Herpetofauna of Europe : nw italy (november 2013)
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A (really) short herpetological trip to northwestern Italy
8th-11th of November 2013

Unless specified otherwise, all pictures (c) of Jeroen Speybroeck.

A short trip and the most sleepless one I have done so far. Wouter Beukema and I spent nearly every available hour looking for salamanders, trying to find new spots etc. If you don't waste time sleeping, you can easily fit a week-long trip into three days ;-). The fantastic animals we found made up for the well over 3000km on the road.

route
the crazy route

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prospected sites, except one up north

We started in Brussels at 16h on the 7th and drove all night through Belgium, Luxemburg, France, Germany and Switzerland to start herping shortly before sunrise in Italy on the 8th. First, a couple of short stops at some brook valleys, where Strinati’s Cave Salamander (Speleomantes strinatii) and Italian Stream Frog (Rana italica) were easily found. Common Toad (Bufo bufo) was spotted for the first time but remained a common sight on the wet roads at night throughout our time in Italy. At first light, we reached the first site we had selected for some dedicated searching for Northern Spectacled Salamander (Salamandrina perspicillata). Much to our surprise, anticipated hours and days of back-breaking forest floor scrutinisation were replaced by immediately finding two individuals. Such luck & what a great start!

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Northern Spectacled Salamander (Salamandrina perspicillata)

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Northern Spectacled Salamander (Salamandrina perspicillata)

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Northern Spectacled Salamander (Salamandrina perspicillata)

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Northern Spectacled Salamander (Salamandrina perspicillata)

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Northern Spectacled Salamander (Salamandrina perspicillata)

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Northern Spectacled Salamander (Salamandrina perspicillata)

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Wouter & Salamandrina

Next stop was a known strinatii cave which seemed to hold only a singly stream frog this time. Rather odd, since Team Bok did find cave salamanders here, only a few weeks earlier, so it would seem that the outdoors activity of the salamander really kicked off in the mean time. We checked a well where Team Bok had found several Fire Salamanders, but they did a much too good job saving the animals and sealing the well, so nothing for us.

On to the range of Ambrosi’s Cave Salamander (Speleomantes ambrosii). Instead of revisiting the same cave for a 4th time, we visited some different spots, including a big cave but also a randomly discovered one. An info board showed a nearby site for Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris), Fire Salamander and more, so we went to check it out. A concrete water tank indeed held some newts, but no Fire Salamanders yet to be found.

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Speleomantes ambrosii ambrosii

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Speleomantes ambrosii ambrosii

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Speleomantes ambrosii ambrosii

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Speleomantes ambrosii ambrosii

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newt spot - (c) Wouter Beukema

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they're here...! - (c) Wouter Beukema

By the time it got dark, we had crossed the Magra river and entered the range of Speleomantes ambrosii bianchii. After failed attempts in July 2007 and 2010, it went rather easily this time, finding 10 animals, another stream frog and a juvenile Fire Salamander at the bianchii terra typica. After that, we also looked for some new salamander sites.

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Speleomantes ambrosii bianchii

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Salamandra salamandra

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Speleomantes ambrosii bianchii

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Rana italica

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Speleomantes ambrosii bianchii

Then, it was back to the Fire Salamander site of that info board, which provided 5 animals, together with some Ambrosi’s Cave Salamander walking the forest floor and a couple of what most likely were Pool Frogs (Pelophylax lessonae).

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Salamandra salamandra

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Salamandra salamandra

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Salamandra salamandra

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Salamandra salamandra

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Salamandra salamandra

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Salamandra salamandra

After that, we tried to find some more new cave salamander sites without much success. At 4h past midnight, we found a place to sleep – me in the car and Wouter in his TT (= tiny tent, but also somewhat his terra typica).

After five hours of sleep, we started a scenic drive looking for target sites to explore during the next night. The sun came out for the first time, as we found a few Common Wall Lizards (Podarcis muralis). Also a couple of Agile Frogs (Rana dalmatina) to be noted. By the time we had finished our exploring, we had a bite and a beer. Then, it got dark again and we did a more successful round of finding new cave salamander sites.

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Speleomantes strinatii

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Speleomantes strinatii

Then we drove on west for our route through central France and back home. First, a final Italian stop at a strinatii cave in western Liguria around midnight. Then, after crossing the border, a French mainland site for Leaf-toed Gecko (Euleptes europaea) including the most curvy drive ever, but no luck (verrrry cold). After that, we parked at the Massif des Maures and got some sleep.

A hunter-type guy was making phone calls next to our car the next morning. In order to avoid a fine for sleeping in a reserve, we took off as soon as he left. Checked a single site in the cold morning, with only some juvenile water frogs (Pelophylax perezi, P. ridibundus or P. kl. grafi).

We moved further north and checked two of the few sites east of the Rhône river where Catalonian Wall Lizard occurs (Podarcis liolepis), but found only a single Viperine Snake (Natrix maura).

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tried to find Podarcis liolepis here but failed

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Natrix maura - (c) Wouter Beukema

The first hours of darkness, we explored a nearby species-rich marshland site, but winter seemed to have kicked in, so nothing out at all. We continued north and spend the cold (< 0°C) night in a cheap hotel near Beaune in central France.

The next day only involved getting back home. Not without a silly detour to a quarry in northern France. Silly indeed, as Parsley Frog (Pelodytes punctatus) and co. were not at home. After a couple more hours of driving, a crazy but fantastic little trip came to an end.

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Last update: November 13, 2013 10:28:38