Not another Morocco trip...

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Not another Morocco trip...

Postby Daniel Kane » Sat May 20, 2017 9:04 pm

This year my friend Tom and I decided to make a herp trip I had planned since 2015: due to my changing of jobs and moving around the country a few times we didn’t manage to find the right time until now. We flew to Agadir on the night of the 25th of April and herped our way around southern Morocco for a week. We hit up the usual locations and after a journey which took us from Agadir – Sidi Ifni – Guelmim - Tan tan – Tarfaya – Assa we settled back into Sidi Ifni for the final 2 nights of the trip.

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The route


On the first full day we drove from Agadir south and stopped somewhere in the Souss-Massa national park, near the coast. Chatting to some fishermen they told us that the area was full of lizards and snakes, but if we were to come one month later we would see many more snakes in and around the river as they seek refuge after being washed down from the mountains! I’m unsure about the validity of this claim but form the rest of the week the majority of Moroccans with whom we spoke about reptiles seemed pretty clued-up on the species of their respective area, and where & how exactly to find them.

In a few hours at this location we found many individuals of Acanthodactylus busacki, a few of Tarentola mauritanica and one of a deceased Testudo graeca ssp. soussensis. As we were hoping to get to Sidi Ifni in good time we didn’t hang around here too long so left around midday.

Along the way we stopped for a quick search in some nice habitat near Tiznit: here we found a large Latrodectus (dahli?) and an even larger cricket.

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Latrodectus sp.


In Sidi Ifni we found ourselves a hotel run by a lovely family, paid 160 Dh for a room and hit the road again for sundown. We had tea with some Berber men who told us about the snake-paradise which is Plage Blanc, so we thought we’d try out this location later in the week, but tonight was for road-cruising. Our first herp of the night was found a few hundred meters into a dry riverbed some way south of Sidi Ifni. A nice Hemorrhois hippocrepis; one of last years’ babies.

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Hemorrhois hippocrepis


Plenty of tracks from snakes, jerboas and other nocturnal animals around here, too. We also found a deceased red fox, at nearly the southern-most point of their distribution in this part of Africa. Surprisingly no other herps seemed active here tonight.

Driving home after midnight we found our first Tarentola chazaliae crossing the road. What cool little geckos!

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Tarentola chazaliae


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The camouflage


Almost back into town and we came across one of the animals I had wanted to see most: Boaedon. Unfortunately this adult male was a very fresh DOR. You can see the lovely green hue to the body which this animal had.

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Fresh DOR Boaedon fuliginosus


The next day we dove the same road and herped along the way. Species included Saurodactylus brosseti, Tarentola mauritanica juliae, Pelophylax saharicus, Barbarophryne brongersmai, Agama impalearis, and a ton of ground squirrels and sand rats.

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Little Saurodactylus brosseti


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Tarentola mauritanica juliae basking in the morning


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One of this year's metamorph Barbarophryne brongersmai


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Dorsal view of this pretty little toad


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Sand rat


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Herping heaven


We took a turn for Fort Bou Jerif which would be our first chance to test the off-road prowess of our rental Dacia. Surprisingly, very good! The car handled being driven on three or even two wheels with no trouble. The 10 Km road quickly turned into 15 Km and then maybe more, but we didn’t mind as there was an amazing landscape revealing itself in front of us and the area was full of agamas. Some of the females were looking very nice in their full breeding colours.

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Habitat in the hills


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Non-breeding female Agama impalearis


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Breeding female Agama impalearis


At the fort we had a look around and then checked out a dry riverbed, hoping for Bitis. None of these, but plenty of ticks (the small arachnids; not the same ticks that people like Paul are often in search of ;) )

Heading back in the heat of the day we measured ground temperature at almost 43 degrees with a UVI of over 10.0 – Agamas seemed to be enjoying these quite extreme conditions, basking in the road and all along the surrounding outcrops.

At a small river between Sidi Ifni and Plage Blanc we found our first Mauremys leprosa, ssp. saharica with the lovely blue eyes.

