Sunday, 5 May 2013

Sunday 5th.May 2013

Took Carol to do the monthly shop early yesterday , in the hope that things would brighten up later , but that didn't happen , as towards lunchtime those clouds were thicker and producing odd spots of rain . Even so , a glimmer of brightness after lunch had me itching to get out , so off I set for the Greensand Ridge , in anything but reptile conditions . No sign of the pair that I had seen mating a couple of days ago , in fact very little indeed . I searched other areas that had held animals recently , but they too didn't produce . I must admit at one point I thought to myself , what am I doing here in just a tee shirt and a gillet in a cool breeze . Eventually the clouds did break up a bit , but it didn't affect sightings .
That was until I spotted this silverback male , in a very alert pose , his tongue constantly flicking in
and out , and I knew it wasn't me he was scenting as I was downwind of his position . He moved off at speed , moving effortlessly and silently through the heather and gorse . As he would disappear for a short time then re-appear a few metres away , I wasn't sure if there was just the one or two animals . I must have watched him / them for about 20 minutes , but nothing else seemed to be happening . I decided to leave it / them to it , as I was getting chilly standing about . As I went to move , I caught a movement on the edge of some heather , and with binoculars could see that it was a female , half in ,
half out of the vegetation . Now , this explained the way the male / males were acting , so I decided to hang about for a while longer , but moved a short distance away to see if I could refind them . A couple of fleeting glances was all I got , so went back to the female , to find not just her , but , jerkily
moving all over her body were , as I had suspected , two males . The female moved back into cover ,
and I could make out the 'carousel' routine starting , same as a couple of days ago . After a short
time , one male baled out of the 'carousel' onto the mossy area in front , and seemed to be watching
the other two . The male still with the female seemed to resent a 'voyeur' and he too baled out of the
'carousel' and headed straight at the other male , which needless to say started a fight . A bit timid to
begin with , with both animals crashing horizontally through the heather . Very soon it developed into a proper 'Dance of the Adders' , as each animal tried to outreach and push down on the other . It was
now that I noticed a slight colour difference between them , one with clean white base colour , and the other with more of an off-white base colour . The battle went on for a good half hour looking back at the times on the camera , but it seemed like just five minutes , when the white animal turned away and disappeared into the heather . With that , the off-white animal made it's way to a large open
mossy area , and you could almost see it collapse under the efforts of the previous half hour . It
remained motionless , until , from the nearby heather , came the cause of the action , the female .
She moved down slowly and he moved over to join her , and they settled down together . There they remained for a good 5 minutes , and I started to think about heading home , as all the action was
finished , when back in comes the white male , and the two males started all over again , firstly in the mossy area , often crashing down onto the female . But she soon had enough of that , and she slipped
off back into the vegetation , and left the two combatants to it . It was at this point that 'Card full' came up on the camera display , and I also noticed that the battery warning was flashing too . I must
admit I found it rather difficult to change the battery and the card , whilst trying to watch the pair . With the camera sorted it was back to the fray with the pair trying to best each other on who was
tallest , before crashing back down into the heather , before starting all over again . Sometimes , they fought out in the open , which I must admit made focusing much easier than when they were
thrashing through the heather . At other times they were heading straight towards me , and although I
was never more than 3/4 metres away from the battle , neither took a blind bit of me , there was a bigger prize at stake . I just couldn't believe the effort and commitment that both animals put into the
battle was immense , with very few moments to draw breath , never mind rest . Eventually , the white animal left the arena , and again the off-white animal again collapsed with fatigue . I watched him for a while , motionless , then , the tongue started flicking again , and again the white animal came back
for more . But both were now 'running on fumes' and this final action lasted just a few minutes , before once again , the white animal retreated , this time closely pursued by the off-white one . A couple of minutes later , the off-white 'victor' returned and very slowly made it's way deep into the heather , where no doubt tis 'prize' was waiting for him . Looking back on the time on the camera , from first sighting of the silverback to the time when his tail disappeared into the heather , an amazing 1 hour and 53 minutes had passed , I couldn't believe it , but when I got home and found that I had 542 photos to download , I did believe it . Looking through some of the shots taken , I was surprised that although setting a shutter speed of 1/4000th. of a second , there will be many heading for the recycle bin . This is the 6th. or 7th. time I have been privileged to witness the 'Dance of the Adders' ,  I hope it will not be my last .
I emailed a couple of fellow enthusiasts last night about the 'Dance' , and was quite expecting to see 1 or 2 on site when I went back this morning , in better weather than yesterday . No sign of anyone when I arrived and no sign of the 'couple' . It was only going to be a quick look and back home , when David , one of those I emailed turned up . We had another look around , and David spotted a silverback some 7/8 metres from the combat area . It moved off soon after sighting , but we managed to track it back to where the female was yesterday afternoon . The I spotted the female , tucked well down in some gorse . The animal that David found , which was probably the white animal from the combat , scoured the area until he found the female and made his way to her , only to find that she was already coupled to the off-white animal , and he was staying where he was , no more combat .
The white animal made several visits to the pair , but seemed eventually to realise that he was the
vanquished and with his proverbial 'tail between his legs' , left the pair in peace , and that was exactly what we did , with the hope of seeing their offspring in the Autumn .


Marc Heath said...

Wow, great set of shots. I would love to see one of these in the wild.

Warren Baker said...

I take it there is some sort of truce about the Adders biting each other. Or are they immune to the venom?

Greenie said...

Warren ,
The whole thing is a trial of strength , not about biting .
The venom is only used to immobilise their food or in an emergency to escape from an enemy .
An Adder can also give a dry bite , meaning that the animal can bite without injecting venom , but often residual venom in the fangs can still make a dry bite a nasty business .
As for being immune , I don't think so , but cannot be certain .

Phil said...

Exciting stuff Greenie and some great pictures again. Glad you didn't post them all though :-)

ShySongbird said...

Wow! What an exciting and fascinating encounter Greenie, one that few people are privileged to see I suspect. You captured it very well too with some great photos. Very interesting reply to Warren too.

Marianne said...

Just... wow! Brilliant report and photos.

Alan Pavey said...

That was a great read and fantastic pics too, what a privilege to witness an encounter like that :-)