Finally time to visit my dear friends Wouter and Jeroen down in Belgium. Together with Laura I drove the long drive south and arrived in the early afternoon. During day time we already enjoyed the autumny atmosphere in some fragmented beech forests and at night we returned to find no less than 70 Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) individuals, including many subadults. The highlight however was a pretty orangy Fire Salamander which I had only ever seen once before when I wasn't fortunate enough to have a camera (or even Iphone) on me. This time I did!
Two weeks ago a hunter spotted a big snake crossing the road near Söchtenau. Initially they suspected it was a reticulated python. Not much later a fisherman and his grandson spotted a big snake basking in the reeds at the Siferlinger See and managed to take a picture. A Yellow Anaconda (Eunectes notaeus) is clearly to be seen on the image and a mass hysteria followed. The mayor of the town installed a swim ban and prompted an intensive search for this elusive snake.
Laura and I felt like going for a swim while summer is still going strong, and where to go better than to a lake with a big snake on the loose! After walking around the shoreline we only saw a tiny Grass Snake (Natrix natrix). So we decided to settle down on one of the jetties at the lake and do a little swimround. Not for long until we got lucky and spotted part of the snake between the reeds basking in the sun. We were able to catch this beautiful, well fed and apparently healthy male Yellow Anaconda. Three years after visiting the Peruvian Amazone I could finally catch a free roaming Anaconda ;-). After photography and admiration we called the police who were all too happy we offered to bring the snake to a specialised reptile shelter ourselves. A better place for the snake, as it would have never been able to survive the long Northern European winter.
Media also picked up on the story, both in Germany and abroad, here are a few of many:
Traditionally I went with my friends from university to Southern Limburg for a weekend in spring. While Ronald, Yara and Jasper were already there, Thijs and I still had to work during day and took the train down south in the late afternoon. Behaving like people from a different social economic class we arrived with a beer in hand on Valkenburg station and met the others. Sander and Bart joined shortly after and after a tasty meal we headed to the biggest population of Midwife Toads (Alytes obstetricans) in the Netherlands. We indeed saw many of these beautiful little toads including males carrying eggs and a single male depositing larvae in the middle(!) of a pond. Also several Alpine Newts (Ichthyosaura alpestris) were encountered. Afterwards we had a lot of fun with a tiny camping chair and fell happily asleep in our tents.
The next morning we visited a big quarry close to the province's capital. We found some Slow Worms (Anguis fragilis), Grass Frogs (Rana temporaria), Alpine Newts, Smooth Newts (Lissotriton vulgaris) and several Common Toads (Bufo bufo) infected with Toadflies (Lucilia bufonivora). The air was buzzing with Welsh Chafer (Hoplia philanthus) and we found many Lesser Stag Beetles (Dorcus parallelipipedus). After an icecream we drove to Valkenburg and had a swim in the freezing Geul rivulet. A true Central European stream experience with Kingfishers (Alcedo atthis), Beautiful Demoiselles (Calopteryx virgo) and a Bullhead (Cottus rhenanus). Afterwards we were lucky to be in Valkenburg on time as the heavens opened and we were forced to do some fossil shopping in the local fossil shop. Here Dieuwertje also joined the frey and we went for a meal. Afterwards into a very nice valley for nocturnal wildlife but we did not find too much. We did have a lot of fun with water balloons though! Also the local people loved it!
On Sunday we headed towards the German-Belgian-Dutch border triangle and searched for dragonflies. We saw the rain would come back soon enough, so we decided to have a quick dip in a nearby stream, now the sun was still out. Good decision and we were just on time back in the car, ready to eat chips and frikandellen at a nearby campsite. After the sky cleared we ventured to one of my favorite places in Limburg where we had to take shelter from the rain in a nearby cave again. Once the sun was back out we saw Midwife Toads, Wall Lizards (Podarcis muralis) and Alpine Newts. Again dinner in Valkenburg and into the rainy woods again. Luckily after an hour the rain stopped and we saw two Badgers (Meles meles) foraging very close, two young Tawny Owls (Strix aluco) and a very cool pond full of Yellow-bellied Toads (Bombina variegata) and two species of newt. A great evening! After a few beers in the tent it was back to bed.
On Monday we left the south and drove up north. The weather wasn't optimal and we only found some Pool Frogs (Pelophylax lessonae), larvae of Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus), Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis) and Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara). When the rains returned once more we headed back to Amsterdam.
Today I had a long day of field work with my students in the Kalverpolder, a unique nature area directly next to the school where I work. Not too bad for a working day! But in the evening I would venture into more herpetofauna-rich grounds. And not alone. Together with my friend and colleague Roeland and five students from my herpetological study group at school I drove towards the Amsterdam Watersupply Dunes, where I monitor local Natterjack Toad populations. On the motorway we were hit by a massive thunderstorm and a huge cloudburst, but as soon as we arrived in the dunes the sky cleared. Good conditions for amphibians! A magical evening followed and we could observe all six amphibians species occuring here: Common Toad (Bufo bufo), Natterjack Toad (Epidalea calamita), Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus), Grass Frog (Rana temporaria), Tree Frog (Hyla arborea) and Common Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris). The Tree Frogs and Natterjack Toads gave away a deafening chorus and a bit too late we arrived back in Zaandam... But what to do with so much to see and so much enthusiasm in the group!
Furthermore, I forgot to charge my camera batteries before this excursion. Luckily my student Madeleine, who helps me with the monitoring for a school research project, managed to snap some great pictures which are shown below.
While the sun was a bit more shy than we would have hope, Laura and I didn't go for nothing to the Walchensee. We had some brief sunny spells and during those four species of reptile were found. Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis) were numerous as always, including many juveniles, but we also found two Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara) which was a new record (at least for us). The Walchensee is also well known for its melanistic Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix) but surprisingly all six snakes we found were normally coloured. A single male Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) was found cryptically basking underneath grass thickets.
After an evening of silliness in Amsterdam I slept for two hours and went back to the Veluwe together with Thijmen, Suma and Willem. During day time we patrolled the heathlands and found two Adders (Vipera berus), a few Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara) and a few Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis). In the early afternoon we had a little (tick infested) nap between the heather and in the sun. Feeling much, much better afterwards we drove to the metropole of Elspeet and found ourselves in a remarkably tasty Chinese restaurant. After stuffing ourselves on number 170 we headed into the night and visited a pond I have been wanting to visit at night for a long time. And it was far from disappointing! First we were greated by a great number of Common Toads (Bufo bufo) in all sorts and sizes and some calling Grass Frogs (Rana temporaria). In one of the bigger and shallow ponds with crystal clear water we could see literally hundreds of newts. Mostly Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) and Italian Crested Newt (Triturus carnifex) but also Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) and Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris). There was too much to see hence my lack of pictures. Also I was too late for my last train back so I spent the night on the sofa with Thijmen and Suma which was amazingly comfy!
During day time I visited Amsterdam Artis Zoo with 90 students and had a lovely sunny day. My bag was however packed already with photo aquarium, dipnet and rubber boots. After a beer or two with my colleagues I went straight to Sloterdijk where I met with Thijs, Ronald, Jasper and Dieuwertje. We had dinner in the car and drove straight to a cool pond near where Matthijs lives. With the six of us we could easily observe well over a hundred Smooth Newts (Lissotriton vulgaris) and maybe as many as 40 Crested Newts (Triturus cristatus)! Also a few water Frogs (Pelophylax spec.), Grass Frogs (Rana temporaria) and Common Toads (Bufo bufo). A crazy pond with beautiful underwater vegetation and crystal clear water. We were even lucky enough to observe a male Crested Newt eating a Smooth Newt, sadly the Crested Newt swam away with his prey in his mouth and we couldn't make a picture. Also three Midwife Toads (Alytes obstetricans) were calling and just before we were about to leave I could find one!
Together with Laura, Elisabeth and Manfred we headed towards Nuremberg in the hope to find blue Moor Frogs (Rana arvalis). First we stopped at a well known spot for Adders (Vipera berus) of which we found 9 individuals, all basking along the path. After a short lunch at the parking lot we headed to the Moor Frog ponds but could only find a single individual. Still too early in the year!
Some slight rain and finally a temperature more suited for nocturnal ampbibian hunts so I decided to check my local ponds. Still a tad nippy but a few Common Toads (Bufo bufo), Grass Frogs (Rana temporaria) and Smooth Newts (Lissotriton vulgaris) were on the move.