Tag Archives: garter snakes

Orion has returned to hunt in the northern skies.

Reid Dickie

I’ve covered lots of Manitoba ground over the last ten days and the signs of change are everywhere, not just in the fields where the harvest progresses apace sending plumes of chaff and dust into the air. The red maples flame as loud as our flag. Always the leaders in changing colour, cottonwoods burn yellow in the dry dusty sun of late summer. Greens start to fade as russet and pumpkin shades emerge. An especially good summer for poison ivy, now its scarlet and orange leaves form bright carpets in the understory of shallow forests and along the ditches of the TCH. This year mountain ash are laden with large clusters of hot red berries awaiting the first frosts to sweeten up for the jays and waxwings.

Murmurations of blackbirds weave and dive across the highway coordinating their aerial sonar for the long flight ahead. Tiny flocks of LGBs (little grey birds, thank you Ed Abbey) polka along with the Tragically Hip on the mighty Avenger’s CD player. Vs of geese broadcast their lonesome message across the land. Red-tailed hawks populate telephone poles keen-eyed for their next meal, an easier feat now those nice farmers have cut down all the long crops making the yummy wee critters more vulnerable.

Generally critters get more mobile at this time of year in anticipation of winter. They plan ahead like the garter snakes who are now heading toward the nearest karst that’ll take them down below the frost line where they can overwinter thus many flattened snakes on the highways. Night critters like skunks, raccoons, porcupines and badgers populate the shoulders in larger numbers now than during the hot weather. Ravens tug at the carcasses. Nature bats last.

I caught this cluster of wild bees and several of their honeycombs over the entrance to Zoria Hall, a popular dance hall now and ago. There was honey dripping down the wall! It was a cool windy day so the bees were inactive.

 

In the cemetery next to the Zoria church was this beautiful white angel turning black with time.

Still driving around…

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Filed under Ancient Wisdom, BEAUTY, Blog Life, Critters, Natural Places, Parks, PRAIRIES, shaman, Spirit

Snake Season, Narcisse, MB

Reposting because this annual event is occurring right now! Find other interesting Manitoba excursions on my Day Tripper page.

Reid Dickie

April 2002

It is one of those late April anomalies: 25 degrees C with a warm south wind, the kind of day that entices red-sided garter snakes from their cool winter dens.

In the Interlake on Highway 17, just north of the village of Narcisse, one of the largest populations of garter snakes in Canada is beginning its spring mating ritual. That is what I’ve come to see.

I’ve come to face a fear too. Ever since a small lime-green snake wriggled out of a crate of bananas in our general store when I was five years old and startled me to hysteria, I’ve feared snakes. Raised in a rural area but long a city dweller, I’ve recently reawakened my connection to nature. Hiking and camping in remote areas, I still find bears, wolverines and black widow spiders frighten me much less than snakes. The dry rustle of a snake in the grass raises the hairs on my neck instantly. Today is a good day to face that fear.

In the parking lot, a friendly Conservation officer gives out pamphlets and information about the snakes. An easy 3 km trail is designed so four snake dens can be viewed. At the first site, a snow fence separates the many human visitors from the den opening.

The sinkhole is in a stand of poplars, its rocky entrance covered with bright green moss in contrast to the brown wintered leaves and the darker highlighted greens of the snakes as they slide with keen grace.

Having overwintered below the frost line in deep caves eroded into the limestone bedrock, garter snakes emerge to mate. Starting in mid April for about four weeks, male snakes gather at the mouth of the dens waiting for females. As each female emerges, she is immediately beset with eager males, forming a mating ball.

Female garter snakes are easy to spot as they are thicker and longer than males. As I stand and watch, a female emerges from the darkness. With amazing speed dozens of males slither to engulf her. Moving over dry leaves and twigs, the snakes make a low static crackle, the appropriate soundtrack to their urgent impassioned dance.

Hundreds of males swarm about the female, a frenzied tangle that moves across the ground, over stones and around trees. Two more mating balls suddenly appear, snakes seem to materialize out of nowhere.

The snakes have drawn a good crowd on this warm Sunday. Small children react with either silent awe or curious delight. A German man, talking excitedly, holds a snake up to his companion who looks on in disgust. A white-haired woman squeals in fear, saying how much she dislikes snakes. Her shrieks mix with the joyous cries of her grandchildren as they interact with the critters. A crackle of ancient fear arises in me when a small male slithers over the toe of my boot.

Oblivious to our fears and our presence the preoccupied snakes mate on. The Eros of all those fleshy bodies entwined in procreativity is almost palpable. The spring air is rich with the aromas of thawed earth. The trees are early budding; the poplars give off their sticky smell.

It is a pleasant stroll along the trail in the warm sun. At each den, mating balls have formed, the biological imperative fully engaged. At one stop, a large ball of snakes has climbed four feet up a poplar sapling. Like a drop of water, the ball splashes snakes when it falls. Within a few seconds the ball re-forms and rolls away.

