Smooth Operator

I was listening to the RSPB podcast a few weeks ago and they were talking about being able to see all six species of native British reptile at Arne RSPB reserve in Dorset. Excellent, I thought as Smooth Snake is the only one missing from my list.

I checked the Arne webpage as I was planning a butterfly trip in May when my wife went to Spain. Hmmm, no guided walks whilst I was there. Ok, what to do? I banged off and email to the guys doing the podcast about meeting up and publicising their work in The Grebe. I was gladdened to get invited along for a private viewing.

I arrived at Arne on the 20th and met with Warden Rob Farrington, we were going to be joined by another couple so once everyone was ready we set off onto a private bit of the reserve in search of snakes. Rob gave us a very informative talk on the work the RSPB are doing at Arne to manage it for reptiles as well as birds, it seems they’re doing well as the nesting Kestrels on the webcam seem to be feeding exclusively on the rare Sand Lizard. We soon picked up a juvenile Stonechat and then a lovely male. As we all know when on these heaths find a Stonechat, find a Dartford Warbler and we did, in fact we found two singing males. Not bad to say Arne’s population has dropped by 75% with the two recent hard winters. Some Southern heaths have lost up to 90% of their Dartfords. Arne can still boast an impressive 27 pairs this year.

Rob Farrington

We were soon checking the tins on the heath, under the first we had a Slow Worm, Rob talking us through why this was a legless lizard and not a snake and also wonder just who named them… they’re anything but slow. A few tins later and we had a Smooth Snake, I was overjoyed, what a fabulous reptile. She was only a young female but beautifully and subtly marked. Rob discussed the plight of these fantastic animals and talked about how at Arne they were proud of their achievements in helping conserve them. Our only other reptile today was a Common Lizard but a 50% success rate can’t be bad.

The weather deteriorated which made looking for other heathland specialities difficult but we did find Fox Moth and Bordered White. I would like to thank Rob and the whole team at Arne for a fantastic morning.

Smooth Snake

You should also remember Rob is licenced to handle Smooth Snake and it is an offence to handle one with it. The RSPB are running Reptile safaris into June and if you’re in the area I suggest you book on one

Here’s a video diary that the reserve staff have made on the reptiles.

St Nicholas Church, Arne

Around the reserve later I found two Great Spotted Woodpecker nests.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Leaving the reserve and heading back to Swanage I spotted a few Southern Marsh Orchids by the junction.

Southern Marsh Orchid

To finish a bit of Sade and Smooth Operator.


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