With a weekend full of sunshine on our doorstep, plans were quickly forged and we spend the entire weekend on the Veluwe. This might be one of the last weekends this year were conditions are favourable for amphibians and reptiles after all. Saturday we met up with bio-buddys Sander, Jasper, Dieuwertje, Ronald, Thijmen and Bart and we went to a place for Banded Darter (Sympetrum pedemontanum) were we found many Grass Frogs (Rana temporaria) and a few Pool Frogs (Pelophylax lessonae). Sun came through quickly so we went on to a beautiful place on the Veluwe. The large heathland we visited consists of many artificial shallow puddles and ponds connected by concrete canals. This former estate is also one of the sites were Italian Crested Newt (Triturus carnifex) is introduced into The Netherlands. Luckily only one larvae was found as this is an invasive species replacing the indigenous Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus). We did see several Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris) larvae and adults, Pool Frogs, Edible Frog (Pelophylax kl. esculentus), Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara) and Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis). Sadly we were too late to witness the rutting season of the Red Deer but what a fun day we had. After a meal and a few beers in a crappy restaurant in Kootwijk we drove back northwards.
Laura and I were still keen on finding some snakes before the year is over and also the rutting season was high on our list. We decided to go again on Sunday and went to a large heathland were I've often been. A Grass Frog, Moor Frog (Rana arvalis) and a few Sand Lizards were observed here before we found a beautiful Adder (Vipera berus) couple. In the late afternoon we drove to National Park Hoge Veluwe, paid the entrance fee, enjoyed the last few rays of sunshine at Jachthuis Sint-Hubertus and went to a well known place to observe the rutting season. Almost immediately we saw Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) and after a while the first bucks started calling and chasing the females. A wonderful sight! We had dinner in Otterlo and drove back to Noord-Holland.
Almost all pictures made by Laura.
We were blessed to have sunshine on this weekend after weeks of torrential rain. Laura and I went to the Veluwe on Sunday to check out the beautiful blooming heather colouring the Veluwe purple at this time of year and simply enjoy autumn herping in the Netherlands. The first Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis) were easily spotted and also the first Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) was quickly found. Along one of the little creeks flowing through the area Laura was lucky (and quick) enough to catch a Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) with an orange neckring, a feature I have observed in this population before. An unexpected encounter with herping buddy Matthijs brought us our first observation of Adder (Vipera berus) after which we found a second juvenile of that species. Other observations included more Smooth Snakes, a Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis), several Edible Frogs (Pelophylax kl. esculentus) and an Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris).
A family visit to Laura's sister was combined with a little excursion to a nearby quarry in the vicinity of Bonn. During a previous visit Laura was able to find dozens of Midwife Toads (Alytes obstetricans) but now it was a bit different and despite strenuous effort we could only find larvae and freshly metamorphed individuals. Yellow-bellied Toads (Bombina variegata) were found in bigger numbers with many adults and larvae occupying the small puddles. We also found a Grass Frog (Rana temporaria) hopping through the reeds, several Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara) including pregnant females and a Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) who was about to shed.
Just outside Munich lies a vast stretch of forest along the river Isar. While we searched along the river before and finding many many snakes there, this Saturday was spend to search more in the forest to try to find Yellow-bellied Toads (Bombina variegata). Using Google Earth we spotted suitable habitat so we drove on to see it for ourselves. The ponds we located were indeed suitable habitat and many of these unique little toads were found. After ample admiration we hiked towards the river and my eye caught something scaly basking between the grass. A Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) was trying to catch some warmth of the sun between thick grass along the path along with a few Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara). We concluded our hike at the visiting centre where much to our surprise a few Tree Frogs (Hyla arborea) were kept in an outside enclosure.
Sun was out on Sunday and so were we. At the Rettensee we were hoping to combine herping with swimming and while we succeeded more than admirably in the latter, herping was a bit slow with only a single Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) and Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara).
On Saturday morning Laura and I drove north to the harbour of Lauwersoog to catch the ferry to Schiermonnikoog. Being the smallest inhabited Wadden island, cars aren't allowed on the island and I consider this place to be the most tranquil and unspoilt bit of nature left in the Netherlands. The herpetofauna of the island is rather poor with only Natterjack Toad (Bufo calamita) and Common Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) being native to the island. An additional introduced species occurs and Water Frogs (Pelophylax spec.) can be found in a few ponds. In 2009 I caught an interesting rumour, in 2008 a 100 juveniles of Fire-bellied Toad (Bombina bombina) were introduced to the icerink on the island. A hobbyist took some animals from the Greek Evros delta and brought them to the island. As they had never been seen since (also not by myself in 2009) I thought the animals to be extinct. Until the spring of 2013 when a single subadult was sighted. Having missed this species last year in Greece - ending up in jail even - Laura and I were both keen on finding these beautiful little amphibians.
After arrival on the island we rented two bikes, dropped our luggage at our very nice hotel and went to the icerink. Despite much effort no amphibians could be found yet. We drove towards the Berkenplas, had a drink and did some birdwatching in the afternoon. After a late night dinner we went again to the icerink but no sign of the toads and only two Common Newts and Natterjack Toad were found. The next day we had a lovely breakfast in our hotel and ate untill it started to hurt. After grocery shopping we cycled all across the island doing birdwatching at the Westerplas to see the Spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia), admired the extensive flora on the island and spend some time at the beautiful beaches. On some places we could find larvae of Natterjacks even in stagnant brackish puddles on the beach. After dinner with pannenkoeken and pizza we went into the dunes again but were caught in dense cold fog and decided to make it an early night for a change. On Monday largely the same activities but now with a hunting Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) in the salt marshes and several Marsh Harriers (Circus aeruginosus) soaring overhead. Great! In the afternoon we had to hurry (only a bit, ahum) to catch the ferry back to the mainland and left this special place.
While our original plans for the Christi Himmelfahrt weekend consisted of a little trip to Slovenia - Laura and I decided to take things a bit easier and not spend such a long time in the car again for a few days of herping. That would not do the beautiful country justice and we would also save some money, not such a bad idea with an expensive trip to California in prospect... Austria is closer to home and with a meager 1,5 hours of driving we were already in the Tyrol mountains. Saturday we hiked along the beautiful Achensee were we hiked from Pertisau towards Scholastika. Above an abandoned mine we ran into a group of Alpine Ibexes (Capra ibex). We also saw several Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara) along the trail as well as a single male Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis). At Scholastika we were just in time to catch the boat departing back to Pertisau.
On Sunday we were up early (at least for our standards) and wanted to take the cableway up to the Sonnwendjoch but found out it was temporarily closed for maintenance. A plan B was quickly forged and we drove to the other cableway in the direct vicinity and went up in the Rofan mountains. From there on we hiked to the top of the Hochiss, a mountain peak soaring up to a magnificent 2299m with a view to die for. On the plateau were many puddles and even more Alpine Newts (Ichthyosaura alpestris), I stopped counting at 100. While we had hail on our way to the top, at the summit itself we lunched in the sun while several Alpine Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus) tried to steal our food. Also a few Alpine Accentors (Prunella collaris) were foraging on the peak. Lower down in a beautiful valley we could finally see an animal which we were hoping to see: Murmeltiere! We found many tracks and burrows before but some high pitched squeeks gave them away. A few Alpine Marmots (Marmota marmota) were basking on the rocks and we had good views on these big rodents. From our last euros we had a second lunch in the Dalfazalm and hiked in the late afternoon back to our car where Laura spotted a panda bear. I am writing this while my calves are crying but it was all well worth it!
What a marvelous weekend! We decided to celebrate our one year anniversary weekend in style and do some herping. A lot of herping actually. On Saturday Laura and I headed for the Isarinsel where we've been before and had always been successful. While the sun was shining and temperatures were still going up in the afternoon, we decided to check the other side of the island where we saw many puddles and ponds using Google Earth. When we arrived we quickly saw many calling Marsh Frogs (Pelophylax ridibundus) and a few Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix) and Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis) hiding in the grass. Also many trees felled by Beavers (Castor fiber). At the location were we have previously been we could find even more Grass Snakes and Sand Lizards, the same melanistic Adder (Vipera berus) we saw last time and Laura and I could both find a Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca), which probably is a new species for this location. After a lovely hamburger dinner in the inner city we went out to the north of Munich and checked a former military training grounds. The desired Green Toads were not found as it was probably too dry and too late in the year; the tadpoles we saw probably belonged to this species. We did see many Common Newts (Lissotriton vulgaris), Tree Frogs (Hyla arborea) and Marsh Frogs (Pelophylax ridibundus). Well past one we were in our bed.
The next Sunday we spend in the Alps, the beautiful Arzmoos. Again a sunny day so a picknick and a swim in one of the moor lakes was on the program, but we also explored the beautiful flower rich meadows and forested slopes. We found a few Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara), Grass Frogs (Rana temporaria), Alpine Newts (Ichtyosaura alpestris) and at the end of the day three Alpine Salamanders (Salamandra atra). At this location there are also Fire Salamander records, meaning this would be a place where the two salamander species occur syntopically. We could not confirm this but we will come back for sure!
The warmest day of the week in combination with thunder predicted for the evening; the kind of weather amphibians love! I called some friends to ask who would like to join me after work and went together with Thijmen, Suma and Ronald into the dunes. While we barely managed to avoid falling trees after entering the dunes, Thijmen and me fell into one of the canals sort of by accident. Being refreshed by our dip we went towards a pond where a great number of amphibians can be found. A single Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) was found along the path before we reached the place. While thunder came rolling in slowly and rain started to come down we found large numbers of the introduced Tree Frogs (Hyla arborea) calling. Green Frogs (Pelophylax spec.) were heard calling and a single Common Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) was present in contrast to Grass Frogs (Rana temporaria) that were present in the usual large numbers. On the path back to the car we found both Common Toad (Bufo bufo) and Natterjack Toad (Bufo calamita) extremely common and had to watch our step.
The weather forecast for today was rather negative, predicting a clouded day with some showers. Laura and I deciced to go for salamanders with weather like this and tried to find a nearby location were supposedly Alpine Salamander as Fire Salamander occur syntopically. Hard to believe because its in the middle of a large gap in their distribution (the Mangfall-gap) but in the Längental this is assumably the case. Arriving in this beautiful valley we were surprised by the temperatures and the bright sun and in fact we were about to head towards a lovely sunny day in the mountains. First herps to be found were many Alpine Newts (Ichthyosaura alpestris) breeding in a cattle grit, nearby woodpiles delivered a few Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara) and in a marshy wetland three Grass Frogs (Rana temporaria) were hopping around. In a wooded area we tried our luck for terrestrial urodeles and Laura managed to find an Alpine Salamander (Salamandra atra) while I found a nicely coloured Common Toad (Bufo bufo). With a picknick in the last sunbeams penetrating through the mountain peaks we concluded another great day in the Alps.
Waking up and seeing a crystal clear sky sets the herpers heart on fire. After breakfast Laura and I headed towards a location hinted to us by a newspaper article about a snakebite. This island
in the river Isar offers habitat for many reptile species and is positioned just outside the city. When we just arrived we encountered a Weaver Beetle (Lamia textor) crossing the path,
before we started searching for snakes at a promising looking half open forest trail. It wasn't for long until we simultaneously heard a snake slithering its way through the undergrowth and we
could retrieve a big beautiful Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) with a very unusual pattern. Another four Grass Snakes would follow and we even observed a basking Adder (Vipera
berus) on top of some big, overgrown boulders along the river. Next to a dam we were able to observe several Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis) and we were even the spectators of
courtship behaviour. A great experience to see how the male slowly approaches the female and gently strokes her back and nibbles her tail. Obviously the female was not interested and disappeared
after a while.
On Sunday the weather made a 180 degrees turn around and changed from warm and sunny, to rather chilly and humid. Great weather for amphibians! After counceling a valuable website we found a known location for Fire Salamanders not too far away and a place that even offers some great scenery. Around the Burg Falkenstein we could easily find several Slow Worms (Anguis fragilis) and a hike through beech forest delivered three diurnal Fire Salamanders (Salamandra salamandra). What an amazing weekend!
Through stormy wind, rain and even hail Dennis Martens and I defied the elements and went out to spend an afternoon herping on the Veluwe. In between showers some brave reptiles emerged such as Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis) and Adders (Vipera berus). A nearby pond delivered Common Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) and many, many tadpoles. Despite the weather it was great to meet up with Dennis and explore some familiar sites!
During the past week Laura and I were nervously eyeing the weather forecast for the weekend and were delighted that in the end it changed to our good! A weekend with moderate temperatures and partially clouded but mostly sunny which seemed to be the perfect conditions to search for reptiles. On Saturday morning we drove from Heemskerk northwards, where extensive tulip fields (in Dutch: "bollenvelden") coloured the landscape. We drove over the 30km long Afsluitdijk in the direction of Drenthe, one of the most sparsely populated provinces of the Netherlands. First stop was our bed and breakfast to say hi to our hosts, collect the key to our room and do a little stroll through the bordering ecological garden. Within minutes we saw the first Russian Ratsnake (Elaphe schrencki) basking and another five individuals followed. Other animals observed here were four Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix) and many Pool Frogs (Pelophylax lessonae). The ratsnakes have been introduced here several years ago and the population started with six juveniles, nowadays they can be found throughout a large area and seem to be thriving. The afternoon we spend at the only place were the chances of finding melanistic Adders (Vipera berus) are rather probable. Next to several Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara), we found twelve Adders of which one was rather dark but not a true melanistic. After a fabulous candle light dinner in Emmen we went to meet up with Martin and Simone and search for Spadefoot Toads (Pelobates fuscus). After intensive searching we could only observe egg strings of this species and several calling males. Crested Newts (Triturus cristatus) were seen in large numbers and several females could be seen folding their eggs in submerged vegetation. Other amphibians we saw were Moor Frog (Rana arvalis) and Common Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris). On Sunday we visited the ecological garden and the Adder-rich heaths again and found more snakes making up a total of 36 snakes in one weekend, not bad!
With several friends I spend the Wednesday evening searching for one of the most cryptic and most endangered amphibians species in the Netherlands; the Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates fuscus). While a first search site only delivered calling males, a second stop at a very different site delivered two individuals of this mysterious species within 10 minutes. Other amphibians found were Common Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris), Common Toad (Bufo bufo) and Grass Frog (Rana temporaria). Luckily we persevered, didn't give up and were rewarded with these two magnificent creatures! We bought ourselves a healthy meal at the Golden Arches well after midnight and went to bed at 2:30am.
Laura had to attend a seminar so I decided to head out on my own and spend the sunny Saturday along the river Isar at a known place for three snake species. Construction works on the railways delayed my arrival but didn't hinder me from finding my first German snake of this year in the wild; an adult Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) with some major scars on her flanks was seen basking on the shores of the Isar. Strangely no other snakes could be found despite favourable weather conditions, I can only hope the habitat alterations that took place here during winter aren't the cause. Furthermore a single Viviparous Lizard (Zootoca vivipara) and several Common Toads (Bufo bufo) and Grass Frogs (Rana temporaria) breeding in a pond filled with goldfish...
After a sunny day in Artis Zoo in Amsterdam with my students I met up with Thijmen and Suma. I had the marvelous idea to venture into the dunes after dinner for a little stroll and to see if the Tree Frogs (Hyla arborea) are already active. Being amongst fellow biophiles nobody needed to be persuaded so we hopped in the car and were on our way. When we arrived we first had a little snack at the trainstation, Thijmen and me tested our new longboards and after some physical exercise we hiked our way through the woods into the dunes. Soon enough we were walking with a huge smile on our faces because the sound of calling Natterjacks (Bufo calamita) was filling the evening sky. When we arrived at the pond we saw several individuals of this species, several Grass Frogs (Rana temporaria), Common Toads (Bufo bufo), a Common Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) and in the end I managed to find a single Tree Frog.
A crystal clear sky and a bright sun on both Saturday and Sunday so Laura and I headed into the Alps to enjoy this nice spring weather to the fullest. On Saturday we visited a small peat bog near
the Kochelsee in the hope to find the first adders. Maybe it was still too early in the year, maybe we were too late on the day but none were to be found. Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca
vivipara) on the other hand were running around everywhere, being even too fast to photograph. Also Common Toads (Bufo bufo), some birds of prey soaring above our heads and a tree,
freshly felled by a Beaver (Castor fiber). Next stop was the Walchensee where several Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis) were found basking but again no snakes active (yet?). At the
river Jache we observed a foraging Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) and a migrating Trout (Salmo trutta), trying to make its way up a waterfall.
