Well, that Baby Rattlesnake was a Surprise, 05-10-17

I got up early this morning, and headed out to the American River Bend Park around 6:30 am for a walk. It was gorgeous outside today; 53º when I headed out, and high of 69º all day with a slight breeze…

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At the River Bend Park, I was looking for Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, and they were in abundance. I think they’ll start going into their chrysalises in another week or so; they’re getting so big and fat.

The wild grasses throughout the park are waist high in most places, and there were lots and lots of Dog-Tail Grass and Rattlesnake (Big Quaking) Grass everywhere; more than I had ever seen there before. (And that, I’m assuming is because of all of the rain we had earlier in the year.) I was surprised to see Miniature Lupine, Tule Peas, Elegant Clarkia and Bush Monkey Flowers still in bloom in some places, along with all of the common vetch and the Woodland Stars…

I found a pair of House Wrens tending to their babies and bringing them all sorts of bugs.  Once I figured out where the nest was (in a tree cavity) I stood next to the tree for a little while – and I could actually hear the babies making their raspy “feed me” noises inside the tree.  Hah!

Some interesting/weird/neat things along the walk included being able to see green bunny poop for the first time.  Rabbits and hares usually poop twice. The first time they do it, the pellets are green… and then the rabbit or hare eats the pellets and puts them through their digestive system a second time to make sure they get all of the nutrients out of them. When the animal poops a second time, the pellets are brown. (I must’ve scared the rabbit off before it had a chance to re-eat it droppings) … I’d never seen the green version before, so I thought that was neat. I know, I know… it takes a “naturalist” to get excited about bunny poop.  Hah-2!

The second odd thing was a female Mallard sitting in a tree. Mallards usually nest on the ground and sometimes on floating mats near the water, but this one was checking out a spot in a tree near the riverside. Flood waters early in the year, had brought grassy debris into the branches about halfway up the tree, and when the waters retreated, the grassy mass was left behind.  The mama Mallard was checking it out… poking around in the mass, pushing on spots, settling down and then standing again, like she was testing to see if it would work for her.  Papa Mallard was in the water below the branches, fussing and splashing around, like he did want her in the tree.  Eventually, she left the site and went down to meet the male in the water.  They swam off together, and then I saw mama flying off across the river. They must’ve had a fight about it.  Hah-3!

The third thing was a real surprise. I was looking over a tree that had been felled by a beaver, when I saw a “thin black thing” flicking out from under the dislocated shaggy bark on the side of the tree.  At first I thought it was an earwig’s butt… but it was moving too fast. So I looked closer and realized it was forked tongue! Then I could see the snake’s face but not its body, so at first I didn’t know what kind of snake it was. Good thing I didn’t reach for it! I knew the rattlers were emerging and having babies this time of year, so I got a stick and lifted the bark over the tree… and there was a baby rattlesnake!  He was so young he only had one button on his tail… and he wasn’t rattling at me… Baby rattlers are usually born in groups, so I figured where there was one, there might be more, so I backed away from the tree and headed back to the car.  I actually walked for about 3 ½ hours up to that point, so I’d gotten a lot of good exercise in already.

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Mary K. Hanson is a breast cancer survivor who, at age 61, took coursework to become a Certified California Naturalist. The author of “The Chubby Woman’s Walkabout”™ blog, Ms. Hanson has also written nature-based feature articles published in regional newspapers, authored over ten books, including her "Cool Stuff Along the American" series of guide books, and has had her photographs featured in books, articles, calendars, on the American River Parkway Foundation’s Instagram stream, and even the White House blog. This year Ms. Hanson is helping to launch and teach a new Certified California Naturalist course through Tuleyome, in partnership with the University of California and the Woodland Library, so members of the public can themselves become certified as naturalists in the state. All of the photos seen on her website were taken by Ms. Hanson herself (unless noted otherwise) with moderate- to low-end photographic equipment more easily affordable to the everyday nature enthusiast. She also occasionally leads photo-walks through the American River Bend Park for the public and is sometimes available for public speaking.