Sunday, November 3, 2013

Vote for the 2013 Walnut Label

Not an advertisement for Stihl helmets, just a place to keep a small California mountain kingsnake safe while putting down the Stihl brushcutter. Amazing how the colors match.  
It's that time. Walnut harvest time. I was expecting a small crop this year since last year we harvested over 200 pounds from two trees, but the yard behind the barn is littered with  English walnuts while the first batch is drying in the guest bedroom.

The dusky-footed woodrat who lives in the barn is pleased to know this. So are my co-workers and neighbors who are coming to harvest walnuts, watch the sun set, and potluck it.

Walnut harvest means it is time for the annual reader poll. From all the snakes seen at the Dipper Ranch this year, you get to vote on which one will be featured on the 2013 Dipper Ranch Walnuts label.

From everyone who submits a vote in the comments below, I will randomly pick one who will get a bag of 2013 Dipper Ranch shelled walnuts with the new snake label. So if you have an issue with snakes, if you think they are agents of the devil and anyone who honors them with a pretty picture is likewise an evil one, don't bother voting. Or change your mind about the value and beauty of snakes by checking some of the Dipper snake photos and linked stories below.

The 2013 contestants are:

A northern Pacific rattlesnake in Italian thistle, first snake of the year.
Contestant #1  
The first snake of the year was on April 13th and it was a northern Pacific rattlesnake. Because it was close to the house and farm buildings, I moved it. That's how I do it. And don't argue with me because it's my choice. After walking far enough from the farm buildings, I tossed the rattler into a patch of Italian thistle. They deserved each other.

Forest sharp-tailed snake.
Contestant #2  
In late April, we got a small but doosie of a snake - a sharp-tailed snake and possibly a newly described species, the forest sharp-tailed snake. Although I've seen them a few times before, this was the first chance I had to closely examine whether the sharp-tailed snakes at the Dipper Ranch are the common sharp-tailed snake of interior lands or the forest sharp-tailed snakes of more coastal areas.

Curly rattlesnake at the curly hose
Contestant #3  
Just another rattler at the barn, on May 20th
Contestant #4  
Another visitor on May 20th. Even without seeing its tail, there are ways to tell that this is a gopher snake instead of a rattlesnake.
Contestant #5  
On May 3rd, a small rattler was curled up by the hose outside the kitchen.  Then there were the twofers: two rattlesnakes made separate appearances in the farmyard on May 12, and a rattler and then a gophersnake appeared on May 20th by the barn and the kitchen hose, respectively. Gee, that's a lot of rattlesnakes. And a rattlesnake has never been featured on the Dipper Ranch walnut label yet. In mid-May there was also a bright orange coast gartersnake in Pasture 1.

Spectacular reptilian orange.
Contestant #6.  
While brushcutting medusa head (an invasive grass) in one of the upper meadows in late May, I saw a flash of bright orange, black and white.  I quickly switched off the brushcutter, set it down and dashed after the color. Yes, it was a California mountain kingsnake. Not only are these snakes a prize to see, but as always when we are mowing, we temporarily capture any snakes or lizards we find in our work area until we are done so we don't accidentally trim the reptile.

California mountain kingsnake upon its return to mowed area. Notice the bulge in the middle -  while waiting for my return after its photoshoot, the kingsnake apparently accepted the lizard offering from a grateful RT.
Contestant #7
It was going to take me two days to mow the medusa head, so I made the kingsnake comfy in a bucket. The next morning I walked it across the street to visit with a construction crew and state park archeologist who were working on the new Mindego Gateway parking lot. Most of them had never seen this California native, and since they were being so careful to protect natural and cultural resources while grading the site, I wanted to show them another natural treasure.

I didn't write about this beautiful kingsnake on the Dipper Ranch blog at the time because Random Truth did such a good job writing about it for his blogsite Nature of a Man. Despite all his travels and time outside, RT had never seen a California mountain kingsnake either. He too got a chance to visit with the snake while I finished cutting the medusa head. And, wow, the photos he posted at NoaM are amazing. This California kingsnake was small compared to the two I saw in the previous two years. I was pleased to realize this indicates the California kingsnakes are successfully breeding here. 