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Permanent small water course south of Plage Chaar


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Small Mauremys leprosa


That afternoon/evening we drove to Gulemim then on to Plage Blanc, on the word of some locals who say the area is full of cobras. We didn’t see these, but we did follow a truck for some distance before the driver moved over to the opposite side of the road to run over a large Malpolon monspessulanus. It was clear to see this animal had eaten a rodent of some sort that day. Not a brilliant way to see our first Malpolon! We returned to Gulemim for dinner at cafe Dubai (nice food, wifi) then carried on south.

We spent this night in Tan tan and headed down towards Tarfaya the next morning. Clearly we were hoping for Cerastes vipera, as well as some other iconic species of this region of sand dunes. On the way we stopped for a few hours and had a look for Bitis and Daboia but only saw three juvenile Acanthodactylus the whole time. This whole area was baked hard by the sun but there were occasional features such as rodent burrows and small bushes which created some cover for reptile life.

We carried on our drive south and somewhere near the Khinifiss Lagoon we set up our camp and got the kettle on, as so to speak. After an afternoon snooze we had a nice sit-down three course meal of chilli-chicken noodles, toast and sardines then tea and biscuits and watched the sun go down.

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Acanthodactylus aureus - like little rockets across the hot sand


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Iconic Saharan scenery


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We spent around 5 hours wandering the dunes, looking in sandy areas with small shrubs and grasses, as well as in more rocky areas for the previously-mentioned species. It was a little cool, only 21 degrees at 8pm and 18 degrees at 1am; we saw three Tarentola chazaliae and some interesting arachnids that night. Strangely not even a single snake track across several habitat types and we probably covered around 10 Km.

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Small male Tarentola chazaliae


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Off he goes


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Tracks of Chalcides sphenipsiformis - moving from left to right and disapearring under the sand


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Another nice chazaliae from the dunes


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Cebrennus sp... Who knows


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Small solifuge species


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Cebrennus sp... Who knows


Probably the coolest find came around 1am when, in desperation, we flipped some rocks and found some small Buthus scorpions. Beneath UVA light many scorpions will fluoresce - incredible to see it in the wild with your own eyes. Our lights attracted a lot of invertebrate life and that night there was a scorpion-feast taking place in the desert.

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Buthus atlantis fluorescing


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Buthus atlantis feeding


The next day we headed back up north and made it to Assa that afternoon. We stopped near Fask hoping for a consolation Cerastes cerastes and were rewarded with a male Uromastyx nigriventris. After checking into the only hotel in Assa we tested the turbo in the engine of our hire car on these long and straight roads – not bad! Another point for the Dacia.

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Uromastyx nigriventris


At sundown we were in prime Echis habitat. We climbed one of the cliff faces in this area to check out the view from higher up and to get out of the force 9 gale which was howling down the valleys lower down. Up here and out of the wind we saw our first Ptyodactylus oudrii. Very agile little geckos and a joy to watch.

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Prime habitat in the Draa valley


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Ptyodactylus oudrii, anti-atlas clade


As the light faded we made it back to the floor of the valley and searched around any features we could identify which might hold our prize. Another two species of gecko later (Tarentola bohemii and Tropicolotes algericus), and after being followed/concerned by a stealthy camel in the pitch dark for half an hour we called it a night and made it back to Assa around 1am. As we were both pretty tired on the drive home we managed to drive right by a Cerastes in the road and by the time we reversed back to the pace where it had been the snake was gone. That seemed to sum up our luck the last few days!

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Very elegant little Tropiocolotes tripolitanus


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Tropiocolotes algericus


We were trying to decide whether to stay in Assa another night or head back to Sidi Ifni, which had been good to us. We decided to head for the coast and so once again enjoyed the mix of straight, smooth roads and the fantastic mountain pass between Assa and Gulemim which was, again, handled with utter competence by the trusty Dacia.

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Leaving Assa


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Hoping for Trapelus & Hemorrhois...


