Sardinia and Corsica 13th to 18th of April 2004

Sardinia and Corsica are interesting places from a herptile point of view and when I managed to negotiate a few days away from wife and kid(s) club100 friend Per was quick to join in. Ryanair does cheap flights from Sweden to Stansted and from Stansted to Alghero on Sardinia and Per arrived from Sweden on the 12th for the final planning. Equipment had been prepared, localities checked (many thanks to Jeroen Speybroeck for his enthusiastic support) and a lot of film had been purchased…

13th of April, Tuesday

It started out kind of bad when the battery pack for the newly refurbished head torch light caught fire (yes really) when it was disconnected from the charger. A new led-torch was purchased in some toys for boys shop at the airport but compared to the massive Swedish orienteering head light it was of course not much. The flight went smooth and we landed on time in Alghero were the ground was wet due to recent heavy rain. The rental car turned out to be a brand new Citroen C2 with a really space age interior and with two full grown Vikings with camping and camera equipment it was just about full. We set out for lago Baratz which is one of few natural lakes on the island. On the way we stopped in Santa Maria La Palma for purchase of pecorino (cheese) and salumi sarda (salami). Just after the village we found a small Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus) on the road. It had no visible injuries but behaved very odd so we guessed that it must have been hit by a car. At the lake Per saw a lot of Hermann's Tortoise in 2001 but now they were all hiding away somewhere. We had salami and cheese down by the lake while watching the bird life and afterwards walked around for a while; quite a few orchids but no signs of any herptiles.

Anders photographing Western Whipsnake © Per Blomberg

We then drove down to the coast to an old stone tower (Torre Bantine Sale) to look for Geckos but the quite cold and very windy conditions were not ideal. The sunset was beautiful though.

We spent the night at a camping in Alghero with excellent cappuccino and a Striated Scops Owl whistling. During the night we had some really heavy showers and a lot of wind but in the morning the sky was clear and the wind had died away.

14th of April, Wednesday

We had the remains of the salami and cheese for breakfast and set out north towards Corsica. We passed Sassari and drove road 200 towards the coast. Just after the right turn inland for Santa Teresa we stopped and went for a stroll in the hills. There were some scattered clouds but the sun started to warm things up. We soon saw a Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus) disappearing in the grass but nothing much else. Then we found a big Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus) under a stone and shortly after a Pygmy Algyroides (Algyroides fitzingeri) and four more really big skinks. A photo session broke out of course and during this the sun had heated the ground enough for a couple of Italian Wall Lizards (Podarcis sicula) to come out to bask in the sun. On the way back to the car we spotted several more Italian Wall Lizards and another Western Whip Snake and we were very happy indeed with the stop.

Roadside stop © Anders Selmer

We then continued for another 25 kilometres towards Santa Teresa and stopped at a brook just after Badesi. There were a nice waterfall and a few pools where a large number of green frogs leaped into the water. After some efforts, involving getting partly undressed, a big male was caught. According to Arnold no green frogs are present on Sardinia and only Italian Pool Frog is present on Corsica. In 'Atlas de repartition des batraciens et reptiles de Corse' however, the green frogs on Corsica are presented as Edible Frogs and the sheer size of the caught animal led us to believe that this indeed was an Edible Frog (Pelophylax kl. esculentus). Other features like vocal sacs and metatarsal tubercle strengthened that view (If anybody out there in cyberspace knows anything please get in touch. Photos will be available shortly and I've posted a question in the forum).

Brook with pools and Edible Frogs? © Anders Selmer

After this exiting stop we continued to Santa Teresa with another stop on the plains south of the city but no herptiles were found here (but quite a few orchids).

The ferry trip to Corsica was a roller coaster ride with high waves and quite a few people feeling sick. We were a bit worried that our car should be crushed by the big lorries loaded with stone but both the human and machine part of our expedition arrived safely to the spectacular city of Bonifacio at Corsica. After checking the detailed distribution maps of 'Atlas de repartition des batraciens et reptiles de Corse' we decided to make a stop at three ponds just were road 198 meets the east coast just south of the tower of Punta di Fautea. Just as we arrived at 5 pm the sun disappeared behind heavy clouds. The vegetation was very dense and the ponds were a bit difficult to localise and even harder to access. During our struggles we met a Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard (Podarcis tiliguerta) who proved to be a quite patient model. When we finally reached one of the ponds it was full of car wrecks and horse manure… Quite soon we found a European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis) and then several more. Green frogs sounding rather more like Edible Frogs than Italian Pool Frogs were unfortunately out of sight.

