Timber Rattlesnakes on Naked Mountain — Oh My!

I awoke this morning on Naked Mountain to a gentle rain.  The last few days have been a little cooler and the hint of Fall is in the air.  Some of the most glorious sunsets occur in the Fall.  Last evening, I took this photo of the view as I dined on the deck watching the setting sun:    

Sunset on Naked Mountain 8.21.12 – photo by author Marcia Mabee Bell

 Among the beautiful living things on Naked Mountain is a creature most humans find terrifying – the timber rattlesnake.  But, timber rattlesnakes often have beautiful markings and they have their place in the ecosystem.  Here is an excerpt from my upcoming memoir, Naked Mountain:  A Journey of Discovery, Sorrow and Solace, that will be published later this year:

 “Like people everywhere, we entice songbirds to draw closer by setting out birdfeeders.  On one June afternoon, I stepped off the deck onto the path that runs under the feeders.  I was about to put my right foot down, but hesitated mid-stride.  Something on the ground wasn’t right.  I instinctively raised my foot and stepped over an object in the path.  I quickly moved away and looked back to see what I had just avoided:  a Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).  Normally, they provide sufficient warning by rattling.  The high-pitched buzz stops you in your tracks and instinctively compels you to back away.  But this one was relatively small, about two feet long, and I counted just two full and one partial rattle.  It was very beautiful with bright stripes of yellow mixed in with alternating wavy grayish-greenish bands.   It had been lying under the deck, hunting the chipmunks that were scurrying around under the bird feeders for any fallen seed.  The snake slowly moved off into the woods.  After this encounter, I never stepped off the deck by the birdfeeders without a careful look around.

“Timber rattlesnakes’ main prey are mice and chipmunks and so provide important, helpful rodent control.   Fortunately, encountering them is rare on Naked Mountain, for you could lose use of a limb, or even your life, if you are bitten.  While there are still major dens in the Appalachian Mountains, timber rattlesnakes are vulnerable and declining in their range at an estimated rate of 10-30 percent over three generations.  Where development has encroached, numbers are near the extinction level.  The loss of habitat due to development is also accompanied by increased motorvehicle traffic which kills many of the remaining snakes as they attempt to cross busy roads. 

“Local lore warned us that there is a timber rattlesnake den on Naked Mountain.  The den’s likely location was confirmed during two visits by Gary Fleming, a senior ecologist with the Natural Heritage Program, a division of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.  On two occasions, while searching for rare wildflowers, we encountered what we thought was the same timber rattlesnake at the same, sunny, rocky spot near a gorgeous outcropping of native plants.  It was huge: three inches in diameter and probably

Timber Rattlesnake on Naked Mountain – Photo by Gary Fleming

close to five feet long, but we could only guess as it was curled and in a strike mode.   The snake sent up a loud rattle as we got within ten feet.   We kept a safe distance as Gary photographed it with his telephoto lens.  The snake was terrifying, fascinating and beautiful.”  

 You can read more about Timber Rattlesnakes here.

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