Follow in Nigel's Footsteps

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Herp Heaven...

The weather on Sunday was pretty warm, one of the warmest days so far this year I would think once out of the breeze. So, with a plan in mind and one or two target species to see, Dave Helliar and myself set off to Dorset with a view to doing a bit of herping and a bit of birding...we weren't to be disappointed!

Within minutes of arriving at our first stop, target species number one was found - a beautiful melanistic, Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca. A particularly rare and stunning animal. This is the same individual I'd seen earlier in the week but having completed its slough the eyes were now amber instead of milky white. Note the shiny keel-free scales, slighter build and round pupil differentiating it from melanistic Vipera berus.

A stunning beast! Adult female Smooth Snake
Melanistic individual: R. Harris
Melanistic Smooth Snake: Dave Helliar
Melanistic Smooth Snake: Dave Helliar
Showing head scales: R. Harris
Another characteristic trait of this species can be seen in the image below where the 3rd and 4th supralabials touch the eye.

Showing the amber eye with round pupil - markings faintly
discernible behind the head: R. Harris
It's funny how loosing the typical pattern and colour changes the whole look of the animal. There were times when it looked almost cobra-like in profile! This encounter was followed by a couple of unexpected Woodlarks and a handful of Dartford Warblers, including a very active family party, which gave fantastic views. A further search revealed more surprises - yet another large female Smooth Snake! This one more typically patterned and a full 60cm long. What a stunning snake...

Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca: Dave Helliar
Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca: R. Harris
Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca Showing the 
strongly curved rostral scale: R. Harris
Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca - showing the
red tongue
: R. Harris
Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca - showing the
red tongue
: R. Harris
A few dragonflies seen as well including Emporer Dragnfly, Black-lined Skimmer and Keeled Skimmer.
Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens): Dave Helliar

We couldn't have asked for more. To see two Smooth Snakes in one day was fantastic to say the least - very pleased indeed. But it wasn't over yet. With the heat of the day rising we decided on a bit of raptor viewing and were rewarded with at least three red kites, minimum of ten buzzards and a fantastic Goshawk. Not bad for a morning out :-)

Dave continued his day on his local patch and added a few more species too, including:

Large Skipper: Dave Helliar
Common Lizard: Dave Helliar
Family party of Mandarin Ducks: Dave Helliar
Dolycoris baccarum: Dave Helliar

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