Friday, September 26, 2014

Shaking it Up with Rattlesnakes - by Bo Gould (intern)

The Puente Hills Preserve is home to an intricate array of native plants, mammals, birds, insects, and reptiles, among others, all of whom play a vital role in supporting the health of the ecosystem. While visiting the Preserve’s beautiful natural scenery and observing its abundant wildlife, there is a group of southern Californian natives that can be particularly exciting to meet; the rattlesnakes. If you have visited the hills recently, you may have come across signs at a trailhead warning about the dangers of this reptile. However, there are many aspects of this snake that make it a special and integral part of the Puente Hills wildlife community.

Western Rattlesnake
Red Diamond Rattlesnake
In all, there are 32 known species of rattlesnakes; 7 of which can be found in California. The Puente Hills are home to two of such species; the western rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) and the red diamond rattlesnake (Crotalus ruber). Both species can often be observed slithering among trailside grasses, stretched out on a trail or sunbathing on rock outcrops, and can grow to be over 3 feet long. The western rattlesnake is distinguished by tan and dark-brown blotches, a triangular head with pit heat-sensors on both sides, and two internasals at the tip of its head. The red diamond rattlesnake, as its name suggests, displays reddish to tan diamond-shaped scales with black-and-white bands along its tail. The coloration of rattlesnakes helps them to effectively camouflage themselves in the environment and stay well-hidden from predators.

When these snakes shed their skin, each shedding produces a new rattle at the end of their tails. These rattles are definitive characteristics of the snake and can be heard as a warning signal to potential threats or predators. Rattlesnakes will typically give a short rattle as a warning, which will grow to a steady loud rattle if the snake feels threatened. If you hear a rattlesnake, do not move until you locate the precise location of the snake, back away slowly, and keep a safe distance. Rattlesnakes rarely strike if they are unprovoked.  Never attempt to pick up a rattlesnake!

Like all pit vipers, rattlesnakes are equipped with an exceptional set of sensory organs that help them locate prey. These include pits at the tip of their nose to sense thermal radiation from warm-blooded animals, eyes adapted to nocturnal use, and a keen sense of smell from both nostrils and sensory tissues on their tongues.

Once a prey animal is located, rattlesnakes use their quick striking ability and fangs to inject powerful hemotoxic venoms. The venom travels through the blood of the prey, causing intense swelling, pain, and tissue damage. The main prey of Puente Hills rattlers are rabbits, squirrels, rats, birds, lizards, and some insects. Though rattlesnakes are effective predators themselves, they are also heavily preyed upon by hawks, crows, foxes, raccoons, and coyotes. Thus, the ecological significance of rattlesnakes is large as they help to regulate rodent populations and provide food for other native Puente Hills species.  

Although rattlesnakes are dangerous, the likelihood of being bit is very low. If you see a snake, stay calm and slowly move away. Remember to stay on designated trails within the Preserve and scan the trail ahead. If a snake is directly in the path, keeping a safe distance and stomping your feet is usually enough to coax the rattlesnake to sun in a new spot. In the case of a snakebite, do not panic! Remove all rings, watches, and anything else in the area of the wound that may restrict blood flow. Remain calm and call 911 immediately. If treated promptly, rattlesnake bites are almost never fatal. You are more likely to be struck by lightning than to be bit by a rattlesnake.

So when on the trails, keep an eye out for this important part of the Puente Hills ecosystem and watch your step!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Living With Coyotes

HELP KEEP COYOTES WILD                

Coyotes help the environment.  They help keep populations of rodents and other small mammals under control. They also feed on raccoons, birds, insects, fruits/vegetables, human garbage, outdoor pet food and small pets left unprotected (even in your backyard). 

Attacks on humans are very rare.  When coyotes become accustomed to humans they can lose their shyness and become more demanding.  An average adult coyote is about 35 pounds and will be intimidated by people. While they may stop and observe, they will eventually run.  Coyotes can be seen any time of day but are typically most active at night; some have even become year round residents of urban areas.  They also become very active and visible during the pup-rearing season (May – July).

Associating urban areas with food.  To coexist, it is important that coyotes do not associate urban areas with food.  Coyotes are naturally fearful of humans, however they readily lose that fear when people intentionally (or unintentionally) provide food/water or shelter for them, or otherwise do not try to deter them from visiting. Eliminating sources that attract coyotes can go a long way in addressing the situation. 

What can you do?
  · Do not feed coyotes and other wildlife.
  · Make sure outside garbage is secured and fallen fruit from trees and bird seed from bird feeders is picked up. 
  · Do not feed your pets outdoors or leave pet food and water outdoors unattended, especially at night. 
  · Do not allow pets to roam free outside (including in your backyard), especially at night; make sure to keep your dog on a leash during walks.
  · Keep your landscaping trimmed and open so that they don’t provide hiding places for coyotes or other wildlife.
  · Make sure that fencing around your yard is secure –six-foot tall and buried six inches deep is recommended to prevent digging underneath it. 

If approached by a coyote or if one is in your neighborhood:
  · "Haze” them. Stand tall, yell, wave your arms, blow a whistle or horn, bang pots or pans together, spray water or throw rocks.
  · While they may stop and observe, they will eventually run.
  · Do not run away or turn your back on them. Stand your ground and then back   slowly away while practicing hazing techniques.
  · If you feel your personal safety is immediately at risk, call 911.

Informative links and contacts:

City of Whittier:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife:

Police Department: 562-567-9200 (non-emergency)                        

LA County Animal Control: 562-940-6898 (dead animal pickup)           

Thursday, February 13, 2014

It’s the Great Backyard Bird Count

If you’re interested in citizen-science and birding then this is the weekend for you!  Started by Cornell University and the National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count is scheduled for February 14-17, 2014.  Citizens are being asked to collect data on wild birds and submit them online.  It can be as simple as counting birds for at least 15 minutes in your backyard for one day or participate by visiting numerous locations over the 4 days, it’s up to you. 
In 2013, there were participants in 111 countries that counted over 33 million birds! These data can assist researchers in answering questions related to how climate change can affect bird populations, timing of migrations over years, and differences in bird diversity in urban, rural and natural areas, to name a few. 

To get started, go to the following link and register online.  All the information you need to participate is on their website.
I know I’ll be participating….will you?

Happy Birding!