Grayia ornata, Ornate water snake

June 29 Friday      Bicycling down to the Ozouga forest today.  Its been several months since I was here.  I have a plan to take Brant and Alexander for a hike on Sunday and would like to check the conditions before we finalize our plan.  I can hear the warning call of the mangebeys from deep in the forest.  A turaco starts a chain reaction of calls that reverberate through the trees, perhaps five birds responding. I feel that I am back in a familiar place, though a place perhaps a little overgrown since I was here last. There are more leaves in the understory, more branches have dropped, and the odd Ozouga fruit stands out lime green on the forest floor.  Broad expanses of decaying leaf litter have been turned and rooted through, an indication that red river hogs have been foraging.  The earth smells alive with growth, the musty smell of leaf and mineral wafting thick in the cool air.  I spend many minutes listening and watching at points along the trail, but aside from a few distant mangebeys, birds in the canopy, and the muffled crash of the surf a few kilometres west, the forest is quiet today.

Back on my bicycle, I pedal lazily back to Yenzi, hoping something will cross the road before me. I find some interesting light in a crescent of meadow, and look for compositions among the loganus trees as a trio of hornbills tumble through the air before diviing into the forest.  Brant and Alexander drive past and stop to see what has caught my attention.  We catch up on the triathalon Brant has organized and scheduled for Saturday morning in Yenzi.  I’m not sure why I signed up for this event, but I will need to be ready to swim, bicycle and run by 7:45 tomorrow morning.  Waving goodbye, I continue on my way, and immediately come upon a snake crossing the road, directly in my lane, and a likely candidate for road-kill had Brant not given me wide berth when he drove off.  I’m off my bike in a flash to try to get a closer look before it disappears into the ditch, but it is not moving, and I fear it is already a victim.  As I close in, the head turns to watch me, but it seems transfixed to its spot on the tarmac.

an Ornate water snake remains motionless on the tarmac near the ozouga forest

I am able to take a few pictures in circling around it.  Not knowing wether it is dangerous, I keep some distance for escape should I need to move out of the way.  It seems unthreatened with my presence.  I appreciate the beautiful black and olive and white mottling along its 50 centimetre length, the large black eyes gauging my movement, its glossy, washed appearance highlighting every scale.  Later I learn that this is a juvenile Ornate water snake, Grayia ornata, which can grow to 1.5 metres, lives mainly on fish and amphibians, and is non-aggressive, non-venomous.  One of Gabon’s friendlier snakes.

 

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