Rory champion photography

EXPLORING WILDLIFE, LANDSCAPES AND NATURAL HISTORY THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY

The ground is moving beneath my feet

The last grass snake I saw in 2014 was tiny, no longer than my hand. Not long hatched, it tentatively explored its new surroundings on an unseasonably warm October afternoon.

After that final flourish of warmth, that location, a mound of manure which, a few months before was positively crawling with snakes, lay still for 6 months. I can only assume that it played host for several snakes during their hibernation, and I have always wondered whether that hatchling made it through the colder months. A small proportion will inevitably perish - usually those that are under-nourished and not properly 'hunkered down' for the encroaching bleaker months.

Baby grass snake hatched in 2014

Baby grass snake hatched in 2014

As spring 2015 got underway, I was keen to try and locate some of the grass snakes in the area as they came out of hibernation as, if they're like Adders, they would be particularly active as the females make themselves available for springtime breeding season. I was not to be disappointed.

One particularly warm morning in March, as I was ambling round a nearby lane, the adjoining foliage was positively alive with snakes. In one spot, a great knot of at least five grass snakes writhed in a pile of dead leaves, making an almost-constant low-level rustling as males vied for position alongside the single female. A few meters along, a single female and male had already parted from the group, their courtship already ensuing.

Three grass snakes lying together in the March sun

Three grass snakes lying together in the March sun

A dog-walker who I see regularly was fascinated and most surprised to the point of suspicion when I described the scene a few minutes later, although her skepticism evaporated when two grass snakes wriggled across the path in front of us, one eagerly chasing the other.

I returned several times to watch the action unfold, however just as the fervor had begun, so it ended, and all the snakes dispersed to parts unknown. Since then, I've seen a few in the immediate area, particularly around the water meadows. I've also spotted several large females around the original manure pile where I saw the hatchling, which makes me wonder if this is a favoured location for a 'nursery'.

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