By Mary Reid Barrow
When the tide goes out and the sun’s up high, the northern watersnakes come out to play at Beach Garden Park.
Photographer Robert Brown, a LRNow volunteer, alerted me to the snake party that has been occurring on and around the rip rap at the end of the foot bridge at the park.
Once Robert saw as many as eight of them at one time. He said others who walk there often stop to look for the snakes and see how many they can count that day. The snakes pay no attention to the interested folks up on the bridge, he said.
“Some were basking” Brown added. “Two appeared to be involved in a reptile romance. One, which was clearly hunting, went south to north, frequently disappearing into the Spartina and then coming back out.
“Also there were a couple of juveniles which seemed to be out for whatever adventure the day had in store,” he went on, “just looking around the rip rap and grasses, probably looking for an easy snack.”
Judging from this photo Robert sent, you can imagine what brings the snakes out to play. The proprietor of the Beach Garden Park Snake Snack Bar must figure minnows are the best happy hour special:
Non-venomous northern watersnakes are one of several watersnakes in our area. Some people confuse them with cottonmouth moccasins, but northern watersnakes are more slender bodied compared to moccasins and their crossbands that are connected to blotches on their sides are narrower and daintier than the cottonmouth’s crossbands.
A sure-fire Id clue is the dark and light bands around a northern watersnake’s mouth. It looks like a heavy duty, two-color striped moustache/goatee on its top and bottom lip!
In the water when the sun is shining, these snakes are gleaming gold-to-orange and brown beauties, like this one in a photo I took a while back at Beach Garden Park. This snake was probably young, because younger snakes have more vivid coloring than ever:
On land the snakes are drabber—brownish with crossbands that look more beige, like this one I took on a cloudy day just last week at the park. This one is probably older and thus even a little more drab:
Northern watersnakes are found around the state in freshwater ponds, ditches and wetlands, and also brackish areas like the marshes at Beach Garden Park.
They are not adverse to a little saltwater either. The snakes can be seen in the marshes and nearby open water at First Landing State Park off the trail to the Narrows and along the Long Creek Trail too.
You are apt to see them sunning on logs or rocks or zipping through the water to catch a fish or a frog, or a minnow. You also would see them doing those things at Beach Garden Park. But only there do the snakes seem to come out to play!
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