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Yorkshire based Professional Landscape and Wildlife Photographer

The Adder Dance

Posted on 08/05/19

After getting back from Abisko in late March and then talking for Canon at the Photography Show I needed a new project to get my teeth into. I've been photographing adders (and a number of UK's other reptiles) for around ten years. But there is a very rare event which happens during the adder breeding period called the adder dance. This occurs between male adders and is purely a test of strength to see who will breed with the female adder. So even though I've spent a lot of time in places where you get adders I've never seen this happen.

I'm going to take one step back here and just talk a little bit about my ethics of photographing adders. Adder numbers (along with a lot of our wildlife, unfortunately) are in decline and we really need to be sensitive when photographing them. All the images in this blog were taken with a long telephoto lens and absolute care was taken to minimise the disturbance to the snakes. If I ever realise that a snake is alerted to my presence I instantly back off and leave that area. I recently went to a local adder hot spot on a perfect day for seeing adders. I saw no adders but I did see a lot of photographers. I asked one photographer if he had seen any adders and he literally told me he had chased an adder into the bushes but it didn't want to come back out!?! If I had used that approach none of the pictures in this blog would be possible. I would never pick up, touch or move a UK reptile to get a photograph when all our reptile numbers are in decline they need to be disturbed as little as possible.

So the weather was perfect and I headed out to a spot I decided I was going to wait out and see if I could see the adder dance. My approach is very simple, take a very low level field stool and then sit and wait. When I mean wait this was day number 3 so you really do need to wait! But on this particular day I noticed straight away that the male adders seemed to be particularly active. I made sure my camera settings were all good (I was using the Canon 5Div camera and a 100-400mm vr2 L lens) and then waited. I didn't actually have to wait very long and I heard a rustling noise and I took this picture.

In this picture, there are actually four snakes! There are two obvious males but can you spot the brown female to the left of the image? Just behind that female there is another male adder who decided he didn't want to take part in the dance! These next images where one of the best wildlife encounters I've ever had!

In this next image you can clearly see the brown female as the two males continued their dance into the undergrowth.

My heart was pounding after that! One of the males who lost then sat out in the open for a while here you can see he has flattened his body to get a larger surface area to get heat from the sun.

I then moved my self about twenty meters away from that area as I had spotted another male and female pair of adders. The male was 'mate guarding' the female and it was pretty interesting to watch. I then had another male glide straight past my foot and he went over to investigate!

So the second dance started!

I'd always envisaged the adder dance would be a slow and ponderous thing. But it's not it's fast and I found it very hard to photograph. It was very easy to miss the focus point.

I couldn't believe my luck two adder dances in one day!

The victor then went back to the female.

Hopefully, it won't be another ten years till I see this amazing wildlife event again!

I am just going to plug two workshops I have up and running.

1. I'm doing some one-day macro workshops with Wild Arena (the first lot have sold out so we have put on an additional two days (20th or 21st of July) and they can be found here.
2. I'm running and Autumn Photography Workshop in Abisko (late September) which will involve hiking out to some of the most beautiful parts of the country and hopefully get some stunning views of Northern Lights and Autumn colours. The details for that workshop can be found here.

Any questions let me know.

All the best,

1 Comment
  • Great piece of work, good ethics, sensible approach.

    Frank Gardiner - 09 May, 2019
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