Mission: achieved!

I’ve been a bit of a man on a mission since my last post. My finishing sentence mentioned finding an adder, or words to that effect anyway.  Those words have been haunting me ever since!  Every day has been near perfect conditions for reptile hunting – and I’ve been out on pretty much every one of them..

Perfect reptile country - or so I'd like to think!

Lizards were fine, as I already had sand and common lizard ticked off and with some decent pictures to show for my efforts.  Slow worms swiftly followed and then I hit a bit of a wall. Adders are early risers and will happily bask in February on a good day, so the recent run of good weather in March should have made it a bit of a doddle to find one, right?  Well, actually yes it seems.  Our Wardens started seeing them a few weeks ago, and before long my contacts on Flickr started posting adder images up as well.  It seemed that everyone was seeing adders except me.

Getting a whiff of grass snake… nice!

Not a problem I kept telling myself.  I had a whole day at Sopley Common working with students on a heathland mapping exercise – what a perfect opportunity to finally find a snake.  Find a snake is exactly what I did, much to the surprise of the students as I dived into the heather and came out clutching …….. a grass snake.

Now, grass snakes have a rather effective way of not being eaten.  They excrete a foul smelling liquid and then roll around in it so that any predator thinking of having a bite to eat will soon think again when they get a whiff!  By the way, when I say foul smelling, I mean it really really stinks!!  So, this grass snake did what comes naturally, assuming that I was about to have a bite and let fly with the stuff.  The students that had been rushing to get a close look soon decided that actually they could see perfectly well from a bit further away! 

Grass snake picture taken the day before. They don't just live in grass!

 So, grass snake ticked off – but still no adder.
By now, I was going to work early to get a quick walk in before work starts, and then going for a walk at lunchtime in my attempts to finally find an adder – all to no avail!  I now know all the hot spots for sand lizards and grass snakes (I’ve now seen 6 of those in a week!) and can spot a basking common lizard from 20 feet away – not bad considering they are only a couple of inches long.
Today though, everything turned on it’s head.  My morning walk revealed no snakes (no surprise there then!) and by lunchtime it had clouded over somewhat.  I took a gamble on it being warm enough, and a man on a mission doesn’t get put off by the lack of sun – so off I went, camera in hand.
Sure enough, as soon as I got onto the heath I was able to start ticking the reptiles off.  Common lizard – tick,

common lizard. Does what it says on the tin. It's a lizard, and it's common.

 slow worm – tick,

Slow worm. It's not a worm, and it's not slow. Not the best name for it really!

 another common lizard, adder – tick.

Adder. Have never tried to test its mathematical abilities so wouldn't like to comment.

  What?!  Adder?  Yup, I finally caught up with my target for the day, the week, the month!  A striking (not literally) young male adder greeted me and happily posed for a few shots before winding his way into deeper cover.

Yep. I'm pretty sure he knows I'm here!

 What a relief, I knew I could go back to office with my head held high!
It was still quite early in my break, so why not carry on?  So I did.  Another adder managed to slither away into the undergrowth before I could get the camera onto it, but I was now on a bit of a roll.  Yet another grass snake turned up next, again managing to evade the camera – but that’s twice I’ve seen him in the same spot now so I’ll have to visit again and see if I can’t creep up for a shot.  Still, that was 4 species ticked off.
Next stop was to have a check for the black adder (thanks to Andy for being kind enough to offer me some directions).  I slowly made my way to the spot… there it was!

Awesome!

  What an amazing animal.  Pure black, even it’s eyes – but definitely an adder.  Wow!
It was now time to head back but I had yet another surprise to come.  Checking under one of the survey tins I was chuffed to bits to find two smooth snakes. 

You guessed it. It's a snake, and it has really smooth skin.

 These rare snakes normally emerge quite late so I really hadn’t expected to find them at all.
Serious note time:  We use tins as a means of carrying out surveys for reptiles.  The tins act as a safe refuge for them yet enables them to warm up as the metal heats in the sunlight.  Lifting the tins obviously does disturb them, hence the need for a licence – specifically to afford protection for smooth snakes.  The Dorset Wildlife Trust staff, including me, are trained and licenced in this work.  I urge anyone tempted to have a look under a tin, not to do so.  Firstly, you could be disturbing a smooth snake.  Secondly, you could equally be disturbing an adder – and it won’t be happy!   If you want to see these reptiles up close, then give us a call at the office (01202 642788) and we will see if we can take you out on one of our regular surveys.
It was as I was about to leave the heath that it dawned on me.  I had seen 5 of the 6 species of reptile in under an hour.  I was only missing sand lizard.  The trouble was, there was only another 20 yards or so of suitable habitat left before I was out onto a busy path – and to make matters even less likely, a dog walker were just a few yards ahead of me.  There was just one chance.  A patch of bare ground running alongside the path, about 2 yards away and separated by a tall stand of heather.  I made my way slowly along as best I could, and peered into the patch…. 

There is a sand lizard down there.. I'll see if I can get a bit closer.

Unbelievably, basking on the open ground and keeping a beady eye on me, was a male sand lizard!

Sand lizard. It's a lizard, but not made of sand.

So, not only had I finally seen an adder – I had actually seen 3 adders, 1 grass snake, 2 smooth snakes, 1 sand lizard, several slow worms and numerous common lizards.  The big six, in reptile terms -and all in the space of a lunch hour, and in March!
I’m still deciding what my next mission will be, but I hope it isn’t so challenging as that one!

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12 Responses to Mission: achieved!

  1. Chris Senior says:

    Well done – I’m impressed with your determination.

    Just as well I didn’t know that grass snakes could be smelly – we had a huge one in the back garden a couple of years ago and Kev picked it up and put it into next door’s garden away from our cats (next door is an empty house with an overgrown garden). Although his (Kev’s that is) sense of smell is poor so he may not have noticed! lol

  2. I’d love to go out and photograph these species myself, when are surveys carried out?

  3. jonspond says:

    Well I can probably challenge you on the most number of individual reptiles found in a single survey visit – 151 reptiles in 10 minutes!

    Well done btw. How do you fancy planning a larger challenge to find all the free living reptiles and amphibians in the UK? native and non native

    we could take some time to compile a list and then we could aim for say 48hrs or longer perhaps?

    what do you say?

    J

    • spudders says:

      Hi Jonspond,

      Normally I’m happy to take on any challenge, but I’ll give this one a miss if you don’t mind. I’m very happy with my six british reptiles, and can only imagine the frustrations in trying to get the non natives as well!

  4. jonspond says:

    PS – it may also be worth your while to contact your local ARG or the ARC trust to help with such surveys.

    J

  5. Jane says:

    Well done Steve and great photos. I “almost” felt like I was there! I’d love to see the Black adder – what a stunner. Jane

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