The Adorable Assassin

A close-up of a common kingsnake (California kingsnake) under the bushes near our front door in Scottsdale, Arizona on September 20, 2021. Originals: _RAC9574.arw and _RAC9585.arw

Speaking of wildlife right outside our door, a couple of weeks after the first black witch appeared my wife was trimming some bushes that had overgrown the water spigot and was startled by this kingsnake. You might not expect it from its adorable little mug but one of the many things these constrictors eat is rattlesnakes. I wish I could keep it on retainer, I’d put up tiny little signs at viper eye level around the yard saying “Beware of Kingsnakes” and I don’t think we’d have to worry about venomous snakes anymore. Not that I don’t love seeing rattlesnakes, just I prefer seeing them in their home rather than mine.

Two Favorites

An environmental portrait of a common side-blotched lizard perched on a granite boulder in front of a tall saguaro, taken on an offshoot of the Latigo Trail in the Brown's Ranch area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on April 4, 2021. Original: _RAC6033.arw

I’ve been in the mood for environmental portraits so I was delighted to take one of two of my favorite desert inhabitants, the saguaro and the common side-blotched lizard, one of the largest residents and one of the smallest (at least one of the smallest on four legs). As much grief as I give my pattern-matching self for spotting marmots in the rocky hills when he knows there are no marmots here (he’s mostly stopped with the occasional relapse) and for spotting lizards that turn out to be protuberances in the rocks, he nailed this one from afar. The little fellow was a ways off and wasn’t worried about me so I had time to find a spot on the trail both where I could see the saguaro behind him and place him in a gap between the giant arms so he’d be easy to see against the blue sky.

I quietly wondered if he’d be willing to stick around for an hour-and-a-half for the last light of day but I knew he wouldn’t stay that long and neither would I, I wanted to get some hiking in and I had only just begun. In any event I finished the day further east, taking environmental portraits of another favorite resident, but no spoilers …

First Time Visitor

A western diamondback rattelsnake in our backyard in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 11, 2020. Original: _RAC6352.arw

We had a new visitor to the house today, I was working in the backyard when I noticed this lovely western diamondback rattlesnake coiled up by the back fence wall. Since it was in a section far away from the only place it could get out, we called the Phoenix Herpetological Society and soon thereafter someone (our pool person as it turns out) came out to safely relocate it in the desert.

New Arrivals

A desert spiny lizard sits behind the entrance to its new home, it moved into an antelope squirrel's home, taken in our front yard in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

I was delighted when an antelope squirrel dug a burrow in the front yard, but its time with us was rather short as I’m fairly certain a bobcat got it. A pair of spiny lizards moved in shortly after, although I didn’t see the female for long. A roadrunner made several attempts at this one on different days and I don’t know if it was eventually successful, as while I didn’t see the lizard for a while there is one around occasionally now, so perhaps it moved on to a better location. Hard to say as there are multiple lizards in the area as some came over to sample the flowers on the bush above this rock. The only way I could tell they weren’t all the same lizard is one was regrowing its tail and one had a missing front leg (it looked like it had learned to live without it just fine).

A desert spiny lizard is partially seen behind a cactus as it sits near the entrance to its home in our front yard in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

Time to Leave

The long thin body of a western patch-noses snake lies across the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

I was nearing the end of my hike when I saw a colorful stick lying across the path. At first delighted as I knew it was going to be a new snake species for me, my heart sank as I approached and it didn’t slither off into the grass. Afraid it had gotten run over, I was a bit confused when I saw its head, mostly hidden in the grass (not visible in this picture), as its eyes were open and bright. I laughed to myself, wondering if it was like when we adopt a cat and at first they hide under the bed, only their tail is sticking out giving away their position. The rear of its body covered so much of the trail that I felt I had to convince it to move along as this trail is heavily used by cyclists who wouldn’t likely see it in time to avoid it. I saw a dried yucca stalk in the grass and thought to tap it nearby, but just the sound of pulling the stalk from the grass sent the snake on its way. I whispered my apologies for having to startle it but best to find a safer place to warm up in the morning light.

This was my second snake sighting this year and my first ever of this species. I don’t know my snakes well and initially thought it was some type of garter snake based on its long thin body adorned in stripes, but something about the shape of its head seemed off. Upon closer inspection (in pictures, not in person) it has a large triangular scale at the front of its head, perhaps an aid when looking for reptile eggs to eat.

The head and upper body of a western patch-nosed snake it partly hidden in grass on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

Rock Climbing

The rattle and black-tail of a black-tailed rattlesnake are visible as it climbs a rock near Granite Mountain in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

An aptly named black-tailed rattlesnake goes rock climbing near Granite Mountain in May, a new species for me. From what I’ve read they are relatively laid back but deliver a large dose of venom when they strike. This one was a ways off the trail and I only got partial views as it slowly made its way up the rock pile.

TA black-tailed rattlesnake flicks out its tongue as it climbs a rock near Granite Mountain in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020