Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Grass Snakes...

We're very lucky to have several excellent, thriving local populations of Grass Snakes - by far the only species you can guarantee to see these days in south Somerset.

Adders have all but vanished, no doubt due to a number of reasons from habitat loss and fragmentation to an increase in disturbance and lack of good hibernation sites. Grass Snakes are altogether more hardy though and given the right sort of habitat and a good food supply, they can often be found in relatively high population densities. They can be found in a number of different habitats but are most frequent around water with lots of rough grassy margins that have places to bask along with cover to breed and hibernate (though I have found them under refuges on seemingly dry heathland before).

After setting out some artificial refuges at a local spot a couple of seasons ago, it's now paying dividends with frequent sightings of up to four or five individuals (see Dave Helliar's excellent photos in the previous post). I found a couple of large adult males at the weekend, including this beauty:

Grass Snake Natrix natrix helvetica
When handled (as with most snakes) they always exude an unpleasant smelling musk from their anal gland to deter would-be predators, which makes some people back off immediately although I've got use to it over the years. This one was no exception. If that doesn't work they sometimes 'play dead' too, going limp, rolling onto their backs and letting the mouth fall open with tongue dropping out in the hope that the predator will give up and leave.

This one unusually decided to play dead while otherwise sitting up quite alert...which didn't have quite the same effect...

Grass Snake Natrix natrix helvetica
'Playing dead'
There's much more about Grass Snakes and other British reptiles on my reptile page.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Wildlife in May...

Thanks to Dave Helliar (Twitter: @DHelliar) for sending in some fantastic photos of local wildlife seen during the last month. May really is when it all starts happening around here, a great time of year to be out and about enjoying the local wildlife.

Kicking off with some localised birds from the southwest:

Corn Bunting, now sadly a Red List species due to its
dramatic decline over the last 25 years
Common Cranes from the release project seen flying
over Langport, Somerset
Common Cranes: D. Helliar

 A good bird for Somerset was this Gull-billed Tern which lingered around Steart Wetlands WWT for most of the day on 30th May.

Gull-billed Tern: D. Helliar
Gull-billed Tern: D. Helliar
Gull-billed Tern: D. Helliar
An influx of Red Kites towards the end of May saw in excess of
50 birds drift into the local region, including this individual nr Chard
Turtle Dove - very rare in the Southwest these days following a
dramatic decline in numbers. You now have to travel to see these
once common birds. This one from Hampshire.
Turtle Dove, a Red List species: D. Helliar
Tree Pipit at last! Doesn't seem to be as many of these
around locally this year. They seem to be in decline too.
Tree Pipit: D. Helliar

Insects are more prevalent in May but again many species are in decline and much rarer than they were just a decade ago.

Adonis Blue, Hampshire: D. Helliar
Brown Argus in mint condition: D. Helliar
Duke of Burgundy. Sadly the remaining local populations are
getting smaller and less viable every year. It seems inevitable
that this charming butterfly will soon disappear from some of
its traditional Somerset haunts.
Duke of Burgundy: D. Helliar
Grizzled Skipper seen near Chard: D. Helliar
Libellula depressa, nr Chard: Dave Helliar

Libellula quadrimaculata, nr Chard: D. Helliar

 And finally a few reptiles to finish on...good to see some things are thriving locally...

Grass Snake Natrix natrix helvetica
Large and well marked female: D. Helliar
Grass Snake - different individual under refuge: D. Helliar
Grass Snake: D. Helliar
Grass Snake, female. Basking on pile of old sticks: D. Helliar
Two's company...
Common Lizard Zootoca vivipara: D. Helliar
 Thanks to Dave for supplying such great photos - all taken on the Nikon P900 incidentally, a superb choice for getting good photos without the need to get too close.