For some years I am keeping and breeding the Majorcan Midwife Toad in my classroom. Together with a highly motivated and interested group of students I am taking care of this unique species. Somewhere last year, one of my students uttered his interest in seeing this species in the wild. I am not shy of a crazy idea and always keen on nurturing interest in nature in students, so I kept pondering on this plan. I decided to give it a try and several talks to the schoolboard resulted in a green light for this project. And there I was, in the position to take the students of my Herpetological Study Group on a schooltrip. To Mallorca! I asked my dear friend Wouter Beukema to join me as a second attendant and it took him like 10 seconds to say yes.
24th of May 2017
I still had to work today and I spent the whole day in perfectly sunny weather in the Kalverpolder - a nature area of a decent size, next to the school where I work. After doing some fieldwork with my students I hopped on a train to Schiphol where I met the students of my Herpetological Study Group and Wouter. In the late afternoon we flew with Vueling to Palma de Mallorca. After a smooth flight we arrived in the early evening and drove with our rental van to the Finca Robiol south of Inca. We had some problems locating the bedroom for Wouter and me but in the end it turned out to be an entirely different building. No problem! The students had their own finca with a pool while Wouter and me had the very romantic cottage next door. We found our first Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica) here, a species we would see every day in the dozens. After a dip in the pool and forging plans for the next day, it was off to bed.
25th of May 2017
We woke up early and drove to Inca where we found a very nice bakery. Every morning we would return here to have a quick, tasty and more importantly, cheap breakfast. Afterwards we hit the road and drove to the western branch of the Tramuntana mountains. A long and steep hike awaited us here but we all managed to hike up to the plateau. Here an old water cistern stands in the middle of a gorgeous forest of Holly Oak (Quercus ilex). In this cistern our main target for the trip can be found. With little effort we found around 30 Majorcan Midwife Toads (Alytes muletensis) and a great many tadpoles. Seemingly we arrived in the middle of the reproduction season and we saw an amplexus and several males with eggs. All around us males were calling and we saw some beautiful colourmorphs. What an amazing experience and of course the whole group was ecstatic to see these rare and endangered animals in the wild. After ample admiration we drove to the coast of Ses Illetes. Here we searched for Ibiza Wall Lizard (Podarcis pityusensis) which we found easily, and relaxed at the beach. A quick and easy meal was found in Palma at the Golden Arches. Because it got late we drove back to the Finca and sang our own Katy Perry songs on the way. After a plunge in the pool it was again off to bed.
26th of May 2017
In the morning we went to search in the s'Albufera marshes. It was remarkably easy to spot many iconic birds such as Red-knobbed Coot (Fulica cristata), Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio), Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea), Black-crownded Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) and Little Egret (Egretta garzetta). A major highlight was the Marbled Duck (Marmaronetta angustirostris) which I finally saw after missing out on this species on several occasions. A birder who turned out to be our friend Arlo Hinckley's dad showed the bird to us. In the canals we saw Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) and a single European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis) basking on top of the reeds. Near a small dam we saw a group of seven Viperine Snakes (Natrix maura) hunting for fish. After a hugely successful morning in the wetland we drove to the scenic beach of Cala Formentor to relax a bit during the hottest hours. Here we could finally try out our cool new inflatable chameleon toy. When it started to cool off we hiked in the eastern part of the Tramuntana mountains but didn't find any Majorcan Midwife Toads. They seem to be completely outcompeted here by the introduced Iberian Water Frogs (Pelophylax perezi). At a picturesque square in Pollensa we had an amazing dinner. It was cheap, incredibly tasty and served by some very friendly people!
It got late already but we still decided to drive to a nice gorge with a healthy population of Majorcan Midwife Toads. A steep climb down was rewarded with several individuals and they seemed to be paler and longer limbed than those we saw the previous day. Very interesting! Back at the Finca it was around 04:00 so we decided to go to bed straight away.
