|Northern Pacific rattlesnake captured September 27, 2012 in backyard at Dipper Ranch.|
Rattle dipped in purple calligraphy ink.
In the dark, it appeared to be the largest rattler I'd ever seen in my yard, maybe two and one-half feet long with a girth the size of my wrist. I know rattlesnakes get much larger, but for the Dipper Ranch this was a biggie. At first I was relieved to see the rattler quickly slipping away but when I realized it was heading towards the gap under the porch, I thought, "No, I don't want a rattlesnake living under my house!"
I was certain this was the same snake that buzzed me a few evenings earlier when I was sliding open the barn door. Then, it was too dark to see the culprit, so I abandoned the wheelbarrow outside for the night and said a prayer for the two brush rabbits that sleep in the barn. A second buzzing in one week was ominous. I wasn't sure how long this strategy of mutual retreat would continue. It was time to catch this rattler.
|Brush rabbits often take up residence in the barn in the spring and fall. This one snuck into the yard early one morning to drink out of the birdbath.|
I tried to remember the lessons of The Rattlesnake Decision. Yes, the rattler was still and positioned well for capturing. If I was careful and quick, I could do this even in the dark and it was the right thing to do. I just needed to be calm and then move precisely, always having a way to back out. No panicking in the dark.
I could use the snake tongs first to lift the empty bucket by its handle and set it on its side in front of the post, and then to nudge the rattler into the bucket, flip the bucket upright and slam on its lid. That's basically how it went although the seconds seemed like minutes as I whispered myself through it. When the bucket lid made a loud click as I spun it into locked position, I yelled and inside the bucket the snake thumped and buzzed, but still, the deed was done. I sat on the kitchen steps and watched the stars until I was ready to fetch the bucket and put the captured snake away for the night.
|What is it about the setting of the Dipper Ranch farmyard that attracts so many rattlesnakes?|
|Several times on hot days, I have found rattlesnakes on shaded concrete. Another spot to be alert.|
The next morning was still hot but I didn't want to cache any more venomous critters in the garage, so I loaded the two buckets in the back of my car as I left for work. The large snake hammered away inside the bucket as I set it in the back of the Subaru. I knew the bucket lids were securely locked but I was still jumpy as I drove the short distance to the gate with two rattlesnakes aboard.
It had been 4 years since I last released any rattlesnakes near the gate which is only about 1/10th of a mile from the house and that was when the whole business of marking rattlers began. It was after that incident that I asked Mr. Cascabeles if perhaps I wasn't moving the rattlesnakes far enough, and as an experienced snake handler, he suggested I mark their rattles with distinct colors. The process is to dip their rattle in a nearby open jar of ink while the snake's head is securely clamped in the snake tongs when otherwise capturing or releasing them. Do not try this yourself, you really need to know what you are doing to be safe! If you want an explanation of why I do this, see Buzzer Gets Its Color.
Parking at the gate with two buckets in hand, I waved at my neighbors as they drove by all the while trying to hide the snake tongs. Some of them don't understand why I relocate rattlers instead of killing them, some of them have admitted to relocating rattlers to unspecified locations along Alpine Road (the Dipper Ranch is bordered by Alpine Road for about one mile), and most of them have admitted that they don't see as many rattlers around their home as I do around mine. I passed the gate and walked over a hill so that the natural grade would encourage the released snakes to move in a direction away from the house.
|The surprisingly heavy snake trying to hide in the bucket.|
|This marked snake was moved from the west bay of the barn in June 2010. The tail gradually tapers to the base of the rattle making this probably a male rattlesnake.|
|This heavy snake was moved from the orchard in October 2011. Its rattle is unusually short for the overall size of the snake indicating some segments had probably snapped off. The body of this rattlesnake is very wide above the tail so this is probably a female.|
|I had to move this snake from the backyard in order to set up equipment to view the solar eclipse in May 2012. Its tail shape indicates it is probably a male rattlesnake.|
Northern Pacific rattlesnake - Crotalus oreganus oreganus