Saturday, November 24, 2012

Vote for the 2012 Walnut Label

The walnut crop at the Dipper Ranch is huge this year. The guest bedroom is crammed with English walnuts drying in trays, box lids, buckets, and bags while Mango and Cole guard the harvest from mice.  Every year (well, almost every year), we pick a photo of a different Dipper Ranch snake for that year's walnut label. Vote for the snake to be featured this year and you may be the lucky person to whom I give a bag of shelled walnuts.

Just a small portion of this year's English walnut harvest at the Dipper Ranch.
I already gave away the first batch of 2012 Dipper walnuts. Since I haven't made any 2012 labels yet, I stuck on a prior label featuring The Gopher Snake on Old Farm Equipment, crossed out "2010" and scrawled on "2012".

These are special walnuts. I once met the orchardist who planted the four trees about 40 years ago. When they were still in the neighborhood, his family would cordially ask about the health of the walnut trees and I would deliver them bagfuls of walnuts at harvest time. I collect the walnuts off the ground  behind the Dipper Ranch barn, dry them in the ranch house, and crack them while watching movies on long winter nights. Since these walnuts are from a unique place with an amazing diversity of snakes, I give them a unique snake label each year.  The cool weather that signals the trees to drop the walnuts is the same that sends the snakes into their winter dormancy. So while I'm spending the  fall days collecting walnuts and enjoying the view of the Santa Cruz Mountains, I am also reflecting on the past year and my snake visitors.

A snake of all things.
Besides, aour first harvest a friend called them "Happy Snake Ranch Walnuts" and I am not going to change that tradition.

Retrieving a California nightsnake from the springbox.
The contestants for the 2012 Dipper Ranch Walnut label are presented below. Check out the links for stories about these 2012 visitors.

California mountain kingsnake in buckeye tree
In early April, I found a California mountain kingsnake tucked into the springbox lid at the exact same location I found a California mountain kingsnake in the summer of 2011. I knew these were different kingsnakes because they had breaks in their colored bands at different locations which I made sure to photographically document. See more photos of this beauty at A Cheerful Disposition.

The California mountain kingsnake was an agreeable model while I tried to photograph its unique bands.
By the way, I didn't make a label for the 2011 walnuts and I owe an apology to those readers who voted on the snake label last year. Turns out the 2011 walnut harvest was pitiful, barely a bucket.  Then a disaster blow up at harvest time that kept me busy all winter.  Anyway, although the 2011 California mountain kingsnake got the most votes last year, it didn't get a label. Maybe that is why another kingsnake showed up this year.

The eclipse-watching rattlesnake got marked with black ink on its tail before I released it in the dead skunk pasture.
On May 20th as I was getting ready to shoot the solar eclipse from my backyard, I had a showdown with a rattlesnake as described in Move the Rattlesnake First - An Ecliptic Experience. I even learned what rattlesnake scat looks like.

I hope this 44"-long gopher snake ate a lot of gophers.
On two hot days in early June, I found and moved 3 gopher snakes and one rattlesnake from the Dipper farmyard while mowing. One of those gopher snakes was huge - 44 inches long! I tucked it into a tied pillowcase for safe keeping while I finished my mowing and then released it where the yard is covered with gopher mounds. After rejecting the first hole I dangled its head into, the huge gopher snake zipped down an adjacent hole to my great satisfaction because the bumpy gopher mounds are hard on the mower.

A well-fed rattlesnake.
By comparison, the rattler I found outside the garage in August was short, but it had a huge bulge in the middle.  It probably just ate a lizard. I moved that short, fat rattler far from the farmyard.

Upon turning it inside-out, this was obviously the shed skin of a rattlesnake.
In September, the Bay Area Tracking Club visited the Dipper Ranch and we found the shed skin of a snake dangling inside of a hollow stump. After careful inspection, we discovered that if you turn the shed skin inside out, you can see the distinct pattern of the original skin including the keeled scales on this one which made it rattlesnake.  Thank you, Trackers at the Dipper Ranch for your keen eyes and curiosity.

Possibly a pregnant rattlesnake.
In October, I made the mistake of wandering about the backyard on a hot night and was buzzed by The Last Purple Rattlesnake. Then I cleaned the garage.

California nightsnake showing the distinct dark shield-shape on its neck. 
And finally, just a short time ago in mid-November, I was surprised to rescue a California nightsnake from the springbox. Having just made a stand on iNaturalist that yes, there are nightsnakes in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I am delighted to share this last snake (I think) of 2012.

There were other Dipper snakes throughout the year, but these were the most photogenic.

Keeping track of biodiversity at the Dipper Ranch.
Please vote for your favorite snake to be featured on the 2012 Dipper Ranch walnut label in the comments below.  For everyone who votes before midnight on Monday, December 10, 2012, I will assign a random number and then pick one commenter to send a bagful of shelled Dipper Ranch walnuts.

I will generate a random number between 1 and 100 on Tuesday December 11 and the commenter with the random number closest to that will get the walnuts. I'm on a big kick with random numbers. It's starting to drive my boss mad.
California mountain kingsnake, Lampropeltizis zonata
Northern Pacific rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus oreganus
California nightsnake, Hypsiglena ochrorhyncha nuchalata
Pacific gopher snake, Pituophis catenifer catenifer


  1. I can't comment on the big sister issue personally, though I am married to one. And our daughters could probably fill a book with the whole debate. Which all means that my life is just peachy :o)

    Gotta be nightsnake this year, I reckon.

    Enjoy the fruit of your labours!

  2. You do have a diverse snake population there at Dipper Ranch.

    I think my favorite snake for the label would be the CA Mountain colorful and interesting.

  3. My knee-jerk reaction would be Mountain Kingsnake, because I love them a lot, but I'm going to go with the Pacific Gopher Snake instead, because I like them a lot, too. Here's a humongous one from earlier this year.

  4. I'm going with the mountain kingsnake.Uownly

  5. Luisa: I saw that big gopher snake on your blogsite a few days ago. Yes indeed - huge. Isn't it amazing to hold such a strong critter, feel its strength and then feel it relax?

  6. So Imperfect and Tense - your random number is 64.

  7. Barb-Harmony Art Mom, your random number is 71.

  8. Luisa: your random number is 81.

  9. I vote for the mountain kingsnake. It is the most colorful one of the lot (even after dipping tails in ink).

    I used to shell pecans with my dad during the winters I was living at home. Very fond memories.


  10. Since it's still a lifer for me, I must vote for the Mtn King too. But documenting that night snake was waaay cool, so you'll have to find one again for the 2013 harvest. :)

  11. SOMEBODY has to vote for the buzzing rattlers...that would be me. :)

  12. I vote for the king snake because I really like buckeye trees, as well as snakes in trees, generally.

  13. Is that a Pituophis in the lower right hand corner? My favorite North American Genus, if so.

    I vote that one!

  14. I have to agree with randomtruth in both particulars: the CA Mtn Kingsnake is truly irresistible, especially when artfully posing among bright lichens on that Buckeye. But it's hard to pass up a good Night Snake image, so I hope there are more of these in your future. I had no idea the Night Snakes were found around here until I first saw your blog. Something new to look for, hooray!

  15. Ranger K - your random number is 61
    Doug - your random number is 76
    Randomtruth - your random number is 97
    tierramor - your random number is 48
    John Wall - your random number is 51
    Trailblazer - your random number is 89
    Garth - your random number is 82


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