Monday, 14 July 2014

Grass Snake In the Garden, White Admiral In The Woods

This morning Dave and I took ourselves off to Bentley Woods near Salisbury to look for Purple Emperors. I have conceived a wish to see a male Purple Emp after The Lady came visiting a couple of weeks ago. I would love to see that beautiful purple sheen in the flesh, rather than on paper.

We spent more than two hours wandering through the woods searching. Half an hour before we got there someone had seen a male Emperor flying high up in the canopy, but despite our best efforts the flutter eluded us. 

Emperors were seen in Donkey Copse only yesterday.

The woods were full, however, of men sporting binoculars and cameras. They had all adopted identical postures: standing stationary in front of oak trees staring upwards with their heads craned back as they scanned the tree tops for this most elusive of butterflies. It looked like some Impish Fairy had cast a spell on them and turned them all into statues doomed to gaze eternally upwards.....

This is a Familiar And Recognisable Stance in Purple Emperor woods during Summer. I believe it leads to a condition known as 'Purple Emperor Neck'
Each time we past one we asked whether they'd seen His Majesty (as the Emp is known among flutter circles) and each time a head was shaken gravely.

There had been a couple of Purple Hairstreaks spotted (Dave saw one). These are like tiny versions of the Emperor, but The Man Himself eluded everyone. Never Mind. There is always next time.

Dave, (eagle eyes) spotted this White Admiral flitting about at Ground Level, which is unusual as they, like the Emperor, are canopy-dwellers and therefore aren't seen all that regularly. It's the Next Best Thing to an Emperor, so I was happy :-)

When they do come down to the ground it is usually to drink nectar from brambles, as this one is doing. They are described in my butterfly book as 'unrivalled among British butterflies for their graceful and agile flight' and, having watched this one glide among the trees, I fully concur. They whirr their wings quickly then take long smooth glides among woodland rides. It's mesmerising to watch and leaves you feeling very peaceful and light.

The White Admiral can be mistaken for the Emp- they are similarly marked, although the Admiral is a bit smaller and lacks the purple sheen of male Emperors and the eye markings of both sexes.

Also present in the woods were Silver-washed fritillaries, the first I've seen this year. They were Very Reluctant To Land, but very eager to fly all around me. I snapped this one as fast as I could....

There was also a Brimstone pretending to be a leaf....

And this freshly hatched Gatekeeper.....

Signs of Autumn are beginning to creep into the woods. Along with that indefinable crispness on the air, Hazelnuts are already well-formed on the boughs (and I've been noticing small mushrooms springing up at home too).....

Back home to more mundane things (such as hanging out the washing) I heard a soft thumping sound coming from the area around the now-defunct wooden play house which stands on stilts at the top of the garden. It is currently playing host to an enormous wasps' nest. M, who was unaware of the presence of the nest, has been trying to remove the house and got stung over the weekend by a furious stream of wasps who erupted through the window as soon as he started hammering on the roof. They went straight for him with their needley-stings, no messing about, and hounded him down the steps and across the grass. I've never seen him move so fast.

Anyway, the soft thump sounded like something falling out of the sky and when I looked round I saw both dogs looking extremely interested in something that was lying on the ground. I went to investigate (realising it was bound to be an animal or Poppy wouldn't have been licking it in that way that was both excited and curious) and when I got there I realised it was a snake.

I don't know where it came from. Perhaps a buzzard dropped it, or maybe one of the dogs had found it and flung it down there (seems less likely because I'd been with them). Anyway, it had a very damaged tail and its mouth was gaping open with its head thrown back and I realised it was dead. I picked the poor thing up and put it on the veranda of the wooden play house (which, since it stopped being used as a play house has proved immensely useful as a short-term repository for Poor Dead Creatures that need to be kept beyond dog reach until burial is possible).

I went to the house, got the camera, returned, and realised it had moved.

Death throes?

I took some pictures. 

It moved again. 

And I mean Proper Moved. 

Not death throes then: Very Much Alive.


And I remembered that grass snakes, being devoid of any poisonous means of protecting themselves, have as their next-best line of defence the ability to play dead, which I can personally testify they do to Oscar-winning proportions.

I shooed the dogs away and locked them in the house, then returned to the wooden house and lifted the snake down, placing her (they're always female to me) in the long grass by the fence where she would hopefully be safe from predators. 

She is still there now and it's an hour and a half later, and I am worried that the damage to her tail is too great and that she will die, but I'm not sure there is much you can do to nurse a wild snake. I rather suspect they might die of fright if you tried. Some creatures are not made for captivity, even the short-term variety that intends to help them (wood peckers are a good example of this). Best let nature take it's course I think. She's in the undergrowth where she is safe anyway.

