An adder named Poirot

The rare combination of a beautiful sunny spring day and a couple of free hours at work found me indulging in one of my favourite occupations this morning, trying to photograph adders.

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Male adder photographed this morning

March is one of the best months for this as male adders have just come out of hibernation and are in their ‘lying out’ phase. This is essentially a period when they emerge from their hibernacula and bask for a few weeks before sloughing off their old skins and battling it out for the newly emerging females who appear a bit later in the spring. Adders are generally a lot more lethargic during this period which makes them considerably less jumpy when you are trying to get in close for a headshot. The main reason for photographing the adders is to build up a picture of the numbers and demographics of the population so that we can take more account of them in the management of the site and in just a couple of years we have already learned a huge amount about the population including the critically important identification of several key hibernacula.

It has taken me several years to become an about average reptile surveyor, mainly because I get so excited when I spot an adder that I have a tendency to involuntarily make a sudden movement that usually results in the swift disappearance of the adder into the undergrowth. With practice I have more or less managed to get this under control and this morning it was with delight that I found 3 male adders basking in their regular spots and was able to take some photographs and creep away again without disturbing them. I was only able to get a recognisable headshot of one of the adders but on closer inspection was thrilled to discover that it was an individual named Poirot, one of the first adders I ever photographed and one of whom I am particularly fond, not least because he is named for his particularly fine moustache.

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Poirot photographed in 2013 showing his moustache (Photo copyright Kevin Byrnes)

Poirot is probably blind in one eye and we suspect that this may be the result of an attack by a pheasant (see photo below).

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Poirot showing damaged eye and irregular scale pattern surrounding it (photo copyright Kevin Byrnes)

Sadly we are powerless to do anything about the resident pheasant population as they have as much if not more legal protection than the adders but we are working to ensure that the adders have as many basking spots near to secure cover as possible across the site. Still, it doesn’t seem to be affecting Poirot too much as this is the third year that I have photographed him and he is still looking pretty healthy.

This morning Poirot was sunbathing with a friend who you can see in the photo below, flattened out to get as much heat from the sun as possible.

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Poirot and a friend enjoying a bit of spring sunshine, Poirot is on the left

The fact that adders seem to be content to hang out together for most of the year and only really fight over mates in the spring is one of the many characteristics that I find appealing about these fascinating animals. Poirot seems to be particularly sociable and I have even found him under a reptile mat, side by side with a grass snake ( see photo below taken last year).

Adder and grass snake
Poirot and a grass snake under a reptile mat in 2014

Although all three of the adders I photographed this morning have probably been active on warm days for the last month or so, none of them looked as though they had sloughed off their winter skins as yet. You can see the difference between the pictures taken this morning and in 2013 (also before he had sloughed) and the one taken next to the grass snake where he looks a lot smarter and ready for the ladies!


Published by

Kate Gamez

I live in the beautiful Cotswold countryside near Stroud in Gloucestershire with my partner Tim and our 2 dogs. I work as reserve manager for part of the Cotswold Commons and Beechwoods National Nature Reserve and this gives me a fantastic opportunity to indulge my passion and fascination for the natural world every day.

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