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  • Krista N Oswald

Crawlin king snake

Okay, so I am not actually writing about a king snake, but it was the first song title I could think of with "snake" and I wanted to keep my motif.

The worst part of being a biologist is having to let nature be nature (Tho' nature, red in tooth and claw –– or, in contrast to Lord Tennyson, fang and footless-ness). In a way I'm lucky, as placing cameras out in the field and only returning to collect footage means I don't actually have to witness nature being nature, and thus face having to do nothing while my beloved Rockjumpers succumb.

(drawing of John Lee Hooker, Gabe Leonard,


This past week, while I was away again in the mountains with my newest French Rockjumper-catching-duo (see Sophie's take on helping me in this blog post), the temperature finally rose high enough in the Fynbos for what I am terming snakein' season. While we didn't run into any snakes ourselves while in the east and western parts of the Swartberg mountains, Blue Hill was a different story.

(Below photos of setting up camp with Rudi from Buffelsdrif in the east Swartberg, the "pool" we found just around the corner, our field sampling stations, rainbow after a hail storm, our kitchen, and searching for Rockjumpers –– all photos by Sophie Monsarrat and Alex Thouzeau, trip expenses and tent with funding from Tygerberg Bird Club, and permission from Cape Nature and Buffelsdrif).

Back at Blue HIll, Lizzie and John have so far this year recorded nests predated by honey badger (see footage on front page), grey mongoose, and now two by boomslang.

People are constantly surprised when I tell them my personal observations find boomslang to be the most common snake in the fynbos mountains. After all, their name translates to tree snake, and the fynbos has very few trees (other than the odd pernicious olive). Obviously, someone forgot to tell the boomslang. Although we had managed to capture a Rockjumper trying to fend off a nest raid by a boomslang last year, the footage was a series of grainy photos from a trail cam (also on my front page), this was our first high quality footage. This is because the attack was caught on one of our HD cameras (provided by Tygerberg Bird Club) during one of our days filming provisioning. It is a bit graphic, but can be seen here with a suitable warning beforehand.

(above, photo of a boomslang I took my first season at Blue Hill)

All in all, this season has been quite exciting. Our main hypothesis that birds who breed earlier (i.e. pre snakein' season) have better fledging success will have to wait until next year, as late (and rather pathetic) rains meant no Rockjumpers seemed to breed earlier than October.

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