As always it was a great pleasure and delight to meet with Wouter and Lucia over the weekend. Our initial plans of going to see the Leatherback Turtle in Zeeland were quickly thrown overboard because of the storm. The Veluwe was a nice alternative and we could easily observe the Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) during their annual rut period.
With the weather forecast predicting a slightly overcast day with a bit of sun, I decided to visit the dunes of Wassenaar again. Together with Sander and Jasper my target was to find one of the introduced Bull Snakes (Pituophis spec.) which eluded me on previous visits. Sadly the weather forecast changed and heavy rains and a strong wind kept all the snakes in their burrows. It did bring out massive numbers of tiny Common Toads (Bufo bufo) which were all over the place.
After a nice lunch the sun did came out a bit and we found some basking Tree Frogs (Hyla arborea), a tiny Natterjack Toad (Epidalea calamita) and a beautiful Pine Chafer (Polyphylla fullo) which was my personal highlight.
It finally happened! Our good friend Michael and his girlfriend visited Bavaria to look for introduced Italian Crested Newts. Of course we met up and had a great day in the field. At the first location we found two small Adders (Vipera berus "marasso") along with some Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara) and Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis). It was for all of us a first time to see this recently described subspecies of Adder in the field. With a lot of rain coming in we drove to another place where we quickly found Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) and Alpine Salamander (Salamandra atra). That was the perfect closure for a perfect day in the field!
The weather forecast predicted a day of rain with a high chance of finding syntopic salamanders. What better way to spend a rainy day than the mountains! Laura and I visited two locations in a part of the Alps we both haven't visited before. At the first location a stunning waterfall awaited us and almost immediately Laura found the first Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) after which an Alpine Salamander (Salamandra atra) quickly followed. Success! Also a Blue Stag Beetle (Platycerus caraboides) was found here. During the heaviest rain we had lunch in a nearby hut and afterwards drove to a second place we suspected for syntopical occurence of both salamander species. Also here we quickly found both species in a completely mixed composition along the path, together with a Grass Frog (Rana temporaria) and an Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris).
Finally we had some weather more suitable to find Adders. There had been some rain the previous day, and with an overcast sky we set out to find some. We met up with our friend Manfred and he showed us a place where he had seen many in the past. Although the habitat did change, it was still a stunning place. In open patches in the forest we easily saw Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis), Viviparous Lizard (Zootoca vivipara), Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) and Grass Snake (Natrix natrix). At a large wet meadow we searched the forest edges and found mostly Viviparous Lizard, until I almost stepped on what we came for: a very beautiful female Adder (Vipera berus)! Good to know they are still there! Also the plant diversity at this site was amazing, and we saw many different Orchids, Irises and Butterwort.
After a lunch in the field we tried our luck at another place closer to the Isar. After a small walk I found a second female Adder, a melanistic one, while Laura found a tiny subadult close by. The Lady's Slipper Orchids were still in bloom in big numbers. At the Isar we saw a pair of Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea), which was a surprising find. While we were observing this rare species for our area, an unleashed dog came and disturbed the birds. Of course the owner felt it was his right to let his dog run around wherever he saw fit. "These ducks will come back", "nature is everywhere", and the classic: "he just wants to play". I think the local wildlife doesn't really see it that way...
A prediction of slight rain with a bit of sun in the afternoon lured Laura and me into the Alps again. We visited a valley where we would have a good chance of seeing salamanders. It didn't take us long to find the first Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) along the path while hiking up. We found several individuals out and about enjoying the moist conditions. Although the habitat seemingly did not change, we started finding Alpine Salamanders (Salamandra atra) over 800m absl. Very interesting but rather unexpectedly, this lasted until 1000m absl, from where on we started seeing Fire Salamanders again. When we came out of the forest, we stepped on a beautiful open meadow surrounded by steep cliffs. There we saw a Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) soar and heard Alpine Marmots (Marmota marmota) whistle. Another great day in the mountains!
While Laura had to work in the home office, I had a day off which I decided to spend at my favourite place along the Isar. It is the perfect place to relax on a sunny day like this and I always see something interesting. You'd think I would have learned to bring my camera, but again I didn't. As usual, by just sitting and observing it is possible to see so many interesting animals. Coming back after a swim I saw a big snake disappear in the tall grass. I decided to not disturb it and come back later. A good call because only after 10 minutes or so I spotted the same Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) again. High up in a pile of washed up branches she was devouring a small Freshwater Sculpin (Cottus species). Very cool to observe! Using the same technique of scanning the steep slopes while wading through the river I discovered several more Grass Snakes and some basking Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis) which are rather common here. The White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) family was also present and I could observe one of the adults feeding its two chicks. So yes, next time I will bring the telelens!
Because we were suffering from a long dryspell in Adder sightings, Laura and I drove to one of the best stretches of habitat we know on Saturday. With an overcast sky, low temperatures and a slight sun piercing through the clouds we had the perfect conditions this time. Again no luck with Adders but we did see several Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis), a basking Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) and a nice male Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis). Nearby we spotted a herd of European Bison (Bison bonasus) which are a part of a reintroduction programme.
The next day we got up early to beat the crowds and drove into the Alps. A wide valley with fields of heather, forests of beech and pine, steep cliffs and towering waterfalls awaited us. We were hoping to find Adders and Golden Eagles that are known to occur here. In the open forests at the beginning of the hike we were able to see many Sand Lizards and dense stands of a very rare orchid, the Lady's-slipper (Cypripedium calceolus). At the end of the hike we almost reached Austria. Even in this remote area there was police to check nobody crosses the border. While hiking back we discovered a big black bird at the edge of the forest. This species is almost like a mythical creature to me, as it is so rarely seen and we have been looking for it for years. Now the moment was there and we could observe this beautiful male Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) courting and calling for a female. We even had a few close encounters as the male didn't seem to fond of our presence and chased us away. With a few bruises but many pictures we drove home feeling very lucky!
One of my favourite places to relax after a day of digital teaching is a nice little lake north of Munich. A series of small ponds are in close vicinity to the lake and even during daytime the Crested Newts (Triturus cristatus) and Smooth Newts (Lissotriton vulgaris) are a lot of fun to observe. So also the perfect day to spend a lazy Sunday! The place is perfect for swimming and Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus), Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), White Storks (Ciconia ciconia), Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus) and Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) are readily seen here as well.
Obviously there are still some hidden gems in close vicinity to Munich which Laura and I haven't explored yet. Today we found one of these places. A vast moor with heatherfields, woods and swamps as far as the eye can see. The temperatures were rather high already when we arrived but we still managed to see several Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis), a Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) and several Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix) including a melanistic individual. A Fox (Vulpes vulpes) was patrolling the shores of a small lake, trying to snatch some young geese away. In the woods we had several encounters with Red Squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) while Eurasian Hobbies (Falco subbuteo) were patrolling the skies. A stunning place, especially with the heavy thunder that slowly approached over the Alps. We were hoping for some rain to fall to bring out the salamanders, so we drove to a nearby castle ruin were we had seen them before. There wasn't as much rain as we'd hoped and only found Fire Salamander larvae (Salamandra salamandra) and a big male Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis). We decided to check out a nearby quarry as well and while we were surpised to find a new location for Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata) again, we were even more surprised at a Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) making its way down into the quarry.
After many excursions in the lowlands we decided to try our luck for Alpine Salamanders. Through a beautiful valley with lush meadows and stunning mountain scenery we made our way up. Above 1000m absl we found a big but shallow puddle full of Alpine Newts (Ichthyosaura alpestris) and even large numbers of alpine Yellow-bellied Toads (Bombina variegata). Very interesting to see this species so high up in the mountains! The Alpine Salamanders couldn't be found despite a big thunderstorm that hit. We took shelter from the rain in a nearby mountainhut and hiked down when the rain got less.
I was curious to see if the rains of the past few days were enough to fill the puddles I dug for the locally endangered Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata). Last week they were bone dry, but luckily they were filled to the brim again. Not only with water but also several toads were basking on the shores, calling from the shallow water and I even saw an amplexus. Lovely to see!
Also a Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis), a big female Adder (Vipera berus) and a couple of Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix) were seen. And even a calling Tree Frog (Hyla arborea) was heard but we never saw an individual here. Something to come back for...