27th of May 2017
After a smooth drive to Sant Elm we could hop on a boat to Sa Dragonera straight away. After setting foot on the island we instantly saw huge numbers of Lilford's Wall Lizards (Podarcis lilfordi gigliolii). It is always incredible to see these densities. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing these little dragons crawling around at our feet and nibbling on our fingers trying to establish if they're edible. Afterwards we tried to enter a garden centre where some introduced species are supposed to occur but sadly it was closed. With the high temperatures we decided to leave the introduced species for what they are and head towards our favourite beach at Ses Illetes which, in the meantime, was named differently by some in the group... We had dinner at the beach and searched for geckoes in the vicinity and without effort we found several Turkish Geckoes (Hemidactylus turcicus) and of course a lot of Moorish Geckoes.
28th of May 2017
Today we explored the south of the island and we started at the saltplans of Ses Salines. Here we saw many Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus) and Flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus). We flipped many rocks but only found geckoes. On the drive further south we saw a nice area full of flat rocks so decided to search here. We found signs of a species we were all keen on seeing but only found sloughs and a DOR Algerian False Smooth Snake (Macroprotodon cucullatus). We did see a pair of Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) soaring over our heads. At the lighthouse we searched for tortoises but it took us a long time to find one. When we were about to give up, Madeleine spotted a burrow underneath a big rock and found a subadult Hermann's Tortoise (Testudo hermanni). Great! An Eleonora's Falcon (Falco eleonorae) was chasing a flock of pigeons above our heads and provided another highlight.
During the hottest hours we relaxed at Platja des Caragol where there were some very tame Audouin's Gulls (Ichtyaetus audouinii) around. In the late afternoon we drove to Colònia de Sant Jordi and photographed the Lilford's Wall Lizards in the harbour. We had dinner at Pizzeria Caní and in the last hours of sunlight we tried to find an Algerian False Smooth Snake. One team went roadcruising and another team went flipping but both weren't succesful despite our efforts. When we arrived back at the Finca there was a strange man sitting underneath a palmtree, staring at his Iphone all the time. He looked a bit desperate so we decided to give him a bed in our Finca.
29th of May 2017
An early morning and after getting something to eat at a gas station, we drove in the direction of Magaluf to visit the garden centre again. That proved to be a horrible place to go herping and we neither found the frog nor the worm snake we were after. The man who was in our garden the previous night (and who wants to remain anonymous) knew a place for Horseshoe Whip Snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis) so we decided to check it out. That was a right decision because here we could see a small individual on the road. After a drink on the beach and catching a quick glimpse of Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus) we had to leave sadly. Everything went very smooth at the airport and we gave the personnel of the security check a lot of green smileys.
It was good to be back on the Balearics and inhale the sweet scent of Mediterranean herbs, to hear the sounds of cicadas and crickets, the wind through the pines and the waves gently stroking the coastline. To see the azure sea, the white sand on the beach and all the wildlife that comes with the Mediterranean maquis habitats. Of course this trip was made even more special because I could share these precious moments with my students. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing their enthusiasm for wildlife, how passionate and fanatic they are in searching for animals and how eager to learn more about them. With the busy schedule we had, they kept high spirits and we could make the most of our limited time on the island. I am not alone when I say that such a schooltrip is definitely worth repeating in the near future!
Majorcan Midwife Toad (Alytes muletensis)
Iberian Water Frog (Pelophylax perezi)
Hermann's Tortoise (Testudo hermanni)
European Pond Terrapin (Emyx orbicularis)
Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta ssp. elegans)
Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)
Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)
Lilford's Wall Lizard (Podarcis lilfordi ssp. gigliolii & jordansi)
Ibiza Wall Lizard (Podarcis pityusensis)
Horsheshoe Whip Snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis) DOR
Algerian False Smooth Snake (Macroprotodon cucullatus) DOR
Viperine Snake (Natrix maura)
Many thanks to Arlo Hinckley and Jeroen Speybroeck.