Over the summer I spent a month in Slovakia before I headed to Egypt in August to start a new job. During my time there I saw a wide variety of wildlife, but the true highlight came right at the end when I met an Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) one evening. Truly the highlight of all my European wildlife watching over the years!
This encounter was a combination of good information and extreme luck. It started when we were hiking up a mountain to reach around 2000 metres when my friend Andrej bumped into an old school friend of his on the hike up. He saw our lenses and asked if we are interested in wildlife. On that particular day we were looking for Alpine marmots (Marmota marmota) but then the guy told us that he had seen a Lynx the previous day hunting rabbits at the edge of a forest in an open field. We assumed that this was probably a one off encounter but we marked the place on Google maps in any case. The next day the guy messaged Andrej to say that he had seen the Lynx again that evening! So two sightings in two days at the that spot. So we decided to go for it, it was a bit of a drive and then a hike to reach the location. We sat and waited for two evenings but there was no sign of the Lynx. Each day I had to drive 2 hours to get there and back and 40 minutes of uphill hiking. However on the third evening we were about to give up around 8pm and we started walking down the dirt path and then it happened. The Lynx was walking on the same path, some 30 metres ahead of us. It was walking away and then it stopped and turned to look at us for about 20 seconds, allowing me to take a series of photos. It then disappeared. I am not sure if he appreciated this or not, but I was so happy that I hugged and kissed Andrej.
To see a photo gallery of my trip to Slovakia this summer, click here
The monsoon season is now in fully swing with daily heavy rains and some strong winds. During a short break from this weather I visited a small cascade just after nightfall, mainly in the hope of seeing some interesting amphibians. Numerous Horned frogs (Megophrys sp) were calling from the edges of the water but I couldn’t see any to confirm which of the two species on the island they were. Soon afterwards I found one of my favourite amphibians on Phuket, the Tasan frog (Ingerana tasanae). This is a species of primary rainforest locations and is usually found clinging to rocks along streams, cascades and waterfalls. I have only seen them at two locations on Phuket and they are not especially common in those places.
On a steep slope leading down to the fast-moving torrent I noticed a familiar shape of a Phuket pit viper (Trimeresurus phuketensis) facing the ground in a typical ambush pose. This is commonly seen with this species as they must take a lot of frogs as prey items at this time of year. I scrambled down the hillside to the viper which remained still after I put my torch light onto it and took some in situ photos. Some males of this species have spectacular a red and green colour and this was one of the prettiest individuals that I have seen. After only 30 minutes of hiking I decided to turn back as the humidity was intense and the storms could hit again at any moment.
With the clock ticking for my time in Thailand I have been trying to make sure that I go out at least 2-3 times per week despite work being quite busy. This usually involves some walks around local patches of rainforest, reservoirs and waterfalls.
The rainy season has truly arrived now, with stormy weather at some point most days. This usually gets a lot of amphibian and reptile species moving around a lot more as I have had more luck than usual at some of my local sites recently. Rainy weather is especially good for nocturnal snakes, whereas for diurnal species it makes them less active until the rain stops of course! On Friday evening I had a short hike at one of the waterfalls, (it was actually dry at that point) and aside from the common amphibians and a few Oriental vine snakes (Ahaetulla prasina), I didn’t see much else. But then my favourite non-reptile showed up, an Oriental bay owl (Phodilus badius) perched sideways on a vine staring at me intriguingly less than a few metres away. I like these owls so much that I have added a new page on the photo galleries named ‘Owls of Thailand’ which contains all of my best images of this fascinating species. It is often the main target for any birders who come to Phuket, and I am glad to say that I have found them at quite a number of places on the island, indicating that they are at least quite common. Usually when a Bay owl is perched so low it is because it has seen a prey item (usually rodents) on the ground. Although this one was interested in my torch light, it continued to watch the leaf litter carefully.
On Saturday evening I revisited the place where I found the Mangrove cat snake last weekend and the stormy weather was very much in full force. I had to retreat to the car several times when the gale force wind and heavy rain descended! There are lots of juvenile Sunda scops owls (Otus lempiji) around the moment, at least several clutches worth in this area. Their hunger calls can be heard constantly. In terms of snakes, a smallish Reticulated python (Python reticulatus) was seen but not photographed as the rain was too heavy. Shortly afterwards a beautiful female Wagler’s pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri) was found climbing down a bamboo near to the ground. I recognised this individual by the scales around the upper lip as an individual I last saw at this spot in August 2020. Although still raining, it was not quite so heavy so I was able to take some photos of her.
