On 1st February 2017 Callum Millar of Drumbeg had an exceptionally early sighting of an adder. He came across it in the hills south-west of Loch an Tolla Bhaid (NC1129), ‘basking in the sun in longish grass on a south-facing slope’, not in the least torpid since ‘it disappeared quite fast’. From his description it was possibly a female. The day was a warm one, even for this generally mild winter, with a maximum temperature recorded from my garden at Nedd of 12 degrees C.
We had no previous records of adders from this area, but it is one that few people visit. Callum’s sighting pre-dates the next earliest, in those I have to hand from Assynt, by over eight weeks, a juvenile noted by Robin Noble at Loch Uidh na Geadaig on 1st April 2005. There are four other records in April, one photographed by Andy Sanders at Nedd on 17th April 2003, several seen by Pat and myself at Ruigh Dorch, Gleann Leireag, on 19th April 1992 and another there on 25th April 1997, and one seen by Chris Warwick during April 1993 at Tubeg. Otherwise all our records are from May to September.
Interestingly, the earliest of three New Naturalist books on reptiles and amphibians (Smith 1954, p.246) contains the following passage by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald, ‘Snow on the ground and a bright sun overhead are quite irresistible to English vipers, and on such a day in February or March, if I am in suitable country, I expect to see vipers basking in the sun and I am rarely disappointed.’ However it goes on to say that ‘a cold spring will delay their appearance until as late as May’, so to see one out on1st February, particularly this far north, is remarkable.