Sunday Afternoon Nature

There were a couple of interesting things going on around our house this afternoon. I’ll introduce them in reverse order, because the earliest one involves a snake and we’ll save it for last.

We’ve been blessed with an abundance of hummingbird moths (aka Hemaris thysbe, the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth or Common Clearwing Moth or Hawk Moth). Perhaps you’ve seen occasionally seen them doing a very credible imitation of an actual hummingbird, but have you ever seen five or six at once? That’s the action in our front courtyard as I type this.

A group of them are busily feeding on the flowers of the chocolate chip ajuga (Ajuga reptans) ground cover in the courtyard. They’re not quite as jittery around humans as hummingbirds, so I was able to grab some video of their behavior. The following video is an iPhone slow motion capture and if you watch closely (especially during the last 30 seconds or so) you can discern the moth’s amazing tongue furling and unfurling.

As you can see, even with the iPhone’s default 120 frames per second capture, those wings are flapping pretty darned fast.

But this isn’t the only interesting sight of the afternoon…

Warning: Snake Photos Ahead

I was brushing my teeth after lunch when I thought I heard a soft banging noise, like someone knocking on the door. I tried to ignore it, but it was quickly followed by “Eric, come quick…and bring your camera!” That’s our code for, you know, going quickly to take a picture. When you’ve been married as long as we have, you learn to interpret those subtle signals.

So, I grabbed my phone and hurried to the back yard (from whence the exhortation originated). Debbie was standing on the edge of the back porch, excitedly pointing at the ground, and saying “snake!”

However, I wasn’t wearing my glasses (What? Don’t you take off your glasses while brushing your teeth? Barbarian.) so it took me a few seconds to see what she was pointing at.

It was a small, slender, familiar-looking snake, perhaps a foot long, with pretty stripes running the length of its body, and with a white dot on the back of its head. I immediately identified it as a harmless western ribbonsnake (Thamnophis proximus).

Here’s a closeup of the little guy…click to pop up a larger, uncropped view:

Photo - Western ribbonsnake

The western ribbonsnake is a type of garter snake, and it preys on frogs, toads, tadpoles, small fish, spiders, earthworms, and newts.

I mentioned that this one looked familiar. Alert Gazette readers might recall this post from about two years ago, in which I document finding one of these critters flailing about rather comically on the hardwood floor of our dining room. Interestingly, I was summoned to the scene by Debbie with approximately the same coded language I described above. (She has a gift for spotting serpents, although I’m not sure whether she agrees with that description.)

The snake posed just long enough for me to snap a couple of photos, then it vanished under our deck. We shall meet again, my friend. Just not in our dining room, m’kay?