Saturday, 29 October 2011

A Field Herping Trip to Murcia Spain

I wasn't intending doing another herping trip in 2011, but having missed out on a weekend in Amsterdam with my non-herping friends (couldn't get the time off work) I thought I would compensate myself with a week in Spain. So together with my regular herping companion Matt Wilson plus Bobby Bok and Sander Schagen (birder) both from the Netherlands we planned a trip to Murcia. There was a potential for 6 new species on this trip for me, but due to one of the driest Autumns of recent years only 2 of these 6 were found, but intermixed there were some nice mammals and some nice birds. We were also joined on a couple of days by a couple of Matt's Spanish friends from his time studying in Murcia. Thanks to Bobby, Matt and Sander for a memorable trip. Matt and Bobby got most of the site info and I know some of this came from Kev Byrnes and Jeroen Speybroeck, so cheers fellas.

15th October
We quickly found Sander and Bobby in the airport and picked up the car. We stopped at a couple of sites near Santa Pola where I had some success in 2010. We found Spanish Wall Lizard Podarcis hispanicus, Spanish Psammodromus Psammodromus hispanicus, Large Psammodromus Psammodromus algiris and an Ocellated Lizard Timon lepidis navadensis, DOR was a sub-adult Montpellier Snake Malpolon monspessulanus. We also had an Osprey Pandion haliaetus being mobbed by a Raven Corvus corax. Driving on Sander ticked off a few birds on the salt pans including the Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber. 
Matt and Sander with DOR Malpolon
Spanish Wall Lizard
Above and Below Osprey

Above and Below Spanish Psammodromus

Juvenile Flamingo
After this we headed to the apartment in Sucina to drop off our cases and promptly got stuck in the lift. After 30-40 minutes the doors we open and we were faced with a long wait or a climb through the gap at the top of the lift so we did the latter and luckily the lift didn't start moving again. We then met up with 2 of Matts Spanish friends Vicente and Conrado at a rocky site near the coast. Here we had Turkish Gecko Turcicus hemidactylus, Moorish Gecko Tarentola mauritania, an Ocellated Lizard was caught, we had a few juvenile Spiny Footed Lizards Acanthodactylus erythrucus. Later we went to a Chameleon Chamaeleo chamaeleon site and Conrado picked one out almost straight away and there was just enough light left for photos.
Above abd Below Juvenile Spiny Footed Lizard

Above and Below Ocellated Lizard

Matt and Bobby taking Chameleon pics
Day 2 16th Oct
Today we headed north to a reservoir in the hope of a couple of species found there by Kev Byrnes (we didn't find them). What we did find was Southern Smooth Snake Coronella girondica, Viperine Snake Natrix maura, Spanish Psamm. Spanish Terrapin Mauremys leprosa Spanish Water Frog Pelophylax perezi. Also here were about 20 Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus, Iberian Hare Lepus granatensis (first new spp)

Above and Below Viperine Snake

Spanish Water Frog
Above and Below Southern Smooth Snake

In the afternoon we went to various locations with wells and cisterns trying to find some amphibians but the surrounding habitat was too dry and the only additions were Common Toad Bufo bufo and Bobby found a larvae of the Alytes we were looking for. On the drive back an adult male Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus flew in front of the car.

Day 3 Oct 17th

Today we headed into the Sierra Espuna the first real mountains of the trip. It was a little cool and dull but our main aim was amphibians. We investigated some wells but most were bone dry, eventually Bobby found a large female Common Toad, but it wasn't looking good for our main target, the Betic Midwife Toad Alytes dickhilleni. We had just about investigated everyewhere possible, then Bobby squeezed into a well and found a lovely adult midwife toad under some plastic. On the way down we saw 2 Peregrine Falcons Falco peregrinus, a group of Barbary Sheep Ammotragus lervia were spotted and like 4 madmen we chased them through the forest trying to get photos without success. A stop further down the mountain produced water frogs, a few Red Squirrels Sciurus vulgaris were nice to see as were lots of Crossbill Loxia curvirostra.

Big Common toad and photography

Above 4 photos Betic Midwife Toad

Above 3 photos Red Squirrel

In the Sierra Ricote area we had 2 Large Psamms, Ocellated Lizard and Wall Lizard, 2 small Horseshoe Whipsnakes Hemorrhois hippocrepis were dead in a concrete trap.

