Monday, June 29, 2009

Two Snakes a Day

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. Photo by Sandy Skeba

I hadn't seen a snake in a long time, except for the couple of little bullsnakes encountered on the levee, warming up in the morning sun. In New Mexico, on coolish mornings, these guys sometimes crawl onto the road to soak up some rays and warm up their blood. A longtime resident, I am accustomed to keeping an eye out for this particular road hazard. I had just finished with a long bird survey in pinyon-juniper country one day last week, and was looking forward to getting home and moving along with my day. The road was poor and travel slow, so I picked up the speed a little when it improved to something more than a two-track but still less than a graded dirt road, perhaps 10 miles an hour. As I rounded the corner of a pinyon tree, there he was, stretched out across the road, a bullsnake about 5 feet long. I tried, but failed, to stop in time. It's heartbreaking to strike a probably lethal blow to an innocent animal that does a good job of keeping rodent populations in check. I can only hope that the very soft sand helped to cushion the blow.

So, moving on and closer to home on a paved road, I was startled to see yet another snake in the road, obviously injured but still alive. My conscience was already berating me for my prior mistake and, without thinking, I pulled over to assess the situation. This time it was a little snake, a little western diamondback to be exact. He had a head injury but was very much alive. Hmmm! To leave him would mean certain death and I couldn't have two lives on my checklist in one day. But, being of the poisonous variety, caution was essential. I got out the very long pole that allows my spare tire to drop, one that has a sort of hook on the end. Little snake lunged, but I was well out of his way. I scooted him/her to the side of the road, but was still concerned about the odds for survival.

Now, in Albuquerque there is a wonderful organization that rescues and rehabilitates snakes, the International American Rattlesnake Museum in Old Town. So, I knew that if I could capture little snake, I could take it there and they would take care of it. But, how to catch a poisonous snake - albeit an injured one.

We 'green' sort of people have taken to carrying our own totes to the grocery store so as to not waste more petroleum products. And, being of a quilterly teaching sort, my extra room is chock full of totes. A bunch were in the back of the car including one of my favorites that was especially roomy. The big bag, tipped on its side with the opening toward little snake, seemed to be perfect. The long, hooked pole once again did the job and scooted little snake into the bag. Quite proud now, I picked up the bag and tied the handles together. Little snake rattled. The tied handles left open the ends and little snake could have escaped if it so desired. Bag one went into bag two with more ties. We drove home and I wondered if little snake had succumbed already. But, while carrying the bag into the house, I heard the tiniest of rattles. This time, a pillowcase did the trick. No accidental release of a rattler in the house!

Later, the Rattlesnake Museum let me know that little snake had NOT been hit by a car but more likely had been struck in the head by a rock thrown by some inconsiderate human with a distaste for all things reptile. He was off to get X-rays last I heard, with a moderate prognosis for survival. I hope that I don't ever get to have that sort of a day again!