Vultures in the Netherlands are not a common sight and especially not Bearded Vultures (Gypaetus barbatus). So when a young individual appeared on the Veluwe it was a unique chance to see this species. Together with bio-buddies Jasper, Dieuwertje, Sander and Jorg I drove south in the early morning. Several birders were already posting but it took quite some time before Sander was the first to identify a tiny speckle on the horizon as this bird. Luckily it started to circle in our direction and although it was high, it flew directly over our heads. Quite a sight and I would love to see them in their native range one day! The afternoon was rather hot so we decided to drive to the Rhine for a swim. The floodplains of the Rhine were in full bloom and we saw a plethora of insects including my first ever Bee Beetle (Trichius spec.) and many birds such as Stork (Ciconia ciconia) and Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia). When temperatures started to drop in the afternoon, we drove back to the Veluwe and waited for some more bird of prey. Instead we had great views of thunder starting to roll in. Time to pack up, go for a dinner at the Golden Arches and drive back north in the torrential rain.
Every year Laura and I try to visit one of our favourite places in the Alps. Every time we find something new and also this time. Although we started the day with some familiar faces such as Common Toad (Bufo bufo), Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris) and Alpine Salamander (Salamandra atra), we also saw some species we didn't see before here. We never found any snakes despite plenty of suitable habitat, but today we found a Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) and a baby Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca). The latter sadly as roadkill. One of the most special places is a small sinkhole at the edge of a big cliff. It is hidden in the woods and off the beaten track. The lake was full of Alpine Newts, Common Toad tadpoles and larvae of Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) but we also saw a Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) and Lady's Slipper Orchid (Cypripedium calceolus). There is enough left to explore in this area so we will be back!
At least once per year I try to visit the far south of the Netherlands. After we had a rather long dry spell the past weeks, Laura and I got our hopes up after seeing the weather forecast: a LOT of rain! Sadly this rain was very patchy and it didn't fall down in places where we needed it the most. When we arrived on Friday at a nice marl cliff to look for reptiles, it started to rain and we just managed to see some Wall Lizards (Podarcis muralis). In the evening we teamed up with Jeroen and Loïc. There the rain didn't fall as heavily and it took us awhile before Laura found our only Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates fuscus). We did see several Natterjack Toads (Epidalea calamita) but not as many as in previous years. The next day it was rainy throughout and together with Wouter and Lucia we did a little netdipping/pond project to find Palmate Newt but found only Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris) and Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) in copious amounts. Later on we crossed the border with Belgium and met Jeroen again. Thanks to him we could see an invasive gem in the shape of a Chinese Beauty Snake (Elaphe taeniura). In the Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) woods we had the drought problem again and only saw larvae of this species beside two Midwife Toads (Alytes obstetricans). On Sunday the weather the sun came out, slowly but steadily, and we saw Yellow-bellied Toads (Bombina variegata), Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara) and several Slow Worms (Anguis fragilis), including a massive female. In the evening we tried to find Stag Beetles but failed, probably due to the lower than usual temperatures but on another site we found several Midwife Toads. It was very nice to see the landscapes in the south again, the great wildlife and moreover, our dear herping friends!
For a long time Niklas and I are dreaming of Rock Ptarmigans (Lagopus muta) but winter and covid were putting our plans on hold. Today was the second day the cable car in the Karwendelgebirge was running again after a long break because of covid. We dragged Laura along with us to go birdwatching and went up to above 2200 meter absl. A thick layer of snow made sure we didn't see our much desired target, but we did get to see our lifer Snow Finch (Montifringilla nivalis), many cheeky Alpine Choughs (Pyrrhocorax graculus) and some graceful Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra).
What might be the start of a fantastic tradition, today Laura and I met up with our herping friends Michi and Ines. We went to the same great spot as we visited last year and this year found even more exciting animals. We started the day with a tiny basking Adder (Vipera berus) I found hidden in the grass after which Laura found a stunning male. We saw many Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis) throughout the day and although they are common, they are far from boring in this population. So many strange colours and patterns! Thanks a lot for another great day in the field guys!
