Southern Portugal & SW Spain

From the 26th February until the 2nd of March 2016

The species that made me want to go back to the south of the Iberian Peninsula is neither a species I have been wanting to see since childhood (as it was only described in 2009), nor does it look significantly different from a closely related and equally widespread species. Back in 2010 we were incredibly lucky with the rainy weather conditions, but we did not see any Blanus species. After Blanus mariae was described as a new species this meant I had to go back to this area. This time I chose not to go in December but in the end of winter. This would allow us to still see some amphibians, but mostly reptiles should be a bit easier to find at this time of year, as they just emerge out of hibernation.

This proved to be mostly right. Amphibians were a bit thin on the ground, while reptiles proved to be somewhat easier. Still, weather conditions weren't as optimal as we had hoped for. The first two days we had some rain after a long period of drought which made some amphibians leave their hiding places. But temperatures were only barely above freezing, and with a storm raging on, conditions were not optimal for ectothermic animals to be out. The last two days the sun emerged and the wind became less, but we found that many temporary ponds had gone dry. Also, temperatures were still very low at night.

Despite that we did well and found an impressive number (31!) of species, thanks to a team that kept the spirits high. This trip the team consisted of a mixed Dutch/British group: Wouter Beukema, MaTiger Hollanders, Paul Lambourne, Trevor Willis and Ronald Zimmerman. Thanks a lot everyone for the great time!

Of course we had to make our group picture here: Matthijs, Wouter, me, Paul, Ronald and Trevor. © Matthijs Hollanders
Of course we had to make our group picture here: Matthijs, Wouter, me, Paul, Ronald and Trevor. © Matthijs Hollanders

26th of February 2016

After a short day at work I headed towards Schiphol, where I met up with Matthijs and Ronald. Wouter took the plane from Eindhoven and our British amigos flew from London. Around 9pm the whole team was united at the hibernaculum of old Dutch people (which Southern Portugal apparently is). We collected the minivan and headed to the west, to Vila do Bispo. The minivan proved to be an amazing way of transportation, and when I grow up I also want one. It is a great way of scaring people while driving.

After checking in in Turismo Rural Monte de Santo Antonio on a windblown slope we headed into the blasting wind to some coastal pastures. Besides the strong wind, temperatures were low, but at least it had rained recently and relieved the parched fields. Still, the large temporary ponds had mostly gone dry and only a few ephemeral puddles remained. We found several Natterjack Toads (Epidalea calamita), a single Southern Marbled Newt (Triturus pygmaeus) and two Fire Salamanders (Salamandra salamandra crespoi). A single Stripeless Tree Frog (Hyla meridionalis) was calling, and the presence of many Western Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates cultripes) and Sharp-ribbed Newt (Pleurodeles waltl) larvae showed it is late in the reproduction season for most amphibians here.

Another pond close to the hotel had a small stream running next to it, and delivered our only Iberian Newt (Lissotriton boscai) and a big adult Sharp-ribbed Newt. After admiring the two Little Owls (Athene noctua) hunting around the hotel we fell asleep only a little hypothermic.

Starry sky over the pasture with temporary ponds. © Matthijs Hollanders
Starry sky over the pasture with temporary ponds. © Matthijs Hollanders

27th of February 2016

We slept like babies in our comfortable beds and started the day at the Carrapateira dunes. The wind was still strong and gave away a mighty spectacle at the coastal cliffs. In the more sheltered, inner parts of the dunes we found a whole array of species such as Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica), Western Psammodromus (Psammodromus occidentalis), a juvenile Ocellated Lizard (Timon lepidus), a Southern Smooth Snake (Coronella girondica), three Iberian False Smooth Snakes (Macroprotodon brevis), a juvenile Western Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus), a Viperine Snake (Natrix maura), and a very pretty juvenile Ladder Snake (Rhinechis scalaris). Also a few amphibians were found such as Natterjack Toads and a single Parsley Frog which might represent a new species (Van de Vliet et al 2011, Díaz-Rodríguez et al. 2015). For now, these populations are attributed to Parsley Frog (Pelodytes punctatus). We also encountered some people who were looking for mushrooms to photograph them. Such nerds!

