Sometimes strange things happen while photographing wildlife. One of the strangest happened in southeastern Arizona. I had hung my portable blind from a tree limb that was close by a water seep. Firmly ensconced inside the blind, I was listening for any noise to alert me to the presence of something coming to the seep. I heard what I thought to be a strange sounding bird. Looking at the trees and finally at the ground, I was startled to see a Diamond-Backed Rattler 18” from my left foot. One moves very quickly and spontaneously in such a situation. Checking the camera, which was upset in the escape movement, I determined that nothing was broken and after cleaning it off, I proceeded to photograph a new subject.
Rattlers are heavy bodied and this one was about five feet long. Heavy bodied snakes are known as “lay in wait” species that ambush prey coming along a pathway. There are 22 species of rattlers in the U.S.A., 2 species of coral snakes, the Copperhead, and the Water Moccasin (Cottonmouth). At that, we are lucky as venomous snakes only make up about 10% of our snake population. Australia has a 90% ratio of venomous serpents.
This classic S position allows the rattler to strike straight out and their retractable fangs puncture and withdraw easily. Australian snakes, like the Taipan, Tiger Snake, Death Adder, and Brown Snake; strike sideways. This is the fastest method, and they can bite you 5 or 6 times before you can remove your hand. Cobras, the most famous of world snakes, strike downward. This is the least fast method, and one reason that they can be used by snake charmers.
The strength of venom is not the most vital factor in a bite. Sea snakes are highly toxic but produce small amounts of poison. As a rule, the bigger the snake, the more venom produced, and therefore the more dangerous. The huge King Cobra produces so much venom that it is the only animal that can kill an adult elephant.
The WESTERN DIAMOND-BACKED RATTLESNAKE at my feet is nicknamed the “coon-tailed” rattler because of the stripes on its tail. This one kept his eyes and head turned toward me, even though my wife, brother, and sister-in-law came running to investigate – tail buzzing loudly all the while. It was loud enough to be heard at the cabin 40 yards away.
This bull ELEPHANT SEAL is mad. His eyes are aflame with irritation and he could do me real damage if he caught me. Such furious eyes – I will never forget them! I thought seals were slow, but I had to sprint to stay ahead of him. I was doing some close-up photography when he suddenly came alive. A girl had been throwing rocks at him in order to get a reaction. She got one all right, but he directed his wrath at me. Thankfully, I didn’t trip, as I dashed across the sand out of range.
Seals can’t sit up like Sea Lions because they don’t have jointed hind appendages. The protection of marine mammals has resulted in an increase of the Great White Shark. ELEPHANT SEALS are the shark’s favorite food and the area around San Francisco has the most shark attacks in the world.
“What a proboscis!”
If I could give another name to “Indian Summer” it would be “The
Time of the Flicker”. The late autumn months are full of much woodpecker
activity in our yard. Especially plentiful is our county’s largest one – the
RED- SHAFTED FLICKER (12 ½ inches long). It’s such an appealing bird with its
poke-a-doted belly, black chest crescent, and red moustache. When in flight, it
flashes the orange/red under parts of its wings and tail (thence its name) and a
conspicuous white rump patch.
As I step outside each morning in autumn, I’m greeted by these birds in
undulating flight – wings flashing color and that white rump patch bobbing up
and down as they scurry to a distant perch. The yard “teems” with an abundance
of these birds.
Flickers like open woodlands and suburban areas. Snags (standing dead trees)
or soft wood trees such as Aspen are preferred when drilling nest cavities.
Their long beaks and tongues facilitate the procurement of ants and other types
of insects – whether on or in the bark of a tree, or on the ground. They also
like fruit and we often see them feeding on our elderberry bushes. Their call is
a loud wik – wik – wik – wik and wick-er, wick-er, wick-er, and a single, loud
The eastern variety (Yellow-Shafted) has yellow under-parts, a black
moustache, and a red crescent on the back of its head.
It’s mesmerizing to fall asleep, or awaken, to a soft hooting in
the early evening, or in the wee morning hours. Such is a common occurrence at
our house. These love calls begin in late fall and result in the laying of four
eggs in late winter. Incubation is started at once and results in separate
hatching times for each egg. This situation is known as a “stairstep” family and
whether all, or part, of the young are raised depends on the food supply. The
biggest baby is always fed first and it will survive even if the others don’t.
When the young fledge, they are ½ again larger than the adults. This allows for
an adjustment period when they are learning to fend for themselves.
The GREAT HORNED OWL is not only “tender” with its own but is very formidable
with others. They can take prey as large as a skunk and I have seen young cats
(in our yard) that have been torn in half. A smack on your head with their
talons could be very injurious.
They are identified by size (22”), a white throat, and ear-like feather
projections. They are quite adaptable and wide spread across North America and
are important rodent controllers. Mice and voles make up the lion’s share of
their diet. Other bird species will often “mob” them during daylight hours. Our
yard and lower tree plots are to their liking and we get to witness the raising
and fledging of young each year.
By Dave Hanks
Tiny little claws grasp and tickle my fingers. It’s a BLACK- CAPPED CHICKADEE – a small bird that is named for its call and black cap. If you are in the woods you hear the call “chick-a-dee-dee-dee”, it is unmistakably this bird.
We have two Chickadee species in Cassia County: the Black-Capped and the Mountain. The Mountain Chickadee is told from the Black-Capped by a white eyebrow stripe and is the more common in our county. Both prefer higher elevation woodlands of both deciduous and coniferous trees. They usually forage in the lower branches where they are often seen feeding by hanging upside down. When not nesting, they gather in huge flocks. They are insectivorous but will come to feeders containing seed.
As you can see, they can also be lured onto ones hand, perch on your camera, or even alight on your head. Following a Chickadee call can lead you to other species, which they tend to feed in a group with; such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, warblers, and kinglets. They may even lead you to owls that are sitting on their daytime roosts. These frisky fellows are a favorite winter visitor to bird feeding stations.
These opportunistic omnivores will eat a wide variety of food. They are widespread across the country, except at high elevations. They are even found in cities. They do, however, prefer riparian areas where they can “chow-down” on all sorts of aquatic lifeforms. You may see them washing their food but it’s not because of hygiene. It’s because they do not have salivary glands.
Their paw construction allows them to grasp things and when they do, they don’t want to let go. Raccoons can handle themselves against dogs. They are also purported to make good pets.
They like dog food, and we lured these in at night. By using the camera’s flash, and my wife shining a flashlight on them, we obtained this photo.
I hear his “rattling” as he flies over our trees on his way to breakfast. Our neighbor has a large pond that is stocked with goldfish. The bird perches on a zip-line cable that is stretched over the pond. He watches below, plunges down and spears a fish, and then flies to a small bridge that leads to an island within the pond. He then smacks the head of the fish against the metal railing to kill it before ingesting it. Having observed this behavior, I set up my portable blind beside the bridge. I get in it each morning, before sunup, for most of a week. The “rattling” alerts me to his presence and I get ready for him to land on the bridge. This gives me the opportunity to get some good Kingfisher photos.
The BELTED KINGFISHER is a species in which the female is the more colorful. She has a rusty red belly stripe. They are 13” long and have a noticeable crest that looks to need “combing”.
They nest in burrows, dug in banks, close to fish inhabited waters. A short tail creates less drag as they exit the water after a dive. I became a Kingfisher lover from the time I first noticed one winging and “rattling” its way above Rock Creek, in southern Twin Falls County.