Herpetofauna of Europe : eurotour iv (july-august 2019)
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Herpetofauna of Europe European Amphibians & Reptiles

Herpetological trip to central and western European mountains
July 28th – August 9th 2019

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

After our largely improvised tour earlier this year, Loïc and I had set a plan to target some montane species and subspecies. The backbone was made up by species Loïc had not seen before. While amphibians were the main course in spring, we would now also try to find some (more) vipers. Their somewhat secretive nature, approachable behaviour and usually stunning habitat makes me have a soft spot for the lizard species of the genus Iberolacerta, so I put some of those on the menu for myself too. Being a salamander aficionado, another main target for me was Lanza’s Salamander Salamandra lanzai, as it had been too long since I went up in the Alps to see them.


search sites

Thanks to Matthieu Berroneau, Gilles Pottier, Wouter Beukema, Frank Deschandol, GertJan Verspui, and others for hints.

July 28th

I met with Loïc at Rijeka airport. We had hoped to pick up some species on the Croatian island of Krk, but we hit a period of numerous days of heavy rain. That meant that reptiles were entirely out of the window. We did a very brief search for Alpine Salamander Salamandra atra at Ucka mountain on the Istria peninsula, but nothing to be found. We decided to leave Croatia and hit a Slovenian spot where I had seen Alpine Salamander in 2010. We hit that spot already in April this year, but snow patches and low temperatures ruled out any salamander findings. Now, with the forest at its most lush and beautiful, cold rain meant diurnal salamander activity.


a perfect Slovenian salamander spot and it’s raining!


Alpine Salamander Salamandra atra prenjensis


Alpine Salamander Salamandra atra prenjensis

We tried to flip some reptiles, but struck out. Also a visit to the black olm Proteus anguinus parkelj spot was unsuccessful, as we learned too late that August is probably the worst month to see them. Can’t be helped – on to our favourite Slovenian camping spot.

July 29th

The next morning, as in April but in contrast to the summer of 2018, no Horvath’s Rock Lizard Iberolacerta horvathi on the small ruins, as the sun refused to lend a hand. Dalmatian Wall Lizard Podarcis melisellensis was also impossible to hope for with this weather. So, we left Slovenia.


no sun, no Horvath’s

Our luck changed, as we got better weather as soon as we entered Italy. So why not try some lizard hunting straightaway? First, a coastal limestone slope with Dalmatian Wall Lizard.


Dalmatian Wall Lizard Podarcis melisellensis


Dalmatian Wall Lizard Podarcis melisellensis

Next, a lovely hike through the woods, and after a while, enough sunlight to find that other limestone lover, Horvath’s Rock Lizard, which came (as always) with a little wall-lizard-or-not game first. Its likely predator, an ugly pre-shed Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca, was the trip’s first snake. I was happy to find both lizard species which we failed in spring, and it was nice to see them both in a new country too.





habitat of Common Wall Lizard, Horvath’s Rock Lizard, Smooth Snake, Nose-horned Viper and more


was that a …? nah…


gotcha!


Horvath’s Rock Lizard Iberolacerta horvathi

We headed on to the southern Italian Alps, meaning to look for Walser Viper Vipera walser the next morning. A baby Asp Viper Vipera aspis crossed the road at dusk.


Asp Viper Vipera aspis

July 30th

The morning search produced not a single snake (in contrast to a 2016 visit with good numbers of both Asp and Walser Viper as well as Smooth Snake). Hot and dry weather now and in previous months and years making it harder, is just one hypothesis. With a lot of hopes and dreams still ahead, we decided to cut our losses here and accept our Walser failure. Personally, I didn’t mind too much, as I was happy with the pictures I got back in 2016 and I still didn’t get over the whole ‘no, I’m not berus. Really. You have to believe me. Really.’. This would end up being our only real target we missed out on.

