9 October 2012
Once again we let Marty Feldner, and his little ringtail, do the talking. I'll add some comments at the end, and bring out my own rant about this last weekend later in the week.
With Quailmageddon 2012 upon us the decision was made to track snakes only during the nights of October 5 & 6 instead of during the day when hunters could see where we were hanging flags and, thereby, acquiring a completely different kind of target to kill...not that hunters EVER just shoot something to shoot something. Sometimes they use gas and set fire to those targets. Or use rocks. I'm not at all against hunting; there's little I like more to eat than game meat and given sufficient freezer space will happily participate in future hunting expeditions. And, yes, I know it is unfair to characterize all hunters as ones with the redneck mentality to kill anything that slithers BUT it makes no sense to take chances given knowledge of past incidences of ignorant and unnecessary snake killings by orange and camo-clad consumers of crappy canned American beer.
Arriving at the site Friday evening Roger and I were pleasantly surprised to find the site devoid of hunters and conditions beautiful for a night's stroll tracking snakes amongst the saguaros. Enjoying another outstanding sunset while mass signaling from the top of IMH I split from Roger to head after CT13. Due to how close CT13 appeared from her signal strength and how easy she'd be to get Roger was even kind enough to offer to open the data sheet he gave me. What a guy!...but then the tracking took place. She wasn't far, really, but she was in some of the rockier and more difficult terrain to traverse. No problem, and even though she wasn't visible, I got to spend more time with my furry tracking buddy. The ringtail showed up as I was changing batteries in the GPS before continuing on my circuitous route that would bring me back to the same general area on IMH to track the last snake of the night, CT12. On to the images which combine both nights of tracking.
Ringtail1-3 10-5-2012: At this point it wouldn't surprise me if people were starting to think, "Another damn ringtail report?" Yep, the novelty of one of the coolest nocturnal mammals that can't eat me has yet to wear off. We hung out for 10-15 minutes before I headed off. During that time, as the first picture indicates where there's a head peeking out of the space between boulders near my foot, the ringtail was even more comfortable to come near me. As I watched this lithe little mammal I couldn't help but be impressed with how fluidly and effortlessly it moved over and through the rocks checking out cracks, investigating opening and poking around attendant to its duties as a ringtail. It even stopped moving (second image) and laid down a couple meters from me at the edge of the rock ridge where CT13 resides. The last image shows the ringtail next to CT13's flag in front of the antenna. The next night the ringtail returned to keep myself and Jon Davis company and investigated the flag, nosing it and pulling at it with its teeth. CT13, again, wasn't visible and hadn't moved. The previous week CT13 had been on the E/SE slope of IMH, this week she was on the north slope at the east end of IMH.
CT11 10-6-2012: Male tiger CT11 was at a new site still on the bajada to the E/SE of IMH and occupied the same site both nights. I didn't get a visual on Friday night but saw him on Saturday night in a coiled hunting posture deep in prickly pear where he's looking to be in great health.
CM14-CM17 Copulation1-6 10-5-2012: CM11, Gus, has been associating with a big-headed female since at least September 16, making this the fourth weekend in a row of tracking where he's either been seen with, or thought to be with, the newest molossus to the study, CM17. And, she doesn't just have a big head. She's big all over. Not big in the same way as a fat girl that calls herself curvy...because she's actually attractive to the boys, or at least Gus. On Friday, a little after 2000h, I stumbled upon a romantic tryst involving spikey toys and wang-pulling.The 6 picture series shows CM11 and CM17 at their chosen nooky site of a cholla and stick midden built inside a prickly pear on Little Hill. The two had moved south and out of the wash occupied for the last two weekends. I watched for a little over 30 minutes as Gus chin-rubbed his way in jerking motions up and down CM17's flanks and back tongue-flicking as he went. At one point when I moved in to take a picture CM17 changed her position from being on CM11's left side to his right side, pulling him by his wang through cholla segments and prickly pear as she went, to move closer to where I was. Rattlesnakes are curious and I've had them change positions or exit refuge sites to investigate me and that is very much what it seemed CM17 was doing. 13 hours later Roger and I visited the snakes to find them still locked up...at least until CM17 saw Roger and ejected CM11's hemipene in a fashion similar to torpedo being blown out of a submarine's firing tube. He does have a way with the ladies! Now free of the cloacal embrace we decided to capture CM17 to increase molossus in the study to 3 adult males, 3 adult females, and 1 subadult male. When we took a mass CM17 weighed in at a whopping 746g.
CA133 10-5-2012: CA133 has moved from a wash island in Suizo Wash NE of IMH to just south of Suizo Wash and is now in a tributary wash leading to Suizo Wash E of IMH. She was in a coiled hunting posture a couple meters away from a wash edge coiled under vegetation when found. During data recording she relocated to the base of a small mesquite and coiled about 2m away.
Atrox and CT12 10-5-2012: Tracking female tiger CT12 brought me back to IMH where Roger was downhill tracking female molossus CM15. In trying to have a conversation with Roger from a distance I blew past CT12's location but in doubling back encountered an atrox coiled atop boulders that looked like a young male. CT12 was found not far away in a diagonal crack in a large boulder in a heads-up hunting posture. When tracked Saturday night she had moved a few meters uphill to a soil burrow associated with a large rock outcrop. It's interesting that the movements of female tigers CT12 and CT13 in terms of when they moved to IMH and what part of the hill they are using have often been similar during the last month.
CT14 10-6-2012: Roger and I woke Saturday morning to a surprising silence. We attributed hunter wussiness to the heat, but no matter what the cause, we were happy for it. The previous night we couldn't get signals for male molossus CM14 or male tiger CT14. We knew CM14 had relocated to the first canyon in the Suizos proper so we set out to track him, found that he'd moved a short distance, but was not visible. Then we tuned in CT14's signal and it came in loud and strong and, fortunately, in the direction towards the truck. CT14 was coiled underneath a small boulder on a west facing slope. Now the question is, does this become the overwintering canyon for the 14s? Or, will we see either of these snakes return to IMH?
CM15 10-6-2012: CM15 has moved from the foot of the eastern slope of IMH the previous week to an area on the north slope of IMH. She was in a coiled hunting posture in some dense vegetation when Jon spotted her.
Sunday morning we woke to the serenade of shotgun shells being spit over the Sonoran landscape and packed it up until next week.
In mid February of 2002, during the pistol/shotgun Javelina hunting season, I was observed by a hunter on a quad while writing up our black-tailed rattlesnake male CM4. The hunter was watching me with his binoculars about 20 meters below me. He eventually buzzed off. The snake was just outside of a den that we call "Jeff's Den," which is located on the south ridge of the Suizo Mountains proper. My first impulse was a good one: bag the snake, and bring it back after the hunt. Instead, I left it as it was. The next day, the snake, and the signal, were gone forever. I'll just stop there, and let that comment ride as a reason for my paranoia when the hunting seasons arrive.
The observation of the black-tails mating is significant in that it is the first time we've ever recording it. Back in 2001, we had a female, CM2, who drew in three different males. We at one point saw tails in alignment, but no insertion. That incident was in late September of 2001. The capture of this new female has our hopes up for seeing the other end of the spectrum: birthing in desert black-tails. Things are shaping up nicely for 2013!
It is interesting to note that this mating event in early October is the first time we've ever seen any mating of any species of rattlesnake in October--at least on the plot. We have seen countless acts of courtship with atrox--but never mating.
The show will go on!
Best to all, roger