Sunday, September 13, 2009
Beware of Rattlesnakes
California is home to more snakes - particularly rattlesnakes - than Michigan. Still, I've had only a handful of encounters with wild snakes in the two years I've lived here, which is odd given that I spend so much time outside. Snakes seem to like to keep to themselves, so I suppose I could see more by actively seeking them out. Somewhat to my disappointment, I've seen only one rattlesnake in California, a South Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri) that I saw briefly at Peters Canyon last fall. Last week, I had my second-ever encounter with this species, again at Peters Canyon.
I've fallen into the habit of biking to Peters Canyon Regional Park several times a week to scope the lake to see what new waterbirds have arrived. One day last week, as I was jarring my way down the rough trail on my mountain bike toward a viewpoint of the lake, I looked down to see an enormous rattlesnake draped across the trail only a couple feet in front of my front tire! My mountain bike needs new brake pads, but I stopped on a dime despite my old brakes. The snake nonchalantly slithered off under some nearby bushes, and when I stuck my head down there to check it out, I spotted it coiled up, staring at me.
Eventually it came back out, quickly crossing the trail to another bush where in hunkered down to escape the small crowd that had gathered to watch the snake. I was down on my belly a few feet from the snake, avidly photographing it. The bystanders, obviously less educated about snakes, stood well over ten feet back, jumping whenever the snake made the slightest move.
This snake was surprisingly laid back, not appearing to mind when I joined it under the bush to photograph it from about a yard away. Some venomous snakes are much more aggressive, so don't try that with any old snake. After a couple minutes I left him in peace. All the birds I saw after that couldn't compare to this rattlesnake!