Despite often found in dry areas like grassland, gardens, hedgerows, and open woodland, Grass Snakes (Natrix, natrix) have a close relationship with wet areas like – ponds, lakes, marshes and fens. They're good swimmers and feed on frogs, toads and even small fish. It should've been no surprise therefore to see them beside the water at Blashford Lakes in Hampshire. We'd entered the hide thinking of birds and dragonflies, when someone asked if we wanted to see grass snakes. Of course we did!
At first even with binoculars and being assured that there were three grass snakes just outside the hide, all we could see was one head amongst the alder leaves. Then after much peering – two snake heads, and then a third – albeit rather indistinctly! A photographer suggested we wait a while, and with the sun coming out, there might be better views. We ate our packed lunch then took another look. Sure enough one snake was now basking in the sun in full view on top of a sawn tree trunk. It was so close that we could lean out of the hide and get great shots of it even with compact cameras.
Grass snakes are non venomous reptiles. They can be olive-green, brown or grey in colour, and have vertical black bars along their flanks. They've also a yellow and black crescent shape on either side of their necks – resulting in the past in the alternative name of “collared” snakes (see first attached photo which shows collar). The snakes are between 70 – 100 cm (27” 39”) in length, with females tending to be longer. Males have a swelling at the base of their tails.
The afternoon got better still when the second snake decided to join the first on the tree stump! As reptiles they were obviously taking advantage of the sunshine to help raise their body temperatures, either as a prelude to hunting, or as an aid to digestion! The second photo shows one of our two snakes with an apparent blue cast over its eyes. We think this meant that the snake would soon be casting off, or sloughing its skin. This is in order to be able to grow.
Grass snakes are found in England and Wales, but not in Scotland or Ireland. In Europe they're found from southern Scandinavia to southern Italy and eastwards to Lake Baikal, Although we managed to see 3 snakes together, their numbers are declining through habitat loss due to factors such as urbanisation, road building and agricultural intensification. Still, despite this, we were elated at seeing our three, and they're definitely in my top ten wildlife sights!