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Herpetofauna of Europe European Amphibians & Reptiles

Herpetological trip to Corsica and Sardinia
12th of May - 21st of May 2009

All pictures (c) of Jeroen Speybroeck and Tim Adriaens.

After the Sardinian trip earlier this year, I was desperate to revisit Corsica as well. Back in 2003, I had found the endemic species quite easily and enjoyed this extremely beautiful island. I found an excellent travel companion in biologist, colleague and long-time friend Tim. The cheapest way to get there and back seemed to be a flight to Alghero in the northwest of Sardinia, so we also included some Sardinian exploring. The Tyrrhenian islands display a wide array of magnificent landscapes and tremendous habitat diversity, from scenic rocky coastal maquis to snowy open pine slopes with cool mountain brooks, brackish marshes, chestnut woods, … . I apologise if the word ‘beautiful’ is used too often in this report, but that’s just the way it is.
Of the about 31 species that are known to inhabit the Tyrrhenian islands, 26 occur in the areas which we visited. We could observe 24: 11 amphibian (including an introduced water frog species) and 13 reptile species. We observed all but one of the 18 species of the Corsican herpetofauna. As already obvious beforehand, limited time and smaller geographic coverage of Sardinia only alllowed for finding a smaller portion of its herpetofauna (18 out of 27 species).
I am grateful to Per Blomberg, Anders Selmer, Lasse Bergendorf, Emanuele Biggi, Rémi Fonters, Jan Van Der Voort, Wouter Beukema, Alexandre Roux, Pierre-André Crochet, Phillippe Geniez, Salvador Carranza, Daniel Escoriza, Stéphan Vitzthum, Giuseppe Sotgiu and Laurens Woldring for details on search sites. We are also indebted to Giuseppe for showing us the beautiful Monte Limbara and its brook newts.
A special word of thanks to my travel companion for helping and persisting throughout the herping madness.


overview of prospected sites


May 12th - late afternoon arrival and towards Santa Teresa

We landed on Sardinia in the late afternoon and started to drive towards the Corsican ferry that we would be taking the next day. A maquis hill near Muntiggione was our first search site. A few Ocellated Skinks (Chalcides ocellatus), Italian Wall Lizards (Podarcis siculus) and Moorish Geckoes (Tarentola mauritanica). After dark, we passed a quarry with some ponds, containing many Tyrrhenian Tree Frogs (Hyla sarda) along with introduced water frogs, producing a call similar to that of Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus). Driving around in the dark, we were soon reminded that tree frogs are extremely abundant on the Tyrrhenian islands.
We camped at Camping La Liccia, close to Santa Teresa de Gallura and the port towards Corsica. At the camp site, we heard tree frogs calling, like we did on about every subsequent night. Another Ocellated Skink was found under a rock and Moorish Gecko climbed the walls.

May 13th – ferry, Portigliolo and Campomoro

The next morning, our first Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard (Podarcis tiliguerta) and Pygmy Algyroides (Algyroides fitzingeri) were spotted on the camp site’s drystone walls. In Santa Teresa port, also the same wall lizard; a very common species.
We enjoyed the one hour transit to Corsica’s Bonifacio and its pirate hideout appeal. After some grocery shopping, we drove northwest through the beautiful maquis. A short stop in the Golfe de Ventilegne in the dunes, with some brackish pools. Tadpoles of Tyrrhenian Painted Frog (Discoglossus sardus) and Italian Pool Frog (Pelophylax lessonae bergeri) were found.
On to a nearby lowland area with oak trees and flowering maquis. It started to get quite warm but a soft breeze made the shock with Belgian weather manageable. Already retreated after their lunch, we found Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni) in the shadow of the shrubs.
Driving towards Campomoro bay, we explored a coastal rock lizard site and the Portigliolo marsh. No rock lizards, again wall lizard and pool frog but also European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis) and Corsican Grass Snake (Natrix natrix corsa). We stayed at Les Roseaux camping (as I already did in 2003) and explored the hill of the Genoese tower after dinner. Sleeping wall lizards and with some effort two Leaf-toed Geckoes (Euleptes europaea).


