Last Saturday we spotted a healthy, five-foot long, eastern diamondback rattlesnake on the Snail Trail. In the morning about 20 visitors had a great look at it and took lots of pictures. Later that day while I was on the trail, a visitor approached to ask for some help because his wife was trapped on the boardwalk, by a rattlesnake!
It seems that they were coming back from the creekside viewing platform and as they approached the foot of the boardwalk when they spotted the snake sunning itself. The husband ran forward and his wife went back toward the creek, and the snake continued its course to lay directly across the path.
I tried a few things to get it to move with no luck and finally used my radio to call Sarah at the ELC for her advice. By the time she arrived it was coiled, rattling furiously and in full defensive mode.
Sarah spoke with Jeff, rattlesnake expert on our staff, and we explored our options with the husband. The wife was at the end of the boardwalk at the creek, where she felt safer, and we were talking to her by cellphone. The idea of waiting and letting it calm down didn't appeal to her. Jumping over the railing of the boardwalk into the swamp seemed risky! So we decided to find the biggest palm frond along the trail and gently nudge the snake off the trail.
While we all agreed it sounded like a good plan, we failed to include the snake in our discussions. I imagine the snake's perspective was that it had been a cold night and it had found a perfect spot to catch some rays. I am sure it thought that everyone should stay calm and just walk by it while going about their business.
As we implemented the "human plan" the snake was reluctant to move, advocating for its plan, and made a few defensive minor strikes toward the palm frond handler (me), but eventually we prevailed and it made a retreat into the woods.
The wife walked back down the boardwalk, keeping me between her and the snake, and made her escape. We had a great time retelling the story as we walked back to the ELC. The husband, who was busy taking pictures, regretted he didn't also get a video.
Rattlesnakes are year-round residents in this habitat. Learn more about them here.
Don Tilton, ELC Volunteer