen the Mom in a while—something that is of great concern to me. But that’s a different story for a different day.
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