The Pyrenees, 3rd to 17th of July 2005

This was the biggest arrangement ever completed by the During one week three of our four members traveled together in the Pyrenees. Sadly Anders did not have the opportunity to join us. After one week Per had to leave for Sweden and Lasse and Tommi continued another week.

The main targets for the trip were the five endemics in the Pyrenees, the three Rock Lizards: Bonnali-, Aran- and Aurelioi Rock Lizard, the Pyrenean Frog and Pyrenean Brook Newt. During 2004 Jeroen and the Hyla group from Belgium made a Pyrenean tour and we are very thankful to Jeroen for all the information and advice he provided.

3 July, Sweden - the Pyrenees
Per, Lars and Tommi met at Kastrup airport, Copenhagen. The flight reached Barcelona at 19.00 and after some waiting for bags and car we drove of at 20.30. Because a lack of signs we came through the city, which took some time, but finally we could speed up and took the road from Mataró to Granollers and continued up to Vic. Just before Ripoll we found a hotel at around 22.15. The restaurant was closed but we found one in the city just before the kitchen closed.

4 July, Almost Andorra
We were woken up by birdsong at 07.30 and managed to get started at around 08.00. The weather was nice and at 9 we had breakfast at La Molina not far from the French border. When we passed the tunnel to France the weather changed and became cloudy. We found an old hotel in Vicdessos and decided to make a try on the Aurelio's Rock Lizard up at the border towards Spain and Andorra. We hoped for the clouds to open up when we got to higher altitudes but we just got into wet fog. From the dam we continued on foot for around two hours. On the way we saw Common Frog (Rana temporaria) and Lars and Tommi got their first Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) as a larva. Up at the rocky area we could not see much and least of all any rock lizards. Then it started to rain and we hurried down to the car. The sky opened up and made us wetter than ever. It also started to thunder and a shower of hail with hailstones big as beans really hurt face and head. When we came down to the hotel everything had to be dried and fortunately the camera equipment seemed to be OK.

Aurelioli site, © Per Blomberg Aurelioli site, © Per Blomberg View from the hotel at the Aurelioli site, © Per Blomberg

5 July, Aran Valley, Aigües Tortes National Park and Salardu
When we woke up it was still cloudy and we decided to continue to the Aran valley for the next endemic rock lizard. We started at 9 and reached Andorra around 10.30. 11.30 we had a small lunch in the city. After we turned west in Spain, we made a stop on the road climbing up the mountain at a paradise for butterflies. We stayed for more than an hour just taking photos of apollos and some 15 other species. We then continued to Espot and the national park Aigües Tortes. Around 16.00 we came to the parking and walked on the track to the lake. Around the meadows we saw Common Wall Lizards (Podarcis muralis) and Spanish Wall Lizards (Podarcis hispanicus). The landscape was impressive and we also had a nice observation of Bearded Vulture. Our final destination this day was Salardu where we found a nice hotel by the road on the west side of the town. The owner was very interested in photography and gave us some good advice for the next day excursion and showed us some very nice photos.

Aigües Tortes, © Per Blomberg Aigües Tortes, © Per Blomberg
Aigües Tortes, © Per Blomberg Aigües Tortes, © Per Blomberg
Aigües Tortes, © Per Blomberg Aigües Tortes, © Per Blomberg

6 July, Aran Valley
We had a wonderful breakfast (one of the best I have had in Spain) and started out at 9 for the small road up to Bagergue and 2 kilometers beyond. There we decided to park the car and walk the road up the valley. Several 4-wheel drive cars made the track all the way up (also a small fiat!). The walk up the valley was wonderful with flowers, butterflies, Bearded Vulture, Golden Eagle, Griffon Vulture and much more. When we came to the cabaña after around two hours the clouds started to come and it got more windy and colder. I made a long walk in the pastures along the river looking for Asp Viper (Vipera aspis) but just found some Common Frogs (Rana temporaria), salamander larvae and Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis). Along the track going further up from the cabaña we then found several Aran Rock Lizards (Iberolacerta aranica) and took photos for almost two hours. In total we saw around 10 individuals. When we went down we stopped at the small pond and found Fire Salamander larvae (Salamandra salamandra) and a female Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus). The pond was full of tadpoles, probably Common Frog (Rana temporaria). On the way down we again had nice observation of Bearded Vulture.

