Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A Field Herping Trip to the Island of Corsica

Looking at various potential herping spots throughout Europe, the large island of Corsica stood out as a place with the potential to see a lot of new species, it also has some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe. So together with Matt Wilson we booked a week at the end of May. Because of the mountain terrain (up to 2700masl) and some nice lowland coastal habitat it is possible to combine a good amphibian trip with a reptile trip. Indeed out of the potential 11 reptiles and 7 amphibians we only missed 1 the Leaf Toed Gecko. 10 of these were new species for me. The weather was generally sunny all week and up to 30C in the lowlands dropping to twentyish high up, we had little rain. Thanks to Jeroen Speybroeck for giving us many sites, where he and his team have had success during several visits to the island.

All Photos © Carl Corbidge no unauthorised use

Day 1 26th May

Another early start to Manchester airport a short 2 hour flight and we were on our way.

Our first stop was a site with the potential for one of the more difficult lizard species (i had seen a photo of one in this area on a birders report). We stopped at a bridge in a likely looking spot and quickly spotted our first herp Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard Podarcis tiliguerta (TWL). Next I saw the rarer Pygmy Algyroides Algyroides fitzingeri running around in the leaf litter it was difficult to photograph so I made a grab for it and actually caught 2 at the same time. We saw about 6 in total.
 Habitat of the 2 lizard species
 Female Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard and below a male

 Above and below Pygmy Algyroides

We dropped off our luggage at our hotel in the historical island capital of Corte nestled below massive granite peaks. We headed off into the mountains and found some nice looking habitat didn't find much but decided to come back after dark. The mountain streams had larvae of Corsican Fire Salamander Salamandra corsa seeing adults of this species was top of my list but alas not tonight. However also high on my list was the endemic Corsican Brook Newt Euproctus montanus and Matt managed to find a male and a female which was a good end to a long day. On the drive back we saw a Barn Owl Tyto alba.

 Male Brook Newt above and female below.

Salamander Larvae

Barn Owl
Day 2
Before it got too warm we had a search near to Corte. We found some very nice Italian Wall Lizards Podarcis sicula, Italian Pool Frogs Pelophylax lessonae bergeri. As it warmed up we went up into the mountains where it was a little misty at times, again in some nice habitat of fast flowing streams with rock pools we found tadpoles of Corsican Painted Frogs Discoglossus montalentii but no adults. Another night search and salamander success, Matt flipped a juvenile and this was followed by 3 adults out and about, we then found an adult Corsican Painted Frog at the pools visted earlier in the day.
 Italian Wall Lizard different males above and below.

 Matt decided to auditon for a remake of the classic 1980's cadburys flake advert.

Pool Frog
Above and below mountain habitat
 Below 2 photos of each of the 4 salamanders.

 Corsican Painted Frog

Beech Woodland habitat of Salamanders

Day 3
Today we decided to look for another lizard found at highter altitudes. Again on the drive there was some nice scenery at one stop we had a quick search more TWL's Matt spotted a tail of a Western Whip Snake Hierophis viridiflavus vanish, within seconds another went into a bush and didn't seem to leave so we thought easy catch but it had somehow vanished. We drove higher to the lizard spot, luckily a statue of a well known European field herper guides the way, so we hopped out and walked to some rocks passing lots of TWL's and then our target 3 Bedriaga's Rock Lizards Archaeolacerta bedriagae, job done. We decided to have a few extra beers that night but managed to tick off Moorish Gecko Tarentola mauritania on the walk back.

 Mountain Scenery
Guardian of the Rock lizards and below the beasts

Day 4
Today we decided to hike up to Lac Melo we weren't likely to add any new species but the scenery was likely to be nice and it was a good spot for Lammergeier a bird both myself and Matt wanted to see. The drive up was beautiful and was the best scenery I have seen in Europe to date. On the hike up we found another Corsican Painted Frog, several more Rock Lizards, Lots of TWL's, birds included the endemic Corsican Finch Serinus corsicana Cirl Binting Emberiza cirlus, Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris and best of all lots of Alpine Choughs Pyrrhocorax graculus which were taking food from our hands. Another night search at a lowland stream and Matt caught a Sardinian Painted Frog Discoglossus sardus and I managed to locate and catch a Tyrrhenian Tree Frog Hyla sarda.

