Tips to find sidewinders without cruising

Dedicated exclusively to field herping.

Moderator: Scott Waters

Post Reply
frostior
Posts: 5
Joined: April 13th, 2015, 1:01 pm

Tips to find sidewinders without cruising

Post by frostior » October 13th, 2019, 11:32 pm

Hi, folks.
I am planning a brief herping weekend for South California. I am hoping to photograph some sidewinders. In the past, I have been spotting them at night through cruising.But I saw some folks able to find them resting in coil during daytime. So I guess it is my time to try and I would greatly appreciate any tips!

Which area would you recommend during this time of year? I am thinking Mojave NP or Anza Borrego SP? Also I understand this maybe something like walking on sand dune area for tracks, but when should I set out? In Dusk before full sunset? Or at Dusk?

P.S. I am a student in Claremont, CA. If anyone have plans or want to hang out together, feel free to pm me;)

bgorum
Posts: 618
Joined: June 7th, 2010, 5:46 am
Location: Albuquerque, NM
Contact:

Re: Tips to find sidewinders without cruising

Post by bgorum » October 18th, 2019, 12:30 pm

The first sidewinders I ever saw were in the El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve in Sonora. We located them by going out to the dunes in the morning and tracking them. The tacks would eventually lead to bushes were, (if we were lucky), we'd find a partially buried sidewinder. I had the opportunity to track sidewinders in this manner again in Paradise Canyon in Utah. Those remain my most memorable sidewinder encounters. There is something so cool about tracking the snakes and searching and searching at the base of a bush, where you know the snake must be, to all of a sudden see it right in front of you. I must say though, that I've tried to duplicate that success in the Algodones Dunes and Anza-borrego area without success. However, I think that is mostly a matter of not being there at the best time and not being there long enough. So, if there are any sand dunes around, I'd suggest trying to track them!

User avatar
frodaman
Posts: 298
Joined: August 29th, 2011, 9:54 pm
Location: Arizona

Re: Tips to find sidewinders without cruising

Post by frodaman » October 19th, 2019, 11:31 am

Hello!

Sidewinders are one of my favorite things to search for, and have spent a lot of time with them during the day. I have been fortunate enough to track and locate all three subspecies in various localities. Here are a couple tips and photos that may be able to point you in the right direction. I applaud you for pushing past the standard road-cruising, and attempting to get your actual boots on the ground! Finding rattlesnakes in general coiled in-situ, observing natural behavior and getting photos of them in that way can be extremely rewarding. If you have the good sense to have a hands-off approach, take copious amounts of notes, try not to over-exploit the animals, and keep a minimal amount of human visitation to the areas you have found, you will find that you will observe more and more of that natural behavior and get the thrill of maybe even watching the exact same animals for years to come. That seems to be the formula that a lot of these long-time herpers use to see mothers with clutches of babies, predation, mating rituals, and so forth. I don't claim to be perfect in this formula, but I strive to be better and better every time I set foot in the field.

Anyways... we are talking about winders here! Here are some photos before I get into it.

C. c. laterorepens

Image
Image
Image
Image
Image
Image
Image

C. c. cerastes

Image
Image
Image
Image

C. c. cercobombus

Image
Image
Image


The Sidewinder account on the Reptiles of Arizona Website has some great resources on location in the Behavior section http://reptilesofaz.org/Snakes-Subpages ... astes.html
BEHAVIOR: Nocturnal and crepuscular during the hot summer months, it shelters in underground burrows during the day. It is diurnal and crepuscular during spring when it is often encountered coiled on the surface in the partial shade of a creosote bush. In sandy areas this snake often coils partially buried in the sand, sometimes with only the head and dorsum exposed. This ground-dweller's distinctive method of locomotion (side-winding) involves the snake moving sideways with its body winding through an "S" shaped curve. While side-winding only a few points of the snakes body contact the hot sand at any one time. This method of locomotion leaves distinctive parallel J-shaped tracks with the hooks of the "J"s pointing in the direction of travel. Like the other "pit-vipers" (members of the subfamily Crotalinae) this snake uses heat sensing pits (one on each side of the face between the eye and nostril) to detect warm-blooded predators and prey.
In terms of dialing in timing and microhabitat, I'll let the above resource be the compass and personal experience be your best teacher. Basically put though, use common sense - when the temperatures are the most suitable for reptile activity, you will see winders. They are not extremely picky it seems. If you have any experience searching for crotes, apply that for this given situation. As far as tracking goes, here are a couple photos and tips for following these guys.
This method of locomotion leaves distinctive parallel J-shaped tracks with the hooks of the "J"s pointing in the direction of travel.
Here are some photos I have taken of these tracks in MX, UT, and AZ. You can see the distinct "J"s in the tracks, and as the guide explains the "hooks" of the tracks point in the direction of the animal's travel. The hooks are made by the neck and head of the animal as it travels, which is contrary to what it may seem. When I first started I thought they were made by the tail.

