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Adder Watching Help!!

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Davew View Drop Down
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    Posted: 14 Feb 2005 at 6:02pm

Hi,

I'm very much an Adder novice and would appreciate some assistance. Here in mid-Cheshire we just don't get them at all so I spend a lot of time surveying the local Grass Snake population and have become aware of their timings, where to look, how to approach etc. Generally I'm quite succesful and usually have over 100 sightings per season. Adder wise believe it or not I've only ever seen three!! I spend at least a week in Dorset each year, this year it will be the first week in June and spend a lot of time visiting the relevant areas. Smooth Snake, Sand Lizard, Wall Lizard - no problem and there have been several times when I've seen six species but no Adder. Can anyone give me some advice? I've tried all times of the day and a large variety of sites. I often read about you lucky lot seeing several on each visit but what's the secret - thanks in advance.

Oh yes- when do Grass Snakes slough? Although I live near to a prolific Grass Snake area I've never actually found a skin!!

God I'm rubbish - sometimes think I should have stuck to birdwatching ;-)

 

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Jerry View Drop Down
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Hi, in June the temperatures for the adder are usually high enough for it to spend little or no time basking, the best time to see it then is when it is an intermittent day , the adder is the first reptile out on cooler days but the first to seek shelter when the temperature gets over 20 degrees, although the pregnant females may still be found and i have seen these basking in the rain,and very high temperatures.  hope this helps Jerry

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote administrator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Feb 2005 at 8:25pm

I find adder behave differently at different sites, some places I know I can practically guarantee that I will see adder throughout the season in the right weather conditions, others I have to think more carefully about targeting visits.

A brief look at their ecology (and I can thank Tony P for filling in many gaps in my own knowledge over the last few years on this forum for my current understanding) helps to target searches and get results.

Firstly you have asked your question at a very appropriate time as now is the beginning of the best time of year for adder spotting. Adder are now leaving hibernacula and have the very helpful habit of 'lying out'. They sit motionless on or near their hibernation sites from now until mid/late March and are extremely approachable. I find that in the cooler early part of the season most sightings occur around lunchtime, this then becomes two distinct windows in the morning and afternoon as the season progresses. This is all extremely weather dependant and often many visits need to be made to adder sites to locate them.

Of course locating the hibernation sites in the first place is a different matter and some that I know have taken literally years to find. They may be defined features such as banks with a south aspect, or not at all obvious at all such as a disused rabbit burrow under a brambles bush.

'Lying out' will be followed by the males forming specific territories during April. These are often quite close to the hibernacula so it isn't usually too difficult to find prominent mate searching males. A good approach at this time is to just sit and watch the males, they will find the well hidden females for you! Also other males will move in seeking females and you get to see both male combats as well as mating behaviour.

After all this activity males and non mating females may be found in summer foraging grounds, not so easy to define and often a considerable distance from the hibernacula. This is where a little detective work comes into play as you work out where the animals are most likely to be. The gravid females and some males will often still be close to the hibernacula, so you may still be able to spot these throughout the season at some sites.

This is a very brief idea but gives the basics of how I go about finding and observing V.berus in the field.

Tomorrow will be my first day back in the field this season, so wish me luck!

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Davew View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Davew Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 Feb 2005 at 1:34pm
Thanks for the help and good luck Gemma - I've a couple of weeks to go before my Grass Snakes wake up, March 4th is my earliest. During my annual Dorset trip I've generally searched sites between 10.00 and 14.00 and invariably on hot days. This year I'll try around 07.00 onwards and if it's cool or drizzly I won't go shopping with my wife (shame!!)
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote administrator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 Feb 2005 at 2:05pm

'Thanks for the help and good luck Gemma ' see thread 'early adder sightings' :0)

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote herpetologic2 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Feb 2005 at 10:06am

 

Dave

I havent found any reference yet to when grass snakes slough - though there might be in other papers I havent read yet.

Grass snakes at one of my study sites sloughpossibly a few times a year - the pregnant females i have found in the late summer (august to september) are sloughing - I have records of snakes with milky eyes - Juvenile snake with milky eyes and scales 17th June, 2nd July, 19th & 31st August 2004 - Adult female - milky eyes 19th August 2004, Adult female sloughed in hand, 24th August 2004 - Young adult snake milky eyes,scales - 12th September 2003

 The milky eyes is a sign that the old skin is coming free from the new skin underneath - so the snake is often under refugia keeping away from predators - it is certain that the snake will slough maybe in a few days or weeks. One snake sloughed in my hand while measuring the snake.

I have yet to find snakes with milky eyes in March, April or May -

JC  

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote administrator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Feb 2005 at 1:58pm

I have a little information on N.n sloughing from a captive example a few years ago. She wasn't hibernated but kept active throughout the winter. I was very surprised at how often she did slough, though captive stress may have been a factor

18th September 2002

 

Slough occurred but date not recorded

 

 

19th December 2002 (assisted)

 

 

 

 

 

12th February 2003

 

 

 

Jon, just a note regarding refugia use by grass snakes, my observations both in the field and from this captive example would suggest that the motivation to use refugia during the slough cycle is more to do with increased metabolic needs than hiding from predators.

I've often seen grass snakes in the blue openly basking and they seemed just as able to detect a potential threat as usual.

My captive example would use its hot spot throughout the slough cycle, much as it did when digesting.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Davew Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Feb 2005 at 2:09pm

Thanks for the info everyone. I have seen several with milky eyes in Dorset during June but observations on my regular spot haven't even turned up this feature yet. I assume that the area I watch is the prime feeding area for a large population and that only the large and dominant individuals get to inhabit it for lengthy periods. This is borne out by the general size of the Snakes, ie bleeding massive!!!! Perhaps when sloughing they become less confident/dominant and are driven away from the best sites or actually chose to retire to less busy spots. Sick of this weather, I've got five days to beat my earliest Grass Snake sighting and short of shovelling the snow off the ground and then digging them up from the disused rabbit burrows where I presume they are I haven't got a chance.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote herpetologic2 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Feb 2005 at 3:02pm

 

Nah

Adders and grass snakes tend to be more 'aggressive' when they are in the 'milky eye' stage of sloughing - there are several reasons why I think that they tend to be found under refugia - heat, humidity and protection - I feel that the snake is more vulnerable when it cannot see its attacker - thats why both species hiss, and strike at moving objects - in grass snakes it is mock strikes and sh*tting everywhere and then playing dead while adders are very much trying to get away or if cornered strike at would be attackers.

the attraciveness of refugia is that they provide protection from predators (birds especially). Buzzards pick off snakes that are basking away from cover which is what they do when the management of the site is reducing the habitat structure to nothing - while snakes that can bask hidden amongst bramble, gorse, and other bushes I feel wouldnt be spotted by an overhead predator and it would be very difficult for the bird to land in a thicket of bramble! - the tins or felt would do the same wouldnt they - the predator wouldn't even see them.

 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote herpetologic2 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Feb 2005 at 3:07pm

 

The captive situation would be far different to what happens in nature as you say - So the artificial conditions that the grass snake experienced in captivity during a time where the animal should have been over wintering would not really tell you when in the year a grass snake would slough in the wild.

Regards

JC

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