After a spectacular afternoon in Carrapateira we drove back to a coastal site for Fire Salamanders, where we again had a spectacular view, but where the weather prevented us from seeing anything interesting. The wind was raging and rain came in horizontally. Freezing and soaked to the bone we came back to the minivan and decided to first go to the hotel, change into something dry and warm, and go for dinner somewhere. First we bought some mysteriously greasy sausages for Matthijs at the Lidl, which needed a wipe at the register. After a lovely meal at Restaurant Eira do Mel the weather didn't improve much and we decided to call it an early night.

Praia do Castelejo © Matthijs Hollanders
Praia do Castelejo © Matthijs Hollanders

28th of February 2016

An early morning to pay a last visit to the ephemeral ponds around Vila do Bispo and photograph some animals and the weird Fire Salamander habitat at this place. This time we did see a Stripeless Tree Frog hopping through the grass.

A long drive followed towards the north, we were heading to Grandola to photograph some Fire Salamander hybrids (crespoi x gallaica). The first stop was however the coastal nature reserve north of Sines, where we found some amazing places to herp. The sun was out and it was considerably warmer than the previous days. Obviously the Worm Lizards like that, as we found many Maria's Worm Lizards (Blanus mariae). Also many other species were found around abandoned houses and ruins in half open pine forest. These include Iberian Water Frog (Pelophylax perezi), Sharp-ribbed Newt, Algerian Psammodromus (Psammodromus algirus), Western Psammodromus, Carbonell's Wall Lizard (Podarcis carbonelli), Moorish Gecko, Western Three-toed Skink (Chalcides striatus), Bedriaga's Skink (Chalcides bedriagai) and Viperine Snake. In retrospective this proved to be a new location for Carbonell's Wall Lizard!

In the last rays of sunlight we went to a beautiful hilly cork oak forest interspersed with small streams. We could find two of our highly desired Fire Salamander hybrids and Wouter could make some great habitat pictures for the upcoming fire salamander photography book. We dropped our stuff at the Casa Morgados Boutique Guesthouse, which had beds for both mens and humans. We had some problems finding a restaurant which was open at this time of year, but luckily the excellent A Coutada restaurant was open and served some nice dishes. We did learn however that ordering hamburgers in Portugal one should never do, as it is always a disappointment.

After dinner we headed into the cork oak forests surrounding the town as I marked some nice ponds before the trip. Sadly it was a bit of a quiet evening, and we only found a single Sharp-ribbed Newt, some Iberian Water Frogs and two Western Spadefoot Toads (Pelobates cultripes).

29th of February 2016

A long drive ahead of us, so we got up early and had an amazing breakfast in the hotel. After eating Gert Jan-style we drove back towards Faro in the direction of National Park Donana. At the edge of a large golf course and at the edge of coastal sand dunes we had a first stop and searched for terrapins and chameleons. It wasn't for long until we discovered the First Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) basking at the edge of a big scrub and three more individuals followed. I also spooked an Iberian Hare (Lepus granatensis) here, while Iberian Magpies (Cyanopica cooki) were foraging underneath the Parasol Pines (Pinus pinea). The ponds just behind the dunes held a spectacular number of ducks and Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio), while on the edges large numbers of terrapins were basking. We saw only one shy individual of Moorish Terrapin (Mauremys leprosa), but Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta) and European Pond Terrapins (Emys orbicularis occidentalis) were abound. Usually the Ibero-Maghrebian subspecies of European Pond Terrapin is patchily distributed and very shy, but at this site there were several and we could make some nice pictures. Thanks Paul for borrowing me your camera!

The next stop was at a well known industrial site with many ruins just outside Huelva. It is forbidden to enter the area, but we ran into some police officers who didn't mind us being there after we explained what we were doing. We saw several Spiny-footed Lizards (Acanthodactylus erythrurus), Algerian Psammodromus, Maria's Worm Lizard, Moorish Gecko, Bedriaga's Skink, Western Montpellier Snake and a juvenile Horseshoe Whip Snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis).

In the late afternoon we arrived in the National Park Donana and stopped at a place where Wouter and Matthijs found a Lataste's Viper before, but it was probably still too early in the year for that species. However, we did encounter Algerian Psammodromus and Carbonell's Wall Lizard there.

