During the long Northern European wintermonths I am always yearning for an escape south to a warmer climate, where there is still herping to be done. Together with the fact that there is still a hotspot for amphibian endemism in the western Palearctic unvisited by me, I decided to travel to Morocco together with Laura. Finding additional traveling companions was not hard at all as I knew Gert Jan Verspui (NL) and Dominik Hauser (DE) had similar plans. Frank Deschandol and Morgane Wauthier (FR) joined for a large part of the trip and we even had a brief encounter with Sebastian Voitel (DE). And so the super adventure club was formed.
During the trip we had bright sunny weather with temperatures around 20 degrees by day and around 0 degrees by night. During the first few days we had a strong cold wind but by the end of the trip this wind laid down and the night temperatures went slightly up. We didn't receive any rain as we would have hoped and conditions were very dry. This meant we had to work hard for our targets and in general there was very little activity of any amphibian or reptile species.
All images © Laura & Bobby Bok (unless stated otherwise)
29th of December 2016
After a prosperous flight with Transavia Gert Jan, Laura and I arrived in the early afternoon from Amsterdam in Casablanca. Dominik already arrived the day before and had a very special night in a hotel with red bedlinen. We first drove off to the inland parts of the Forêt de Maâmora which we heard were nice for reptiles. Sadly we mostly found planted Eucalyptus stands and very little suitable habitat available. The only herps we found were a single Algerian Psammodromus (Psammodromus algirus) and Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica). Through filthy villages where the locals also had holidays apparantly, standing with their hands in their pockets, we drove to the nearest big city of Kenitra. Here we stayed in the Hotel Relax outside the centre. After a simple meal consisting of a beef tajine with bread we ventured into the frosty night in search of our main targets. Here we also found out our rental car doesn't start automatically and had to be pushed after every single stop.... Pity, but off we went. Very little amphibian activity was going on and only two species were found active. I was the first to discover a Moroccan Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates varaldii) at the edge of a big pond after which a few more followed. Also two big and beautiful Berber Toads (Sclerophrys mauritanica) were seen. Only the spadefoot toads seem to have started the reproduction and all the other species seemingly wait for warmer and/or moister conditions.
30th of December 2016
The first searchsite of the day consisted of a large sanddune complex close to a marsh where we didn't find much but Morgane saved the morning by finding our first Checkerboard Worm Lizard (Trogonophis wiegmanni). Afterwards we headed towards Tétouan, stopping along the way at Ain Lahcen. On the windy and slightly chilly slopes we found a few herps such as Moorish Gecko and Iberian False Smooth Snake (Macroprotodon brevis). In the late afternoon we arrived at Tétouan and scouted for some nice places south of the city and found a clearing in the pine forest, sheltered from the wind. Here we had a hard time to find anything until we found out that turning big logs are the way to find a species we were all hoping to find. While the sun was fading behind the horizon several North African Fire Salamanders (Salamandra algira tingitana) turned up. After another tasty tajine dinner in town we headed towards a stream bordered by oak forest in a steep valley. This beautiful place is home to one of the rarest endemic amphibians of this area and we indeed had a hard time finding one. At first a few Moroccan Painted Frogs (Discoglossus scovazzi) and Sahara Frogs (Pelophylax saharicus) were found, before Dominik became the hero of the trip and flipped a small adult Moroccan Midwife Toad (Alytes maurus). Despite the cold and drought our efforts were rewarded with all our target species so we fell asleep happily in our comfortable beds in Hotel Prestige.
31st of December 2016
At Cabo Negro we hoped to find some skinks in the sanddunes but only found a few more Berber Toads and Moroccan Painted Frogs. Afterwards we drove towards Jbel Musa at the Ceutan border. It was cold and windy and the only herp we found was a small Andalusian Wall Lizard (Podarcis vaucheri). We decided it wasn't worth to spent the evening here as well because under these conditions the salamanders wouldn't be out anyway. We drove back to Tétouan, had a tasty dinner and together with Laura, Frank and Dominik I went into the city centre to have a look at the old Medina and drink a beer. There were many false guides around we were warned by a very friendly man, who even offered us some hash. Thank you sir! Then we went back to the Alytes valley of the previous day and celebrated into the New Year there with a bottle of fine Bavarian liquor I brought. It got even colder than the previous night so no herps were found. We also found out the hard way that Morccans don't celebrate New Year's Eve and the much hoped for fireworks above the city were absent apart from a single fire cracker.
1st of January 2017
In Morocco three subspecies of the North African Fire Salamander occur and today it was time to find the second subspecies. After a long drive to Chefchaouen we headed into the mountains to find a suitable place. While driving to a known place for these stunning animals we saw a place with water from the car and decided to have a look. In the many ponds we found copious amounts of larvae already along with a few Sahara Frogs. It didn't take long before I found the first two North African Fire Salamanders (Salamandra algira splendens) after which two more followed. Also our first Bibron's Agama (Agama impalearis) and Viperine Snake (Natrix maura) turned up. Our first herps of 2017! We took our time to enjoy the scenery at this amazing habitat while a hint of spring flew through the air. At the next stop a little further uphill we found more Bibron's Agamas and the first Stripeless Tree Frog (Hyla meridionalis). In another part of the mountains south of Chefchaouen we searched for more salamanders and other amphibians but only managed to find a few Andalusian Wall Lizards, Algerian Psammodromus, Moorish Geckoes and Moroccan Painted Frogs. We checked in in Hotel Meftah south of the city, had a simple but very tasty meal in the city and together with Laura, Frank and Dominik I went for some nocturnal herping. After arriving at the searchsite however there was ice on the ground so we didn't linger to long and mostly enjoyed the starry sky above.
