What You Can See on May 20

From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Embracing Rattlesnakes If you live east of the Mississippi, mid-April through mid-May is the time to look for timber rattlesnakes as they emerge from hibernation dens in south-facing cliffs and boulder fields. Which brings up the question: Why would you want to? Maybe because these stocky pit vipers are beautiful, secretive, and rare to the point of being semi-mythical. In Maine, Rhode Island, Michigan, and Delaware they’ve not been seen in recent years and may have been extirpated -- all the more reason to look for them there. Timber rattlers vary from almost jet black to yellow with brown or black blotches on their sides and back. In the southern part of their range, a chestnut stripe may run along their backs. So shy are these snakes that if you encounter one, it will almost certainly be by your choice. And so docile are they that getting one to strike you requires major effort. Love of timber rattlers is a new cultural phenomenon in America. As recently as 1989, for example, Minnesota was paying a bounty on them. In Wisconsin, where the bounty was discontinued in 1975, one exterminator reported killing 5,700 in a single season. Now the species is protected in nine states (including all of New England) and the province of Ontario.