Snakes and Adders

What a gorgeous week! Several days of sunshine and some genuine warmth has really made the reserve feel spring –like. It’s still wet but the water levels are gradually dropping, the days are getting longer and the temperatures are into double figures .All this is reflecting in the wildlife, with more breeding activity, noise, aggression and scrapping that mark the start of spring.

One of the surest spring signs is the upturn in aggression of the resident mute swans. These swans have spent all winter peacefully sailing around the lochs, feeding as family groups with last year’s youngsters. But, as levels of breeding hormone rise, the parents decide that it’s time for junior to leave home and stand on their own two webbed feet. The kids often take a while to get the hint, and that’s when you hear the whum-whum-whum of swan wings as they chase the youngsters back and forth across the water until they finally go. However, the youngsters sometimes wind up in odd places because of this, and we found a last year’s juvenile mute swan tucked up at the top of the bank, right beside one of the main tracks across the reserve. It didn’t seem too bothered- it was sleeping in the sun – but we were more concerned as it was right beside a track where lots of people walk with large and occasionally uncontrolled dogs. To avoid any potential conflicts, we gently escorted the swan back down to the water, where it wisely headed for the other end of the loch from its parents!

Young mute swan beside track

Young mute swan beside track
Gently persuading the swan to go loch-wards

Gently persuading the swan to go loch-wards

Safely back on the water

Safely back on the water

The warm weather has also brought out the first spring flowers. Docks and comfrey have already poked up new leaves but the first spring flowers are almost always the cheery yellow lesser celandines. These little flowers like growing in woodland habitats and are relatives of the buttercup. Their name comes from the Latin word for “swallow” as they bloom around the time swallows return from Africa for the summer….and, right enough, if the weather stays fine, we’d expect the first swallows any time in the next fortnight.

The first celandine of spring

The first celandine of spring

The warm weather has also really woken up the reptiles. We saw the first adder back in February, but this warm week has brought them out in numbers. We saw four one day and, another day, these two curled up in the sun at the foot of the dyke. Generally, if you don’t bother them, snakes won’t bother you – people are clumpy things and they usually feel the vibrations of your feet and move off.  However, dogs are lighter on their feet and tend to investigate things with their nose, so it’s a good idea to keep your dog under control to reduce the risk of it being bitten.  The risk is higher at this time of year when the adders aren’t so mobile and are less likely to escape, so they feel the need to defend themselves.

A lovely matching pair of coiled adders basking at the foot of the dyke

A lovely matching pair of coiled adders basking at the foot of the dyke

The warm weather has also woken up the common lizards. This one better watch out; it was very near the adders and they eat lizards!

The first common lizard of the year

The first common lizard of the year

And, finally – the great white egret is still with us, it was perched up a tree having a preen in the sun.

Great white egret - having a good old ruffle and shake of the feathers

Great white egret – having a good old ruffle and shake of the feathers

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