Herpetofauna of Europe : corsica & sardinia - france & italy (april-may 2011)
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Herpetological trip to Corsica and Sardinia (France, Italy)
28th of April - 8th of May 2011

Unless specified otherwise, all pictures (c) of Jeroen Speybroeck.
Make sure you also check out Bobby's report.

There is nothing wrong in repeating what is good. I was happy to go back to my favourite islands with three guys who had never been there: Bobby Bok (NL), Bert Vandebosch (B) and –travelling and living in his own car, as usual- Frank Deschandol (F). Our schedule was intense but still very enjoyable. Even with the loss of about two days due to rental car trouble, we had enough time to successfully achieve all our major goals in spots and species. A fantastic trip: we found 32 species (16 amphibians and 16 reptiles, including a few introductions), amounting up to nearly a full clean sweep of the Tyrrhenian herpetofauna.
Thanks to Salvador Carranza, Alexandre Roux, Giuseppe Sotgiu, François Bourgeot, Pierluigi Bombi, Wouter Beukema, Jérôme Maran, Emanuele Biggi, Benny Trapp, Benedikt Schmidt, Per Blomberg, … .


overview of prospected sites

April 28th – late night arrival and 24h herping

Landed on Alghero airport in northwestern Sardinia late in the evening. We wanted to head for Corsica early on the next day, where we would meet with Frank, so we started to drive towards Santa Teresa di Gallura and the inter-island ferry to Bonifacio on Corsica. Along the way, a revisit to the 2009 quarry with our first Tyrrhenian Tree Frog (Hyla sarda), Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica), Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard (Podarcis tiliguerta) and introduced Marsh Frog (Pelophylax cf. ridibundus) with very pale vocal pouches.


Bobby explores the quarry under loud amphibian calls


Tyrrhenian Tree Frog (Hyla sarda)


Marsh Frog (Pelophylax cf. ridibundus)

Continuing further north, the night time seemed to have advanced that much, so it didn’t seemed to make much sense to sleep anyway. We explored a little rocky peninsula near Santa Teresa. A Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus) under a stone. Then, an old house with some Turkish Geckoes (Hemidactylus turcicus) and a tiny juvenile Leaf-toed Gecko (Euleptes europaea). A bit further on the hill, some adult Leaf-toeds under the top stones of a drystone wall. A bit chilly for any adults to come outside. Before heading back to the car, Bert found our first Pygmy Algyroides (Algyroides fitzingeri) sleeping under a stone. Just a few hours of not really sleeping in the car and we were off to the port for our sunset ferry transfer.


lighthouse at Euleptes spot


beautiful seaside view


Bobby does gecko photo


Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)


baby European Leaf-toed Gecko (Euleptes europaea)


European Leaf-toed Gecko (Euleptes europaea)

April 29th – Corsica !

Clouded and cold, when we embarked on the ferry to Corsica.


photographer photographing photographer photographing photographer


Bert and Bobby looking back on Sardinia with sleepy heads

We drove to a southwestern beautiful area with dunes, a river mouth, marshes etc. where we met with Frank, who had come in on a ferry from the French mainland the day before. We explored the area and got a bit of sun. Frank caught all the snakes – six Corsican Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix corsa) including an intriguing black one with tiny spots, and some Western Whip Snakes (Hierophis viridiflavus). Also hundreds of Italian Pool Frog (Pelophylax lessonae bergeri) in some nice ponds and calling tree frogs (as everywhere…).


each dot in the water is a pool frog


Grass Snake (Natrix natrix corsa)


Grass Snake (Natrix natrix corsa)


Frank sets the black snake free where he found it


Grass Snake (Natrix natrix corsa)


Grass Snake (Natrix natrix corsa)


Grass Snake (Natrix natrix corsa)


Bert and whip snake


Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus)


worst ever attempt at pretending to be a beach boy


hot sand dunes and humid woods offering a gradient of conditions – good for reptiles


Frank with two smelly hands

Next, we drove up to a not too far away mountain site. It took us a little while, but at a sunny stretch of one of the many brooks, we found several Corsican Brook Newt (Euproctus montanus), Tyrrhenian Painted Frog (Discoglossus sardus), Corsican Painted Frog (Discoglossus montalentii), Tyrrhenian Tree Frog, and a few larvae of Corsican Fire Salamander (Salamandra corsica). Great !


