Things that will eat slugs are a welcome sight in any garden. The Common Garter Snake, along with most snakes in Oregon, is considered ‘beneficial’ because of their diet. The Common Garter Snake will eat slugs, grubs, mice, voles, earthworms, rats, frogs and tadpoles, and generally anything they can overwhelm.

Species in Oregon

There are four species of Garter snakes in Oregon: The Common Garter and Western Terrestrial Garter are abundant throughout Oregon, except the mountains. The Northwestern Garter resides in western Oregon. The Aquatic Garter resides in southwestern Oregon. Snakes are usually black, dark brown or green with a light-colored or red stripe and can reach 48-inches in length.

Where to look

You can find Garter snakes in a variety of habitats such as urban lawns, forests, woodlands, fields, and grasslands. Look for Garters near water, such as a wetland, stream, or pond. Water provides a place to hunt amphibians and as a potential escape strategy.

When disturbed, a garter snake may coil and strike. Typically, the Garter will hide its head and flail its tail. It may also discharge a malodorous, musky-scented secretion or slither into the water to escape a predator. Garters do not have the capacity to seriously injure humans, even though they have small amounts of a mild venom.

Predation

Garter snakes give birth to live and independent young. Gestation lasts a couple of months with birth rates reaching nearly 100. Juvenile snakes are often killed by predators, cars, and lawnmowers! Predators include birds of prey, crows, egrets, herons, cranes, raccoons, otters, bull frogs, shrews, and other snake species (such as the coral and king snakes).

Communication

Garter snakes use a complex communication system using pheromones. The pheromones cues are communicated through tongue-flicking behavior. This system helps them find other snakes through pheromone-scented trails and making it key to breeding.

Learn how to invite these beneficial predators into your garden by reading the Oregon State Extension publications Common Garter Snake and Attract Reptiles and Amphibians to Your Yard.

REFERENCES:
Snakes slither through the garden eating slugs, grubs and other pests (https://extension.oregonstate.edu/news/snakes-slither-through-garden-eating-slugs-grubs-other-pests)
Garter Snakes, Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garter_snake)
Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/snakes)

In early August 2018, I was lucky to have a friend take me whale watching with a chartered whale watching company in Depoe Bay, the whale-watching hub on the Oregon coast. We left from the docks on a zodiac with the owner of the business as our captain. The zodiac is a good boat to whale watch from because it’s fairly quiet and it’s easier to get closer to the whales without disturbing them.

We saw a spout pretty early on, so we waited to watch the whale. Our guide was able to tell us that this particular whale is part of the Pacific Coast Feeding Group, a pod of gray whales that does not migrate because of the abundance of food on the Oregon coast. He was also able to name a couple of the other whales we say because of his ability to identify them based on their tail markings. The guide had a small vial of krill to show us what the whales were feeding on, and he provided us with some information about the species and other marine animals.

Our guide did an excellent job of driving out to the right spot to see as many whales as possible. At one point, the zodiac was surrounded by six or seven different whales. Overall, the guide was an excellent captain and provided us with answers to our questions, careful not to bombard us with information as we carefully watched for spouts.

Pacific harbor seals

Harbor seals are the most widely distributed pinniped. On the Oregon Coast, you will most likely encounter the Eastern Pacific harbor seal, a subspecies found between Alaska and Baja California, Mexico.

These seals have spotted coats in a variety of shades from white or silver-gray to black or dark brown. They favor near-shore coastal waters and use rocks, reefs, beaches, and drifting glacial ice as haul out and pupping sites.

Pacific harbor seals spend about half their time on land and half in the water. They can even sleep with their bodies nearly submerged in water, exposing only the tip of their nose to the air – a posture called “bottling.”

Ocean threats

Despite being skilled swimmers, harbor seals face a number of threats in the ocean. There is currently no commercial hunting of harbor seals, but some native subsistence hunting of seals still occurs.

Because they compete for many of the same species of fish, harbor seals are sometimes killed by commercial fishermen. Seals can also become entangled and drown in fishing nets and gear.

In addition, the species is preyed upon by killer whales, sharks, and Steller’s sea lions. El Niño events can decrease the animal’s food availability, which includes a variety of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans.