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A bit of Manila

Sorry about my tardiness – I wrote this post months ago and just realized that I never made it public!

After the community workshop I described earlier, I got a couple days to herp the area surrounding the farms. It was a lovely stretch of partially farmed, partially forested hillside with a stream and several waterfalls. I had also come to Manila to attend a week-long conference among development workers, and our retreat center bordered some forest and a stream as well. Here goes a bit of what I found in these two spots.

Landscape shots a quick hike from the farm

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Spotted Wood Kingfisher (unlike most kingfishers, this species does not rely on water bodies)

spotted wood kingfisher or spotted kingfisher (Actenoides lindsayi) male luzon

female of the same species

spotted wood kingfisher or spotted kingfisher (Actenoides lindsayi) female luzon

Flying Dragon (Draco sp.) that I spotted when it glided straight past my head. Would like help on the specific ID if possible – wings appeared red when it flashed by me in the air

Flying Dragon in Luzon

Flying Dragon in Luzon

Green Crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella) Interestingly it was a full bright green when it was sleeping on the branch, but turned progressively more brown as I caught it and was nearly all brown by the time I released it.

Green Crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella) in Manila

Green Crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella) in Manila

Emerald Tree Skink (Lamprolepis smaragdina philippinica), spotted after a long period of patient sitting and waiting at the same tree the flying dragon had jumped from

Emerald Tree Skink (Lamprolepis smaragdina philippinica) in luzon

Emerald Tree Skink (Lamprolepis smaragdina philippinica) in luzon

Spiny-tailed House Gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus)

Spiny-tailed House Gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus) in manila

Stump-toed Gecko (Gehyra mutilata)

Stump-toed Gecko (Gehyra mutilata) in luzon

Tokay Gecko (Gecko gekko)

Tokay Gecko (Gecko gekko) in luzon

Common Puddle Frog (Occidozyga laevis)

Common Puddle Frog (Occidozyga laevis) in Manila

Woodworth’s Frog? (Limnonectes woodworthi)

Woodworth's Frog? (Limnonectes woodworthi) in Manila

Big-headed Frog (Limnonectes macrocephalus)

Big-headed Frog (Limnonectes macrocephalus) in luzonBig-headed Frog (Limnonectes macrocephalus) in luzonBig-headed Frog (Limnonectes macrocephalus) in luzon

Various Platymantis sp., possibly dorsalis

Platymantis sp. in Manila and LuzonPlatymantis sp. in Manila and LuzonPlatymantis sp. in Manila and LuzonPlatymantis sp. in Manila and LuzonPlatymantis sp. in Manila and Luzon

And what is this?

Platymantis sp. in Manila and Luzon

Cane Toad (Rhinella marina), by far the most common herp in the area and invasive. If I go back I might just spend all my time killing cane toads. Need to get the residents a good income-generation project for them.

Cane Toad (Rhinella marina) in Manila

Green Paddy Frog (Hylarana erythraea), another introduced species

Green Paddy Frog (Hylarana erythraea), in Manila

Four-lined Treefrog (Polypedates leucomystax), also probably introduced species

Four-lined Treefrog (Polypedates leucomystax) in Manila

Perhaps Greenhouse Frog (Eleutherodactylus planirostris)?, another introduced species

Greenhouse Frog (Eleutherodactylus planirostris) in Manila, PhilippinesGreenhouse Frog (Eleutherodactylus planirostris) in Manila, PhilippinesGreenhouse Frog (Eleutherodactylus planirostris) in Manila, Philippines

Greater Musky Fruit Bat? appeared to be sick or injured

Greater Musky Fruit Bat

Asian Palm Civet

Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) in luzon

Thanks for taking a look.

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Posted by on September 2, 2018 in Herping adventures

 

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Sick for frogs in Darjeeling

Sick for frogs in Darjeeling

I’m going to change things up and make this post a time-line.

April 4th: My wife and I leave for our planned vacation, a trek through the Himalayas near Darjeeling with friends from Kolkata.

April 5th: We arrive with our friends at the launching point, a little village at 8,300 feet elevation in the Himalayas. We are planning to start the next morning, but I’m too anxious. Just before dusk, I go off on a 6.5 mile round-trip hike by myself, reaching 10,000 feet elevation before turning around. On the way back it is completely dark. I hear a barking deer and see two giant flying squirrels. As I move through the forest in silence, I have flashbacks to the Bangladeshi jungle and I think, “This is it, I’m in my element, I love this.” It felt so good. I was so excited to be there. And I felt like I was in really good shape.

Dhotrey village, starting point for trek to Sandakphu in Himalayas

Dhotrey village

Grey-headed Flying Squirrel Petaurista elegans

Grey-headed Flying Squirrel (Petaurista elegans)

Grey-headed Flying Squirrel Petaurista elegans

Grey-headed Flying Squirrel (Petaurista elegans)

April 6th: Short day, we hike 5 miles and sleep up at 10,100 feet. I get a lot of time practicing on griffons with my new camera, and found a few other birds as well. The hike is even easier than when I practically ran up the same stretch alone the night before, and I feel fine. I do realize it’s by far the highest elevation I’ve ever slept at. At night I have weird fever dreams, where the line between consciousness and unconsciousness was blurred. But that sometimes happens to me after a day’s hike (usually only a long day’s hike though, not a easy one like this), and the high elevation and cold probably are contributing too. Right?

Himalayan Griffin (Gyps himalayensis) in Tonglu

Eurasian Griffin (Gyps fulvus) in Tonglu

Himalayan Griffin (Gyps himalayensis) in Tonglu

Eurasian Griffin (Gyps fulvus)

Himalayan Griffin (Gyps himalayensis) in Tonglu, West Bengal

Eurasian Griffin (Gyps fulvus)

I’m not the best at bird IDs, but I think these might be Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Oriental Turtledove, Pink-browed Rosefinch, Verditer Flycatcher, Darjeeling Woodpecker, Yellowhammer, White-collared Blackbird, Olive-backed Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Spotted Nutcracker. Any corrections are welcome.