Frank hunts for Euproctus montanus


beautiful orange male of Corsican Brook Newt (Euproctus montanus)


Corsican Painted Frog (Discoglossus montalentii)


Corsican Painted Frog (Discoglossus montalentii)


Corsican Painted Frog (Discoglossus montalentii)


Tyrrhenian Painted Frog (Discoglossus sardus)


Tyrrhenian Tree Frog (Hyla sarda)


species comparison - sardus on the left, montalentii on the right


when found together distinguishing the two species becomes easier (but never really easy)

A few more short stops, while descending to the southern east coast of the island. Subsequently, we already drove north for a bit, so we would be able to reach a top site for Salamandra the next morning, rather than to take our chances in the southern range.


Bobby and Bert explore a slope for Euleptes, while Frank checks for amphibians

April 30th – terrible weather, happy herpetophiles

Quite a drive, including a forced detour, but this delivered the first Corsican Fire Salamanders. First, one DOR, but then soon two living ones. Upon reaching the beautiful beech forest and the rocky waterfall in it, we found about 12 salamanders active during daytime, plus numerous tadpoles and an adult of Corsican Painted Frog.


Bert and Bobby photographing our first living fire salamander where it was found


Corsican Fire Salamander (Salamandra corsica)


into the woods


Corsican Fire Salamander (Salamandra corsica)


Corsican Fire Salamander (Salamandra corsica)


Corsican Fire Salamander (Salamandra corsica)


Corsican Fire Salamander (Salamandra corsica)


Corsican Fire Salamander (Salamandra corsica)


Frank and Bobby on their way to the waterfall


no sun today ?

Two fantastic days on Corsica made us start to think about Sardinia, especially since we expected some species to be hard to find on Sardinia. So, we drove back south along Corsica’s east coast and stopped for the night in a beautiful dune area with ponds. After a great meal in a cosy restaurant, we went back to explore the dunes. Calls of tree frogs, pool frogs and some Green Toad (Bufo (viridis) balearicus) and also some Tyrrhenian Painted Frogs. Again a super site.


dune pond habitat


mistake – Pool Frog and Tyrrhenian Painted Frog


Tyrrhenian Painted Frog (Discoglossus sardus)


Tyrrhenian Painted Frog (Discoglossus sardus)


Pool Frog (Pelophylax lessonae bergeri)


cute subadult Green Toad (Bufo (viridis) balearicus)

May 1st – last Corsican rocks, and on to Sardinia with tortoise and cave

Because I had failed to see lowland rock lizards on Corsica during previous visits, we went to a coastal rocky hill. Not very easy, but after a while we managed to find indeed some Tyrrhenian Rock Lizards (Archaeolacerta bedriagae). Also Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard, whip snake, and Moorish Gecko. At the Bonifacio port, our first Italian Wall Lizards (Podarcis siculus).


Bobby and Bert on lizard rock


Bert looking for rock lizards


Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)


Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard (Podarcis tiliguerta)


only this poor picture for me… - Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae)


Frank and Bert in Bonifacio port


sock at sea


Frank

On Sardinia, our first activity was a tortoise hunt. Before finding two Marginated Tortoises (Testudo marginata), I also found a European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis), covered with duckweed, sleeping in a small reservoir. This meadow land was also the first spot where we found some Ocellated Skinks (Chalcides ocellatus), but certainly not our last.


a little well covered with duckweed provides an easy spot to catch terrapins


after 30min, I gave up waiting for this shy boy to come out - European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)


Bert and Frank in a beautiful tortoise place


Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata)


Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata)


Frank and Bobby doing tortoise tormenting

Then it was time for our first cave adventure. Starting from Lula, we climbed the beautiful Monte Albo karstic slopes. Rather swiftly, we reached the expected cave, finding 5 or 6 Monte Albo Cave Salamanders (Speleomantes flavus) inside. On the wooded hills, also Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard and Pygmy Algyroides, but – in contrast to my previous ascent of the same mountain – no rock lizards this time. Also last time’s water tank with frogs received a revisit, highly appreciated by Bobby the Hyla maniac and the others.


could this be it ?


Bert say yes !


speleo photo with Bobby


speleo photo with Bert


Monte Albo Cave Salamander (Speleomantes flavus)


Monte Albo Cave Salamander (Speleomantes flavus)


Monte Albo Cave Salamander (Speleomantes flavus)


Monte Albo Cave Salamander (Speleomantes flavus)


Monte Albo Cave Salamander (Speleomantes flavus)


back out and happy


Monte Albo scenery


water tank with tree frogs and tree frog lovers


what’s in there ?


