You don’t always need to spend a lot of money or even travel far to see some great wildlife here in the UK. Today a friend and I headed over to Anglesey, where the weather always seems to be better compared to the foothills of Snowdonia where we live.
The plan was to see Adders (Vipera berus) and Red Squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris), the latter of which I have been meaning to go and look for, quite ashamedly for a number of years.
In 2015 after an 18 year cull, Anglesey declared itself completely free from Grey Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) and quite frankly I’m thrilled! Admittedly not great news for the greys but now red squirrels finally have the opportunity to thrive on the island.
I can’t disclose exactly where we spotted the adders because there’s always one person who will go tramping on over there and poke at them with sticks and maul them for selfies. But having said that, there’s a fairly decent number of adders on the island and lots of nature reserves, so enthusiastic and considerate herpers will have a good idea where to go looking. You can use Cofnod’s online amphibian and reptile atlas here to give you a head start and it’s always nice to find adders in previously unknown locations, so if you do get a sighting why not record it with Cofnod too.
It was a lovely sunny day and I was desperate for a lie in, so by the time we got to the site, the snakes would have been fully warmed up and active. Usually it’s best to head out early to spot the snakes when they emerge to bask – they’re slower and much easier to photograph.
Despite my late start, I did my usual slow, creep through the heather, looking for that distinctive zigzag pattern. To the untrained eye, people who go looking for reptiles appear particularly suspicious – like lost doggers, or (as I have previously been called) egg thieves. Once, a couple who thought that their misguided meddlings were the best course of action, reported me to the RSPB for stealing bird’s eggs! So be warned, be respectful of the snakes and if you see people eyeballing you suspiciously, hold back the urge to wave and shout “peregrine eggs make the best eating!”
After creeping about for 10 minutes or so we were rewarded with our first adder. We heard it before we saw it (promptly slithering out of sight), which is often the case when looking for reptiles. Snakes tend to make a smooth, continuous rustle through the undergrowth, something which my friend coined ‘snake wind’. We waited a short while and after considering it safe, the snake moved back into view to bask. We got a few photographs and watched it for a while before it decided enough was enough and shot off back into the undergrowth.
It’s always tempting to try and catch a snake for a better look but aside from adders being venomous and a bite completely ruining your week, it’s not good form to disturb any of our dwindling, native reptiles without good cause. So please just look and don’t touch.
After having our fill of adders we then set off to try and see the red squirrels at Llyn Parc Mawr (directions here). Llyn Parc Mawr car park is quite small, so if you can’t find a space, drive on to the next car park which is a few meters up the road and walk back. There are squirrel feeders in Llyn Parc Mawr car park, which is your best bet for seeing one.
If, like me you are put off by a small group of sessile photographers who are staking out the feeders, there is a red squirrel trail that takes you through the forest. At the time of writing, parts of the path are flooded but signs assure me that this is being fixed this week. We had to do a lot of scrambling through bushes and jumping over ditches to avoid the water and seemingly lost in the thicket, the thrill of adventure was quickly shattered when we had come full circle to be greeted by the same immobile photographers!
We didn’t see any squirrels on the trail but there was now one on the feeder, which we felt we deserved to see more than the photographers, considering all the scrambling we had to do. I’m all for a nice photograph, but seriously there is a limit on how many pictures a person needs of one squirrel on a feeder. In all their stoic fascination they were taking photos at such a rate I had to check that Lady Gaga wasn’t in the bushes with her Great tits (Parus major) out.
Granted I would have much preferred to have seen the squirrel whilst on the quiet path in the woods, but I finally got around to seeing these charming and enigmatic creatures for the first time in Wales.
Photo credits: Ruth Yap