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Three Snakes in One – Blacksnake-ology 101

… (including one astounding, but visceral, photo)
There are two kinds of common black snakes found in most of the eastern half of North America: the black rat snake and the black racer. Neither is venomous. The black rat snake is glossy black on top with a blotchy white pattern on the underside.
These are the ones that you find lounging around in trees, barns, and chicken houses where they ambush mice, rats, and other warm-blooded creatures. (Yes, they also like eggs and young chicks.)
Black rat snakes, especially the large ones, tend to be mellow and will often accept gentle handling by humans.
The black racer, or blacksnake, is a duller almost grayish black with a brownish nose and only a small patch of white under the chin.
It has a different personality entirely.  It is high strung and crawls amazingly fast. If you do actually catch one, they are usually very defensive. They tend to bite repeatedly and if you persist in holding on you may get a bit scratched and bloody. They are often seen on warm days racing through the thickets and creeks in pursuit of lizards, frogs, and other snakes–which brings me to the reason I’m writing this.  Our son Todd called us out to the road during this last warm spell, saying, “You gotta see this!”  It was a sad, but amazing road-kill: a freshly squashed black racer revealing three species of snakes that it had just eaten—a worm snake, a garter snake, and a northern water snake.
It reminds me of the time my friend John Connors came upon a black racer that had swallowed something so large it could hardly move. After a bit of gentle prodding the snake disgorged a good-sized copperhead.
I guess a black snake is good to have around!

Pick up my DVD with my story of the snake and the egg at a SALE PRICE!

While we are talking snakes, I might mention my one and only DVD  An Evening with Doug Elliott has almost an hour and a half of my favorite “Stories, Songs and Lore Celebrating The Natural World” includes my somewhat famous true story of the snake and the egg. This DVD just won a national Storytelling World award and we are celebrating with a half price sale—only $10 til the end of April 2012.  Check out the rest of the selection of books and recordings while you are on my website.
Enjoy the spring season. ~ Doug

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Australian Adventure

We spent the holidays in the land of bouncing kangaroos, screaming cockatoos, crimson parrots and eucalyptus trees (600+ species of eucs)! Our son Todd and his wife Kelsey were wonderful tour guides, treating us like royalty. Todd’s in grad school studying dispersal of fungi by vertebrates. We met various friends and mentors and checked out various national parks in temperate areas of New South Wales (called the New England high country)—even some rainforests.

Folks in Australia drive on the left side of the road, and many are hesitant about driving after dark because of the risk of a kangaroo bouncing through your windshield. Many cars have rugged metal bumpers called “roo guards.” Towns have very few stop signs—at crossroads they generally have a triangular yield sign that says “give way,” meaning you don’t have the right of way but you don’t have to come to a full stop. (I think about all the traffic tickets I wouldn’t have had to pay.)

It does seem strange to have Christmas around the summer solstice. Todd was pointing out a June bug to one of his friends and they replied, “That’s not a June bug; that’s a Christmas beetle!” They speak English, but there are a lot of terms that are different. Elevators are called “lifts”. Chickens are called “chooks.” In the city, ibises are called “bin-chooks” because they’re often seen rummaging around in trash bins. (Maybe they would be a good totem animal for dumpster divers!) Hiking is called “bush- walking.” Trails are “tracks.” Crawfish are called “yabbies.” Pickup trucks are called “utes.” Pastures are “paddocks.” Our favorite expression so far: Someone was talking about a rare animal; she said, “They are rarer than rocking horse shit.”

My favorite critter so far has been the foot long, half pound+ lizard called the blue tongue skink. It’s thick- bodied and rather sluggish and defends itself by opening its large mouth and sticking out its blue tongue and waving it at you.

I’m dreaming of a surreal Christmas…
We became aware of another interesting critter when Yanna noticed a big, oozing bloodstain on her pants leg. She had just had a visitation by a terrestrial leech. When a leech bites, it injects an anti-coagulant so the tiny wound keeps bleeding. The leeches are almost 2 inches long when stretched out. In one forest we explored, if you stopped for a little while you could see the leeches humping along toward you like a horde of thin, slimy inchworms. One of our friends saw one on my arm. She just rolled it up and flicked it away, “like a ball of snot,” she said. Any way you look at it, leeches really suck!

