One of my goals this year was to track down some adders, as I've not seen one since Dad spotted one slithering along a hillside near Swanage, when I was a child. I've seen plenty of grass snakes, but not managed to glimpse the more elusive adder at all to date.
Reading Jason's blog (Shenstone Birder) I noticed he'd seen one in the Wyre Forest, and while I had looked there for them before, I set out on Saturday morning with some renewed optimism of finding one.
The problem was, I still wasn't completely sure where I needed to go, so ended up going for a stroll through the woods, where I heard the familiar teasing call of a blackcap. I say teasing, as I rarely get any shots of them. I've got a pair nesting near my back garden, but so far have only managed a few shots of the female. Here though, there were two males, being chased / followed around the trees by a pair of long-tailed tits. I waited and hoped.
After a few shots of branches and twigs, I managed a shot, and while it's not the best effort, it's better than nowt!
Walking back towards the main path, I was nearly deafened by a pair of wrens, seemingly duelling over songs. Didn't take long to spot them, as they like to choose elevated perches to belt out their songs from, and despite the gloomy light, I took a few shots of the little characters.
You've probably noticed by now that I've not mentioned finding any adders. Well, I hadn't. But then I had a stroke of luck. Walking near me, was a chap with a radio aerial, and he seemed to be looking around on the ground for things. I thought I'd be cheeky and ask what he was up to. Just then, I spotted a familiar face approaching him. Sylvia Sheldon, who was featured on Springwatch (I think) when she was awarded some sort of geek award by Chris Packham. I knew I had a chance of seeing one with her around!
Asking if I could tag along while they tracked down tagged snakes, they were quite happy for me to do so, which was fab. Instead of a needle in a haystack, I now had a realistic chance of seeing one, and maybe getting a shot.
Even with the tags on, which are paid for by public donations by the way, they're difficult to track down, as the snakes like to hide, go underground and sadly the tags come off. They're only taped on - Sylvia doesn't like the idea of using super-glue, in case it harms the snake. Quite right too.
The first female we tracked, was under a pile of bracken, so no sighting there. The second also remained hidden from view. I was beginning to think I had perhaps cursed the mission. Then Sylvia offered to show me one where she knew it'd be, and as the sun had popped out for a bit, she reckoned it would be in its favourite sun-bathing site. It was. Though it took some time for me to spot it, they're so well camouflaged.
Tiny, strikingly marked and fascinating creatures. But very sensitive to any noise or movement, and my clumsy (excited) approach meant it vanished before I could get a picture. We then tried a couple of other sites, but each time, the snake would be partially hidden or zipped off, when we got too close. Even so, just having seen one I was buzzing.
With their tracking exercise complete, Sylvia and her colleague left me to it, and I knew it would be a case of being patient. If the sun came back out, chances are, so would the adders. Setting up near where I'd seen the male earlier, I crouched and hoped. A flick of a tongue and out it slithered from the leaf litter, cautious and very slowly, it moved out of the shadows and into view.
I'd abandoned the idea of using my big lens, and was using the 50D and 100-400mm, as it's far more manoeuvrable, and has a closer focusing distance too. The markings and colours of the adders are striking - when you see one up close, it really is a beautiful animal, if you can use that term for a creature feared by some. I guess if you trod on one, or tried to pick it up or interfered with it, you might be at risk, but just observing from a sensible distance and being as still as possible, was so rewarding. Really made my day seeing them.
The photos I got were all of a male. The females were larger and darker coloured, making them even more difficult to spot. I was surprised that they can live for 30 years too - seems a lot for such a small snake.
With the current monsoon-like weather, I doubt I'll be trying again soon, and it's probably best to wait for warmer months anyway, to have more of a chance of seeing them.
I know this is a Birding Blog, but I love to photo all manner of wildlife, and these adders have really whet my appetite for more.