An Experience with Snakes

by Dave Hanks

I sit mesmerized. Five feet in front of me sways an Indian Cobra. Back and forth it moves, hood extended, eyes fixed on a point somewhere on my body. The eye spectacle design on it’s hood is eerie. Six foot of venomous reptile has been grabbed and thrown upon the floor in front of me and isn’t too happy about it. I’m nervous but thankful that it can’t quite reach me if it were to strike.

A long term fascination with snakes has brought me to this seminar. In earlier times this fascination was coupled with fear. A vivid memory is one of a circus that I had begged to attend when just a small boy. It was Sunday and my parents, after much badgering, had consented to take me. No sooner had we entered the fairground’s gate than we came upon the first tent of the sideshow. A heavy woman was on the platform in front. A huge Python encircled her neck and shoulders. Sick feelings formed in my stomach and I pleaded to return home immediately – which we did, forgoing the circus that we had planned to see.

Garter Snakes were everywhere on our farm and I can still picture them slithering from under foot as I walked along the ditch banks. One morning an unearthly squeaking was taking place in a patch of weeds by a ditch. Rushing to the noise, I was to witness a mother Meadow Vole with her teeth embedded in a large Garter Snake’s head. The snake was trying to swallow her babies. The young ones were crying and she was making a terrible racket. The fascination of watching a snake eat has never ceased. When I feed the snakes in my Biology room, the students rush to the cages to watch.

My mind returns to the moment at hand. The Cobra is still there in front of me, concentrating on that indefinable point. Jim Glenn, a noted herpetologist, is talking. He is telling about Cobras and he teases the one in front of me as he lectures. The snake strikes at his toe but misses as it is one inch too far away. “These snakes have tremendous concentration ability”, he says, as he holds up an index finger. The eyes are held on the finger, which allows Jim to reach around with the other hand to scratch the back of the hood. “This Indian species is famous because of snake charming but Cobras come in several other varieties too. The 18-19 foot King Cobra of Southeast Asia is the deadliest snake in the world. It can kill an elephant but is usually quite secretive – Ophegus hannah is a snake-eating snake. Africa has a half dozen species which include the “Spitter” and the Egyptian Cobra which bit Cleopatra. It was also the snake of Moses times – becoming a reptile again after a pinch behind the head had rendered it “rod-like”. This most famous of snake families is the most intelligent but not the most dangerous. That distinction goes to the Black Mambas of Africa, the Kraits of Asia, and the Taipan of Australia.

The big constrictors are a most interesting group. Jim passes several species of Boas through the room. Each one immediately wraps around your arm when you receive it. It requires an expenditure of strength to pry it off in order to hand it to the next person. The patterns on the skins are most intricate and the colors shine with iridescence. There are three women in the class and they are different from any I have ever known. They “baby talk” each snake as they hold it and make kissing sounds with their lips. Two large Reticulated Pythons are placed on the floor. Both are over 20 feet long. Georgina is a pet and dry to the touch. She is very gentle and enjoys being stroked by everyone. Her body is a foot thick and it requires four of us to lift her. Ramrod is of a different temperament however. He’s so nervous that he urinates well over a half gallon on the floor. Jim returns him to the security of his box. It’s amazing, each snake has it’s own distinct personality.

The most unusual group are the Vipers. Very short and very thick – their bodies are the most colorful of all. Heads that are shaped like arrow points make them most distinctive. These are highly venomous and we don’t handle them. The Rhinoceros Viper is perhaps the most unusual with small skin protrusions that extend like Rhino horns.

Mr. Glenn is in a class by himself. He wears a white laboratory jacket. Every pocket of the coat sports a specimen – their heads extend and wreathe above each pouch as he writes on the chalkboard. He’s a man who truly loves his work.

I will never love snakes like the women in this class but my knowledge and tolerance of them has made a significant gain. Fascinating, yes, but not fearful. They are just another batch of creatures struggling to survive in an ever shrinking world.


