Spring 2014: Working the Iberian Peninsula

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MHollanders
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Spring 2014: Working the Iberian Peninsula

Post by MHollanders » November 24th, 2014, 6:32 am

Hello,

This year’s spring I was working in Spain as a field technician catching lizards. During this time, I got to travel around the Iberian peninsula for four months from April through July which allowed me to see the majority of the herpetofauna, together with some great guys and gals that were not only good field companions but also became great friends. I must add that I never herped outside of the Netherlands in Europe, so nearly all the species seen were new. A remarkable experience.

Late March found me in Évora, Portugal for some preparatory paperwork. Portugal’s bureaucracy can be a pain in the ass, supposedly, though we experienced nothing of that which gave us some time to herp.

The first herps came in a city park.

Tarentola mauretanica (Moorish Wall Gecko), ubiquitous throughout southern Iberia

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Blanus mariae (Iberian Worm Lizard), my first experience with amphisbaenids. Does anyone know if the ones around Évora are actually B. mariae, the newly described species, instead of B. cinereus?

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Adult male Podarcis virescens, recently split from the P. hispanica complex

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The first full herping day was very fruitful. Under the first few rocks we found the first ladder snakes (Rhinechis scalaris), including the only juvenile I got to see in my time there. The ontogenetic change these snakes experience is remarkable, as you will see with adults in this post later.

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Natrix maura (Viperine Snake)

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Only two Portuguese fire salamanders (Salamandra s. gallaica) were seen, including this monstrous female flipped under a board far away from any visible water. This subspecies is characterized by the horseshoe markings and, more obviously, the red patches that can be few or very numerous.

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Riparian habitat in cork-oak dominated forests of Évora

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Two species were only observed once in the four months, namely the Iberian Midwife Toad (Alytes cisternasii) and False Smooth Snake (Macroprotodon cucullatus).

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Bufo spinosus (Iberian Toad)

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Hemorrhois hippocrepis (Horseshoe Whip Snake)

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Off to our field station in the Sierra de Guadarrama, just north of Madrid.

Probably Spain’s most common lizard, already acquiring his breeding colors at the start of April.

Psammodromus algirus (Large Psammodromus)

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Adult male Malpolon monspessalanus (Montpellier Snakes)

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Our first trip took us to Doñana National Park.

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Pelobates cultipres (Iberian Spadefoot Toad)

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I like to think that this snake wasn’t there when I walked by the spot. Viper Man Tim Leerschool spotted this phenomenal animal, the infrequently observed Lataste’s viper (Vipera latastei gaditana) from the southern coast.

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Sierra de Grazalema

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Probably Podarcis liolepis (Catalonian Wall Lizard) from the edge of their range

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Coronella austriaca (Smooth Snake)

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Coronella girondica (Southern Smooth Snake)

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We struck gold one afternoon while looking for lizards around a castle. Five Lataste’s viper (Vipera l. latastei) were found, some clearly just out of hibernation.

One emerging, with another one not seen in the photograph right next to it basking with a single coil in the grass.

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Still dirty from the cemetery walls

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Adult male

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Adult female

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Timon lepidus (Ocellated Lizard), the largest lizard in Iberia

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The southern slopes of Moncayo

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Alytes obstetricans pertinax (Midwife Toad)

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Anguis fragilis (Slow Worm) probably reaches a distribution limit in the riparian valleys of these slopes.

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Adult ladder snake from near the field station

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Fat female Lataste’s viper

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Smooth snakes (adult female pictured) occur in isolated mountain populations in central Spain. They’re common in the Sierra de Gaudarrama.

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Salamandra salamandra “almanzoris” (Fire Salamander), probably not a valid subspecies.

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Bufo calamita (Natterjack)

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Salamandra salamandra, more than ready to leave the water but still with external gills

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Humid northern slope of the Sierra de Guadarrama

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Cuenca wine country

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Adult Chalcides striatus (Western Three-toed Skink), note the vestigial limbs

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Sierra de Cazorla

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These mountains are home to the endemic Algyroides marchi (Spanish Alygroides); pictured below is a two-tailed female.

