Pyrenees & S. France

For your reports/images, made outside Europe and the "Mediterranean" countries. Not to be too narrow minded and limited to our European/Mediterranean herps.

Pyrenees & S. France

Postby Daniel Kane » Fri Oct 07, 2016 10:11 pm

The last couple of weeks I spent with my girlfriend exploring Catalonia and the south of France. We started with a city-break in Barcleona then drove into the Pyrenees for around a week. After that we had a few nights in Provence then headed back to Barcelona to catch the flight to London. A little over 1,000 miles driven in total.

During this 'holiday' trip we made some time for herping. The species list is not huge but for me represents 55% species seen for the first time so I'm ok with that. This area does have some really cool species which I didn't see this time so a proper herp trip back there is in my mind.. If anyone's interested in making a trip together just drop me a message :)

The first place out of the city we stayed in was on the Spanish side of the border in the central Pyrenees. While we stayed here I just had time for an afternoon walk in the hills a few Km from the French border. A pretty cold wind was blowing for a lot of the afternoon but some lizards were tempted out between the clouds. I imagine there are far more species to be seen here - habitat looked prefect for Salamandra and aspis in particular. Maybe next time.

View down the Vall d'Aran

Nice path through lizard habitat

Small Podarcis muralis

A larger male

Female Hogna radiata with young

A nice Lacerta bilineata

One morning we'd planned to search for one of my number 1 targets for this trip - the Aran rock lizard. Sunrise came and it was a prefect cloudless day, what luck! We made the drive up to around 1,900m, moving cows and rocks from the road so that our little Ibiza rental car could pass. We made it to the site for 10:30 when the temperature was 8*C. It didn't take lobg to see the first lixards up here. They are classed as 'Endangered' by IUCN on account of a small range and the usual anthropogenic threats, but for the time being they are very common in this habitat.

Habitat at 1,900m

Iberolacerta aranica

I. aranica in habitat

We saw probably 15 lizards before we moved a little higher up. I was looking alone in a different part of this habitat when something caught my eye. Not a lizard, but I'm happily nonetheless!

Young Vipera aspis

The snake didn't stick around for more than a few photos and retreated inside the rock inhabited by the lizards. A quick picnic later with some delicious cheeses and ham and it was back out.

I. aranica & V. aspis

V. aspis

aspis close-up

V. aspis

Now some more of the lizards... Typically this species had 3 large scales on the temporal region of the head, but a lot seemed to have the central scale divided up into smaller scales.

I. aranica

I. aranica

Nicely-patterned I. aranica

Smaller I. aranica

Duller I. aranica found by a river

I. aranica microhabitat

Keeping toes cool while basking on hot rocks

That was pretty much it for our time in Spain. Next we crossed the border and headed an hour East to stay for a few nights to the center of the Pyrenees. We were at about 1,600m here, so almost at the tree line, and the apartment was in a great location. Panoramic views down the valley to the south, and straight up the mountains from the front door. On these peaks you could be watching vultures soar at very close ranges. Some Griffon vultures even came so close as to be too large to fill the camera frame at 70mm! I'm not sure why there were so many birds of prey here, maybe just exceptional prey density, although I didn't see any sign of feed stations.

Griffon vulture

There were Griffon vulture, Lammergeier, Golden eagle, Kestrel and Peregrine. Nearby also Red kite. Not bad if you're into birds!

Both species together


Lammergier - incredible birds!

Around this area there were Viviparous lizards beside the ski slopes. In the Pyrenees lives the egg-laying subspecies louislantzi.

Zootoca vivipara louislantzi

On a nice sunny day, practically identical to the day we searched for Aran rock lizards on, we had a trip up to Lac de Cap de Long. This is a well-known area for the Pyreneean rock lizard Iberolacerta bonnali, hence our visit. After arriving it took around half an hour to see the first lizards, but they weren't what we wanted..

Podarcis muralis at 2,200m

Black redstart in Iberolacerta habitat

Never mind, we'll look somewhere else near the lake for them. No luck here either..

