Last weekend, my 13-year-old son went with me to do some work in our family prairie. It was a nice day for wildlife sightings, starting off with a prairie chicken that flushed from the grass as we drove in. We also watched thirteen-lined ground squirrels, great blue herons on the wetland, and speculated about whether or not the hawk flying around was nesting in our prairie again this year. After we left, we drove a few miles south to visit a small prairie dog town before heading back home. Within a mile or two of leaving the prairie dog town, I stopped and backed up the truck to take a closer look at a snake warming itself on the gravel road.
A plains garter snake (Thamnophis radix) on a gravel road in southern Hamilton County, Nebraska.
The snake was very accommodating, allowing me to lay on the road and photograph it from close range.
John was patient while I photographed the snake, but finally got his wish to pick it up and take a closer look himself.
I warned John that garter snakes often defecate when picked up, and that the smell is REALLY hard to get rid of, but he had no such issues. In fact, the snake started out a little agitated but quickly calmed down and the two seemed to eventually part on friendly terms.
I’m grateful for opportunities like these to spend time with my kids and help them develop positive feelings toward nature and conservation. I sometimes have to cajole them to join me on a trip to the prairie, but we rarely return home without a few memorable encounters and experiences that make them glad they came along.
We had a terrific field day last week – thanks to the more than 100 people who came out to explore our Platte River Prairies with us.
There were two neat wildlife discoveries during the day. The first came when Master Naturalist Mike Schrad caught a grasshopper mouse in a live trap while preparing for his session on small mammals. Later, Chris Aubushon was looking for insects under old manure piles and instead found a western hognose snake! I figured we probably had both hognose snakes and grasshopper mice on our property, but had never actually found either one, so it was nice to get both on the same day!
I didn’t get a photograph of the grasshopper mouse, but I did (with the help of Mike Schrad) get a few good ones of the western hognose. Here’s one:
A western hognose snake caught at the Platte River Prairies.
If you missed the field day this year, we hope to see you next summer!