this tripreport is supposed to be sponsored by RedBull
Day 1: Sebastian Dörnemann and me planned this trip since we go herping together, a big trip through the western alps with all the nice viper species and subspecies. So this year we got the time to make it happen, the route, the spots, the days were clear. Just the weather wasn't acting like we wanted it to. So we started in France and not in the Black Forest like we wanted to (this decision was very wise). So the things were packed and we hit the road to our beloved place in Lorraine. We arrived at our campsite quite late and started immediately with herping. Since it was quite late and the sun wasn't that strong anymore I just spotted one fleeing Hierophis and no asps.. after that we changed the spot a little bit and went to our Alytes spot, which is nearly always working. We were done with the day and for the first evening it was quite ok. The next day should be much better!
Day 2: We started the day quite late and we arrived at 11 o'clock the asphabitat. But what was that? A dutch car parking there? Once we met Ron Krol there, could it be him again? No, there were new dutches, Jerom Hendrickx, Sjuul Verhaegh and Tim Leerschool! After a short chat, it was clear we have the same friends and coworkers and so we started together on that day, not knowing yet that we would spend the whole week together. The dutches had a good start that day, spotted two Aspvipers and a few fleeing Hierophis. Cause of the windy morning we were not able to find more asps. But one nice male and a proper female were enough to get some nice images. Cause it got quite warm we changed our herpingsite to an other Hierophisspot. The habitat was just nice and after ten seconds in the grassland I found a nice looking helvetica. It turned out that the area were perfect for snakes. After the first fleeing Hierophis, Jerom had the luck with a beautiful male, which was quite cooperative while taking pictures (at least for Hierophis). In the early evening we went back to our place from the morning and started herping again. After another Alytes the whole team hadn't much luck this afternoon despite Tim! After a Redbull he managed to have luck with 4(!)(legendmove) Hierophis! Since we felt a little bit observed we decided to have a little barbecue on our campsite and make plans for the next day(s). The dutch guys wanted to go to la Brenne and we wanted to go to the Provence. After a short intervention with Tim, who was crying about the long drive down there, it was fixed that we would hit the Provence together! So we all went to our beds and at the next morning we started early our long drive to the south.
Day 3: While our way south we stopped some times to check some sites which looked very very well for snakes, but we weren't able to find anything but Podarcis and our first Bilineatas of the trip. After some more stops, in which we more enjoyed the nice landscapes than herping, we finally arrived at our destination town. The first campingspace looked quite ok (maybe also for some herping on the campsite,) but since they didn't had chalets for our dutch friends, we went to another campingsite, which had nice cheap chalets, and because it was cheaper we went all together in a "luxuary" chalet (which was the best decision considering the weather in the following days). After we threw our packages in the chalet and a nice barbecue we decided for a little evening herping tour around the campsite. There were a lot of nice habitats in the direct suroundings. We had some riversites, marshareas and a little creek close to our campingsite and with some lights and some beers we started our investigation. It needed a little bit of time for the first herps, but on the riversite the common two lizards species were found quite fast, after that we checked the swampie areas finding nothing than Pelophylax spec.. After that we checked the creeksite finding nothing than Euscorpius. Then we heard a very loud and scary sound which sounded like a horrible car accident. After we followed the road we found a completely destroyed car and a few young guys, which seemed in a very good mood although their car was just trash. We asked them if everybody were ok, and they answered happily, yes for sure. A little bit strange for us, but well it seemed that this wasn't the first time for him having a car accident and in view of the driving style of some people down there that seems to be not surprising. So after some time finding nothing than Anguis and Pelophylax we went back to our campsite. Another stop at the creeksite, revealed some nice larvae of Alytes and Salamandra found by Tim. We were negatively surprised by the low density and since we heard no Alytes calling we thought that they maybe were flushed down the creek, cause of the massive rain in the last days. Directly on the path we found a nightswift warming up and singing like crazy. Back on the campsite we checked our "garden" ponds which we thought would be perfect for some of our main target species, the illusive Pelodytes. Since we were not able to find them in that night, we thought the mass of Pelophylax in these ponds were responsible for the abstinence of Pelodytes (big mistake). After a few more beers we went to bed, because we wanted to start the next day very early, cause our target was a very rare snakes, which was Sebastian's and my No. 1 target for the whole trip.