After checking in in Hostal Restaurante Casa Miguel we had dinner in El Rocio. They served cold spaghetti, which obviously had failed to heat up in the microwave (we could hear it ping!), and disgusting meat and fries, all heavily overpriced. The unpolite staff refused to give us a discount and started calling the police after we made a tiny scene. Never ever go to Restaurante Casa Paco Triana, what a shithole!

The first search site after dark made up for this disillusioning experience and we found an Iberian False Smooth Snake and a small Iberian Midwife Toad (Alytes cisternasii). A few other search sites were either dried out or unaccessible, but we did find a big and beautiful Mediterranean Chameleon near the hotel.

1st of March 2016

We had breakfast in the town of Matalascanas and I was glad that nobody recognised me after having been there for a drink in 2010 with Jeroen and Sander. We first searched the site for Lataste's Viper but weren't lucky. We then headed to an abandoned campsite with a lot of stuff to flip and destroy, so Matthijs and I had a lot of fun. We did not find as much as we'd hoped though, only Natterjack Toad, Algerian Psammodromus, Moorish Gecko and Western Montpellier Snake.

At the beach of Matalascanas we thought of getting some lunch, but spared ourselves from the disappointment of Spanish food and only photographed Andalusian Wall Lizard (Podarcis vaucheri). I also had a quick dip in the Atlantic Ocean, which proved to be a tad nippy.

We decided to drive back to Portugal and head a lunch/dinner in Vila Real de Sant Antonio at the border. We stuffed ourselves with burgers and hotdogs, scared the shit out of some cyclists from the minivan and checked in in Hotel Baia de Monte Gordo. We bought some beverages at the supermarket and headed of for nocturnal herping. The first search site was an extremely steep and dried out quarry and only yielded Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) and several Iberian Water Frogs. In a streambed, where we had hoped to find Fire Salamander hybrids and Iberian Midwife Toads, we only found larvae of the those two species. The last search site was a spot for Southern Marbled Newt. While I headed in the valley to look for the spot, I found out the coordinate was not correct. However, I did find a beautiful waterbak closeby with three terrestrial phase newts inside. I photographed them there and called the others to join, but apparently my antics woke up the entire nearby town and the locals told us to leave.

 Having a discussion if chameleons might occur in this area. © Ronald Zimmerman
Having a discussion if chameleons might occur in this area. © Ronald Zimmerman
Starry sky over Portugal. © Matthijs Hollanders
Starry sky over Portugal. © Matthijs Hollanders

2nd of March 2016

The beds at the hotel were amazing, but early flights forced us to get out and leave to the airport. With tears in our eyes we had to say goodbye to each other after yet another mesmerizing trip together. What an amazing hobby we have and healthy as well; sitting in a minivan with other smelly people while stuffing yourself on the most filthy candy and redbull to stay awake, smoking, drinking, wearing the same damp clothes all day... I already miss it!


Iberian Newt (Lissotriton boscai)

Sharp-ribbed Newt (Pleurodeles waltl)

Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra ssp. crespoi)

Southern Marbled Newt (Triturus pygmaeus)

Iberian Midwife Toad (Alytes cisternasii)

Natterjack Toad (Epidalea calamita)

Stripeless Tree Frog (Hyla meridionalis)

Western Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates cultripes)

Parsley Frog (Pelodytes punctatus)

Iberian Water Frog (Pelophylax perezi)

European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis ssp. occidentalis)

Moorish Terrapin (Mauremys leprosa)

Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta)

Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon)

Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)

Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)

Bedriaga's Skink (Chalcides bedriagai ssp. cobosi)

Western Three-toed Skink (Chalcides striatus)

Spiny-footed Lizard (Acanthodactylus erythrurus)

Carbonell's Wall Lizard (Podarcis carbonelli)

Andalusian Wall Lizard (Podarcis vaucheri)

Algerian Psammodromus (Psammodromus algirus)

Western Psammodromus (Psammodromus occidentalis)

Ocellated Lizard (Timon lepidus)

Maria’s Worm Lizard (Blanus mariae)

Southern Smooth Snake (Coronella girondica)

Horseshoe Whip Snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis)

Iberian False Smooth Snake (Macroprotodon brevis)

Western Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus)

Viperine Snake (Natrix maura)

Ladder Snake (Rhinechis scalaris)


Many thanks to Martin Edelman and Jeroen Speybroeck.