Wouter and Jeroen attended the SEH conference in Milan and on their way back to Belgium, visited Laura and me in Munich. We had amazing salamander weather and we went herping on a spot where Laura and I had found Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) and Alpine Salamander (Salamandra atra) living in sympatry. Again we found many salamanders of both species and Fire Salamanders even in places where we didn't see them before. A very cool outing!
After the reptile bonanza of the previous day Laura and I ventured into the Alps to try and find the elusive Green Toads (Bufotes viridis) that occur at the location of our wedding. It was great to be back here after three years. While we couldn't locate the toads we did come across several Alpine Marmots (Marmota marmota), Alpine Salamanders (Salamandra atra), Slow Worms (Anguis fragilis) and Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara). When we ventured down the mountain in darkness we heard a loud splash and saw a curious Beaver (Castor fiber) swimming in crystal clear water.
Thunderclouds were approaching Munich so Laura and I decided to go to a place we knew for its large diversity in herpetofauna. A fine choice as we found a total of 10 Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix), 10 Smooth Snakes (Coronella austriaca) and 5 Adders (Vipera berus) plus several Slow Worms (Anguis fragilis) and Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis). Reptile activity was very high and we saw three Smooth Snakes basking together at one place, three Smooth Snakes basking together with two Grass Snakes at another place and several new individuals of Adder. At one point we were observing the basking Smooth- and Grass Snakes when we noticed a little Weasel (Mustela nivalis) climbing between the rocks. Probably it was looking for prey but didn't notice the snakes all around him... Another cool sighting was a Black Stork (Ciconia nigra) first seen circling and later also foraging. We also saw Eurasian Woodcocks (Scolopax rusticola) and Yellow-bellied Toads (Bombina variegata). The pictures don't do justice to this amazing day but photography was hard through the thick vegetation and with shy animals. We also didn't really bother as it was great to see so many animals!
A weekend trip to Limburg over Pentecost together with Laura was rewarding as ever. We arrived at one of my favourite marlstone cliffs in the area while a strong wind was blowing. Luckily it stayed dry and we quickly found Wall Lizards (Podarcis muralis), Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara), Slow Worms (Anguis fragilis), Common Toads (Bufo bufo), Midwife Toad (Alytes obstetricans), Common Newts (Lissotriton vulgaris) and Alpine Newts (Ichthyosaura alpestris). The evening was moist but again rather windy so we found a single Tree Frog (Hyla arborea) but many Natterjack Toads (Epidalea calamita). The next day we had a relaxing day near Maastricht and went swimming in the Geul river. After a nice dinner in Valkenburg we headed to a Badger (Meles meles) family I know since a few years and it didn't take us long before we had the most amazing sightings of at least three individuals who were rather curious to what we were. With Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and Long-eared Owls (Asio otus) screaming in the background we hiked back through the beautiful hollow roads. Many Common Toads, Alpine Newts and Smooth Newts were seen in the cattle troughs. At another place I have been before it didn't take us long to find our next target and found a beautiful male Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus). Although it was rather late we had a smal stop at my favourite place for Midwife Toads and again weren't disappointed. Many individuals were out and about and we even found a mating ball of four Midwife Toads together!
Finally it happened! Laura and I have been looking for a place where the two salamander species of Germany occur syntopically and with the rainy conditions of this evening it worked out. Many Alpine Salamanders (Salamandra atra) were walking around and at lower altitude also two Fire Salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) joined them. Common Toads (Bufo bufo) and Alpine Newts (Ichthyosaura alpestris) were seen as well. Photography wasn't really possible with the hard rain coming down but with the Iphone we could make a few shots.
A first search south of Munich together with Manfred delivered Laura and me several Slow Worms (Anguis fragilis), Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis), Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix) and finally also a beautiful Adder (Vipera berus) and a Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca). Also the ditches I dug for the endangered Yellow-bellied Toads (Bombina variegata) were full of water now and more importantly full of Yellow-bellied Toads including eggs. Good to see my small conservation efforts already paid of! In the evening there was rain predicted so we decided to check up on our local amphibians. A good decision and we found a breeding frenzy of Tree Frog (Hyla arborea) and Green Toad (Bufotes viridis). Also Common Newts (Lissotriton vulgaris) and Common Toads (Bufo bufo) were seen.
I took my students for a special ecology course in a protected area in the dunes. Here we were given a tour by two conservationists in a section closed to the public. We had great sightings of Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis), Fallow Deer (Dama dama), Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) and more importantly the European Bison (Bison bonasus).
Winter has been dragging on and with no spring in sight Laura and I were desperate to go herping. Despite the low temperatures and snow in some places, we tried to find some of the more trustworthy herps under these conditions. It didn't take us long before we found several Fire Salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) walking around on the forest floor and even a very dapper little Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris) walking on a patch of snow.