Ear to the Ground with Steve Blacksmith: Lizard was basking in the late summer sun

This lizard was sighted on the way to Withens Clough. Picture: Steve Blacksmith
This lizard was sighted on the way to Withens Clough. Picture: Steve Blacksmith

On Saturday, September 14, some of us were in Withens Clough on the last warm day before the first “blow” of the autumn came over the UK.

Nigel spotted this common lizard basking in the sun at 5pm in a crack on a south-facing drystone retaining wall.

Its chequered pattern shows it’s a male. If it was a female it would be more stripey. It was about five inches (125cm) long.

Common lizards (zootaca vivipara, formerly lacerta vivipara) seem to live on most of our moorlands and upland fringes.

We’ve got records at the Halifax Scientific Society from many places; often just a single record from a moorland, but if there’s one there, there must be others.

The place where most reports come from is around Blake Dean, but this could be due to it being popular as a place for a trip on a sunny day.

If you know Blake Dean you know the sort of habitat it lives in, with tall heather and bilberry, and scattered boulders. In other parts of the UK they live in open woodland, on rough ground right down to the sea’s edge, also in the Norfolk Broads.

The other native British lizard that looks a bit similar, the sand lizard, (lacerta agilis), isn’t found in Calderdale.

Its nearest area is Ainsdale Dunes on the west coast of Lancashire. It can get considerably bigger than the common lizard.

Lizards are said to be one of the favourite food items of the adder (vipera berus).

We occasionally get the odd report of an adder, the only poisonous British snake (it’s not very poisonous, though it’s best to report to a doctor if you’re bitten) – send the record to me too, please, even if you don’t get bitten.

Dogs are prone to being bitten, but adders are a protected species, and no harm should be meted out to them, though I know dogs are much-loved family members.

Snakes only bite larger animals and humans in what they think is self defence.

Adders are common in certain places on the North York Moors. When the colder weather comes, all reptiles go deep underground to hibernate, but adders can emerge as early as March if there is bright sun.

Surprisingly, they seem to like a drift of snow nearby. Perhaps it increases the amount of light they can absorb, as well as warmth directly from the sun.

Grass snakes (natrix natrix) are sometimes, rarely, reported from around waterways in the lower valley, around Brighouse, usually by anglers.

An exception was one reported from Burnt Oak Wood near Lobb Mill several years ago, and an informant called Sam assures me they live in the valley bottom in the Cliviger Gorge, on the way to Burnley, along with adders.

Grass snakes are slim and graceful, plain or slightly spotted, with two prominent yellow marks almost joining into a collar behind the head.

Adders are fatter for their length, and they are rarely very long.

They have a black zig-zag pattern down their back and the background colour varies from light grey in a male to brown in a female.

A woman informed me that she had released a rehabilitated, cat-injured, slow worm (anguis fragilis) at Old Town on the edge of the moor.

It looks like a small snake, the colour of polished steel, but it is in fact a legless lizard.

I asked her why she had released it there (it had been brought from Wales) when no others lived there?

She replied she had heard that they did, but I thought the Halifax Scientific Society had no records.

On looking it up, she was right.

Walter Greaves in his Vertebrate Fauna of Hebden Bridge, 1910, wrote on the slow worm: “It is seldom seen, but exists in a few places.”

This is from the archives in Halifax, which go on to say it had also been reported from Triangle, Mill Bank and Northowram.

None have been reported in recent times, but it’s interesting how long that folk memory lingers on.

There’s just a chance a few reptiles of various species might be living quite near you in the Upper Calder Valley.

See other wildlife sightings at Calderdale-wildlife.blogspot.co.uk, the blog of Halifax Scientific Society, where you can also see details of our friendly and informal indoor meetings and outdoor surveys/walks.