Pygmy Algyroides (Algyroides fitzingeri)

Tim ready to head for Corsica

approaching Bonifacio

first Corsican herp - Italian Pool Frog (Pelophylax lessonae bergeri)

Tim photographing Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni)

Portigliolo meadow

Portigliolo dunes

sneaking up on European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)

Campomoro with Genoese tower

Leaf-toed Gecko (Euleptes europaea)

Leaf-toed Gecko (Euleptes europaea)

May 14th – brooks and woods around Vizzavona

After a morning revisit of Portigliolo, we drove up to the mountains around Vizzavona, with pine, beech and chestnut woods. Before reaching the Cascades des Anglais, we stopped at a vivid mountain brook. On the pale rocks, we found here our first Tyrrhenian Rock Lizards (Archaeolacerta bedriagae).
At the beautiful Cascades des Anglais, many larvae of Corsican Fire Salamander (Salamandra corsica), some wall lizards (no rock lizards, in contrast to 2003), and tadpoles plus 2 subadults of the Corsican Painted Frog (Discoglossus montalentii). We decided to spend the night closeby. To our great joy, it started raining, and after dark, we found nine fire salamanders in the woods.


first Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae)

Tim at Cascades des Anglais

Corsican Painted Frog (Discoglossus montalentii)

Corsican Painted Frog (Discoglossus montalentii)

beech woods

Corsica’s finest helped us through the rainy afternoon, while waiting to go on our nocturnal salamander hunt

Corsican Fire Salamander (Salamandra corsica)

Corsican Fire Salamander (Salamandra corsica)

May 15th – Popaghja, Vergio & Aïtone

We moved on, passing Corte and heading west towards Porto. Some wall lizards at short stops along the road. At Popaghja, we parked the car and walked towards Lac Nino. We heard (but never saw) Corsican nuthatch. Wall lizards with rather dull colouration were present. Along a brook, we found two Corsican Brook Newts (Euproctus montanus) and some Salamandra larvae. We did not continue to Lac Nino, but moved further west. At the Col de Vergio, it was clouded and not too hot, so only a single rock lizard in a crevice. Then to Forêt d’Aïtone. Near the beautiful ‘piscines naturelles’, we found larvae of fire salamander and (most likely Corsican) painted frog. Taking our driving speed down, Tim proposed to hike to Lac Nino the next day. We stayed in Evisa for the night.


scenery along the road

Tim at brook newt brook

Corsican Brook Newt (Euproctus montanus)

Corsican Brook Newt (Euproctus montanus)

at Col de Vergio

at Col de Vergio

Forêt d’Aïtone

our car received a friendly animal escort every now and then

May 16th – Lac Nino and nocturnal exploration at Porto

First the drive from Evisa to Popaghja, where our hike started. Two DOR fire salamanders at Aïtone. Although the flora seemed to be overgrazed, a beautiful hike with numerous wall and rock lizards. Another brook newt was found, somewhat higher up then the day before. After crossing the laricio pine forest, we reached the Bergeries de Colga, above the tree line. The last part was quite steep, but the view over the snowy Lac Nino was rewarding. Both lizards were found upto the lake. But then the famous mountain weather started to turn on us. First just a few drops; soon an apocalyptic storm with deafening thunder! The snow patches started to crumble and the rocks got slippery. Little brooks that had been challenging to cross when going up, had now become 2 or 3 times as wide. Carefully, on hands and feet, we waded through the fast running water. As soon as we were back below the tree line, this heavy shower delivered a predictable yet splendid result: we counted 21 fire salamanders walking around. Our clothes were entirely wet when we got down, so we changed and moved on.
We headed to the coast. Huge contrast: a warm sunset and lovely evening. First a beautiful short visit to a brook near Ota with only wall lizard. Then, we stayed on a Porto camp site. After dark, we found some Moorish Geckoes. We explored a shallow branch of the Porto river. Some tree frogs were calling on cobble stones. At the end of the waterbody, in a very shallow part, we found eggs, tadpoles and three adult Tyrrhenian Painted Frogs. Happy with our findings, we went to sleep, well after midnight.


Colga brook

close to the tree line

mountain beauty

after crossing some snow patches and a steep finale, finally we arrived at Lac Nino

Lac Nino

Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae)

Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae)

Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae)

Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae)

Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae)

Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard (Podarcis tiliguerta)

Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard (Podarcis tiliguerta)

Corsican Brook Newt (Euproctus montanus)

Corsican Fire Salamander (Salamandra corsica)

Porto scenery

Tyrrhenian Tree Frog (Hyla sarda)

Tyrrhenian Tree Frog (Hyla sarda)

Tyrrhenian Painted Frog (Discoglossus sardus)

Tyrrhenian Painted Frog (Discoglossus sardus)

