Birdspot. On the road. Drawing birds.


from CLH:

“Is it genetic or environmental? Or both?

The saga of the snake:

Last night Shadow [dog] was barking up a storm out by the back door, and it was really annoying. So I went back there to get her inside. Opened the door and called. She wouldn’t come in at first, then made a wide circle around the steps to the wall and slid inside. By then I’d realized what the problem was – a cute little snake curled(?) up on the step. It seemed to have a dark body with light bands. Both dogs were now inside so I closed the dog door, shut them out of the back hall and went for my camera, curious as to just what sort of snake it was.

Here’s where it gets downright Darwinian. Your balance-challenged, hyper-reflexive mother, camera in hand, set out to negotiate back porch steps that were illuminated only by a porch light obstructed by the open door. Started having suspicions when that little snake half-struck at me as I stepped over it. There I was, one foot on the concrete step about two feet from the snake, the other foot on the ground, not feeling all that steady. Took a few moments to center myself so I could get both feet out into the yard so I could crouch to take pictures. That was when I saw that the light bands were a more pronounced pattern. Really getting suspicious now.

After the photo session I climbed back up onto the porch and looked down on the little fellow, who was vigorously shaking his tail at me. Because this photo makes him look huge and ferocious I have to give the whole episode some scale. Coiled up, that little snake was about the size of my hand. Its body was a smidge bigger in diameter than my thumb. Wasn’t until I was back inside and downloaded the pictures that I realized for sure that I had been dealing with a beautiful baby diamondback. And he wasn’t just curled up on the warm concrete, he was mad. If that baby tail had had more than one rattle on it, he would have been making noise.”

link to rattlesnake photo here. I’m so jealous she got a photo and I didn’t…

41 Responses to “sep 2”

  1. CLH: Glad you are OK, but is is a GREAT photo. Though the snake was a youngin’, you still have to be really careful. They have the same venom, and herpetologists have DIED by being bitten by a baby snake and not realizing how serious the bite was. SEE: Joe Slowinski and the mis-ID’d baby krait.

  2. Great picture!
    Perhaps it was seeking Cathy, its play-buddy?
    Or collecting data on how high the Hamilton family jumps?

  3. Betty: I’ve told Cathy she has to stop letting animals follow her home . . .

    Mark: Believe me, I spent a lot of sleepless time that night realizing what could have gone wrong, and there was a lot to realize. I’ve been told that babies are even worse than grownup rattlers because they haven’t learned to modulate their venom pumping yet. He was handsome, though.

  4. Beautiful snake. AND fully photo documented. The other problem with young snakes is that the puncture wound from the fangs may be so small that it cannot be detected, and therefore is ignored. I am going to be taking my birding class to a “den” of rattlers in the Berkshires in a few weeks, but we will be fully prepared and wearing boots et. What’s next? A cougar in your kitchen?

  5. Somewhere on my hard drive I have one man’s too brief account of a lifetime spent tracking cougars and killing the ones that started attacking people. It’s one of the best pieces of journalism I’ve ever read, and I’m saving the best parts so I can rework them into a story someday, but the intelligence (burying the carcasses of victims, constantly doubling back on itself as it moves to avoid being tracked) and speed of the cougar were beyond belief.

    The narrator found a woman who had been eaten alive by a cougar and half-buried before he got to her. I can’t remember the description of her injuries, but they were terrible. “I’m dying,” was all she said, and she was gone.

    The central moment of the story is when the narrator is himself attacked. He sees a cougar at the edge of some trees and he backs away from it toward his car, a dozen yards or more. Gets his keys out still looking at it. In the moment it takes him to turn and put the keys in the lock, the cougar closes the distance, and he feels what he describes as a baseball bat swung full-force to the back of his neck. Its teeth are in his neck and shoulder and it begins shaking him, just like a dog would, to try and break his neck. I can’t exactly remember what he said he thought then (probably an “I’m done for” rather than the more romantic “my race is run” or similar), but he was absolutely certain that he would die. He didn’t.

  6. funny – when the earthquake hit in LA, my first thought: “It sounds like a large animal has just landed on the roof – could it possibly be a cougar?”

    I have no idea why I thought that.

  7. There was a woman I met years ago, Jenny Fyfield, who spent some time trying to document that cougars were still extant in Massachusetts. There have been persistant visual reports for many decades, especially from the Quabbin area, but initially they were treated like sightings of the Mothman. Now, people are not so sure and alleged pug marks et have been found. The question is whether they are wild, or someone’s escaped “pet”. Some years ago we found an odd deer kill at Quabbin that she looked at and it ended up having all the earmarks of a cougar kill, as opposed to a bobcat or coyote kill. It is amazing to me how really large wild mammals can live in the small state of Massachusetts and not be seen. MOOSE, considered really rare and accidental and extralimital 20 years ago, have now established a viable population here, and if you get up early from Quabbin to the Berks in the right spots, you have a good chance of seeing one. Moose tracks and scat are now a common find. FISHERS, formerly considered a “wilderness” species, have moved into more urban areas all the way to Boston, including Broad Meadow Brook here in the city, where they subsist on pet cats and dogs. I just found out Fish and Wildlife shot a WOLF last year, though in that case I have to believe it was an escaped pet.
    Jesse: I confess I am ambivalent about shooting cougars who have developed a taste for humans. We could use more culling than they do. I have an ever-growing list of potential cougar bait as I write this.


  8. MARK: I agree. I’m definitely from the Edward Abbey school of thought. 2 favorite points (completely as I see them and not as he wrote them):

    * humans need to possess a much larger set of capabilities (hunting with bow and arrow, navigating by the stars, glissading down a glacier) than most of us currently possess

    * these capabilities should allow us to exist in nature without permanently altering it (hiking out to the Grand Canyon instead of driving your car up to a parking lot on the edge)

  9. Jesse: Laudable points, yes, but I am just thinking of an ever growing list of folks that, well, to be honest, I don’t think I would mind quite so much if they were devoured by a cougar. Slowly if possible with maximum crunching of bones and smacking of feline lips. You may have your own list. I may be just a teetch cranky cuz the (exterior) house painters are here and there is no quiet, privacy et. and I cannot read and write and I have deadlines et. I am getting edgy. There is an old book, DANGEROUS TO MAN, that I read as a kid that had reports of people being devoured by giant land crabs in the Pacific and I remember the author stating that perhaps the worst fate of all would be devoured slowly by some huge jellyfish, if that could be arranged. For the Catherine list of “How the Stupid Get into Trouble”, there is, of course , the sole idiot that managed to get pricked by the spur on the foot of a Platypus and died, the only case of “death by monotreme” I think on record. BTW: Catherine, your mother does NOT belong under that heading! Shame on you!

  10. “What’s next? A cougar in your kitchen?”

    With the dog door anything’s possible but a skunk or raccoon is more likely, or a coyote. Cougars have been sighted at JPL (about 5 miles west of here, where I worked for many years), some on the wilderness edge and at least one quite far down rooting in the dumpsters. Gave the night-shift flight ops folks some pause . . .

  11. “BTW: Catherine, your mother does NOT belong under that heading! Shame on you!”

    Ah, Mark, if you only knew the bounds of my S T O O P I D I T Y that night. I, not Cathy, was the one who put me on the list.

  12. Mark: Speaking of lists, can I add some names to your jellyfish-devouring one?

  13. This has been bothering me for quite a while. Maybe primatologists can help. There was a Ancient Roman punishment (usually for parricide) that involved being drowned in a leather sack with a rooster, a wild dog, a snake, and a monkey. I can understand the wild dog (painful biting) and the snake (painful biting, plus poison), but why the other two? Any ideas?

    MARK: I don’t think I know that one, but as a kid I was scared by pictures of giant clams closing on ankles (in reality, next to impossible) and terrified by lion’s mane jellyfish and (even worse, for various reasons including size, color, and the eerie strangeness of the name) the Portugese man-of-war. There was even a book of illustrated puns (I think) that showed the undertow as a disembodied subaqueous foot that would grab you and pull you under. I hated that one.

