Hunting Lizards, Slow Worms and Snakes
It takes knowledge, skill and agility to hunt reptiles. Tony and I were experts. We had a series of sites that we would make our way around. In the early morning we’d often arrange to meet up on our bikes, complete with aluminium milk churn with lid to put our catch in, and we’d happily spend our day hunting.
The heathland was the place for lizards. We’d creep stealthily through the dried vegetation with eyes and ears alert to any rustle or movement and body poised. At the slightest movement we launched ourselves, fine-tuning our hands as we sprang. We’d bring our hands down and try to trap the unfortunate lizards. We were very good at it and often went back with a haul of lively lizards.
Slow worms and snakes required slightly different tactics. We rarely found them out in the open. They liked to sleep in the warmth and darkness under corrugated iron where they were safe from predators. But that did not save them for us. Corrugated iron was a common building material. It was used for roofing on huts and fencing. We knew where all the discarded corrugated iron was in the whole area and made our rounds.
To catch animals hiding under corrugated iron there was a well worked plan. We would take it in turn to quietly approach the sheet of iron, so not to disturb anything underneath it, and then fling it back and dive. As I flew through the air I’d look to see what was there and make a grab for it. We caught a variety of creatures this way. The easiest were the slow worms. There were legless lizards and as the name suggestion none too fast. They would be coiled up under the iron and easy to grab hold of. The snakes were faster. They would react as you dived and you had to be quick to get hold of them. There weren’t many snakes but we caught both grass snakes and adders.
The adders were very distinctive with their black zig-zag line down their back. They were a bit scary because we knew they were poisonous. But they tended to be small. The grass snakes were a lot bigger.
The hardest creatures to capture were the voles. They were quick. But I once caught a whole family of voles in a nest under the tin. I grabbed them with both hands and transferred them to the milk churn. I kept that family of voles in a big aquarium for weeks until the babies were fully grown and then I released them.
On one occasion I jerked back the sheet of tin and dived. As I flew I saw a big slow worm and one hand reached for that and then a huge grass snake reared up at me like a cobra and I instinctively grabbed that round the neck. It was so big that when I stood up and held it up at shoulder height its tail reached the ground.
That snake was big and strong. He writhed about and threshed to break my grip but I clung on. He tried to twist his head round to deploy his fangs but I was having none of that and gripped his neck even tighter. Then he started to exude this foul smelling excrement that he smeared on me. But that didn’t deter someone as mad as me. I was excited. Even when he let out these huge hisses it did not put me off.
The usual thing for us to do was to take our booty back to Tony’s house. He had a big enamel bath in his back garden. We’d empty our churn into it and divvy up the catch. I transferred most of mine to the big pit I’d dug in the back garden. It was three feet deep with a pond I’d created out of a huge old sink. I’d planted grass and shrubs and put plenty of rock to supply cover. It was full of my frogs, newts (both palmate and crested), toads, lizards and slow worms.
I kept them happy by digging up lots of worms and buying meal worms from the pet shop. I used to enjoy feeding time. I’d dump in a wriggling handful of meal worms and watch as the frogs, toads and lizards all came out of their hidey-holes to feast.
I put my king grass snake straight in there. Once he’d settled he must have thought he was in paradise. I hadn’t reckoned with the fact that he was big and powerful enough to get out of that pit. He only stayed a few days and polished off my entire stock of frogs before leaving. But I did enjoy marvelling at him slithering around flicking his tongue out and checking out that place. He was a wonder to behold.
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