Aran Valley by car, © Per Blomberg
Apollo Butterfly in Aran valley, © Per Blomberg Aran Valley, © Per Blomberg
Aran Valley, © Per Blomberg Aran Valley, © Per Blomberg Fire Salamander larva in Aran Valley, © Per Blomberg
Iberolacerta aranica, © Per Blomberg Iberolacerta aranica, © Per Blomberg

7 July, Lac Long and Ordesa-Mont Perdido National Park
This day we headed for Ordesa national park but took the way through France and stopped at Lac Long high up in the French Pyrenees. It was cloudy all the way from Aran valley to the site but when we reached the dam at more than 2000 meters, the sun shone through. Behind the café is a hill where we looked for Pyrenean Rock Lizard (Iberolacerta bonnali). First we just found a Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis) but after more intensive searching we found 3-4 individuals of Pyrenean Rock Lizard (Iberolacerta bonnali). Taking photos required a lot of patience since the lizards were really shy. As usual I made a long walk looking for Asp Viper (Vipera aspis) without any luck. Around 2 we continued and made a stop at the French side of the tunnel. It was cloudy, 12 degrees, and we did not see much. On the Spanish side it was 20 degrees and when we drove down in the valley it became more than 28 degrees. We made a brief stop at the southeast corner of the Ordesa-Mont Perdido national park. The dry vegetation and hot climate almost chocked us. Along the road we suddenly had a huge amount of raptors and vultures, more than 10 Egyptian Vultures, 10 Griffon Vultures and 10 Kites. There was probably some good meat out there. We then drove up to Torla where we checked in at Ordesa Hotel 2 km up from Torla along the road to the national park.

Lac Long, © Per Blomberg Iberolacerta bonnali, © Per Blomberg

8 July, Ordesa National Park
We started out with a big breakfast and went out for the bus going up to the national park. We missed to buy tickets in advance but managed to get the third bus at 9.30. It was a clear blue sky and around 20 degrees. We made a walk on the meadows around the river but did not found any herpetofauna. We saw a roe deer and some orchids and of course a lot of birds. We then started the climb up to the Cotatuero Falls through the nice forest. I walked ahead and was sitting waiting when a couple stopped and told me my friends had found a salamander. I then made a fine record on 400 meters steep path with 15 kilo photo equipment. Tommi had found a Pyrenean Brook Newt (Calotriton asper) and it seamed to be an adult female. Happy we climbed up to the waterfalls and had a break. We then continued along the side of the ridge to the west and hade a very nice view of two Chamois. The landscape is incredible from up here and the walk was a real joy. At the junction to get down to the Pradera and the bus we made a stop at the creek. It was little water this year but after a while I found a Pyrenean Brook Newt larva (Calotriton asper) and then a frog jumping away. We hoped for a Pyrenean Frog (Rana pyrenaica) but the pattern was not right. After a while Tommi found another three frogs and all were around 4-5 cm long, throat spotted grey, upper lip whitish, but pattern was more like Rana temporaria. Also the altitude of 1900 meters is more than normal for Rana pyrenaica and the tadpoles in the small pond were blacker than Rana pyrenaica. We then walked down to the bus and caught the 18.00 bus back to the hotel.

Lasse in Ordesa, © Per Blomberg Epipactis atrorubens, © Per Blomberg Ordesa, © Per Blomberg
Ordesa, © Per Blomberg Ordesa, © Per Blomberg Ordesa, © Per Blomberg
Lac Long, © Per Blomberg Rana temporaria, © Per Blomberg

9 July, Broto to Biescas
We started a little later than normal and got in the car at around 9.30 driving over the mountains from Broto to Biescas. In a bend we made a stop at a creek. Here was several Common Wall Lizards (Podarcis muralis), Spanish Wall Lizard (Podarcis hispanicus), some pale tadpoles, orchids and many butterflies, but not any more exiting herpetofauna on my last chance for more twitches. Tommi and Lasse drove me to Hesca where we said goodbye and I caught the bus to Barcelona.

Podarcis hispanicus, © Per Blomberg Podarcis muralis, © Per Blomberg
galathea ssp., © Per Blomberg

To be continued by Lasse and Tommi...

11 July 2005 /Per Blomberg

9 July, Huesca to Foret d'Iraty
After leaving Per in Huesca we drove northwest on the A132 and then continued north in the beautiful Roncal valley where we had some very close looks at Griffon Vultures. We then followed the road down to Foret d'Iraty at the French side.

On the way there we found a dam full of Palmate Newts (Lissotriton helveticus). The weather was a little cold now. A bit below the forest we found a nice little hotel in the village Lecumberry where we spent the two following nights.