May 17th – Fango, Agriates, Urbino and Bonifacio

In the morning, we explored the area of the Fango river mouth. Multiple small streams and ponds with pool frogs but no grass snake. Heard tree frogs and found Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard. Here also our first Italian Wall Lizard (subspecies campestris).
We decided to head south and started to think about our Sardinian targets. We chose the faster drive along the less attractive east coast. We made a tiny detour to check out the view over the Désert des Agriates. A DOR Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus) was found in this attractively blooming landscape, which did not look desert-like at all. In the late afternoon, we stopped at the brackish Etang d’Urbino. Italian Wall Lizard, pool frog and tree frog, but also plenty of dragonflies and other interesting animals and plants.
After setting up our tent at a camp site near Bonifacio, we went to the town and had another tasty pizza. Then, we wanted to look for leaf-toeds at the Ermitage de la Trinité, but fatigue and difficulty in finding a track out of the trees in the dark made us soon head back to our camp site, after having found a subadult Green Toad (Bufo viridis). At the reception desk of the camp site, a bright spot light attracted multiple invertebrates. On the ground, several Green Toads took advantage of this, to collect blinded moths and beetles. We enjoyed observing their foraging activities over a drink. At the camp site’s sanitary facilities, we found our first Turkish Geckoes (Hemidactylus turcicus). Also, a tree frog was climbing up the wall and many were calling again.


brooks, pools and maquis at Fango river mouth

Italian Wall Lizard (Podarcis siculus campestris)

Ischnura genei

at the edge of the Désert des Agriates

Coenonympha corinna

Etang d’Urbino

Brachytron pratense

camp site building reception with spotlight providing food for toads

Green Toad (Bufo viridis)

final addition to our Corsican species list - Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)

Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)

May 18th – Bonifacio cliffs, Sardinian rocky coast, karstic drive for brook newt and a cave visit

We wanted to take the earliest boat, in order to have a long day on Sardinia. Before that, at sunrise, we had a very brief search on the cliffs between Bonifacio and Capo Pertusato. While we wanted to find Pygmy Algyroides here, we only found Italian Wall Lizard. Too bad; off to catch our ferry and head back to Sardinia.
Back on Sardinia, we explored two sites near the northeastern coastline. On the bizarly shaped rocks, we found Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard and a few specimens of the dark-coloured coastal Tyrrhenian Rock Lizards. In a maquis area, the common Ocellated Skink again but too hot for Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata).
Continuing towards Dorgali, we saw several DOR whip snakes. After a snack at Dorgali, we went off-road to the same small Euproctus platycephalus mountain lake that I had visited two times before (first with many animals in April 2003, then with no result in February 2009). The lake lays below a huge, overhanging karstic cliff. Only a single, not very attractive, subadult male was found, which seemed to be in bad shape.
Tim liked to see a cave salamander, so we went back to a cave that I had been to in February. While the Sopramonte Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis) is cited as highly abundant in this cave, we found only a single juvenile, outside this cave, in February. We guessed that they were 'out'. With the warmer months having started, this time, the cave contained some animals already: 3 adults, a few subadults, but especially many juveniles hiding in small crevices and holes.
After that, we submerged into more regular tourism and stayed at the Cala Gonone camping, having a delicious seafood meal.


view of Bonifacio from Pertusato cliffs

Italian Wall Lizard (Podarcis siculus siculus)

ferry already coming in, so we’d better hurry down to the port…

back on Sardinia, a coastal rock lizard site

same

herper as seen from a rock lizard perspective

Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae)

temporary ponds in the rock serve as reproduction sites for Green Toad

Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard (Podarcis tiliguerta) - in general, more attractive on Sardinia than on Corsica

Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus)

panorama with Gola su Gorroppu

small mountain lake - Euproctus habitat

Tim in front of Euproctus habitat

this is the view the newts get when looking up

subadult male of Sardinian Brook Newt (Euproctus platycephalus)

inside supramontis cave

male Sopramonte Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis)

male Sopramonte Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis)

