As spring settles in and the days warm up, snakes are becoming more active; as are we.
A couple of weeks back a few friends and I took advantage of the shorts weather and sunshine and decided to do a walk from South West Rocks lighthouse to Little Bay.
After hours spent walking the coastline and over headlands we were ready to leave the bush track behind us.
With our cars in sight, a girlfriend and I heard a rustle in a small shrub by the path and both leaned over hoping to spot an Echidna.
We were shocked instead to come face-to-foot with an Eastern Brown Snake; its metre long body slithering right by our toes.
We were left unharmed with extra sweat on our foreheads and the realisation that snake season had arrived.
Since then I've driven past a thick red-belly black snake on the road, heard stories from friends coming across green-tree snakes on a beach track, and jumped at every little lizard in the garden.
I've also noticed the social media influx of photos posted of the slithery suckers along with queries of identification, which are followed by both specialist suggestions and additions to the grapevine.
While I know snakes are always around, there does seem to be an increase in sightings and close calls in recent weeks.
And it has been talk of the town, especially after the death of a 69-year-old man bitten by a brown snake on September 9.
And so I reached out to local snake handler Stuart Johnson from Reptile Solutions to find out what exactly is happening and what those living in Macleay Valley and Port Macquarie-Hastings region need to know.
Humans are thinking 'the snakes are coming back out' and the snakes are thinking 'the humans are coming back out'.
"What we notice this time of year is people say 'the snakes are coming out of hibernation look out', but the snakes are always there in one sense or another," said Mr Johnson
"Because we are sitting in the sub-tropical part of Australia, even our winters don't get too cold, and so we find snakes coming out to get sun at all times of the year."
However it is still true the snakes are less active in the colder months, just like us, and are starting to move around more now that the weather is heating up.
Mr Johnson believes the shock-factor that comes with the beginning of September is often the case of people being used to seeing less snakes with the colder months, when both humans and reptiles are hiding away.
"It's not just the time of year when the snakes are more active but it's the time of year when we're more active," said Mr Johnson.
"As soon as that sunshine starts to come out and the temperature gauge goes up a bit...we think 'let's go down to the beach or let's go out for a bush walk [but] we haven't switched into that approach that the snakes are thinking the same thing," he said.
"It's a two-sided coin...we're literally crossing paths."
While it's true the temperatures are starting to increase from August to September, the activity in snakes we're seeing this time of year has a lot to do with the reptiles entering their breeding cycle.
"Particularly the boys are moving around covering country-side looking for the girls," said Mr Johnson.
"You start to see the combat behaviour where you get the snakes intertwining...those sort of displays we often see at beaches and off the side of bush tracks, is two males basically fighting for dominance or supremacy."
While both humans and snakes are getting out and about, we need to start preparing for coming into contact with one another.
Mr Johnson states when in open-spaces where you are able to spot the snake from afar the key is simply to stay away and keep a distance.
"This really couldn't be easier," he said.
However, when finding yourself in a situation like my friend and I where you are practically on top of the snake, the recommendation is to stay as still as possible.
"The best thing to do in those circumstances is try and keep the cool and try and stay absolutely still," said Mr Johnson.
The reason for this is snake-reactivity.
"Snakes are quite reactive to any sudden movements," he said.
"That's what's going to raise the alarm bells that there is something big and possibly something dangerous right over the top of [the snake]."
Snakes will protect themselves from potential danger, and so by keeping still the snake will be less likely to feel threatened and move on.
"If the snake is already startled...as soon as you move it's focused on that movement. That's the danger to it," said Mr Johnson.
Stop and stay absolutely still when close to a snake is the first step, advised by Mr Johnson.
The second step is to create distance.
"The distance is the safety...increase the gap is the main thing," he said.
"If you are close enough to touch [the snake], remain absolutely still. If you are a couple of metres away from it, then very slowly move further away and increase that gap."
According to Mr Johnson there are about 23 species of snakes on the Mid North Coast.
"Red-belly black snakes, carpet pythons, common or green-tree snakes can all be found throughout the different habitats of the Mid North Coast, Port Macquarie and Kempsey areas," he said.
Eastern Brown snakes are a bit more selective.
"You will certainly see [brown snakes] in areas around South West Rocks and Crescent Head and parts of Kempsey."
Port Macquarie will generally only spot Eastern Browns on the foreshore and around Lighthouse Beach, Rainbow Beach and the break wall, according to Mr Johnson.
"In the actual township and regional areas of Port Macquarie and Wauchope it's a species we don't see at all just because those areas are a bit too wet," he said.
"Our local environment will play a big part in which species occur here and there."
According to Mr Johnson many of the brown snakes that people find in their backyards are identified incorrectly and are often species that people don't know exist, such as crown snakes or marsh species.
"A physical catch and removal of a brown snake in the Port Macquarie and Wauchope area [is] once a year if we're lucky," said Mr Johnson.
Proper identification of a snake is important.
"The biggest thing I try to discourage is people going to get IDs and information just on the local community pages," said Mr Johnson.
"You do get some good honest stuff on there but a lot of the time you get the good old wive's tales resurface and a lot of misinformation which potentially taken the wrong way can be quite dangerous and harmful for both the animals and the people."
The best thing to do it to contact a specialist and send a photo to them if necessary.
Mr Johnson says he's noticed more images and footage of people taking 'selfies' with snakes in recent times.
"I don't know whether it's a Tik-Tok thing or a social media thing but there's been an increase of people, not only photographing snakes that they see, but there seems to be a trend of posing with the snakes or physically capturing and handling them," said Mr Johnson.
"The scary side of that is there's been quite a few where the snakes that they've been handling, even unbeknown to them, are highly venomous species.
"Either through a combination of mis-identification or just a little bit of arrogance and ignorance, and those are the real dangerous ones.
Mr Johnson says that while only an average of three people die from snake bites a year in Australia, there are about 3,000 cases of bites.
"Nearly all of them in recent times are directly through human contact with the snake whether it's trying to handle them or trying to harm or kill them," he said.
Mr Johnson emphasises that keeping the distance will keep humans safe.
"Trying to entrap the snake...that's what directly links to the statistics unfortunately, so we encourage people to not take action into their own hands if they do happen to have a confrontation with a snake."
If necessary, get experts in to safely capture and remove the snake, however the snake will often remove itself.
"I usually give the old cuppa approach," said Mr Johnson.
"Put the kettle on, have a cuppa, chill out and relax. By the time you've finished your cuppa the snake is long gone."
While there has been more photos of snakes popping up on community pages since the beginning of September, Reptile Solutions has not necessarily had an increase in call-outs, which Mr Johnson says is positive outcome.
"It shows that people are a little bit more understanding and I guess aware of snakes," he said.
In the past, Mr Johnson says it was a case of ' there's a snake get rid of it', which is not always necessary.
Reptile Solutions has not recorded an increase in removals this snake season.
According to NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) Australia has more than 140 species of snakes of which only about half a dozen are considered deadly.
"As the weather warms reptiles, including snakes, become more active. As humans, we also like to get out and enjoy the outdoors more at this time as well," said a NPWS spokesperson.
"Snakes naturally shy of humans and will avoid us wherever possible however, snakes will react if they feel threatened and don't have a ready escape path."
Never attempt to provoke snakes.
The NPWS reports that the vast majority of people bitten by snakes are attempting to catch or kill it.
"The easiest way to be safe is avoid it altogether. Stop and look for ways to avoid it including retracing you steps," said the NPWS spokesperson.
Keep to paths and other open areas where you can be ready to spot a snake should you come across one.
NPWS states all snakes are protected and provide an important role in a healthy ecosystem.
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