Griffon Vulture, © Lars Bergendorf Hummigbird Hawk Moth, © Lars Bergendorf

10 July, Foret d'Iraty
We spent the day in Foret d'Iraty. When we arrived the wet fog had just disappeared. After a few minutes of searching Tommi found a brown Seoane's Viper (Vipera seoanei) half hidden in a small bush, I found another one a little later.

Next stop was a small creek recommended by Jeroen. In and around this creek we found some young Common Toads (Bufo bufo), larvae of Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra), some of them with an incipient yellow/black pattern, Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus) and 10 to 15 adults and juveniles of Pyrenean Frog (Rana pyrenaica). We also found a lot of big tadpoles of this species; black with small white spots.

Seoane's Viper, © Lars Bergendorf Foret d'Iraty, © Lars Bergendorf
Fire Salamander larva and Pyrenean Frog tadpole, © Lars Bergendorf Pyrenean Frog, © Lars Bergendorf

11 July, Foret d'Iraty to Gavarnie
We drove the A64 motorway via Pau and Tarbes up to Gavarnie. This is a very touristy place so we stayed at a hotel in Gedre just north of Gavarnie instead. In the afternoon we drove back to Gavarnie and into d'Ossoue valley. Here we found a lot of butterflies, heard the first Marmots whistleings and in the big creek a French boy caught two Pyrenean Brook Newts (Calotriton asper) for us. An easy way to herphunt!!:-). Later in the day we also saw some Marmots very close to a road, high up in the mountains.

Tommi in Garvanie, © Lars Bergendorf Pyrenean Brook Newts, © Lars Bergendorf
Marmot, © Lars Bergendorf On the road again, © Lars Bergendorf

12 July, Gavarnie to Vicdessos
Alongside the road at Col du Tourmalet we saw a pair of Snowfinches (Montefringilla nivalis). When we arrived to Vicdessos in the late afternoon the weather was very pleasant compared to the week before. Clear blue sky this time. After some searching for a hotel in Auzat we decided to take the same hotel in Vicdessos as the week before for the two following nights.

13 July, Rock lizard
At around 9 o'clock we drove up to the parking at Etang de Soulcem. About one and a half hours walk took us to the slope for Aurelio's Rock Lizard (Iberolacerta aurelioi). This time we saw exactly where to climb to the rocks to see these lizards. I quite soon spotted the first one and in the following hours time we saw at least seven individuals. What a pleasant feeling that we now managed to find this rare animal! We also saw some Viviparous Lizards (Zootoca vivipara) in the grassy parts of the slope. Along the walking path some Common Frogs (Rana temporaria) and a larva of Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra). The taste of the whiskies on the balcony back at the hotel were extra good this evening!

Aurelio's Rock Lizard, © Lars Bergendorf Another Aurelio's Rock Lizard, © Lars Bergendorf
Habitat for Aurelio's Rock Lizard, © Lars Bergendorf Lasse on the way back to Etang de Soulcem, © Lars Bergendorf

14 July, Vicdessos to Ribes
At the roadside on the Spanish side we saw the journey's first and only Western Green Lizard (Lacerta bilineata) and a lot of large and beautiful Apollo butterflies. Around noon we arrived to Ribes. This day was just for relaxing and some sightseeing in the little village. The temperature was around 28º C.

15 July, Nuria
We took the charming train up to Nuria at 2000 meters. Up here we walked into a valley alongside a little creek. We had some nice observations of Griffon Vultures and a pair of Snake Eagles. We also spotted our first Spanish Marmot.

16 July, Ribes to Barcelona
Just a slow drive south in an increasing heat, to warm for herphunting! South of Barcelona, in the little village Cubelle, we found a hostel for the last night.

17 July, Barcelona to Sweden
In the afternoon we drove to the airport and then via Copenhagen to our hometown Helsingborg in Sweden.

To sum it up:
I and Tommi found all the five endemic herpspecies and Per three of them. This was our goal for the trip.

I haven't mentioned the Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis) in my report since it was seen at most places during the second week.

Since half a year I have an inflamed Achilles' tendon. This sometimes made the walking and climbing rather painful for me. Thanks to Tommi and Per for their help in some of the tougher parts during the trip.

OK, only fourteen species, but seven were new to me and Tommi. All in all we are quite satisfied with the trip.

20 July 2005 /Lasse Bergendorf

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