I was at Cincinnati Nature Center this morning hiking a few trails. Saw lots of wildlife including two deer. Between trails I decide to stop at one of their two bird blinds.
For those of you who don’t know what a bird blind is, let me explain. At its most basic, it’s a wooden wall with viewing slots in it. You can see the birds but they don’t notice you. The ones at CNC are actually small wooden buildings, like long sheds. There’s an open doorway and one long viewing slot along the opposite wall (about a 4″ gap, you can stick part of your forearm through it), several wooden benches, and that’s it. It’s a very basic structure, but comfortable and shielded from the elements.
I sit down for some bird viewing. I count almost ten species within a few minutes. Chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, titmice, downy woodpeckers. Then one of the tufted titmice scares the crap out of me – flies through the viewing slot and out the door of the blind, missing me by not more than two feet. Now I know titmice are clever and curious and and cheeky, but this is obviously unusual. He somehow knew I was there and purposely got my attention. I notice he landed in the trees just outside the blind and as I turn back to the gap he starts yammering in his loud raucous distress call. Alright, something is agitating him. But he’s on the wrong side of the blind for that, all the birds are on my side. Then I hear a second one join him. They’re fighting? No, I don’t hear fighting sounds, just yelling. This doesn’t add up. So I stick my head out the door.
They’re both very close to the door; one flies higher up as I poke my head out but the other just hops to a different branch. I figure it’s over, whatever it is. But as soon as I go back inside he hops closer to the door and starts yammering again. What the hell? He’s right by the door.
This time I actually leave the structure, walk a few paces, looking around. He stops yelling. I turn toward him – he’s sitting in a tree between me and the blind, about five feet away, eye level, looking right at me. Alright, what’s up? Then I see a piece of black garden hose by the doorway start to move – no, no, that’s… not a hose. That’s a snake. Aha – I’m guessing this is what titmouse is yelling about?
The snake lifts its head up, about a foot. This is… not a small snake. Then starts slowly slithering into the blind. And keeps slithering… holy shit this snake is big. I’d say about six feet, conservatively. The titmouse flies away. Yeah, that’s definitely what titmouse is yelling about. Hey, big dumb human, there’s a giant snake! Seriously he’s right there! Right behind you! Watch your back! Thanks buddy! Good call!
I snap a quick picture of the snake on the floor of the blind and start assessing the situation. He’s a medium sized snake, dark colored, almost black, with some kind of pattern on him, can’t see it too well in the shade. Triangular head, white belly. Being in Ohio not Australia, I figure statistics are on my side for him being not poisonous. Judging by the bulge in his middle, he’s eaten a small bird or rodent within a day or two. I follow him inside the structure staying back a little bit. I’m super curious, but he’s a snake. I’m not dumb.
He slithers along the back wall and up onto one of the benches. He’s slowly headed toward me. I move into the blind to see him better and give myself more room to maneuver. He doubles back toward the support beam he used to get on the bench. I hear something new… that’s not a bird sound. Is that… rattling? I get a little closer to see his tail. There’s a slight notch about half an inch from the tip, and sure enough it’s a tiny version of a rattle. As I’m watching, the snake slides his tail against the back wall, using it as a soundboard, amplifying the rattling. Welp. This human attended Zoo Camp and knows when she’s being threatened. Though likely not poisonous, he is a snake, and he is rattling at me. I don’t need to be told twice.
Okay, so now what? I’m in a dark bird blind, with a six-foot rattlesnake, and though I’m not scared, there are families with children everywhere. I hang in the doorway of the blind, hoping to see an official of some kind, keeping an eye on the snake which has crawled up the support beam and is now hiding itself in the eaves. The first humans to come by are a family of four; dad, mom, and two young boys:
Mom: Come on guys, let’s go see the birds!
Me: Uh, just so you know, there’s a big snake in here, probably a rattler.
Youngest son: COOL! (he heads straight for me, standing in the doorway)
Mom: (catching him) No, not cool. Thanks for telling us!
Me: Have you seen any employees or officials around? They should probably know.
Dad: No, but we can call them, here, I’ll look up the number.
Dad gets on the phone with the main desk, giving them the blind’s location and situation while I point out the snake to mom and the kids. I thank them and give them the location of the other bird blind. Dad says they’re sending someone over. I hang around for another few minutes waiting just in case I need to warn someone else with small children. The snake has meanwhile completely concealed himself in the eaves, probably curled up for a nap.
Eventually two park employees come, a man and a woman. He looks excited – he says he’s got his snake stick with him. Now I’ve seen snake sticks – they’re those mechanical grabby arms, or at the very least a long forked stick. This guy had a 6″ twig. I didn’t know what exactly he was planning to do with that against a 6′ snake, but I’m not the professional here. I point him up to the rafters. He stands on a bench and flashlights his phone to get a look. Yep, he’s in there! Probably curling up for some sleep. We all take a few pictures of the snake who is now wondering what the crap all these humans are doing, it’s naptime, go away.
The guy thanks me for calling him and explains that it’s a black rat snake, which can get to be eight feet long – not technically a rattler, but uses its little rattle to imitate one and will actually use dead leaves as an amplifier. I tell him about it rattling against the wall which we all agree is very cool. I have the woman text me her pictures because my phone’s camera wouldn’t focus in the dark. I thought they might post a sign or something, but they don’t. The snake is harmless unless provoked, just big and scary looking. I come back two hours later to see if the snake is still there. He is; curled up sleeping in a different cubby hole up in the eaves. I hope he doesn’t scare the crap out of some poor unsuspecting birder when he finally comes down – hopefully that brave little titmouse will be there to warn them too.