Appreciating the overlooked adder

PUBLISHED: 16:59 14 March 2018

Adders can be active even at this time of the year.

Adders can be active even at this time of the year.

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2011

Mike Toms sees how adders are finding warmth enough to bask.

It looks as if the promised rain is going to arrive a little later than forecast, providing me with an opportunity to go and look for adders on the common. Much of the gorse, scrub and bracken has been cleared from the southern side of the site, but there is still plenty left and I’m confident of my chances of catching up with one of these smart-looking reptiles.

My approach to finding adders has evolved over the years and I have learned to start looking early in the season, from mid-February onwards. March is often my most productive month, the adders spending time close to where they overwintered and tending to allow a closer approach as they bask in the weak spring sunshine. Today is no exception; there is a pleasing degree of warmth in the sun, enough indeed for an adder to be out and warming through.

Female adders spend a lot of time basking this early in the year, but today it is a male that I encounter first. He is tucked in, a few inches back from where the short turf gives way to scrub and the remains of last season’s bracken. Nearly 16 inches in length, his dark zig-zag stands out from silvery-grey background tones. Were it not for the frond of bracken passing above his head he would make a nicely-composed photograph. I stand and watch for a few minutes, his position unchanging, before I move on.

When looking for adders I move slowly, placing my feet with care so as to not scare the snakes away with a heavy footfall. I always scan the ground a bit further ahead of me, often leaving the path to investigate clearings and other small gaps in the vegetation. Today, however, my second adder – another male – comes courtesy of a generous naturalist whose local patch I happen to be visiting. This time the snake is out in the open, coiled on a bank and obliging in both pose and attitude. He seems alert to our presence, the slight shift in the angle of his head, but allows us to watch and to murmur our appreciation of this often overlooked and under-appreciated creature.

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