For these two photos, the tracks are headed towards me.

Image

Image
The last one shown here is headed away from me.

Image

That should give you a good feeling of what to look for and how to follow. I will say - remember to pick your battles! Look for the freshest tracks you can find, which are usually the ones where you can clearly see the belly scutes. Sidewinders are notorious for covering a lot of ground if they want to. There have been times that I have following tracks for what it seemed like 50-100 meters. If you choose a faded and old track, your time may just be better spent covering ground in suitable habitat searching for incidental snake finds or fresh tracks. Another tip for tracking would be if you are doing it at night or in the dark, hold your light low to the ground and watch the tracks illuminate!

Some other things to look for are "craters" left by winders who sat in an area and then left. The fresh ones will look like inverted cinnamon rolls with belly scutes. The belly scutes are key - you'd be surprised how often you can be deceived by a track made by a kangaroo rat who sat for a while to eat or rest and it's tail makes some interesting track. Seems wonky and hard to believe that it could get you, but it does.

Image

Image

The more experience you get tracking, the more successful you will be. It can be frustrating at times, but tracking reptiles or any animals for that matter can be extremely rewarding. You learn a lot about their natural history.

I hope this give you a little tidbit of information that will help you in your travels in California. There is a lot of good habitat for them. Unfortunately out of the two localities you listed, I do not have experience with. It's a little late in the year but it's still doable. However, Sidewinders seem to be generalists in terms of behavior. Check weather for each and make an educated guess.

Good luck!! :beer:

Jeff

Kfen
Posts: 394
Joined: June 17th, 2010, 4:51 am
Location: CT

Re: Tips to find sidewinders without cruising

Post by Kfen » October 20th, 2019, 4:22 am

I don't plan on being in sidewinder range anytime soon, nor can I help with the original question, but wanted to say the above post was very interesting and informative. Thanks for taking the time to put that together.

User avatar
frodaman
Posts: 298
Joined: August 29th, 2011, 9:54 pm
Location: Arizona

Re: Tips to find sidewinders without cruising

Post by frodaman » October 20th, 2019, 7:47 pm

Kfen wrote:
October 20th, 2019, 4:22 am
I don't plan on being in sidewinder range anytime soon, nor can I help with the original question, but wanted to say the above post was very interesting and informative. Thanks for taking the time to put that together.
Thanks for the feedback!

DRDAN
Posts: 26
Joined: November 1st, 2017, 6:54 pm

Re: Tips to find sidewinders without cruising

Post by DRDAN » October 21st, 2019, 10:07 am

Great photos and question. I would add that winders will post themselves just within the shade/drip line of creosote bushes, or other shrubs, and relocate as they are exposed to the sun, just look for craters at the edges of vegetation and follow them around the bush. Found many a morning winder in this fashion.
Cheers

User avatar
frodaman
Posts: 298
Joined: August 29th, 2011, 9:54 pm
Location: Arizona

Re: Tips to find sidewinders without cruising

Post by frodaman » October 22nd, 2019, 3:49 pm

DRDAN wrote:
October 21st, 2019, 10:07 am
Great photos and question. I would add that winders will post themselves just within the shade/drip line of creosote bushes, or other shrubs, and relocate as they are exposed to the sun, just look for craters at the edges of vegetation and follow them around the bush. Found many a morning winder in this fashion.
Cheers
Absolutely!

User avatar
shanicy
Posts: 15
Joined: December 5th, 2014, 2:41 pm
Location: Israel
Contact:

Re: Tips to find sidewinders without cruising

Post by shanicy » November 3rd, 2019, 7:31 am

Very interesting discussion!
I'm in the US right now, traveling around the national parks with my girlfriend.
I had a few tries on some dunes along the way (currently in Utah) but found zero tracks (and snakes). This season is tough...
As an Israeli, I tracked hundreds of Cerastes snakes at home and I still hope to find one here :)

Has any of you found an active/basking one during the day where the high temps are 65F and low are below 30? That's sounds too cold for me...

User avatar
frodaman
Posts: 298
Joined: August 29th, 2011, 9:54 pm
Location: Arizona

Re: Tips to find sidewinders without cruising

Post by frodaman » November 3rd, 2019, 7:40 pm

Yeah, those conditions are pretty tough. Generally when the night temps are below freezing, things seems to stay below the frostline. However C. cerastes can sometimes be found basking outside of their burrows on unseasonably warm days with warmer night temps.

DRDAN
Posts: 26
Joined: November 1st, 2017, 6:54 pm

Re: Tips to find sidewinders without cruising

Post by DRDAN » November 5th, 2019, 2:35 pm

If you drop down to Az or Ca you might get lucky, we still have winders on the move down here by the Salton Sea. I saw several last week along with numerous trackways. Better hurry though it’s cooling off quickly.

Post Reply