The familiar Cobra hood

Rude Awakenings

by Dave Hanks

        The gifted high school athlete
			is in a situation unique.
	His ego is on display
			for any recruiter to "tweak".

	They will "wine and dine" him,
			and his parents as well.
	His past and future glories
			they labor hard to tell.

	He feels so extra-ordinary,
			from all they have to say.
	But little does he know,
			that there's going to come a day -

	When that gigantic bubble,
			laid on him from the first;
	Has about run its course.
			It is just about to burst!

	'Cause when they finally "land him" 
			(when they get him there) -
	He becomes "their game"
			and anything is fair.

	Life will suddenly change.
			It will take on a different "feel".
	Coaches are now ranting, and cussing!
			"Is that now part of the deal?"

	He is no longer grandiose,
			no longer the favored "son".
	Amid all the many bodies,
			he is just another one.
	And in life a lesson,
			now hits him "stark and plain",
	That any inner, glowing comfort
			can quickly become a pain.
	Human nature is so freakish.
			animalistic to see.
	Because they will only love you:
			“For what you do for me!"


#75:Running Interference

A Special Train Ride

by Dave Hanks

I came north on the Polar Bear Express. I came upon the rails. Clicking rails that sing in rhythm to the swaying of the train – a heavy, powerful force propelling itself methodically through the scrubby, spruce-covered landscape. Trains have always fascinated me and this one is no exception. It’s sounds and motion leave me mesmerized.

The quantity of people required to run this train is surprising. There is a long-nosed conductor who jokes and makes wry comments as he checks each ticket. Brakemen, hostesses, and even girls to entertain the children pass up and down the aisles. All the kids are systematically rounded up to sit in on a story hour. They return with coloring and puzzle books, and with happy smiles. The adults are not forgotten either as a very pert, young lady plays the piano in the entertainment car and the passengers join in a sing-fest.

These Canadians strike me as an unusual lot. They are very forthright, down home, and definitely family oriented. Irish, English, French, and Cree inhabit the train. Three different languages can be seen written upon both the inside and outside of the cars. Also, the hostess periodically narrates the progress in both English and French. Cree hieroglyphics, large, bold, and Arabic-looking; plaster the sides of the coaches.

It seems that the depot ticket girl quietly segregated us all when issuing tickets. The French are on a separate car, teenagers on another, Indians on another, and I’m in a family car of very English-type people. A father across the aisle has two small boys. Both boys are very active and their Dad dotes on them – his countenance beaming with fatherly pride as he points out things along the way and supervises the consumption of treats.

A big Irishman is the station master at the jumping-off point. He reminds me of my oldest brother – big and “extrovertish”. He keeps busy chatting with the passengers, in-between dealing with drunken Indians. I am not a Canadian and he seems concerned with the impressions that I might be forming. There is a drunken Cree who is giving him problems. The Indian is ensconced on my bench and is trying to make conversation. He appears to be a permanent fixture in the depot. The Irishman asks him to leave but nothing happens. Suddenly the police arrive to take the drunk to jail to sleep it off. I get the impression that the station master and the Indian are well acquainted and that I’m seeing history repeating itself. The Cree profanes and curses at the big man as he is led away.

Curiously, there is another drunken Indian at the arrival point. I must attract drunks because this one approaches me also. He asks: “Are you from South Dakota?” “No”, I say, “I’m from Idaho.” “Idaho huh! I’ve been to Idaho. I worked in Portland, Oregon.” Off he wanders to the baggage room. I can hear his voice apprehending the workers.”Hey, anyone wanna fight? There’s a guy over there from Idaho that’ll fight you.”

Fascinating country has rushed past between the embarking and debarking points. Mile after mile of stunted trees intertwined with endless marsh. The express rattles across bridge after bridge, each spanning a big river with a quaint name: Jawbone, Moose, Succor Creek, and Abitibi River. Gigantic Beaver lodges dot the water and ripples on the water surface reveal the presence of that large rodent. Indian children wave at the train – racing to their positions as if they have the assignment to be firmly in place for each passing.

