An August Evening

A gold leaf sky
Behind the dark grey mountains
A desert evening

Rattlesnakes

My neighbors have emailed:

>Earlier this week there was a run-over baby rattler on our street just past C’s.  This morning, I found one sunning in our driveway. Friends in other sections of Starr Pass have also mentioned baby rattlers, so keep an eye out for them. 

>We had a mature RATTLER just outside our front door approximately three weeks ago.  We were gone on vacation during that time.  According to our house sitter the rattler was there from about 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.  She talked to some services to get rid of it with no success.   She was told that the rattler would eventually go away.  She had a relative of hers come after work and kill it.   We also took our doggie to a snake training which involves getting the strong scent of a snake and moving away from it.

All I’ve seen in my yard this summer was an eight-inch snakeskin shed from a baby rattler.  (Two years ago1 and three years ago2 had a large rattler on my patio.)  But I am considering wearing my cowboy boots if I’m cutting weeds outside my fence.  Wish I had a bullsnake (subspecies of the gopher snake that looks like a rattler). Rattlesnakes have a more variable diet (snakes, lizards, amphibians, and all types of warm-blooded prey).  Bullsnakes favor primarily warm-blooded prey and bird eggs.  Bullsnakes are active foragers, investigating rodent holes3, and I had maybe a dozen in my yard, so I’d be happy to rent someone’s bullsnake.  Gave some thought to getting my own to rent to neighbors who have problems with mice and packrats, but not sure how to keep track of it, maybe with a GPS tag like they do with dogs?

Many houses ago, when I lived off La Cholla and Ina, I had a bullsnake that lived in my woodpile.  Never had a problem with packrats.  Scared the dickens out of my uncle, who almost tripped over it and swore it was six feet long.  Not true, at least when I was a foot away from it – it looked about only three or four feet long.  On that occasion, I was draining my fishpond.

Backstory

Almost 40 years ago friend J got me started digging a hole for a fishpond, and I just bought some ready mix concrete and lined the hole.  Shaped like a comma, the tail being the shallow end, about four feet by seven feet.  Filled it with water; that night all of the water drained out.  Plastered the pond.  Filled it again; this time only half of the water drained out.  Plastered again.  This time it mostly held water, but seeped enough to delight the iris I planted next to it.  Also the palo verde it was under.

Put a pot of dwarf umbrella plant in the center, and bought a few tiny goldfish for like 35¢ each, but the person at the pet store let me pick which ones and I picked variegated colors.  The fish grew to about 8”, almost as pretty as koi, but I hadn’t made the pond deep enough for cool water in the summer, and I had put in no circulating pump, so a few times each summer I fished out the goldfish and put them in pails of water, drained the pond and swept out the muck.  It was at one of these occasions that I looked around and my bullsnake was drinking from the pond, right next to me.  It would drip its head down to get some water, then put its head up to let the water drain down, I guess.  Great snake.  (The goldfish eventually got too large for the shallow pond, and died.  Had to buy more little ones.)

In the spring time I heard what sounded like a lost sheep baaing in the wash behind my house.  Here’s the sound: http://www.tucsonrana.com/sounds/couch1w.mp3  (Ctrl + click to follow links.)  I walked out into the yard and realized that the sound was coming from my pond!  Being relatively new to Tucson I didn’t know about the Couch’s Spadefoot toads which dig into the sandy wash behind my house, to appear only during monsoon season to mate.

spadefootDuring summer monsoons, the spadefoot is well-known for emerging from its subterranean estivation to breed in the temporary ponds created by the heavy runoff. Interestingly, the cue for adult emergence during these summer thunderstorms is not moisture, but rather low frequency sound or vibration, most likely caused by rainfall or thunder. Upon emergence, males begin calling to attract females. Their calls sound like the bleating of sheep or goats. [They puff out their throat sacs to make the noise.]  One female may lay as many as 3000 eggs. Once the eggs are laid, they must hatch quickly into tadpoles before these shallow pools disappear. And hatch quickly they do—at water temperatures of 86° eggs hatch in 15 hours! Tadpoles must also metamorphose quickly—2 weeks on average, sometimes as little as 9 days—into froglets before the ponds dry up. In this exacting atmosphere very few eggs make it to young frogs. 4

Well, these poor critters had picked the wrong pond.  They usually don’t have to contend with fish.  Do believe my goldfish ate all of the eggs.  Never saw any froglets.

Froglets

Here in Starr Pass there is a small section of the large wash behind my house where the sprinkler water from the golf course puddles.  During monsoon weather there will be hundreds of tiny froglets there trying to escape predators.  When we had just poured the concrete floor of the Bridge House next door (the first house I designed and built), there was a square hole, also concrete, about 6” deep.  (A friend said I’d never sell a house with stairs in what is basically a retirement area, so I designed closets, one above the other, large enough for a residential elevator to be installed, and the hole was necessary for the elevator.  Actually, had no problem selling that house, but no bites on this one, with stairs, and no elevator shaft.)

tadpoleThe monsoons hit, the hole filled with water, the spadefoots (spadefeet?) bred, and we had hundreds of tadpoles.  My (now ex-) husband was going to drain it but first I decided to save as many tadpoles as I could.  Bought a large galvanized tub, filled it with water and a rock, and put it in the backyard of the rental we were living in during the building process.  Many trips of ferrying tadpoles from the building site, miles away.  Didn’t know they ate lots of small bugs and different green veggies (not having the internet fifteen years ago), but I do remember my son yanking grass out and putting it around the rock.  Two made it to froglets and pulled out to the rock.  One died, gave the other to friend N, who had a terrarium.  The rest kept swimming around.  Called the Desert Museum.  Was told that only about 1% become frogs!  Bummer.  They eventually died and we used them for fertilizer.

Birds

A covey of six quail coming down my driveway this morning, greeting an Abert’s towhee.  Believe it was because one of my drip lines had a small hole that created a small spray of water.

1https://notesfromthewest.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/denizens-of-the-desert/
2https://notesfromthewest.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/rattlesnake/
3http://havesnakeswilltravel.com/bullsnakes-vs-rattlesnakes-by-bryon-shipley-rattlesnake-researcher/betty/
4http://www.desertmuseum.org/books/nhsd_spadefoot.php

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3 Responses to “An August Evening”

  1. Lynn Shore Says:

    No rattlers here, but we have had our share of copperheads in Taylors, SC. In the mountains I have seen some huge timber rattlers though.

  2. Kim D. Blair, P.E. Says:

    I like that the doggie got snake training!

    • notesfromthewest Says:

      I guess you can’t train a cat. But I wondered if rattlesnakes ever killed cats, so I googled the question and found:
      Q: Cat encounters rattlesnake: fight or flight, and if fight, which has the advantage?
      A: The cat should win. It’s rare for snakes to kill felines as they often only have a chance if they ambush them and even then, the cats fast reactions can help the felines turn the tables and succeed.

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