Because our flights to Costa Rica were cancelled, Laura and I were looking for a place closer to home where we could still see some lungless salamanders. Although this family (Plethodontidae) has the most species across the Atlantic and especially in the neotropics, in Europe we also have eight species. The island of Sardinia is home to five species which is a lot for European standards. The combination of salamanders, newts, caves and mountain streams provides a promising summer destination. Shortly after we booked flights to Cagliari we learned that herping buddy Jeroen Speybroeck would also visit the island a few weeks prior to our trip. This meant we could benefit from some valuable up-to-date information. The weather conditions on the island however were harsh. Despite having just returned from hot and dry Greece, the hot and dry rock that is Sardinia was a whole new level of discomfort. Herping was not easy during the heatwave we experienced but with three weeks on the island we managed to see almost all species on the island.
27-30th of July 2020 - Sette Fratelli Park
An early morning flight brought us from Amsterdam to Cagliari in no time. After collecting our rental car we dropped our luggage at the B&B La Quercia. Here we found ourselves a cozy room to stay in the accommodation run by the friendly owners Uwe and Eloisa. We already did some herping in the Sette Fratelli Park and quickly found our first herps such as Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard (Podarcis tiliguerta), Italian Wall Lizard (Podarcis siculus) Tyrrhenian Algyroides (Algyroides fitzingeri), Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus), many juveniles of Tyrrhenian Painted Frog (Discoglossus sardus) and a larvae of Sardinian Brook Newt (Euproctus platycephalus). We had a first swim in the brook during the hottest part of the day and in the afternoon we drove towards two lakes. A bumpy ride led us there but no sign yet of our main target but plenty of Tyrrhenian Tree Frogs (Hyla sarda) hiding in the shade. After dinner we decided to make it an early night and get up early the next day.
This proved to be a wise decision. Not only would we have plenty of time this trip to still ruin ourselves, the early morning held a surprise for us. With the sun still behind the mountains and the cicadas not awake yet we searched along the streambed. We saw many Tyrrhenian Painted Frogs again but after a short while my eye caught a little tail disappearing in the mud of the bank. I quickly reached out and between all the dirt there was a little gem. I was holding a Sardinian Barred Grass Snake (Natrix helvetica cetti)! This subspecies is endemic for the Tyrrhenian Islands and incredibly hard to find on Sardinia. My main target would be the first herp of the trip we photographed, pretty sweet! A well deserved dip in the stream followed and the rest of the day we spent exploring the park. After a tasty Dinner at Il Frutteto we did some herping along another stream and found several Tyrrhenian Painted Frogs, Tyrrhenian Tree Frogs and Viperine Snakes (Natrix maura).
Although we were trying to get a permit to enter the only place where it is possible to see Sette Fratelli Cave Salamanders in summer, we didn't have much luck at first. The rangers were friendly but all a bit reluctant to take responsibility. Also the people in charge where all on holidays and nobody really knew who was in charge now. During our second visit at the ranger station we were handed a phone number and with the invaluable help of Uwe we could call there. Finally we were in luck and within an hour we had a letter with permission to visit! The next day we found ourselves driving over bumpy roads in the early morning through the stunning mountain scenery. Our destination was reached and after opening the hatch we were surrounded by Sette Fratelli Cave Salamanders (Speleomantes sarrabussensis) clinging to the walls. A big Tyrrhenian Painted Frog and our first European Leaf-toed Gecko (Euleptes europaea) inhabited the same subterranean chamber. It is fair to say the Sette Fratelli Park treated us well and we saw everything we wanted to see here and more, we had some great places to swim despite the dry conditions and we made some new friends. With heavy hearts we had to leave this place behind and drove on further north.
31st of July 2020
We spent the night in Perdasdefogu and after a disappointing breakfast we drove onto the hot and dry plateau outside the city. Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) were plentiful and added a welcome dash of colour to the parched landscape. In this military area it was a bit hard to find our way with fences and dead-end roads here and there, but in the end we found a place to park the car close to our goal. We left the car in the scorching sun and started hiking through the shrubland. The Dung Beetle diversity was amazing here but our real target awaited underground. We quickly found the valley we were looking for and after making our way through bramble bushes we found the entrance of the cave. Inside there was a completely different setting awaiting us. Complete darkness, flowing water, big groups of bats hanging from the ceiling and huge numbers of Sardinian Brook Newts (Euproctus platycephalus). Surreal to see these animals thriving in this subterranean pitch black darkness. After this cool experience we drove towards Ulassai and found a great place to stay in the Sardinia Climbing House with Moorish Geckos (Tarentola mauritanica) hanging on the walls.