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Exceptional European Coachwhip (Malpolon monspessalanus) found in the process of shedding

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Capra pyrenaica victoriae (Western Spanish Ibex) from the slopes of La Peña de Francia

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Chamaeleo chamaeleon (Mediterranean Chameleons) from the southern coast. These chameleons are examples of historical introductions (several thousands of years ago).

Sleeping adult male

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Agitated same adult male

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The Podarcis vaucheri (Andalusian Wall Lizards) from Sierra de Grazalema are much smaller and more vibrantly colored than their coastal conspecifics.

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Highly desired subspecies of the fire salamander (Salamandra s. longirostris); we were happy with a juvenile.

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Exact same story with Pelodytes ibericus (Iberian Parsley Frog). Spain experienced a very dry year, explaining the lacking amphibian diversity in this post.

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Juvenile Horseshoe Whip Snake found in a completely paved city, away from any vegetation or natural habitat. When I saw it on the pavement it tried to escape back into its crack under a door. We saw this species on one or two more occasions within city walls.

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Carmona

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Mauremys leprosa (Spanish Terrapin)

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Podarcis guadarramae guadarramae (Guadarrama Wall Lizards), adult male and female

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We found some gravid fire salamanders around a high elevation Guadarrama stream on a warm, humid night. A few nights later the stream was filled with larvae, although unfortunately we didn’t see any larval deposition.

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I thought this individual was very interesting, with the brown patches near the head and slight horseshoe shape markings; perhaps influence of ”gallaica.

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Chalcides bedriagai (Bedriaga’s Skink)

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Mediterranean forest

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Birds are a herper’s friends, especially when they lead you to this.

Montpellier Coachwhip consuming a blackbird.

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Size reference

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Cazorla, another very successful trip

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Algyroides marchi, adult male

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Silver ladder snake

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Golden ladder snake

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Natrix natrix astretophora (Spanish Grass Snake)

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My absolute favorite Iberian herps, the Betic midwife toads (Alytes dickhilleni)

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Only juveniles of this subspecies found, as well (S. s. morenica)

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These mountains are loaded with ocellated lizards

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Gravid female Podarcis hispanica sensu stricto (Spanish Wall Lizard)

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Podarcis muralis (Common Wall Lizard), back in the Sierra de Guadarramma

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Chalcides bedriagai (Bedriaga’s Skink)

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View from La Peña de Francia

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This small mountain range is home to an isolated population of Ibex and the Critically Endangered Iberolacerta martinezricai (La Peña de Francia Rock Lizard). This genus is largely tied to high elevation mountains (in central Iberia, at least), and this species is no exception. It only occurs on La Peña de Francia and surrounding peaks, where it appears to be less abundant than other species of the genus. Considering this species is tied to a high elevation niche, it might be under threat of a changing climate, which could make its small distribution less suitable for the lizards.

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Wouter B. called this Iberian spadefoot toad as he jumped into a hole in the ground. It had probably hurt its face trying to get out. The second of only two individuals of this species that I would observe.

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One of my favorite lizards from the peninsula are the fringe-toed lizards (Acanthodactylus erythrurus). These lizards are tied to dry, hot, open habitats with sandy soils that they use for burrows. They become active later in the day (around 11:00), when most other lizards have already had their peak of activity, because most of their “basking” takes place underground in the burrows.

Dark adult male

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Adult female

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Juvenile, displaying characteristic red tail

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View from the mountains

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Post-partum Vipera latastei with Sierra de Gredos in the backgrounnd

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Triturus pygmaeus (Southern Marbled Newts), both in situ

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Pretty picture

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Hyla molleri (Tree Frog)

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Bufo calamita (Natterjack)

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Grasslands of northern Extremadura

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Belén Plain, home to Otis tarda (Great Bustards). The left-most dot on the building is Athene noctua (Little Owl).

