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I thought I had covered it all

Hummingbird

There are no flowers in bloom or leaves on the trees, but one observant homeowner spotted this cold ruby-throated hummingbird in Compton last week.

I’ve written a few times about invasive species in Florida, beginning with the lionfish derby, a concerted effort to remove as many lionfish as possible from the Atlantic Ocean. Over 40,000 fish have been removed through REEF supported derbies since 2010.

Then there was a piece I wrote about rhesus macaques in central Florida, with as many as 400 monkeys in the core troop that live near the Silver River. And that’s not the only monkey invading Florida — the vervet monkey is well established in Broward County.

I’ve also written about tegus and iguanas (both large lizards) and Florida officials’ efforts to stave off more exotic animals getting a foothold in the state through amnesty days where residents can surrender legal and nonlegal exotic pets they no longer want or can’t care for.

I thought I had covered it all until an email came across my computer screen earlier this month about a new competitive event intended to remove another invasive species in Florida, a competition I’d never heard of before: The Python Bowl.

I don’t want to open a can of worms (or snakes?), but I’ll admit, I kind of like snakes.

I know native species are good to have around, and here in Southern Maryland, I especially appreciate the black rat snake. That species is beneficial for keeping the resident rodent population in check, which is helpful because mice and rats can host ticks that carry Lyme disease.

While I don’t like to see a black snake climbing a tree to get to a bird nest, I understand the circle of life and that a snake has to eat.

I can admire the beauty of a water snake gliding through the water (from a distance) and am knowledgeable enough to know I have nothing to worry about since none of the water snakes around here are venomous.

And while I don’t particularly relish encountering snakes when I’m not expecting them, my kids and I take precautions like wearing appropriate clothing and footwear outdoors to make sure we’re protected from bites. Most snakes can bite, and snakes will bite when they are threatened or perceive they are threatened.

There’s only one snake in Southern Maryland — the copperhead — that is venomous. The copperhead is common enough that you might encounter one when you’re outside this summer. I could probably write a whole column on the thrill I got finding one in my basement a while ago.

But when it comes to snakes in Florida, that’s a whole other kettle of fish (or snakes?).

Sure, Floridians have palm trees, sandy beaches and Disney World, but paradise is also the perfect habitat for a bunch of non-native snakes. And at the top of that list is the Burmese python.

Native to South Asia, Burmese pythons have found a hospitable home in the Florida Everglades. These snakes are a threat to native wildlife, including some federally endangered species, and disrupt the natural food chain.

While Burmese pythons don’t pose much of a risk to humans, they’ve been known to make a meal out of a pet cat or dog. Burmese pythons don’t bite their prey. They are constrictors and slowly squeeze their meal to death before downing the victim whole.

The longest black snake you might encounter around here would be about 6 feet long, a Burmese python can grow over 20 feet in length and weigh up to 200 pounds. The largest Burmese python captured in Florida to date was 18 feet long.

There is a good chance that a new Florida record might be set for Burmese Python this week when the 10-day Python Bowl concludes. Participants compete in Pro or Rookie categories for prizes, which include cash for the longest and heaviest snakes in each division.

With 500-plus contestants registered to compete in 2020 Python Bowl and 10 days of hunting to be had, we ought to see some great results.

As unusual as the event might sound, you’ve got to admit this contest is a great way to increase awareness about invasive species and get folks motivated to remove them from the wild. I am looking forward to sharing the results with you. Who knows what’s going to happen?

The closest activity to the Python Bowl I’ve ever participated in or observed would be a local fishing tournament or derby.

The story telling after the prizes have been handed out will beat any of the fishing tales you might hear around these parts. I can just imagine it now: “Let me tell you about the one that got (or slithered?) away…”

Rare bird sighting found

Tyler Bell of the Southern Maryland Audubon Society sent me an intriguing photo of a ruby-throated hummingbird taken a few days ago in Compton in St. Mary’s County.

An observant homeowner sent a video of a hummingbird to Barb Whipkey, co-owner of the two Wild Birds Unlimited shops in Southern Maryland, who then sent the video to Bell.

Bell and his wife Jane Kostenko headed to the house to try for a good photograph to identify the species. The weather didn’t cooperate, but they were able to get a few photographs through the window that allowed Sheri Williamson, author of Peterson’s Hummingbirds of North America, to identify it as a ruby-throated hummingbird.

This is the first ruby-throat Bell and Kostenko, avid birders, have ever seen in January.

The moral of the story? Keep your feeders up. You just never know what you might see in your yard.

A friend of Bell’s has loaned the homeowner a heated feeder. This little guy will have access to warm nectar first thing in the morning and throughout the day since temperatures will be cold for the foreseeable future.

Bell said there are some ruby-throats overwintering now in the southern Chesapeake Bay and this bird could have strayed north from there. But most ruby-throats are blissfully warm on the Yucatan peninsula or further south right now and won’t be back until late April or early May.

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