Nicely patterned P. muralis

Perhaps the other side of the lake, away from the people? Nope, just more muralis!

Never mind, we'll just head a little bit down the road and find some more habitat not so suited for Podarcis. And it worked, we managed to see a single baby vivipara! Still no Iberolacerta...

No Iberolacerta here

Young Z. vivipara

A frustrating end to what we thought would have been as easy as the aranica. Better luck next time! A short walk once we were back at the accommodation allowed us to watch a group of marmots in the setting sun opposite where we stayed which went some way to consoling the lack of little brown stripy lizards that day.


The final day here was forecast to be stormy and wet, so perfect for amphibian activity! A day inside followed by dinner in town was not as boring as it sounded. Driving home through the clouds there were a few Grass frogs hopping around, and I had my hopes up for salamanders. By the time we got home it was still just frogs and a tired girlfriend. Determined not to miss out on a species I'd wanted to see for a long time I headed out again and cruised the mountain road for a few Km, seeing more frogs and now Spiny toads. Stopping for another smallish pale reflection in the headlights I could tell it was different, and it was! My first Fire salamander!

Rana temporaria

Salamandra salamandra

A little closer

Another couple of salamanders were seen crossing the road that night and I went to bed happy. Here they should be terrestris and all seen fitted that phenotype.

A second Salamandra salamandra on the road

A third, this time smaller

The final herp-trip within this holiday was to Mt Ventoux in Provence. Reading some reports on this forum I saw others had had success here and as we were staying at the foot of this mountain it seemed the logical place to go. I'd been advised that a better bet would be to head 2h further south and east but time was limited so Ventoux it was!

Arriving at the ursinii site under clear blue skies and 16*C I started out optimistic. Half an hour scrutinising the small juniper bushes and no luck, and whilst searching I met a German couple who were out doing the same thing. We searched together until they called it a day about 45 mins later. I carried on for another hour or so and unfortunately no luck. Just more muralis.

The habitat

Omnipresent muralis

The final one of the trip

One thing I did notice here was how disturbed the habitat seemed - many of the larger rocks had been turned over without being replaced. The whole habitat gave the impression of being abused by certain people (popularity of the site?) and given the sensitive nature of the species everyone is there to see it was a shame. A good reason to perhaps be less clear on locations when writing online, you don't know who may see it.

Heading home with 5 new species seen on what was predominantly a non-herping summer holiday seemed a nice compromise to me. Looking forward to next time :D

Species list

Fire salamander Salamandra salamandra
Spiny toad Bufo spinosus
Common frog Rana temporaria

Moorish gecko Tarentola mauritanica
Aran rock lizard Iberolacerta aranica
Western green lizard Lacerta bilineata
Common wall lizard Podarcis muralis
Viviparous lizard Zootoca vivipara

Asp viper Vipera aspis
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Re: Pyrenees & S. France

Postby Bobby Bok » Sun Oct 09, 2016 6:39 pm

Very nice! Not the most species but overall a true Pyrenees wildlife trip with many iconic species. Would love to see me a Lammergeier one day!
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Re: Pyrenees & S. France

Postby lakiere pieter » Thu Nov 30, 2017 6:20 pm

I might be wrong but isn't it a vipera seoanei on the picture. Nice pics by the way.
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Re: Pyrenees & S. France

Postby Christoph Stenger » Thu Nov 30, 2017 6:43 pm

Nice pictures - also some nice species!

To me the Aspis looks like a aspis.


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Re: Pyrenees & S. France

Postby lakiere pieter » Thu Nov 30, 2017 7:08 pm

You are right maybe the vipera aspis zinnikeri.
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Re: Pyrenees & S. France

Postby Gerald Ochsenhofer » Thu Nov 30, 2017 8:52 pm

Nice shots! :-) I guess they were all done in situ?
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Re: Pyrenees & S. France

Postby Daniel Kane » Fri Dec 01, 2017 8:27 pm

Yes you guys were right, the viper was a young aspis zinnikeri. Shame you can't really see the upturned snout.

Gerald, yes all these photos were made in-situ. Always my preferred method, where possible.
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