I’m dreaming of a surreal Christmas…

At least the parrots are red
and green!

The carpet python is the most dramatic snake we’ve seen. There were several of them hanging around one of the places we visited for a New Year’s gathering. One of them was 7 feet long, and it created quite a scene when it was discovered hanging out in the outhouse. It’s non-venomous and was delightfully easy to handle. Australia has a lot of snakes and many of them are venomous. We’ve seen a red- bellied black snake and a tiger snake—both venomous. We didn’t mess with them!

We’ve seen a couple of bowers made by bowerbirds. When mating season approaches, the male bird builds a “bower” (a runway/platform with two sides made of vertical grasses and thin twigs). Then he collects various objects to decorate his bower. When he gets his decorations in order and attracts the attention of the female, he does a little dance and shows off his treasures.

In the case of the satin bowerbird, he really prefers blue objects—one of the bowers we saw had blue flowers, blue parrot feathers, bottle caps, and lots of blue plastic clothespins. Todd had been watching this particular bower for several years. When he first saw it in 2010, the bower was just beginning to be constructed and all that was there was a blue sheep ear tag and a few blue-colored blewit mushrooms. That was when he realized that even birds collecting ornamentation for their bowers can in fact affect the distribution of mushrooms. He wrote a scientific paper about this and it got published in the journal, Australasian Zoologist. ( Look for it at your favorite news stand 🙂

Shortly after midnight on New Years Eve, a brushtail possum came to visit. What a nice way to start the new year!

Bound for Carolina: A Musical Journey Celebrating the Plants, Animals and People of the Southeast

From Oh Susanna to Old Joe Clark, from the crawdad hole to the railroad yard, harmonica wizard, naturalist and storyteller Doug Elliott wails on his harp and sings a collection of blues, contemporary, traditional, and old-time songs celebrating country life, the natural world, and especially the people, the plants, the critters, and the rich environment and culture of southeastern North America. Elliott is accompanied by fiddles, guitars, banjos, mandolins, bass, drums, buckets, bottles, rattlesnake rattles, frog croaks and even a few blue yodels. This all-music recording features seven newly recorded songs as well as 14 favorites from previous albums. Special guests on this project include, Phil and Gay Johnson, Billy Jonas, Wayne Erbsen, and Todd Elliott.

Featured tunes:
Oh Susanna • Froggie Went a’ Courting • Big Black Snake • Rattlesnaking Papa • Old Joe Clark • Strawberry Picking • Dandelions • Creasy Greens • Root Blues • Crawdad Hole • Mole in the Ground • Bullfrogs on Your Mind • Bulldog on the Bank • Cluck O’ Hen • Who Broke the Lock • Ain’t No Bugs on Me • Sail On Honeybee • Bile them Cabbage • Left Hind Leg of a Rabbit • West Virginia • All Around the Water Tank

Bullfrogs on your Mind

You’ll have more than bullfrogs on the brain by the time you’re through listening to this lively collection of stories and songs. You’ll get in on a frog-hunting adventure deep in a southern swamp, you’ll hear a watery creation myth and you’ll find out what happens when two young fellows sneak up to a chicken roost on the night before Mother’s Day. You’ll learn about a 6-foot friend of Elliott’s. This 6-footer is covered with scales and eats mice, rats and a few other surprising things. Elliott wails away on his trusty harmonica, playing and singing a variety of old time, folk, rock, swing and blues tunes. (There’s even one rap song, and also tunes by Uncle Dave Macon and Tony Joe White.) He is accompanied by banjo, guitar, fiddle, trombones, bass, buckets, bells, bottles, cans, drums and rattlesnake rattles, as well as dozens of animal sounds, including bird songs, gator roars, owl hoots and frog choruses.

Featured on this CD:
Bullfrogs on Your Mind • Guardians of the Water • Roosevelt and Ira Lee • Bake That Chicken Pie • Who Broke the Lock • Mole in the Ground • Bulldog on the Bank • Muskrat Oh Muskrat • Rattlesnaking Papa • The Snake and the Egg • Scat Rap