ADDER! It was in a hurry, too. Quite a big one as adders go, and its chain-mail hide as yellow as the clay path it was crossing.
Its dark zigzag patterning warned of danger, and had also made it harder to see, for if it had not moved, large as it was, I might have missed seeing it as a snake and thought it a fallen branch dappled by sunlight instead.
They do vary in colouration, and this was one of the lightest I had ever seen. A brief hand gesture put the dogs to heel and on the side furthest away, and I watched the adder slither to safety. It is good to see them about, but just as well if dogs do not sniff them; luckily these two showed no inclination to go closer.
They are not always sensible dogs, and have been known to try to eat wasps, but it seemed as if snake-wisdom was theirs at least.
These woods used to be good for snakes, but in latter years the trees have shaded out the low scrub, and as the habitat changes so do the inhabitants. Now the cover is leggy and sparse: wildlife ‘trades’ through but seldom stops.
There are no rabbits for the fox because there is no food for rabbits. Small rodents can make their homes anywhere, so you will still come across a stoat or a weasel here and there, and there are beetles and bugs in plenty.
Years ago, I saw a pair of grass-snakes entwined in courtship, one very big and the other much smaller, and I have seen adders here since but not often.
Mostly they do not want to be seen, but they love to sunbathe, which was possibly what this one had been indulging in before the vibration of our footsteps scared him into moving.
Where there are better pickings for rabbits, in these fields along here, they have eaten half-moon edges out of the growing crops.
Very small youngsters are growing up in a world of plenty, and the stoat will be travelling along here too, taking advantage of whatever opportunity it can get to kill and eat.
Rabbits enjoy sunbathing almost as much as snakes, for their place of origin is Spain, and they are physically much more suited to arid plains than rich Sussex pasture.
I cross the unpleasant plank bridge half-sunk in black ooze, and the dogs pick their way along an impossibly narrow part of the bank.
They are so sure-footed on their tight paws, such a contrast to big clumsy human feet. The pond is low, and smells very organic today.
In the reeds there is a sudden kerfuffle as a dog dives in and a rabbit leaps out, to what would have been certain safety through the stock-fence if the other dog had not been there.
Her jaws click shut on nothing as the rabbit leaps an impressive four feet straight up into the air, backflips over and lands running.
It knows exactly where to go, up into the brambles on the edge of the reeds and sedges and from thence into a shallow hole.
I deter the dogs from digging after it, for it has escaped bravely, and deserves to live for another day.
Instead, we make for the wheat fields, where the crop is yet too short for a dog to cause damage, and more necessary rabbiting may be carried out.