2nd of January 2017
A sad morning as we had to say goodbye to our buddies Frank and Morgane. We thought we said goodbue to them in a bar but luckily several people in pyjamas made it clear we were still in the hotel: "this is not a bar!" For Frank and Morgane it was time to leave while we had a few more days in the country. We had breakfast in the car and drove south in the direction of Fez. Along the way we searched here and there finding our first Spur-thighed Tortoises (Testudo graeca) and several Banded Lizard-fingered Geckoes (Saurodactylus fasciatus). While driving through Fez we saw a familiair face and met Sebastian Voitel and his wife Katja. What a coincidence! All together we searched in the hills north of Fez and found more Spur-thighed Tortoises, Banded Lizard-fingered Geckoes, Moorish Geckoes, Algerian Psammodromus and Bibron's Agama. A little higher up in a beautiful field of lillies I flipped our only Tangier Worm Lizard (Blanus tingitanus) of the trip. In the late afternoon we drove to Imouzzer, found a bed in the Hotel Porte Atlas in Imouzzer and went for an early night after yet another tasty tajine dinner. The bed however had so many pubic hair in them I feared catching some STD...
3rd of January 2017
While driving south to Azrou we had breakfast in the car. In the Cèdre Gouraud Forest it didn't take long for us to spot the first Barbary Macaques (Macaca sylvanus) amidst the towering Atlas Cedars (Cedrus atlantica). A long drive followed afterwards and in the late afternoon we herped a bit around Ben Slimane close to the coast. We didn't have much success here besides finding our first Sharp-ribbed Newt (Pleurodeles waltl) and Moorish Terrapins (Mauremys leprosa) so we had dinner in town and waited for nightfall. The many ponds in the forests around Ben Slimane weren't all successful but we found a beautiful Viperine Snake, several Stripeless Tree Frogs and a pale Sharp-ribbed Newt. Some friendly locals came down to see what we were doing and even brought us a pair of wellies so we could get closer to the frogs.
4th of January 2017
It was a semi-long drive to the area south of El Jadida but it proved to be totally worth it. In an open field full of loose rocks and shrubby vegetation we could find several species such as African Green Toads (Bufotes boulengeri), Moroccan Painted Frog, Bibron's Agamas, Moroccan Lizard-fingered Geckoes (Saurodactylus brosseti), Moorish Geckoes (Tarentola mauritanica), Mionecton Skinks (Chalcides mionecton), Spiny-footed Lizard (Acanthodactylus "lineomaculatus"), Algerian Psammodromus, Checkerboard Worm Lizards and two Western Montpellier Snakes (Malpolon monspessulanus). Out of the nearby village several locals came to see what we were doing and also started to flip rocks and help us find animals. In Sidi El Abed we had a very tasty dinner in a restaurant which was also a barbershop. A last herping session was done in some pretty looking coastal dunes we spotted by day, here it didn't take long until we found several Mediterranean Chameleons (Chamaeleo chamaeleon), both juveniles and big adults. What a fantastic day to end the trip!
5th of January 2017
With our flight departing in the early afternoon we took our time for breakfast, to pack our stuff and to have the rental car cleaned by the friendly staff of the Gite Nadia Hotel. After that we had to say goodbye to our new friend Dominik who would catch a later flight.
While the time of year certainly wasn't the best for the trip we managed to find all our amphibian targets. Only Moroccan Painted Frog and Moroccan Spadefoot Toad started reproduction at this time of year, and of the latter species several small males were seen at the edges of the ponds. Also North African Fire Salamander started reproduction and on one site we found several larvae of different sizes. Otherwise most amphibians were seen in small numbers and clearly waited for warmer and moister conditions. It can be concluded December is probably a little early for any herper seeking wintertime herping fun and probably a month later more animals are getting active.
As for the people we met, the Moroccan people in general extremely friendly and interested in to what we were doing. We never had a hard time to find someone willing to help push the car, find a hotel or offering support in any way. Also the police was very friendly but they are everywhere and you have to be careful throughout the country. Luckily Gert Jan and Dominik knew this from previous visits to the country and we were spared from receiving speeding tickets or other fines.
The habitat destruction which is omnipresent throughout the world is mostly confined to the coast in Morocco and practically all lowland habitats are turned into agricultural land or Eucalyptus groves. We received many spots prior to the trip and a lot of those no longer exist, either completely destroyed or turned into a landfill. A very sad sight to behold.
North African Fire Salamander (Salamandra algira ssp. splendens & tingitana)
Sharp-ribbed Newt (Pleurodeles waltl)
Moroccan Midwife Toad (Alytes maurus)
African Green Toad (Bufotes boulengeri)
Berber Toad (Sclerophrys mauritanica)
Moroccan Painted Frog (Discoglossus scovazzi)
Stripeless Tree Frog (Hyla meridionalis)
Moroccan Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates varaldii)
Sahara Frog (Pelophylax saharicus)
Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca ssp. marokkensis)
Moorish Terrapin (Mauremys leprosa)
Bibron's Agama (Agama impalearis)
Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon)
Moroccan Lizard-fingered Gecko (Saurodactylus brosseti)
Banded Lizard-fingered Gecko (Saurodactylus fasciatus)
Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)
Mionecton Skink (Chalcides mionecton)
Spiny-footed Lizard (Acanthodactylus "lineomaculatus")
Algerian Psammodromus (Psammodromus algirus)
Andalusian Wall Lizard (Podarcis vaucheri)
Tangier Worm Lizard (Blanus tingitanus)
Checkerboard Worm Lizard (Trogonophis wiegmanni)
Iberian False Smooth Snake (Macroprotodon brevis)
Western Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus)
Viperine Snake (Natrix maura)
Many thanks to Wouter Beukema, Abdellah Bouazza, Arlo Hinckley and Alberto Sanchez Vialas.