The warmth of the sun drew me out of the office this week, and I spent a couple of lunchtimes walking around Upton Heath on the hunt for newly emerged reptiles. Monday was still a bit chilly to be honest and it wasn’t long before I was back in the office, sipping on a hot cup of tea, questioning why I had even thought about going out there!
The sun was out again on Tuesday though, and once again I succumbed to the lure of tracking down some reptiles that might be basking. To be fair, it was a bit warmer and the breeze had died off somewhat – in the sheltered slopes it was easy to imagine it was mid-summer (well, almost!).
It soon became clear that the lizards had indeed come out to bask. Most were very wary indeed, and offered just a glimpse before they scuttled away in the depths of the heather. It was surprising just how many were there, and I was seeing in the region of a lizard every 2-3 yards. Most were adults, but some were juveniles no more than a couple of centimetres long and really well camouflaged.
All except one that is!
One young lizard had obviously discovered that the tin sheets that we use for reptile monitoring get quite warm in the sun, so had stretched out on it, to get the warmth from the tin. Unfortunately, he got nice and warm and….. very, very tired! As I got closer I could tell that he knew I was there, but was really struggling to keep his eyes open -just like the videos you see of small children who just can’t help falling asleep at the table.. So funny to watch him trying to wake himself, so I took the pic and slowly moved away to let him carry on his slumber. Hope he doesn’t do that too often or he’ll be easy pickings for a predator.
My method for hunting down reptiles is to walk really slowly and stealthily along a fire break or path, scanning the edge of the heath just ahead of me – and picking out the reptiles before they move away. After twenty minutes or so of this I had seen loads of common lizards and even a few sand lizards, but hadn’t got any more decent shots with my camera. Then, I glimpsed a sand lizard a few yards further up the ride. He was a male, just starting to take on the first flush of green as he gets to breeding condition in April.
One slight problem was that I wanted to get a little closer to him, but there was a dwarf gorse growing right across the ride between us. Nothing ventured, nothing gained so I got down on my belly and literally crawled over the gorse. Talk about sharp needles! I think the only reason the lizard didn’t run away was because he was enjoying this too much!
Anyway, I got the shots I had hoped for – and was even considerate enough to crawl back over the gorse again rather than disturb the lizard any further (double ouch!).
Moving on, I came across a steep bank, bathed in direct sunlight -and covered in wood ants. Again, these insects were also out enjoying the sun. Wouldn’t it be great to get a good shot of a wood ant? I soon realised it’s not that easy..
Firstly, with so many ants, it’s just like a seething mass of them so really difficult to pick out a focus point. I decided to try a different approach – and looked around the edges of group for any individual ants. Second problem – they simply don’t stop moving! Trying to focus on such a small target when it is always moving, with a really shallow depth of field, was very, very entertaining. That was until of course, I felt something crawling up my arm! Yes, I’d been spotted (not hard considering I was only a few inches away!) and they had decided I needed to be sorted out in the only way that ants know – all out attack!
I quickly moved away, happy to leave them to their sunbathing in peace! I got some decent shots so at least I don’t have to run that gauntlet again for a while.
Next time the sun shines I’ll be back out there again -this time hoping to find an adder or two. I’ll also be planning my approach to avoid any more contact with gorse bushes!