 

April 7th: Nasty day, about 12 miles of hiking where we drop down to 8,200 feet and then climb back up to 10,300 feet. Did I mention that I’m carrying a 35-40 pound pack on this trip? I overpacked because I was sure I’d be a stronger hiker than everyone else, so I didn’t mind carrying extra weight. But man…I’m a lot tireder and more sore than I thought I’d be. At one point trying to get a photo I followed some birds off-trail and fell, barely saving my new camera in the process. It was caused by bad terrain and having a camera in one hand and a heavy pack on…but it still felt like a fall that shouldn’t have happened. The tiny village we stop in at night is windswept and incredibly cold, and yaks live here. I have no appetite for dinner and have to force it down. At night my wife and I huddle together to sleep. I’m shaking a bit with the chills and feeling really warm alternatively…but it’s because it’s really cold and we have blankets packed around us and I’m next to my wife and it was a hard day’s hike, right?

View of Kanchenjunga from Tonglu

View of Kanchenjunga from Tonglu

View of Kanchenjunga from Tonglu

View of Kanchenjunga from Tonglu

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hiking along

Baby yak in Kaliphokhri

Baby yak in Kaliphokhri

Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Gray Wagtail, Short-billed Minivet, White-capped Waterstart, Blue-fronted Redstart, unidentified little bird

April 8th: Easy day, just 3 miles (not counting a little 2-mile hike I do alone in the morning without a pack to look for birds), but we get up to 11,700 feet. Again, I’m pretty sore, guess I’m really just out of shape and carrying too much. On request I serenade my fellow hikers with random pop, hard rock, and rap songs to distract them during the steepest climbs. We arrive at the top quite early. Once again I have no appetite for food…maybe it’s because we’re eating so much rice and I’m not used to that? I force it down anyway. At night I’m weirdly warm under the blankets again. Beautiful views in the morning of 3 of the 5 tallest mountains in the world, including Everest.

View of Kanchonjonga from Sandakhphu

View of Kanchonjonga from Sandakhphu

Views of Lhotse, Everest, and Makalu from Sandakhphu

Views of Lhotse, Everest, and Makalu from Sandakhphu

Blue-fronted Redstart, Red-headed Bullfinch, some little brown bird, Whiskered Yunia, Red-tailed Munia, Darjeeling Woodpecker

April 9th: We hike 9 miles on a path that feels almost straight-down at times, dropping from 11,700 feet to just 6,200 feet. Really sore again. But we pass a beautiful stream on the way, the first nice stream I’ve seen the whole time, and I’m certain it must hold cascade frogs. Other than tadpoles I haven’t seen a single herp this whole trip, and am really eager to check out the stream at night. We end up camping beside a river a few miles further down.

Rufous Sibia, possible female Redstart?, Plumbeous Water Redstart, Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush, White-browed Fulvetta, Eurasian (or Rusty-flanked) Treecreeper

Despite feeling quite a bit of fatigue, at dusk I begin the 5.5 mile round-trip hike to check out that stream. I rush through the first mile quickly and gain 800 feet in elevation, at which point I drop down exhausted and breathing heavily. “How am this tired?” I think to myself. I just seem too tired. I must really be out of shape? The rest of the way to the stream is fairly flat and I make it there. It’s a high-gradient, fast-flowing, heavy-current stream. I navigate rocks and boulders exploring it for frogs, and am well-rewarded as it is indeed full of cascade frogs.

Mountain Cascade Frog (Amolops monticola) in the Singalila Forest of West Bengal

Mountain Cascade Frog (Amolops monticola) as found on rock in stream

Mountain Cascade Frog (Amolops monticola) in the Singalila Forest of West Bengal

Mountain Cascade Frog (Amolops monticola) in the Singalila Forest of West Bengal

Mountain Cascade Frog (Amolops monticola) in the Singalila Forest of West Bengal

Mountain Cascade Frog (Amolops monticola) in the Singalila Forest of West Bengal

Mountain Cascade Frog (Amolops monticola) in the Singalila Forest of West Bengal

Mountain Cascade Frog (Amolops monticola) in the Singalila Forest of West Bengal

But dang…I’m really not in a good way. My balance is far worse than usual. Fatigue is far higher. As I jump from rock to rock along the steam, navigating above the rushing current at night, I find that places in which I usually would focus about 40% of my attention on safety I’m instead forced to focus 95%, and still feel that I’m being a bit borderline. Why am I so woozy?

I make the hike back to our guesthouse, uncovering another giant flying squirrel species on the way, different than the one I started the trip with. When I get to the area of the guesthouse I go down to the river and creep along the edge, following it downstream for about a quarter mile, moving in and out of the water (the water is cold but the air is warm at this elevation), sometimes creeping around the edge of a boulder above a fast current. I misjudge the upcoming terrain and have to make a safe-but-very-difficult 40-foot climb to get back on the road and back to the guesthouse. In the process I am able to photograph a second new frog for me. I fall into bed completely wiped out. Fever dreams await.

Hodgson's Flying Squirrel Petaurista magnificus in Singalila Forest, West Bengal near Shrikhola

Hodgson’s Flying Squirrel Petaurista magnificus

Hodgson's Flying Squirrel Petaurista magnificus in Singalila Forest, West Bengal near Shrikhola

Hodgson’s Flying Squirrel Petaurista magnificus

Himalaya Paa Frog Nanorana vicina in Shrikhola, West Bengal

Himalaya Paa Frog Nanorana vicina

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Himalaya Paa Frog habitat

April 10th: Today is a very easy 5-mile hike with little elevation change. It is the last hike. I’m doing okay…but feel like my fatigue is WAY out of proportion to the work I’ve done.

We reach the guesthouse. My lack of appetite has gotten out of control – I don’t want to eat anything. It’s hard to get food down, and I feel full immediately. I get back into the guesthouse, and start to nap…fever hits immediately. By evening the fever is raging. For the first time I admit to myself that something is really wrong – I’m seriously ill.

A view of the Srikhola River from above

A view of the Srikhola River from above as we hiked out

House Sparrow, Green-backed Tit, Blue Whistling Thrush, Verditer Flycatcher, Barn Swallow, Rock Dove

April 11th: We pack into our seats for the ride to Darjeeling. My fever had broken the night before (the first time a fever had noticeably broken the whole trip), but starts coming back during the ride. In Darjeeling I am in a bad way. We have a long, slow climb to our guesthouse near the highest point in the city. Then I climb back down to go to the hospital. I’m thinking maybe typhoid fever…my doctor friend on the phone thinks perhaps that, or perhaps malaria. Tests for both come back negative, but it’s early enough that they could be false negatives. The doctor at the hospital thinks possibly general gut infection. I start on antibiotics. I almost can’t eat. Food I do eat sits in my stomach for 6-8 hours. Fever comes back. I’m a wreck.

Darjeeling is NOT a city laid out well for sick people

Darjeeling is NOT a city laid out well for sick people

Lying exhausted in a Darjeeling hospital after a blood test

The author lying exhausted in a Darjeeling hospital after a blood test

April 12th: While lying in bed in the guesthouse, a friend looks in my eyes and says, “Your eyes are yellow.” Oh, crap, so I have hepatitis. I struggle back down to a lab and get tested again. Whole day is awful and I can barely move.

April 13th: Get my tests. Positive for hepatitis and typhoid fever. Are you kidding me? The 4-hour ride to the train station, followed by a 30-hour train to get home, is miserable.

To cut off an already long-enough story, I switch to a typhoid-specific antibiotic (but the fever had already stopped). My first few days at home were horrible. My liver is showing numbers literally 50 times higher than the healthy maximums. I show up briefly at work to tell them what’s going on and then don’t go back again. After another week I begin to slowly get my appetite back. I note April 23rd as the first day I feel relatively normal, though even a short walk can still make me a bit tired. On the 25th I start working again for the first time, and by the 1st I’m basically back at work full-time. It takes five months to regain my normal metabolism.

Listen to your body when it’s trying to tell you something.

But at least I got to photograph some beautiful frogs. 🙂

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2018 in Herping adventures

 

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City Herping in Kolkata – updated

City Herping in Kolkata – updated

In India I’ve been able to do some of the same urban herping that I developed into an art in Bangkok. In fact, next to Bangkok, Kolkata has become my favorite place in Asia for city herping.

Like any city, some geckos and frogs can survive in any niche they find. Huge house geckos were on the walls everywhere.

Yellow-Green House Gecko (Hemidactylus flaviviridis)

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On occasion I found a smaller house gecko species on the walls, as well as under rocks and artificial cover in the parks. This used to be known as “Brooke’s House Gecko”, but a recent study revealed them to be a complex of different species. In the Kolkata area, the species is the Kushmore House Gecko.

Kushmore House Gecko (Hemidactylus kushmorensis)

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You would think the water might be too polluted for amphibians, but there are hardy frogs that can be found even in the middle of the city. Some alleyways had moister stone piles that revealed toads:

Common Indian Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus)

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A drainage area had Indian Bullfrogs at night.

Indian Bullfrog (Hoplobatrachus tigerinus)

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And these cricket frogs were breeding in rain puddles.

Indian Cricket Frog? (Fejervaya syhadrensis?):

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More diversity came when I visited the Maidan, the huge open space in the middle of Kolkata. First I found an above-ground outlet with bullfrogs on the surface

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And then a pond where early in the morning, a resident snake lay basking.

Checkered Keelback (Xenochrophis piscator)

Checkered Keelback Xenochrophis piscator

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A gardened area of the park had a young juvenile of the same species under a board:

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One less-frequented edge of the park had a basking lizard:

Oriental Garden Lizard (Calotes versicolor)

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My favorite find came as I was looking under rocks in front of a goat herder. Under one rock I lucked upon a wolf snake!

Indian Wolf Snake (Lycodon aulicus)

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Habitat shot

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At a guesthouse in another part of the city I found a few more lizard species:

Bark Gecko? (Hemidactulus leschenaulti)

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Spiny-tail House Gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus)

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Keeled Indian Sun Skink? (Eutropis carinata)

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The hotel had a little garden about 40’ by 6’. The garden was the most butterfly-filled place I’d ever seen. I took way too many pictures to show, so I picked about a quarter of them and made a collage:

The next few times I went to Kolkata, I stayed in a little ashram on the outskirts of the city. The landscape of the ashram was nothing special – just some large fishponds with a few trees and flower/vegetable plantings on five acres of land – but the herp diversity there was incredible.

A lot of the ashram looked like this:

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And every niche seems to have a snake.

Common Bronzeback (Dendrelaphis tristis) found under roofing material about 3′ off the ground.

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Another couple of bronzebacks appeared to have made a permanent home in metal piping, once again about 3′ above ground level. I was able to show a new young herper this snake and he was fascinated, going back to visit it over and over during multiple days. Credit to him for getting so many photos.

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Checkered Keelbacks (Xenochrophis piscator) could be found under cover near water as well as on the crawl in evening and night, often in the water. they are far more prevalent during rainy season than during hot or cold seasons.

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This huge individual was found by the same new herper I mentioned earlier.

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Buff-striped Keelbacks (Amphiesma stolata) were usually found under cover at the edge of one particular pond, though I twice found them on the crawl in midday.

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Brahminy Blind Snakes (Indotyphlops braminus) are subterranean, and thus were only found in the dirt under well-seated objects, usually when significant moisture was present but not flooding.

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Indian Wolf Snakes (Lycodon aulicus) are nocturnal and here I have only found them under cover in one particular wooded portion of the ashram.

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Oriental Rat Snakes (Ptyas mucosa) are usually found crawling near waterways in the morning as they hunt diurnally, though I have also found them under cover near those same waterways.

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Sadly, I only found these water snakes dead. Their 99% aquatic lifestyle makes them difficult to encounter except in fishermen’s nets.

Rainbow Water Snake (Enhydris enhydris)

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On one trip I was poking around this area:

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when I heard the sound of a snake moving about in the vegetation on the bamboo lattice structure. Knowing that cobras could be about, I was a little bit careful trying to poke around and find it. I eventually saw the end of a tail disappear, and that was it.

The rest of that day I checked back multiple times, stomping around the cauliflowers, but I didn’t find it. The next day I checked again. As I peaked my head under the structure, a snake halfway dropped down, hanging with its belly facing me. I was confused. It wasn’t a cobra…wasn’t a rat snake….I thought about grabbing it as it was only 3 feet in front of my face, but I was still confused about what it was. Then it dropped into the water and I saw. Russell’s Viper!

After recovering from the shock of almost having grabbed a viper, I went looking for it. Here’s a photo in this location:

Russell’s Viper (Daboia russelli)

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The viper decided to take off across the pond. I removed my sandals and ran around to the other side to meet him. This is him cruising over to the other side:

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When he saw me on the other side and got startled, he kind of freaked out and looked for a place to hide, but ended up stopping on the surface of the water and waiting to catch his breath.

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After another five minutes it recovered and slowly crossed the pond and returned to its original spot. I left it alone except to check it out a week later, and found that it was still hanging out in the bamboo lattice. I told the priest who ran the ashram about it (he’s knowledgeable about some of the different species on the property and knows the good they do), and we warned the brothers to be careful around the cauliflowers.

I’ve talked too much already, so here are a few pictures of the other herps I saw there:

Oriental Garden Lizards (Calotes versicolor)

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Keeled Indian Sun Skink? (Eutropis carinata)

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White-spotted Supple Skink (Lygosoma albopunctata) were seen by the dozens. This was the very first herp that my protege and I flipped together.

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Kushmore House Gecko (Hemidactylus kushmorensis)

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Spiny-tail House Gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus)

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Yellow-Green House Gecko (Hemidactylus flaviviridis)

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Tokay Geckos (Gekko gecko) were heard, but  I never managed to get a photograph.

Juvenile Bengal Monitor (Varanus bengalensis)

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Water Monitors (Varanus salvator)

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Skittering Frog (Euphlyctis cyanophlyctis)

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Indian Bullfrog (Hoplobatrachus tigerinus)

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possibly Terai Cricket Frog (Fejervaya teraiensis)

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Common Indian Toad

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other Cricket Frog (Fejervarya sp.)

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Ornate Chorus Frog (Microhyla ornata)

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Indian Treefrog – (Polypedates maculatus) (unless its Polypedates leucomystax?)

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There are a few mammals at the ashram too.

Rat (possibly Black Rat?)

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Five-lined Palm Squirrel

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Indian Grey Mongoose (Herpestes edwardsi)

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Jungle Cat (Felis chaus) was spotted by its eyeshine, early in the night near a pond. the fact that these can hold on so close to the city is remarkable.

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The incredible mosquito load of Kolkata is great for spiders

kolkata spiders

And finally, a few representative birds

kolkata birds

Thanks for taking a look!

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2018 in Herping adventures

 

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Diverse Wildlife at Keoladeo National Park – big update

Keoladeo National Park, also known as “Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary”, is known for its diverse bird representation and a healthy python population. I originally posted a trip report here based on a trip I took in 2013, but Photobucket withdrew all of those photos. As I was re-uploading the pictures I decided to supplement them with photos from a second trip I took there a couple years later. So these pictures represent two long weekends, not just one!

On to the park.

The central area of Keoladeo is dominated by wetlands like this:

Bharatpur Keoladeo National ParkIMG_2019_zps2ca04399IMG_2113

But the dry parts of the park hold a different array of wildlife:

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Everything in the park can be reached on foot, though it does help to rent a bicycle.

Bharatpur is famous for its pythons and I made finding one my primary herping goal of the trip. I was not disappointed. On the first day, this young juvenile was hiding in an old log in a wetlands area right next to the main thoroughfare:

Indian Python (Python molurus)

Indian Python Python molurus Bharatpur Keoladeo National Park

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On the morning of the second day, I was riding a bike through a more remote area of the park when I spotted this welcome sight in the distance:

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Turned out to be an adolescent of about 3 meters:

Indian Python Bharatpur Keoladeo National Park

Sadly, early morning on the third day turned up half of a DOR of a very small juvenile…method of death uncertain.

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On a second trip I took later, I focused on finding basking spots. This was a more sensitive exercise as you do not wish to disturb the pythons in their basking, which is essential to their digestion and other life tasks, and thus you should never approach them too closely while they are basking or disturb the general site.

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One enormous python was found inside of its hole, curled up in such a way that some of the sun’s rays still hit it. It appeared to be at least 4 meters in length but was of course impossible to judge well.

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There were only a couple other snake species I found (midday in winter isn’t the best time to spot most species), though I uncovered several shed skins that appeared to belong to other species, possibly Indian Rat Snakes and Sand Boas. The primary lives snakes I found were Checkered Keelbacks, which would hide out in various nooks and crannies near the water.

Checkered Keelbacks (Xenochrophis piscator)

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There was also one lone Brahminy Blind Snake near a building.

Brahminy Blind Snake (Indotyphlops braminus)

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After finding my pythons, my second goal was turtles. Once again I was not disappointed at all.

