Southeast Spain

Provinces of Murcia and Alicante

From the 27th of March until the 1st of April 2024

The highlight of every school year is always the annual excursion abroad with my herpetological study group. The organization of which was a bit more complicated this year, due to conflicting appointments in the school's calendar and rising costs of doing these kind of trips. Luckily a new date was found and during Easter I could take my students abroad. But where to go? Going this early in the year made me think of a destination with more amphibian species than our usual ventures into the Eastern Mediterranean bassin. My first pick was the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula, where the most species can be found and which I know quite well. Sadly the flights and accommodations got too expensive, but I immediately had to think of Murcia. A region which I didn't visit in a long time, which I really liked and where also many amphibians can be found. Moreover, the mighty impressive Sierra Nevada Ocellated Lizards occur there as well, and I would have the chance to see a new (sub)species of Parsley Frog for me. On top of that, this turned out to be the most effordable destination, so plans were made and flights were booked. 

Overview of prospected sites.
Overview of prospected sites.
Team paashaas from left to right: Mette, Zeb, Willem, Robin, Tieme, Tijmen, Jari, me and Chiel.
Team paashaas from left to right: Mette, Zeb, Willem, Robin, Tieme, Tijmen, Jari, me and Chiel.

27th of March 2024

We met early in the morning on Schiphol airport from where we flew to Alicante. Within no time we were in the rental van and on our way to the first location. At a coastal nature reserve we immediately spotted the first lizards running around such as Algerian Psammodromus (Psammodromus algirus), Edward's Psammodromus (Psammodromus edwarsianus) and even the first Sierra Nevada Ocellated Lizards (Timon nevadensis). Mette spotted the first snake of the trip, a cute and tiny Viperine Snake (Natrix maura) and Robin found two more after that. Also the first geckos showed up and we saw several Turkish Geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus). In the lakes we saw several Terrapins basking, sadly all introduced Pond Sliders (Trachemys scripta). We did see a wide range of duck species in those lakes, including my all-time favourite, the Marbled Teal (Marmaronetta angustirostris). After that we drove to a nearby lighthouse where we saw some more Edward's Psammodromus as well as the first Spanish Wall Lizards (Podarcis hispanicus). In the late afternoon we drove to our hotel in Cartagena, installed ourselves there and had dinner at the nearby Carl's Junior. We all felt the very early morning, but we couldn't go to bed before trying to find some chameleons. It became cold and extremely windy, but eventually I spotted a beautiful greyish Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) sleeping in a pine tree.

28th of March 2024

In the morning we met with my friend Conrado to go for a day of mountain herping. We stocked up on supplies in a huge nearby supermercado and drove into the Sierra Espuña. There we focused on the few places that hold water year-round and some manmade structures such as an abandoned tuberculosis hospital and so called pozos, deep snow wells that were used to store snow in winter and provide ice in summer. There was a cold wind blowing and on this overcast day we only encountered some usual suspects such as Iberian Water Frog (Pelophylax perezi), Algerian Psammodromus (Psammodromus algirus), Spanish Wall Lizard (Podarcis hispanicus), Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica), Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) and Iberian Worm Lizard (Blanus cinereus). We had high hopes to find Betic Midwife Toad here, but Conrado told us this species hasn't been seen in this mountain range for several years now. A sad effect of the increasingly dry winters here. After looking for ghosts in the hospital and admiring three Booted Eagles (Hieraaetus pennatus) in the sky we drove further to the northwest.

In a small village we were lucky enough to find a single bar open where we could find something to eat. When the sun set we drove into a nearby valley where we were greeted by the calls of many Midwife Toads. Despite the low temperatures there was quite some amphibian activity and Willem spotted a beautiful Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra morenica) crawling through the grass. In a waterbassin Conry found a Spiny Toad (Bufo spinosus) and finally Chiel spotted a very pretty Betic Midwife Toad (Alytes dickhilleni) hopping along the path. While walking back to the car we spotted a Natterjack Toad (Epidalea calamita) while Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) were howling all around us. That was a great end to an otherwise slow day! A long drive back to Cartagena followed and we only stopped for a dog next to the road where we thought it was leaking something?

29th of March 2024

Again we started the day with a visit to the massive supermercado and the bakery for some breakfast and lunch. We teamed up again with Conrado and went to a coastal spot to search for lizards and snakes. The wind was incredibly strong and cold again, but despite this the Spiny-footed Lizards (Acanthodactylus erythrurus) and Edward's Psammodromus (Psammodromus edwarsianus) were out and about. We explored some ruins in the hopes of finding some snakes but only found Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica) and Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus). We wanted to go to the beach, but I felt like we hadn't earned it yet. After searching hard I finally found a juvenile Ladder Snake (Zamenis scalaris) so we could finally relax a little at the beach. After saying goodbye to Conry we drove to McDonald's as someone in the car couldn't stop talking about it.

In the evening we first explored two remote gorges which were a bit adventurous to reach. The unpaved roads were narrow and steep, but we finally found a place to leave the car down a steep gravel road. In the gorges we had hopes to find the introduced Marbled Newts but only saw Iberian Water Frogs (Pelophylax perezi), a Viperine Snake (Natrix maura) and a clutch of eggs of Parsley Frog (Pelodytes punctatus). When we wanted to leave, we first had to turn the car around. This was a bit tricky due to the limited space for the big bus. When we just managed to turn the car around, a very chatty drunk local showed up. This was all costing us netto sleeping time, so I hit the gas, drove up the slope and we were off. The next place we explored also suffered from the continuous drought and we weren't successful in finding any adult Parsley Frogs or Spadefoot Toads. As it was getting late we had to admit defeat and drove back to the hotel. In the elevator of the hotel we met a very interesting couple also on their way to their room. It was kind of obvious what they were going to do in their room so I wished them a fun evening. When the woman replied with a "Gracias", her voice didn't have the pitch we expected...

