A close encounter with a venomous Boomslang was not quite what local resident, Megan Carr had in mind when she penned the true crime story, Shopping for a Killer, which was published last year. This time the killer struck in broad daylight last week, in a suburban courtyard garden that is usually a haven of peace and tranquillity.  

The Boomslang can be seen on the ground making its way up to the Wagtails’ nest in the hanging basket.

What followed is a rather hair-raising tale – and also a cautionary one. The title? Snakes alive! In Megan’s own words, this is what happened:

I love my enchanted little 6 x 4 metre courtyard garden, filled with small trees and flowers. I enjoy watching the little Wagtails who checked out the garden for safety before proceeding to build their nest in the hanging basket in the corner.

For many weeks I followed the excitement and industry of the happy Wagtail couple as they tweeted and went about building their home. Once the chicks had arrived, they would fly into the garden and hop from chair to chair and into the nest. Always in the little beaks – small morsels of food for their chicks. Each taking turns with visits about every 10 minutes for hours. Magic moments.

Then, on Thursday morning I heard much bird screaming and tweeting – I knew something was wrong. The agitation was electrifying. I went to the lounge to see what was up. Through the sliding door I saw the parent birds running around trying to protect a little chick battling to walk on the lawn. I assumed the tiny chick had fallen from the nest and couldn’t yet fly – so small it could sit in your cupped hand.

The Boomslang devouring the Wagtail chick in front of its anxious parents.

As I opened the sliding door, the scared chick hurried inside, right past me, and tried to hide under the couch. (At that early stage of its life, it seemed to know danger.) The parents didn’t follow but kept twittering outside the door. I quickly found a box and scooped up the chick. I thought it best to return it to its frantic parents chirping on the lawn outside. What a bad decision! A pity humans don’t as easily sense danger.

As I upended the box onto the lawn, there was a movement fast as a whiplash as a huge snake, coming out of nowhere, made a dive for the chick, and missed. Again the chick ran in through the door and stopped almost at my feet. 

In a flash the snake shot in and got it in its jaws. It started chewing its prey immediately as the distraught parents hovered dangerously close by, tweeting and chirping. I felt helpless and enraged as I heard the little bones crunching and the wings still flapping. What to do? Automatic reaction? In in the middle of all this drama I picked up my cellphone and started snapping and videoing.

Next? I didn’t want the slinky predator in my house, so I edged around them and ran for the broom.  I beat at it with the brush end and it reversed out the door and hid behind the flower pots, still devouring the chick with wings sticking out of its mouth.

Megan Carr next to the now empty nest in her courtyard garden.

Sanity returning, I closed the door and waited to see what next. After a few moments, entree over, I saw the snake climbing the Hibiscus shrub next to the hanging basket with the nest. (I later discovered it was a Boomslang – most venomous of snakes. And, of course, good at climbing trees.)   It wrapped itself around the basket and the head went into the little nest. 

I ran out with the broom and hooked it off the nest and it plopped to the ground behind the flower pots. Not trusting it an inch, I ran inside and found two flimsy bathing wraps. I threw one over the basket nest and the other over the plants where it was now waiting. I thought it would not be able to work its way through the fabric. Wrong again. The wind blew away the one over the basket.

The snake then sneakily approached from the ground on the other side, and simply stretched itself up and into the nest – tail still on the ground – and got the other chick. I again tried to hook it off the nest – but too late. He’d gotten them all as the agitated parents watched helplessly. 

At that point I went inside, locked the door and phoned my daughter, Carole, to call the snake catcher, Jonathan Powers. He told her to tell me not to go near the snake as it was dangerous. Again, too late but at least I was safe. We later discovered he was more worried about me hurting the snake! 

When Jonathan arrived, with his big bucket and a long pole with a hook at the end, it took only a couple of minutes before the villain, with nowhere to go, was hooked and in his bucket. He estimated the Boomslang at about 2 metres and happily told me how a woman in Somerset West had died the previous week from a Boomslang bite. They are one of the fastest and most venomous of snakes.

When asked, Jonathan said he would release the snake high in the Nature Reserve. I couldn’t help wondering: Like the other Terminator – would he be back?  Nice juicy human toes still here.

That night when Carole and I checked the nest, we found the most perfect little chick nest. Empty. Sadly the bird magic in the garden has stopped. (Like Donald Trump – no more tweets.) I could weep.

The moral of the story, though, is that I shouldn’t have gone near the snake. Even though I never felt scared – only angry – this was a dangerous snake and should serve as a warning to others, as there are so many snakes about at the moment. (Earlier in the week, Carole had found a Cape Cobra in her back yard!)

On Saturday, still feeling sad, I went into the garden and there, right next to the nest, was the most perfect huge yellow Hibiscus flower. I was left wondering if this was nature’s message about the good things around us, and about life simply carrying on regardless. Food for thought.

Jonathan Powers from Snake Removals Hermanus can be contacted on 082 352 6000.

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