1st of August 2020
Today we explored the surroundings of Ulassai. After a luxurious breakfast at the Hotel Su Marmuri we did some hiking and found the only place with freshwater left in the whole area. The perfect place for some relaxation. Tadpoles of both painted frogs and tree frogs were present as well as Viperine Snakes hunting them. In the afternoon we hiked to a very nice cave where we found our first Scented Cave Salamanders (Speleomantes imperialis). Sadly our visit to the cave was interrupted by some very drunk and very loud local people, but after they left we went back inside and luckily they didn't disturb all the cave salamanders. Here we also smelled for the first time the scent these salamanders release when they feel threatened. It smells a bit like rubber and also some of the other species we would encounter on our trip smelled like that. On the drive back to town we visited another cave. It took some time to find it but sadly there weren't any salamanders inside. After a tasty pizza at the town square we drove back to our swimhole but saw surprisingly little, only a Viperine Snake and a small bat were seen.
2nd-4th of August 2020 - surroundings of Baunei
In the morning we drove up to a parched pleateau towering high above the surrounding area. The rocky fields aren't what you would expect as the residence for amphibians but below ground there are numerous caves. In one of these we could find several Scented Cave Salamanders. In the afternoon we drove in the direction of Baunei where we visited another cave. A rather wide entrance followed by a steep drop brought us into the home of another species of salamander, the Sopramonte Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis). This huge cave was spectacular to see but when the sun was setting it was time to hike back up to the car. We drove to Baunei where we had the best pizza ever at the Bar Pizzeria San Pietro.
The next morning we hiked to a remote beach. Although the hike wasn't that long, the high temperatures and steep climb made it very uncomfortable. Luckily we found a nice place in the shade which we shared with big numbers of Tyrrhenian Wall Lizards who were very interested in our pizza. During the hike back up we almost suffered a heat stroke but a tiny spring brought a welcome refreshing dip after a warm sea, a hot beach and an even hotter hike. After a small nap in the hotel we had dinner at the fabulous pizzeria again, bought some souvenirs and enjoyed an icecream. Around the hotel we explored the surroundings and found several European Leaf-toed Geckos and Turkish Geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus) hanging on the walls. A nearby waterbassin was full of Tyrrhenian Painted Frogs and Tyrrhenian Tree Frogs while a very special weather phenomena was raging on in the distance. The sky was continuously illuminated by lightning and combined with the heavy clouds above sea it provided an ominous but stunning sight!
The National Park Gennargentu is located north of Baunei and we got up early to do a hike towards a remote beach. The beach itself was beautiful and indeed remote as nobody in their right mind would drive and hike so long to reach a beach. However boats started unloading huge amounts of tourists so soon the beach was overrun and far from enjoyable for misanthropic me. We decided to leave. Along the drive back into the habited world we stopped at some small murky ponds and saw many European Pond Terrapins (Emys orbicularis) and a big Yellow-bellied Slider (Trachemys scripta scripta). In the afternoon we searched for a good place to camp but the strong winds drove us into a B&B in Urzulei instead.
5th of August 2020
Again an early morning to do a long hike towards a hidden lake, tucked away against a steep overhanging cliff. We didn't see any of the anticipated Sardinian Brook Newts in the lake but the views were spectacular and we enjoyed the serenity of this place. In the afternoon we arrived in Oliena where we found our first Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus) along with several Moorish Geckos. A quick dinner with tiny pizzas after which we drove into the mountains to visit a waterbassin. Sadly no luck with the Grass Snakes here but we did see European Leaf-toed Geckos and Tyrrhenian Painted Frogs.
6th of August 2020
Today we started with another cave in the Sopramonte Mountains. Although we had some difficulties getting in we managed to squeeze ourselves through. We didn't find any cave salamanders inside but a narrow tunnel leading towards a massive cathedral-like chamber was worth the effort nonetheless. Outside the cave Laura finally caught a species we had seen numerous times before but couldn't catch yet and we photographed a juvenile Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus). We searched for Ocellated Skink at some good looking places but only found wall lizards. The hottest part of the day we spent at the spring of Su Gologone where we had a swim in the river and relaxed a bit. Many Italian Wall Lizards were running around here and posed well for some pictures. At the end of the afternoon we went to another cave. Although the thick shrubs surrounding it gave us a hard time, we managed to find it and squeeze ourselves through the small entrance. Inside several Sopramonte Cave Salamanders were waiting for us. In the evening we found a B&B in Lula with some local help and also needed local help to find a restaurant which would be open. Luckily this all worked out and we had a great pizza, drank some amazing locally brewed Mirto and made some new friends.
