March 20, 2017

Why no kids? Rattlesnakes!

Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve had rattlesnakes on the brain for the last few days.

Timber rattlesnakesCrotalus horridus.

And even Massassagua rattlesnakes. Sistrurus catenatus.

It’s spring in the Adirondacks, and spring means critters, LOTS of critters. I witnessed a hawk shredding a live pigeon about three feet from our breakfast table before my bride donned her pink dish washing gloves, chased the hawk away and saved the wounded pigeon. Sort of. It died, but not in the hands of a vicious raptor.

The hawk’s an efficient and frequent diner at Rosslyn, and judging by the fresh piles of pigeon feathers every few days, we’re up to a half dozen in just two or three weeks.

And two nights ago we startled an ermine imitating a boa constrictor, coiled tightly around the bird feeder. I’m not sure if he was digesting a woodpecker, suet or birdseed.

A little earlier in the spring we had a red fox that cleared out about a half dozen squirrels.

Spring. Critters. Predation…

All of this backyard safari action got me to thinking about kids. Actually, it got me thinking about kids and predators.

Especially the hawk. That bird was a killer. And powerful.

Wikipedia doesn’t list human children as part of the diet of any of these critters, so I should be relieved. I mean, I don’t even have any kids to get eaten alive by a hawk.

And yet while whipping up a couple of posts about rattlesnakes, in particular one massive and extremely lethal looking serpent who appeared and promptly vanished in my rhubarb patch three years ago, I realized that it’s a pretty major relief not to have to worry about these critters getting hold of my own progeny.

I haven’t successfully identified the snake, but I suspect it was a rattlesnake.

I now suspect that I may have spotted a massasauga rattlesnake with markings totally unlike our local Adirondack timber rattlesnakes. (Rosslyn Redux)

Rattlesnakes! (Cochiti Pueblo, NM)

Rattlesnakes! (Photo credit: virtualDavis)

I’m probably wrong. Odds are it was a timber rattlesnake (we have a large, healthy breeding population just a few miles up the road) with unusual coloring for our area. Or possibly, at least in the opinions of some naturalists I’ve spoken to, it was a Northern Copperhead that had wiggled a bit north of their usual northern limit which is apparently a couple of hours south around New Paltz, New York. Global warming?

Lest you’re missing the bottom line, these cool looking snakes are all venomous. (Read poisonous.) Adult fatalities are rare if medical attention is immediate. But kids? Especially little bitty kids? The odds are a bit spookier.

Fortunately rattlesnakes tend to be reserved, preferring to avoid contact and altercations.

Most resources concur that timber rattlesnakes only strike if/when provoked. And common sense should compel anyone happening upon a timber rattlesnake in the wild to avoid provoking it. If the snake is behaving aggressively, coiling and preparing to strike — perhaps even false striking — its defensive behavior indicates that it perceives a threat. Avoid further threatening the snake and withdraw cautiously, slowly. In all likelihood the rattlesnake, no matter how large and menacing, will slither off without striking. (Essex on Lake Champlain)

Good news as long as your tyke is prudent. But it’s a bit of a gamble, no?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m no alarmist. I grew up in the Adirondacks’s Champlain Valley a short bicycle ride away, and I never had to ward off a hungry hawk or get pumped full of anti-venom to save my bacon. But I could have…

So, rather than worrying all the conscientious parents out there who are 100% attentive, shepherding their kids through life’s wilderness perils, I’m just taking a moment to savor the profound relief I feel about never having to worry that junior could stumble across that 3+ foot long snake in my rhubarb patch. The one that’s probably poisonous.

Have a great week!