Saturday, 26 January 2008

#45 A snake by a swamp

I rarely see a snake when I'm out walking, and when I do, it's usually the tail disappearing into the undergrowth beside my feet. Such a sight usually scares the daylights out of me, so I was thrilled to encounter a snake basking on a wide track adjacent to a swamp recently. "Thrilled" because the reptile was easily noticed from a safe distance so as not to produce the usual initial response of fear.

Swamp Snake at Shortlands Wetland Centre

And it was a snake that I had previously not seen, making the observation even more exciting. The Swamp Snake (or Marsh Snake, or Black-bellied Swamp Snake), Hemiaspis signata, is apparently relatively common in the Hunter region.

Only a small species, it averages 50cm in length, although longer specimens have been recorded. Their preferred habitat is, as their name suggests, marshy country and wet forests. This species will aggregate in large numbers in areas of suitable habitat such as rubbish dumps.

The Swamp Snake is mainly diurnal in habit and principally feeds on frogs and skinks. Mating occurs in late autumn, winter and spring, with live young being produced in late summer. They are found along the east coast of New South Wales and Queensland.

Two colour forms occur: brown to olive-brown, and dark olive-grey to black. A narrow white, cream to yellow streak extends from snout or eye to side of neck. This was the feature that allowed me to identify the snake. It is not regarded as dangerously venomous.

An up-close view of the yellow face streak

My Swamp Snake sighting was at Hunter Wetlands Centre, formerly known as Shortland Wetlands Centre. 45 hectares have been preserved as a wildlife refuge with approximately 250 species of native birds and animals having been recorded.

The project of rehabilitating a degraded wetland was undertaken in 1986 and has progressed into a valuable conservation area with the added aim of increasing understanding of and appreciation for wetlands through communication, education and public awareness.

It really is a fabulous place to take the whole family to enjoy nature up close, and my husband and I have purchased an annual family pass and are making good use of unlimited visitation.

The Swamp Snake disappears into the grass

An unexpected encounter with a snake can be a frightening experience, but if you stand still at a safe distance, you might be rewarded by the chance to observe these beautiful and sleek, but misunderstood, creatures.


David said...

Nice post Gaye! I've never seen this species. Thanks for the write up.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Gaye

I also saw a snake on Saturday. For someone who spends a s much time in the bush as I do, I am often surprised how few snakes I see - except dead ones on roads.
Mine was a large Copperhead, amongst heavy growth of ferns and Sword Grass. So I did not get a photo - it slipped silently away, before I could focus on it.


Esperance Blog said...

Hi Gaye,

You have a number of interesting reptiles in your region. I am always interested in the smaller ones, but you need to get a good look to ID them.

At this time of year I have stopped looking at my feet for plants and now concentrate my gaze 3-5 metres ahead so as not to disturb any reptiles that might be about. Only then do I have a chance of getting closer without them darting into the bush.

Most of the reptiles in my area don't like the hot weather and are less active, so not as good as spring and autumn to find them. Maybe more tree cover would compensate.

Another good topic

Julie said...

Liked both the information and the photos. The Hunter Wetlands Centre sounds like value for money. I used to live out that way in 1966 when I was the second year intake for the University of Newcastle. I spent my formative years in Denman. Great snake territory!

Gaye from the Hunter said...

hi folks,

apologies, once again, for the delay in posting comments and and responses - I have been away helping my unwell parents in NW NSW, and this will become a regular part of my life.

David, thanks for the comment. It was a surprise, and treat, for me to see a species I had not previously seen.

Denis, a copper-head is a snake I have not seen. Unfortunately, the most snakes that I also see are squashed ones on the road, and it is disheartening to know that many of these fatalities are deliberate.

Jack, I know from your nature blog that you find some very interesting reptiles very close at hand, whereas, unfortunately, most of my sightings are brief and unexpected. I found a tiny (1 foot) brown (in colour, not necessarily species) snake recently that quickly disappeared under a log before I could get a decent look at it. I asked my other half if he could move the log but he scolded me for "playing with snakes" and refused to help :)

Julie, Denman is a nice little town. Yes, the Wetlands Centre is a very worthwhile place to visit both for the educational value and the interacting with and relaxing amongst nature element.

Cheers, and thanks

David said...

Hi Gaye,
Very nice photos of the swamp snake.
I am a big fan of scale patterns,
and the detail you have captured has been a delight.
Thanks :)

Gaye from the Hunter said...

hi David,

knowing of your enthusiasm for snakes, I was hoping you would find this little fellow interesting.



Anonymous said...

Just found one of these snakes in our bathtub!! Frightened the life out of us!