Random Thursday: Drones, Death, and Drama

Howdy, buckaroos! Today is National Chocolate With Almonds Day, and I can’t think of too many more magnificent combinations (although those chocolate-filled chocolate marshmallows come close, because too much chocolate is never enough). 

Today we’re stumbling through a variety of topics, so let’s not dawdle.

 I had a birthday recently and scored this sweet drone: a DJI Air 2s. Now you may be asking, why do you need another drone? Well, alert Gazette readers will no doubt recall that a year or so ago, an unfortunate series of events, starting with my thinking that I knew how to fly a drone, sent my old aircraft — a DJI Spark — crashing into one of the trees near our house. I managed to rescue it, but the rescue was even more damaging than the crash. (Note to self: Concrete is hard.) As a result, the camera has some issues. Also, the battery life on the Spark is only about 12 minutes or so, and one of its “smart” batteries devolved into a moron battery and is most useful as a paper weight.

Photo - DJI Air 2s droneAnyway, the new drone is a quantum leap ahead, and sports way more capabilities than I’ll ever figure out or use. For example, it takes 5.4K video. What the heck is 5.4K video? I have no idea, but it sounds cool, and when you google “5.4K video” you mostly come up with links about the Air 2s drone, so it sounds like nobody else really knows either. But the drone also takes 20mp photos, and I DO know what that means, as do you.

The battery life is terrific — 30+ minutes and I have three of them. The downside is that I’m accustomed to planning flights of 10 or 12 minutes and then landing. So now I have to figure out what to do with all the extra time. It’s a good problem to have.

Here’s an aerial photo I took of our house. It should provide a clue as to why our internet service is so sucky; we don’t have access to cable and the trees block all the line-of-sight broadcast services. We’re fortunate that we can point a dish at a satellite; otherwise, I’d be carving this post on a slab of stone with a chisel.

Photo - Our tree-surrounded house as seen from a drone hovering at around 75 feet

And, speaking of flying…and crashing…

As I was going out our sliding glass doors to put some cedar plank salmon on the grill, I a heard a soft *thump* about the same time I closed the door. I thought nothing of it until I started back in the house and only then noticed two little birds lying on the patio.

Photo - Two American goldfinches on the patio, one stunned and one deceased, after flying into the glass door
Two finches, one stunned and the other deceased, after flying into the glass door

I don’t know if the birds (which we believe are American finches) were fighting or playing, but they apparently simultaneously flew into the glass door, a fatal collision for one of them.

The stunned bird remained in the position shown above for a disturbingly long time, and we began to worry that it was badly injured. After a few minutes of observation, I coaxed it into my hand and carried it to the back fence.

Photo - American goldfinch perched in my palm
This beautiful little bird seemed content to rest in my hand for a while.

I placed it on the metal fence top rail, where it struggled to keep its footing…but it suddenly took wing and flew away, apparently recovered from its collision. It’s just unfortunate that both birds didn’t survive.

OK, there’s one more wildlife encounter to share…but first, a warning:

Snake-related text and photos below

Snake-related text and photos follow

So, in the last three days we’ve encountered three cottonmouths (aka water moccasins) either in our yard or within a half block of our house. This is highly unusual; we had seen only one of these snakes out of the water in the three preceding years we’ve lived here. I don’t know if the heavy rains we’ve had during the past month has contributed to their appearances on land, but it’s a bit spooky.

The most recent encounter occurred last evening. We had taken our golf cart into the neighborhood after dinner just to enjoy the non-rainy weather. We spent some time visiting with friends a few blocks away, and it was shortly after dusk when we headed back home. As we drove down the low water crossing, here’s what our headlights illuminated:

Photo - Cottonmouth snake with gaping mouth

This one wasn’t nearly as brightly colored as the previous two we had come in contact with, but it would be hard to find a more typical or representative photo of a cottonmouth. For example, you can easily see where it gets its name. That wide-mouthed stance, known as “gaping,” is designed as a warning that it’s not to be trifled with. You might even be able to make out the fangs in the photo.

The jagged edges of the patterns on its back are another identifier, as is the thick body that rapidly narrows to the tail. And here’s another typical warning behavior:

Animated GIF showing cottonmouth vibrating its tail as a warning

That’s right; a rattlesnake is not the only serpent that vibrates its tail when it feels threatened. In fact, this behavior is found in a number of snake species around the world, and not just the venomous ones (e.g. rat snakes will shake their tails in this manner). And contrary to the belief of some people, these other snakes haven’t learned from rattlesnakes; rather, the rattlesnake evolved to maximize the effect of this behavior.

It’s worth noting — no, strike that (no pun intended) — it’s essential to note that I had to coax the snake into both the gaping and tail vibrating mode by waving my hand close to it (but not so close as to be in danger; I’m not that big an idiot!), and as soon as I stopped waving my hand, it closed its mouth and stopped the tail shaking.

I finally located a stick and gently nudged it back toward the creek. It never made an attempt to strike at me or at the stick, although it didn’t immediately take the hint. But after a few such nudges, it finally wriggled its way down the culvert and disappeared into the rushing water on the low side of the crossing.

You’re probably tired of reading about these encounters, and I’m getting a bit tired of running into these snakes. I hope that when the weather settles down, we’ll get back to our old habits of avoiding each other.