Ranger Kathryn's Arches

October 13, 2012

Readers’ reptiles

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:36 am
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If one spends enough time in nature, interesting photo opportunities are bound to present themselves. I’ve got a couple of nice sightings, graciously shared by readers, to share with you today.

“All you can eat” has new meaning. Likely a Plateau Lizard. (Photo credit: Alice Kao.)

Alice Kao was hiking to Double Arch (Arches NP) recently when she spotted this lizard attempting to swallow a grub. Due to the relative sizes of the two creatures, the lizard gagged on the grub and spit it back out once; finally it managed to swallow it. I honestly don’t know how the grub fit into the lizard’s digestive tract, or how soon it will be hungry again. I get really full just eating three sushi rolls.

Look at the beautiful markings on this Midget Faded Rattlesnake! (Photo credit: Diane Hagberg.)

Diane Hagberg, of Minneapolis, was hiking the Primitive Loop in Arches and was rattled at by our Midget Faded Rattlesnake. Giving the 18-inch-long snake a wide berth on the trail, she shot this photo with some trepidation. The Midget Faded, true to its character, shyly slipped away to hide under some rocks, but Diane has bragging rights and some vivid memories. I’ve seen only four rattlers in four seasons here; it’s typically nocturnal. Visitors are fortunate indeed when they glimpse this elusive reptile.

Click on images to enlarge for more detail. Thanks for sending the photos my way, Alice and Di!

July 8, 2011

‘Sprinkles’ is free!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:55 pm
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I knew it was going to be a Wildlife Home Run day when it started with a Midget Faded Rattlesnake frightening visitors at the outhouse by Devils Garden. Law enforcement had no option but to catch it in a 5-gallon bucket and relocate it, but not before stirring up a lot of commotion.

Then a park ranger came upon a dad with a butterfly net dropping a just-caught lizard into his daughter’s terrarium which she was excitedly holding for him. The ranger’s “What just happened here?” turned into a sullen grudging release of the lizard by dad and a teachable moment for the little girl when the ranger helped her cipher what would happen if every visitor took a lizard. No law enforcement ranger was available, so no ticket was given. The dad was very lucky.

Long-nosed Leopard Lizard -- freed!

Next, a visitor brought a camera into the Visitor Center, with a photo of a pick-up truck with California plates and a cooler in the back. The truck owner had caught a lizard and put dirt and lizard into the cooler. By now we were pretty upset at the utter disregard for wildlife, and the photo was blown up, printed out, and law enforcement sent out to find (and ticket) the person.

Half hour later, our man found the truck and looked into the cooler in the back. My second-favorite lizard of all time was in there. The owner pleaded ignorance of the law (that one works real well, doesn’t it?) and his wife started saying “Robert, I TOLD you not to catch that reptile! Now look what you’ve done!”etc etc… so our law enforcement guy backed off of the $500 fine for harassing wildlife and instead gave him a $125 fine for some lesser infraction. To him, the wife’s ill will was a steep price to pay. He made the man let the lizard go, at which moment his children all waved and shouted, “Goodbye, Sprinkles!” thus confirming that he was capturing the reptile for a pet. I wanted the $500 fine to stand.

People. Really. Don’t be so outrageous.

September 17, 2010

Rattlesnake 1, Frenchman -15

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:42 pm
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I had not been back from the wilderness for even an hour this morning when the radio started to crackle. Soon I heard an ambulance racing up into the park, lights and sirens ablaze. A tour bus full of French visitors had stopped at Balanced Rock, one of our least dangerous and most innocuous locations. One unfortunate 63-year-old had stepped off the sidewalk by about fifteen feet to click a photo, and was bitten in the ankle by a rattlesnake. He was already having difficulty talking and had a pulse of 150. The local hospital couldn’t help him much, as antivenin is available only if one knows exactly which species inflicted the bite*, so he was helicoptered to Grand Junction, Colorado. I expect he’ll be in the hospital for a week or ten days and then have a long, slow convalescence. Kind of ruins his American vacation.

Was it one of our shy Midget Faded Rattlesnakes? They are nocturnal, except that sometimes the males are out scouting for new territory this time of year and perhaps one was just there to get stepped on. Or, perhaps it was an atypical species of rattler (not our small shy one) that was just passing through. It makes treating the victim difficult.

