Search for serpents on the Suffolk sandlings
Sunday 09 March 2014
Few places are better than the Suffolk sandlings (lowland heaths) to watch adders freshly emerged from their winter slumber. And few sandling sites are as good for spotting our only venomous reptile as the sheltered, south-facing slopes on Dunwich Heath. Males vacate their winter den before females and stake out territories. Early in the season, the snakes are sluggish and often allow prolonged views. As the slopes heat up and cold-blooded bodies thaw, the serpents slither off to hunt. Time too, for you to meander on.
Dominated by bell heather, the sandlings have hosted a remarkable avian comeback. Extinct in Suffolk by the 1920s, Dartford warblers recolonised the coast 70 years later. Today, the population is vibrant. You should see several fiery-eyed males scratching out a song atop a prominent perch and additional punk-crested forms flitting between heathery clumps.
Returning to the car park above Dunwich cliffs, the trail traverses the gorse-rich territories of a pair or two of stonechat. From the clifftop, look out to sea for harbour porpoise.
End the day as you started, relaxing in the sun. Park yourself on a cliff-top bench, imbibing the vista southwards towards RSPB Minsmere, Britain's most-renowned reserve, where you will spend day two.
With its majestic diversity of habitats – scrub and scrape, wood and reed, heath and beach – Minsmere is a splendid stage for celebrating the arrival of spring. A sand martin worries its way north. A chiffchaff sings its name from the scrub. On the beach, a wheatear bobs, flashing white.
It is the reedbeds that provide the day's major interest. Deep within this painstakingly managed habitat, a bittern "booms" as if blowing across the top of a beer bottle. Parties of bearded tit perch on stems.
Once you have filled your boots, explore the rest of the reserve. Rabbits thrive in the sandy hollow near the visitor centre. A muntjac grazes beside wooded trails. On "the Scrape", Minsmere's celebrated lagoon, avocets bleat through upturned bills. As you leave, a herd of red-deer hinds bumbles through the woods, pausing to observe you just as you paused in the Dunwich sun at the outset of the weekend.
This is an edited extract from 52 Wildlife Weekends by James Lowen, published by Bradt. IoS readers can buy a copy for just £7.79 (inc UK p&p) by visiting bradtguides.com and using the discount code 52WW. Offer valid until 31 January 2015
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