Day 4: Early start, the weather forecast said, that we would have the morning for herping and then heavy rain and thunderstorms would stay the rest of the day. So after a big breakfast consisting out of RedBull and for some of us a little bit nicotine, we started high up on the mountain searching for the mighty Vipera ursinii. After a short while searching, I found the first individual basking in the juniperus bushes. We were so happy, cause we thought we would need much more time for a little amount of animals, but totally wrong. In about 2 1/2h the crew found 6 animals in total. We were super lucky and before the real start of the thunderstorm we leaved the place to search at the foot of the mountain for some typical Provence species. We found a little dried up creek, which looked perfect for our purpose. We herped.. and herped and herped and then (!) the first animal was.... an Anguis, jei! No just kidding, at the end of the creeksite I had a little bit of luck with a very young Coronella girondica, which was poorly in the shedding progress. It started to rain a little bit and we thought it would be a good idea to take a little bridge as a shelter to be save in case of lightings. In a short break in the rain, Sebastian and me had some luck with finding a new lizard species for our trip, Psammodromus edwarsianus! Then the rain started again, but this time it was heavy, hailstones were coming down and lightings were everywhere. We noticed that the creeksite and especially our shelter was filling with water. We decided to take a little shower and ran to our cars, which were quite far away.. When we arrived, we were clean to the bone! Back at the campsite we relaxed, had a little barbecue and some beers. In the evening the rain stopped and we started the next night investigation. We were wondering about not finding any Bufo the last nights, so we really hoped that we would find some gigantic Bufos! After a short way of driving we spotted a huge Bufo on the road! We stopped the car and the whole backseat of the car left and ran to the Bufo. The big goal was ticked, a fat Bufo spinosus! We danced on the road to celebrate this glorious find.. this night would go down in history, the Bufosquad was born! After some roadcrusing finding some tawnyowls, roe deers and salamanders, we stopped in a little village with some watersites beside the road. Alytes were calling everywhere and also something different! We first thought it would be Pelodytes, but after a short time we changed our mind. With headlights we ran over a garden site which we were not sure if it was private property to a little locked up pond, where we found the calling guys, it was Hyla meridionalis.
It was around 2 o'clock when we were back at our campsite and Sjuul just shouted "Tim I got a little surprise for you". And there it was, 50m away from our chalet.. Pelodytes punctatus! What a nice way to end the day!
Day 5: After the provisional RedBull breakfast we shooted some Pelodytes and headed more south, cause the weather was better down there.
We hit a site which looked good for Malpolon and Rhinechis and after 10min Jerom found a very nice juvenile Rhinechis. Tim and me both spotted some Chalcides striatus but they were way to fast
for a picture. After going down and old path, where Sjuul found a nice young Timon we were a little bit worried about the weather cause the clouds looked very dark and there was no need for a
second shower. We took the shortest way to our car and came accidently on private property. The owner looked very surprised when he saw us, but we told him that this was an accident and so it was
no problem at all. Back on our car we wanted to check a little lakesite for some Natrix maura. Normally its quite easy to find them, but we needed hours for the first sight. Sebastian spotted the
first one and after some time Tim had the luck with a second one. We decided to go a little bit lower on that day so we just drove back to our campsite when it started to rain and listended by a
barbecue to our garden Pelophylax and Pelodytes (which seemed to love the boule playground). The sound of two boule balls smashing
together is quite similar to the calling sound of Pelodytes, maybe this is the reason why they prefered this place.
Day 6: On the last day we wanted to have some more vipers, but our car didn't wanted to start cause it seemed that the battery was empty. After starting the car by pushing it we went to the ursiniiplace and found another two new individuals and one we already knew. We enjoyed the time with them, since they were so calm that it was even possible for me to do in situ wide angle shots, without disturbing them at all. After that, we headed again to more southern directions because of the mixed weather. We really wanted to see the last snakes species of the Provence, Malpolon! After we stopped by a good spot for them, we recognised that this parking space wasn't a normal one. Many old guys were looking at us and it seemed that they waited for something special we couldn't offer them. One of these old guys had a little suprise for us (no it wasn't his own snake) it was a fresh shed of young Malpolon! So we chose the right spot for them. After a while of herping finding some more and this time it was very easy to find Natrix maura, some Trachemys, Bee eaters and a short tailed eagle, I flipped another Girondica, this time an adult. Five minutes later Sebastian had the luck with a nice Rhinechis. After a short shooting session, in which I learned to hate Rhinechis, we started to go back to the cars. Before we arrived the parkingspace the Team found another nice adult Rhinechis, this was the last snake in the Provence and the last snake for a longer time in this trip. In the evening we just drank a lot of beer, had a big barbecue and in the night we just enjoyed some more Pelodytes. These sneaky bastards hide in holes, which entrances are under the water surface!