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Salto del Gitano, Monfragüe National Park, perhaps the best place for raptors in the Iberian Peninsula

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Hundreds of Gyps fulvus (Griffon Vultures) breed on Salto del Gitano

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View on a different day

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The park is also home to several pairs of Aquila adalberti (Spanish Imperial Eagles), one of the most endangered raptors of Europe.

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On a bird note, a Sturnus unicolor (Spotless Starling) being proessed

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Chalcides striatus (Western Three-toed Skink)

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Iberolacerta cyreni (Cyren’s Rock Lizards) reach their activity peak later in the year due to their high elevation habitat.

Adult male

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Adult female, in situ

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Juvenile, displaying characteristic blue tail

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Particularly attractive Podarcis vaucheri

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Psammodromus hispanicus (Spanish Psammodromus), one of my favorite but also the most frustrating Iberian lizard to catch

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Sierra de Guadarrama

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Rana iberica (Iberian Frog), highly localized in this mountain range

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Brilliant Lacerta schreiberi (Iberian Emerald Lizard)

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Aberrant tree frog from higher elevation

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Another trip down south warned us for chamaleons.

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Sierra de Cazorla, again

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Eresus species

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Adult male Podarcis hispanica sensu stricto

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Adult male Algyroides marchi

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Vulpes vulpes (Red Fox)

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The ladder snakes really remind me of American rat snakes. They climb trees (this particular one fled into the nearest pine upon release), are quick to defend themselves, are commonly flipped, and even their musk smells the same, to name just a few things.

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Mauremys leprosa

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Attractive adult male Podarcis virescens

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More Betic midwife toads! Again only two individuals found, as we missed their entire reproductive season (which might not even have happened in the time we visited).

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I finally took the chance to photograph this attractive and ubiquitous Pelophylax perezi (Perez’s Green Frog).

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Psammodromus hispanicus

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Butterflies and chameleon crab spiders (species?)

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Beautiful adult male Iberolacerta cyreni

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Our first trip to the Pyrenees was very successful, when we herped mostly in this valley.

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Here we found wonderful amphibian diversity.

Rana pyrenaica (Pyrenean Frogs)

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Calotriton asper (Pyrenean Brook Newts), juvenile

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Adult

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Alytes obstetricans obstetricans (Common Midwife Toads)

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The above two were found near this stream.

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That night we were even more successful with lots of common toad, midwife toad, and palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus) breeding activity.

Toad ball

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Note the larvae inside the eggs. Males carry several egg strings from the females around for several weeks before depositing the developed larvae in water.

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Female depositing an egg

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Bonus fire salamanders (S. s. fastuosa) of my favorite subspecies

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Extra bonus grass snake (Natrix natrix astretophora)

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Papilio machaon (Old World Swallowtails)

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Vipera aspis (Asp Vipers)

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Another highlight of this trip was three Hierophis viridiflavus (Western Whip Snakes) from the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. That makes Zamenis the only Iberian snake we missed.

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Brilliant Natrix natrix astretophora from the high Sierra de Guadarrama

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Juvenile Lacerta schreiberi

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Adult female Vipera seoanei (Galician Viper) from Galicia

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Unique are the stream-dwelling Chioglossa lusitanica (Gold-striped Salamanders) from the northwestern part of the peninsula. Unfortunately this was the only one I saw.

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The highest reaches of the Sierra de Guadarrama are quite alpine in nature but boast a surprising diversity of amphibians, including an alpine population of tree frogs. As a side note, midwife toads used to be one of the most abundant amphibians here, but were nearly wiped out by chytrid over a decade ago.

