Andalusia, Spain, 22nd to 29th of March 2008

It has been years since I did my last herp-trip, and years since my last report here at club100.net. Since we now live in Sweden again and the conditions have normalised a bit, me and my wife considered a family trip somewhere. I voted for some nice herp-infested place in southern Europe and after some investigations we got some cheap tickets for Malaga and the planning started. A house just north of Ronda and a rental car were booked via the Internet and I studied all avilable sources of information on the herpetofauna in Andalucia. My wife also invited her brother and his family to come and stay with us in the house. I last visited southern Spain in 1989 and was well aware that this trip was more of a family holiday than a hard-core herp-hunting expedition.

Saturday 22 March - Travel to a cold house

We flew with SAS directly from Stockholm to Malaga and after some phone calls to the Swedish office of the car rental company we even managed to get the keys for a brand new Renault Laguna. Delayed by rental-car debacle we stopped for some supplies and then tried to find our way to Ronda. We had some difficulties to get to the Autovia but just managed before darkness fell and it started to rain, a lot! We drove through the driving rain on the winding mountain road and eventually found the way to the house in Huertas La Reala just to the North West of Ronda. The house had probably been unused all winter and the temperature inside was around 10°C. We found the electric radiators and keept the fire burning until we fell asleep.

A warming fire in the winter cold house
A warming fire in the winter cold house

Sunday 23 March - Ronda Town

A new day dawned. The rain had stopped and the weather was cold and windy. The rest of the company wanted to explore Ronda and since the weather was rather crap for herp hunting I agreed. Ronda is an old town first settled by the early Celts. It's famous for it's bridges across the canyon, for it's bullfighting ring (the oldest in Spain, 1784) and for having had Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles among it's inhabitants. We strolled the streets, admired the views and had excellent coffe. While doing so the weather improved and the temperature approached 15°C. Not a single lizard.

Ronda to the north
Ronda to the north

View from Ronda to the west
View from Ronda to the west

Monday 24 March - Cueva del Gato and the garden

Woke up with a fever :-( and the lawn outside the house was covered in frost! The sun was shining from a clear blue sky though and we set off for Cueva del Gato in the morning. I felt rather bad but explored the area close to the cave when my brother-in-law told me he spotted a snake (he knows absolutely nothing about snakes). I got very enthusiastic and started to ask him all sorts of questions about where he saw it, what it looked like, and so on. Then he told me he took a photograph of it. On the tiny screen of his camera I clearly saw a large Horseshoe Whip Snake Hemorrhois hippocrepis. I spent quite some time looking for it without result.

Waterfall out of Cueva Del Gato
Waterfall out of Cueva Del Gato

In the afternoon I felt worse so I spent the rest of the day resting in the garden. I must have looked pretty bad since the Griffon Vultures started to circle above my head... Suddenly I heard a rustling noise from an ivy-covered wall. The first lizard in Spain! A Large Psammodromus, Psammodromus algirus, came out to join me and lay basking in the sun.

Griffon Vulture above the garden
Griffon Vulture above the garden

Psammodromus algirus in the garden
Large Psammodromus in the garden

Tuesday 25 March - The hills and Cueva del Gato

Tuesday I felt a bit better and the weather was at least semi-decent so I set out alone to explore the hills at Boquete de Mures. It was quite steep and the ground was covered with various species of thorny plants. I saw a few Large Psammodromus, Psammodromus algirus, and also two Western Three-toed Skinks, Chalcides striatus, that did not want to pose for a photograph. A bit dissapointing since this was a new species to me. I also met two young men picking wild asparagus. They first thought I was after the same thing and had severe difficulties understanding that I had travelled from Sweden to see a lizard. This was surely only due to my lack of language skills ;-)

Habitat of the Western Thee-toed Skink with a view towards Ronda
Habitat of the Western Thee-toed Skink with a view towards Ronda

I also went back to Cueva del Gato to try to find the Horseshoe Whipsnake. I did not. I did find a Viperine Snake, Natrix maura, though and also spotted a couple of Spanish Terrapins, Mauremys leprosa, resting on some reed in the river (Rio Guadiaro).

Viperine Snake at Cueva Del Gato
Viperine Snake at Cueva Del Gato

Wednessday 26 March - Zahara and Grazalema

Frost in the morning again but a bright and sunny day and the family decided to go for a longer trip in the surroundings. First stop was on the slopes down towards Embalese de Zahara-El Gastor with the town of Zahara climbing the cliff to the west. The ground was rather dry with a couple of very large Prickly Pear Cactuses.

Zahara on the hill across the Embalese
Zahara on the hill across the Embalese

Under a stone I found a rather large and quite agressive spider. I'm not very fond of spiders but this one was easily the largest one I've seen in Europe so I took a photograph and checked with my spider-friend when I got back home. He told me this was an Andalusian Funnel-web Spider (Macrothele calpeiana). Indeed the biggest spider in Europe and only present in southern Spain. Apart from this we only found some orchids and a dead goat...

