As they respond to the late winter sun, so adders depend heavily on their carefully chosen hibernacula. Desperately sluggish in the cold, a snake will only move a foot or two away from winter sanctuary to bask, and if the world has changed as it slept then it will have insufficient energy to move elsewhere.
Life is tough when you are cold-blooded, and tougher still if your roof vanishes as you sleep. The safe, tight mesh of roots and scrub that you curled into in late autumn has been rent by the weather, nibbled by hungry mouths or cleared by the tidy minded.
Now is the time when adders are most vulnerable, and also most approachable. Creep slowly and it is possible to get incredibly confiding views without causing any upset. I try my best to resist disturbing them, knowing that they will likely be in the same spot for at least another month.
Last year, I found my first adder on 28th January, and despite the colder air and heavy frosts since Christmas, I had hoped to maybe beat that date. As it was, the most likely area on my local patch filled with winter snipe, and I was reluctant to flush them from safety with so many twitchy 12-bore trigger-fingers in the area.
Other previously productive spots have changed too much in the past twelve months. Gorse has grown out, and bramble cut back with a little bit too much exuberance. I still expected to find an adder or two in this current mild spell, however, but after a couple of impromptu visits and a more thorough search on Saturday I was still snakeless.
So this morning I cheated – slightly – and popped down to the coast where the reptiles have likely been active longer. It didn’t take long, a small female was laid beside the pebbles of the beach quite oblivious to my presence. I waited a few moments as a family approached from the opposite direction. I was wary that their dogs might sniff the snake and get a nip, so pointed out the snake in good time for them to take a wide berth.
The two kids were absolutely delighted. A snake! Lots of questions and lots of excitement, and the adder stayed put throughout. I headed on to a thin strip of scrub with past form and found another, larger female who posed for a quick photo, before stumbling upon a male in the open who slipped quietly back into cover.
The skylarks were singing, the sun did its best to shine, and I had my adder fix – for today at least.
I’m not much good at shouting my own praises, but am especially proud that Rivers Run has been short-listed for the Richard Jefferies Society Prize for Nature Writing. There are some seriously good books on the list so to be considered among them is incredibly humbling.