Note the diagnostic yellow collar in the pic above. Adders (poisonous) don't have this, and they also have a much more obvious black or dark brown zigzag pattern down their backs.

Grass snakes are protected by law in this country. Under the 1981 wildlife act it is an offence (illegal) to kill or sell them. It is not illegal to handle them, but they are very nervous creatures and as such it is better to let them alone, unless they are injured and need to be moved for their own safety, as with this one.
I will go back up the garden later to check on her and will let you all know how she is. I hope I don't find her, because that will mean she is alright.

I'm off looking for glow worms again tonight, then on Wednesday I have a bat survey to do which should be interesting because I've not done one before. We're looking for Daubenton's bats, which characteristically fly low over water at dusk. My bat detector arrived this morning so I am dying to try it out. We have Pipistrelles nesting in the roof here and often seem them flying around at dusk, so we shall be out this evening seeing whether it works! I will report back to you all on that score too.

Wishing you all a lovely peaceful evening.

CT :-)


  1. That's exactly how I feel when watching butterflies - peaceful and light. I hope the snake did crawl away. We have bats flitting around the garden at dusk. I don't think they live here though. I do remember a (teeny tiny) bat landing on me once while I was at Burnham On Sea. I was told by a lady that there was a bat colony at the church and so I took her there and placed her on a branch to get home. I hope she did, she was lovely. Good luck with the glow worms.
    Leanne xx

    1. They are glorious creatures aren't they? I could (and sometimes seem to) watch flutters all day long :-)
      How sweet to have a bat land on you! The same thing happened to a friend of mine recently in her garden at home, and another friend's son woke up in the morning to find a bat roosting on his curtain! Fingers crossed for the glowies- it's a location we have seen them at before xx

  2. ooh that tail doesn't look good, but I do hope he/she makes it. I had a similar problem in our garden once, my mum's dog bit a grass snake and it played dead for a while and I just moved it and hoped it's injury wasn't too deep. (that was blogged here - )

    Lovely butterfly captures.

    1. I suspect (as with slow worms) that the main time people see grass snakes is when their dog has attacked them. So sad, they are such wonderful creatures. Just looked at your post from Sept - you did very well getting those in the pond action shots :-)

  3. Hi CT, the Butterflies look stunning, and the photos of the snake are great, it must have been a bit of a shck, any news on the eggs..
    Looks like you are up to some intresting things...
    Amanda xx

    1. Have been keeping an eye on the compost but so far haven't spotted any babies wriggling about. I suspect we won't know until we dig it over next spring and either find them with holes in or still complete xx

  4. You do lead such an exciting life, not many people would have a snake dropped from a great height into their garden! Goodness the tail is badly damaged isn't it, poor thing I hope we get an update.

    1. I sometimes forget that such events aren't run of the mill for other folk Joanne - they seem to happen here so often :-) x

  5. HI CT Butterflies are wonderful to watch and I find very difficult to photograph but your shots are great. Hope the snake recovered and goes away.

    1. They are hard to photograph and I do sometimes spend a long time following them or waiting for them to land in order to get the shot. Hope all's well with you x

  6. Another busy wildlife filled day at your house then!! xx

  7. What an absolute beauty CT. So pleased you managed to photograph it and that the dogs didn't try and eat it! Great Butterflies too. xx

    1. I'm so pleased we have snakes in the garden. Would be worried about the dogs if it were adders, but grass snakes are just fine! x

  8. 'Purple Emperor Neck' - I have seen a few of these on my many necks - should I offer a cold or warm pack on the affected area? ha,ha We have a few garter snakes in the back yard. I mostly leave them be, except once in a while, one might be snoozing and I pick it up gently and let it crawl around my hands and arm. Harmless little fellas but oh so pretty to look at. I think they have lived in the yard so long, we are almost related. he,he Oh the poor grass snake - damage to her tail is very sad indeed - I don't know that she will live with that kind of damage, but one never knows - she might. Glad you are protecting her and giving her the privacy she deserves in her sickest hour. Lovely photos and most interesting post. keep us updated on snake lol

    1. I'd love to know how many of these chaps do suffer from bad necks- most of them I imagine. I could make a fortune selling hot/ cold packs in wood carparks at this time of year :-) x

  9. Lovely butterflies especially the White Admiral - beautiful. I first saw them on the Isle of Wight and their floaty flight is a joy to behold :)

    I do hope the Grass Snake survived.


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x