But before you get all starry-eyed about the California mountain kingsnake, I would like to point out that another California mountain kingsnake was featured on the Dipper Ranch walnut label last year, so share the fame and make sure to give the rattlesnakes a shake at appearing on this year's label. Such as the rattlesnake that showed up in the farmyard on June 2. Since this was the fifth rattlesnake of the year and the average annual number of rattlesnakes I've seen at the Dipper Ranch over the past five years is five, I loudly announced to the Dipper environs that I had had my share of rattlesnakes for the year and there would be no more rattlesnakes at the farm house in 2013. It seemed to work. At least for a few months.

[video removed until I figure out how to load better quality]

June 29 was a very hot day, so I watered the pots on the porch. A few minutes later I returned from likewise filling the birdbaths. Tralalalala. On the concrete pad beneath the dripping pots, a shallow puddle had formed in which I was very surprised to see a coast gartersnake. Then suddenly, a long gopher snake came shooting out from the buckeye tree and rolled right over the coast gartersnake. I thought there was going to be a battle, but the gopher snake just kept moving and the gartersnake was drinking.

Coast gartersnake after its puddle soaking.
Contestant #8
July 2 there was a long gopher snake in the yard, probably the same one I had seen a few days earlier. That long fellow was cruising the yard like it owned it. And then there was a long mostly snakeless break until the end of August.  Just in time for visitors, a small rattlesnake showed up in the bottom of the springbox. Although the springbox has been the fount of many a rescued snake, never before have I seen a rattlesnake there. I invited my friends to help retrieve and relocate the rattlesnake. Even the shepherdess who is terrified of snakes was fascinated by the highly crenelated edges of the diamonds on this snake before it zoomed off into the bushes.

Small rattlesnake in the bottom of the springbox. Check out the scalloped edges on its diamond shapes at the top of photo.
Contestant #9
There were two more rattlesnakes in the barn last weekend which I caught and relocated with much cursing and no good photos.

Okay, those are the candidates for the 2013 Dipper Ranch walnut label. Vote away in the comments below. And, ahem, I just want to repeat, that the rattlesnakes are still waiting to be represented.

November 23, 2013 UPDATE:  voting has closed and the forest sharp-tailed snake wins by a scale.  Jean who voted on November 3 was selected by a random number generator and wins the bag of walnuts.  I'll post the new label soon.

Rattler waiting for release.
Contestant #10

Northern Pacific rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus oreganus
Common sharp-tailed snake, Contia tenuis
Forest sharp-tailed snake, Contia longicaudae
Pacific gopher snake, Pituophis catenifer
California mountain kingsnake, Lampropeltis zonata
Coast gartersnake, Thamnophis elegans terrestris


  1. Forest sharpie! It's a new species, and longicaudae has a nice ring to it.

  2. Anything with "forest" in it gets my vote [nods]. Forest sharp-tailed snake for me.

  3. Karen said "Gosh this is tough, so many good choices! But I have to go with #9 : )"

  4. From Ellen...
    I vote for #7: the CA Kingsnake, b/c it showed up while you were mowing meduse head.
    If I was meduse this would be my hair color :)

  5. I am going to go with #1 because of its creative use of the surrounding vegetation.

    1. Yah, that's right. There's gotta be some good in the Italian thistle.

  6. My favorite picture is #9. I like the colors and the snake shows well.

  7. I like #9, but number 4 gets my vote. It has a certain, I don't know what.

  8. The sharp-tail is tempting, and #1 is so great!! But #9 gets my vote for marketing the walnuts.

  9. My vote goes to number #4

  10. Contestant #2, Forest Sharp-tailed Snake. Never seen this one. Way cool!! (Brooke Miller)

  11. Nearly went for the curly hose, but number 2 for me. An ID challenge and beautifully subtle colours.

  12. The votes have been going up and down and we currently have a tie between contestant #2 the forest sharp-tailed snake and contestant #9 the crenulated rattlesnake from the springbox. We had our walnut harvest party last weekend and I cracked the first batch of 2013 walnuts (which have been drying for 2 weeks) this week. They're good. I'll leave the voting open for about another week especially since I am busy with a night-time visitor in my attic.

  13. Florida Jean votes #2

  14. #6 is my favorite. Looks like an elegant and friendly chap with a good sense of how to pose for the camera. And does my vote count twice because I am your sister? --Mary

  15. Number 6 for color and texture!

  16. Eileen is going with #10 for pose and poise :)

  17. I like #9 best, although 4,6, or 8 would also make great labels.

  18. I vote for #2, the delicate, slender and so small forest sharp-tailed snake! I've never seen one before. Sandy M.


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