The most obvious turtle species are the giant Indian Softshells, which can be seen sunning on a small islands out in the marsh or patrolling through the shallow waters. The largest ones are easily over 60cm long.

Indian Softshells (Aspideretes gangeticus)

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While riding the bike alongside the marsh, I somehow looked through some brush on the side and managed to spot this turtle on a small log

Indian Roofed Turtle? (Pangshura tecta)

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I was quite surprised to see this turtle running over the main road from one side of the marsh to the other. I wasn’t able to get too close before it made it across, but it was by far the largest adult example I’d seen of the common but wonderfully unique flapshell turtle

Indian Flapshell (Lissemys punctata)

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Later I found another patrolling in a marsh. By only moving when his head was below the water, I was able to approach quite close to him without being detected.

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There were several lizard species in the park, generally utilizing the drier regions.

Brooke’s House Gecko complex (Hemidactylus cf. brookii) – this species has recently been broken up into multiple species, and I believe there is a good chance that what Keoladeo holds are actually Hemidactylus gleadowi.

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Oriental Garden Lizard (Calotes versicolor)

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Striped Grass Skinks (Mabuya dissimilus)

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Common Dotted Garden Skink (Lygosoma punctata)

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One lizard species does take advantage of all those wetlands, and that is the huge Bengal Monitor.

Bengal Monitors (Varanus bengalensis)

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Bengal Monitor Bharatpur Keoladeo National Park

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Despite the unfavorable weather I came across a few common frog species.

Marbled Toad (Duttaphrynus stomaticus)

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Cricket Frog (Limnonectus sp.)

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Ornate Narrow-mouthed Frog (Microhyla ornata)

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Indian Bullfrog (Hoplobatrachus tigerinus)

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Skittering Frog (Euphlyctis cyanophlyctis)

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The mammals on the trip were great – I saw dozens of deer, over 20 jackals, and lots of beautiful nilgai. At one moment I may have seen my first Asian otter out of the corner of my eye, but it disappeared before I could be sure that it wasn’t just a very large mongoose lifting its hips too high.

Spotted Deer

Spotted Deer Bharatpur Keoladeo National Park

Sambar Deer

Sambar Deer Bharatpur Keoladeo National Park

Nilgai

Nilgai Bharatpur Keoladeo National Park

Nilgai with egrets Bharatpur Keoladeo National Park

Golden Jackal

Golden Jackal Bharatpur Keoladeo National Park

Golden Jackal Bharatpur Keoladeo National Park

Golden Jackal Bharatpur Keoladeo National Park

Other mammals included House Mouse, Indian (five-striped) Palm Squirrel, Asian House Shrew, a second much smaller shrew species, Grey Mongoose, Wild Boar, and Hanuman Macaque.

Though the reptiles and mammals are nice, the real reason people go to this place is the birds. I easily saw over 100 species in 4 days despite not focusing on birds and not knowing anything about bird watching.

The wading birds are the most obvious representatives of the park – I don’t know how many places you can see 5 species of heron and 4 species of stork in a single day, not to mention the egrets, ibises, spoonbills, etc.

Painted Stork, Black-necked Stork, Wooly-necked Stork, Asian Openbill Stork, Sarus Crane

Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Indian Pond Heron, Striated Heron, Black Bittern

Intermediate Egret, Great Egret, Black-headed Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill

Such expansive wetlands brought many other types of water-loving birds

Little Grebe, Little Cormorant, Indian Cormorant, Great Cormorant, Darter

Bar-headed Geese, Lesser Whistling Duck, Spotbill, Knob-billed Duck, Ferruginous Pochard, Red-crested Pochard, Ruddy Shelduck, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Eurasian Teal

White-breasted Waterhen, Eurasian Moorhen, Grey-headed Swamphen, Chinese Coot, Bronze-winged Jacuna

 

Black-winged Stilt, Red-wattled Lapwing, various sandpipers or greenshanks or whatever (would appreciate help with IDs)

Common Kingfisher, White-breasted Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher

For me a great highlight were the raptors. I have never seen such an incredible array of hawks, eagles, falcons, owls, and vultures in one place. Over 50 species of birds of prey, including 9 species of eagle, have been sighted within the park boundaries.

Laggar Falcon, Shikra, Black-shouldered Kite, Crested Serpent Eagle, Booted Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, Egyptian Vulture

Unfortunately, most of the raptors were difficult for me to identify, because they were too far away and because of all the variety of brownish eagles, hawks and harriers out there. My camera at the time was very low quality as well. So if anyone can identify any of the following I would greatly appreciate it.

Owls were awesome too, and virtually always in pairs.

Spotted Owlet, Indian Scops Owl, Dusky Eagle Owl

A few other birds that showed up:

Coppersmith Barbet, Paradise Flycatcher, Purple Sunbird, Green Bee-eater, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Bluethroat, Siberian Rubythroat, Ashy Prinia

Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Laughing Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Black Drongo, Hoopoe, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Indian Peafowl, Indian Grey Hornbill, Black-rumped Flameback, Gray Francolin

Rufous Treepie, Indian House Crow, Large-billed Crow, Greater Coucal, Common Hawk Cuckoo, Pied Cuckoo, Indian Roller

White-eared Bulbul, Red-vented Bulbul, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Indian Robin, Brahminy Starling, Asian Pied Starling, Common Myna, Bank Myna, Jungle Babbler, Common Babbler

Shrikes are tough…I believe what I have here are mostly Long-tailed Shrikes with a Bay-backed Shrike….anything else?

At first I often ignored what birders call the “drab little birds” and didn’t bother to ID or photograph them. But in the later portion of the trip I began to try to photograph them too. Unfortunately, I struggle a lot to ID them.

Here are a few little Black birds….I think some of them are definitely Pied Bushchats…is there a Common Stonechat in there too? And what else?

