Sunday, August 11, 2013

How Do You Get A Rattlesnake Out of the Birdnet?

Snake caught in bird netting to
protect grapevines.
Neighbor Merlot Mike gave us the dormant vine cutting 7 years ago. We planted that stick as the cornerstone to our vineyard along the fence at the edge of our property and it’s now the largest vine in the vineyard and the Vineyardista asked me not to trim the vine this year because I broke her heart last year when I cut it back so we could use the gate door of the back fence.  The vine stretches over ten feet along the chain links and is loaded with Merlot clusters.

A Southern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri) became tangled in bird netting under the mother-lode vine at the corner of our property and the snake seems about as long as the vine.  There is always a serpent in the Garden of Eden. Always.

How do you remove a live rattlesnake from bird netting without a shotgun, 22 or shovel? Death was not an option. “Don’t kill it,” the Vineyardista pleaded. “The last time you killed a snake the princess became ill.”  Is not killing the rattlesnake you captured like pissing into the wind? After you let it go, what are the odds that it will come back to bite you (or worse, your dog)?

First,  I loosened  the net from where it was caught at the bottom of the fence, to Ms. Snake’s hissing and rattling. I could see a way to cut the net to free her, but it became clear she was tangled and would not be able to wriggle free. So, I called the SnakeBusters, aka our neighbor Steve who is something of a herpetologist with a naturalist’s respect for God’s great creatures, among which he includes snakes. When Steve arrived with a hoe this is what we did:

Releasing Tangled Rattlesnake From Bird Netting
1.       Cut netting around snake.
2.       Before cutting the final strands of net, Steve attempted to pin the snake’s head to the earth, so we could trim the net closer to the body. As the snake was on a steep slope of decomposed granite, traction was poor, and there was a chance Steve –could slip and fall onto the snake. (This California SnakeBuster works in sandals.)
3.       We cut the snake free of the snags and she crawled to lower ground.
4.       Steve climbed around the vines to level ground, met the snake, picked it up with his hoe and brought her to the dirt road by our shed. (Nothing like carrying a snake along a thin, steep path of grapevines. He could have easily slipped.)
Snake on ice.
5.       With Steve pinning the snake’s head down, we cut more of the net from the body.  Up close, we could see she was still tangled in net and potentially constricted.
6.       With darkness falling, we decided to bring the snake to the animal shelter in the morning, where they had the proper gear to take care of her.
7.       I picked out a wine fermenter (aka, 24 gallon Brute container). Steve lifted the snake into the container, and we put on a lid – leaving a crack for air. (Hint: Don’t knock over a  Brute container at your neighbor’s house in the country at night because you never know what’s inside.)
8.       In the morning, I checked on Ms. Snake. She was quite “genki” and still very pissed. I pulled the container to a shady area and she rattled at me.
9.       Back at the house, I tweeted and called the wild animal rescue shelter. I never got through.  Not seeing anything on their website about snake rescue, Steve and I discussed plan B.
1.   This was plan B, which in hindsight should have been plan A.
1.   After work, I bought two 10 lbs. bags of ice at the Deli.
1.   Got home, and carefully poured the crushed ice into the container. The first bag covered most of her. The 2nd bag covered her completely. The snake was iced at 6:30 pm
1.   At 8 pm, Steve came over with his hoe (his favorite snake tool).
1.   We dumped the container, with the snake emerging on the top of the ice.  She was moving slowly, but I would say not immobile by any means. Ideally, she would have been on ice a few hours. Instead, it was 90 minutes.  Still, she was moving much more slowly than the day before.
Southern Pacific Rattlesnake on Ice.
1.   Steve pinned the head down and I started cutting the net, which was flush against the skin at the tangled part. I apply enough pressure to get the blade under the net, without slicing the skin and wounding the snake. As I’ve had experience cutting out birds tangled in net, I feel I have the skill to do this.   I’m having trouble reaching the other end of the snake so with one hand on the hoe Steve grabs the other pair of scissors and we’re both cutting away. At last, Ms. Snake is net free, and she poses for a photo on ice.  Steve picks her up with the hoe and puts her back into the Brute container and advises, “He’s too cold to let go tonight. Some predator or coyote will get him when he’s all cold like that.  Let him thaw out overnight in the container and release him in the morning.”  We put the top over the container and pull her back.
1.   Steve calls Ms. Snake “him” but I’ve had experience with 1,000 year old cultivated snakes in China and I know that this is a snake princess from the Middle Kingdom who is seeking her revenge on me.
Steve manages the snake with his hoe.
1.   In the morning, I carry the container down to the open space canyon adjacent to our property, kick it over and out comes Ms. Snake, angry as ever. When I’ve let smaller snakes go in the past, they quickly scurry away, but Ms. Snake just sits there. I take “our favorite tool” (a stick we use to hang bird neck) and prod her down the hill as she rattles at me. I tell her the same thing I tell the birds I free from the nets: “Don’t come back.”

A friend asked me, “How long is she?”  Answer: “I don’t know – we were too busy to measure.” And we still didn’t measure her the 2nd day.  I would say she was big enough and she commanded our respect. Steve called her a beautiful specimen.

In hindsight, plan B would have been a good plan A. After we had trapped the snake the first night, that would have been the time to put her on ice (making sure there wasn’t so much ice she would drown when it melted) and to ice her “overnight.” A few more extra hours of cooling would have made her a bit easier to handle. 

Born Free.
In the back of my mind during this adventure is the story of the Texan who caught a snake during a rattlesnake round up and put it into his freezer.  He took it out several months later (presumably to cook) and when it thawed it bit him.

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