Day 4 Oct 18th
This was the long drive of the trip to the Sierra Segura/Cazorla region in search of an endemic lizard. On the drive down we saw a few raptors and as we neared the Sierra we started to see Azure Winged Magpies Cyannopica cyanus. At the first likely looking place we stopped for a quick search and found our first Spanish Alygyroides Alygyroides marchi, which was a juvenile with the typical keeled scales of this group of lizards. Moving on we found 2 more Algyroides in 2 different locations as well as Spanish Wall Lizards and the normal green coloured Ocellated Lizard Timon lepidus lepidus. Herping was a little slow but the scenery was spectacular and we saw some nice birds including Griffon Vultures, Red Kite Milvus milvus, Common Buzzard Buteo buteo but the stars were 2 male Spanish Ibex Capra pyrenaica crossing the road. We found a hotel for the night and then went for a nocturnal amphibian search but only found Common Toad with a Red Fox Vulpes vulpes adding to the mammal list.
Azure Winged Magpie

Above 4 photos same Spanish Algyroides and 2 below different individual

Above 3 photos Griffon Vultures
Spanish Wall Lizard

Above Red Kite
An Ibex vanishes
Ocellated Lizard
Matt Sander and Bobby Vulture watching

Algyroides Habitat

Hotel near Hornos
Day 5 Oct 19th
A quick look around in the morning produced only Spanish Wall Lizard and Common Toad but most of the area was in shade and relatively cold. We then drove towards Mazarron (where Sander wanted to see Marbled Duck) and then on to the Sierra Almanara. These are relatively low hills, very arid and probably the driest area of Spain, but here is the area for Spur Thighed Tortoise Testudo graeca. We could only find a very small individual, along with Turkish Geckos and a small Southern Smooth Snake, there were also a lot of Black Wheatears Oenanthe leucura in this area. At the Mazzaron lake no Marbled Duck but Whiteheaded Duck Oxyura leucocephala and Purple Gallinule Porphyrio porphyrio.

A dark Spanish Wall Lizard
Common Toad
Black Wheatear

Southern Smooth Snake

Spur Thighed Tortoise

Turkish Gecko
Red Legged Partridge
Day 6 Oct 20th
Today was very windy and overcast in the morning and we headed out to the coastal site we went to on day one. Sander contented himself with some sea watching. We found our first living Horseshoe Whipsnake, an adult Ocellated Lizard and Large Psammodromus. In the afternoon we went to another site for Chameleon but we couldn't find any but we saw a couple of adult Spiny Footed Lizards, Bobby found a shed of a 200cm Malpolon, there were also lots of birds on the saltpans including Flamingo, Black Necked Grebe Podiceps nigrocollis and Various waders. In the evening we searched for Chameleons in the dark which is easier and quickly found 5 of various sizes and colour patterns.

 Above 4 photos Ocellated Lizard

Horseshoe Whipsnake

Black Necked Grebes

Little Stint

Above 5 different Chameleons
Matt Bobby and Sander out on an evenings stroll
Day 7 Oct 21st
Today it was back to a different part of the Sierra Almanara. Again the area was bone dry and we couldn't find any tortoise. We saw quite a few juvenile Spiny Footed Lizards, both Psammodromus species and Matt caught a nice Montpellier Snake, I rescued a Red Legged Partridge from a snare but it seemed Ok. In the afternoon we went to the salt pans for a spot of birding.

Above Spiny Footed Lizard
Above and Below Montpellier Snake

Red Legged Partridge

Deep in Thought
 Black Winged Stilt

Day 8 Oct 22nd

Today was the last chance to find a Lataste's Viper which was always going to be difficult in October. We went to a couple of different sites. We found a juvenile Ocellated Lizard a Horseshoe Whipsnake escaped my grasp. Again there we Red Squirrels, Choughs Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax were flying high above the ridge but unfortunately no vipers.
Above and Below Juvenile Ocellated Lizard

Final Species List

Reptiles and Amphibians
Iberian Water Frog Pelophylax perezi
Common Toad Bufo bufo
Betic Midwife Toad Alytes dickhilleni
Spanish Terrapin Mauremys leprosa
Mediterranean Chameleon Chamaeleo chamaeleon
Moorish Gecko Tarentola mauritania
Turkish Gecko Hemidactylus turcicus
Spiny Footed Lizard Acanthodactylus erythrurus
Large Psammodromus Psammodromus algiris
Spanish Psammodromus Psammodromus hispanicus
Spanish Algyroides Algyroides marchi
Ocellated Lizard Timon lepidus lepidus and Timon lepidus navadensis
Spanish Wall Lizard Podarcis hispanicus
Viperine Snake Natrix maura
Montpellier Snake Malpolon monspessulanus
Horsehoe Whipsnake Hemorrhois hippocrepis
Southern Smooth Snake Coronella girondica

Algerian Hedgehog Atelerix algiris (DOR)
Red Fox Vulpes vulpes
European Polecat Mustela putorius (DOR)
Spanish Ibex Capra pyrenaica
Barbary Sheep Ammotragus lervia
Iberian Hare Lepus granatensis
Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris