What is becoming a nice tradition, Laura and I escaped the cold of the Western European winter and booked a flight to a warmer climate. While we have been in Turkey or the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula before, we both never really ventured into the north of Portugal. We knew reptiles would be hard to come by, but we hoped some amphibians would still turn up. Moreover, firesalamanders are still active when temperatures drop and reliable herps to find. The stunningly beautiful subspecies gallaica occurs throughout the north and we encountered them on the strangest of places.
All images © Laura & Bobby Bok
27th of December 2018
With Transavia we flew from Amsterdam to Lisbon with a small delay. Another airplane had a passenger suffering from a heart attack and naturally got priority to land first. Sadly our rental car company showed little empathy and charged us an heavy after-hour fee because we were 9(!) minutes later than scheduled. The maze called Sintra awaited us and after the mess with the rental company we tried to find our way through the narrow, foggy one-way streets in Sintra. In one of those streets the road was blocked at the end and we had to drive backwards for more than a kilometre. Happy days. A small iron gate provided the only option to turn and while I gently pressed the heavy iron gate with one hand it fell of the wall and on the car. Minor damage to the rear lights but heavy damage to the wall. Out of nowhere a security guard of the famous Palácio da Pena showed up and called the police. Again we lost time... When we finally found the Chalet Relogio which would be our accommodation for the next three nights, the Dutch owner left a note on his door stating we had to call him. He immediately stated we weren't welcome anymore because we were late and he didn't want us there. It was his hotel and he could do whatever he wants. After a while it turned out he was at the hotel and simply didn't want to open as we heard his phone ring when we called him back. So we also had the pleasure of meeting this massive bender in person. While we calmly tried to explain the situation he got very personal, threatening and very rude. I have been scolded in Dutch words I had never heard of. While he was having his rant we called another hotel nearby and they were happy to have us. When we left his property he still came after us shouting. Even when we drove of he called us several times on the phone. What a bizarre day and when we landed in bed in Hotel Tivoli we were glad it came to an end.
28th of December 2018
After a restless night we had breakfast in the hotel and first drove of to the Palacio de Monserrate. Here we explored the lush gardens and easily found our first Fire Salamander (Salamandra
salamandra) and several Spiny Toads (Bufo spinosus). A nearby forest gave us some fairytale like scenery but not much herpwise. An abandoned monastery nearby did deliver and while
flipping two rocks we already found three salamanders, so we decided to come back here at night the next day when our friends Dominik and Benny would visit.
In the afternoon we visited the Chalet Biester in Sintra where the Ninth Gate has been filmed in 1999, one of my all time favourite movies. Sadly the big villa was off limits to regular visitors as it is a private property at the moment, but we met a neighbour who would arrange a visit for us. After a greasy but tasty Francesinha in town we drove in the hills to a location where Golden-striped Salamander has been introduced. For a long time this population was believed to be extinct but very recently it has been rediscovered. We weren't very lucky to encounter one as it was rather cold and dry. Only a few Fire Salamanders were seen.
29th of December 2018
In the morning we went to the Quinta de Regaleira. We were certainly not alone here and maybe slightly naive, Laura and I were completely overwhelmed by the hundreds of tourists eager to take their selfies at this place. Sadly this ruined the atmosphere entirely for us both and after we photographed the Fire Salamanders and Iberian Newt (Lissotriton boscai) we found under logs, we were both eager to leave the tourist hordes behind us. Even better, our new friend from the day before called and brought good news, she got permission from the owners of the Chalet Biester and we could visit the former movie set. From mass tourism to complete tranquility, we had the chalet all to ourselves, and the elderly couple living there now really took their time to show us around. We couldn't thank them enough for the experience and decided to drop of a little present the next day. The sunny afternoon we spend at the Praia da Ursa. Here we also met with Dominik and Benny who drove all the way from the south to meet us and look for salamanders together. In Azoia we had a lovely meal and chatted before we drove towards the monastery. It wasn't for long untill we all had found at least one Fire Salamander - close to twenty were seen that evening. A security guard showed up to see what we were doing but when we offered to show him some pictures, he quickly drove of.
30th of December 2018
A last breakfast in the Hotel Tivoli as today we would drive north. First we walked to a nearby hotel with a big garden where we found, guess what, another Fire Salamander. A little lunch in the sun to replenish our energy levels and we were good to go again. On the balconies below us we saw two Central Iberian Wall Lizards (Podarcis virescens) basking. We visited a nice beach on our way north and in the end of the afternoon we finally arrived at the outskirts of Lousã. We dropped the stuff at the Quinta de Vale Escuro (early check-in, we learned) and drove to a known spot for Golden-striped Salamander. On the way to the spot, a car almost drove itself of the road, so we had to wait for the emergency services ro clear the road. While we were having a little dinner of peanuts and cookies this was quickly done and we could venture into the woods. Temperatures dropped and were a little above freezing, making it hard to find animals active. While I found yet another Fire Salamander and our only Iberian Stream Frog (Rana iberica) of the trip, Laura struck gold and found a nice looking Golden-striped Salamander (Chioglossa lusitanica) perched on a mossy wall. Back in the car we turned the heating to sambal and found a nice place to eat at the Food Store in Lousã. A luke warm bath in an otherwise freezing bathroom and we were of to bed.
31st of December 2018
We certainly didn't expect to see ice this trip, but in the morning our car was frozen... The lush breakfast our elderly host made for us was very welcome and thoroughly warmed us up again. After saying goodbye to the local cat populace we drove further north in the direction of Águeda. Sadly the salamander statue that once stood here was gone so we drove on to the coast. Close to Vagos we searched the pine forests and quickly found several species. Carbonell's Wall Lizards (Podarcis carbonelli) were seen basking in small numbers and incredibly shy. In and around the ponds we found several Palmate Newts (Lissotriton helveticus), Iberian Water Frogs (Pelophylax perezi) and Natterjack Toads (Epidalea calamita). The most special find was a Marbled Newt with intermediate characteristics between pygmaeus and marmoratus. In the late afternoon we arrived in Porto where we wandered the city a bit and had dinner. In darkness we searched for urban wildlife with mixed success. While we found both Common Midwife Toad (Alytes obstetricans) and Fire Salamander, we only managed to photograph the latter. The only Midwife Toad we found was quick to retreat in his burrow. In Mindelo we had prebooked a great place to sleep and in Casa do Pinhal we also watched the fireworks from bed.
1st of January 2019
Today we spent the whole day at a very nice coastal reserve in close vicinity to the hotel. We chased some terribly shy lizards around again but enjoyed the sun at the beach. Apart from the Bocage's Wall Lizards (Podarcis bocagei) our only other finds were a couple of toads including some small Common Midwife Toads and a single Natterjack Toad. We also marked good looking ponds for the evening session until our empty stomachs drove us into town. We only found a small local cafe - which was also the only place to be open - but they had the most delicious "tosti's" and even played André Rieu on a big screen. After this terribly Dutch experience we ventured into the dunes again and quickly found Palmate Newts and Marbled Newts (Triturus marmoratus) in almost every puddle. Few Iberian Painted Frogs (Discoglossus galganoi) and Natterjack Toads were found, the former mostly along shallow puddles while the latter was exclusively seen in the coastal belt. Fire Salamanders were of course also present and we even found a couple of them in the sandy dunes directly behind the beach. A single Western Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates cultripes) was found by Laura. Despite the cold we were happy to have seen so much but with freezing fingers and failing flashlights we decided to go once more in town. The tosti cafe was already closed but a sushi restaurant was now the only place to be open on this holiday. Not too bad and in the otherwise empty restaurant we had some of the most tasty sushi I ever had!
2nd of January 2019
The breakfast in the Casa do Pinhal was again delicious and with a full belly we drove to the east of Porto to a hilly area with abandoned mine shafts. The ground was close to freezing so we didn't see any active animals - time to go underground! Getting my shoes and pants of was a bit uncomfortable at first, but the water in the mineshaft was remarkably warm so the subterranean mandering wasn't so bad! Close to the entrance of the old goldmine I found an adult Golden-striped Salamander while the stream was full of larvae. After photography the sun had hit the rocky walls along the path and a few brave Bocage's Wall Lizards were basking. At Praia de São Paio we ate some bread we made for lunch and enjoyed the sun a bit. We drove towards the nature reserve again to watch the sunset and hoped for some more amphibian activity. While we mostly found the same species again, activity was remarkably less and also several small puddles had gone dry again sadly. We still enjoyed seeing special things like Fire Salamanders close to the beach and Marbled Newts preying on Fire Salamander larvae. A decision for dinner was quickly made and we decided to treat ourselves another incredible sushi dinner.
3rd of January 2019
Time to leave back to the wider Lisbon area, slightly sad to leave the beautiful reserve behind and also without having seen any Parsley Frogs. We tried our luck at a known spot a bit south of Porto and found Natterjack Toad, Iberian Painted Frog and Carbonell's Wall Lizard. Close to Minde we tried to reach another known spot but got into trouble as the roads were a bit more slippery and more unstable as they looked... While waiting for help we only flipped a small group of fire salamander larvae in a dried out puddle, seemingly awaiting moister conditions and very much alive while on dry land. It wasn't a long wait for help to arrive and a local farmer got us out quickly. We decided to not push our luck any further and stay on paved roads leading to Lisbon. In the harbour it was remarkably foggy but we still managed to find three Madeiran Wall Lizards (Teira dugesii) which have been accidentally introduced here some time ago. At the famous Torre de Belém we watched the sun go down. The innercity of Lisbon also proved to be nice for sightseeing and maybe even better than during the day, the fog added a moody touch to the city and kept the tourist hordes at bay. For dinner we choose quick and easy over sitting down long and tasty and luckily found a Burger King. In Rua Alves Torgo we quickly found our tiny hotel where we had to avoid hobos and enter secret codes to get in. Going out for a late night smoke meant braving waterfalls coming from the airconditioning systems. Naturally we really liked this adventurous place with this Indiana Jonesy feel about it.
4th of January 2019
An early morning but luckily everything went smooth this time and before we knew it we were back in Amsterdam after a great little winter escape!
For more pictures please visit Laura's Flickr
Golden-striped Salamander (Chioglossa lusitanica)
Iberian Newt (Lissotriton boscai)
Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus)
Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra ssp. gallaica)
Marbled Newt (Triturus marmoratus)
Southern Marbled Newt (Triturus pygmaeus)
Common Midwife Toad (Alytes obstetricans ssp. boscai)
Spiny Toad (Bufo spinosus)
Iberian Painted Frog (Discoglossus galganoi)
Natterjack Toad (Epidalea calamita)
Western Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates cultripes)
Iberian Water Frog (Pelophylax perezi)
Iberian Stream Frog (Rana iberica)
Bocage's Wall Lizard (Podarcis bocagei)
Carbonell's Wall Lizard (Podarcis carbonelli)
Central Iberian Wall Lizard (Podarcis virescens)
Madeiran Wall Lizard (Teira dugesii)
Many thanks to Wouter Beukema, Vasco Flores Cruz, Alberto Gonzalez, Klaus Gücklhorn and Rui Rebelo.