Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla y Léon
After a couple of Greek adventures last year it was time to get back to the Iberian peninsula, albeit to a unknown part for me personally, la costa verde (the green coast) on the Atlantic. This area contrasts parts of Spain where I have spent a lot of time in the south with it’s humid climate, lush all year round vegetation and stunning scenery sometimes looking more like Costa Rica than Spain. Kevin and Suzanne Byrnes visited this area a couple of years ago and were desperate to go back and I was desperate to go with them. Yorkshire’s whitest rose Carl Corbidge was just as eager to go here as I was and in the end we all found and number of new species to us in the wild.
Thanks to Borja de las Heras, Gertjan Verspui and Bobby Bok for some hints for this trip and to our landlady Ana!
After a morning flight from the hell I call Stansted airport we arrived in Santander in the early afternoon and soon set out searching en route to our nice mountain cottage accommodation. The weather was pretty poor to start with but as the sun came out Kev spotted a “green lizard”. Flipping a log we made a catch for two lizards, to our delight these turned out to be a male and female Schreiber’s green lizard (Lacerta schreiberi). We didn’t expect to find these so easily and in the end they were the only two specimens we saw during the entire trip! A few three-toed skinks (Chalcides striatus) were warming up and slithering like mad through the rough grassland as well. An evening rendez-vous with our landlady was followed by a few wanderings around the fields next to our accommodation, this resulted in a few Common wall lizards (Podarcis muralis), a female Common midwife toad (Alytes obstretricans) and then I flipped our first Fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra bernardezi). Champion! However, a punctured tyre in our hire car meant that the next morning we would have to travel to Gijon for a replacement.
After getting a replacement hire car we headed to a valley where we thought we would have a good chance of seeing Golden striped salamanders (Chioglossa lusitiana). Indeed we found some juveniles straight away followed by a few adults. A couple of Common frogs (Rana temporaria) and Palmate newts (Lissotriton helveticus) showed up too. That evening we explored a spot hinted to us by our landlady who sees many newts in a cistern. Straight away a few Alpine newts (Messotriton alpestris) and Palmates were found with many larvae of common midwife toad. A few toads started beeping from their daytime retreats. Shortly afterwards a slow-worm (Anguis fragilis) and 9 Fire salamanders (Salamandra salamandra bernardezi) and a midwife toad were found. Marvellous! After dark a further four fire salamanders were found wandering in the field next to our cottage.
This day would be dedicated to visiting the Picos de Europa mountain range in search of the Iberian rock lizard (Iberolacerta monticola). First stop was a cistern with more palmate newts and midwife toads. At a known rock lizard location the sun was shining and we soon found many individuals from vivid green males to tiny grey juveniles. Kev found a couple of slow worms and midwife toads as well.
This day we headed south out of Asturias and into Castilla y Léon in search of vipers. After a two hour journey we arrived in a more Mediterranean-like habitat and as soon as we left the car Kev spotted an Asp viper (Vipera aspis). The white rose soon found a second, bigger viper basking on a drystone wall. Flipping rocks here I found a beautiful adult male Ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus) but as the rock was so heavy I couldn’t hold it and grab the lizard at the same time. Let’s take a look at what you could’ve won….Moving on to known area for Lataste’s viper (Vipera latastei) a considerable effort resulted in no vipers being found, this was compensated with Marbled newt (Triturus marmoratus), Iberian water frog (Pelophylax perezi), some skinks, western green lizard and two Viperine snakes (Natrix maura). On the way home we stopped at a known place for vipers but only more newts.