A Rhubarb With Scales

The middle of a coachwhip (red racer)

I arrived early on the Vaquero Trail to look for the antelope squirrels but as I approached from below I could see none were out on the rocks. I took a breakfast break and while drinking some water I noticed what reminded me of rhubarb back in the rocks. I hadn’t seen any plant like that in the desert but then I still have so much to learn. In case it was a discarded rubber gasket I went in for a closer look in case it was trash I should take with me, and that’s when I realized my rhubarb had scales.

The face of a red racer variety of coachwhip

I believe this is a coachwhip (of the red racer variety) and I have to say I was rather stunned to see it, I had no idea such a lovely creature existed! While not venomous it is a threat to many of the small animals of the desert and I hope the bulge I saw in its middle wasn’t one of my squirrels! Since it wasn’t coiled up and resting I took some pictures and then backed off in case it wanted to move, it didn’t while I finished my water and food break but after a mountain bike came whizzing past I looked up and the snake was gone.

The red racer variety of coachwhip between rocks

Diamond in the Rain

A close-up view of a western diamondback rattlesnake in the rain

It was raining in the desert. Even better, I was out in it. So it was already a glorious morning when I found a jewel beside the trail, a diamond if a smaller one. I put my new Sony telephoto lens to good use although I hadn’t expected to expose it to the rain quite so early in its life as it was only my third time hiking with it.

The rattlesnake was comfortable with my presence as the rain poured down and I wasn’t about to let such an opportunity pass me by, new lens or not. My preference when shooting wildlife is for them to be aware of me and to feel in control of the encounter, usually to minimize the stress to them but in this case also to minimize the stress to me. Beautiful as they are western diamondbacks are both our largest and most common rattlesnake and worthy of respect.

As the rain intensified I noticed it calmly started sweeping its head across its coiled body. At first I thought it might be a sign it wanted to move so I backed even further off but the behavior continued, a slow graceful sweep of its head across its body. I resumed looking through the telephoto lens and realized its mouth was moving, like it was swallowing, and I wondered if it was drinking raindrops from its scales? Or cleaning them?

In the close-up shot you can see water drops on its head and even its eyes. Near the front of its head you can see one of its nostrils, and in between and below the nostril and eyes you can see the heat-sensing pit that allows them to hunt at night. After taking a break for water and food I continued on my way. May all our encounters be so peaceful little one, I pray we never meet in anger.

A western diamondback rattlesnake is coiled up in the rain beside the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona