SPAIN 2011

Spanish Photo-Herp Trip


Zarzalejo, Madrid Province

The evening of our arrival in Valdemorillo Juan took us out to a location near the village of Zarzalejo where we could search for herps. It proved to be a diverse location with a wide variety of reptiles and amphibians and in little over two hours we recorded 13 species from every order and suborder present in the Iberian Peninsula (Anura, Urodela, Testudines, Lacertilia, Amphisbaenia, Serpentes). Now where in the tropics can I recall finding this degree of diversity in such a small time period.

The location at Zarzalejo could be divided into five search locations.

Location 1 was a pond or pool quite close to the road which we visited again in the daylight because we were anxious to capture and photograph specimen of Western three-toed skink (Chalcides striatus). This was the first herp of the trip encountered, under a rock at the base of a dry stone wall on the far side of the pond (near where the second photograph below was taken). The first herp of the trip evaded capture and no further specimens of this species were seen. Our return in daylight to search for this skink on the final afternoon was also unsuccessful so it remains our one failure, the only species from 18 not photographed.

Zarzalejo location 1 in the evening, looking across the first pool
Zarzalejo location 1 in the daylight, looking back across the first pool
click on the images to enlarge

Other species encountered at Location 1 included Natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita), Iberian treefrog (Hyla molleri), adult and juvenile Southern marbled newt (Triturus pygmaeus), a single Common treefrog (Hyla arborea), Iberian wall lizards (Podarcis hispanica hispanica) and Large Psammodromus (Psammodromus algirus).

Location 2 comprised a series of rocky outcrops in a stunted woodland surrounded by dry stone walls.

Zarzalejo location 2 rocky outcrops in stunted woodland

At Location 2 we found more Natterjack toads under rocks, a single Moorish gecko (Tarentola mauritanica) which evaded capture, and a moderate sized adult Eyed lizard (Timon lepidus lepidus) which didn't. We also found several Iberian worm-lizards (Blanus cinereus) which excited both Tom and myself, who find fossorial species fascinating, even if others in the party were less exuberant.

Location 3 was a small trackside pond, easily overlooked because of its small size and the covering of littorial vegetation.

Zarzalejo location 3 the trackside pond

At Location 3 we captured another iconic Iberian species, the Iberian ribbed newt (Pleurodeles waltl) and several small specimens of Iberian water frog (Pelophylax perezi).

Location 4 (no photograph available) was a large pool we came upon at the end of our night search and were we probably spend almost an hour. The largest body of water we encountered it seemed deep and was surrounded by dense vegetation and rocky outcrops, some of which afforded access over the deeper parts of the pool. This looked an excellent location for herping and we were quite successful even in the short time we spent there.

Zarzalejo location 4 the large pool

At Location 4 we found more Natterjack toads, Iberian water frogs and Southern marbled newts in the margins. Mark also netted a large green frog which escaped the net. It was the size and colour of an Edible frog (Rana esculenta) or Marsh frog (Rana ridibunda) but neither species occurs on the Iberian Peninsula so without a more positive identification we have to put it down as a large adult Iberian water frog.

Under rocks around the pool's edge we found more Iberian worm-lizards, they seem remarkably common. In the water Edgar sighted a turtle which he identified as a Iberian pond terrapin (Emys orbicularis fritzjuergenobsti) rather than the expected Spanish terrapin (Mauremys leprosa) and Juan caught the first of two Viperine watersnakes (Natrix maura) sighted at the location.

We could have herped on into the night but after the various long journies we had made to get here the human drives for food and sleep brought an end to a successful evening's herping with a tally of 13 species recorded.

A tired, hungry but happy group of herpers
at the end of the evening

On the final morning we returned to the Zarzalejo site to search for the Western three-toed skink and photograph the locations. Whilst crossing an open area between Locations 3 and the place where we had taken a group photo on the first evening, we noticed a flooded section of the meadow, a larger version of Location 3.

Zarzalejo location 5 flooded meadow

Two European pond terrapins were basking on a rock in the centre of the flooded area and although the lens available and the direction of the sun did not make for a very good photograph, it was possible to confirm the species before they dived into the water. Despite wading out to the rock in the cold water the turtles were not found.