Sunday, April 25, 2010

First Buzz

 Saw the first rattlesnake of the year on Sunday.  As the air temperature crept up to 80 degrees by early afternoon, I kept telling myself, on such a fine spring day surely the snakes will be coming out.  I was hoping to see the two shiny gopher snakes that usually show up first in the spring.  As I went about the usual weekend ranch chores, I made sure to perambulate around the barn (aka the snake pit) every now and then to look for sunning reptiles.  By the second round of barn inspections, there was a dusty head sticking out of a crack in the sliding backdoor.  I couldn't see much of the body so I couldn't tell how big it was, or check the dorsal pattern for diamonds or the tail for a rattle.  It had a somewhat triangular head and a dark line under the eye.

While peering at the snake from around the corner of the barn, I could see the numerous small scales between the eyes, but I couldn't remember whether it was gopher snakes or rattlesnakes that have that pattern.  I snuck in the front door of the barn and quietly, nervously crept to the back door to see: long fat body, diamond pattern on the back with dark rings near the tail, and a 7-segmented rattle held sideways.  Definitely a northern Pacific rattlesnake and one that had already had a few good meals after leaving its winter den.

I decided the snake's body wasn't sticking far enough out of the barn for me to easily snag it with my snake tongs, nor did I want to grab it from the inside and drag it backwards into the cluttered barn.  Instead, I set out my snake-capturing tools in the yard near the barn door and went back to the usual chores with a tingle in my shoulders.

Every 20 minutes or so, I returned to the barn to check on the rattler's location.  By the third time, the snake was slowly cruising along the outside edge of the barn door and every breeze was blowing the door back and forth over the long line of brown diamonds.  It wasn't the best angle for maneuvering, however, since I didn't want the snake to disappear, I leaned against the swinging barn door with my shoulder and snagged its tail end with the tongs.  It was a buzzer and struck at the tongs which are fortunately 3.5' long.  I dropped it into the pillowcase already pinned open in the garbage can.  A big shout and a little victory dance of relief.  Then I twisted and rubber-banded the pillow case closed, and dropped the package into the garbage can. Thunk and a buzzzzz.

I set the garbage can in the shade, and locked down the lid.  Later, when it is cool and the snake is less riled up, I will mark its rattle with calligraphy ink and relocate it far away from the farmhouse. I'll have to come up with a new color pattern to distinguish this one from the other rattlesnakes I have relocated and marked since I have already gone through my stock of 5 colors of ink.  Maybe green with a black tip for this buzzer.

When I walked past the barn corner again, the lizards had reclaimed this snake-free corner of sun.  I'm sure I will be a little jumpy for the next few days after this first buzz of the year.

See also:
 Northern Pacific rattlesnake - Crotalus oreganus oreganus

1 comment:

  1. Hi - followed a link in your HoH#6 post to this one - love following your chronicles of dealing with the snakes on your property. I'm so glad you've found ways to handle without harming them. Kinda scary, I admire your courage!


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