Nice Male Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard
 Corsican Painted Frog
 Cirl Bunting
 Corsican Finch
 Rock Lizard

 Lac Melo
 Me spoiling the view at Lac Melo
 Alpine Chough

 Alpine Accentor
 View back down the valley
 Woodchat Shrike

 Sardinian Painted Frog

 Tyrrhenian Tree Frog

Day 5
Today we had a 2 hour drive south to a coastal lowland area with the main aim of finding the 2 snake species of the island. We arrived to find a very recent dor Corsican Grass Snake Natrix natrix corsa of a lovely blue colouration. We were a bit knocked back by this find. We had a look around a pond saw some pool frogs and on the way back in a recently cut bramble and hawthorn hedge I spotted a Western Whip Snake I knew there was no chance of catching it and pointed it out to Matt, the snake took off and as it did, so did Matt Kamikaze style, sideways into the brambles and thorns and ended in an upside down position covered in cuts and abrasions. Once I had dragged Matt back out of the edge we went to another wetland. I managed to catch a big grass snake followed by flipping another. Later in the evening when it had cooled down we found a Turkish Gecko Hemidactylus turcicus and unbelievebly whilst looking for a whip snake on returning to our car one had just been hit by a car right next to where our car was parked. A nocturnal search for Leaf Toed Gecko only revealed scorpions and a hedgehog.

 An unfortunate Grass Snake

 Above 3 first Grass Snake and below second

 Turkish Gecko
 Scorpion Spp
Day 6
Today was really hot we ticked off European Pond Terrapin Emys orbicularis, Matt rescued a Hermann's Tortoise Testudo hermanni wandering across a busy road. Our main aim was to catch a whip snake but it got too warm and decided to cool off in the sea and try later. Late in the afternoon when we least expected a smallish whipsnake appeared behind our tent and Matt managed to catch it. Another nocturnal search and tree frogs and pool frogs were calling everywhere we also heard a Green Toad Bufo viridis but couldn't locate it.
Pond Terrapin
Hermann's Tortoise
Western Whip Snake

Male Red Backed Shrike

Pool Frog
Tyrrhenian Tree Frogs

Day 7
This was our last chance to find a good sized whipsnake so we got up early before things got too hot. We searched our favourite area with nothing and as so often happens when you start the walk back to the car Matt made a dive and caught a good sized adult snake. We made our way back to Corte feeling satisfied, another stop in the cool mountains revealed more TWL's Rock lizards and 2 small Corsican painted frogs. Last herps of the trip were Moorish geckos after our final beers of the trip and rounded off one of the best herping trips I've done to date.

Matt getting some shots
 Western Whip Snake

 Me and Western Whip Snake
 Rock Lizard
 Small Corsican Painted Frog
 Above male and below female Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard

Species List

Corsican Fire Salamander Salamandra corsica
Corsican Brook Newt Euproctus montanus
Corsican Painted Frog Discoglossus montalentii
Sardinian Painted Frog Discoglossus sardus
Italian Pool Frog Pelophylax lessonae bergeri
Tyrrhenian Tree Frog Hyla sarda
Green Toad Bufo viridis (heard only)
Hermann's Tortoise Testudo hermanni
European Pond Terrapin Emys orbicularis
Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard Podarcis tiliguerta
Italian Wall Lizard Podarcis sicula
Bedraiga's Rock Lizard Archeolacerta bedriagae
Pygmy Algyroides Algyroides fitzingeri
Moorish Gecko Tarentola mauritania
Turkish Gecko Hemidactylus turcicus
Western Whip Snake Hierophis viridiflavus
Corsican Grass Snake Natrix natrix corsa


  1. Wowwwwwww Yay, I'm so excited! So stinking adorable!!!

  2. What a fantastic trip! Your blog helped me identify our sighting as a Western Whip snake, on a wall in Bonifacio.

  3. Hi, im looking for good spots for and herping trip this summer to Corsica, can you help me?

    You can visited my page and you will see that I'm an herp lover with some trips in my bag.

    Thank you for your advices!