Once More Into The Bluffs

Black Rat Snake

The way is steep...

A moccasin emerges

walking stick

Somewhere in southern Illinois,
November 5, 2005
with Rick Milas, Jeff Moorbeck,
and Steve Coogan
Partly cloudy, with more sun later; high 78F.
Strong winds from the south

We had just arrived at the bluffs, hadn't been there more than five minutes, when Rick shouted 'rattler!' and we heard the familiar tail buzz.  The Timber, a two-footer, slipped into a deep crevice ahead of us, and continued to rattle beyond all reach.

Caught by surprise; we weren't expecting a snake right off the bat, much less a rattlesnake.  We had no 'search image' yet; I had walked right by the serpent without seeing it.  We weren't off to a good start.

We had driven down against a warm southern wind that morning.  Temperatures in the area had reached the mid-seventies for the past four days; conditions looked pretty good.  Jeff had driven down from Wisconsin the night before, in order to make the trip.

The section of bluffs we would be working ran north-south for about two and a half miles.  This time of the year, our window for working this area was narrow - the sun was not high enough to hit the west-facing bluffs until eleven or so, and on the other hand, sunset was around four thirty. 

It wasn't long before the next snake turned up, an adult Black Rat Snake working along a crevice in the bluff face.   We were encouraged - a productive day could be in the works.  The wind continued to roar out of the south, strong enough to keep the birds hunkered down, although we did spot a couple of Pileated Woodpeckers.  The sun peeked out of the clouds now and then, and there were some promising patches of blue up there.

A small Cottonmouth made an appearance next, close to the bluff face, and not long after we saw a second one.  Both seemed to be emerging from crevices, which was an encouraging sight.  There were many small cracks and crevices to inspect as we made our way along.  This was no easy hike across level terrain; staying close to the bluff meant climbing up and down steep slopes, and negotiating our way over or around rock piles and in some cases, enormous sections of fallen bluff.

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