Tyrrhenian Tree Frog (Hyla sarda)


Tyrrhenian Tree Frog (Hyla sarda)


tourist shot

We continued towards the next karstic mountain range – the Sopramonte. After dark & dinner, we explored a site for grass snake, finding about everything else but no grass snake – Turkish Gecko, Green Toad, Tyrrhenian Painted Frog, Tyrrrhenian Tree Frog and our first Viperine Snake (Natrix maura).


nice Viperine Snake (Natrix maura) with typical ocelli


Green Toad (Bufo (viridis) balearicus)

We wanted to continue to a Sopramonte cave, to explore and sleep there afterwards, but crossing a temporary stream, our car died. That was that for the day. Rather worried, we slept in the car. Outside cold and humid.

May 2nd – first a cave, then stuck in Nuoro

A good night’s sleep did not revive the car. We arranged for getting it towed to a garage in the nearby city, Nuoro. In the mean time, we still had time to leave it for a while and climb into Frank’s car, to go to the cave that we failed to reach the previous night by just a few kilometres. In the cave, we found over 20 Sopramonte Cave Salamanders (Speleomantes supramontis).


Bobby and Sopramonte


Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus)


Sopramonte Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis)


Sopramonte Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis)


Sopramonte Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis)


Sopramonte Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis)


Sopramonte Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis)

The rest of the day was dedicated to trying to save our car. We were forced to spend the night in Nuoro and picked a B&B at the outskirts of the city. At night, about 20 tree frogs calling in our swimming pool.


game over…

May 3rd – a day spent as good as possible near Nuoro

Endlessly waiting for news from the garage, we decided to hike through the nearby Monte Ortobene. Not too bad, eventhough we still felt cut off. We found Ocellated Skink, Pygmy Algyroides, Tyrrrhenian and Italian Wall Lizard, Western Whip Snake, and a first Italian Three-toed Skink (Chalcides chalcides). In the evening, we squeezed ourselves in Frank’s car for a short exploration along a river bed not too far away, with nothing really special found.


herping on the outskirts of Nuoro


Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus)


Bobby and Bert at Monte Ortobene


Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus)


Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus)


Italian Three-toed Skink (Chalcides chalcides vittatus)

May 4th – gooooo !!!

We decided to take matters into our own hands, moved to the garage to collect our stuff, rented another car and drove off. Financial and other consequences of the car trouble would have to be dealt with later; we wanted to search for animals!


a last Nuorese Italian Wall Lizard (Podarcis siculus)

We drove as soon as possible into the range of the next cave salamander. Two Scented Cave Salamanders (Speleomantes imperialis) were found in the more northern part of the species’ range. After that, we already drove to the Sette Fratelli area in the night, so we would be at our next target area the next morning.


Scented Cave Salamander (Speleomantes imperialis)


Scented Cave Salamander (Speleomantes imperialis)

May 5th – Sette Fratelli and Domusnovas

A nice hike through the oak woods and along little streams on the menu for this day. In the morning, some Moorish Gecko basking. Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard was extremely abundantly seen throughout the entire day. Also the presence of Pygmy Algyroides, Tyrrhenian Painted Frog and Western Whip Snake was ascertained. A hinted section of a specific brook was scrutinised and 8 Sardinian Brook Newts (Euproctus platycephalus) were found. Beautiful animals on a refreshing and beautiful spot.


Bert and Frank at Sette Fratelli brook


Sardinian Brook Newt (Euproctus platycephalus)


Sardinian Brook Newt (Euproctus platycephalus)

Continuing further up in the valley that we were walking, Frank could grab next to a small pond along the track the n°1 desideratum for me – a Sardinian Grass Snake (Natrix natrix cetti)! The animal had not really the most typical pattern, but looked really gorgeous!


Bobby, Frank and Bert at the site of a highly appreciated find


Grass Snake (Natrix natrix cetti)


Grass Snake (Natrix natrix cetti)


Grass Snake (Natrix natrix cetti)


a very happy man with a very special trophy


bye bye... - (c) Bobby Bok


Pygmy Algyroides (Algyroides fitzingeri)

After these nice findings, we arrived at our destination – a small humid concrete room in the mountain slope where we counted over 60 Sette Fratelli Cave Salamanders (Speleomantes sarrabusensis). Overwhelming experience!


imitating a certain Lord of the Rings character was required to get in the artificial yet amazing habitat of the Sette Fratelli Cave Salamander


too many models…


baby Sette Fratelli Cave Salamander (Speleomantes sarrabusensis)


Sette Fratelli Cave Salamander (Speleomantes sarrabusensis)


Sette Fratelli Cave Salamander (Speleomantes sarrabusensis)


Sette Fratelli Cave Salamander (Speleomantes sarrabusensis)


Sette Fratelli Cave Salamander (Speleomantes sarrabusensis)


Sette Fratelli Cave Salamander (Speleomantes sarrabusensis)


Sette Fratelli Cave Salamander (Speleomantes sarrabusensis)

We went back to the car, had another fantastic pizza, and drove west towards the range of our final salamander species. Passing Cagliari, we stopped at a forested slope near an abandoned mine site near Domusnovas. In a mine gallery, we found well over 100 Gené’s Cave Salamanders (Speleomantes genei).


