Monday, 26 August 2013

Encountering adders

Jessica Riederer, Seasonal Education Officer

If you are reading this, you must be inspired by wildlife in some way. Maybe you spend your days off like I do, wandering about Norfolk’s varied landscapes seeing what you can discover. I have spent most of the summer exploring Norfolk’s wetlands where I have been completely absorbed by dragonflies - their iridescent colours and the quick hum of their wings, the way they patrol the hedges and pond surfaces scooping up insects and chasing away intruders, the way some species – especially the Emperor, will zoom over, stopping to hover a foot away from your face, moving their powerful bulky bodies back and forth to get a closer look before zooming off to continue with their day. Dragonflies make me incredibly happy.  This weekend though, I was ready for another encounter. This weekend I was searching for adders.

I had not seen an adder since the spring. Cool, sunny, spring mornings are the best time to see them, as being coldblooded, they need to bask before hunting or searching for a mate. During the summer there is less need for them to bask and this makes seeing them less likely. But as we creep through August, blackberries are ripening, migrants are leaving England, and as much as I hate to admit it, there is now – more than occasionally - a bit of a nip in the air. In a month, adders will be looking to hibernate, so now could be a good time to look for them.
Lizard, photo by Jessica Riederer
On Friday, one of our volunteers, Kirsty Bailey suggested I visit Buxton Heath, a reserve I was unfamiliar with. When she informed me that a healthy population of reptiles – grass snakes, slow worms and adders could all be found there – and that the reserve was generally quite quiet, I knew this was the place for me. On Sunday morning I arrived at Buxton Heath just as the clouds were clearing and the sun’s rays were beginning to touch the heather that stretched across the reserve. It was just gorgeous. As I began to walk, I immediately started to search places I knew adders would be, and my best luck finding adders has always been amongst dead bracken. 

Adder, photo by Jessica Riederer
Anywhere bracken was piled amongst the heather, I would stop a few meters away and let my eyes skip, hop and glide back and forth and up and down over the piles. The dead bracken leaves are the same colours and make the same patterns as the diamond pattern on an adder’s back, and this is the reason they are so beautifully camouflaged amongst it. It was the perfect adder morning and I knew they were there, but as the first 45 minutes passed and I was still not seeing anything, I could feel my patience (and confidence) waning. I was quiet as could be, literally taking one step every minute, scanning and looking. Eventually, I saw a small, well camouflaged lizard and this boosted my confidence, and as I watched him flitting about I decided that if I could spot a lizard, I would spot a snake. It was then that I located my first adder, about ten feet away, curled up in the middle of a bracken pile. He was incredibly camouflaged and even though I knew I was looking at an adder, it was almost as if my eyes did not want to believe it as I had been looking for so long.
Adder, photo by Jessica Riederer
Oh the joy! What a gorgeous snake. This was one of the lightest adders I had ever seen, and not yet full grown. I slowly inched my way closer, got a few photos and then just stopped and watched him (her?). In a few seconds, his tongue flicked as he detected my presence and he slid oh so quietly back into his bracken home. I was blessed with two more adders on that lovely morning. One was tiny and spotted me before I spotted him, so I just saw his tail disappearing, but the other one was basking. This adder was much larger and much darker in colour - even her red eyes were almost black. This time, after observing her for a bit, I backed up and moved away before she detected me and so she was left basking in the late August sun.
I spent four hours at beautiful Buxton on Sunday and I look forward to my next visit. If you think your wildlife spotting skills are pretty good and would like a challenge and a reason to really slow down, head to one of our heathland reserves, such as Roydon Common or Buxton Heath and see if you can spot an adder. Please remember that adders are venomous so give them a bit of distance. Heading out with a group of people will probably not help you to find one – nor will your dog! If you have keen eyesight, patience and are light footed, you might be rewarded! Most importantly, please remember to keep your eyes and ears out for all the other splendours of the heath!

Buxton Heath is managed by Norfolk Wildlife Trust in partnership with the owners,  Hevingham Fuel Allotment Charity.

1 comment:

  1. I have been hearing the snake population has been reducing in recent years. I walk my dog in the woods opposite Kings Lynn Golf Course. I have never seen so many snakes there, this year, there has been so far five Adders and one Grass snake, if I spent more time there, I know I will find a lot more.