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CA Press: Rattlesnake sighting causes hikers concern

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Posted by W von Papinešu on April 10, 2003 at 20:44:12:

CONTRA COSTA TIMES (California) 10 April 03 Rattlesnake sighting causes hikers concern (Gary Bogue)
Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake. -- W.C. Fields
Dear Gary:
This weekend we had a close encounter with a rattlesnake!
We were walking in the open space, a nice loop from southern Walnut Creek to Borges Ranch and back. On the return loop, we were walking downhill, when a biker came down behind us. That is when this rattlesnake jumped from the side of the road next to us into the tall grass. The rattlesnake was rattling his tail as he hurried out of the way.
He was HUGE!
Is it safe out there? Would the rattlesnake have just sat there while walkers went by, if the noise of the bike hadn't startled him into action? Are they aggressive? What is their disposition?
I understand they are looking for a mate from March to May. Should we wait till after spring to walk? We love walking in the open space. Should we be concerned?
I am tired of walking on the sidewalks but am feeling a little rattled.
T. Schnieder, cyberspace
Dear T.:
It's hard to predict what rattlesnakes, or any snakes, will or won't do.
They are not aggressive and, like most wild creatures, don't want to deal with us humans anymore than we want to deal with them. That's why the rattlesnake you saw sounded a warning with its rattles when it was frightened by the biker and then slithered (not jumped!) away from the scene.
Rattlesnakes occur in open spaces throughout the Bay Area. They're not real common, but hikers will occasionally see them most months of the year, except for the cold months during winter and spring when the cold-blooded reptiles are lying dormant in a hollow log or ground squirrel hole.
You should be concerned, but not frightened, and just be aware they're about and keep an eye out for them. They like to sun themselves on trails late in the day or early in the morning when it's cool. You can walk faster than they can crawl. Just stop at a safe distance if you see one and evaluate the situation. They will usually crawl away when they see you.
You are more likely to encounter a gopher snake, which looks similar and tries to imitate a rattlesnake to frighten you away by coiling and hissing loudly and vibrating its tail. Gopher snakes have pointy tails and no rattles, and rattlesnakes don't hiss.
When most people see a rattler, it's for the first time. You are fortunate in that you have now seen a rattlesnake in the field and know what they look like and what their rattles sound like.
Don't let them spoil your desire to walk in our beautiful open spaces. Some people hike with long walking sticks. They are handy in helping you up and down steep hills. They are also useful if you find a rattlesnake on the trail.
You can use the stick to gently scoot the snake off the trail and out of your life.

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