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Hyla molleri

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Amphibian ponds

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Lots of fire salamanders

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Bufo calamita (Natterjack Toadpoles)

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Bufo bufo (Common Toad) and B. calamita (Natterjack) sharing the same refuge

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Iberolacerta cyreni seem to be most common at the highest of the high elevations, particularly near the peak of the mountain range, Peñalara Peak (in the background of the next two pictures).

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Adult male

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Adult female

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Northern slopes of Moncayo, home to (one of?) the most southern beech forest(s) in Spain.

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Smooth Snake

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Going the other way to Serra da Estrela in Portugal

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Silver Iberolacerta monticola (Iberian Rock Lizard)

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Iberian frogs are a lot more common here, especially when the sun is shining.

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Surrounded by clouds

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Triturus marmoratus (Marbled Newt)

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Exceptional example of a different subspecies of Cyren’s rock lizard (I. c. castilliana) from Sierra de Gredos

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Some more adult male fringe-toed lizards

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Adult male Podarcis bocagei (Bocage’s Wall Lizards)

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The Iberian rock lizards look quite different in the lowlands of Galicia.

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In situ adult female Galician viper from the same spot and showing the same colors as the first.

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Lacerta schreiberi

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Back to the Pyrenees.

Podarcis liolepis (Catalonian Wall Lizard)

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Mating Calotriton asper

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A few more Rana pyrenaica were also found

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Adult male Lacerta bilineata (Western Emerald Lizard)

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Eggs from the edge of their range in Moncayo

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The last day of work was a good one in the Pyrenees. Habitat for the next two species.

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Subadult female Vipera aspis

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The southern subspecies of the viviparous lizard (Zootoca vivipara louislantzi) isn’t so viviparous. This female was found with another near several clutches of eggs.

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S. s. fastuosa

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Huge melanistic female Vipera seoanei (Baskian Viper) I flipped under a rock.

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Wouter got the next one.

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Tim got the next three.

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Parting view

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And to finish this long post, two photos from that last afternoon that both belong in my Top 5 of this whole experience.

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Thanks for looking.

Matthijs Hollanders

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DracoRJC
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Re: Spring 2014: Working the Iberian Peninsula

Post by DracoRJC » November 24th, 2014, 9:20 am

Awesome post man! Great photography as usual.

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The Real Snake Man
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Re: Spring 2014: Working the Iberian Peninsula

Post by The Real Snake Man » November 24th, 2014, 9:31 am

There have been some excellent posts about Europe on this forum over the years, but none has ever made me feel so strongly that I must go and herp there as this one has. Beautiful habitat shots, incredible diversity, fantastic photography, and just an all-around classic post. Wow.

-Gene

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Brendan
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Re: Spring 2014: Working the Iberian Peninsula

Post by Brendan » November 24th, 2014, 10:48 am

Gorgeous photos and awesome adders!! Kudos!

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krisbell
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Re: Spring 2014: Working the Iberian Peninsula

Post by krisbell » November 24th, 2014, 11:02 am

Epic post and wonderful photography - you really cleaned up, 5 LATASTES!!! Many thanks for sharing.

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Bostaff of Asclepius
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Re: Spring 2014: Working the Iberian Peninsula

Post by Bostaff of Asclepius » November 24th, 2014, 11:02 am

Beautiful photographs, just wonderful stuff! I absolutely love seeing European herps, they are quickly becoming the most interesting herps in the world for me.

sjohn
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Re: Spring 2014: Working the Iberian Peninsula

Post by sjohn » November 24th, 2014, 11:32 am

Great post, wonderful photos. As someone who has Ladder Snakes it was nice seeing some in the wild.

NACairns
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Re: Spring 2014: Working the Iberian Peninsula

Post by NACairns » November 24th, 2014, 4:44 pm

What an amazing post, the diversity of lizards is amazing what sort of project were you doing? Great herps and shots.
Thanks for sharing,
Nick

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PrimitiveTim
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Re: Spring 2014: Working the Iberian Peninsula

Post by PrimitiveTim » November 25th, 2014, 9:39 am

This amazing! Thanks so much for posting!