Once mated, female garter snakes disperse over an area of 30,000 hectares to have their live young in one of the many marshes or rocky bluffs that make excellent snake habitat. Some travel 25 kms or more from the dens. When all the females have mated and gone, the males leave as well.

Because they are cold-blooded, snakes must follow the cycle of the seasons closely. Adult garter snakes return to their hibernation dens when the weather begins to cool in September. Juvenile snakes stay where they summer, finding an animal burrow or crevasse that reaches below the frost line. The next fall they will migrate to a den and join thousands of their kind to overwinter.

If a mating ball has a hundred snakes in it, I try to imagine what it must look like with tens of thousands of snakes in a sleeping heap deep underground. That image leaves a thin film of sweat on my scalp as I sidestep a garter snake on my way to the car.

Did I face my fear? It was a beginning. Will I return to the snake dens? Yes, I must.

It was only a beginning.

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Filed under Day Tripping, Life and Life Only, Natural Places, PRAIRIES

Equinox Journey

Reid Dickie

The mighty Avenger and I are just back from welcoming in the fall season with an 800 km loop around Manitoba. The weather is way above normal and sunny, perfect days. On Friday morning I headed north out of Winnipeg up Hwy #6 along the east side of Lake Manitoba, Dauphin my destination for the night. The leaves on the trees in the early part of the journey were just beginning to turn but the further north I got the brighter and more spectacular the display became. My first stop was at Percy Moggey’s cabin north of Eriksdale to do a video report. Percy was one of Manitoba’s most notorious boogeymen. My report is coming soon to a blog near you.

I turned onto Hwy #68, one of the better highways in central Manitoba, and headed towards the Lake Manitoba Narrows. High dykes still protect the areas at and around the Narrows. For the first time this year I stopped at the Thunderbird Nest, just a few kms west of the Narrows, wondering if the peninsula it sits on had been flooded. No flooding was apparent, just a wonderful feeling of happiness which struck me as soon as I stepped out of the car and persisted the whole time I was at Thunderbird Nest. The site was peaceful and calming with unrelenting happiness. It was different from Linda’s Be Happy but just as effective. I felt blissful the whole time I was there. When I returned to the car, suddenly I received the story behind the happiness I felt.

I relay it: Not that long ago her family brought Old Mother, an elder on the nearby nation, to the Thunderbird Nest. She was so excited because she hadn’t been back to it since she was a girl and something very important had happened on that visit. Even though her family had to wheel her in her chair across the rough and rocky trail to the place, Old Mother stayed happy and full of laughter the whole time. As we passed a certain tree, she tied a gift to the branch of a tree, something she had made with her old and gnarled fingers. It was a piece of jute string tied around a stone she found with a striped feather floating at the bottom. When we got to the Thunderbird Nest she held her breath and when she let it out, it was full of laughter. The trees echoed her happiness back to her and birds began to call. She prayed and sang, tears of joy flowing from her old but keen eyes.

She told us why this place was special to her. When she was a girl she received her power animal here: it was flicker, a large woodpecker. They still frequent the bur oak forest in the area. She said the bird loudest in the forest was the flicker. We listened and sure enough a large flicker came flying through the trees and landed on a branch above Old Mother. She smiled and sang a little song to the bird. As they wheeled her back down the trail she said she had never felt more peaceful in her life and was ready to die. Three days later she died with a smile on her face. Old Mother was 93. I thanked Great Spirit for bringing me safely to this place and for the happiness message. I have recounted another experience at Thunderbird Nest here.

Though the quality of Hwy 68 deteriorates somewhat on both sides of the Narrows, mostly it’s smooth with wide shoulders, a pleasure. This time of year though it got a little gruesome with the number of dead garter snakes on the road. They are heading to their underground caves below the frost line for the winter, lots of them on the move. This was especially noticeable west of the Thunderbird Nest. Even writing about it makes me a little sickish, driving it was grim. By the time I got to Ste Rose du Lac, the snakes were much less frequent; skunks were the other unluckiest roadkill.

I stayed at the Super 8 in Dauphin (excellent steam room!) and wined and dined with two lovely and attractive women: my cousin Vonda and our delightful friend, Cheryl. A perfect sunset promised another hot day. After a leisurely breakfast at The Bully (Boulevard Hotel) with Vonda, I drove through Riding Mountain National Park. The north face offered a garish array of fall colours from the red and brown understory through to the lush electric yellow of cottonwoods, poplar and birch all broad stroked against the solid stoic evergreens. The south face was a few days less colourful. Best time to drive through RMNP for the fall colours is likely mid to late this week and next week (Sept. 28 to Oct. 8). Not many leaves falling yet but a frost or two will hasten that, along with a few windy days.

Mountain Road (PR 357) always has majestic Manitoba vistas, today dabbed with autumn hues. The view of the lakebed misted with dust and chaff was breathtaking and the chute to the bottom always a thrill. The harvest is proceeding well with fields of late crops now dotted with combines and trucks. I passed through Neepawa, Tim Horton’s in hand, and went south to Carberry where I did some visual heritage recon and gleaned great shots of two old historic sites near Carberry. I will have full reports on both sites but here is a picture of each.

