One species of rattlesnake that we’ve wanted to see in the wild is the Mojave. While visiting Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge recently, we finally got our chance. If only we had been five minutes earlier, however, we might have seen it alive.
“We’ve been seeing a lot more Mojave rattlesnakes lately,” Assistant Refuge Manager Juliette Gutierrez had told us before we arrived. She had even emailed us a picture of one. The semidesert grassland of the Refuge seems to be ideal habitat for the Mojave.
But as we wandered the Refuge during our week’s stay, we failed to encounter any snake until our last evening walk when Chuck spotted a turkey vulture lumbering around its dinner. We hurried ahead to check out its trophy as it flapped its huge wings and took to the air when we approached.
“Yep. It’s a snake,” Chuck said. A large green Mojave lay stretched out on the road, its head shattered most likely by a passing vehicle. The vulture had already ripped a piece of skin to begin its feast when we disturbed it.
Chuck walked back to the trailer for a camera, leaving me holding a snake hook to guard the body. Not long after he left, the vulture returned, soared above me, and landed on a nearby branch. Several others joined it, hunched in anticipation.
When Chuck drove back with the camera, we snapped some quick pictures, then sat in the car at a distance to observe the vultures. But none returned to the carcass for the 20 minutes we watched before driving back to our trailer.
After dinner, we drove back down the road to see if the vultures were at last working on the dead rattlesnake. When we arrived, the body had been reduced to a skeleton and one vulture still pecked and pulled at the remains. Since only an hour had elapsed, the birds had made quick work of the dead snake.
The early bird gets the worm – or, in this case, the snake.
Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge: