Growing up, the conventional wisdom was that one would only see rattlesnakes east of Santa Rosa and never anywhere close to Sebastopol. Whether that conventional wisdom was simply wrong or the range of the northern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganus) has changed in the past two decades, rattlers are definitely closer to home than I thought. I spotted a baby rattler sunning itself along the Joe Rodota Trail about 3 miles east of Sebastopol last spring and just about ran over another juvenile about a 1/4 mile east of the Laguna de Santa Rosa on my way home recently. Although I didn’t stop to look at it too closely, the triangular head and markings were unmistakable.

Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganus)

Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganus) Photo Copyright © 2005 Christopher L. Christie (CalPhotos)

Seeing the rattler reminded me of a time I was on a run in the foothills above Stanford University some years ago and stopped to encourage a baby snake to get off the road. At first I thought it was a gopher snake–until it rattled at me and I t00k note of the distinctive shape of its head and greenish color. I thought it would still be a good idea to move off the road, but with a stick instead of with my foot. The snake hissed and struck at the stick as I nudged it. It refused to move off, so I picked it up with the end of the stick and deposited in the grass a few feet away. As I stepped back, a movement caught my eye — a red shouldered hawk had been watching the whole thing from a dead tree behind me and swooped down as soon as I was out of the way. The hawk scooped up the snake and took it back to the tree, where it proceeded to enjoy dinner.