It is July and the daylight clings on and on, making the most of the brief Northern Canadian summer. In spite of the persistence of the daylight, the weather is more fickle. It can’t decide what to do: hot, bright, sun to overcast – humid mists, to intermittent rain squalls.

The Indian settlement of Moosenee finally comes into view. It’s a low-lying town nestled on the shore of Hudson Bay. Wooden buildings line extremely wide, dirt-packed boulevards. The Cree race their trucks and cars up and down each street as if they were in a great hurry to get someplace – except there are no roads that lead from the settlement. The same faces keep appearing as they come and go. The town is an old Hudson Bay Fur Company establishment. The antiquated fur warehouses are still in place, doing business as in the past. A huge Catholic Church dominates it all. Planes buzz overhead and motor boats leave the pier at periodic intervals, taking people to the other half of the city across the water. Crees man these boats. They are intent on getting a share of the tourist dollar by sending young children who keep badgering me to ride in their father’s boat.

Indian culture is the epitome of social bonding. I’m struck by the fact that they act more like tourists than the tourists do. Groups of them are clumped all over main street, happily gabbing and eating ice cream – getting the most out of their short northern summer. They enjoy the brief glimpses of sunlight during what is otherwise a somewhat rainy day.

I came north on the Polar Bear Express. This Northland train is the pride of Ontario. I came all the way from Cochrane to Moosenee – one hundred and eighty six miles to the James Bay Wilderness. Curiosity made me come. The only way to get here is either by train or by plane. There are no roads, only miles of Black Spruce, Birch, and Tamarack. It’s Taiga: “Land of the little sticks”. Tiger Lilies, White Field Daisies, Yarrow, Buttercup, and Heather dot the way, adding color to the landscape. Ravens, Gulls, Swallows, and Robins flit through shrubbery and sky. Cree Indians flow freely back and forth upon the train. I wonder what is their purpose.

This country adds a different flavor to life. It’s a different world in a different time – a time that has become somewhat stationary. The whole experience enriches my life. Yes – I came north to taste it, and I’m glad of it!


The Polar Bear Express

Habitat around homes fill gaps

by Dave Hanks

As the world population, as well as America’s, expands – habitat for wild things shrinks. People that care, can help wildlife out, especially birds. The planting of a variety of vegetation types around homes aids birds greatly. I read that 82 percent of the nation’s cities, suburbs, and small rural housing plots give homes to two-thirds of all North American bird species.

We have been fortunate to live on a small farm with a large yard around the house. We have a great variety of trees and shrubs. As a result, the place has been an attraction for wildlife. My wife loved the birds, and so we kept a record of the species that visited our place. We have recorded one hundred and nine bird species. It is amazing how many you will see when you become aware of them!

Birds are much more numerous than non-bird wildlife species – but we’ve had our share of those too. Northern Fox Squirrels are plentiful and it seems that Mountain Cottontails find security under most of our bushes. There was even a Striped Skunk that lived in the culvert under our driveway, and a badger that dug a burrow under the cattle corral manger. A Red Fox used to hangout on the lower end of our place; but, perhaps, the most exciting were the three Mule Deer (2 bucks and a doe) that would wander across our yard to eat the apples that had dropped from the apple trees in the back. Less preferred creatures such as assorted rodents, butterflies, weasels, and Garter Snakes also utilize our yard.

However, the birds are the greater beneficiaries. It is nice to be serenaded in the early evening and early morning by the Great Horned Owls that live here. Colorful birds come here in the spring; like Towhees, Buntings, Western Tanagers, Black-Headed Grosbeaks, and Bullock’s Orioles. Several pairs of the latter two species nest in our yard, and we can enjoy them all summer long.


