Herpetofauna of Europe : la brenne et al. - france & belgium (june 2011)
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Short herpetological trip in Belgium and France
8th of June - 13th of June 2011

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

Wanting to reunite the good company we made in Italy last summer, Bobby, Wouter and I did a little herping in France and Belgium. Peter and Anniek also joined in France.


overview of prospected sites with some indications

June 8th – Bobby, bullfrog and Belgian baby tree frogs

After work, I drove from Brussels (B) to Breda (NL) to pick up Bobby at the train station. We crossed the border again back into Belgium and visited a nearby pond with Bull Frog (Lithobates catesbeianus) within a smaller invasion area. After that, we moved to the main core area of this alien invasive species, along the valley of the river Grote Nete. It was not very warm and quite windy. Only subadults jumping off and no calls whatsoever. At dusk, a single call. We decided to have some disgusting chips and a filthy burger, to go back to explore the fish ponds after dark. Now, the beasts were more approachable, so I could catch a subadult (= sized like an adult water frog) for closer inspection. Also some Grass Frog (Rana temporaria), Common Toad (Bufo bufo) and Edible Frog (Pelophylax kl. esculentus) here.


Bull Frog (Lithobates catesbeianus)


Bull Frog (Lithobates catesbeianus)

A half hour drive away, we started after midnight towards one of two Belgian areas in the province Limburg where Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea) is doing very well since a number of years. Not too warm for calling frogs after 01:00am, but to our surprise, tens of juvenile animals were already present. Also calling Edible and Pool Frog (Pelophylax lessonae) and Common Toad hopping around.


Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea)


Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea)


Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea)


tree frog addict

To be at a viper spot the next morning, we ended the “day” with a drive back west into Antwerp province. Sleeping in the car at 03:00am.

June 9th – adder, burned, Wouter, terril

Bobby still sleeping, I explored one of the two Flemish populations of Adder (Vipera berus). The season not being too perfect, I managed to find a single, nice orange female at 08:00am. Also Viviparous Lizard (Zootoca vivipara).


Adder (Vipera berus)


Adder (Vipera berus)

To give ourselves something to do before going to pick up Wouter, we decided to check out the Kalmthout heathland, near Antwerp on the Dutch-Belgian border. One of the largest Flemish populations of Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) was torched here, when the area burned down 2 weeks earlier. Disastrous black landscape where purple shrubs used to be. It remains to be monitored how and if the snakes will recover, but we only spotted Viviparous Lizard and Pool Frog.

We went to pick up Wouter in Eindhoven (NL) in the afternoon and started our long drive south towards France. As we didn’t intend to do any immediate herping in the central French area that we were heading for, after crossing the French border, we stopped at one of the most northern (if not thé) populations of Parsley Frog (Pelodytes punctatus) on a disused mining hill or “terril” in the wider surroundings of Lille. The season being off, we had little hope for success, but Wouter managed to find one after all. Also eggs and a baby of Natterjack Toad (Bufo calamita). At a forest pond near the foot of the terril, some kids and Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus).


Bobby, Wouter and my shadow at the top of the terril


Parsley Frog (Pelodytes punctatus) with blind right eye


Natterjack Toad (Bufo calamita)

We drove on for several hours further south, passing Paris and Orléans, and camped close to our next morning’s first target.

June 10th – claws, Peter and Anniek, fresh vipers

A cold, windy and very rainy day. We met up with Peter and Anniek in the Loire valley to visit the area with African Clawed Toad again (Xenopus laevis). We were kindly guided by Guillaume Koch to a quite good looking pond. While Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus) and Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) were there, also numerous clawed toads and their weird larvae were found.


Wouter going for it


another alien beast – African Clawed Toad (Xenopus laevis)


tadpoles


tadpole in its natural vertical head-down position, with the tailtip vibrating constantly


tadpoles - (c) Bobby Bok

Next, we headed east towards La Brenne region, which would be our base camp for the rest of the weekend. Along the way, we stopped at an amazing spot with hundreds of small ponds next to each other. We all did our share of net dipping work, but the results were not that great. While this place is a known spot for Marbled Newt (Triturus marmoratus), we only found a single Crested Newt, some newt larvae, and water frogs.


nothing marbled for Wouter this time

Finally reaching the Brenne region with its countless lakes and ponds and the typical extensively managed “bocage” landscape. As the rain was not going to leave us soon, we sought shelter in the Maison du Parc. A beer and a snack later, we were lucky to see the clouds opening up, so we went outside and started searching. Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis) already while walking to the car on some walls, but along the hedge rows and bushes, we found some species with more appeal to northern herpetophiles – abundant Western Green Lizard (Lacerta bilineata), Viperine Snake (Natrix maura), and Asp Viper (Vipera aspis). Two spots both held these species.


the boys in typical La Brenne asp habitat


Asp Viper (Vipera aspis)


Viperine Snake (Natrix maura)

Wouter, Bobby and I did some camping site exploration after dark, finding Natterjack Toad, Parsley Frog (in the gutters of the showers and the restaurant, as usual on every time we came here), Common Toad, Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina) and a dead Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra).

June 11th – Aesculapian and forest attempts

Since many years, Peter wanted to see the final species that he had not yet seen in the wider Brenne area - Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus). As it is practically absent from the lakes area itself, we used a distribution map in a book and our judgement of the species’ habitat and stopped first in an area with meadows and hedgerows. Too much wind and clouds in this suboptimal habitat. Found Agile Frog and Grass Snake (Natrix natrix). From where we were standing, Peter spotted an old railroad across the river, so we jumped back into our cars and tried to find a bridge. The railroad proved to be a very beautiful reptile habitat, as Wouter found that “most wanted” Aesculapian, Anniek a Viperine Snake and Peter and I some more asps. Also plenty of wall and green lizards, of course, while Bobby flipped a metal sheet and found a Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis). The highlight of our weekend!


Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina)


Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)


very nice reptile place


Asp Viper (Vipera aspis)


Asp Viper (Vipera aspis)


Viperine Snake (Natrix maura) – carrot morph


Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus) - 1m38


Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus)


snake photography makes you forget about trains

Not as well prepared as usual, we had to gather local info to find a spot that might still have some Marbled Newt this late in the season, especially with the extreme warm and dry spring of this year. We explored some forests, but only managed to find the larger fish-infested “étangs” and not the smaller stuff. A ditch along the track in a beautiful oak forest did however deliver numerous Yellow-bellied Toads (Bombina variegata). These woods also held Grass Frog, which is less widespread in this part of France than Agile Frog, plus Palmate Newt.


standard habitat for Bombina in France


Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata)


Bobby tried to save a duck chick, but it didn’t make it…


red deer female

June 12th – camping strawl and more woods

During my morning strawl, another asp viper, while Peter found a Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca), and we made some photos of the camping’s Parsley Frogs.


Asp Viper (Vipera aspis)


Asp Viper (Vipera aspis)


Parsley Frog (Pelodytes punctatus)


Parsley Frog (Pelodytes punctatus)


Parsley Frog (Pelodytes punctatus)


Parsley Frog (Pelodytes punctatus)


Parsley Frog (Pelodytes punctatus)


Parsley Frog (Pelodytes punctatus)


Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca)


I was lazy again, so this one’s just for the record … – Western Green Lizard (Lacerta bilineata)

We continued our attempts to find Marbled Newt but did not get any further than larvae. A nice pond had also baby tree frogs and Agile Frog, as well as Grass Frog and larvae of Fire Salamander. Too dry to find adults of the latter, but in the area also Slow Worm and Palmate Newt.


this nice amphibian pond had Bobby peeling countless giant leeches of his legs


Laothoe populi


one of a group of young and cheeky long-eared owls (Asio otus) on the camping

After dark, we explored a very nice shallow forest pool quite close to our camping site as a final search spot for our Brenne trip. Several larvae of Marbled Newt, but no adults anymore. Also Palmate larvae, Edible and Pool Frog and Common Tree Frog.

June 13th – home and search at home

With the Dutch boys in need of a not too late train, the three of us left La Brenne early in the morning. An unexpectedly swift travel brought us in the vicinity of my home, so we decide to have a quick Salamandra visit. Water levels had dropped even more since my last visit, seemingly having wiped out the entire salamander reproductive effort of 2011. However, the woods were more humid than those in France, so even to my own surprise, flipping a few tree trunks in one of my favourite parts of the woods delivered very soon 6 Fire Salamanders and an Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris). I showed Wouter and Bobby one of the nicer ponds (which in fact still had some water for the newt larvae to hide and fight in) and one of the few flipped slow worm sheets produced a female I knew from before.


two dear friends in my playground woods


oops, I meant four

This concluded the little trip, which left us again sorry for already having to say goodbye again, when I dropped Wouter and Bobby at the train station and went back home to look at my pictures.

Epilogue

For a trip to the Brenne region, we spent remarkably little time in the Brenne region ;-). Our Don Quichote quest for Marbled Newt during the little time at hand made us explore nice places and see nice animals, but it also resulted in the single first Brenne herpetological field trip without sightings of European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis). However, the Aesculapian Snake was a species that made the more regular Brenne visitors very happy. Arguably, spending time with the nicest company to do field herpetology, was a real privilege once again. We had a great, much too short, time.

List of the observed species

1. Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra)
2. Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus)
3. Marbled Newt (Triturus marmoratus) – only larvae
4. Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus)
5. Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris)
6. African Clawed Toad (Xenopus laevis)
7. Yellow-Bellied Toad (Bombina variegata)
8. Parsley Frog (Pelodytes punctatus)
9. Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea)
10. Common Toad (Bufo bufo)
11. Natterjack Toad (Bufo calamita)
12. Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina)
13. Grass Frog (Rana temporaria)
14. Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus)
15. Edible Frog (Pelophylax kl. esculentus)
16. Pool Frog (Pelophylax lessonae)
17. American Bull Frog (Lithobates catesbeianus)
18. Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis)
19. Viviparous Lizard (Zootoca vivipara)
20. Western Green Lizard (Lacerta bilineata)
21. Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis)
22. Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)
23. Viperine Snake (Natrix maura)
24. Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca)
25. Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus)
*. Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus) – several by Peter the day before we arrived
26. Adder (Vipera berus)
27. Asp Viper (Vipera aspis)

What we missed …

As mentioned, we shamefully missed the European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis). Better weather at the time that we surveyed the lakes and just one more day in the area should have done the trick, but we had the Marbled Newt on our minds too much…
Arriving a day before us, Peter had found a number of the equally essential Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus). Expecting to find more for sure, he naturally did not keep any for us to see.
The weather was not too good at the time that we did some spots for the rarer Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis).
We did not have time to try to find the best habitat for Common Midwife Toad (Alytes obstetricans), another species that in fact requires a drive away from the Brenne region.
Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) is less abundant than Palmate Newt, so we just needed to bump into it, which did not happen, apart from countless larvae belonging to either of the two species.
The Brenne region holds the single isolated Central French population of Common Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates fuscus). As this population is very small, located on a place which is kept secret, and the season for this species was clearly over, we did not find it.

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