The biggest prize of all on The Ranger’s holiday in Dorset would be a sighting of the elusive sand lizard (Lacerta agilis); one of Britain’s rarest and and most protected animals, now restricted to only a few sites in the country. This was as good an opportunity as he would ever get: staying within a few metres of a Herpetological Conservation Trust sand lizard reserve. But it’s not that simple. Even the Herpetological Conservation Trust admits:
Sand lizards are cryptic and elusive…
And so it proved. With only intermittent sun, the weather was not optimal, but as soon as the sun came out, The Ranger grabbed the camera and photographer Cat, and both headed out onto the reserve to gingerly pace the sandy paths, trying to creep up on the lizards.
After a morning in the hot and dry reserve, the hunters were feeling despondent. A few glimpses of something green flashing away into the heather, and a few rustlings in the undergrowth were all they had to show for it. They consoled themselves by admiring the less easily scared wildlife, such as the extraordinary, alien-like parasitic dodder plant (Cuscuta epithymum), which swarms over heather plants like an extraterrestrial:
As the afternoon drew towards evening, they began to think they would have to retire defeated. But, as in all good stories, in the end their patience paid off. One of the secretive lizards flashed away into the heather just a little bit less carefully than its fellows – allowing the lizard-seekers a glimpse of the extraordinary iridescent green colours of an adult sand lizard:
The photograph does not do justice to the shimmering colours of this remarkable animal, which skulked in the heather for a couple of minutes as the breathless humans gawped. Finally, it must have realised that it was on display, and slipped away. And to top it off, after a whole day creeping about, it was whilst marching back, delighted at their ‘bag’, the weary hunters were treated to an even better sighting of a female sand lizard basking in the last rays of the afternoon:
Let’s hope the good work of the Herpetological Conservation Trust continues to keep the lizards around, so others can have the excitement and pleasure of spotting them in the future.