many juveniles were found, hiding in crevices and cracks

Tim comes out of the cave and gets struck by a sheer temperature shock

May 19th – conquest of Monte Albo

While having a morning drink at a bar in the Cala Gonone port, we saw 3 dolphins passing by. Nice!
The next days, we were going to head back to Alghero airport in a few stages, so we already drove north a bit. Starting near Lula, we intended to hike ‘through’ the beautiful and impressive Monte Albo, trying to find the illustrious terra typica cave of the Monte Albo Cave Salamander (Speleomantes flavus) - the Grotta Conca 'e Crapa. We ended up finding a different cave.
Combining the less precise coordinates of scientific papers with topographic map details, we hoped for the best and let the GPS guide us there. The steep but beautiful Monte Albo slopes were buzzing with insect life in the open spots between the old oak woods. Higher up, the woods started to break up into a barren wasteland of karstic rocks. In order to reach the summit plateau, we had to travel a 600m distance (as the crow flies) while going 400m up. A -at first- seemingly suitable track soon became more obscure. Rather than giving up, we decided to ‘just climb’ in a more or less straight line towards our target. We climbed and crawled through bushes and shrubs, with the GPS informing us on our slow yet steady progress. Where the sun pierced the trees and hit some big rocks, we were happy to find some Tyrrhenian Rock Lizards. Also wall lizard was present. In the semi-shaded parts, we found Pygmy Algyroides in typical algyroides habitat. Admiring the fauna and flora required some special pauzes, because while moving our attention and energy was fully consumed by our somewhat dangerous adventure.
After multiple attempts ending up below or above too steep cliffs, we became tired and started to lose hope. However, finally, we managed to find a place where it was possible to crawl out of the woods, thus reaching the bare rock summit of the mountain. Impressive landscape and splendid views of the surrounding area! Nice flowering plants and quite some butterflies were to be admired between the white rocks. Then back on track towards our target. After the shade of the oak trees, the bare rock heat made us long for cave coolness. But where might that cave be? A hot rocky habitat did not seem all that great for a salamander and the irregular texture of the mountain seemed to make finding a cave entrance quite difficult. I let the GPS take us to the spot of the cave on the topo map and we were extremely happy to be rewarded, finding it at 10-20 meters from the topo coordinates. The cave started as a hole in the karstic landscape, a couple of meters wide and deep. An oak tree was growing from the hole’s bottom surface. When down below, we could see that the cave continues further on. A couple of goat carcasses gave the place a spooky atmosphere. Some tens of meters inside, we found several cave salamanders. Again quite some juveniles but also about ten adults. Most of the adults were not very easy to collect, but some were caught on camera after all. We were euphoric with the splendid outcome of our adventurous trip. Afterwards, we chose a different, even steeper way back down through a dry valley, as no clear track seemed to lead to or from the cave. Very soon, we were back at the car. Nearby was a concrete tank with some tree frogs, so we refreshed our heads and faces, and took some frog pictures. After that, a drink in a local bar in Lula. Finally, we ended up at Camping Selema at Santa Lucia (near Siniscola), where we found Italian Wall Lizard and heard tree frogs. After dark, Turkish Gecko was found on the camp site buildings.


scenery from Monte Albo after about one quarter of the climb

Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae)

halfway up, having a bite

high, higher, …

nearly there!

mountain top scenery

mountain top scenery

this oak tree grows out of the cave entrance

Tim admiring a cave salamander

Monte Albo Cave Salamander (Speleomantes flavus)

Monte Albo Cave Salamander (Speleomantes flavus)

crawling back out of the cave

steep descent

finally down again - some refreshment, with tree frogs included

Tyrrhenian Tree Frog (Hyla sarda)

Tyrrhenian Tree Frog (Hyla sarda)

Tyrrhenian Tree Frog (Hyla sarda)

May 20th – Monte Limbara and freshwater lake

Our final full day. After two previous visits to Sardinia, I really wanted to visit the Monte Limbara this time. We were guided by biologist Giuseppe Sotgiu from Sassari. He took us to a beautiful brook running through warm rocky open pine woods with flowering plants and countless butterflies. This brook was still running, while later in the year, it is reduced to isolated (yet quite deep) pools. We were really tired of the many previous nocturnal exits and our Monte Albo climbing adventure, so (at least for me) searching went at a slower pace. At the first pool, we spotted a first Sardinian Brook Newt. At a second, deeper one, Giuseppe dived into the deep, retrieving another male and observing a larva. Tim found two more males under nearby stones. Along the brook we also observed some tree frogs, wall lizards and a few rock lizards too. In total, we found 6 adult brook newts and some larvae. The water of the brook was really refreshing, as the surrounding rocks were heating up.
Next, we went to a small artificial lake, were we heard tree frog calling and Tim saw (what must have been) a Viperine Snake (Natrix maura). Afterwards, we had a drink and a nice chat with Giuseppe and said goodbye. Because we considered the afternoon heat too much to search for nearby tortoises, we restricted ourselves to rock and wall lizard photography around the Limbara summit.
Next, we drove towards a final target, a freshwater lake close to the airport of Alghero. We had a short look around before sunset and another after dark. Larvae of Green Toad and a huge chorus of tree frogs. At sunset, we also spotted a really huge Viperine Snake swimming offshore. It seemed to come onshore after hunting, but we could not trace it for catching. At our camping and a nearby restaurant, we found Moorish Gecko.