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Rocky desert landscape around Assa


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Argiope lobata from the mountain pass


We stopped at the Tighmert Oasis hoping for some more species and were rewarded with more Mauremys, some Pelophylax and the first metamorph Bufotes boulengeri of the trip.

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Bufotes boulengeri metamorph


Back into the best hotel in Sidi Ifni and after another brilliant tagine we took the road which had seemed so promising in the day and night we spent here earlier in the week. It had been a very windy day, and the air temperature was only 18 degrees with the tarmac reading just over 20 degrees. We had driven for almost 30 Km and stopped for quite a few bits of tyre, shoelaces, etc… before I had us pull over again for a small grey/brown anomaly in the road. Great choice, as this was our first herp of the night and what a species to have it be: Daboia mauritanica!

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The Daboia and I


This snake was the most calm viper I have ever worked with, not once hissing, striking or attempting to move faster than a slow crawl.

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Daboia, as found


On the way back to Sidi Ifni we moved a few more Tarentola off the road and came across another of my most-wanted snakes: Dasypeltis sahelensis. Shame this one was also DOR.

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Tarentola chazaliae; as found


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Specialized scale detail of Dasypeltis sahelensis


We decided to get some more natural photos of the Daboia the next day and, again, it was a perfectly tolerant animal. Two friendly shepherds came to see what a few white guys were doing lying on the ground with cameras and handling equipment, and we ended up having a nice chat about the snakes of the area and how dangerous certain ones are perceived as being. Both guys seemed perfectly tolerant of the animals which was a good surprise. We swapped numbers and Abdelfatah said he’d ask around his friends and give me a call if anyone saw snakes we were interested in. A few minutes later I hear him shout over to say they had found some fresh Bitis tracks from one side of the road to the other; frustratingly we couldn’t find the snake. They showed me a photo of a nice big male from a few days ago and I couldn’t have been more envious!

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Daboia mauritanica


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Daboia mauritanica


After watching the Daboia head off into the habitat, we herped before breakfast. Plenty of Chalcides polylepis in this area. We had been checking many of the wells around southern Morocco hoping to rescue whatever was stuck inside, and for some easy cobras/varanus/etc… but surprisingly/fortunately with no luck at all yet! Near the coast we found a large water body full of duck weed and metamorphing Bufotes, and in the empty water trough next to this were the dried husks of two adult toads. Sheltering beneath one of these was a young Malpolon in very poor condition. It looked like it had been in there for weeks. We gave it a drink of water and released it nearby. Some rocks were used to make a ladder for animals to climb out of this trough.

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Chalcides polylepis


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Malpolon monspessulanus


Back on to Sidi Ifni and another DOR Boaedon from sometime between 1am and 10am that morning. This animal was a juvenile and solid black colour.

Back in town and we had to find an internet café to avoid a 100 Euro check-in fee at the airport as Ryanair don’t accept mobile boarding cards on this return flight. Some more friendly Sidi Ifni-ers helped us on our way and we all had some coffee and tea to get to know each other. Not a bad way to spend the warmest part of the day.

Some down time in the afternoon was spent surfing near the town before a lamb tagine in the market followed by some more road-cruising. This was to be our final night herping and we had high hopes as the wind had dropped and the road was 26 degrees. After another 50 Km or so of cruising and seeing absolutely nothing and dreaming of our beds we thought we had to settle for an eagle owl flying in front of the car and perching at the side of the road. Another 5 Km on and we stopped at the river where we found some amphibians earlier in the week to try and wake up a little bit. Plenty of Pelophylax were active, and we saw some Sclerophrys mauritanica (of the dull and pale form, not like Bobby’s stunners from the north of the country earlier in the year). Our plan to re-energise in the cool of the evening had seemed to have failed so at 11:30 we just headed back to Sidi Ifni.

