Shropshire wildlife artist Ben Waddams

PUBLISHED: 18:25 13 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:11 20 February 2013

Autumnal Lie-In — Pen and Ink by Ben Waddams

Autumnal Lie-In — Pen and Ink by Ben Waddams

Shropshire wildlife artist Ben Waddams goes in search of May-time marvels


Looking for Mrs Tiggy-Winkle

Shropshire wildlife artist Ben Waddams goes in search of May-time marvels

As awildlife artist, I am not particularly skilled at sitting still. If I am lucky enough to be on holiday in a strange and far off land, I am one of those annoying sorts who simply cannot sit, lie or otherwise remain immobile for long periods of time on parrot fish poo, for that is, Im afraid, what tropical sand is. I prefer to get up into the hills and go about the business of being a naturalist.

On one such excursion on the island of Mah in the African Seychelles, a sound met my ears that was both puzzling and familiar. It was the odd sniffling and snuffling of an insectivore, rummaging through the leaf litter. On careful inspection, behind a granitic boulder, I found the culprit a tenrec.

The tenrec looks similar to the European hedgehog, shares the same characteristics, exploits the same niche, has similar predators (cats, birds of prey, etc.) and, therefore, has evolved in a similar way. Back home in Shropshire, our hedgehogs are very busy indeed. Although they may be one of our commonest mammals, they are rarely spotted alive in the wild. However if youre reading this at home in the evening, I wouldnt mind betting that there is one in your neighbourhood, if not your own back garden, right now. And if you are still having problems seeing Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, then May is the best month to resolve them.

Our own tenrecs are snuffling their way through the leaves in search of insects, slugs and worms and each other. It is hedgehog breeding time here in Shropshire and if you are quiet and lucky enough, then you may be able to hear them grunting and snorting their appreciation of one another as they begin their mating ritual, carefully of course.

But we should not just be looking in our own back gardens in May to spot wildlife. It pays to visit a few less comfortable spots. Wem Moss in the north of the county is a superb location for Shropshires reptiles. I have a particular passion for reptiles and amphibians. And Wem Moss provides excellent snake, lizard and toad watching. Adders are remarkable creatures. They are gentle and shy and when you realise that what you are looking at is one of the most adaptable reptiles on Earth, you start to see their attraction.

They are the only snake to live in the Arctic Circle but how do they do that when all reptiles need warmth to move around and digest their food? It is through a combination of sleep and venom. With the ability to hibernate, they save vast amounts of energy during cold weather, when their prey of amphibians cannot be found. With their venom, they are able to inject a digestive concoction of enzymes into their victims thus starting the process early, before the item gets to their stomach, again, saving vital time and energy. To a healthy human, they are harmless.

But reptiles are not the only reason to visit the mosses of the county. Intriguing and yet deadly plants also live here. Sundews apparently offer flies a juicy, sticky reward for visiting them. However, this is not a treat, but a trap. Once they have landed on the plant, the leaves roll up and envelope them, digesting their victims alive, giving the plant a boost of much needed nutrients in this otherwise nutrient-poor soil.

But wait, there are still more secrets to enjoy in Shropshire this month. A couple of years ago, the county saw the return of a very rare and enigmatic bird to its heaths and woodlands. It is so difficult to see that you might as well be looking for a piece of straw in haystack, yet thankfully, it does not keep quiet about it. If you live in the Clun area, you may be lucky enough to hear the beautiful churring of the nightjar. Add to this the chance of seeing a kingfisher whiz by on the river and I cannot think of a lovelier way to spend a warm spring eve than watching these splendid birds. One scything through the air after moths and flies, the other plunging into the depths.

So whether it is in your own back garden or amongst the mosses and ferns of the countryside, May brings delightful opportunities for wildlife and wildlife artists.

Watch Bens film on adders and see his art online at www.waddams.webs.com


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