  14. CLH: Do you have SPOTTED SKUNKS or STRIPED SKUNKS? I believe both species are found in CA. One thing I have always wanted to see is when SPOTTED SKUNKS spray: they do a HANDSTAND! I have seen pictures, and it looks hilarious. Which for me would lead to an event that would likely later be filed under Catherine’s “When Stupid People Get Maimed or Killed..or Sprayed”. I think I would be so fascinated by a skunk walking towards me on its fore paws, tail in the air, I would likely get nailed. To make matters worse, I have a soft spot for all of the mustelid clan, skunks, weasels, otters, wolverines and have been known to feed the skunks in our own backyard. They love cheese! There must be lots of wildlife at JPL: anyplace with that much space is bound to attract all sorts of stuff.

  15. Mark:

    Striped skunks -they’re pretty funny too while spraying, front feet stamping and rear in the air.

    It’s probably the deer that draw in the cougars to JPL. At dusk they (the deer) wander at will between the cars in all the parking lots. There’s even a ‘deer crossing’ sign on the main road into the Lab. To my knowledge they’ve never sighted a bear though.

  16. Jesse:

    Roosters (a la cockfights) have mean spurs and know how to use them. Wouldn’t want to share a sack with one. As for the monkeys – razor sharp canines make for painful bites. Grasping hands mean you can’t get away. All four critters in the same sack seem overkill to me. One would think they’d do as much damage to each other as to the poor executee, but then that might be the point – draw out the proceedings as much as possible.

  17. The belt sanders have stopped on the front door and windows, so it no longer sounds like I am inside a mouth having a root canal. Whew!
    JESSE: It’s amazing, but several 40s.50s “jungle movies” and even the old TV series “Jungle Jim” featured people getting thier legs trapped in Giant Clams. Those images have stayed with me all my life. I finally got to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef and saw what I believe were Giant Clams (they were (1) clams; (2)they were indeed GIANT and (3) had that great ripply lip going on the two shells). You would have to be President For (YOUR SHORT) Life of Catherine’s STUPID, MAIMED, KILLED CLUB to find a way to get your foot in there. But now that I think of it, I have seen shorebirds in terrible distress with one of thier feet locked tight inside various bivalves and there are several well-documented cases of mollusk-eating waterfowl like scoters and eiders dying because a clam or mussel has clamped on thier tongue and not let go. Yeow!!! DEATH BY BIVALVE!! Of course I am sure all of us have at one point eaten “bad clams” and that certainly has felt like “DEATH BY CLAMS”. I swore off after my last bout decades ago and have never gone back unless the clams are in a mixed dish like zarzuela.

    CLH: The “Death By Jellyfish” list. Heh-heh-heh. Yes, I am sure we ALL have such a list, and are “checking it twice”. Care to make any of your list public?

    Jesse: it’s the wierd unsubstantial jelatinous textural nature of jellyfish that make them so distressing to so many. SEE: Barbara Hurd’s essay on jellyfish in her latest wonderful collection of short pieces WALKING THE WRACK LINE.


  18. CLH: Skunks stamping feet. Now according to sources, the SPOTTED SKUNKS also stamp their feet WHILE DOING THE HANDSTAND!!! How can that possibly work????

    Jesse: RE: The Ancient Roman sack o’ chaos:
    1. Sounds like the beginning of some bad ancient joke: “so, Plautus, this rooster, this snake, a dog AND a monkey walk into the forum. The senator says: quick jump in this bag, here comes Apicus!…” you finish the rest.
    2. It actually sounds like everything is supposed to be chasing and biting everything else and the human is caught in the middle: the snake bites the rooster, the rooster pecks the monkey, the monkey pulls the dog’s tail, EVERYONE get’s PO’d and wails on the human. Piggy won’t go over the style, and I shan’t get home tonight.
    3. But most likely, it’s all symbolic. Roosters were omenic creatures (see ornithomancy); snakes were Cthonic symbols; et et.
    4. “the monkey thought it was all in fun…” POP


  19. cool – more community blogging:

    posted a lovely photo of a gray tree frog (not a death-by-sack species) from betty:

  20. Kids, kids –

    Have you HEARD this? The new album from Brian Wilson. “Good Kind Of Love” sealed it. Ringing plangent chords shot through with a new and realest, most unselfconscious swing. Heart’s ease. I’m exquisitely happy.

    There are engines of healing ancient since the world began, and one of them, Brian Wilson, that Californian, in the fourth decade of his career, in the two thousand eighth year of the common era, is giving us some of his best.

