So it was with high hopes that I turned into Devils Hammock Wildlife Management Area for a slow photo creep along the dirt roads that snake through the preserve.
Right away, a hawk obliged with a few pics before flying off. Things were looking good as I walked down a familiar path to the gator hole. Everything had grown up with the almost daily rains and the gators heard me coming before I could see them.
I could hear them splashing into the water and when I finally reached a place where I could look down into the pool, there were 6 gator heads looking back. Neat.
It was about then that the sky went overcast and instead of golden late day light, I had muddy washed out light. Blechhh.
I continued on in the JEEP hoping for a change in conditions, but the dullness only increased as the sun dropped in the hazy west.
I did see a covey of quail, a sight so rare around here, that I had to stop and watch them bustle off into the palmettos. I think the fire ants are doing a job on these pretty little ground nesters.
At some point, aware of the gas I seemed to be wasting, I turned around instead of driving all the way through the park as is my custom.
This trip looked like a wash after all. First time out in awhile too dang it.
I jostled the stirrups a bit and the JEEP took off at "lets just get out of here" speed.
So, I was barely looking for wildlife when I came across this 5 foot diamondback rattlesnake crossing the dirt road about 100 meters from the park exit.
Thirty seconds later and I would have missed it all together as only the arse end of the animal was still sliding off the road when I noticed it.
I stopped dead in the middle of the dirt road, hopped out and began shooting, thinking that this snake was going to zip off into the underbrush.
But, it didn't.
It slid parallel to the road at a slow pace as if it owned the place. I moved closer into the brush that stood between us and shot some more. The snake just continued to slide. No rattling, no real notice of me.
Then, I heard a vehicle approaching and ... dang it, I had left the JEEP blocking the road. So I crawled back out of the thorns and jogged back to the JEEP ... to find the FWC state wildlife officer's patrol truck blocked by my vehicle.
I told him what I found and to my surprise he jumped out and wanted to go see it, so the two of us left our vehicles in the road and bushwhacked back to where the rattler was.
Now, with two of us triangulated on her, she went defensive and put on a display that was as impressive as any I've ever seen. I have a few seconds of video showing her before she went all cobraesque on us.
The game warden and I were about as close as you'd want to be ... maybe 7 feet away from her. At one point, I was so in to taking pics that I failed to see the brush covered fire ant mound and stepped right on to it. Being sneaky fire ants, they all swarmed my legs before one of them gave the command to sting.
This distracted my attention from the snake, the game warden's too as he helped swat a few ants off one of my sneakers. Neither one of us was looking at the snake at that point and we both laughed at the thought of dying from a rattlesnake because some ants were biting you.
I'm just saying, it would be pretty embarrassing to explain that to St. Peter ... or Cerberus.
The snake never struck, she only loaded her coils for the strike and continued warning us with that amazing rattle.
The sun was setting and I had the out of the ordinary pics I needed, so I bid the warden adieu and rattled on out of the park.
I could still hear her buzzing as I drove off.
I had a bit of a buzz myself from the encounter.