The next day I returned with Laura and again we saw Sand Lizards and also the nice Adder again. Temperatures were a bit lower now so the viper was on less high alert, enabling us to snap a picture. The Yellow-bellied Toads were going at it again and we saw two couples in amplexus along several calling males. From a small lake in the forest we heard many Tree Frogs calling as well. During a small inspection we found a big individual basking between the dry grass and even an amplexus underneath a small coniferous tree. At the end of the herping session we identified a stick as a Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) and returned home very happy.
The past few weeks have been exceptionally warm and precipitation has been absent. When the Munich area finally received some rain Laura and I of course went out to look for amphibians. At our usual salamander spot along the Mangfall we found some Grass Frogs (Rana temporaria), a few Alpine Newts (Ichthyosaura alpestris) and a staggering 89 Fire Salamanders (Salamandra salamandra). Breaking our previous record of 63 salamanders. It was good to see they also found their way to the pools and puddles I dug for them earlier this year, and many of them contained freshly deposited larvae.
After a day of online teaching, I went for my daily walk in the vicinity but went a bit further away this time. I took the car to a nice urban area in the eastern part of the city. Although completely surrounded by buildings and roads, this place is a stronghold for several amphibians and reptiles. I found several Green Toads (Bufotes viridis), Alpine Newts (Ichthyosaura alpestris), Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis) and a very shy Grass Snake (Natrix natrix).
With the Corona crisis still in full swing Laura and I decided to flee the crowded city surroundings of Munich and into the Alps. At one of our favourite spots it was delightfully quiet (at least in the early morning) and spring was definitely in the air. Many Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara) and Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis) were walking along the banks of the lake. The former species was present closer to the shore and the latter more higher up the banks. Both species were walking around and extensively investigating lizards of the opposite sex. No mating could be observed though... Which could not be said of the Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix)! We observed 9 individuals and two different mating balls. They were in deep vegetation so a little tricky to photograph but seeing this behaviour in the wild is always amazing! The freezing cold water of the lake was also home to some reproducing animals and many Common Toads (Bufo bufo) and Grass Frogs (Rana temporaria) were seen.
We visited several moors and bogs south of Munich. On the first many Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara) and a couple of Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix) but it was rather warm and hard to photograph them. We did get to see a European Crayfish (Astacus astacus) which was a new species to me! In the other bog we were more lucky and discovered also Viviparous Lizards and Grass Snakes but even more interestingly, a couple of Adders (Vipera berus). The rest of the day was spent along the river Isar. While relaxing in the sun an unexpected visitor came by. This very curious male Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) wasn't bothered by our presence at all and was hunting for insects right by my feet. very nice to observe!
Probably we arrived a little too late at the site as all we found was multiple Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis) basking along the path. We were hoping for some snakes instead but with the high temperatures this result was to be expected. In a nearby quarry we found several Marsh Frogs (Pelophylax ridibundus), Common Toads (Bufo bufo), Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) and a tiny baby Grass Snake (Natrix natrix).
Much to our surprise (and shock!) most of the ponds constructed for Crested Newts (Triturus cristatus) were completely dry a few days prior to this visit. Most animal were anxiously looking for water on the bicycle path. Luckily during this visit the ponds had been filled with crystal clear water and we could discover several Crested Newts, Smooth Newts (Lissotriton vulgaris), Common Toads (Bufo bufo) and Marsh Frogs (Pelophylax ridibundus).
Due to the strict measurements to battle the spread of COVID-19, many people don't have to work and have all the time in the world to go outside with the nice weather. A pity. Where we have our favourite snake spot close to Munich usually to ourselves (even on sunny weekends), now the place looked like a festival with groups of people having picnics, making music, flying drones, screaming children etc. Very sad to see! Luckily some of the local inhabitants could still be found and a small group of five Adders (Vipera berus) was basking between some boulders. Nearby ponds held lots of Alpine Newts (Ichtyosaura alpestris), Common Toads (Bufo bufo) and some Grass Frogs (Rana temporaria).
Winter has been very mild in Bavaria with little snow and rather high temperatures. Early February Laura and I could do some of our earliest salamander sightings, but also a record number of 63 Fire Salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) were seen. Today there was less activity but we could still see several individuals out and about. Also I cleared several forest ponds from leaf litter, to make them suitable for larvae deposition again.