You don’t want to mess with our Midget Faded. Shy, yes; benign, no. Their neurotoxin is one of the most potent of rattlesnake venoms. The typical effect of a bite from a Crotalus species is similar to most viper bites with massive edema (swelling) and tissue destruction. I hope the man from France recovers fully and quickly.

This is only the second known venomous snakebite in our national park, but the maps around here are filled with place names like “Rattlesnake Canyon.” I guess if you come to Utah, you’re taking a risk…

*(see comment #3 below)

August 15, 2010

Of domes and rattlesnakes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:52 am
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Overlooking the Green River, from the top of Mini Half Dome

It was my last night living at Island in the Sky, and friends wanted to explore a new place. Destination: Mini Half Dome. It looks for all the world like a shrunken version of Yosemite’s great granite formation, but unlike that one it is eminently accessible (if you know the combination to the service gate). Forty minutes before sunset, four of us hiked up to its summit and enjoyed yet another fab photo op at Canyonlands NP.

Midget Faded Rattlesnake on park road after dark

On the drive home after dark, a snake was in the oncoming lane; at that time of day and on asphalt, it’s usually a rattlesnake. Not wanting him to be run over, we stopped the car to shoo him off the road. He (she?) was too shy to even rattle at us, but kept its face pointing in our general direction the entire time as it slithered sideways off the shoulder and into the blackbrush. I was grateful for this first opportunity to see a Midget Faded Rattlesnake. It was only about 18 inches long… and very beautiful. Please be kind to snakes; they are not to be feared, and are an exceptionally important part of our food web.

One last night for the Perseids, on the basketball court… it was as delicious as could be. I can’t get enough of these endless skies, uncountable stars, and Milky Way.

July 29, 2010

Venomous creatures

Nearly stepped on him. 1.5 inches long.

I was walking back to my room from the bathroom at about 11 pm, barefoot, a distance of about three feet, when my eye caught something on the carpet. A small scorpion was just sitting there. They are nocturnal creatures, never seen in daylight, and perhaps this one had just woken up. After photographing him with Barbie for scale, I caught him under a Tupperware and slid a birthday card underneath to secure him. It’s the third one we’ve captured in our trailer this summer, and the long-timers are wondering why so many this year. Of course, if you ask previous inhabitants of this particular abode, nicknames like “Scorpion Den” surface frequently; must be something here, like water drips underneath the trailer that attract them…

We’re still working on a definitive ID for this species, but several here believe it may be a bark scorpion, the smallest and most venomous of our five species. “A strong bee sting” is how local scorpion stings are described; however, you’re sick for 48 hours with a bark scorpion sting. Children and elderly folks can land in the hospital. They’re the most common kind found in houses, and it’s the right size, but the jury is still out. And, no, the park service does not spray the housing…

A beautiful gopher snake. Non-venomous.

Midget Faded Rattlesnake.

A ranger from Dead Horse Point State Park came over the other day to work a shift here. I went into the freezer to get an Icy Pop on a break, and found a paper shopping bag full of dead reptiles. Yes. I did. She reports that they are specimens collected dead in their park and preserved for posterity (and ranger talks) in the freezer. A show-stopper, that’s what they were, out on our front porch…

July 17, 2010

One rattlesnake, just for fun

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:10 pm
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It couldn’t have happened at a better time — the last night of the memorable trip. The four younger generation people had grabbed their cameras to photograph the sunset from atop a Navajo sandstone knoll adjacent to the campground. Becky and I had not stopped to ask adult-ish questions like, Do you have flashlights? What time do we expect you back? Sunset was 40 minutes away and off they went.

By 30 minutes AFTER sunset, I began scanning the outline of the knoll for shapes of humans. It was dark. I wasn’t going to get worried quite yet, but I did want them back home. Meanwhile, my sister and I enjoyed the peace and solitude for a little bit as we tidied up camp and loaded things into the cars. We laid out all six sleeping pads and bags under the stars; there would be no tent-sleeping allowed on this final night.

Shortly, the quartet of young photographers sauntered into camp by the light of Evan’s one flashlight. Stories began to emerge; they saved the best for last. Mothers’ hearts skip a beat when one child says to the other, “Is this a good time to tell her?”

A Midget Faded Rattlesnake, nocturnal in nature, had decided to warm itself on the paved road leading to Willow Flats campground. Marta was in the lead and walked right alongside it, about a foot away; it rattled, she sped up her steps and quickly got ahead of it, and then as it rattled again they all pulled out their cameras to photograph it.

Although shy, this snake has a potent neurotoxin in its venom that makes a bite very nasty. I am glad it didn’t have an inclination to strike at my dear daughter. That would have ruined the trip a bit.

It gives me a warm satisfaction that I’ve raised children who don’t throw rocks at snakes, or squeal, or run, but document the event instead. Way to go, offspring!!!

(Photo courtesy of Google images — said reptile’s portrait is not on my camera or computer.)

June 20, 2009

Arthropod in the Night

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:41 pm
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Dawn at our campsite in Hovenweep.  Nothing scares me at dawn.

Dawn at our campsite in Hovenweep. Nothing scares me at dawn.

Having a Fri-Sat off, my friend Jess and I decided to go on a road trip.  We threw our camping stuff into Olive and headed for a little-known Nat. Monument named Hovenweep, 125 miles south.  A 180-degree rainbow greeted us on the open range, and then turned double: surely an auspicious beginning!  Site 14 afforded us an unobstructed view of the San Juan mountains,  and we couldn’t have been more delighted.  As we set up camp in this most desolate and remote place, the sunset turned purple and orange and the sky was set aflame.  We could hardly breathe, afraid to say anything that would spoil this infinite beauty.

The campground had only two other tenants, on the opposite side of the loop.  The solitude and tranquility were welcomed, most welcomed.  As the sun slid lower, some lovely bats came out and began reducing the excess gnat and mosquito populations.  Except for that quiet fluttering, the world was wrapped in silence.

We hit the sack early, both being tired from our new work schedule and the altitude.  Twenty minutes of chit-chat in the dark tent preceded our drifting off to what we hoped would be peaceful sleep.  Which it was.  For a couple of hours.  [Warning to Livja:  Do Not Read The Rest Of This!]

I sleep lightly, attuned to new sounds and smells and sensations.  In a new tent, in a new campground, in a new ecosystem, I was vividly aware that this was not ‘home.’  Therefore, when I heard a tiny slow soft skritch skritch skritch outside on the tent wall by my head, everything in me strained to figure out its source.  I knew Jess was not fond of creepy-crawlies, so I couldn’t turn on a flashlight.  I needed to just lie there and listen and learn what I could.  Okay, it sounded as if it had lots of feet.  Maybe, oh, about ten.  Okay, it was making its way carefully and slowly and methodically upward along the curve of the tent wall.  Okay, it is definitely OUTSIDE the tent, thank goodness.  Okay, its miniscule skritching sound seems to be from its feet gripping the nylon tent.  Okay, it is nearing the top…

I was doing a good job of keeping my cool when, without warning, a scorpion-ish shape suddenly plunged off the tent peak and hurtled down past my screened window.  I sat up instantly and grabbed my flashlight to see if this was INside or outside.  Naturally, this woke Jess up and freaked her out, but I quickly determined that it was OUTside and we had nothing to fear.  No creature was evident anywhere.  Although… now I had to pee, and the winding path through the loop to the outhouse seemed long and scarier than usual, with Midget Faded Rattlesnakes being nocturnal hunters and all.. we were warned to watch our steps.  So, I proceeded to do two things that aren’t typical for Ranger Kathryn:  (1) exited the door on Jess’s side of tent, not the scorpion-infested door on my side, and (2) DROVE Olive to the bathroom in order to avoid surprising any rattlesnakes.

By 11:28 pm I was back safely in my tent, zipped in snugly, scorpions or no.  There is a surprisingly relaxing sleep once the dangers have been faced and survival seems likely.  By sunrise the next morning, it all seemed silly — so, so silly.  Our fears in the night become easy to manage in the bright light of a new day.  The unknown imagined is bigger than the unknown reality.  And, in the dawn’s early light, I sat at the picnic table and oriented my back (clad in purple sweatshirt) to the rising sun to gather its heat to warm me for the new day’s marvels.

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