Read this first or Go straight to 2014 Updates
Planning for a radiotelemetry study of rattlesnakes at Effie Yeaw Nature Center started at least a year before field work began. In addition to approval from the directors of the American River Natural History Association (the organization that administers and funds EYNC), permits had to be obtained from both Sacramento County Regional Parks and California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The final permit was not obtained until early May 2014 and the first transmitter was implanted a few days later.
The plan was originally dependent upon EYNC staff capturing rattlesnakes for me as they are encountered around the buildings, parking lot, and Maidu village, either by staff or reported by visitors. In the past, staff members captured rattlesnakes found in public areas frequented by visitors, especially children, and transported them a hundred yards or so into the preserve, releasing them a few minutes later in the wooded area. Now, rather than immediately releasing them, the study plan calls for staff to safely confine the snakes in a container at the nature center and notify me. I promptly pick up the rattlesnakes, process them (record all sorts of data on sex, size, scale counts, etc.), surgically implant radio transmitters in some of them, mark them with colored paint in the hollow rattle (so they can be easily identified visually), and release them within a day or two.
The “updates” that follow began as emails to EYNC staff and volunteers who were briefed on the study and knew about the process outlined above. As a result, the early “updates” sound like they were directed to readers who were capturing rattlesnakes for me and should already have had the background information – and they were!
But the “updates” rapidly became popular beyond EYNC personnel and the email list grew quickly to many dozens of people as the season progressed. I have been amazed at the number of folks I encounter on the EYNC trails who stop me to comment on the Rattlesnake Updates and ask how the rattlesnakes are doing; it is very encouraging! At the end of the season, I compiled PDF files of all thirteen 2014 updates, to allow folks who came on-board later in the season, as well as future interested parties, to see the early Updates.
Just to be crystal clear, I am not encouraging – and it is illegal and dangerous for – EYNC visitors to bother wildlife, including rattlesnakes, in the park. Rattlesnakes encountered in public areas around buildings, the parking lot, and the Maidu village and ponds, should be reported to staff; they should not be approached by anyone else. Rattlesnakes encountered on the trails should be given a wide birth (more than 2X the length of the snake) and left alone; there is no need to report them. Going off trail is not permitted, as it tramples the vegetation, disturbs animals unnecessarily, and it’s very easy to step on a rattlesnake in the grass!
The Updates will continue in 2015, written for a broader audience and in a more organized format – this blog! The 2015 season should get off to a great start, since we will monitor spring emergence with several telemetered animals and we should make rapid progress toward filling our quota of seven males and seven females with transmitters.