Herpetological trip to South Portugal - April 2005
translated by Michael Duda
3rd day - 19 of April 2004: The biggest gulf place of Europe an a trip to the Barrocal
According to 20 years old literature, the area between Faro, Albufeira and Quarteira was once characterized by interesting habitats and a high density of amphibians and reptiles. Unfortunately we had to recognize, that in the meantime the whole area western of Faro has been totally built up with an incredible big complex of gulf places.
We never thought, that these dimensions would have been possible in Europe - one can drive for miles just seeing driving ranges, fairways and greens. It was obvious, that we got lost while trying to flee this area. On the mouth of a creek near Forte novo we tried to make our luck, but we just found some Iberian Water frogs and a killed Montpellier snake. Lots of hoopoes and bee- eaters (quite common in southern Europe, but very rare in our native country Austria) were the only positive aspect of this devastated landscape. .
Frustrated by this enormous dimension of habitat destruction, we decided to go to the back lands of the eastern Algarve , the so called Barrocal. There we expected to find some species, which have been recorded there, but we had great difficulties to find anything because of the midday heat.
Our first stop was near Sao Bras - we all knew, that it was unlikely to find anything interesting during burning midday heat - most of all the Montpellier snake - Malpolon monspessulanus - one of the quickest snakes of Portugal . Luckily Thomas found a very pretty one in front of a pointed up wall - so it hat no chance to flee and hole in a gap in the wall -but - it was still very difficult to calm the animal and take a photo. The Montpellier snakes of western Europe belong to the subspecies Malpolon monspessulanus monspessulanus . In comparison to the ones from the eastern Mediterranean area - Malpolon monspessulanus insignitus - they show a much more intensive pattern on the back. A typical mark of this snake is the "furious" glance - the bite of this slightly poisonous snake caused no reactions by Thomas.
We also were impressed by the scorpions - Butus occitanus - which we found hidden under stones. We could observe very big specimen in the Barrocal, the western dunes and in dry river valleys. Always handle them with care - their bites can be very painful! Even bigger are the scolopenders - Scolopendra cingulata , a sort of big centipedes. Their bites can cause heavy symptoms of poisoning, so never touch them without cloves!
Moving on farther we came to Salir, a little village in the center of the Barrocal, which is crossed by the Ribeira Moinhos. On the sides of this little creek we found lots of
Spanish terrapins - Mauremys leprosa exposed to the sun. We could take some photos by jumping into the water - as a result, our trousers had a slightly muddy smell afterwards. Additionally, these terrapins use to spread an awful stench- they smell like a mixture of rotten fish and foul eggs. Along the creek we found adult, subadult and juvenile specimen - the name " leprosa " should perhaps suggest, that this terrapin is not very pretentious about the quality of water - they even can be found in extreme dirty cloaks. This could be a reason, why they are much more common than the second terrapin.
Unfortunately most of the rivers, creeks and ponds are polluted by the red American crayfish Procambarus clarkii , a foreign, released species, which is also responsible for the decrease of amphibians. The otter - in some areas of Portugal quite common- is one of the few predators of this crayfish. We could find lots of crayfish rests in the droppings of the otter. During summer, when most of the rivers and creeks are dry, he Portuguese otters can also be found the sea.
On the evening we tried to make our luck at the castle of Sines - we thought to find wall lizards there, but we had been to late, and the habitat was already in the shade. So we had to end our search for this day. The only thing we could still find there, were lots of Moorish geckos..
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