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mark bannister View Drop Down
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    Posted: 11 Mar 2007 at 9:54am

Hello,

I'm relatively new to studying reptiles, but am keen to learn more. I have recently found a few local hibernacula of adder and grass snake. One is very close to a footpath with regular dog walkers. One is very quiet. Could anyone answer the following:

- A good source of information for adder/grass snake behaviour/ecology...I can only seem to find the shire series for adder when I search online!.

- I found a dead female adder, 21.5cm in length on 7th March (1 year old?). It had no visible damage and just seemed to be laid out basking. In fact it took me a good 10mins to finally work out it was dead!. Is this a sign that the snake did not have enough energy supplies to make it over winter? Is this relatively common?

I do like to photograph the adders and grass snakes, but this often causes them to retreat into cover....its always tempting to get just that bit closer. In light of the dead young adder I found, I am wondering about the level of disturbance this causes to them, especially early in the year and especially if they are already distrubed by dog walkers. Could this be detrimental to them? What general guidelines would anyone suggest when studying / photographing snakes with regards to disturbance? I've always worked on the basis that a good naturalist keeps disturbance to a minimum.

-What minimum habitat area does an adder need? I ask this because one of the hibernation sites is adjacent to an area of (good quality) heathland which has recently been planted up with scots pine. The trees are getting to a size where the ground will be shaded out soon.

Sorry for the large number of questions, but thanks in advance for comments on any of them.

/Mark

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote administrator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Mar 2007 at 1:21pm

Hi Mark,

There is disturbance and disturbance I guess. On the one hand serious disturbance to a hibernation site could see the demise of adder at a site - on the other I quite often chase adders across habitat to get head ID shots... only for them to come and sit next to me five minutes later when I sit down or start basking again exactly or very close to where I first spotted them.

I don't disturb them once they start mating though, at this time I take root and just watch, creeping up as close as I dare but trying very hard not to spook any paired animals. (Often I will back away once I spot a pair and just watch from a distance - a great time to see the famous dancing adders if another male happens along)

Keep up your observations, you will soon get the feel for what they will tolerate (more than many people might think) and what they won't.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Robert V Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Mar 2007 at 4:06pm

 

Gemma, I agree. I've had a Grass snake come back out from cover three times to bask quite close to the original spot.... You have to be downwind and dead still though.

R

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote administrator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Mar 2007 at 4:46pm

Yes, downwind helps (especially for a smoker), my best grass snake sightings have almost always been when I've been sat quietly watching adders, the grass snakes will just glide up beautifully and take up basking positions nearby, love it

One of my ways of finding snakes quickly at new to me bracken sites is to walk around fairly quietly listening. You can hear them make their way off then come back really quietly and get a sighting, 9 out of 10 times they will be back in the exact same spot within minutes.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote mark bannister Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 Mar 2007 at 4:57pm

Thanks everyone for your comments.

It has enabled me to progress with my adder ID skills enormously. I very much appreciate it.

I found the New Naturalist 'Reptiles&Amphibians' ("won" on e-bay at a vastly inflated price) and Shire Series 'Adder' for some background gen. I also found I could order the backcopy of British Wildlife Vol 15 No.5 with the Tony Phelps article 'Beyond hypothesis a long-term study of British snakes'....but that was about all.

I guess Tony Phelps has published alot more on UK reptile ecology, does anyone know a good way to access it and where it is?....

/Mark

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote administrator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Mar 2007 at 10:48pm

Hi Mark,

You might want to PM 'armata' regarding the last question, he might just know how to help (if he isn't too busy sunning himself )

Particularly prod him to give you a copy of Population dynamics and spatial distribution of adder Vipera berus in southern Dorset, England

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote herpetologic2 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Mar 2007 at 8:14am

 

You will find alot of this information on the Euroherp database - link on the left here -

Also there are some really good guides coming from the NARRS project so contact them for more info.

Make the Adder Count survey protocols are really good for surveying adders and of course sending adder counts from sites would be a very useful piece of information to determine the national status trends across the UK (hint hint)

Jon

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote herpetologic2 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Mar 2007 at 8:16am

The dead adders are sometimes found when they are caught out by very cold weather - it is definitely a sign that the area is a hibernacula though I would suggest thinking back at the black markings as it is possible that the dead female was maybe a dead male?

 

JC

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote herpetologic2 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Mar 2007 at 8:23am

Keeping your distance from the adders would be the main piece of advice really -

Adders can be disturbed but you have to weigh that up with the regular disturbance which they experience - though dog walkers probably do not disturb them generally as the usual defence would be to lay still until danger is gone.

Field surveyors are looking for adders and of course they do not disappear they keep coming and so the adder is disturbed as it needs to move to safety....

Of course dogs off leads would lead to the same disturbance though I know dog walkers who have been walking paths for 15 years or more and have never seen an adder - even though several adders are basking just feet away from the footpath

A study of adder behaviour in relation to 'predators' - dog walkers, dogs, field surveyors, walkers etc may reveal some interesting data on their defensive behaviours etc. Before people have a go at me I would suggest using far distance video recording while a normal activity proceeds along a known adder basking site.....

 

Jon

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote administrator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Mar 2007 at 9:14am

Jon, this post seems to be a 'do as I say not as I do'. For someone who regularly catches the animals it is a bit rich to avise others to keep their distance.

You have posted on here in recent weeks a photograph of a group of people you took to a hibernation bank in Essex. There they all are wandering up and down the bank within a few feet of the animals. Yet you advise to Tim that he should keep his distance? How much disturbance did your field trip cause? Makes me wonder why I bothered to provide the grid reference for the bank in the first place.

Have you ever tried sitting by that bank at ground level and just waiting? OK it won't give you your all important maximum head count but you may learn a little about adder behaviour. Close observation of adder is fascinating. If you remain quiet they will quickly return to normal behaviour and openly bask within feet of where you are sitting. What exactly is wrong with this? Nothing at all, simply common sense and good fieldcraft.

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