Baker Island marks the southwest entrance of Frenchman Bay Credit: Bridget Brown

In this strange story from the Maine wilderness, naturalist and author Glen Mittelhauser bumps into a swimming snake while conducting bird surveys off the Maine coast.

Mittelhauser is the director of the Maine Natural History Observatory in Gouldsboro, and is the author of several comprehensive guidebooks on Maine flora, including “The Plants of Acadia National Park” and “Plants of Baxter State Park.” He’s also the project coordinator for the Maine Bird Atlas, a statewide citizen science project to understand the abundance and distribution of Maine’s breeding and wintering birds.

Island snake mystery solved

by Glen Mittelhauser

There are garter snakes out on many islands off the Maine coast, and I long wondered how they get out there. Years ago I was out about a mile off the nearest land (I think it was in Frenchman Bay), and I saw a garter snake swimming in the cold ocean water. He must have already been in the cold water for at least the past hour and likely more.

I took some coordinates of the snake, noted its direction and speed, then headed off to do my bird surveys of fall migrating shorebirds. When I finished those surveys about an hour later, I routed myself to where the snake was likely to be based on his earlier speed and direction. I found the snake again, this time about 300 yards from an island, and it was still swimming slowly despite the cold water.

I never would have guessed that a snake would survive a two-plus-hour swim in the cold ocean water. That must be how they get out to islands. Dilemma solved, but I now wonder how the red-backed salamanders get out to the islands. [I] don’t think they can swim long in cold salt water, or do they?

Do you have a strange story from the Maine wilderness?

While spending time in the Maine outdoors, have you ever seen or experienced something that was amazing, amusing or strange? If so, you can submit your story and any accompanying photos to Aislinn Sarnacki by emailing If your story is selected for this series, you’ll be notified beforehand. All stories are lightly edited for clarity.


Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at