Ok, so, I told Colin and Alexis and Ben they weren’t allowed to write about this because ohmygosh I WANTED TO (really, I asked, honestly!) and it’s been three weeks and I haven’t yet, so here goes.
One day when Colin and Alexis were visiting we got up early, packed lunches, and took the train to the Blue Mountains. Colin talked about it here. It was great fun to watch the two of them experience the Charles Darwin Walk and then the gorge for themselves for the first time. We went to some of the spots Ben and I had already hiked, and then took a new track down to not-quite-the-base of Wentworth Falls, and had a grand old time, really. There were skinks and spiders and rock formations and biomes and ants and weird angry caterpillars that seeped yellow stuff from their heads, and Alexis particularly enjoyed watching the Sulfur Crested Cockatoos cruising above the tree tops, far below.
It was, altogether, quite a nice day. And then we got to the end of our hike, refilled our Camelbaks, and decided to take the shortcut back to the train station along some country roads.
We looked at flowers and interesting mosaic bus stops, we admired the fuzzy new leaf growth on the trees and the smell of the earth. And then as we were passing by a clearing adjacent to some woods, we saw some magpies!
Now, magpies are wonderful birds, are brimming with smarts and personality and are very common around Sydney. But they are not native to Michigan or Minnesota, so we had all been quite taken with them over the course of the trip, making up our own rules for different numbers of magpies. The old rhymes are too boring so we liked to make up our own meanings. Colin started counting, “two magpies, TWO! Two is for laughter… wait, three! Three magpies for trapezoids… FOUR! Four magpies for… ” I interjected, “Five! Five magpies! But one looks like a fledgling, so maybe four and a half?”
And then they started shrieking, and all but one flew off. That one only flew a small distance, a bit deeper into the clearing, and began to dance, calling all the while.
Magpies are new to me, to us, so we were fascinated! I was, at least, and I think the others were at least passingly interested, but I wasn’t watching them to find out.
I walked toward the magpie, slowly, to see what it would do. Was it a mating display? Were there other magpies around? Was it a territorial dispute? As I got closer, it flew up into a nearby tree and continued to call. I stopped and watched it for some time, looking around, and couldn’t figure out what the fuss was about.
Then I looked down, and forward.
“Snake! It’s a snake! The magpie was dancing to warn about a snake! Oh man how cool is this come see the snake!” There should be more exclamation points here.
Alexis ventured slightly closer, but Colin and Ben decided to stay a little further back. Their loss! EDIT: By the time I deigned to notice the location of my friends in my haze of SNAKE!! they were further back, but in reality they had been closer. ah, perception.
I didn’t have my good camera, only my phone, but I managed to get a couple of shots. Alexis took a few from further away. It was dead-still, unmoving.
(Don’t worry, I stayed outside of its striking range, in my opinion. My friends didn’t quite agree, but honestly, most snakes aren’t aggressive, can’t jump, and can only strike as long as their body length while maintaining and anchor on the ground or a tree, sheesh.)
I watched it for a good long while, and when I acknowledge that it probably was time to go… do I really have to?… I wanted to see it move. So I tossed a stick near it. The others did not approve. But I got to see it slither away towards the woods, and walked giddily back to the road to continue our trek.
We had a little discussion about how far away was far enough away to be safe as we continued our walk back. I had to interject periodically with, “we saw a SNAKE!”
On the train, we compared Alexis’ and my pictures and tried to identify the snake on our future devices. We concluded that it was probably an Eastern or Lowland Copperhead.
The next day we went to the Australian Museum and as I was browsing the Surviving Australia section, Alexis was in Search and Discover researching our snake with a staff member. They agreed, Copperhead, here’s some printed information on behavior, habitat, and dangers of.
Thanks, Australian Museum!
Thanks, magpie! Now we know, five is for SNAKE!