Friday, April 19, 2013

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher vs. Coachwhip

In my last post, I cautioned snake-phobic birders to keep one eye on the ground. Occasionally snakes are even above in the trees! Erika and I encountered this Coachwhip in the trees surrounding Quitobaquito Springs in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. We were researching a college senior project more years ago than we care to remember. In fact, now the springs are difficult to visit due to narco-terrorist threats.

Coachwhips are desert snakes and often active in the heat of the day when other snakes seek shelter. They are usually found on the ground, but, as you can see, this snake is also arboreal. Erika and I had been studying the nest of a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, a common bird of the desert Southwest. The gnatcatchers laid eggs and hatched young. The morning we found the Coachwhip, the nest was empty—perhaps not enough evidence to convict the snake, but sufficient to cast suspicion. Coachwhips are an "impressive predator that eats a wide variety of animals including lizards, snakes (including rattlesnakes), mice, birds, insects, bats, frogs, toads, and small turtles” (Reptiles of Arizona).

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