Together with Niklas and Laura, I set out to visit some cool ponds along the Isar. While we were waiting for it to get dark we had several Woodcocks (Scolopax rusticola) calling and flying around us. But the reason of our visit was of course the amphibians and we saw many Yellow-bellied Toads (Bombina variegata) including eggs, the first tadpoles and a cheeky amplexus. The Tree Frogs (Hyla arborea) were also busy and we saw several calling males and a nice female.
The weather forecast predicted a sunny morning and a rainy afternoon. So first some time to look for reptiles and afterwards for amphibians. Laura and I met up with Niklas and Manfred to search for snakes in a big moor. At the first stop we didn't see much but at the second we found a Viviparous Lizard (Zootoca vivipara), several Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis) and in the end also a big and beautiful female Adder (Vipera berus). Sadly Manfred had to leave earlier and missed out on this! Afterwards we drove into the mountains. There wasn't any rain as predicted, but near a big waterfall we still found what we came for; the first Alpine Salamanders (Salamandra atra) of the year along with a single Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra).
Some reptiles have a restricted range in Germany. During the last interglacial some of these species occured further north and when the temperatures dropped again, they found refuge in areas that remained a higher average temperature. The Danube shore on the border with Austria is such a place. Laura and I set out early from Munich to visit this biodiverse region and to try and find some of the reptile specialties of the area. When we arrived there, the rain just stopped so we decided to first venture into the woods. During a steep hike up we found twelve Fire Salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) and a nice pair of Slow Worms (Anguis fragilis) foraging between the leaf litter. Afterwards the sun slowly came out and we searched the forest edge for the first reptiles to start basking and it wasn't for long until we found a massive smelly Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) and our only Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis). Woodpiles have been erected throughout the area to provide reptiles with shelter and they seem to be most efficient. We found no less than six individuals of our main target for this area: the Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus). Ranging from a tiny juvenile to some huge adults, it was incredible to see this stunning snake species thrive here! Some small puddles nearby had Yellow-bellied Toads (Bombina variegata) in them.
After lunch the sun came out in full force and we headed to an abandoned railroad. Here the lizards were enjoying the perfect habitat and the perfect weather and everywhere we set foot we saw big numbers of Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis nigriventris) and Eastern Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis). Another regional specialty. The lizards were in reproduction mode and we observed mating behaviour in both species. A stunning pale Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina) concluded a perfect day with the perfect weather. It is just great when a plan comes together in such a way and Laura and I both felt like we had been on holidays after a visit to this stunning region. We will certainly be back, although it will be hard to top this result!
One species that is common but never gets the attention it deserves is the Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris). Today Laura and I set out to photograph these beautiful little newts in a place close to where we live. We immediately found several indivuals of this species but also the much bigger Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) and also many Water Frogs (Pelophylax sp.) were seen. It was interesting to see that although the Smooth Newts here are supposed to belong to the nominotypical subspecies vulgaris, they share several traits with more southern subspecies such as a smaller body size, yellowish heads, an orange start of the crest and a tail filament. An exploratory hike along a nice stream delivered several Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix).
A day at one of our favourite spots along the Isar was very rewarding again. Although the reptiles weren't out in big numbers, we did see several interesting individuals. The first to show up were a couple of Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix) shortly followed by the first Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) of the year. The puddles I maintain in this area were full with Yellow-bellied Toads (Bombina variegata) and there was a lot of mating activity going on. Later in the afternoon we did a final round along some stone heaps and found a very big female Adder (Vipera berus) and a beautiful female Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) of the erythronotus phenotype.
This spring saw an unusual amount of rain, and even snow well into April. This weekend we all of a sudden had full sun and temperatures above 20 °C so it
was finally enjoyable to be outside. On Saturday Laura and I drove to Berchtesgaden to check on the Capercaillie we saw here last year. In the early morning we found two Adders (Vipera
berus) basking on the edge of an alpine meadow. When we arrived at the meadow with the Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), we were happy to see him still going strong. On
the way down the temperatures rose considerably which was seemingly to the liking of the Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis). While sitting at a forest edge there were many males on the
lookout for females. Simply staying put in the same place for an hour resulted in several combatting males, animals shedding their skin and even a couple mating.
Also the next day it was definitely a day for Sand Lizards. With almost 30 °C Laura and I went to our favourite place for swimming along the Isar. Even on a day such as today it was far from crowded. With people that is... Because while sitting on our towls in the sun, several male Sand Lizards crawled over our feet, up and down the river. Chasing each other and chasing females. I even had a Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) crawling under my legs, probably also on the lookout for a mate. A great way to do herping, just laying in the sun and watch the herps come and go :-)
Some excellent weather combined with some excellent habitat made sure we had quite the Adder Fest today. A mostly overcast sky, a slight but chilly wind and temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius made the Adders (Vipera berus) keen to bask today. Together with Laura and Manfred I explored a small moor and we found 20 individuals and a wide variety of patterns. These snakes belong to the debated subspecies "marasso" but whether or not this taxon is valid, these animals are stunning all the same!
Although the weather forecast predicted some decent adder weather, the temperatures were much higher than expected. As a consequence Manfred, Laura and I arrived a little too late in the habitat. The Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis) and Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara) were running around and Manfred even spotted a small Tree Frog (Hyla arborea). After finding a snake slough we knew that mating time for the Adders is upon us. We settled for a place where we knew there are at least three individuals and just waited. A good strategy because after we sat in the grass for awhile the three male Adders (Vipera berus) emerged. Even two tiny baby Adders joined the party. It was lovely to observe the Adders doing their daily business but sadly it was a little too early in the year still for fighting or mating activities. We will be back another time!
Time to explore some (rather) new grounds. Although Niklas, Laura and me had been here before, we never saw this place in early spring and never explored the wider surroundings. It turned out to be a true Adder (Vipera berus) hotspot with 15 individuals seen, 14 of those were black. Also several Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara), Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis) and a Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius). At a second stop we spotted the first Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) of the year and saw Spring Pasqueflowers (Pulsatilla vernalis) in bloom, a very rare plant here in Germany.
A cold and windy but partially sunny day lured Niklas and me again to our favourite Adder spot. As expected, the snakes were out basking and we saw several new individuals this time, including the first one with a pattern. Quite special as all the other Adders we have seen here are completely black. A total of 16 Adders (Vipera berus) and several Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara) made for a very cool day in the moor! In the evening it got even more windy and also rainy but we couldn't resist to check out some of the local ponds. Many Alpine Newts (Ichthyosaura alpestris) were feasting on the egg masses of Grass Frog (Rana temporaria) while dozens of male Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina) were waiting for the females to arrive to the ponds. Cold and wet, but well pleased we arrived back home!
My colleague Chiel and I had the spontaneous idea to drive to Friesland during the week. In this age of digital teaching there are plenty of opportunities to teach from any random place. As we only had two hours of teaching and the weather was supposedly good for Adders we drove north. We had a quick encounter with herping buddy Jelmer but sadly the dense fog made sure the snakes were nowehere to be seen. We did get to see two foraging Cranes (Grus grus) which was cool! After the digital lessons from the moor we saw the weather was good further south and drove to the Veluwe. There we immediately saw a single Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) and five male Adders (Vipera berus) basking. A lovely working day :-)
With night temperatures dropping again, Niklas and I suspected the Adders (Vipera berus) would bask more extensively. To put this theory to the test, we searched in a large heatherfield south of Munich. We found several Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara) again but also 6 melanistic Adders. And indeed, they were basking much more in the open and we were very happy to see so many snakes in a place where you usually don't get to see that many.
