Wildlife Spotting Goals for 2021 – Part One: Land Wildlife

Adder

Adder by Laurie Campbell

This was the top of my list for last year but it didn’t happen. There are plenty of adders around my local area so there’s no excuses!

The adder is the only venomous snake in the UK and although it is very shy it is often see basking in the sunshine on the coastal paths close to where I live. I have several friends that see them regularly on the same paths that I walk many times a week. Maybe it’s down to luck or maybe it’s down to the time of day.

The adder is a relatively small snake with a very distinct sig-zag pattern fown it’s back it has red eyes. The colour of an adder depends on it’s sex with the males being a grey colour and the females are a reddish-brown.

Although adder bites are very rare they can be painful, but they are almost never fatal. Adder’s will only attack humans or dogs if threatened (usually by accident by feet, or paws, disturb them by accident in long grass) and prefer to slither away quickly if they hear you coming.

Their venum’s purpose is for hunting their prey of lizards, small mammals and ground-nesting birds such as skylarks.

Adders usually hibernate from October to March and the best time to spot them is when they are basking in the warm sunshine.

I’d like to see an adder whilst out walking and won’t be trying to find one under a log or rock as I wouldn’t want to disturb them. Adders are protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

Barn owl

Barn owl in flight. Photo be Laurie Campbell

Living in a rural location I’m lucky to see barn owls a few times a year but with a bit of effort I know that I could see them even more regularly and this is one of my aims for this year.

Barn owls are an iconic owl, their pale colourings and silent flight giving them the nickname ‘ghost owl.’

Winter is a good time to spot barn owls as they often extend their hunting into he daylight hours to help them survive the cold months. The sound of their wings flapping is silenced by a soft fringe at the edge of their wings and this silence allows them to listen for small mammals moving through grass.

Barn owl by Laurie Campbell

Barn owls hunt over a large area but unlike Tawny Owls they aren’t territorial and other barn owls, both solitary and in pairs, will live in the same area. In winter their hunting range is larger as food sources are more scarce.

If seeing your first barn owl, or like me, seeing more of your local barn owls is one of your goals for this year then your best chance of doing so is in the at dusk or dawn on a still day, as owls find it more difficult to hunt in windy conditions.

The favourite prey of barn owls are voles so seeking out ideal vole habitat will give you the best chance of a sighting. Voles love areas of rough grassland as this provides plenty of cover and allows the voles (and other small mammals) a degree of safety. Barn owls can be spotted hunting (known as quartering) over grassland before silently swooping on their prey.

Barns owls don’t hoot but screech hauntingly, if you’re planning on taking small children with you on your quest to spot barn owls one of my favourite books for children is The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson where Screech the baby barn owl does a good version! This lovely story book will help pique their interest and they’ll learn a few things too!