Melaleuca is rich in snakes. Many of these snakes are tiger snakes (Notechis scutatus), and they’re often closer than you think.
February in Melaleuca was hot, and as such, the local snakes were on show, lazing about on jetties, around the huts, and occasionally, directly underfoot on the paths. Tasmania has only three native snakes – tiger snakes, copperheads and the much smaller white-lipped snake, which is an attractive olive green, and occasionally scares you by hanging around at head height in dense scrub. Though they are all poisonous, and could potentially kill you if a bite went untreated, no-one has died from snake bite in Tasmania for decades. According to the Parks and Wildlife Service, “far more people die from ant bites, peanuts or spouses than snakes” – take from that what you will.
Tiger snakes can be found just about anywhere, but in Melaleuca, there are at least two snakes who’ve worked out that nest boxes can be an excellent source of slow food. On two separate occasions, both on very hot days, we watched two different snakes attempting to make their way into the nest boxes outside the rangers’ hut. The first snake was too heavy to get into the little branches that would have brought it close to the baby birds, but the second snake, pictured above, was much smaller and nimbler.
Four of us watched it for about two hours trying varying access points to get into the nest boxes, and Mark got a few photos, one of which is featured above. The snake was very persistent, and appeared quite certain that a decent meal was nearby, making us wonder if it had frequented the nest boxes before. The tree martins, who were occupying the nest, would occasionally flitter by anxiously, without making much impression on the patient reptile.
However, once the superb fairy wrens arrived, it was on. A very fetching blue wren boy swooped the snake, saying something quite severe to it. This was quickly followed by a yellow-throated honey eater, a scrub wren, and a New Holland honeyeater. Rudest of all was a teensy grey fantail, apparently yelling something truly obscene in tiny-bird-speak as it danced back and forth within centimetres of the snake’s face. After two hours of fruitless tree-climbing, this avian rudeness seemed to finally break the tiger snake’s spirit. It backtracked back up the branch, chased by tiny birds all the while, then attempted a graceful descent down the main trunk.
It did this by wrapping its tail like a slipknot around the trunk, before allowing gravity to take it, a foot at a time, down the tree. This worked fine for the first couple of metres, but then the snake appeared to lose its grip, and fell a couple of metres into the cutting grass below. The birds were placated, and went back to their regular business.