Sunday, 7 October 2007

Swimming snake

One of the great things about the canals is the wildlife. During the September trip, I was delighted by the antics of a kingfisher which darted backwards and forwards in front of the boat a dozen times at Aynho, and I enjoyed watching a huge swan using the canal as a runway. It took a good hundred yards to get off the water, only to change its mind and land again almost immediately.

Then there was the snake. It was at a lock (I can't be sure which one, but the photo was taken two hours before one of Debdale moored up in the centre of Banbury, so I'd guess it was Slat Mill Lock). I'd crossed the top gate to open the offside paddle, when I saw the snake coming across the gate. He was probably eighteen inches or so in length. As the walkway didn't reach the side, he went into the water, found it impossible to get up the vertical stonework, and disappeared for a few moments. Once I'd opened the top gate, I saw the snake again, swimming down the lock. I was a bit worried about it getting crushed by the boat, but efforts to fish him out the water failed.

The strength of his swimming became clear when I opened the paddles to empty the lock. He didn't like the whirlpools created, but was able to hold himself away from them. Finally, it disappeared just as the lock emptied, through a gap in the gate.

I've just got round to researching what kind of snake it was. He had quite distictive markings just behind the head, so I'm certain he (or she) was a grass snake. I don't remember seeing one before, which perhaps isn't surprising because they're apparently very shy and are rarely spotted in passing.


eeyore said...

Great photo.

The grass snake is part of a group of snakes that are generally known as water snakes. It is related to the mangrove snake, Liophis cobellusis, an aquatic snake which is found in the Guianas. They are very often seen in water. You are right to say they are shy. Your sighting was probably longer than usual because of the difficulties the snake had getting out of the canal near the lock. We have seen them crossing the canal and usually disappearing into a reed bed where they can get out more easily by climbing vegetation.

Adders are also very strong swimmers. It would be a good idea to learn to recognise the different snakes if you are trying to 'help'them out of the water. An adder might take exception to your assistance.

Boatwoman said...

That is really interesting, because we saw two last year whilst out cruising and did not know what they were, so thanks for the posting Adam.