This time of year at Muleshoe, it’s not hard to see snakes every day if you mean to. Even though it’s hot and dry and they aren’t moving much, we have a couple of “regulars” that hang around headquarters as well as four snakes that we radio-track. And even though the monsoon has not yet arrived, there are still some interesting things happening out there. What follows is an excerpt from my field notes from 6/8/13:
Saturday, 8 June 2013
Muleshoe Ranch, Cochise County, Arizona
I left the house in the morning to open up the front gate, and immediately spooked an adult eastern patch-nosed snake at the top of the driveway. On the return trip from the gate, FiveLong (female western diamond-backed rattlesnake) was coiled in her usual spot by the driveway puddle.
I worked in the office all day today and when I went to close the gate at 4pm, FiveLong was no longer there.
At about 6pm I decided to wander downstream for some tracking. Luna (female Arizona black rattlesnake) had just shed yesterday, so I figured she might make a move on me. I was right – I tracked her down to the middle of Hot Springs Wash, where she was tongue flicking around some exposed roots and surface debris in the active channel. She was so big and black I thought it couldn’t be her, but I zoomed in on a photo of her rattle and I could see her yellow paint mark.
She paused when she saw me, but I held still and she resumed her searching. I realized this was the first time I have ever seen this snake on the slink. The other times I have seen her she’s invariably coiled or otherwise resting in difficult to glimpse spots. And while she looks stout and healthy, she does not have the bottom-heavy look of a pregnant snake, in contrast to what her spring behavior suggested (she stayed in rocky uplands and appeared not to do much hunting).
After 10-15 minutes of watching Luna, I looked upstream and saw movement – another Arizona black rattlesnake! It was only about 20 yards away, so I walked up with the camera and snapped some photos. From his rattle I recognized him as Boyett (male), who we had radio-tracked for a year (Sep 2011 – Sep 2012). In that year, we were never aware of him venturing to this part of the canyon, so it was a little surprising to bump into him here. Good to see you again Boyett! He was not nearly as happy to see me, and he hustled up the bank and away into cover.
I packed up my gear and tuned in Bane who has been very nearby. Sure enough, his signal came from a huge downed cottonwood trunk. He has been here before, so I knew where to look from afar. Yep, he was coiled in the same spot under the corner of the roots. Or was he? A second snake was coiled in the open, less than 2 yards away. This one was big and black, as opposed to the other, which was quite gray and patterned; both appeared big enough to be Bane. I penetrated the brush for a closer look, and was able to see suture on the big black one coiled in the open. But who was the other? I approached with tongs and gently lifted a flank. I glimpsed the paint on his rattle and released the tongs. It’s Cletus, originally found nearby almost a full year ago. What are they doing so close to each other? Cletus, at the edge of cover, unfurled and headed partially under the log and paused, but didn’t get very far by the time I had backed away.
Four adult Arizona black rattlesnakes shared a mere 50 yard stretch of the canyon. While such proximity is certainly nothing unusual at a communal den’s spring emergence, this time of year finding snakes near one another is just happy coincidence. But Bane and Cletus a mere 2 yards apart, both in hunting postures and each quite possibly visible to one another, was unusual, and makes one wonder about the sort of relationships these snakes maintain throughout the year.