Sssnakes on Vancouver Island

 

Spring is in full swing; the birds are chirping, the gardens are lush and the snakes are out. 

Wait, snakes?!

Garter snake eating slugEating a slug

Do not fear, the snakes of Vancouver Island are non-venomous and feed primarily on slugs and worms. Both of these photos to the left show a Northwestern Garter Snake (Thamnophis ordinoides) attempting to chow down on a chunky black slug (Arion ater). Snakes have a modified lower jaw that can separate into two halves (they do not dislocate their jaw as commonly thought), thus enabling the snake to eat food that is considerably larger than their own head. The largest part of the snake's body is often what limits the size of prey that can be consumed.

(BOTH: Northwestern Garter Snake, Thamnophis ordinoides eating a black slug, Arion ater. Photo credit LEFT: Micheal McIlvaney & RIGHT: Katie A.H. Bell)

 

There are two major groups of snakes on the island: the Sharp-tailed Snake (Contia tenuis) and Garter Snakes (Thamnophis spp.). There are three species of Garter Snakes, including the Common Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis, the Northewestern garter snake, T. ordinoides, and the Western Terrestrial or Wandering garter snake, T. elegans). All of these four snake species are active during the day (diurnal) and primarily terrestrial, although all Garter Snakes can swim and T. elegans is often found near/in water feeding on juvenile amphibians and/or very small fish.

All three species of Garter Snake are common throughout BC and not at risk of extinction (yellow-listed). Distinguishing between these three types of Garter Snake is mostly based on morphology; primarily, colour and patterning. All of these snakes have stripes that run the length of the body, however the colour and brightness of these stripes vary. An experienced snaker may also identify the species by counting the number of top lip (labial) scales.

Katie holding three garter snake species Katie Bell

 

The Western (Terrestrial or Wandering) Garter Snake (snake on the LEFT in the photo) is the most distinguishable, with black spots that invade the prominent yellow/orange mid-dorsal stripe, making it appear zigzagged.

Next, the Common Garter Snake (RIGHT in the photo) is the most familiar as it is the most common and also three distinct yellow stripes and red/orange bars running along either side of the mid-dorsal stripe.

Last but not least is the Northwestern Garter Snake (MIDDLE in the photo). This species varies greatly in appearance, often dull brown and with less prominent/incomplete/absent dorsal and/or lateral stripes. Thisspecies also has albino and melanistic (all black) morphs. 

(Three species of Garter Snake found on Vancouver Island, from LEFT to RIGHT: T. elegans, T. ordinoides, and T. sirtalis)

 

The most secretive and smallest snake species on Vancouver Island is the Sharp-tailed Snake, Contia tenuis. This is red-listed in BC and considered endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) due to its low population size and secluded range (southeast Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands and Pemberton). This snake is also reliant on Garry Oak meadows, which are native and biologically rich ecosystems that have been devastated by European settlement and continued development. 

Screen Shot 2016 05 22 at 5.12.28 PM

 

You can identify this snake species by its small, sharply-tapered and pointed tail. Also, these snakes have fairly consistent body colouration (greyish yellow/red-brown) without any distinct stripes.

HAT has been working to help the Sharp-tailed Snake since 2005, identifying and protecting suitable habitat in the region to conserve it. To learn more about what HAT is doing for the Sharp-tailed Snake check out: http://www.hat.bc.ca/sharp-tailed-snake-stewardship/about-our-program

If you suspect you have seen this snake please take a photo and call 250-995-2428 with a location, or email us a picture to double-check the identification at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  To donate to the Sharp-tailed Snakes you can do so by phone, online, or send cheque in the mail to PO Box 8552, Victoria, BC, V8W 3S2.

(Sharp-tailed Snake, Contia tenuis. Photo credit, Christian Engelstoft)

 

Remember, all of these snakes are completely harmless. Better yet, as slug-eaters they are great friends for your gardens; slugs munch on the leaves, as well as ripening fruits and vegetables of plants. 

