Nature Notes

By Denis O’Connor

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

Although our garden, with ponds and increasingly wild areas, has a flourishing population of amphibians, mainly frogs and palmate newts with an occasional passing toad, I have yet to encounter a reptile. In fact, although Wharfedale has populations of adders, slow-worms and common lizards, apart from a single lizard I have yet to encounter a Yorkshire reptile.

It is always a delight, therefore, to head for sunnier climes where reptiles are much more common and there is a chance of encountering lizards, snakes and tortoises. A week in a small house in the Spanish countryside south of Seville and on the edge of Donana National Park provided such an opportunity, especially as it had a wild garden with a pond.

Iberian Wall Lizards, small, slim and long-tailed, were common, one of their favourite habitats being the wooden walkways in the more accessible areas of the National Park where they could dive for cover between the planks at the first sign of danger, a sensible precaution in an area where short-toed and booted eagles, both specialist reptile hunters, patrol the skies.

My favourites, however, were the Moorish Geckos which lived on the house walls, mainly outside but occasionally also inside, climbing walls and even across ceilings with their amazing feet equipped with adhesive pads along their toes, their big eyes with vertical pupils like cats. Seen on the white-washed walls they were pale (pictured), turning darker while they sheltered by day in the crevices of the black metal shutters while those living among the vegetation twined around the verandah were tinged with green for, like chameleons, geckos can change colour quite rapidly to blend with their background.

A fascinating although gruesome highlight of our stay was the discovery, at the edge of the pond, of a two-foot long Viperine Snake, two yellow stripes running the length of its dark-blotched body. At first I thought it was dead but, given a poke, it retreated backwards half into the water and I realised it was in the process of swallowing an Iberian Water Frog, its mouth stretched wide with its jaws unhinged. The frog, with its hindquarters disappearing into the snake’s mouth, was still bright-eyed but not struggling, apparently resigned to its fate.

The chances of our garden ponds attracting a similar drama are small but, following a fascinating talk from local reptile expert David Alred at a Wharfedale Naturalists meeting earlier this year, I have a much better idea of where to look for adders and will be trying my luck in the upper reaches of the Washburn Valley.

Wharfedale Naturalists meetings are held about every two weeks from September to March at Christchurch on the Grove in Ilkley. Visitors are welcome.