The hike on Spirit Sands today was perfect at 25 degrees C, sunny, slight breeze I wished was a little more frequent once I got to the dunes and the fulfilling effervescence of Spirit that percolates through me. Boots off, feet bare, the sand is hot today, cool an inch below. At our special place I sit and commune, Linda reaffirms a recent message: “I’ve only been gone a minute, Reid.” Her wonderous experience of eternity and her attempt to tell me what it’s like sends me into new realms of bliss. I laugh and roll on the sand. Linda died 21 months ago.

Since it opened for the first time this year in early August I have visited Spruce Woods Park several times. Sinkholes have appeared by the side of the highway, another aftermath of the flood. Some have sunk due to residual river water and have small fish gasping for oxygen swimming in them. Others appear to be more recent and their water has a slight emerald tinge to it not unlike the punchbowl.

On my return to Winnipeg along Hwy 2, I saw several massive flocks of blackbirds, thousands of birds moving as one across the blue sky. It went on for about a mile with birds arising from the trees along the road to join the throng.

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Filed under Carberry, Earth Phenomena, Flood, Manitoba Heritage, Natural Places, Parks, shaman

Snake Season, Narcisse, MB

Reposting because this annual event is occurring right now! Find other interesting Manitoba excursions on the Day Tripper page.

Reid Dickie

April 2002

It is one of those late April anomalies: 25 degrees C with a warm south wind, the kind of day that entices red-sided garter snakes from their cool winter dens.

In the Interlake on Highway 17, just north of the village of Narcisse, one of the largest populations of garter snakes in Canada is beginning its spring mating ritual. That is what I’ve come to see.

I’ve come to face a fear too. Ever since a small lime-green snake wriggled out of a crate of bananas in our general store when I was five years old and startled me to hysteria, I’ve feared snakes. Raised in a rural area but long a city dweller, I’ve recently reawakened my connection to nature. Hiking and camping in remote areas, I still find bears, wolverines and black widow spiders frighten me much less than snakes. The dry rustle of a snake in the grass raises the hairs on my neck instantly. Today is a good day to face that fear.

In the parking lot, a friendly Conservation officer gives out pamphlets and information about the snakes. An easy 3 km trail is designed so four snake dens can be viewed. At the first site, a snow fence separates the many human visitors from the den opening.

The sinkhole is in a stand of poplars, its rocky entrance covered with bright green moss in contrast to the brown wintered leaves and the darker highlighted greens of the snakes as they slide with keen grace.

Having overwintered below the frost line in deep caves eroded into the limestone bedrock, garter snakes emerge to mate. Starting in mid April for about four weeks, male snakes gather at the mouth of the dens waiting for females. As each female emerges, she is immediately beset with eager males, forming a mating ball.

Female garter snakes are easy to spot as they are thicker and longer than males. As I stand and watch, a female emerges from the darkness. With amazing speed dozens of males slither to engulf her. Moving over dry leaves and twigs, the snakes make a low static crackle, the appropriate soundtrack to their urgent impassioned dance.

Hundreds of males swarm about the female, a frenzied tangle that moves across the ground, over stones and around trees. Two more mating balls suddenly appear, snakes seem to materialize out of nowhere.

The snakes have drawn a good crowd on this warm Sunday. Small children react with either silent awe or curious delight. A German man, talking excitedly, holds a snake up to his companion who looks on in disgust. A white-haired woman squeals in fear, saying how much she dislikes snakes. Her shrieks mix with the joyous cries of her grandchildren as they interact with the critters. A crackle of ancient fear arises in me when a small male slithers over the toe of my boot.

Oblivious to our fears and our presence the preoccupied snakes mate on. The Eros of all those fleshy bodies entwined in procreativity is almost palpable. The spring air is rich with the aromas of thawed earth. The trees are early budding; the poplars give off their sticky smell.

It is a pleasant stroll along the trail in the warm sun. At each den, mating balls have formed, the biological imperative fully engaged. At one stop, a large ball of snakes has climbed four feet up a poplar sapling. Like a drop of water, the ball splashes snakes when it falls. Within a few seconds the ball re-forms and rolls away.

Once mated, female garter snakes disperse over an area of 30,000 hectares to have their live young in one of the many marshes or rocky bluffs that make excellent snake habitat. Some travel 25 kms or more from the dens. When all the females have mated and gone, the males leave as well.

Because they are cold-blooded, snakes must follow the cycle of the seasons closely. Adult garter snakes return to their hibernation dens when the weather begins to cool in September. Juvenile snakes stay where they summer, finding an animal burrow or crevasse that reaches below the frost line. The next fall they will migrate to a den and join thousands of their kind to overwinter.

If a mating ball has a hundred snakes in it, I try to imagine what it must look like with tens of thousands of snakes in a sleeping heap deep underground. That image leaves a thin film of sweat on my scalp as I sidestep a garter snake on my way to the car.

Did I face my fear? It was a beginning. Will I return to the snake dens? Yes, I must.

It was only a beginning.

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Filed under Critters