A few of the little brown birds were identifiable by me – I believe here we have some Red Avadavats, an Indian Silverbill, House Sparrows, and a Chestnut-shouldered Bush Sparrow.

But mostly the drab little birds eluded me. If you could ID any of these I would very much appreciate it:

That’s 94 species before even getting to the dozens of unidentified or unphotographed ones (at the least birds I didn’t get pictures of included a Brown-headed Barbet, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Rock Dove, Oriental Honey Buzzard, a huge vulture species, and a Wagtail).

Finally, some butterflies for those of you who are into that (I’m sure there are many more species than this there but I was ignoring them most of the time):

And a few other inverts

It’s an incredible place for birding…and then there are the pythons!

Thanks for taking a look.

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2017 in Herping adventures

 

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Snake Community Workshop

A few months ago someone got word that I’d be in Manila for a conference and asked if I’d be willing to lead a community snake workshop. The people extending the invitation were a small network of Christian organic farms and training centers for inner-city workers and displaced slum residents. One of the founders told me there had been a number of snake-human conflicts (workers killing snakes, pythons eating chickens, people getting bit by snakes), and wanted someone to come in and share a broader knowledge and appreciation for the snakes, for everyone’s benefit.

15 participants (13 men and 2 women) showed up, along with a number of children. All of them either worked on the organic farms or were pastors in management roles. Here’s a partial photo I took of the group.

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To introduce myself I shared a bit of my own history and experience with snakes.

childhood pictures

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I then showed collages of different snake species found in the area. (Huge hat tip to Luke Welton of Kansas University, who provided me with a species list for the region.) I asked the participants to point out which species they had seen before.
A large number of species, including Ahaetulla prasina, Boiga cynodon, Elaphe erythrura, Gonyosoma oxycephalum, Hemibungarus calligaster, Indotyphlops braminus, Malayopython reticulatus, Naja philippinensis, Ptyas luzonensis, Rhabdophis spilogaster, Trimeresusus flavomaculatus, and Tropidonophis dendrophiops were identified as species they had observed themselves. I then had them try to discern which of those snakes were venomous and which were not – other than thinking that all of the green snakes were venomous, they did quite a good job of IDing the venomous species.

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In order to make it a bit exciting, I then pulled out a juvenile Philippines Water Monitor (Varanus marmoratus) that I had hunted down the night before.

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I chose not to tell the participants that the monitor had taken a chunk out of my knuckle when I caught it. Nice reminder that monitors are dangerous! Some may have noticed the wound, they didn’t say anything. 🙂

I described how the monitor was both similar to and different from snakes, and allowed any participants who wanted to to touch it. The little guy was behaving well during the presentation, but I didn’t trust him enough to let anyone else hold it. I also talked about correct snake handling technique, with a strong emphasis on the fact that you NEVER handle a snake unless you are absolutely certain of the ID.

From there we moved into a discussion of my work on the Bangladesh Python Project, which had some goals similar to the goals for this community. My emphasis was on the balance of nature when it is allowed to work naturally, how God has each animal fulfilling a particular role in the ecosystem, the concept of predator and prey and ecological cycles, and some specific ways in which snakes keep these things in balance and help the farmer. We discussed various ways that nature gets out of balance, such as the destruction of different environments or the extirpation of various predator or food species.

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To put meat on the issue, I got into the specifics of snake predator-prey relationships, with various slides of snakes feeding (emphasizing the ones that feed on rats) and snakes being preyed upon. There was already some great knowledge within the group of snake behavior, and I felt like that base of knowledge was spread throughout the group and expanded upon well.

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Next we dealt specifically with venomous snakes, again identifying which local species were venomous, then talking about how to avoid snakebite and what to do in the case that snakebite does happen. The participants really appreciated this part, and quizzed me in detail on what to do in various situations, giving examples that had the side effect of doing a great job of elucidating my points.

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Finally, we dealt with the issue of the pythons that were taking chickens and the question of people in the region eating snakes. I asked them whether they thought the pythons preferred the forests or the farms, and what various factors would lead the pythons to move into the farms. With their previous information they had some insight on this question, and again were able to see how disruptions in the balance of the ecosystem have repercussions that affect everything. In terms of eating snakes (not an easy issue in a place where protein is hard to come by), we talked about how to deal with snakes in a manner that is sustainable to the ecosystem while also affirming of the people. I gave examples from other communities from my experience, both good and bad.

Overall, I think it was a fantastic time together. The participants gave me a t-shirt and a thank you letter afterwards.

I also got to spend a couple of days on the farms and in the surrounding area, getting some herping in in beautiful habitat. It was a great place. They plan to use some of the photos I got to produce postcards from the farm as another income-generation project.

Here are some scenes from one of the farms (I’ll post the nature and herping pictures in a later entry):

organic veggie garden

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fruit trees

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some of the chickens, with a turkey

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A reticulated python caught while hunting for chickens (photo a few months before I came).

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Rat snake eating rats on the farm

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dorms and other sustainably built structures on the farm

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The view from the presentation hall

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Several months after my presentation, I got an email from the farm director:

Hey, very very much overdue is this little HUGE Thank you! for the workshop on snakes you did with our crew in February. You are in best (and most memorable!) memory to them. “Jon approaches the forest differently”, they told me. “He is not scared of anything and he finds amazing stuff!” 😀

Well, this does not surprise me and I am glad you had some fun while here. The attitude towards wildlife has clearly changed for our guys. They now understand more about ecosystems and the role that any animal always has, whether we know about it or not. This is a great gift Jon! Thanks a lot.

It makes me happy. 🙂

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2017 in Herping adventures

 

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Finding a Frog on the Mountain

Hunting for herps can involve looking in every nook and cranny where something might be hiding.  Waterfalls have more crannies than most.  One March in Doi Suthep, I spent significant time exploring such a waterfall in breathtaking habitat.