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Sclerophrys mauritanica


Coming round the same bend we had many many times in the trip I asked ‘is that a stick in the road’ to which I got the weary reply ‘no Dan, that’s a puff adder’. I couldn’t tell you what happened in the seconds which followed but I found myself standing next to my number one most-wanted animal for the trip – a live, adult, Bitis arietans! I moved him off the road as a car was coming the other way and we took a few photos at the side of the road. Two men living in a nearby house came out to see what we were doing. We all had a bit of a chat about puff adders and top marks to the snake for being so well-behaved: no hissing, head-flattening or striking at all. Rather than want to kill this animal they were very happy for us to move the snake to another location away from houses, so that's what we did.

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Bitis arietans


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Bitis arietans


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The release the following morning


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Scale detail


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On the way back to Sidi Ifni from the release site we found an even larger Bitis at the side of the road, unfortunately with the tail and the head removed. That evening we headed back to Agadir and were in bed in London by 4am. Successful trip, but still plenty more to see... Morocco, I will be back :D

Species seen:

Barbarophryne brongersmai
Bufotes boulengeri
Sclerophrys mauritanica
Pelophylax saharica

Mauremys leprosa
Testudo graeca

Acanthodactylus aureus
Acanthodactylus busacki
Agama implaearis
Chalcides polylepis
Pytodactylus oudrii
Saurodactylus brosseti
Tarentola bohemi
Tarentola chazaliae
Tarentola mauritanica (mauritanica & juliae)
Tropicolotes algericus
Uromastyx nigriventris

Bitis arietans
Cerastes cerastes
Daboia mauritanica
Dasypeltis sahelensis
Hemorrhois hippocrepis
Malpolon monspessulanus
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Re: Not another Morocco trip...

Postby Ilian Velikov » Sat May 20, 2017 10:12 pm

Sounds and looks like a great trip Daniel! Thanks for sharing. And don't be so judgmental towards your photos, they are very good. ;)
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Re: Not another Morocco trip...

Postby Andre Schmid » Sun May 21, 2017 5:53 am

Beautiful viper! Thanks for sharing and congrats on this nice finds!
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Re: Not another Morocco trip...

Postby Mario Schweiger » Sun May 21, 2017 7:53 am

seems like a very fine trip you had ;)
btw, Tropiocolotes should be algericus in sw Morocco
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Please visit also my personal Herp-site vipersgarden.at
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Re: Not another Morocco trip...

Postby Ray Hamilton » Sun May 21, 2017 8:04 am

Morocco certainly looks an interesting place to visit and the locals sound friendly. Enjoyed your narrative and photos - thanks for posting.

Re Uromastyx nigriventris, any idea why it should evolve that daffodil yellow colouring whilst living in a rocky, brown landsape ?

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Re: Not another Morocco trip...

Postby Bobby Bok » Sun May 21, 2017 12:34 pm

Damn, those colourful Uromastyx, the otherworldy chazaliae, huge Bitis and cool Daboia... Cool trip you had and it makes me think of visiting southern Morocco in spring next year!
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Re: Not another Morocco trip...

Postby Daniel Kane » Sun May 21, 2017 3:22 pm

Southern Morocco is a fantastic place to visit. I'm my experience a lot more friendly and 'genuine' than e.g. Marrakech. Friendly locals, friendly police, great food and all so inexpensive.

Ray, my thoughts on Uromastyx colours were that it was a secondary sexual characteristic - males signalling their fitness to females and potentially also to predators. I would be interested to hear others thoughts on this.

Mario, thank you for the correction. I even have the species folder named 'algericus' on my laptop! I must've been too eager to post..

I think the Bitis was such a fantastic find because it came literally at the 11th hour when we thought all was over and done. Icing on the cake was having the landowners in favour of us moving the snake rather than have it killed. I hope that attitude can become more prevalent in time to come.

Bobby I'd highly recommend a spring trip to this region - I'm looking for a return visit in September/October as a few trips there have had success with Naja and Echis later in the year! I'm also keen to see some of the more unusual geckos - Tarentola annularis and ephippiata...
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Re: Not another Morocco trip...

Postby Michal Szkudlarek » Sun May 21, 2017 7:02 pm

i would like to go to morocco too but for mandering
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