So, we left Walserland and headed towards what was probably my main revisit desire – Lanza’s Salamander. First, I wanted to try a spot I had not visited before, so we drove op into the Germanasca valley. Really hot and dry, so even after flipping rocks like madmen for a while, nothing to show for. I bet the little rascals were all hiding in those good-looking drystone walls…


Val Germanasca

Plan B – the Po Valley, which had never failed me before. But it did. Fail us. This time. A warm eastern wind came up the mountain, causing high temperatures and remarkably low humidity levels at night. Loïc spotted one animal which I ended up missing. One salamander is no salamander, in any case, so I was rather disappointed. Interesting to learn how my 2010 experience should not be generalised: even this high up, you can get (relatively) warm and dry nights, ruling out mander madness.


beautiful Monviso - © Loïc van Doorn





Common Frog Rana temporaria

July 31st

The next morning, I was sad to leave the Cottian Alps with nothing to show for, but our next target was also a precious one. Loïc wanted to see Meadow Viper Vipera ursinii. I wasn’t too keen on going to the one French spot with hordes of tourists, neither to the other more readily reachable site, so we hit a less well-known French alternative for the species. It required some gravel road driving, but nothing too sinister. The hillsides looked dry to us, but we were told densities were good here, which seemed to be confirmed by a local sheep farmer. So, we set up camp and hoped for the best for the next morning session.

August 1st

We got up and searched the stunning habitat and scenery (which I won’t be sharing here due to conservation issues) from 8am onwards. To our delight, we quickly found what we came for. We enjoyed taking photos rather than hunting down vipers for numbers, but still I spotted a second, juvenile one. Curiously, both specimens were found in lavender bushes.


Meadow Viper Vipera ursinii


Meadow Viper Vipera ursinii

As I had cut out two days for the little grasshopper lover, we had some time to spare now. I persuaded Loïc to drive all the way back for a second go at Lanza’s Salamander. The forecast rain was not to be found, but clouds and high humidity had us finding a few animals in daytime, as well as several tens of salamanders after dark. We were fortunate to observe two combat events as well as an amplexus. Naturally, I was very happy and I slept like a baby. The next morning, the weather had gone back to warm and dry, so our second shot at this species had been a lucky one.


now that’s more like it!


Lanza’s Salamander Salamandra lanzai


Lanza’s Salamander Salamandra lanzai


Lanza’s Salamander Salamandra lanzai


cell phone shot - Lanza’s Salamander Salamandra lanzai mating, with romantic buttercup petal

August 2nd

We discussed about having a second go at Walser, but in the end we drove a looong way west until we reached the western (yes, western) French Pyrenees after dark.


goodbye to Monviso

August 3rd

Up early and again relatively easy to find two Seoane’s Vipers Vipera seoanei. Not the prettiest specimens, but nice to find them, after no luck in spring. The nearby streams allowed for some amphibian fun during the subsequent night.


Seoane’s Viper Vipera seoanei


Seoane’s Viper Vipera seoanei


Seoane’s Viper Vipera seoanei


afternoon naps become necessary after forty


superb Rana pyrenaica habitat


Fire Salamander Salamandra salamandra fastuosa


newt and ‘poles


Pyrenean Brook Newt Calotriton asper


pyrenaica development


Common Midwife Toad Alytes obstetricans at the end of depositing larvae


Common Frog Rana temporaria


Spiny Toad Bufo spinosus - often yellowish in this area

August 4th

With some nice observations under our belt, we decided to include a lengthier Spanish episode. Trip reports by dear herper friend and intergalactic hero GertJan Verspui had had me longing for more Seoane’s Viper for years and I was also keen on going to see the last European Salamandra taxon I yet had to see. First, we tried for vipers at a very nice spot in Cantabria province. Then, the salamander, which had us crossing the inland Spanish heat as fast as possible, to sleep once more at montane altitude, this time in the Sierra de Gredos. We arrived a little before sunset. After dark, a quick outing to find a brave Iberian Stream Frog Rana iberica among the abundant fish.


just another early morning in the woods


stop along the way - second visit in a year, but still without Natrix astreptophora


Iberian Stream Frog Rana iberica

August 5th

The next morning, we kept to our routine of starting early on our mountain hikes. Despite dry and tough conditions, we managed to find a subadult and some juveniles of the local Fire Salamander specialty Salamandra salamandra almanzoris. Cyren’s Rock Lizard Iberolacerta cyreni was extremely abundant along the way, co-occurring with lower numbers of another one of my favourites – Schreiber’s Green Lizard Lacerta schreiberi.


waking up on Gredos carpark


unshy ibex








Fire Salamander Salamandra salamandra almanzoris


Cyren’s Rock Lizard Iberolacerta cyreni


Cyren’s Rock Lizard Iberolacerta cyreni


female Schreiber’s Green Lizard Lacerta schreiberi


shy male Schreiber’s Green Lizard Lacerta schreiberi


male Schreiber’s Green Lizard Lacerta schreiberi and Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca


14 years later


these rocky brooks are the ticket in summer

By late afternoon, we were back north in Asturias. Another gorgeous site with zero vipers to be found.


seoanei heaven

After dark, we stealthily passed Covadonga and a zillion tourists, making our way up into the Picos de Europa for another viper attempt the next morning. The last few kilometres were particularly challenging, as the Common Midwife Toad Alytes obstetricans covered road was hidden in dense mist, but we made it and slept well.

