|Juvenile western yellow-bellied racer pulled from the main springbox on October 22. Will this be the last snake observed on the Dipper Ranch in 2014? Contestant #1|
|Harvest season - eyeshine from a gray fox in the persimmon tree.|
Don't argue with me about why there should or should not be a snake on the walnut label. We've been through that and the tradition holds. If a year comes in which I don't see any snakes on the Dipper Ranch, then maybe we will switch to flowers or birds on the label. A snakeless Dipper Ranch? That is never going to happen so I will continue to share cool photos and interesting facts about snakes until you are as amazed by them as I am.
|And at 5 pm that same evening, I captured this larger rattlesnake in the corner of the barn. Contestant #3 has four rattle segments and is complaining here about the remote place where we relocated it.|
|The T-shaped terminal end of the rattle is called the button and is not included in the segment count.|
This year, we had a young child visit the Dipper Ranch the day after I captured two rattlesnakes. Her mom, a wildlife biologist, helped me talk to the little girl about being careful where she put her feet and hands while playing in the freshly mowed yard. We showed her the rattlesnakes through the window on the locked snake bucket and explained why people need to be careful around them. I repeatedly shook the bucket so she could hear their warning sound, but they refused to rattle. Later that day when we released the two snakes, they gave a magnificent show of rattling and that young lady got a safe first experience seeing and hearing rattlesnakes.
|Thirteen-segments on this rattle departing the snake bucket. Locking lid is removed in this photo.|
In terms of snake sightings on the Dipper Ranch, 2014 has been a low year - only nine snakes as compared to a range of 13 to 32 snakes in previous years since 2008. Is it because we are in the third year of a drought, or is it because a big project kept me from wandering outside as much? The breakdown for the year was 5 rattlesnakes, 2 gopher snakes, 1 coast gartersnake and the western yellow-bellied racer.
Did anyone else in dry California notice a difference in snake sightings? There is a discussion about this on Field Herp Forum: drought reduces amount of vegetation, and therefore insects and small mammals, so snakes may stay inactive underground to conserve energy; and as with many plants and animals, snakes may not reproduce during droughty conditions. These patterns were observed in Texas ratsnakes during a two-year drought. Within one year after the drought ended, the body condition (length-mass ratio) and survival of radio-tracked ratsnakes recovered (Sperry and Weatherhead, 2008).
|Western yellow-bellied racers are one of the few species of snakes where the juvenile snake has a different color and pattern than the adult snake. In the photo at the beginning of this post, you can see brown blotches on the forward part of the juvenile racer's back, but the rear end is transitioning to the adult's solid olive-brown color. This juvenile also has the characteristic butter yellow belly of the adult, although Random Truth reports that very young racers do not. This snake is still probably in its first or second year indicating that some reproduction is still occurring during drought years. Contestant #4.|
Several times in 2014, I got to help the USGS herpetologists survey Mindego Ranch for snakes. One afternoon on the way to first check Mindego Creek, we passed by a drift fence array and noticed a very large gopher snake was waiting inside of one of the funnel traps. We didn't disturb it because we needed to wait until the herpetologist arrived to collect data before the snake was released.
|Damp sponges keep the snakes moist and provide a hiding spot for the smaller snakes until the funnel trap is checked by the researcher in a few hours, the snake is recorded and released.|
|Bobcat tracks showed up on the top lid of this funnel trap in about a two-hour period of late afternoon. Good thing that cat couldn't figure out how to lift the hinged door.|
After measuring it, we made sure to release the gopher snake into dense brush in case the curious cat was still around.
|A whopper gopher snake lives another day.|
|Poison oak, western fence lizard and rattlesnake enjoying a last beam of sunlight on a cool April day.|
|My kind of trail - small, dusty and smudged by snake visitors.|
The snake with the most votes goes on the label. I will randomly pick one of the commenters to send a bag of 2014 Dipper walnuts and will probably throw in some dried Dipper persimmons too. Let the harvest season and voting begin. Update to the Update: this new poll thingie is fun but if you don't leave a comment either here on the post or at the poll, then I can't enter you into the random selection for the bag of walnuts.
Western yellow-bellied racer, Coluber constrictor mormon
Northern Pacific rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus oreganus
Pacific gopher snake, Pituophis catenifer
Coast gartersnake, Thamnophis elegans terrestris
Red-breasted sapsucker, Sphyrapicus ruber
Common gray fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus
Klauber, Laurence M, 1982, Rattlesnakes: Their Habits, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind, Abridged Edition, University of California Press.
Sperry, Jinelle H. and Patrick J. Weatherhead, 2008, Prey-mediated Effects of Drought on Condition and Survival of a Terrestrial Snake, Ecology 89(10), pp. 2770-2776.