I was beginning to dig out the last section of leaves, the area closest to the snow fence that surrounds them so the Kansas winds don't distribute them before we do, when I felt something muscular moving as I removed a big double handful of chopped leaves. Looking down, I saw that I had uncovered a pretty good sized snake, buried within the leaf pile.
Assuming that I had uncovered a female in the process of laying eggs, I immediately covered her back up with leaves and moved to the other side of the pile, leaving about a quarter of the pile in place. Hopefully she forgave me my intrusion and continued her business. I'd dearly love to have more snakes helping to control my burgeoning vole population!
I would have loved to have more leaves to use (since I certainly have more bed surface to cover), but snake babies are much more important, so I switched to digging out the pile of wood chips we'd collected early last spring from the local yard waste dump site. I was on about my 4th load when I noticed several white ovals mixed in with the decomposing wood chips I'd just shoveled into the wheelbarrow - snake eggs! Amazingly, all 12 seemed undamaged, so I carefully put them back into the wood pile and reburied them, marking the section so that we wouldn't dig them up again.
The eggs were about 2" long and 1" in diameter, leathery, very white, and felt incredibly alive even though I couldn't feel any movement within them. They looked a lot like the 4 we found last year in a bag of decomposing leaves. I had placed those in a terrarium full of the leaves they had been in and waited several months until they hatched in September. They turned out to be ratsnakes which I released into the garden. (The photo below shows one of the young ratsnakes as it moved away from the block of leaves that had been its nursery in the terrarium.)
Having tried to appropriately take care of the living treasure that I'd uncovered, I turned back to shoveling. Amazingly, the very next shovelful of mulch I loaded contained more snake eggs - each egg about half the size of those in the first clutch and with a rougher, but still white and leathery, shell. This time I hadn't been as lucky in my scooping, having destroyed one egg with the shovel, but the other 6 were undamaged. Again I reburied them.
With several flower beds still needing coverage, I went back to loading mulch. Carefully. I actually changed from digging in with the shovel to hand digging out the mulch, but I didn't find any more eggs.
Now I'm trying to decide whether to leave the eggs where I placed them, or to put them in separate terrariums so that I can monitor their hatching, like I did last summer. I'd especially love to know which species laid the smaller eggs.
Whatever I choose to do, the good news is that all poisonous snakes in Kansas bear their young alive, an important fact that I learned as I researched the parent species' possibilities. By default, any snake eggs I find are from nonvenomous species. Let the snake egg incubation begin!