Adventures in Rattlesnake Photography

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OkanaganSFLT
Posts: 18
Joined: May 26th, 2018, 7:08 am

Adventures in Rattlesnake Photography

Post by OkanaganSFLT » October 1st, 2019, 11:22 am

Hi everyone,

I don't post here too often, but I do lurk frequently. I thought I'd make a post now that the season is wrapping up here in British Columbia.

This herping season has been an absolute blast. I was able to get intimately familiar with what has become my favorite species, the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, and document some interesting behaviors along the way. The images I've selected to share with you here are what I consider to be my favorite observations of the year. I've also include video clips, as I try to photograph when snakes are still and record video when they are moving.

It all started in the spring when I found a few new-to-me dens and visited old dens I’d found last season. One of the new dens I had previously thought was only a marmot den. I've found a few dens now that appear to be used by both marmots and rattlensnakes. Interestingly the marmots will both emerge from and enter hibernation before the rattlesnakes do, possibly mitigating conflicts between these two species.

ImageIMG_4898 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_5374 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_3518 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_5835 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_5930 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

After the spring den rounds I focused on trying to find rookeries. The documentation I had read all suggested that the rookeries should be very near the dens, and I found this to be exactly the case. One rookery, shared by three females, was a particularly interesting spot. Unfortunately when I first discovered this spot I spooked the females into the cave. I got a photo of them all inside and then recorded some video as they emerged to bask. My goal is always to use my long lens and try to avoid disturbing the snakes at these sites, and on subsequent revisits (once i knew exactly where these rookeries were) I was able to stay back and use the lens to get close.



ImageIMG_3183 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_2914 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_2985 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_3265 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

World Snake Day 2019 almost passed without me finding any snakes. Finally on the walk back to the car I heard the distinct sound of rattling.

ImageIMG_4891 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

The night herping season in BC is short. I was able to get in a night hike with some friends, and this turned out to be an absolute blast. Also, a handful of snakes were cruised across several nights in the first couple hours after sunset.

ImageIMG_5715-Enhanced by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_5748-Enhanced by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_7402-Enhanced by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_7967 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_6706 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_7931-Enhanced by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

This little one (yearling) was seen a few times still at the den. This photo was taken late July and suggests this individual never left the den area.

ImageIMG_5499 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

In early august I was thrilled to come across this sight not far from a den site. Two rattlesnakes engaged in mating.

ImageIMG_7055 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

Additionally, later on in the season I observed a male rattlesnake pursuing and courting a female. Interestingly the female here is the same one we night hiked previously, easily identified by a few very distinct pattern aberrations. I have affectionately named her Peaches. I'm almost positive she was gravid and had a small litter in the fall. I could find no other gravid-looking females at this den, and after the neonates appeared Peaches looked to be very emaciated with loose skin along her body. Both are telltale signs of a postpartum female. If this is the case, then I found it odd that she was being courted by a male.



More rookery visits. I find the gravid females to be very calm and not fearful, especially if you stay back a bit.

ImageIMG_7681 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_7730 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

One day when I was out exploring the park I came across a yearling rattlesnake desperately trying to swallow a rodent. I don't think he/she ever got it down, it just seems too big. I was able to get some photo and video as the snake dragged its pray item right beneth my leg! Remaining very very still was critical here, and I was super lucky to be sitting where the snake happened to want to go. In this part of their range young rattlesnakes do not feed on lizards as they do in the US. They rely on trying to find rodent prey small enough to swallow, and this is often a challenge for such small snakes.



ImageIMG_8096 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_8060 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

Finally baby season arrived. This was rung in by my absolute favorite observation of the year. At one rookery I observed a rattlesnake giving birth. Unfortunately I only have one grainy photo of the event, as I didn't want to use flash or get closer with the risk of disturbing the process. I only stayed for one birth and returned the next morning to see how many came out. Four babies were born! I got some images of them climbing all over mom as she kept an eye on me. Again, staying back to avoid spooking them down the crevice or causing undue stress.

ImageIMG_8219 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_8372 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

In late august snakes start to aggregate at their dens. One particular den is cool in that you can spy on them from above and they are none the wiser.

ImageIMG_8413 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_9639 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

Some other rookeries had some new babies as well. I find the neonates are often quite active, slithering all about, and the mothers are weary but tolerant of my presence from several feet away. One rookery is situated as such that you can get above the snakes and they don't know you're there. These family moments are a real highlight of my year. Seeing snakes exhibit seemingly social behaviors is awesome, and getting a glimpse into their secret lives is the most rewarding thing about herping, in my opinion. In the video below is almost seems like the mother snakes is checking on her young as she sniffs around at them.



ImageIMG_0507 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_0433-Enhanced by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

I don't know exactly how many neonates are here but it's a lot! I counted at least 30 neonates across this group of rookeries with I think 10 or 11 pictured in the photo below.

ImageIMG_0552 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_0660 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

A collection of newborn rattlesnakes. Some have completed their postpartum shed, while others haven't yet. You can tell by the colors, the recently shed snakes are more vibrant.

ImageIMG_0684 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_0704 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_1386 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_3281 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_3751 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_3793 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_3782 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_3801 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

The fall den season seems to be more diffuse than the spring, as snakes seem to trickle in over a month-long period. I did, however, find one new den this fall and that was a highlight. The other dens were visited, again with my telephoto lens, but I didn't get too many photos.

ImageIMG_3830 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

ImageIMG_3847 by Andrew Nydam, on Flickr

Well if you made it this far, thanks! I had an absolute blast observing the annual cycle this year. I don't think I'll have nearly as much free time in the coming years, so the 2019 herping season is one I'll cherish for a long time to come. I am as enamored with this species now then I ever have been and will miss them all winter long.

You can follow me on Instagram @okanagan_snake_spotter, or on youtube at Okanagan Snake Spotter.

Cheers and happy herping!
Andrew Nydam

Frankvanbalken
Posts: 12
Joined: September 6th, 2019, 5:18 am

Re: Adventures in Rattlesnake Photography

Post by Frankvanbalken » October 2nd, 2019, 6:42 am

Wow OkanaganSFLT ! That are some magnificent pictures and a great year story. You have seen some beautiful events happen.
Amazing to see pictures of adults with so many newborns.

Tanks for sharing

Darian
Posts: 11
Joined: May 8th, 2015, 2:32 pm

Re: Adventures in Rattlesnake Photography

Post by Darian » October 2nd, 2019, 8:35 am

Awesome!!

User avatar
nhherp
Posts: 121
Joined: August 10th, 2010, 10:25 am
Location: southwest US - NM

Re: Adventures in Rattlesnake Photography

Post by nhherp » October 2nd, 2019, 9:46 am

Den parturition and post-neo observations have always been a highlight for me when I could witness it. Thanks for sharing
-N-

User avatar
Owen
Posts: 1923
Joined: June 10th, 2010, 11:35 pm
Location: San Jose', Northern Catcrapistan

Re: Adventures in Rattlesnake Photography

Post by Owen » October 7th, 2019, 7:34 pm

Super post and excellent photography. I love the variety that you can get with NorPacs. The little neos were great to see. :thumb:

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