Gené’s Cave Salamander (Speleomantes genei)


Gené’s Cave Salamander (Speleomantes genei)


Gené’s Cave Salamander (Speleomantes genei)


Gené’s Cave Salamander (Speleomantes genei)


Gené’s Cave Salamander (Speleomantes genei)

After this salamander-rich day with a beautiful snake as a bonus, we slept in the woods near the mines.

May 6th – genei B, second Testudo and up north

We went to a hill in the poorly known, small range of the subspecies B of the Gené’s Cave Salamander, which is up for species rank, despite lacking a name so far. The particular hill is full of abandoned mine galleries. However, these are surprisingly empty. Too dry, too much wind? Luckily, a deep hole in this mountain was hinted to us, which might be inhabited. Frank took out his climbing gear, and we descended into the hole. Exploring a gallery in this hole, we found just a single salamander. Frank went several meters deeper into the ground and found a second one. Not a big catch, but a cool adventure in any case.


the to-be-conquered “salamander hill of the day”


let’s dive into a hole


cave salamander sees humans at his doorstep


Gené’s Cave Salamander (Speleomantes genei) – (sub)species B


Gené’s Cave Salamander (Speleomantes genei) – (sub)species B


Gené’s Cave Salamander (Speleomantes genei) – (sub)species B


we disturbed a Barn Owl, but got only lousy pictures


back outside

We explored the hill a little bit more. A lot of lizards and some western whip. In a nice nearby little lake, water frogs were calling, sounding like Edible Frog (Pelophylax kl. esculentus). Unfortunately, unretrievable in the vegetated pool, with loose substrate, despite swimming efforts of Frank and Bobby.


Acanthodactylus ?


little lake with calling water frogs indet.

A hinted dune site in the central west of the island was our next target. First a drink, waiting for the place to cool down. At about 5pm, we started searching the dunes and found quite easily 5 Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca) with the yellow heads, as typical for the subspecies nabeulensis which only occurs on Sardinia in Europe.


Bobby in excellent tortoise habitat


Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca nabeulensis)


Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca nabeulensis)


Bobby with Green Toad and Bert with Western Whip Snake


Green Toad (Bufo (viridis) balearicus)

Again driving on, nearing our exit airport of Alghero. Driving past the airport, we explored the Monte Limbara. No brook newts during the night, nor much else. Quite cold. We drove to higher ground, sleeping in the very chilly air. The next morning was supposed to reward us for that.

May 7nd – cool rock lizard and finishing the tortoise hattrick

Waking up on the rocks, we started off with sneaking up to Tyrrhenian Rock Lizards, which become very approachable after a while. Always a lot of fun…


8:22am - spotted the first rock lizard of the day


lizard searchers


Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae)


Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae)


Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae)


not that shy, those lizards


Frank and Madonna


my friend the rock star

After going in to Sassari to settle our rental car trouble’s paperwork, we hit a final daytime destination, a nice freshwater lake. Both wall lizard species, tree frogs, Viperine Snake, European Pond Terrapin and several Hermann’s Tortoises (Testudo hermanni).


beautiful freshwater lake


Viperine Snake (Natrix maura)


Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni)


Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni)


European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)


European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)


complete happiness


Emys photography on the water’s edge


there he goes

After our last meal, exploring the beach and hill at and around an old tower. No Euleptes, but some Turkish Gecko on the tower, Moorish Gecko along the climb, and some Green Toads in the beach and dune sand.


male Green Toad (Bufo (viridis) balearicus) and goodbye to Sardinia

Epilogue

It becomes harder and harder to remember what an unsuccessful herpetological field trip feels like ;-). In all honesty, the car trouble spoiled our spirit for sure, but this will surely soon be forgotten, while the trip result won’t. Before and after this mess, we always had the best of luck.
Our small team was a very happy bunch, which worked hard and found a lot, especially for only a short period of travel time. It’s just great to find that specific target species on each site. Unbelievable… Combined with a lot of laughs, good food and beautiful landscapes, there is just no bad thing to be said.


excellent team - me, Bert, Bobby, Frank

List of the observed species


What we missed …

Horseshoe Whip Snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis) is the only species we really missed. The only site we visited where it might occur, was the Testudo graeca spot, but only several Western Whip Snakes were found. With more time, we would probably have been successful.
The claimed sightings of Zamenis sp. are in need of confirmation.

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