CASTILE – Lucky hiker Ken Wallace spotted this rare and threatened icon of wilderness in Letchworth State Park Monday morning, shooting a few pictures of the fiercely beautiful animal before it slid quietly away into the underbrush.
The habitually peaceful timber rattlesnake, though terrifying to some, had no problem with Wallace as he took several photos and reported the sighting to the Park Visitor Center.
“I noticed something in the road ahead so as I approached it, I could clearly see that it was a beautiful yellow phase Timber Rattlesnake,” posted Wallace to Facebook just after noon on Monday. “I was able to get some amazing shots of this very private and elusive creature and at no time did it feel threatened by my presence as I stood close by shooting pictures and a video of it.”
Comments from local residents immediately began pouring in when these images were posted to Facebook, congratulating Wallace on how fortunate he was to encounter one of the rarest animals in the park.
“How cool and lucky for you to see it,” posted Melissa Grossman. “We lived right next to the park in the trailer park next door my whole childhood. Never saw a rattler on our adventures thru the trails.”
The Department of Environmental Conservation says that the venom, which is used primarily to immobilize prey, can be fatal to humans if the bite is untreated. However, in New York there have been no records of human deaths attributable to rattlesnakes in the wild during the last several decades.
State Park Police said they did send an officer just to check out the scene, but the snake safely left the road on its own.
The DEC says that timber rattlers are the largest venomous snakes in New York State, sometimes reaching lengths of 3 to 4.5 feet. This snake is a yellow phase timber rattler. The species exhibits a variety of colors including a black color phase.
The snakes are rare in New York due to over-collecting for the pet and curio trade, and indiscriminate killing under local bounty systems, under which a reward was paid for each timber rattlesnake killed. The bounty system was outlawed in New York State in 1971. Timber rattlesnakes reproduce at a low rate, making for slow population growth.
The DEC says that factors such as development, illegal collecting, and the continual disturbance of forests by recreational users will likely prevent or hinder population recovery for many areas.
Wallace added that though snakes can be scary, he felt comfortable in this one’s presence and appreciates having seen one in the wild.
“I felt quite honored to have this encounter with this amazing snake,” posted Wallace, “and believe it or not, in all the years I have hiked through the forest of Letchworth both East and West sides I have never encountered one of these before, so don’t stop coming to Letchworth because Rattlesnakes call it their home.”