Andalusian Funnel-web Spider
A rather upset Andalusian Funnel-web Spider

We drove up to Zahara, had an excellent lunch and then climbed to the castle at the very top of the town. The temperature climbed with us and was now around 20°C. A couple of nicely green Andalusian Wall Lizards, Podarcis vaucheri, came out on the cliffs surrounding the trail.

Andalusian Wall Lizard in Zahara
Very pretty Andalusian Wall Lizard in Zahara

We left Zahara and drove towards Grazalema. After a couple of kilometers we stopped at the parking lot west of the road and went for a short hike in the mountains. The trail was really scenic with great views, nice vegitation with lots of orchids and other flowers.

Las Canillas, home of orchids and Worm Lizards
Las Canillas, home of orchids and Worm Lizards

Mirror Orchid Early Purple Orchid
Mirror Orchid             Early Purple Orchid

I found a couple of stones that I immediately turned and found two Iberian Worm Lizards, Blanus cinereus. It may look like an earth worm but they rarely bite you :-) As you would expect we also saw the odd Large Psammodromus, Psammodromus algirus. We arrived in Grazalema late in the afternoon and the temperature dropped with the setting sun. We strolled the streets and had coffee and ice cream in a restaurant before we drove back to the house.

Worm Lizard
The super cool Worm Lizard biting my thumb

Thursday 27 March - Benajoan and beyond

While the weather was rather cold and windy in the morning the temperature inside the house had finally started to reach decent levels. We decided to ignore the conditions and explore the valley north of Montejaque. The nature here was quite dramatic with a lot of cliffs framed by black clouds and circling Griffon Vultures. The temperature was only around 10°C with occasional rain... We climbed the slopes and found several Iberian Worm Lizards, Blanus cinereus, under the plentyful stones. The children were not too keen on this and we went back to the car and drove back. When we rounded the mountain in Benajoan we saw the sun again and we stopped again at Cueva del Gato since the children loved to balance on the stones and I was rather keen to try to find that Whipsnake. The children did not fall into the water and I did not find the snake. The only herptile found here was a Moorish Gecko, Tarentola mauritanica, hiding in a crack under the railway bridge.

Cerro Tavinza
Cerro Tavinza

Friday 28 March - The Grand Day Out

Last day before we had to go back to Sweden and what a fantastic one! The sun was shining and we drove towards Grazalema and made a stop at Mojon de la Dehesa were we spotted some concrete water basins. With no amphibians at all so far I started to get desperate. We made our way through the bushes only to find the basins cracked and empty. Under a stone I found another, slightly smaller, Andalusian Funnel-web Spider.

Mojon de la Dehesa
Mojon de la Dehesa

After a short detour to Grazalema to buy fresh bread we continued south to the meadows at Casas La Reina where I hoped to find some amphibians. The brook and it's damp surroundings was throughly examined with no result. A couple of Large Psammodromus, Psammodromus algirus, of course and then suddenly what first looked a bit like the Spanish Wall Lizards of Zahara but turned out to be a Spanish Psammodromus, Psammodromus hispanicus. Happiness!

Spanish Psammodromus
Beatiful Spanish Psammodromus, I was very happy to find this one

We went on. Under a stone I found an evil looking Yellow Scorpion, we spotted several species of birds of prey and of course numerous Large Psammodromus, Psammodromus algirus.

Yellow Scorpion
Evil looking Yellow Scorpion

Large Psammodromus
Large Psammodromus

We drove down towards Ubrique and made several stops along the way. We had a very good lunch at Restaurant Las Vegas(!) in Benaocaz. We peaked over at the next table where the local construction workers ordered wild asparagus omelet, various chicken dishes and plenty of vine. We skipped the wine though.

Red Striped Blister Beetle
Red Striped Blister Beetle

After the lunch we drove through Ubrique and stopped at Huerta Barea for a walk. Among the cork oaks we found a couple of Large Psammodromus, Psammodromus algirus, and under every other stone an Iberian Worm Lizard, Blanus cinereus. We also found a big and beatiful Red Striped Blister Beetle and plenty of Scarce Swallowtail butterflies. The ground was quite sandy with plenty of Lavender and Heather.

Scarce Swallowtail
Scarce Swallowtail

Honey Bee
Honey Bee

We drove back to the house and everyone was quite exhausted and happy to get some rest. But it was not over yet. I convinced my older daughter (quite easily) of the beauty of Gecko watching at night and we drove back to Cueva del Gato again. We found two Moorish Geckos, Tarentola mauritanica, but also several dozens of huge Common Toads, Bufo bufo. I got the feeling they were out looking for a pond to mate in.

Common Toad
Huge Common Toad

Moorish Gecko
Moorish Gecko under railway bridge

Saturday 29 March - Back home

We started early in the morning and drove down to the coast. We spent a couple of hours on and around the beach. The children played in the sand and I looked for lizards before we drove to the airport and flew back to the snow in Sweden.

So, one week in Spain. No amphibians except for Common Toad and only one new species, Western Three-toed Skink. The Spanish Psamodromus was really nice though. And Spain is nice. Considering that it seemed like the Common Toads had not yet mated and the relative scarseness of lizards; could it be that the end of March is too early for herptiles at this altitude? I'll simply have to go back later to find out.

/Anders Selmer

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