It was a battle of life and death, staged right in front of me, in a low sandstone wall at the entrance to the Waterworks Reserve.
A tiger snake had located the nest of a striated pardalote hidden between cracks in the drystone wall and was trying to get at the pardalote’s young.
The snake had squeezed at least half of its considerable length into the wall’s crevices and its tail wagged wildly as it thrust itself even further into the gap.
I could hear chirping and squawking, and I could image the scale of the horror. A family of pardalotes confronted by a hissing, evil-eyed snake that was all the time edging closer to the end of the crevice where they had nested, and their doom.
The pushing and squeezing and tail wagging, from anger and frustration no doubt, continued for a good 15 minutes. The wall is on the straight stretch of road that leads into the reserve just past a sharp curve at its entrance and cars passed, the drivers oblivious to the drama unfolding just metres from them.
A final wag of the tail, and the snake started to ease itself out of the hole, its contorted body gripping the rough-hewn wall for one last time. It looked in the hole again and, deciding to give up the chase, dropped to the ground with a gentle thud.
The snake was jet back and about a metre long and the sandstone dust from the wall give its large scales added definition. The snake paused for a moment, and then raised its head, looking behind and above itself, as if suddenly realising how vulnerable it had been, hanging out of the hole. Cars and humans perhaps presented less of a danger than a patrolling wedge-tailed eagle.
It soon moved off into a clump of grass, before moving to higher ground well away from the road.
Snakes in pursuit of striated and spotted pardalotes are not new to the Waterworks Reserve. I had been told in the past to look for them on the top of the embankments that help divert the Sandy Bay Rivulet around the reserve’s two dams. Pardalotes are cavity nesters and the gaps in the sandstone walls that encase the rivulet make ideal nestings holes but nest sites have to be chosen that are out of reach of the snakes. Tiger snakes have a strong sense of smell and can easily locate the scent of eggs and young. Once they have found a nest, it is a matter of manoeuvring their bodies to reach them.
Although they do not have limbs, it is surprising how many types of surface a tiger snake can climb as I discovered on the North-West Coast one year when a tiger snake made its home in a shack I was renting by way of an exposed water pipe running from a tank used to collect rainwater.
I’m not a fan of snakes, but wouldn’t kill one without cause, or even intervene when one – like the Waterworks reptile this summer – was going about its deadly business. I had decided to let nature take its course and the fact that nothing was standing between me and a one-metre tiger snake – one of deadliest snakes in the world – did not influence my decision!