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Roki
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Re: Spring 2014: Working the Iberian Peninsula

Post by Roki » November 25th, 2014, 10:00 am

Simply an amazing post. Great pictures, wonderful collection of species sightings, entertaining to follow your adventure through the countryside (landscape shots). Thanks for sharing.
Roki

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FloridaSerpent
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Re: Spring 2014: Working the Iberian Peninsula

Post by FloridaSerpent » November 26th, 2014, 12:42 pm

Really awesome herps in Iberian, especially the Anguis fragilis (Slow Worm), the European Coachwhip (Malpolon monspessalanus) and Vipera seoanei (Baskian Viper) although all of them are gorgeous.

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mfb
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Re: Spring 2014: Working the Iberian Peninsula

Post by mfb » November 26th, 2014, 3:44 pm

Wonderful post!

Did you notice an unusual smell with the Pelobates?

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pete
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Re: Spring 2014: Working the Iberian Peninsula

Post by pete » November 26th, 2014, 5:13 pm

WOW :shock:
That was AMAZING!!!!!!!

dendrelaphis
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Re: Spring 2014: Working the Iberian Peninsula

Post by dendrelaphis » November 26th, 2014, 10:12 pm

Amazing pictures and observations, the M. monspessulanus eating a blackbird is awesome!

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The Real Snake Man
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Re: Spring 2014: Working the Iberian Peninsula

Post by The Real Snake Man » November 29th, 2014, 11:58 pm

Just out of curiosity, would you say that it's fairly easy to find reptile habitat in Europe? You show lots of expansive scenery and wilderness in this post, and yet my (obviously naive) perception of Europe has always been that it is mostly ruins and historic buildings and popular tourism cities and the like. Where in Europe is best for herping (I know that's a broad question)?

-Gene

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MHollanders
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Re: Spring 2014: Working the Iberian Peninsula

Post by MHollanders » December 2nd, 2014, 6:30 am

Thanks= everyone!
NACairns wrote:What an amazing post, the diversity of lizards is amazing what sort of project were you doing? Great herps and shots.
Thanks for sharing,
Nick
Physiological experiments like critical maximum/minimum, respirometry, etc, in order to determine potential environmental constraints/pitfalls related to climate change.
mfb wrote:Wonderful post!

Did you notice an unusual smell with the Pelobates?
No, although rubbing your eyes is not a good idea. In Dutch it is called Garlic Toad.
The Real Snake Man wrote:Just out of curiosity, would you say that it's fairly easy to find reptile habitat in Europe? You show lots of expansive scenery and wilderness in this post, and yet my (obviously naive) perception of Europe has always been that it is mostly ruins and historic buildings and popular tourism cities and the like. Where in Europe is best for herping (I know that's a broad question)?

-Gene
Yes, it's quite easy. These ruins and historic buildings are great for herping. The south is best for herping.

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Jeroen Speybroeck
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Re: Spring 2014: Working the Iberian Peninsula

Post by Jeroen Speybroeck » December 2nd, 2014, 8:11 am

MHollanders wrote:
The Real Snake Man wrote:Where in Europe is best for herping (I know that's a broad question)?/quote]
The south is best for herping.
Also very generally speaking, I'll add that in terms of diversity and abundance Greece is somewhat better than Spain and Spain is better than Italy.

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walk-about
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Re: Spring 2014: Working the Iberian Peninsula

Post by walk-about » December 2nd, 2014, 4:32 pm

Matthisjs - WoW! As always. Such splendid specimens and beautifully well framed captures. You always raise the bar with both macro & breath taking panoramic shots. That Portuguese Fire Salamander is really unique. The Iberian Spadefoot and Lataste's Viper I had never seen until this post. They are awesome. Perez's Green Frog another. All so well photographed...Thanks for this epic journey to the Iberian Peninsula.

Dave

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