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Berdmore’s Water Skinks showed up in the nooks often enough:

Berdmore’s Water Skink Tropidophorus berdmore

But this time, it was not a Water Skink I found, but a little frog:

Inthanon Stream Toad Ansonia inthanon

Inthanon Stream Toad Ansonia inthanon

As you can see, it was a tough place to get a photo – dealing with water spray, darkness, a low-quality camera, and a frog that often hopped away after the first photo. The saving grace was that the frog loved this little spot. On the way back down the mountain, I found him again in the same spot.

Inthanon Stream Toad Ansonia inthanon

And on a different day, yet again in the same cavity but on a different rock – this time looking right at me!

Inthanon Stream Toad Ansonia inthanon

At first I thought it might be a juvenile Green Cascade Frog, a frog I had seen on the same waterfall earlier, as in this photo.

Northern Cascade Frog Amolops marmoratus

However, it was hard to tell if the identification matched matched. My frog was the right size, it had somewhat rough skin, and the color looked like it could potentially match. But the shape looked a bit different, the roughness of the skin seemed like a different kind of roughness, and the colors weren’t exact. Body/head/leg shape is really the #1 clue to look at when identifying frogs. So when I wrote a post showing the frogs I had seen recently on Doi Suthep, I posted a picture of the little guy I’d seen in the cave and asked whether I’d gotten any of the ID’s wrong. Stephen Mahoney, an Irish herpetologist who often works in Asia, told me I was certainly incorrect and the photo looked more like an Ansonia.

I looked up Ansonia and found that they were a genus of “stream toads”, small toads found in fast-moving streams in southeast Asia. Here’s one example of a colorful species of Ansonia from Borneo (photo from Frogs of Borneo).

The body shape and rough skin looked correct, as well as the manner of moving. So I went to look – what species of Ansonia might be found in northern Thailand?

A bit of internet research revealed that there was only one. The Inthanon Stream Toad (Ansonia inthanon), a small dark frog with yellowish markings, matched my frog find perfectly. You can see pictures of the frog here and here and here.

There were two especially interesting facts I learned about the species. First off, it was a recent discovery, having only been known to science since 1998. Even more fascinating, it was only known from two spots in the world! The species was first found in streams on the tallest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon, and later in Thongphaphum in Kanchanaburi Province. And nowhere else.

I had found the third locality ever for the species. Since Doi Suthep is only 50km away from Doi Inthanon, it isn’t exactly a surprising find. It is still neat to be able to expand the known range of the species. With a little bit of luck, the Inthanon Stream Toads will survive in all three locations for many decades and centuries to come.

 

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Chiang Mai’s herps from top to bottom

When you pay attention to the herps in an area, you might notice that elevation plays a big role in what you find.  While some herps can live just about anywhere, there are species in the hills that you will never find in the lowlands, and species in the lowlands that you will never find in the hills.  Even minor differences in elevation can make a big difference.  For example, there are snakes that you will only find below 1200 meters elevation, and snakes you will only find above 1200 meters elevation.  Little differences in the temperature, air, plant growth, rain patterns, rock formations, etc. all determine which species will live at which elevations.

To demonstrate, let’s take a tour of the herp life from the lowlands of Chiang Mai up to the top of Doi Suthep.  I’ve gotten to herp the area during two stretches, once 5-6 times in the span of two months in October/November and once 5-6 times over three weeks in March.   Those travels up and down the mountain, along with some information I’ve learned from herpers local to the area, have given me a pretty good idea of what can be found and where.

You’ll notice that a LOT of the snakes in the photos I will be sharing are dead.  Cataloging dead snakes on the road is an effective way to determine where different species of snakes live (and die).  Many species of snake are tough to find, and even an experienced herper might only see half the species of snakes in his area in a given year.   Certain species are only active during brief periods before/after rains, during certain temperature ranges in certain seasons, or other very specific conditions.  And even if you are out during the perfect conditions, you still might not get lucky.  But there are thousands of cars passing through that area….and if one of those thousands of cars hits a snake crossing the road during its perfect activity time, that dead snake will be there for you to find at any point the next day.   Sjon Hauser, who helped with many of these IDs, refers to the investigation of dead snakes as “forensic herpetology”.  So apologies for the many dead snake photos, but it’s an important part of the cataloging of species.

So let’s begin.

 

The flatlands of the city (300m)

Chiang Mai proper is a flat city situated at 300 meters elevation (about 1000 feet).   As far as elevation goes, that’s not high enough to exclude anything other than the species that like to hug the coastlines.  There are plenty of rice paddies, marshes, canals, fish ponds, etc. that attract a lot of semi-aquatic species, especially those that prefer still/stagnant water which is tough to get on a mountain slope.

Chiang Mai floor1

  1. Chinese Edible Frog
  2. Asian Painted Frog
  3. Round-tongued Floating Frog
  4. Chinese Edible Frog/Bullfrog
  1. Asian Grass Frog
  2. Inornate Froglet
  3. Four-lined Treefrog
  4. Common Indian Toad
  1. Yellow-striped Caecilian
  2. Ornate Narrowmouth Frog

Thus, you end up with a lot of the “marshy” species.  Asian Painted Frogs, Round-tongued Floating Frogs, Chinese Edible Frogs, and the odd Chinese Edible Frog/American Bullfrog hybrid are all marsh-and-pond-loving frog species which I’ve only seen in the lowlands.  Inornate Froglets, Ornate Narrowmouth Frogs, Darkside Narrowmouth Frogs, Asian Grass Frogs, Four-lined Treefrogs, and Common Indian Toads are a bit more versatile and can be found higher up, but they definitely love these lowlands too.   And the awesome Yellow-striped Caecilian can be found in large quantities anywhere around the city with enough moisture.