Owls of Thailand gallery: https://mwilsonherps.com/photo-galleries/owls-of-thailand/
Wagler’s pit vipers: https://mwilsonherps.com/photo-galleries/waglers-pit-vipers/
Currently travel to and from Phuket is restricted so with not being able to leave the island, I have been trying to make the most of what I can do here. This mostly involves some evening hikes in various parts of Phuket. Some very steep and others more leisurely strolls. During two such outings this weekend I have seen a couple of interesting species, including some quite rare for the island.
On Friday a steep walk in the centre of the island to one of the highest points produced my first ever Phuket sighting of a Lesser mouse deer (Tragulus kanchil). These mammals are rare on the island where hunting is not regulated and habitat destruction is seemingly endless. On the same walk I saw the same two individuals of Wagler’s pit vipers (Tropidolaemus wagleri) as I saw last weekend. One of them had managed to have a feed, an indication that its choice to sit facing the figs on a fig tree had worked! In addition, the omnipresent Asian vine snakes (Ahaetulla prasina) were seen as usual. In the valley near a small brook I could hear several Phuket stream toads (Ansonia phuketensis) calling around dusk. I didn’t clamber down to try and find them as they are so tiny and tricky to spot.
Saturday evening was a more leisurely stroll, in part due to the fact that the rain clouds were around. Hiking in steep places can be hazardous during heavy rain. Several times I have been caught out and had to descend hills on my backside! The highlight of this evening was a 1.5 metre Mangrove cat snake (Boiga dendrophila) which was moving around on the ground during some light rain. This was only the third individual I have seen on Phuket, compared to many on the nearby mainland.
Another highlight was seeing the largest frog I have ever encountered! A gigantic female Asian bullfrog/edible frog (Hoplobatrachus rugulosus) sitting on the road in the rain. I wish I was able to get a photo of myself next to it for some kind of scale.
With a curfew of 10pm in place at the moment I only spent a relatively short time out and about and soon went home.
I shall try to get back into the habit of sharing my regular photos from Phuket on the blog. I have only 7 weeks or so left in Thailand before I return to Slovakia over the summer and the move to Egypt to start a new job.
Some casual hikes this weekend produced some nice finds, including two Wagler’s pit vipers (Tropidolaemus wagleri), a Reticulated python (Python reticulatus) and a much appreciated Dog-toothed cat snake (Boiga cynodon). This was only the third or fourth time I have seen this cat snake species, the one in the photos was nearly two metres long! The previous weekend a forest hike produced some Oriental vine snakes (Ahaetulla prasina) and an Elegant bronzeback (Dendrelaphis formosus). Outside the house one day an Ornate fly snake was seen several times as it hunted lizards near the balcony.
Here is a brief summary of the highlights of our trip to two regions of Thailand in April 2021. Click here to see the report and photo gallery or the image below.
A last minute highlight from the forests of Bala last night. Moments after having said “I can’t believe we haven’t seen a snake tonight” I turn a corner to see this gigantic Reticulated python slowly making its way across the road. Without doubt the largest snake I have ever seen. We estimate that it was close to six meters in length and incredibly thick. I managed only a few quick photos before it slowly turned back and retreated up a hillside. I doubt I will ever see such a snake again..
More photos from the trip to follow…
Finally I got around to publishing images from my Thailand road trips in December and February, they can be seen by clicking here. I now only have a matter of months left in Thailand as I will leave the country in June after four years of working here. I have a further two weeks for traveling around in April so hopefully there will be one final trip report before I leave..
What do you do when you can’t return to Europe in the summer holidays? Here is the answer. 10,000km, 39 amphibian species, 29 lizard species, 44 snake species as well as many amazing mammals and birds in just under five weeks of traveling Thailand.
Thanks to Kat for her continued patience and helping to organise some parts of the trip as well as thanks to the people who we spent time with during various parts of the trip; Andre, Tim, Bam, Rushen, Montri, Ton, Ian, Games, Andy, Alex (Coke) Mint, Bastian, Watinee, Man, Satawan, and Parinya and his crew. An extra special thank you to Ian and Games who joined us at several locations on this trip and provided regular advice and information for the entire trip. For some additional tips we thank Peter, Tom and Antonio.
See the report here.