Hello, Snek.

I met this Very Good Snek* a few days ago when I was taking my dog for a walk at the Martha Jordan Birding Trail up at Leadbetter Point State Park. Specifically a common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), with some really pretty red checkers along the yellow “racing stripes”. She was looking quite healthy, and had probably shed not too terribly long ago. I observed her for a few moments, then let her go along her way. (My dog was completely unimpressed.)

When I was a kid, I loved looking for bugs and other critters under rocks and logs in my neighborhood. I found plenty of roly-polies, wolf spiders, and a plethora of ants. But garter snakes were the biggest prize, and a day in which I found one was a day to celebrate indeed! These sleek, graceful creatures could disappear into the grass in an eyeblink, so I treasured every moment I had with them. And I still feel a rush of delight when I see one gently making its way through the tall grass here on the coast. The birds may seem to almost go out of their way to be noticed here, but the snakes prefer to keep a lower profile.

I haven’t yet gotten to see our local subspecies, T. sirtalis concinnus, the red-spotted garter snake. Rather than limiting themselves to a line of red dots, these flashy snakes have large slashes of red all down their sides, as well as a bright red head. Still, I keep my eyes open from the time the weather begins to warm to when the chill becomes too much for these cold-blooded creatures, who head underground to nap for the winter. Given how rare the color red is in nature here, there’s not a lot that could be mistaken for those scarlet scales.

The Long Beach peninsula has a rather small range of snake species; the common garter snake’s cousin, the northwestern garter snake (Thamnophis ordinoides), tends to be a shyer creature that sticks to more forested areas. I’ve heard rumors of northern rubber boas (Charina bottae), but they usually tend to be found more inland in the Coast Range and beyond. Cape Disappointment and other places with older forests might be the best place for a rare holdout of this species here.

Sneks–err, snakes–of all species will likely be bedding down in the coming weeks here, which means sightings will cease for the time being. All the more reason to appreciate them as summer winds down its last few days.

*”Snek” is internet slang for “snake”, of course.

Further reading:

https://www.fws.gov/refuge/willapa/wildlife_and_habitat/common_garter_snake.html

https://www.fws.gov/refuge/willapa/wildlife_and_habitat/northwestern_garter_snake.html

https://www.wildernesscollege.com/garter-snakes.html

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