A Garter and a Thrasher

Top Photo: Eastern garter snake enjoys sun on chilly spring morning.

A garter snake was seen for four (probably still there) consecutive days sunning under a wax myrtle just a few feet from the path in Explore the Wild. The snake may be the same female which was spotted in February sunning among the sandstone slab steps at Water’s Edge some fifty yards or so to the west.

Garter snake head-on.

Garter snakes bear live young from June through September, depending upon when they actually mate. Gestation is two to three months. One reference claims there are 5 to 101 young per litter. Another says they have 7 to 85 young per litter. Other sources give different numbers. I don’t know the exact mechanism or conditions which determine whether there are just a handful or dozens of young borne by the snake, but it seems quite a range. Latitude and local environment probably play a part in the quantity of young in the litter. The average length of new born garters is about 7 inches.

Warming in morning sun.

The snake’s Latin name (Thamnophis sirtalis) refers to both the habitat it occupies and to its color pattern’s resemblance to a garter. Thamnos = bush, ophis = snake and siratalis = garter like.

Eastern “garter” snake.

In Hal H. Harrison’s “Eastern Birds’ Nests” he states of brown thrasher nests, “Placed on ground under small bush or as high as 14 ft., av. 2-7 ft. in tree, shrub, vine.” The thrasher nests that I’ve found were always in a dense shrub or tangle of vines within 3’ – 6’ of the ground. The thrasher nest pictured here meets the criteria.

Circle identifies nest location.
Thrasher checks me out.

Our thrashers have chosen a wintergreen barberry in the garden in front of the Butterfly House for their nest. For the past several days the adult birds have been constantly in and out of the, what must be, full nest. Caterpillars and other invertebrates have been seen packed into the bills of both parents entering the shrub.

Insects and other arthropods fill the bill.
Here, a tent caterpillar.
Assorted arthropoda.

Wintergreen barberry is an excellent shrub in which to nest. Not only is it a dense plant with lots of internal branches but it has prickly leaves and formidable thorns to keep out unwanteds.

Spiky leaves of wintergreen barberry.
Impressive thorns.
Note the thorns behind bird’s bill.

Good luck to both the snakes and birds this spring.

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