7th of August 2020
The sun was barely above the Monte Albo mountains when we started our ascend. Our first stop however was a well known waterbassin which again delivered some beautiful Tyrrhenian Tree Frogs. The cave on the bare mountain side was easily found and inside we had a hard time to find any salamanders. In the end persistence paid of and we found two beautiful individuals of Monte Albo Cave Salamander (Speleomantes flavus). Some other caves along the way didn't deliver so we drove on towards Monte Limbara. Here we found a stunning place that still held a lot of cool water despite the heat. This little paradise was a bit of the beaten track and we didn't encounter a single soul. We did see Italian Wall Lizards, Tyrrhenian Wall Lizards, Tyrrhenian Algyroides and much to our surprise several Tyrrhenian Rock Lizards (Archaeolacerta bedriagae) coming down the cliffs for a drink in the late afternoon. In the last light of the day we drove to the upper parts of the stream and found many Sardinian Brook Newts in the last remaining puddles. After dinner up on the mountain we first drove down to search at our perfect swimplace again. Also at night there was plenty of action and we saw European Leaf-toed Geckos and Tyrrhenian Tree Frogs on the big boulders along the stream. In the water Marsh Frogs (Pelophylax ridibundus) and Tyrrhenian Painted Frogs. We camped at a sheltered place higher up the mountain and slept like babies in the tent.
8th of August 2020
In the early morning we engaged in some lizard photography at the top of the mountain. It cooled of quite a bit at night and the lizards were all enjoying the warmth of the sun. Both Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard, Tyrrhenian Algyroides and Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard were seen. When it got warm we again travelled down the mountain to our swimhole and enjoyed this marvellous place, which we again had all to ourselves. We saw the same species as the previous day but this time an unexpected addition to that impressive list. While sitting on the tiny sandy beach we heard something fall of the rocks next to us. A small Weasel (Mustela nivalis) was staring at us and looked as surprised as we were. In its mouth was a big subadult Western Whip Snake. It let go of the snake, darted of and the snake remained laying perfectly still. We assumed it was dead but not for long it started to come back to life, even attempting to bite much like you would expect from this species. After a few photos we let her go and are confident she will live to see another day. Thank you for the present Weasel!
In the late afternoon we searched for tortoises in the north of the island but only saw both wall lizard species, an Italian Three-toed Skink (Chalcides chalcides), a European Pond Terrapin and many Two-tailed Pashas (Charaxes jasius). We drove into Santa Terese Gallura, completely unknowing what a hellhole this is. Tourists everywhere, massive traffic jams and all restaurants fully booked. We opted for some toast bread with ham and cheese at an ice cafe and left as quickly as possible. At an old army base we set up the tent with onlooking Moorish Geckos and European Leaf-toed Geckos.
9th/10th of August 2020 - west coast & Bosa
Our morning search for tortoises didn't deliver sadly and we only saw Italian Wall Lizard, Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard, Tyrrhenian Algyroides, Moorish Gecko and Ocellated Skink. During the long drive towards the west coast we did several stops until we arrived at a freshwater lake I also visited in 2011. My memory painted a brighter picture of this place than what it actually looked like now. The water was warm, murky and smelly, the shores were overgrown with brambles and the cattle brought with it manure and horseflies. Again, no tortoises yet for us. The beach did bring some relief. After an expensive and tasteless burger at the coast we went herping in the surrounding area and found Moorish Gecko, Tyrrhenian Tree Frogs, Water Frogs (Pelophylax spec.) and our only Green Toads (Bufotes viridis), although not the best looking individuals of this species. We rolled out our sleeping bags along the shore, drank some more Mirto and fell asleep happily under a beautiful starlit sky.