August 6th

The next morning, again several hours of viper searching without luck. I decided to give up and go for Iberian Rock Lizard Iberolacerta monticola, at which point I found my nicest Seoane’s Viper so far. Loïc joined me at the same slope and added a nice female too. Finally!


and another seoanei heaven


Seoane’s Viper Vipera seoanei


Seoane’s Viper Vipera seoanei


Seoane’s Viper Vipera seoanei


Seoane’s Viper Vipera seoanei


Seoane’s Viper Vipera seoanei

We decided that we had found the nicest Seoanes ever, so we moved back east for some other Pyrenean targets. First, we had to flip at least a few logs at a salamander site near the coast, as we could not leave Spain without Salamandra salamandra bernardezi or Golden-striped Salamander Chioglossa lusitanica, regardless of how many we had seen in spring.


salamanders rule here - © Loïc van Doorn


Fire Salamander Salamandra salamandra bernardezi

Once that was done, we drove until the French Pyrenees to hit the same Seoane’s site again the next morning.

August 7th

Strangely, not a single viper here this time. Maybe because another guy was already searching, maybe because a bunch of cows was running through the best habitat patch all morning.

Nevermind, let’s go for Vipera aspis zinnikeri! We drove towards the perfect patch of habitat along the road in a beautiful valley in France. It was 3pm and hot, but Loïc managed to grab one of the nicest Asp Vipers I have ever seen.


Asp Viper Vipera aspis zinnikeri


Asp Viper Vipera aspis zinnikeri


Asp Viper Vipera aspis zinnikeri


so no one ever asks me to shoot anything but herps again

In the evening, we tried some brooks for amphibians, with nothing too fancy to be found.


Loïc and Rio Ara

August 8th

The next morning, up early again for a hike up the mountain for 700m in altitude, because there should not be any other way to go looking for rock lizards. How I love mountains… Got there shortly before the sun and heat really kicked in, so Pyrenean Rock Lizard Iberolacerta bonnali did what it’s supposed to do – act as cute models. This was my 4th site for this species, and it was probably the nicest one so far. I love these places so much that I hope to be able to visit some more sites with this fun little lizard in the future.


morning glory - © Loïc van Doorn


habitat of Pyrenean Rock Lizard Iberolacerta bonnali


Pyrenean Rock Lizard Iberolacerta bonnali


Pyrenean Rock Lizard Iberolacerta bonnali


Pyrenean Rock Lizard Iberolacerta bonnali


gone!

After this, the trip was nearing its end. We had time to target one of the other rock lizard species the next morning, which left us with the rest of the day to make it to the start of the next and final hike. We spent the day with a baking and failed Acanthodactylus attempt, as well as a revisit to the Ommatotriton pond we hit in spring. After that, it wasn’t too far to reach the higher elevations of Andorra. The drive was not too much to our liking, though – very crowded and packed with screaming ads and bright lights.


target: tomato

August 9th

Great was our joy to discover what an attractive mountain area we had as our playground this morning. Our all-time Andorran checklist went from zero to seven species, which isn’t too bad for a couple of hours.





our 10.584th Common Wall Lizard Podarcis muralis


ugly asp


habitat of Aurelio Rock Lizard Iberolacerta aurelioi




same


aha!


Aurelio Rock Lizard Iberolacerta aurelioi


Aurelio Rock Lizard Iberolacerta aurelioi


how I will miss you, Pyrenees

After this beautiful final little episode, I was highly reluctant to leave the mountains, as we started the loooong drive home.

It has been truly great to find this many species during this tour and the one we did in spring, and I couldn’t have wished for a better, crazier companion to keep up the species hunger and travel speed.

Species list



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Last update: September 16, 2019 22:26:12