A male Bullock’s Oriole: breath-taking splendor


The Chukar: A favorable introduction

by Dave Hanks

This national bird of PAKISTAN can, also, be found in the Mediterranean Islands, Turkey, Iran, Eastern Russia, China, Nepal, and now the United States. Most introductions to the USA have been detrimental, but not this bird. It has become established in the rocky grasslands and canyons of the western USA.

The Chukar’s name resembles its call – a rapid series of “chuck – chuck – chuck – chuck” and a shrill “whitoo” when alarmed. This partridge is a plump 14 inches long, has a white face that is encircled with a black ring that runs through the eyes and down to its throat, light grayish-brown back, buff belly, and Rufous streaking on its sides. It is a striking, multicolored bird that leaves no question as to its identity.

I have had acquaintances tell me that it was their favorite upland game bird to hunt. The Chukar is not only fun to hunt, but is good eating – even considered of gourmet quality. These characteristics have prompted the breeding of this species on game bird farms, thereby keeping a viable wild population. It is very easy to keep and breed in captivity.

Whenever you find yourself in the rocky canyons of Nevada, Utah, or South-West Idaho, look for this bird.


A member of the pheasant family

Lewis: An Unusual Woodpecker

by Dave Hanks

Pink and green is an unusual color combination, but the LEWIS WOODPECKER is an unusual woodpecker. This bird is named for Meriwether Lewis, who shot a few specimens while on the Lewis and Clark expedition, and after returning home, gave them to the Philadelphia museum. There are very few American species that are pink or green. But, this one has a pink belly and a green back. This 11 inch bird, also, has a red face, and a white neck and throat – an interesting use of colors.

This is an unusual woodpecker, not only because of its coloration, but because of a habit of feeding in mid-air by catching flying insects. Berries and nuts are also eaten – the nuts stored in tree holes for winter consumption.

The Lewis Woodpecker is strictly a western species. Oregon and Northern California woodlands have been especially attractive to this species. These areas are abundant in open Ponderosa Pine forests, riparian woodlands (dominated by cottonwoods), and logged woodlands with standing snags – ideal for nesting. These are the habitats that the bird prefers.

There was a cottonwood tree (that has since been cut down) that was a favorite nesting site for Lewis Woodpeckers. It was on the upper entrance to the Harrington Fork picnic area – along Rock creek in Twin Falls County. We used to visit it every spring to see the woodpeckers. It was a sad day when it was no more. Since the loss of many special trees along Rock Creek, we have had to go further afield to find our pink-bellied friend. Once we visited a central Idaho campground, where the species was reported to have been seen. We were disappointed when the campground host told us that we were a couple of weeks late. But not so fast! I found one down by the river!

Loss of habitat has put this species in trouble. It would be a shame, if this neat bird became extinct!


Resting in a cottonwood tree by the Salmon River



by Dave Hanks

 The snow is fluffily,
			“sifting” down.
		It leaves a thick “carpet-like” covering
				upon the ground.

		Its mystical magic
			that floats on the air.
		And it’s an invigorating joy
				to be out where –

		The wonders of life
			move to and fro.
		And lucky we are,
			that much I know,

		To have natural treasures
			so close at hand
		And everywhere present
			across sky and land

   Winter can be a good time to observe large mammals.
   Heavy snow makes movement inefficient for conserving 
   energy. Energy that is so important for winter survival, 
   when one must compete for the scarcity of available 
   food, and the energy to maintain body temperature under 
   cold conditions. The beasts are reluctant to move
   much, and if you are careful not to stress them, 
   you can get close up and personal.

Targee snow and moose

Christmas all year!

by Dave Hanks

I can’t wait for the dawn when the sun lights the sky, To photograph beast or bird as each passes by!

I’m like a Christmas Eve kid thrashing in bed sleeplessly, Anxious to open those presents that are under the tree.

But I don’t seek presents wrapped with tinsel or bow. Nevertheless they are gifts that “set me aglow”.

There are never enough minutes in each safari day, To “shoot” all the species that come our way.