Per waiting for European Pond Terrapin to come out © Anders Selmer

After some shopping and the retrieval of Per's lost binoculars we spent the night at Camping Eucalyptus next to a pond with hundreds of Tyrrhenian Tree Frogs (Hyla sarda) and green frogs once again sounding very much like Edible Frogs… The green frogs didn't want to be seen but we got some pictures of Tyrrhenian Tree Frog and recorded their sound. The voices of the green frogs were completely drowned by the tree frogs and were not really possible to distinguish on the recording. The night was fantastic with all the frogs and a clear and star spangled sky. We finally went to bed and when we for some reason woke up at half past four in the morning we noticed that the tree frogs now were silent but the green frogs continued to call. We were too lazy to get out of our sleeping bags at this time though.

15th of April, Thursday

Early in the morning it then started to rain, a lot! We got into the car and drove for Corte. We picked up a loaf of bread at a boulangerie and had breakfast in a bus shed that was reasonably dry. We then drove to Cascades des Anglais south of Corte and arrived at half past nine. The rain almost stopped and we set out in the cold and damp moss overgrown forest. We soon spotted a frog diving into a pool and some spawn in the same pool. With great patience and some acrobatics a very big male Corsican Painted Frog (Discoglossus montalentii) was caught. In another pool we found a larvae of Corsican Fire Salamander (Salamandra corsica) and made use of the newly build photo aquarium. Under a stone we also found a female Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard (Podarcis tiliguerta) being quite slow in the cold weather. We continued upstream and looked under hundreds of stones and logs but did not find any signs of the parents of the Corsican Salamander larvae. I have exactly the same experience with Fire Salamander, anyone out there with any ideas where they hide? We found another larva in another pool but nothing much else. The rain started again and after lots of thoughts on how to optimise the short time we had to spend we decided to leave and drive back to Sardinia. When we came back to the car we found a dead Little Grebe next to it. How and why it ended up in the mountains we don't know. However, the three hour journey back to Bonifacio was uneventful and the sun almost shone on us when we made a quick stop for some food.

Per looking at Corsican Painted Frog © Anders Selmer

The ferry trip back to Santa Teresa was a lot flatter this day in spite of a very strong wind. Back on Sardinia we drove to the archaeological site Malchittu with its Nuraghe were Per observed Marginated Tortoise in 2001. The cold and windy conditions were far from ideal and with no luck we continued south to Vaccileddi were we found a camping. The tent dried out quickly in the wind and after a pizza at a local ristorante we went gecko hunting among the cliffs by the coast. No geckos were found but Tyrrhenian Tree Frogs (Hyla sarda) called from several different locations. The sky was clear and we hoped for the wind to die away during the night.

16th of April, Friday

The wind didn't die away! It doubled; and a heavy rain was added! I have been to the east coast of Malaysia during the monsoon and have to admit that the rain there was a fraction heavier but the wind was nothing like this. It was like walking in a high pressure brush-less car wash. We did some shopping and had a coffee (well – Per had orange juice) at a local bar and then drove up in the Monte Albo mountains through Siniscola to look for cave salamanders. The visibility was sometimes down to less than 20 metres and of what must have been breath taking views we saw very little. We made a stop and protected by Gore-Tex and Fleece we went for a walk. The mountains are really like a big cheese and if I were a cave salamander I would have liked it. The miserable conditions made us give up quite quickly and we drove to grotta di Ispingoli. Per ran out in the rain and found out that there eventually should be a guided tour at 4. It was only half past 1 and it seemed very closed so we continued to grotta sa Oche. The road for the last 10 kilometres was really bad. This is an open and quite big cave and we spent a while exploring it. No salamanders.

After this the wind was less strong and we decided to hike to the ancient village of Monte Tiscali. During the walk both rain and wind died away completely and it was now very damp and very still. It is quite a climb to get there and when you finally get there you are greeted by a small man who sits in a tent in the crater and charges you 5 Euro. I doubt that he met any other people that day and he seemed very happy to get visitors and talked a lot about the animals he had seen there. On the way down we found some orchids and a couple (male and female) Tyrrhenian Wall Lizards (Podarcis tiliguerta) under a stone. The rain also started again…

Since it rained less(!) we decided to hike to Tiscali © Anders Selmer

We continued to Cala Gonone to camp and got us some ravioli and tiramisu. The tent was really wet and since the wind had died away completely it did not dry. The sea was really wild after the storm with waves some three metres high. A pitty we didn't come to surf…

17th of April, Saturday

During the night it rained again, and again, and again. In the morning it was at least reasonable, or maybe even promising, and we went over the mountains and down in the beautiful valley surrounding the river rio Flumineddu to hike to Gorroppu which is a ravine with a dam at the end. During our walk we almost saw the sun a couple of times but when we entered the ravine it started to rain again and the big rocks that we had to climb got really slippery. After a few hundred metres in the ravine we reached deep water and in the cold weather we did not really feel like swimming and decided to give up and have some lunch.

