This snake, I believe, is a bull snake (aka gopher snake), and I came upon it as I was driving the ranger up to the mailbox. I had to stop, or I would have run over it. I stayed long enough to see it go into its den at the base of a large boulder on the side of our long, gravel driveway.
Since this day I have seen the snake on the road quite a few times, and though I don’t want to hit it, I am afraid I will– at some point—as I drive my Jeep off the property. I’m not always focused on the ground ahead as I drive out. And others drive in and out of here too, so….
The bull snake is mistaken for a rattlesnake, because it has a design running along its body similar to the markings of the Western diamondback rattlesnake, which we also have in the dry regions of Oregon. Another similarity that gets it killed by humans is it makes a sound with its tail. It tries to mimic the rattlesnake’s rattle by beating its tail on the ground. A rattlesnake, though, holds its tail in the air to make the rattles heard more clearly. Unlike the rattlesnake, the bull snake is not poisonous. And, it helps keep the rodent population down.
One day I was walking the donkeys back to the barn along the road with Skookum beside us, and we came upon this snake. I walked the donkeys around the snake, and Skookum saw it, but he stayed well back. The donkeys did not notice the snake. Hopefully Skookum avoided it, because he was remembering “snakes are bad” from the snake aversion training he took last fall in Portland. This was my first opportunity since then to see the dog encounter a snake in the wild that I know he saw. More often Skookum and Ouzel run across the snake and don’t even realize it is on the ground.
I also saw what I think was the same snake crossing the driveway down at the barn in the late afternoon one day- probably on its way back to its den. Possibly it was hunting for barn mice?
Next door to Mule Springs is a small swine farm, and the farmer told me she has never seen a rattlesnake on their property – though bull snakes are abundant.
If bull snakes out number rattlesnakes on Mule Springs Farm, I’d be well pleased. One of the largest snakes in North America, the bull snake is beautiful, fascinating, and non-poisonous. Still, I will do my best to avoid its bite.