I have encountered 40 snakes since moving to the Dipper Ranch. That's actually over a 15-month period rather than a year, but snakes don't have fingers, so they aren't counting. Of the 13 species of snakes known to occur in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I have observed nine species on the Dipper Ranch so far: northern rubber boa, western yellow-bellied racer, sharp-tailed snake, Pacific ringed-neck snake, California nightsnake, California kingsnake, Pacific gopher snake, northern Pacific rattlesnake, and coast gartersnake.
<--- Two yellow-bellied racers who think they are camouflaged in yellow dried-out thistles
Snakes were primarily seen May through October, with most sightings in May and June. The most frequently encountered snakes were rattlesnakes (11) and racers (8). Some of the snakes may have been observed more than once. I moved seven of the rattlers that occurred near the house and barn and marked three of those. I only gave one snake a name, and I hope I see her lovely self again next spring. The rattlers, not so much. My methods for capturing and moving snakes, which I will describe in a subsequent posting, seem to be working but . . . do not try this at home.
I frequently found snakes in my springboxes, underground vaults that collect water from pipes pounded into the ground at springs in the surrounding hillsides. The main two springboxes have heavy corrugated metal lids and vertical concrete sides that drop approximately 5 feet. We are not sure how the snakes get in the springboxes; the cracks around the lids seem too small and are several feet off the ground. The springboxes drain fast enough that their gravel-covered bottoms are rarely flooded. Although the dark and damp conditions might be just fine with most snakes, food is limited in there and they will eventually die unless they get out. So I regularly check the springboxes to remove any small critters because I care about the animals on the ranch, even the snakes. Besides, I shower in this stuff and I don't want to smell like snakes.
The main springbox with lid propped open --->
Checking the springbox is part of country living. When I originally moved onto the property, a co-worker told me that jumping down into the 5-foot deep vault to rescue snakes was part of my job. I refused. Not only am I claustrophobic (thus the career choice as an ecologist), but snakes give me the creeps (thus the career focus on plants). Jumping into a pit to rescue snakes really gives me the creeps because even with arms and legs, I don't think I could pull myself out of that deep vault, much less do it with a snake or two in trembling hand.
In the next few postings, I will share some stories and photos about these snakes. ssssseee ya'