30th of March 2024

Time to drive north! As usual we had a tasty breakfast at our usual place and after a small drive we arrived at a coastal nature reserve. The wind got a bit less, but was still very much present. Lizards such as Edward's Psammodromus (Psammodromus edwarsianus) were omnipresent, but as usual it was our main focus to find a Sierra Nevada Ocellated Lizard (Timon nevadensis). Willem found a big male which sprinted into the bushes and Tieme spotted a subadult female. Only of the latter we could snap a blurry picture before she also vanished into the dense undergrowth. While walking back to the car Tijmen just missed a Western Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus), but luckily the Squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) provided comical relief. In the afternoon we arrived at our next location in Alcoy. We tried to explore some very interesting ponds, but sadly the entire area was fenced. We tried to approach it using different roads, but we hit a fence every time. When even the police showed up to see what we were doing we gave up as it also started to rain. After settling in to our hotel we went to the only open restaurant in town which was a big chain pizza place. While I was enjoying someone else's female pizza, I suddenly noticed we were missing our youngest team member. Apparently he didn't hear us talking about the toilet door not opening from the inside and got himself locked in. After setting him free we drove to herping place number one of the night. All that remained of the lake was a lot of mud and when we were about to leave, someone was convinced he saw the frog we were looking for. A small lesson about the differences between crayfish and frogs followed... At the car we had a Maren-Kessel Tunnel Rave before moving on to the second spot. Here we found a Spiny Toad (Bufo spinosus) and Robin saved the day by finding a Parsley Frog (Pelodytes punctatus) hopping over the path. 

31st of March 2024

We woke up by processions going through the streets, making music and going around with fireworks to celebrate Easter. Our neighbours were a little annoying yesterday night as well. They kept on knocking on our door, so we prepared a trap with adhesive tape. The first thing I saw when I walked out of the room in the morning, was them walking straight into my trap, so my day was already made! After a tasty breakfast in the hotel we drove to the first location a bit north of Alcoy. It was heavily overcast and raining quite a bit, but luckily the rain stopped when we got out of the car. Herping was a little slow but we found Midwife Toad tadpoles, a few Edward's Psammodromus (Psammodromus edwarsianus) and I found a nice Western Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus). From a small abandoned house we created some new reptile habitat before returning to the car. We had timed our herping well as it started to rain again the moment we were back in the car. We spent the late afternoon in the hotel to relax a little before having dinner in a nearby shopping mall. In the evening we visited some interesting water bassins. At the first two we didn't find anything as it got even more cold and windy, but at the last stop we had success. Tieme and Chiel found a nice male Midwife Toad (Alytes obstetricans) with eggs and also another Natterjack Toad (Epidalea calamita) showed up.

1st of April 2024

We were woken up again by loud noises, this time some strange moaning sounds coming from one of the rooms. The staff came to enquire, but sadly we also didn't know where it came from... We had breakfast in the hotel, loaded all our luggage in the minibus and headed up into the mountains. For a moment some people in the vehicle believed we were going to the airport as our flight was brought forward, until they looked at the date. Again the sky was heavily overcast with a strong, cold wind blowing and the only reptiles active were a few Algerian Psammodromus (Psammodromus algirus). Near a small pond we did find a few more Parsley Frogs (Pelodytes punctatus), but sadly not the much anticipated viper or grass snake. With some time to kill before having to go to the airport, we decided to try our luck once more with the main target of the trip. We went to the same location of the first day. Here we couldn't find "our" Sierra Nevada Ocellated Lizards (Timon nevadensis) back, but I spotted another in a rocky wall. This time everybody could observe this beautiful lizard species well and we even managed to take some decent in-situ shots before a completely oblivious couple of hikers spooked it. Then it was off to the Burger King for a last meal and on to the airport for our late flight back to the Netherlands. 


Every trip I do with my herpetological study group is special. In some years we have some very unique species, in others we just find a lot of species. This year didn't have the circumstances to rank amongst the most specious trips. The strong, cold wind that blew every day and the absence of rain for months made the herping tough going. However, this year I was traveling with a close-knit group of young aspiring biologist, one crazier than the other and always over exploiting every joke. Despite the tough conditions, the laughter was continuous. Everybody kept high spirits and never stopped in the search for animals. No matter the rain or the cold. This ensured we still found a great number of species despite the odds being against us. It certainly was the most funny trip!

Link to Conrado's report of our two days herping together. 


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra ssp. morenica)

Betic Midwife Toad (Alytes dickhilleni)

Common Midwife Toad (Alytes obstetricans ssp. pertinax)

Spiny Toad (Bufo spinosus)

Natterjack Toad (Epidalea calamita)

Parsley Frog (Pelodytes punctatus ssp. hespericus)

Iberian Water Frog (Pelophylax perezi)

Pond Slider (Trachemys scripta ssp. elegans & troosti)

Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon)

Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)

Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)

Spiny-footed Lizard (Acanthodactylus erythrurus)

Spanish Wall Lizard (Podarcis hispanicus)

Algerian Psammodromus (Psammodromus algirus)

Edward's Psammodromus (Psammodromus edwarsianus)

Sierra Nevada Ocellated Lizard (Timon nevadensis)

Iberian Worm Lizard (Blanus cinereus)

Western Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus)

Viperine Snake (Natrix maura)

Ladder Snake (Zamenis scalaris)


Many thanks to Luis Albero, Conrado Requena Aznar & Peter Oefinger.