On Sunday it was even warmer and near the Sylvensteinspeicher we found another Viviparous Lizard next to many Grass Frogs (Rana temporaria) and a single Common Toad. After wading through the river and walking barefoot through the muddy shores, we found ourselves a great place to spend the day on the shores of the lake and unlike the previous day we didn't venture into the water to prevent ourselves from getting a heart attack. An amazing weekend in the best possible weather conditions! Hopefully next time the snakes have become active...
This weekend was dedicated to visit many friends and family and with spring in full swing, we couldn't resist to squeeze in a bit of herping here and there. And with a bit, I mean a lot. On Saturday Laura and I drove from towards Hilversum to visit my sister and her husband, before lunch we headed towards a nice pond to search for Crested Newt. None of those were found but we did find some Grass Frogs (Rana temporaria) and many Common Newts (Lissotriton vulgaris). Of the latter species we observed some minute breeding males (<6cm) and individuals transporting small mussels on the tips of their toes.
After a lovely hamburger we drove towards Merelbeke in Belgium to visit our dear friend Jeroen and his family. As we arrived a bit later than planned we went directly for a huge and tasty pizza nearby. But the woods were calling and after dinner we went to Jeroen's local salamander playgrounds to do some mandering. Sadly the forest floor was rustling under our feet as there haven't been any rains for over three weeks. Despite the drought we could find two adult Fire Salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) next to several dozens of larvae. While photographing one of the adults my eye suddenly caught an unusually pale larvae in the stream. A leucistic larvae, something none of us ever saw before. I wonder if that one will ever be found again.... The ponds outside the woods were filled with many Palmate Newts (Lissotriton helveticus), Common Newts, Alpine Newts (Ichthyosaura alpestris) and the highest density of Grass Frogs I've ever seen. A great evening!
Next morning we couldn't stay too long in Belgium as the Veluwe was calling. While a blue sky and a bright sun were the standard in Belgium, as soon as we crossed the border with the Netherlands the sky became clouded. Also on the Veluwe it didn't look so promising but in the afternoon the sun came through and some Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis) were found and Laura found the first adder (Vipera berus) after which three more were found. Together with Gertjan and his family we could admire these beautiful creatures before we said goodbye to them and Laura and I searched on another site were we met Sander, Jasper, Dieuwertje, Bart and Ronald who were also looking for animals here. Many Common Toads (Bufo bufo) and a single Moor Frog (Rana arvalis) were found here. A splendid way to spend a weekend!
Spring has arrived in the lowlands and one of the first signs of spring is the mass breeding of the Moor Frog (Rana arvalis). Traditionally me and nature loving friends Sander, Jasper, Dieuwertje, Bart, Ronald, Anniek and Thomas went out to observe this impressive spectacle. We went to a known place for this species and as expected; we found several dozen individuals of this beautiful little frog species. Observations included several individuals in amplexus, freshly layed egg clumps and some calling males displaying the typically blue colouration which only lasts for a few days. Also a great many Common Toads (Bufo bufo), few Grass Frogs (Rana temporaria) and some Common Newts (Lissotriton vulgaris) were out and about.
Winter is always the most boring season for every European herpetologist. A season which usually consists of sorting out photos, writing reports, planning upcoming ventures across the continent or go birding with the lack of herps. This winter another activity made this utterly depressing season less dull and I went to the Austrian herpetological societies annual meeting in Vienna on the kind invitation of Thomas Bader. The ÖGH meeting was held in the stunning natural history museum and I audited many interesting lectures besides giving two talks myself. I very much enjoyed the well organised day, the good atmosphere, meeting many familiar faces and new ones alike and strolling through the overwhelmingly beautiful museum itself. We were kindly given a tour behind the scenes by Silke Schweiger which was a very special experience. It was amazing to see the bedazzling amount of specimens (both rare and common) stored in the cellars underneath the museum. Thanks a lot to the organisation and our Austrian hosts, I had a great time!