Snakes galore right now

A snake-eating snake, this rarely photographed 7-foot long indigo was seen on a
Bald eagle resting after being shot from the nest by a teen.

This has been one of the warmest winters on record for Texas, and with all that sunshine comes bad news in the form of snakes.

It’s one gigantic myth that snakes will all but disappear when cold fronts begin moving across Texas. That’s definitely not true here in Southeast Texas. In fact if you want to see a snake today, right here in Beaumont, just go outside and do some weeding in a flowerbed or remove a pile of old firewood and you’ll likely see a venomous copperhead. They are quite numerous all over East and Southeast Texas. These aren’t the biggest snakes we have around here, but if you get bitten, you better head to the hospital ASAP – they are poisonous and will cause considerable pain. However, the bite of a copperhead is seldom fatal because of its short fangs and small amount of venom.

The good news is that copperheads are not nearly as poisonous as a nasty cottonmouth – another snake that is indigenous to the right side of Texas. My closest encounter with a copperhead was last winter in Beaumont. I stepped on one while wearing sandals at the corner of Lucas and Gladys.

The fact of the matter is that snakes might go into hibernation in certain areas of Texas, but not for more than a couple of months. One thing is certain - they are out and about right now in Southeast Texas, the Hill Country and certainly South Texas.

One of the most fearsome and biggest snakes in this state is a Texas indigo. They reach lengths of 5 to 8 feet and are most common in the South Texas brush. They are bluish to black on top with a blue-gray belly. While on a quail hunt last season with Curtis Thorpe and Mike Ramsey, we walked up on a huge indigo that was about to teach a lesson to one of the quail dogs. The dog’s name was Riki and before we could call her off the big and angry and coiled-up Indigo, the snake whacked the dog in the ribs and just about gave her a heart attack. And indigo is not poisonous, thank God. But they are bad looking reptiles. And believe it or not, they specialize in eating rattlesnakes.

A cottonmouth is about the most common snake here in Southeast Texas. Highly venomous, they are commonly encountered by duck and dove hunters as well as hikers and kayakers. They are world’s only semi-aquatic viper. The cottonmouth gets its name from the white tissue inside its mouth, which it displays when threatened. This heavy-bodied snake, which averages about 3-1/2 feet in length, is found in swamps, bayous, coastal marshes, rivers, ponds and streams like Village Creek.

There are two important things to remember when dealing with snakes.

First, the danger comes when they are either surprised or cornered. The majority of bites result from people taking unnecessary or foolish risks with venomous snakes – like handling them, dead or alive. Do not play around with a dead snake; they have been known to bite and inject venom because of muscle contractions.

Second, if a snake that bites a person is identified as venomous, keep the victim calm. Keep the bitten arm or leg below heart level. Clean the bite site with soap and water. Keep the victim from walking, if possible. Swelling may occur, so remove tight-fitting clothes and any jewelry such as rings and watches before the onset of swelling. If possible, identify the species of venomous snake that inflicted the bite without endangering yourself. Call 911 and immediately go to the nearest ER. Anti-venom treatment is generally most effective within the first four hours after the bite and is ineffective after 8-10 hours, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Teen arrested in connection with shooting death of bald eagle

Feb. 22, an American bald eagle was shot in north Harris County near White Oak Bayou. The eagle was one of two adult eagles that have actively nested in this area for several years.

A tip about the possible shooting of an eagle led Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents, and Harris County sheriff’s deputies to an area in north Harris County. The eagle carcass was recovered and, following a brief investigation, an arrest was made.

Texas game wardens have charged a 17-year-old Harris County teen in connection with the shooting death of the bald eagle. The teenager is accused of fatally shooting the eagle, a state threatened species, several times with a high-powered air rifle from its nest. He was booked into the Harris County Jail on a Class A misdemeanor violation for hunting without landowner consent. The charge carries a possible fine of $500-$4,000 and/or up to a one year state jail term.

Game wardens issued the teenager an additional ticket for the take of a state threatened species, a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $25-$500, and civil restitution for the eagle in an amount to be determined exceeding $10,000.

After the shooting, the eagle’s mate remained near the nest, indicating the possibility of fledglings. State and federal wildlife officials monitoring the eagle nest for activity became concerned about the health and well-being of any eaglets in light of rising temperatures forecast in the days following the incident and because the mate was not observed bringing food back to the nest.

On the morning of Feb. 23, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and the Wildlife Center of Texas undertook a rescue effort to recover any eaglets that might be in the nest. Center Point Energy provided foresters capable of climbing the 100-plus-foot tree to gather any eaglets and bring them down to safety. Once at the nest, the forester observed one eaglet sitting quietly in the nest. He carefully removed the bird and carried it safely down the ladder. The 5-6 week old eaglet was immediately taken to The Wildlife Center of Texas where a preliminary examination indicated that the eaglet was dehydrated and had not recently been fed. The eaglet was given fluids and fed and remained at the center overnight. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will transport the eaglet to a Texas rehabilitation center where it will be cared for until it is able to forage and care for itself with the ultimate goal of releasing it back into the wild.