Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lucky To Be Alive

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (dangerous)
Photography can be a dangerous profession. You never know what (or who) you are going to run into.

 Tarantula (scary, but not dangerous)
Last summer, I went to Arizona in August to witness the Hummingbird migration, but I also had a few special creatures on my “wish list.” In the tiny town of Portal, I was hoping to photograph Nectar Bats - large bats that often visit Hummingbird feeders at night.

Violet-crowned Hummingbird
(not very dangerous)
Bats are not popular with the locals who generally take their feeders down before it gets dark, but I talked the owner of the ranch where I was staying into leaving up a few feeders for me. I was delighted to see a number of endangered Lesser Long-nosed Bat and the more common Mexican Long-tongued Bat as they made quick work of several quarts of sugar water. Even better, there was still time for me to go out looking for a few Rattlesnakes.

   Lesser Long-nosed Bat and Mexican Long-tongued Bat
(just scary)
I slowly cruised dark desert roads and found a few snakes.

Mojave Rattlesnake (nasty AND dangerous)

Then I saw the headlights of a truck behind me. I pulled to the side of the road to let it pass, but it followed me to the shoulder and then blocked me in. Bright lights filled the desert night. Immigration Service. The agent on the passenger side rolled down the window.

Agent: “What are you doing out here?”

Me: “Looking for Rattlesnakes . . . Sir”

Agent: “Why?”

Me: “I want to take pictures”

Agent: “Don’t they just lie there stretched out on the road?”

Me: “Not if you poke them with a stick.”

Agent: “Who would be stupid enough to poke a Rattlesnake with a stick?”

Me: Awkward silence

Agent: “You DO know that they are poisonous, right?

Me: “Technically, they are venomous, not poisonous.”

Agent: “What’s the difference?”

Me: “That means they are OK to eat.”

The other agent laughed, put the truck in gear and took off.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (dangerous)
I didn’t get bitten by anything (including a bat that landed on my head, causing me to scream like a little girl). I got tons of great photos and my wife is convinced that I’m crazy. I’d call that a complete success!

Meep Meep!
(Dangerous? Ask Wile E. Coyote)

Final note - it is illegal to pick up or collect snakes and lizards and such in Arizona. Unfortunately, as the number of dead snakes found on the road every morning, people seem to have no problem intentionally running them over with their cars.

You can see thousands of my photos at  They are all available for sale as prints or licence. I have a section where you can find birds by species or hard-to-find vertical shots for your next magazine cover

Just a quick post script - I want to say that I am very grateful to all the men and women that risk their lives to protect our country. The agents in Arizona have a tough and dangerous job and had no way of knowing if there was a middle-aged man with a camera or a drug-smuggler with a gun when they approached. I turned on the interior lights of my vehicle and put my hands on the wheel so that they could see that I was not a threat. I'm glad that I gave them a bit of a laugh as well.


  1. Great story Steve. I guess you need to be a bit (at least) crazy to be succesful in naturephotography, although I never would poke a rattlesnake with a stick!

  2. haha...I love the venomous/poisonous conversation! Great looking blog you've got set up Steve.