We woke up before sunrise to look for tortoises again. In Greece you find tortoises just about anywhere also in summer and now we were having the hardest time. After finishing our round and just before we were about to give up I saw a tortoise walking across the meadow. Not the species we were expecting here but instead it is a (small) range extension for Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata). Very happy with this find we walked to the beach again, relaxed a bit and drove towards the colourful town of Bosa in the afternoon. In the evening the town was full of sleeping Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) and Moorish Geckos. In La Stella nel Pozzo we had the perfect accommodation.
11th of August 2020
We explored Bosa some more in the morning and visited its famous castle on top of the hill. We had great views on Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius) but didn't bring the proper lens sadly. In the afternoon we hiked towards an ancient castle ruin situated along a steep cliff. Just above this steep cliff we quickly found the entrance of an amazing little cave. It was steep, slippery and not so easy to make pictures but the sight of hundreds of Scented Cave Salamanders clinging to the walls is something really special! In the afternoon we searched in the coastal sand dunes for tortoises but again without luck and only saw Western Whip Snake and the usual lizards.
12th of August 2020
Our bad luck with tortoises continued and although we did see some (old) tracks we didn't see a single one. We did see the same species as the day before and additionally Ocellated Skink and a juvenile Tyrrhenian Algyroides. On our way to the Cala Domestica we photographed Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus). On the beach itself there were so many people that we soon fled into the mountains again and explored several caves along the way but sadly without success. In the town of Iglesias we dropped of our luggage at our nice B&B La Scala del Sale. We weren't so hungry yet so decided to visit another cave known to host salamanders. This tiny cave is a bit hard to see from the outside but when I found a flashlight in the forest, I knew we were close. Inside we found our first Gené's Cave Salamanders (Speleomantes genei) and two rather nice individuals at that. Back in Iglesias we noticed there is a sushi restaurant very close to the accommodation and had an amazing dinner.
13th of August 2020
We had a very nice breakfast with the friendly people at our B&B and afterwards explored several caves in the vicinity. Not all of them delivered but in two of the last caves we visited we found some big numbers of Gené's Cave Salamander along with different species of bats. We decided to spend our last night on Sardinia in a place we both liked so much and drove back to the Sette Fratelli Park. We put up our tent on a small meadow where we ran into a small group of Tyrrhenian Red Deer (Cervus elaphus corsicanus). The stream where we camped didn't hold so much water anymore and we only saw a single Viperine Snake.
14th of August 2020
It would have been amazing to close the trip with another Sardinian Barred Grass Snake and although we tried, we didn't get to see another one. We did find many of the usual suspects and in general just enjoyed searching this stream habitat once more. The trip had been rather intense due to our busy programme and the high temperatures so we decided that our remaining time on Sardinia would be spend swimming and relaxing, well deserved!
We had a great time on Sardinia although summer is an unforgiving time to visit. The beaches were full and many streams dry. Most animals keep a lower pace at this time of year and it can be hard to find and/or catch them. That being said, the hinterland of the island is peaceful and far from overrun. The food in Italy is amazing and the crappiest pizzeria in the smallest towns serve pizza far better than the ones in Western Europe. With perperseverance it is definitely possible to find many species and the subterranean herping was highly rewarding. The biggest misses we had were the tortoises but apart from those we saw all that we wanted to see. And a Sardinian Barred Grass Snake on the first day turned our trip already in a success!
Sardinian Brook Newt (Euproctus platycephalus)
Monte Albo Cave Salamander (Speleomantes flavus)
Gené's Cave Salamander (Speleomantes genei)
Scented Cave Salamander (Speleomantes imperialis)
Sopramonte Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis)
Sette Fratelli Cave Salamander (Speleomantes sarrabusensis)
Green Toad (Bufotes viridis)
Tyrrhenian Painted Frog (Discoglossus sardus)
Tyrrhenian Tree Frog (Hyla sarda)
Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus)
Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata)
European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)
Yellow-bellied Slider (Trachemys scripta scripta)
European Leaf-toed Gecko (Euleptes europaea)
Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)
Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)
Italian Three-toed Skink (Chalcides chalcides)
Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus)
Tyrrhenian Algyroides (Algyroides fitzingeri)
Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae)
Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard (Podarcis tiliguerta)
Italian Wall Lizard (Podarcis siculus)
Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus)
Viperine Snake (Natrix maura)
Grass Snake (Natrix helvetica cetti)
Many thanks to Wouter Beukema, Henrik Bringsoe, Uwe Lennartz, Andre Schmid, Jeroen Speybroeck, Benny Trapp and Jürgen