La Spezia

La Spezia

Postby Kevin Byrnes » Fri Feb 07, 2020 10:38 pm

It is nice to have time off from work at Christmas but having a just few days available for herping either side is rather annoying. Needing a quick "Hit and run" type of trip I chose northern Italy to try and tick off the three remaining cave salamanders on my list. I checked which flights were available for the time I had and chose to fly into Milan, and drive south east to a location for Spleomantes strinatii stopping enroute at a couple of locations for Common Spadefoot Pelobates fuscus and Italian agile frog Rana latastei. I had no idea if these last two species would be out but my route took me past them and I hoped for a wet warm night with the chance of some amphibians moving.
Saturday 28th December
I landed at night time in Milan airport, collected the car and began my 300km drive, my first problem soon showed itself, the satnav lead got stuck behind the steering wheel and was pulled out damaging the end. For a moment I thought that the trip was ruined and I would never find the locations or even my airbnb, luckily I managed to fix it and carry on with the long journey. The next event soon followed, I noticed that the petrol gauge had not moved but there seemed to be another on the other side labelled CNG that was almost empty. The hire car company had not mentioned this and panic began to set in. I pulled into the next fuel station and the man there kindly explained that it was compressed natural gas and he filled the car for me, I didn't see it for sale again for three days.
I carried on and stopped at the Spadefoot location where Suzanne and I had stopped in an earlier trip, This was a small nature reserve where the manager had shown us P fuscus and Italain tree frog Hyla intermedia caught the day before and held temporarily in a classroom for educational purposes, these were nice to see but didn't count. The conditions now were terrible with the ground frozen and the temperature -2c. I carried on south to my next stop but it was the same here with a heavy frost covering everything. I finally arrived at the cave feeling optimistic despite the -3c temperature and walked along to the gated cave entrance but noticed that the small side passage that me and Suzanne had wriggled through was now blocked. I shone the torch and around the entrance but saw no sign of life. Finding most of the stones frozen into the ground I wriggled into a couple of nearby passages seeing just cave crickets and spiders. I slid down into a larger wet cave nearby that looked perfect but despite a thorough search I had no luck.
I returned to the car and tried to sleep but it was just too cold and uncomfortable. The gas level was amost empty again but I figured I had enough to get to Genoa and fill back up. I pulled into a fuel station at 7 am and asked someone how to switch from gas to petrol, he didn't know, his friends didn't know, no other visitors knew and he couldn't find it in the manual. I couldn't risk running out on the main highway so began to text friends back in the UK. Two hours later I began to get some replies "It switches over automatically" phew what a relief !!
Feeling very confident I cruised along to my next stop, a large cave and home to Ambrosi's cave salamander Speleomantes ambrosii. I had seen this cave entrance in a couple of trip reports and by digging around online soon worked out where it was. I paused in front of the cave to take in the view and thought "Right, where do I start" I walked closer, put my rucksack on the floor, flipped the stone next to it and there it was...S ambrosii, well that was easy !

ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr

ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr

ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr

ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr

I took a few photos, checked a promising looking nearby cave with no luck and moved onto La Spezia.
ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr

ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr

My next stop was a small cave with a stream running through it where I had hoped to find the Italian stream frog Rana italica a good look through the cave and stream gave only a Common Toad Bufo bufo. I had tried to find this cave in 2015 in torrential rain and had missed it by a hundred metres, this year with a bit more research I walked straight to it in the sunshine. Another B bufo was found beneath a log in the wood and several Wall lizards Podarcis muralis were basking in the winter sunshine.

ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr

ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr

ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr

A good start to the trip and so I headed off to meet the owner of the airbnb who said she sees Fire salamanders in her large garden. A night time search revealed nothing.
Monday 30th December
I left the house at 8 am, drove down a valley white with frost with -4c and headed north to a location near Bobbio. I had tried to find this place in 2015 but failed and so Suzanne and I had camped in our van on a nearby hill. As we left the area the next morning I looked up from the valley floor and saw the location but it was far away and we had no idea how to get there so decided to leave it for another visit. A bit of research gave me the spot and I was soon standing on the rock looking down into the pool I had always wanted to see. I paused for a moment in memory of Suzanne and then began to gaze into the shallow clear water. I quickly found my first Italian crested newt Triturus carnifex, soon followed by some Alpine newts Icthyosaura alpestris including what I assume to be a neotonous one.

ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr

ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr

ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr

ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr

ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr

ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr

ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr

ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr

ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr

I left here and stopped a mile down the road to text a friend and tell of my success here, he then told me that he was pretty sure he had found Italian newt Lissotriton italicus here. Now, I had 250 km to drive to my next and something didn't seem right about what he said, I didn't remember any mention of Italian newt in the trip reports but it was a species I needed so I headed back to the rock and spent an hour searching the pond again and checking under rocks and clumps of grass finding just another I alpestris.
250 km later I arrived at my next location in Tuscany, a cave where Strinati's cave salamander had been found. The sun was setting as I began the long hike to the cave cursing the hour I had wasted in Bobbio and soon it was time to switch on my head torch. I hoped I had enough battery power to find the cave, find the salamander and find my way back to the car. Somehow, somewhere I think I took a wrong turn and the mixture of directions to the cave from different website no longer made sense. I got rather excited when I found a concrete structure similar to the Sette fratelli bunker but sadly there was nobody home, I passed a ruined house, searched unsuccessfully for the cave and returned to the ruin. Fearing my torch light giving up I ran around flipping every stone, roof tile and lump of wood I could find. Eventually a sense of failure came over me and I knew I would have to return here on another trip, I began to walk back to my rucksack and said to myself "OK, just this last stone then" and there it was a little golden amber coil S strinatii, I could have cried. Everything had worked out fine, if I had arrived earlier, made it to the cave I might not even have found a salamander but there it was !

ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr

ImageItaly by Kevin Byrnes, on Flickr
Kevin Byrnes
 
Posts: 172
Joined: Sat Sep 05, 2009 11:44 am
Hometown: Stroud
country: England

Re: La Spezia

Postby Jose Luis Perez » Sun Feb 09, 2020 10:50 pm

Very good findings Kevin.
User avatar
Jose Luis Perez
 
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Location: Madrid (Spain)
Hometown: Madrid
country: Spain

Re: La Spezia

Postby Kevin Byrnes » Mon Feb 10, 2020 8:50 am

ooops, thanks Jose, not sure how that happened, edited now
Kevin Byrnes
 
Posts: 172
Joined: Sat Sep 05, 2009 11:44 am
Hometown: Stroud
country: England


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