With such sunny weather like the past week, Niklas and I were keen on seeing how much reptile activity there is to be found around Munich. We visited three different locations. On the first we saw many Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara) running around and found a melanistic Adder (Vipera berus). Also two Pygmy Owls (Glaucidium passerinum) were calling in the distance but we didn't get a visual. On the second site nothing was out surprisingly, but on the last location we again found a nice male Adder basking cryptically. A refreshing dip in the Isar concluded a very nice day in the field!
After seeing my first ever Wallcreepers (Tichodroma muraria) last month, I was aching to return to see them again. This time I immediately saw them as I knew what to look for, although a Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) caused some panick amongst the local birds!
On Sunday Laura and I ventured into a beautiful moor south of Munich. There was surprisingly little reptile activity but after searching for quite awhile, Laura found a nice melanistic Adder (Vipera berus). Although not in the most photogenic pose, we didn't want to disturb the snake so shortly after hibernation so admired her from a distance.
Two consequetive days of birding, and two days with some interesting sightings. On Sunday I went out with Niklas where we saw a myriad of duck species and some Long-eared Owls (Asio otus) resting in a tree. On Monday I went out in the mountains with the toboggan. It is a great way to go birding; hike up a mountain and then slide your way back down, stopping along the way when there is something interesting to be seen. Such as a massive feeding flock of Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), Crested Tit (Lophophanes cristatus), Goldcrest (Regulus regulus), Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) and two Red Squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris). At the top of the mountain a small flock of Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) awaited me and the White-throated Dippers (Cinclus cinclus) are always a treat to observe. Hopefully with the rising temperatures more amphibians and reptiles will show up!
Together with Laura and Niklas I ventured south towards the Alps to do some birding and early herping. The predicted sun was out shorter than expected and our hopes of finding any early reptiles got smaller. The Sahara dust that was blown over the Alps was to blame for this. We did get to see some interesting birds but after some hours we still did not see a single reptile. While I voted for going back towards the snackbar to get some fries, Laura and Niklas convinced me to search just a little bit longer and that was a good decision! Just a few meters further I could find our earliest German Adder (Vipera berus) ever. A new record for us and a welcome sighting!
During my lunchbreak I couldn't resist the temptation to see if the local Wall Lizards (Podarcis muralis) would be out already. I hopped on my bike and not before long until I saw the first juvenile lizards chasing each other. And I also got to see a driving train up close!
Another lockdown means again no travelling. And with this lockdown being in winter, there is little chance for any decent herping. At least the surroundings of Munich were covered in a thick carpet of snow, providing much neaded distractions in the shape of tobogganing and trying to photograph animals in winter scenery. Especially my favourite birds, the White-throated Dippers (Cinclus cinclus) were a delight to observe in freezing streams surrounded by snow. But also seeing a Spotted Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes) for the first time was very exciting.
With the temperatures starting to rise and some rain the previous days, Laura and I headed out into our favourite forest patch together with herping buddy Niklas. Although we didn't really expect to find much, we were amazed by the numbers of Fire Salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) which were out and about. We found 32 individuals, mostly around streams which remain frost-free during winter but some brave (but slow) individuals were walking over patches of snow.
At the last day of the month, Niklas and I ventured into the Allgäu to a promising spot for one of my most-wanted birds. A slight drizzle and freezing temperatures weren't the nicest conditons to be staring at a cliff for a long time but persistence paid of. Our first sighting was a Grey-headed Woodpecker (Picus canus) foraging along the rocky walls, but in the end we managed to see two Wallcreepers (Tichodroma muraria). A species usually confined to high altitude locations, but spending the winter months in quarries lower down. Great sightings of great species, both of which we could observe for quite some time. Afterwards we explored some other areas higher in the mountains and enjoyed some great scenery. An awesome day!