Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Morning Fracas

Early this morning, the only thing louder than the sound of grinding coffee beans was the continual scolding of a band of blue jays, gathered in the branches of a cedar by a back corner of our house over a rain barrel.

My indoor cats assumed the same thing I did - that the jays were heralding the approach of the little feral outdoor tuxedo cat we've been feeding.
We've been playing the long game with this cat, hoping to get it tame enough to take it in to the vet and get it shots and neutering, though since a year has passed without a pregnancy, and we are pretty sure it is a "she", it could be an abandoned cat rather than a completely wild one.  She is simply too hungry too often to currently belong to anybody.

Our cats went with me to the deck door and waited...  The stray failed to show and the jays were still going at it around the corner of our house with nary a pause. I returned to the back window to get a closer look.  Peering up in the predawn half-light, I could tell the jays were definitely concerned with something apparently up at their level, perhaps in the tree itself.  As I shifted to get a better vantage point,  I noted the silhouette of a cardinal mixed in with the jays, intent on, something....

The last time there were two or more types of birds fussing in tandem this way it was to protest the presence of a little fledgling screech owl in one of our loquat trees.
That particular morning it was jays and mockingbirds working together and I noted a pattern to their process which repeated this morning.

The jays leaned in and screamed and jumped around, while the mockingbirds, in the case of the owl, hopped up and down and eventually dive bombed the hapless youngster.

This morning was similar.  The jays made all sorts of racket, but it was the little cardinal who determinedly hopped up on the corner of our house, and made several offensive jumps at the following, which rolled off the roof shortly thereafter, lying stunned on the rock walkway below.
Texas Rat Snake
It was a Texas Rat Snake (Elpahe obsoleta lindheimeri), about two-three feet in length, and even though I'm not a fan of the idea of them falling off rooftops or out of trees so close to my personal self first thing in the morning?  I am a total booster of the idea that their presence serves as a deterrent to the local tree rats. Those rats I am even less fond of, under any and every circumstance.  

After the adrenaline rush abated a bit I realized two things.  First up was that blue jays are very effective in giving the signal that some predator is in the area but they don't seem to do much else other than yell about it.  In both cases I observed in our environs, the jays only made noise while it was other birds who made an actual attempt to fend off the predator in play.  

Maybe that is totally cool with the other birds in question, all part of the deal, but really it did a great deal to reinforce my outsider's impression that the local party of blue jays and certain shouty television journalists have much in common.  

The second thing I realized was that I have come a long way with regards to my reactions to snakes.  In the old days I would have realized the worry for the birds was a relatively harmless to humans rat snake after I'd made a major effort to chop the poor thing's head off.  My original approach was that the only good snake was a smashed dead snake, especially when it came down to anything longer or larger than a number two pencil.  

Now, I know all snakes are not created evil equal.  It is better to take a good deep breath and check out the shape of a snake's head. If it is non-triangular, as this snake's head is,  it is a good guess whatever it is, no matter the size, is not a threat to me as long as I keep my distance and don't try to corner or harass it in any way.

Which is fine with me,  I think I'll just take a page out of the birds' notebook and leave all that harassing up to the jays.    


Cat said...

Oh my, I would have flipped if this thing had fallen off the roof! That is something I've never expected. I'm constantly looking down in my yard as I've seen both harmless and poisonous (coral and rattle) snakes there. But now I've got to start looking up?! Geeze. I'm with you ... we've really grown up, huh? I let the coral snake mosey and the rattlesnake was relocated (not by me). The harmless snakes are left to do what they do. They still give me the willys though.

Last year the jays were the reason I located the male screech owl hanging out in the jasmine. They create a bunch of noise. No owls this year but I've seen the first toad this week. There were none after the owls took up residence last spring. Interesting how all that works.

TexasDeb said...

Cat: My first run-in with a rat snake of any size was when one dropped down onto the roof of my car (parked at that time under some large oak trees) as I was getting ready to leave the house. Having a snake drop off the roof while I was safely inside the house was not nearly so freaky. I guess these guys fall occasionally - occupational hazard. I'm with you - I'm always looking down, not up. Falling snakes are certainly not anything I ever figured on needing to watch out for.

We don't see many toads around here but we've got owls hooting nearly every night so I suppose that's why.

Ooof. You've seen a coral and rattler both? Yeeikes.