Here Be Snakes

rattlesnakeAs I set out on my hike in the warm morning air, I realized that today would be a likely day to see a snake. Today was predicted to be a hot day following on a warming trend over the last several days. It proved to be prophetic, as a group of us who converged on the Overlook upper meadow at about the same time were treated to spotting a gopher snake (see picture from a previous sighting).

Gopher snakes have similar markings to a rattlesnake, so they are often mis-identified. The simplest way to tell is to look for rattles — if the snake has rattles, it’s a rattlesnake, if it doesn’t, it’s a gopher snake. The gopher’s head is also not as spade-shaped as a rattlesnake.

Although many people are afraid of snakes — and especially the poisonous rattlesnake — snakes are a necessary part of our ecosystem. Without predators, ecosystems can fall tragically out of balance and perhaps damage an ecosystem irreparably. They also tend to avoid humans if they can, and it’s usually only when they are surprised or cornered do they strike.

In a conversation later the same day, a man recounted the story of a relative running the trail just last week who was nearly bitten by a rattler as she ran past. It missed because she was in rapid motion, but it was likely because she was in rapid motion and going past the snake in close proximity that it chose to strike. This is why it is very important to watch the ground ahead of you, especially when running. When hiking the snake usually has time to sound a warning before you get too close. I have had this happen on the trail.

So now that snakes are out of hibernation and on the Montini and Overlook properties, stay alert! If you can avoid riling up a snake it can be a pleasant outdoor experience to see a predator up close and watch it slide away into the grass. Let’s hope this describes all of your future snake encounters.

Getting Close to Wildlife Without Getting Close

HummingbirdintreeI’ve been an avid nature photographer for close to 45 years, and I’ve always been a fan of the zoom lens. Zoom lenses allow you to not only bring distant objects near, they can also provide a way to frame the shot the way you prefer instead of cropping it later with software.

Recently on the trail I was reminded about how important zoom capability can be when I spotted a hummingbird landing on a branch at the top of a tree. Despite the fact that the hummingbird was small (naturally) and the tree was some distance away (see photo), I was able to use the 30x zoom on my little point-and-shoot camera (at the moment the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40), to zoom in on the little thing and get some shots that made it look like I could reach out and touch it (see second photo). Neither photograph has been cropped.

HummingbirdIf you are interested in achieving this kind of capability, these kinds of cameras are referred to as “super zooms”. Super zoom cameras come in all kinds of configurations, from general consumer kinds of cameras to “prosumer” to expensive professional rigs. As a hiker, you will most likely want a compact “point-and-shoot” camera that you can slip into a back pocket. If you are in the market for such a camera, here is a good web site outlining some of your best options.

Happy photographing!

A Great Way to Celebrate National Arbor Day

mistletoeTo celebrate National Arbor Day, volunteer Steward Rich Gibson, a retired biologist, will lead a 3-mile hike of moderate difficulty on the Sonoma Overlook Trail while telling hikers about the trees and shrubs along the trail. This is not to be missed, as you will emerge from the experience with a much greater appreciation of the trees and shrubs you see not just beside the trail, but everywhere in Sonoma Valley.

There are two times to choose from:

  • Friday, April 29th at 5:30 pm
  • Saturday, April 30th at 9:00 am

For either day meet at the main Overlook Trail trailhead next to entrance of Mountain Cemetery. Be sure to bring water, sturdy shoes, and sun protection.

For more information leave a message for Rich at 707-939-0280.