  21. And the sack-animals posts are great! Thanks!

  22. Jesse:
    So you’re a Brian Wilson freak? THAT explains a LOT!
    Mark, only in his bathrobe to run to the shower

  23. Betty: RE: Treefrog photo. The frog appears really pale and seems to lack the lichenate patterning I am used to in Gray Treefrogs round these parts. Is this a function of lighting? I know they can also do some color changing, is that why? Regional variation? No chance it’s a Canyon, right? (doesn’t look like it).

    RE: Jesse: Oh, a Brian Wilson fanatic, eh? THAT explains a LOT.

    Mark, who likes his bathrobe too, but can’t play the theremin. But these guys can:

  24. Birding in Dis. This is where we went this past weekend:


    Birding with Mephistopheles is one huge drag. But he’s got a great life list.

  25. Hero and major influence on me. :)

  26. theramin good.
    fires of hell bad.

  27. Found this on Gawker. As they thoughtfully point out, it is an ad for an Australian newspaper, and “it’s too bad that it also reinforces the fact that video is way more exciting than print.” We discuss the print-vs.-everything-else-media issue ad nauseam over here, but this paper seems to be sinking its own ship:

  28. Too bad that “dis” is vernacular now. “Dis” is one of the great evocative names: it sounds like hail falling on scarred metal.

  29. Catherine:

    God, that was one big celebration of the end of luddite print culture. Thought problem: OK, write a description of what you just saw. How long would it take to read that? What would it be like to listen to that reading?

    This is a case where the ad “looked cool” with a nice Phillip Glass-esque soundtrack, but no one thought several steps deeper than that, like “what are we actually saying?” It’s like no one there heard of the concept of “subtext”. But, hey, it’s OZ, our earthly simulacrum of the Bizarro World.

  30. PS: forgot to mention, the photo of Satan’s Kingdom was by SHEILA, from her blog:


  31. For Jesse:
    Brian (sans robe) and theremin.

    It was a gentler and simpler time.
    Mark, “what’s this tiny piece of blotter paper with a picture of Mr. Natural on it? Put it under my tongue? OK”

  32. Mark: It is a Gray Tree Frog. The patterning disappears in direct sunlight. I’ve sent Cathy two more photos from a sequence; when Frog is on the old board the “little man” on its back shows, then when Frog hopped onto the house siding in the sun the pattern was not visible. These photos, and many more, were taken in Cathy’s dad’s backyard in College Station, TX. These critters hang out under the lids of the 35 gal garbage cans Chuck uses to collect rainwater. Sometimes there are Green Tree Frogs, too. Canyon Tree Frog is a desert species, WAY out-of-range to the west of here.

  33. Great photos. I have uploaded them to my flickr page so y’all can see them:

  34. In keeping with one of the threads here, it was most amusing to find an article about the venomous Texas snakes on the Outdoors page of our local newspaper today. Quoting, in part, “I have an aunt who lives in a rural area on the outskirts of Abilene. I call it rattlesnake central….On more than one occasion she has found western diamondbacks stretched across her kitchen floor.”

    CLH, Beware!

  35. Betty: Excellent photos, but they do seem to be showing that the frog has changed color. From the Wikipedia site and many others:
    “As their species name Hyla versicolor implies, gray tree frogs are highly variable in color. In their natural habitat, possible colors include gray, yellow, brown and green. The degree of mottling also varies. They can change from nearly black to nearly white. They change colors more slowly than a chameleon. Dead gray tree frogs and ones in unnatural surroundings are predominantly gray in color.” It looks like the frog has become gray because it is on an unnatural background. My recollection of having them as pets (they are common here) is that they were often this color when first put into captivity.
    Are their vocalizations in Texas the same as in the northeast?

  36. MARK: The “pocket symphony” is unbeatable, but wow, that first song was amazing. Somewhere between Brian Wilson and John Frusciante.

    CATHY: I know it’s weird, but that video makes me more anxious than excited. Long explanation here about distrusting photography more than a little and video more still. Especially in the historiographical context!

    Quiz Question. Category: Non-Fiction Film. Difficulty level: high. “Name a well-known documentary that features ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ in the closing credits.”

  37. SHAMPOO? It seemed like a documentary to me.

  38. Theremin – I WANT one!

  39. Theremin: the first time I heard the word, I thought it was an over the counter flu med.

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