historical antagonisms side by side in a gas station shop along the road

Giuseppe and Tim photographing brook newts

Giuseppe diving for newts, while I’m taking pictures

male Sardinian Brook Newt (Euproctus platycephalus)

female Sardinian Brook Newt (Euproctus platycephalus)

tiny tadpoles of ???

rock lizard habitat at the peak of Monte Limbara

Tim at Limbara summit

Tim at Limbara summit

Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae)

Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae)

Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard (Podarcis tiliguerta)

at the freshwater lake

Tyrrhenian Tree Frog (Hyla sarda )

Tyrrhenian Tree Frog (Hyla sarda )

Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)

Torre de Porticciolo

May 21st – lake again and back home

As our flight took off shortly after noon, we spent our final morning at the lake again. Many beautiful insects and plants plus Hermann’s Tortoise, Italian Wall Lizard and European Pond Terrapin. After walking for a couple of hours, unfortunately, we had to leave for Alghero airport and home.


beautiful lake

tortoise habitat

Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni)

Orthetrum trinacriae

spectacular abundance of Coenagrion scitulum

Epilogue

In general, our program was quite busy. Some areas were explored more intensively and we did some nice hikes. On Corsica, we only missed Pygmy Algyroides, because we spent too little time in known higher density areas, whereas this species is clearly far more abundant on Sardinia. We had already seen it on our first day at Santa Teresa (Sardinia), so we rather headed back to enjoy some beautiful areas (and species) on Sardinia. Like with any trip, a few desires remain, shaping the menu of a future trip, during which we would be spending more time in a smaller number of specific areas. As mentioned, Sardinia was a ‘capita selecta’ episode of our trip, so even some quite easy and/or common species remained unobserved (e.g. Italian Three-toed Skink (Chalcides chalcides)).
While recent research suggests that the traditionally considered subspecies of the Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard should be rejected, we observed all of them; bedriagae on Corsica, ferrerae on the coastal rocks of N Sardinia, paessleri on Monte Limbara and what we would expect to be sardoa on Monte Albo. The latter is quite an interesting find, as the presence of the species on Monte Albo has been recorded not all too often.
The trip had multiple highlights. First of all, the general (especially Corsican) herping result was very good. The scenic variety we enjoyed, was also incredible, despite the transit times. Numerous Corsican Fire Salamanders in the rain, beautiful mountain views and the panorama’s around Porto and Bonifacio, three sites with Sardinian rock lizards, conquering Monte Albo and its salamander cave, beautiful Monte Limbara and its brook newts, tree frogs everywhere, … .

List of the observed species

‘C’ and ‘S’ indicate on which of both islands each species was observed.

1. Corsican Fire Salamander (Salamandra corsica) - C
2. Corsican Brook Newt (Euproctus montanus) - C
3. Sardinian Brook Newt (Euproctus platycephalus) - S
4. Monte Albo Cave Salamander (Speleomantes flavus) - S
5. Sopramonte Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis) - S
6. Corsican Painted Frog (Discoglossus montalentii) - C
7. Tyrrhenian Painted Frog (Discoglossus sardus) - C
8. Green Toad (Bufo viridis) - C & S
9. Tyrrhenian Tree Frog (Hyla sarda) - C & S
10. Italian Pool Frog (Pelophylax lessonae bergeri) - C
11. Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus) or a related species - S
12. Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni) - C & S
13. European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis) - C & S
14. Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica) - C & S
15. Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) - C & S
16. Leaf-toed Gecko (Euleptes europaea) - C
17. Pygmy Algyroides (Algyroides fitzingeri) - S
18. Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae) - C & S
19. Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard (Podarcis tiliguerta) - C & S
20. Italian Wall Lizard (Podarcis siculus) - C & S
21. Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus) - S
22. Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus) - C & S
23. Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) - C
24. Viperine Snake (Natrix maura) - S

What we missed …

On Corsica, we only missed the Pygmy Algyroides, despite a (very) short search in a known higher density area. Occasional sightings of introduced Viperine Snake (Natrix maura) on Corsica are scarce and we are happy not to have come across any exogenous species on Corsica.
On Sardinia, we focused on a limited number of desiderata, thus we did not find or even try to find all the island's species. We tried to find Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata) at one site, when it was probably already too hot. Italian Three-toed Skink (Chalcides chalcides) did not cross our path either. We did not try to find Leaf-toed Gecko on Sardinia. The elusive Sardinian Grass Snake (Natrix natrix cetti) remains the main attraction for a future revisit. The remaining Sardinian species are restricted to areas that we did not visit: three species of cave salamanders (see report Sardinia 2009), Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca) and Horseshoe Whip Snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis). Sardinian sightings of Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis sp.) are in need of confirmation.

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