Day 7 & 8: It was time to leave the provence and say goodbye to our new dutch friends, which had to go home. The goodbye was full of tears and all cried a lot! Another problem was that our car didn't wanted to start again.. well now we knew something must be broken with the battery. We had a lot of bad luck, cause we didn't carry any tools with us to change the battery and it was holyday in France and Italy so everything was closed. We tried our luck at a few garages in France but nobody could help us, so we just pushed the car to start again and hoped that we would have more luck in Piedmont. In the evening we arrived in Piedmont and called the ADAC, they told us the italian automobile service would change the batttery immediatly so we gave it to a garage which said we could pick it up on the next day, after a lot of stress with the garage and getting angry about waiting two days for changing a battery, we finally got our car back and had wasted the last two days where the weather was fine for herping in the garage.. perfect and thanks to the italian automobile service! NOT!
Day 9: So we had a last day of at least ok weather for herping up in the mountains of the Piemont. After a long walking session to the habitat on the mountain we started searching and searching and searching, but nothing, nothing than three Anguis veronensis and a couple of muralis. It was just a shame.. and then the rain started again.. we gave up and at least we found a little pond with some Rana temporaria larvae and some very cute sheepdogs. The day was just shit and we wanted nothing more than leaving this horrible place where we just had bad luck, in the hope that it would be better in the sunny Ticino. At least the weather forecast said, that it should be better there!
Day 10: When we arrived the Ticino there were just clouds, big rainy clouds in the valleys.. we thought well we are screwed, maybe the next day would be better. But well our campsite was closed for the midday and so we just started herping in the clouds.. and hey the sun came out for an hour.. and immediatly we had luck with three Coronellas! After that the rain started again... and after we built up our tent, we had a little pond in it! At least the tree smiled to us..
Day 11 12: The next day started also with rain rain rain and big clouds in the valleys.. so we decided to go to Zurich. We visited a friend of Sebastian which offered us a dry and cosy room for the night so we could at least get a little bit dry feet and a proper meal. Thank you very much Nuki and Dani! At the next morning we decided to go to a very low habitat for Salamandra atra, the weather was fine for them, but we hadn't much luck. We just found some Zootoca in the rain, better than nothing I would say. Our next destination was the Blackforest where the weather should be fine... when we arrived oh wonder it rained.. So we just checked the habitat where we wanted to search for some Vipera, but no chance with this weather. It was even difficult to find some place where we could use our mobilephones and a campingsite. After some very spooky native guys looking at us, we decided to go to a campingsite in the city and not in the wildernes, which was quite ok.. well at the next day, we had some dry moments at the day but in 15 degrees and rain aspisvipers won't show up, especially in this time of the season.. so no luck with them.
Day 13 14: I just wanted to go home, but Sebastian wanted to have a last nice day with some snakes.. so we looked at the weather forecast more north and since we didn't trust them anymore we decided to look by ourself if the weather is ok. This time we had luck and so we checked a german Zamenissite and well after 5min I found a proper male which was at least 1,50m ( likely even more) and for us the biggest snake ever observed in wildlife. So cause it was quite late on the day, we decided to go for some dice snake and go to our campingsite for a last barbecue.. at Tessellatasite we found a few nice tessellata and two last Coronellas. We ended the day with a couple of beers and a last barbecue. At our last day we were driving home, after we checked the tessellata place once more and found at least 20 of them (might be more). It was quite interesting they all basked in couples. So after that short stop we drove straight back to Düsseldorf!
What we missed: Cause of the rain (and the car) we didn't found as much vipers we would have liked to, so we missed Vipera walser, Vipera aspis "atra", Vipera aspis francisciredi and didn't tried Vipera berus. So in species we just missed Vipera walser and Malpolon monspessulanus (just the skin). In the range we were we just missed to get a picture of Chalcides. Since we are not amphibian guys, the list of missed amphibians is a little bit longer: Rana dalmatina, Bombina variegata, Salamandra atra, Ichtyosaurus alpestris, Lissotrtion vulgaris, Lissotriton helveticus.
Conclusion: It was a very nice trip with a ton of species seen, a lot of suffering through rain, bad autombile services, bad news, a lot of traffic and strange native people! But once a very wise man (I am not sure about his name anymore but I think it starts with N) said: "You have to suffer for your herps!" And this is what we did, herping in every situation and just working to see some more herps. Thank you very much to the whole Bufosquad: Jerom, Sjuul, Tim it was very nice to meet you guys it was a epic trip, hopefully the next one will be as close succesful! Thank you Sebastian without you there would have been no trip like that!
And for the support in form of mails and messages: Thank you very very much Daniel Bohle, Jürgen Gebhart, Matteo Di Nicola, Grégoire Meier and Manfred Gessner!
Podarcis muralis (ssp. brongniardii & maculiventris)
Vipera aspis aspis
Vipera ursinii ursinii
Bufo bufo (not sure if that individual we found were still spinosus but it looked more like bufo)
Rana temporaria (larvae)