Northern Greece

Thankfully after my concerns last week it looks like my trip to Greece will go ahead as planned on 1st May. In addition to visiting Thrace and Limnos island (north Aegean), Ilias and I will be visiting the beautiful Prespa lakes for a couple of days in north-west Greece on the Albanian and Macedonian borders. This is one of the most diverse areas for herpetofauna in the entire country, rich in Nose-horned vipers (Vipera ammodytes), as well as many more ‘northern’ species not found in the lowlands of Greece. Going to be a good one…

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By Matt Wilson

Video: Kevin Byrnes catching Horseshoe whip snake

Here is a short clip of my friend Kevin Byrnes catching a beautiful male Horseshoe whip snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis) in Murcia province, S-E Spain. This snake is probably the most abundant snake species in this dry, arid area of Spain, and male specimens like the one in the video are characterized by their very dark colour and weak markings. Seeing this video brings back memories of finding these snakes myself quite regularly in south Spain, even on some occasions inside towns and villages. In August of this year Kevin and I will be visiting Majorca to search for the rare Majorcan midwife toad. Thanks for sharing the video Kev! 🙂

Here are a few of my photos from Spain of this snake to show how variable they can be, a truely beautiful snake from the Iberian peninsula and north Africa:

Female Horseshoe whip snake from near Sevilla, Spain

Male Horseshoe whip snake from Granada, Andalusia, Spain

Male Horseshoe whip snake from Murcia, Spain

Female Horseshoe whip snake from Murcia, Spain

By Matt Wilson

Further trip update: Thrace? Limnos? Symi? Greece at all?

I am still hopeful that the expedition to northern Greece with fellow Herpetologists Ilias Strachinis, Thomas Reich and Bobby Bok can go ahead as planned from 1st May. However if this doesn’t happen due to the continued disruption in European skies a visit to Symi (Greece) at the end of May may be a possibility. If so I will once again explore this barren, small, yet beautiful island in the Dodecanese sea with plenty of Ottoman vipers around for me at this time of year.

But at the moment I am really hoping I can get to the proposed areas of Northern Greece for a trip that was so well planned and destined to be one of my best. Lets wait and see how things turn out…

By Matt Wilson

Trip update: bad news

My trip to Spain was cancelled on thursday due to volcanic ash above Britain and now most of Europe, but not only this but my much bigger trip to Northern Greece on 1st May could well be cancelled also unless there is significant improvement in the situation in the next few days. Fingers crossed…

By Matt Wilson

Reptile field day :-)

Finally after what seems to have been a long and troublesome winter, (by troublesome I mean in terms of allowing me to get out and see herps) I had a full day blessed with sunshine and little wind to search for some lizards and snakes. I spent the day out exploring with Andrew Gray , the curator of Herpetology (and my boss) at the Manchester museum. Upon arriving at some nice moorlands our expectations were very high as the weather conditions were pretty much perfect. Minutes after starting our hike we came across the first few Viviparous lizards (Zootoca vivipara), including some juveniles and a nice green coloured female. Sadly I wasn’t really on form in terms of lizard photographing and didn’t get any nice photographs. After about an hour we were lucky to find a small female Adder (Vipera berus) that was basking amongst the heather.

Last year we had many male adders in this area, but this year we only saw one, and we came to the conclusion that some parts of this moor have been heavily disturbed by large groups of people, who were probably looking for reptiles. After seeing a few more lizards we moved on to a different area with the hope of seeing a few more snakes. In fact the first animal we saw was not a reptile, but an amphibian: a female Common toad (Bufo bufo) which was walking (not hopping!) down a path towards her breeding pond. After a few minutes searching we came across a very beautiful female adder, which was a copper brown colour and one of the largest I have seen. In the evening we were joined by my friend Carl Corbidge and we went to a nice pond to enjoy the even chorus of breeding Common toads (Bufo bufo) 🙂

Larger female Adder (Vipera berus)

Viviparous lizard (Zootoca vivipara) who lost his tail at some point

By Matt Wilson

Toad walk :-)

Yesterday with a nice increase in temperature I was able to see my favorite British herp, the Common toad (Bufo bufo) in considerable numbers within a moorland lodge, as well as the surrouding areas. As I visited the area in the late evening it was nice to hear many males calling from the edge of the water, and many toads were already in amplexus, some had even laid some strings of eggs. In addition, today I went to visit my father close to Bury in Lancashire and I explored some nice fishing lodges close to his house. Here I found hundreds more toads busy reproducing, and sadly I saw quite a number that had been run over while migration across a busy country road to the pond.

Check out the video by Andrew Gray from the pond were we saw the breeding toads:

A female Common toad (Bufo bufo) that was moving towards her breeding pond

Male Common toad (Bufo bufo)

Eggs of Common toad (Bufo bufo)

Also on thursday evening I visited a really nice pond to photograph some Smooth newts (Lissotriton vulgaris). The pond was full of breeding newts, in fact I have never seen so many newts in one small pond. There must have been around a hundred or more of these little amphibians, and it was great to observe them in the middle of some courting behaviour. Interestingly the Common frog (Rana temporaria) had only just began to breed in this pond at a higher altitude, whereas at lower elevations they reproduced several weeks ago. I must thank Carl Corbidge who showed me this fantastic pond, as I had asked him if he knew good places for Smooth newts as I was really eager to photograph a breeding male, like the one in the photo below:

Male Smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) with breeding spots along the body

Common frogs (Rana temporaria) breed several weeks later at this higher altitude pond

By Matt Wilson

Amphibian study day in Spain

On 15th April I will be travelling to Murcia in south-east Spain for a long weekend, a place where I lived and studied two years ago. The aim of the trip is to catch up with some friends, but I can not visit the place without looking for some nice herps. Luckily that weekend a survey day will be undertaken in the north-west of the region to monitor the localised populations of the Southern Midwife toad (Alytes dickhellini) and the Fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra). Both of these species are restricted to the mountains of the north-west and a number of field studies conducted by the naturalist group ANSE (Naturalist Associasion of south-east Spain) have given new insights into their distribution in the province. Having collaborated with ANSE during my study period I am looking forward to meeting up with some old friends for a day and trying to track down some of these elusive amphibian jewels of Spain.

For more information about ANSE and their work visit: http://www.asociacionanse.org/

By Matt Wilson