Year End Countdown # 9 — Coon Tail
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Some may ask: Really? A Western Diamondback Rattlesnake on Christmas Eve? Well, I love rattlers and this is my favorite rattlesnake image of 2014. And, fear not, some of the remaining subjects in my top 12 are cuter.
I was walking in Sabino Canyon early one late July morning and I came to a bridge that crosses Sabino Creek. I saw something moving on the bridge and immediately recognized it as a Western Diamondback. It was a fairly good sized snake, about 3 1/2 feet long. The snake was in the middle of the bridge and was progressing slowly towards the opposite end. Rattlers are not fast moving snakes so I had plenty of time to figure out my exposure and to consider how I wanted to photograph the snake.
I took a lot of pictures and as I did the snake became increasingly annoyed. Almost certainly it was the repeated flashes of my speedlite, but also the fact that I had maneuvered around in front of it and was blocking its path. Suddenly, it coiled into the classic “strike” posture that a rattlesnake assumes when it is upset and defensive.
I had no interest in harassing the snake, so I took this picture and a few more, then backed off. The snake immediately relaxed and resumed its leisurely crawl across the bridge. When it reached the end it simply dropped into the adjacent brush and disappeared.
The snake gets the nickname “Coon Tail” by virtue of the fact that its tail is boldly striped in black and white. To some, it is reminiscent of a raccoon’s tail.
I love this photo because it shows this snake in a classic defensive coil. Rattlers are not at all aggressive towards humans and it is actually rare to see one in a defensive posture. Normally, they’re either stretched out or coiled in repose. Getting a photo of a rattler ready to defend itself was pretty unique for me. By the way, the lens that I used for this photo makes objects seem closer than they actually are. I never was less than six feet from the snake. A rattlesnake can strike up to 2/3 of its body length, under ideal conditions, so I was never close enough to the snake to put myself at risk.
Photo taken with a Canon 5Diii, 180 f3.5L Macro lens assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, ISO 200, “M” setting, f16 @ 1/200.