By Katie Bell, HAT Volunteer and Wildlife Conservationist

Share:

Read more: Sssnakes on Vancouver Island

Community Involvement and Conservation for a Well-Rounded Curriculum

Highschool is such a pivotal time in our lives. Students are busy with homework, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, post-secondary education and scholarship applications, and of course spending time with friends. It's a time where decisions can open up doors to lifelong aspirations and adventure. When Amanda Punch of Stelly's Secondary reached out to us at Habitat Acquisition Trust on behalf of the Stelly's Secondary Green Team Environmental Club, we knew this was something special. We were impressed and intrigued by Amanda and her peers' interest and initiative.

Nature and outdoor education has been an important theme for many growing up Vancouver Island. However, the first time I recall becoming involved in environmental restoration wasn't until a biology teacher at Belmont Secondary encouraged my class to volunteer for credits towards graduation by attending a broom pull at Mill Hill. Up until that point I had never been to Mill Hill, but it became my first rewarding taste of community involvement. 

13047905 10156818306295274 2691633854508891069 o

Mill Hill in Spring 2016, relatively Scotch Broom free thanks to the work of volunteers.

When I heard that the huge swaths of broom that volunteers like us removed would have to be lifted off the hill by helicopter, it felt really good to be a part of such an important project. At this time, I wasn’t terribly familiar with just how ecologically important Mill Hill was or with the concept of invasive species. I had a vague sense that people with allergies despised broom and that many people hated to have it on their land, so removing it was a good deed. This was an important step towards my interest in conservation and all things wild.

StellysCrewOakHavenEdit

February 28th, 2016, Alanah Nasadyk, Chris McDonald, and the Stelly's Students at Oak Haven Park restoration day.


IrisGaoBroomRemovalOakHavenSeeing the opportunity to support students on their journey towards careers, community involvement, and becoming tomorrow’s leaders in sustainability brought a smile to my face. It wasn’t long after our initial contact that the HAT Team and the Stelly’s Green Team came together with our own broom pull to help restore Oak Haven Park in February 2016. Together we removed 12 cubic metres of invasive plants, making room for native wildflowers and other species to eventually recolonize and increase the biodiversity of a once overrun area. It was a stormy day with breaks of sunshine, but as the group of students stood on the Oak Haven hilltop with a rainbow crowning their achievement, they could look down on Central Saanich and see an obvious connection between this park and their community. From that hilltop we could even see the Stelly's school.

Putting their excellent leadership to use the Stelly's super-students contacted me again through the Vital Youth Program. This program initiated by the Victoria Foundation and supported by the Saanich Peninsula Community Foundation engages highschool students in funding local charities to support their community and to learn about grant-writing, as well as the non-profit sector. After meeting with the Stelly’s Vital Youth club to share HAT’s story, the students decided to give this year’s Vital Youth Grant to their local land trust: HAT, further securing a mutally beneficial partnership. On May 17th HAT celebrated this grant with the Stelly’s Vital Youth at the Victoria Foundation Year-End event.

With the Vital Youth funding we will be able to continue working to protect, restore, and study the endangered Garry Oak ecosystems of Oak Haven Park. Ongoing restoration is essential as the seed bank of invasive plants such as Scotch Broom can last decades. As with many things in life, with invasives persistence is key.

On Sunday, May 15th another team of Stelly’s students set out with myself and Volunteer Coordinator Alf Birch to take down invasive Scotch Broom and Laurel-Daphne. This event also included a nature walk and talk identifying native plants found at the site, sharing its history of restoration, and highlighting the rare Slimleaf Onion (Allium amplectans) that they are supporting HAT in protecting. In a coming together of local community support, Breadstuffs Bakery provided a nourishing lunch to students at both of these restoration events. By the end of the day, we had removed roughly 9 cubic meters of weedy plant material, making a sizable dent in the encroachment of these plants into the park. Not only that but we had strengthened connections with the land and spent a healthy, active day outdoors together.

OakHavenBroomBouqet

Stelly’s also has a course on Global Perspectives, encouraging community involvement and global citizenship, these students and the Stelly’s Green Team participated in the previous restoration days and will be partnering with HAT in the following year to continue this relationship.

To see young people so active in their community and interested in preserving nature is such an inspiration. Oak Haven Park is a special place, protected by a conservation covenant between HAT, The Land Conservancy, and Central Saanich. Near to 8 other parks including the sizable and well-known Gowlland Tod Park, Oak Haven bolsters connectivity and habitat for a wide array of plants and animals. The Garry Oak ecosystems within this park are among the most endangered wildlife assemblages in the world, with less than 5% remaining from their pre-colonial range worldwide. This important place has been identified as viable habitat for several rare species including the sharp-tailed snake, and more studies of its species composition may reveal that it is indeed home for more wildlife in need of our protection and consideration. The Conservation Data Centre rating of rarity, scarcity, uniqueness and vulnerability for Oak Haven Park is high.

I have been so grateful to work with the Stelly’s students these past several months, and look forward to collaborating with many people in the community to restore this wonderful place for wildlife and for you and me.

HAT’s land protection program, supported in part by donations from people like you, allows us to protect, restore, and engage community members with the land. You can support Oak Haven and other HAT covenants through our current Land Protection campaign.

If you know a student, teacher, or school group that may be interested in getting involved with HAT and our programs, please share us with them. We'd love to hear from you: 250-995-2428 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Share:

Read more: Community Involvement and Conservation for a Well-Rounded Curriculum

Getting to Know the HAT Team

We are happy (and HATty) to present a new video featuring the Habitat Acquisition Trust staff. A huge thank you to Ryan Spedding for supporting HAT with his videographic skills and volunteering his time to create this video.

Many of you may already know the HAT team, but we welcome you to give the video a watch to get to know us better and to share it with people you know that may be interested in the HAT team and what we do.

For those of you not yet acquainted with us, we look forward to connecting with you over our shared connection with nature in our region.

Share:

Read more: Getting to Know the HAT Team

Upcoming Restoration Day at Havenwood Park in Colwood

Havenwood Park Restoration Day

Don't miss out on our next restoration event! On June 11th, 2016, we will be working together to remove invasive weeds from the beautiful Havenwood Park in Colwood! 

We love to carpool, so let us know if you need a ride when you RSVP to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 250-995-2428. 

 

Snacks, coffee, and sandwiches will be provided. 

We will be working alongside Friends of Havenwood Park and the Greater Victoria Green Team. 

Don't forget to round up some friends to join us! 

Share:

Read more: Upcoming Restoration Day at Havenwood Park in Colwood

Get Batty with HAT

bat

 Efforts to help support bats in BC have never been as important as right now. Three (of the 10) bat species in the region are currently listed as a species at risk or a candidate for endangered status.

To the left is a picture of one of our very own BC bats - a Penderite in fact. Sylvia Pincott, a supporter of both HAT and bats, has reported that Batty has returned to his roost on Pender Island through her carport rafters for the 8th year! Batty is a Townsend Big-eared Bat (Corynorhinus townsendii). This species of bat has been found to have an average lifespan of 16 years. I wonder how old batty is? While the male Corynorhinus townsendii is typically solitary during summer roosting, females gather in groups referred to as maternity colonies to raise young.  

"He certainly has his own special ways, dear little chap!" remarked Sylvia.

Habitat loss is a significant contributor to these imperiled mammals. Townsend Big-eared Bats like Batty are provincially blue-listed as an at risk species. To enhance habitat on Southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, HAT has been installing bat boxes. Since 2014, we have installed 78 boxes on private properties. Additionally, with the help of hard-working volunteers 50 more boxes have been built and are ready to be installed!

 

maternity      on house

(HAT Biologist, Christian Engelstoft installing bat boxes: a free-standing maternity box, LEFT; and, a mountable box, RIGHT)

Futhermore, we are sorry to inform you that the White-nose Syndrome has been found just across the border, in Washington. This fungal disease is fatal to bats and has casued upwards of 90% mortality rates in infected bat colonies of Eastern North America. Therefore, it is paramount that we put effort towards supporting our healthy bats. 

If you have any questions, or want to help out please shoot us an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Also, we are recruiting volunteers to help us with this summer's bat count. If you would like to spend a few evening hours of your summer contributing to citizen science by counting bats, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Also, if you would like to donate to the bats through our Habitat Stewardship program please click here. You can also support BC bats and habitat stewardship by calling in your donation to 250-995-2428 or by cheque in the mail to PO Box 8552, Victoria, BC, V8W 3S2.

 

Share:

Read more: Get Batty with HAT

Donate Now

Sign up for HAT's Newsletter The Fern

Get the lastest tips on gardening, stewardship, and info on HAT projects right to your inbox.

 

Login Form