Hiking to Gorruppu © Anders Selmer

On the way back we stopped at the river and found a lot of recently hatched tadpoles. Usually such small tadpoles are tricky but with only three options (Hyla, Bufo or Discoglossus) we were convinced that they were Tyrrhenian Painted Frog (Discoglossus sardus). We made quite an effort to find some of their parents but they obviously did not like the cold and rain. Tyrrhenian Tree Frogs (Hyla sarda) were also calling from bushes at several locations along the river but never in the river itself.

On the way back through the valley we stopped at a small stream and looked under two stones and found one Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus) under each but nothing in the stream.

We then drove up in the Sopramonte mountains again to have a go at Bedriaga’s Rock Lizard somewhere close to the Genna Cruxi pass at 1000+ metres. Up here it was really cold and windy and in spite of looking under quite a few stones we had no luck. Per had also spotted a blue spot at the map (Cantoniera Giustizieri east of Urzulei). Probably a dam but we decided to go there to have a look. It turned out to be a roundish field, some 200 metres across and if not possible to travel by boat at least very, very damp. In some places it was deeper and here we found thousands of recently hatched Tyrrhenian Painted Frog (Discoglossus sardus) tadpoles. The field was also full of sheep, horses, cows, pigs and various non domestic birds… Among these creatures we once again set out for the parents but with no success.

The blue spot on the map, Cantoniera Giustizieri, © Anders Selmer

On our way back to the Camping we went to look for suitable cliffs or rocks for later gecko hunting. We found some interesting ones just behind the camping and after the last supper at Sardinia we went there to have a look. No rock or crack escaped our torch lights but all geckos escaped us… We also heard Tyrrhenian Tree Frogs (Hyla sarda) call from at least two locations. Due to the strong winds it was difficult to tell where but some sounded like coming from the camping itself. Maybe a water tank?

18th of April, Sunday

A night with no rain! The first during our stay! It was also our last day on Sardinia with latest check in for the flight at a quarter past four. We had a quick breakfast, packed the stuff in the car and drove to Oliena, navigated through the city and ascended towards Scala E Pradu. We parked the car along the roadside and walked through the woods looking for Cave Salamanders in every cavity we found. A few bigger caves were just possible to enter if you were a brave herpetologist. Exhausted and without any observed Cave Salamanders we got out above the forest and sat down to rest and have a look at the wonderful view. After some chocolate we decided to have a last go for Bedriaga’s Rock Lizard and went off to look under a few stones. Quite soon we found a young Supramontane Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis) – cheering and mad photographing broke out. We both agreed that this definitely made up for the past few days of horrific weather. Now time was running out but we looked under a few more stones and found a well grown adult as well. More photos, more cheering. With mad grins on our faces we then practically ran back to the car to drive to the airport.

Per photographing Cave Salamander © Anders Selmer

Apart from some showers and a night mare deviation experience in Nuoro the journey to Bose on the west coast was without obstructions. Here we had to ask our way but then got onto the coastal road for Alghero. The weather here was really nice and after a look at our watches we decided to make a stop close to the Torre Argentina tower to get some photos of Tyrrhenian Wall Lizards (Podarcis tiliguerta). So far we had seen four (4) specimens whereof three had been found under stones. Here they were everywhere and we used a lot of film. An Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus) was also found under a stone. We were now really late for our flight and drove hastily on the beautiful road to Alghero (a shame really). We decided to pay the car rental company to refuel the car to save a few minutes and arrived at the parking place some 90 minutes before the scheduled flight time with all our stuff in a mess in the car. We emptied the car, stuffed everything in our bags and arrived at the check in 20 minutes before the last check in. Our wet and overweight luggage passed check in without any problems and we arrived at rainy and windy Stansted ahead of schedule. After an hour or so we also got our bags (that obviously had spent that hour outdoors without cover) and got onto the bus for Cambridge. The bus driver had some mad tendencies and on the M11 he suddenly stopped and told us that the condition of the wipers mad it unsafe to continue and asked us to move forward in the bus if we were run into from behind. After half an hour or so a new bus turned up and then finally we reached our destination for the night.

Coast north west of Bosa © Anders Selmer

To sum it up:
Five days is a short period of time and the weather in April is unpredictable. We had really bad luck with the weather. However; with nice company (thank you Per!) and enthusiastic support (thanks Jeroen!) we managed to observe 13 species of herptiles. 6 new to me and 4 new to Per.

/Anders Selmer

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