But those that I capture in each camera frame, Excite me like Christmas! It’s all just the same.

I can’t wait for the dawn when the sun lights the sky, To photograph beast or bird as each passes by!

SCOTT’S ORIOLE is a special gift. It is a southwestern species that combines yellow with the oriole black, instead of the usual orange. It’s a medium-sized oriole with a black hood that extends onto its breast and back. Its belly and rump are a bright yellow.

We have seen this species in the scrublands of southeastern Arizona, and in the juniper/scrub oak forests of Arizona’s Madera Canyon. Yucca is a plant with which it is closely associated. Yucca is used as both a nesting site and also its fibers and leaves as nesting material. This insectivore is one of the first birds to start singing each morning before sunrise, as well as throughout theday in summer – a real songster that will even sing in the winter.

Scott's Oriole Resting on a stump my wife provided for that purpose

Resting on a stump my wife provided for that purpose

Homeostasis and Waterfowl

by Dave Hanks

The bodies of all of us, both human and animal, have homeostatic mechanisms. These are both physiological and behavioral. Homeostasis means a state of constancy. The body must maintain its functions on a steady plain. If we’re too hot, we sweat; if we are too cold, we shiver; if we are sick to our stomach, we vomit. We could, also, turn on the air conditioner, or turn up the furnace, or take some Alka Seltzer. These are all examples of how we keep our bodies running on an even keel.

Waterfowl, with basically the same problems as ours, do basically the same things. “WATER RUNS OFF A DUCK’S BACK” is true, but only with a little homeostatic help – both physiological and behavioral. When trying to photograph waterfowl, it can be disconcerting when they won’t remain still – always fixing their feathers and probing at their tail. There is an oil gland at the base of the tail. The oil is the body’s answer for water proofing feathers, but can’t reach its destination without some help.

BARROW’S GOLDENEYE (pictured) is a northern species that graces our area’s open water during the winter months. By staying dry, their hollow, air trapping, feathers will protect them from the cold. To do this the feathers must repel the cold water. Hence, the duck rubs oil up and down each feather’s shaft. The feather filaments each have barbules which hook on to the adjoining filament. This forms a continuous covering to keep out the wet. When you observe the bird preening, they are doing two things. They are re-hooking the barbules and oiling their feathers. Also, without this constant oiling and barbule hooking, the bird would be unable to fly because the feathers would be waterlogged, and the unhooked feathers would be unable to trap air.

Comfortable swimming in an icy pool

Grizzly – Autumn Preparation

By Carolyn and Dave Hanks – Joint Effort

        Snow flurries hit her face.
	Turning, she raises and sniffs the air.
	She senses the change.
	Leaving the berries upon which she was feeding,
	She keeps moving upwards.
	Instinctively she knows that time is short.
	She must start preparing.

	Keeping close to the forested cover,
	She moves toward the White-Bark Pines at the very top.
	Would there be nuts upon which to finish her feasting?
	Not aware of her inter-relationship
	With the Red Squirrel -
	Who drops the cones and caches the nuts for her to raid.
	She moves ever upward,
	Sensing that they will be there.
	Winter is coming but summer and fall had been rich for feasting.
	Her coat glistens and the fat rolls
	Gently beneath her fur.

	Sleep is a problem now.
	She fights an increasing drowsiness.
	Time is not yet quite right
	For her to enter the den.
	That upward sloping hole -
	Dug on a north slope,
	Up on the tree line beneath the roots of a fir.
	It will take a major storm to put her there.
	One that will cover her footprints,
	And leave the landscape buried,
	Her little haven well hidden
	And insulated by the snow until spring.
	It is there that she
	Will bring forth the new cubs.
	A new generation to face the world.
	But still,
	Time is not yet quite right.
	Now she must fight on -
	Fight this impending torpor - and feast,
	That things might be right for the new generation.
	The new hope for her species.


Searching to satisfy an insatiable hunger