Friday, 16 September 2016

Field Herping Trip to Southern Morocco August 2016


There aren't many places in Europe to go looking for reptiles in the hot summer months which may seem a strange thing to say but it gets too hot for our reptile friends, so they either become nocturnal or hide somewhere cooler and don't do a lot. So the answer is go somewhere even hotter Morocco, however we had a plan - cisterns. So with my usual sidekick Matt Wilson and our good Dutch friend Gerrit Jan Vespui we came up with an itinerary. Gerrit had been to Morocco a couple of times before and had built a good knowledge of how to find snakes when temperatures are reaching 45 degrees Celsius. The plan was to search in dried out water cisterns during the day, animals drop in and can't get back out. A lot of lizards are adapted to the high temperatures and these can be seen during daylight hours. So the other plan was to road cruise after dark, (this produced my favourite snake of the trip).

The Team © Gerrit Jan Vespui

The 3 areas we visited.


Gerrit flew into Marrakech 2 days before us found some nice vipers in the Atlas mountains and then picked us 2 up from Essaouira airport what a palarva never known passport check to be so slow. Off we headed on a long drive to Sidi Ifni, en-route we found a Horseshoe Whipsnake in the road, unfortunately it had just been hit by a car with its guts hanging out, but was still alive so we had to finish it off. On arriving at the hotel at midnight we dropped off our gear and headed straight out on a night drive. There seemed to be a lot of folk around and the road we were meant to be searching was fairly busy with cars which was irritating because it was after midnight. Anyway we didn't find any snakes. Over the next two days and two nights we started to build the number of species up. This was done by searching dry cisterns during the day where we rescued a lot of animals and driving roads at night where we found my personal highlight of the trip a beautiful Puff Adder, we also found a freshly killed juvenile on the road.

Cistern with Horsehoe Whipsnake
Not just snakes there were bats in some cisterns
Puff Adder as we found it

Juvenile Bibron's Agama
Adult male Bibron's Agama
Gravid female Bibron's Agama
Helmeted Gecko
Many Scaled Cylindrical Skink

Moorish Gecko
Moroccan Lizard Fingered Gecko
Horseshoe Whipsnake
Puff Adder

Classic Puff Adder pre-strike pose

Freshly squashed Juv
African Green Toad

Marautanian Toad

Simon's Sand Lizard
Orb Spider spp
Stripeless Treefrog
Saharan Water Frog

Barbary Ground Squirrel
Thekla Lark
Red Rumped Wheatear
Fat Sand Rat

Jeez talk about walking into a furnace, the temperature was bearable around Sidi Ifni but it shot up to the mid-forties here in the south of Morocco, we were close to the Algerian and Western Sahara borders. The hotel we stayed in (there was only one) was a proper dump, aircon broke, it was just as hot inside as out. I think everyone in town knew we were in town and we stuck out like sore thumbs, but everyone seemed friendly enough although we did have our passports checked a few times. Despite the temperature we had a lot of success finding snakes in cisterns and lizards soaking up the sun. We saw plenty of Uromastyx of various sizes and colours and I think that these are now my favourite lizards. An epic chase and we finally cornered a Desert Monitor in a pipe a very rare find in Morocco.
Lesser Egyptian Gerboa
 White Crowned Wheatear

Me suffering in the evening heat
A traditional cistern
The things we do for Cisterns Monthly
 Just saved it from certain death and this Moila snake does this, (venomous back fanged)

Pleased as punch

Desert Monitor
 Road from Assa to Guelmin we had a puncture shortly after this.
Scorpion Spp
Male Bibron's Agama
Algerian Sand Gecko

Bosk's fringe toed Lizard
Desert Monitor

Elegant Gecko
Desert Agama Male
Ocellated Skink
Fan Fingered Gecko
 Boulenges Sand Skink
Uromastyx (Moroccan Spiny Tailed Lizard)

Crowned Leafnose Snake
Moila Snake

Moila Snake showing a slight hood
White Bellied Carpet Viper

A slight relief from the heat, but accommodation was great this time in an oasis. We had a slight problem en-route having a major tyre blowout on a dirt road, the spare we put on was bald, which meant some steady driving as the nearest tarmac road was 30km away. Pretty much more of the same here during the day searching cisterns, we found 3 species in one. However we found a good sandy area and planned a horned viper search after dark. Finding the tracks is the first problem and then following them to their resting place. Matt found the first track and Gerrit expertly found a well marked individual then he tracked a second monster snake, super.
 The worse puncture he had ever seen © Matt Wilson

 Local Celebrities © Matt Wilson
Nice digs in an oasis


Balkan Terrapin
1 cistern 3 species of snake, not bad
 The desert version of broke back mountain
Owt alse Nowt?
Leopard Fringe Toed Lizard

 Boahmei's Gecko
First well marked Desert Horned Viper

Second large Desert Horned Viper

Moroccan Diadem Snake

False Smooth Snake

Schokari Sand Racer
Third Dark Desert Horned Viper
Common Bulbul
House Bunting

Little Owl
 Moussier's Redstart
Species List * = lifer