TAILS, SCALES AND WARTS: Finding my first grass snake (16th April 2014)

I have never been fortunate enough to spot a snake in England. Looking out of my window on Wednesday morning and seeing the sun shining, I decided to set off to Apedale Country Park in Staffordshire which is just a five minute drive from my flat.

I had been told by the rangers at Apedale that grass snakes had been seen by the pond at Apedale. I had been on the lookout last year but had no luck spotting one.

Pond at Apedale Country Park
Pond at Apedale Country Park. A perfect habitat for grass snakes.

On Wednesday morning I walked around the pond a few times. Then I heard a noise in the grass. I looked down and I was so excited to see a grass snake appear on the bank by the pond. I was so shocked that he slithered off into the pond before I had time to get my camera into focus.

So I walked around the pond again determined to get a photograph of a grass snake. But what were the chances of me seeing another? Then as I looked down, there was a mature grass snake basking in the sun. Unfortunately his head was underneath the reeds and grass, but I was able to see the pattern of the snake.

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A mature grass snake basking in the sun. His body can be seen from the right hand side ending in his tail on the left.
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You can see here the variable back and flank spotting typical of a grass snake.

After lunch, my Mum and Dad decided to join me in the hunt for snakes. After all, three pairs of eyes are better than one. It’s surprising how few people are up for coming out to look for snakes with me! My Dad spotted one swimming in the pond. He came to the edge of the pond but then turned back and swam off into the reeds. It looked like a juvenile.

As time ticked on, it was reaching 4.00pm. A volunteer ranger named Geoff had come to join us in our search. The grass snakes are so well camouflaged that unless you look very closely and carefully they are only spotted when they are startled and slither away. But as I looked down by the edge of the pond, I was surprised to see a young grass snake lying very still. This time I was ready. I got my camera and managed to get a photograph I was happy with before he slithered away into the pond.

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The black tongue of the grass snake
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You can see the yellow collar on this grass snake highlighted by black crescents.

Grass Snake Facts:

A similar species is the smooth snake but this lacks the yellow collar which the grass snake has.

The grass snake favours damp areas feeding in rivers, ponds and marshes. The pond at Apedale is the perfect habitat for grass snakes.

Grass snakes hibernate between October and March.

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The pond can not be seen here but it is just to the left of the boardwalk. There are plenty of sticks and twigs which can be seen on the right of the boardwalk. The ranger told me that this is where the grass snakes hibernate in winter.
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A trail can be seen here leading from the piles of twigs and sticks, underneath the boardwalk and into the pond. 

Apedale Country Park boasts miles of walks, open space, picnic sites and a wide variety of wildlife. It is also famous for the Apedale Valley Light Railway which is opposite the pond where the grass snakes live. Geoff told me that grass snakes have been spotted crossing the railway on sunny days.

 

 

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