Chiang Mai floor

  1. IndoChinese Forest Lizard
  2. Flat-tailed House Gecko
  3. Oriental Garden Lizard
  4. Bowring’s Supple Skink
  1. Stump-toed Gecko
  2. Golden Tree Snake
  3. Spiny-tailed House Gecko
  1. Siamese Leaf-toed Gecko
  2. Yellow-spotted Keelback
  3. Banded Kukri Snake
  4. Checkered Keelback
  1. Sunbeam Snake
  2. Tokay Gecko
  3. Unknown snake
  4. Yellow-bellied Water Snake

There are a lot of snakes that love those marshy lowlands.  Sunbeam Snakes, Yellow-bellied Water Snakes, Checkered Keelbacks, Yellow-spotted Keelbacks, and Red-tailed Pipe Snakes are all semi-aquatic species which will almost always be found near these lower water bodies.  Buff-striped Keelbacks and Red-necked Keelbacks prefer to hunt their frog prey around open marshy/grassy areas and those also are found down low.  Banded Kukri Snakes can be seen all over the mountain, but they are also common in these wetlands.

Other snakes can be seen in the terrestrial city habitats.  I’ve only seen Golden Tree Snakes around human habitats in the lowlands, but I don’t know if that’s because they prefer low elevation, because they prefer human-disturbed habitats, or if I just haven’t been lucky to see them on the mountain yet.  Long-nosed Whip Snakes, Indo-Chinese Rat Snakes, Common Wolf Snakes, Laotian Wolf Snakes, Monocled Cobras, and the Blue Krait are a few other species which can tolerate these city habitats in the right places.  I’ve also seen one Green Keelback and one Assam Mountain Snake down in the lowlands, both species which are more common when you get up the hill.  I know one person on the city outskirts who has seen a couple Indo-Chinese Sand Snakes, a neat open-habitat specialist that is unlikely to be seen in the most forested regions on Doi Suthep itself.

The lizards of the lowlands are primarily those which get along well in human habitation.  Bowring’s Supple Skinks and Siamese Leaf-toed Geckos can be found underneath cover.  Oriental Garden Lizards and Indo-Chinese Forest Lizards run around ornamental vegetation.  And Flat-tailed House Geckos, Spiny-tailed House Geckos, Stump-toed Geckos, and Tokay Geckos are found running on the outside of buildings at night.

There may be turtles down here – Southeast Asian Box Turtles and Malayan Snail-eating Turtles especially – but I have not seen them myself yet.

 

The lower hills (300m-600m)

If you ride your bike towards Doi Suthep, about the time you reach the zoo the road begins to turn noticeably upwards.   These lower hills aren’t as steep as the upper reaches though, and aren’t too much cooler than the flatlands of the city.  The slope and forestation still creates different habitats than the city holds, though, so the species noticeably change.

lowest levels (2)

  1. Ornate Narrowmouth Frog
  2. Dark-sided Frog?
  3. Asian Grass Frog
  4. Taylor’s Stream Frog
  1. Gyldenstolpe’s Frog?
  2. Dark-sided Frog?
  3. Darkside Narrowmouth Frog
  4. Common Indian Toad
  1. Inornate Froglet
  2. Gyldenstolpe’s Frog?

In various more “flat” areas you can still find puddle-frogs which can breed almost anywhere that will hold rainwater.  I’ve seen Ornate Narrowmouth Frogs, Darkside Narrowmouth Frogs, Inornate Froglets, Asian Grass Frogs, and Common Indian Toads here.  However, you also begin to see the “stream frogs” of the mountain, inhabiting rocky, nice-flowing streams that you just don’t see down low.  Thus, these lowest slopes of the mountain are the first places you’ll see Dark-sided Frogs, Green Cascade Frogs, Limborg’s Frogs, Taylor’s Stream Frogs, and Gyldenstolpe’s Frogs.
lowest levels

  1. Oriental Whip Snake
  2. Copperhead Trinket Snake
  3. Mountain Bronzeback
  4. IndoChinese Forest Lizard
  1. Oriental Rat Snake
  2. Streamside Skink
  3. Siamese Leaf-toed Gecko
  4. Many-spotted Cat Snake
  1. Malayan Pit Viper
  2. White-spotted Slug Snake
  3. Banded Kukri Snake
  1. Thai Cat Snake
  2. Striped Litter Skink

As far as snakes go, there are plenty of snakes here which would happily be found in lowland environments, but might be easier to find here simply because of the wilder habitat.  I’ve seen Oriental Whip Snakes, Banded Kukri Snakes, Oriental Rat Snakes, and Copperhead Trinket Snakes here, certainly species you can find in the city as well.  But I’ve also found White-spotted Slug Snakes, Keeled Slug Snakes, Many-spotted Cat Snakes, Thai Cat Snakes, Mountain Bronzeback Snakes, and Malayan Pit Vipers – species which rarely wander into the city limits.  The issue is not so much that the minor elevation difference is keeping them above 300m, but simply that the mountain is the only place where the best forested habitats for them still exist.

I’ve only seen a few common species of lizards here, mainly those which prefer somewhat more forested areas than the city provides – Streamside Skinks, Indian Forest Skinks, Striped Litter Skinks, Siamese Leaf-toed Geckos, and Indo-Chinese Forest Lizards.

 

The steep middle section (600m-900m)

When you get above 600m (about 2000 feet) is when you first get high enough to begin excluding a few species based on elevation and not simply flatness.  Also, most of the areas I’ve herped at these elevations on Doi Suthep are quite steep, which changes the nature of the stream, soil, and vegetation.  So sometimes it’s hard to tell what is being affected by elevation and what (more likely) is simply being affected by other changes in habitat.

waterfall up to 900 meters or so

  1. Taylor’s Stream Frog
  2. Dark-sided Frog?
  3. Taylor’s Stream Frog
  4. unidentified Limnonectus
  1. unidentified Limnonectus
  2. Inthanon Stream Toad
  3. Taylor’s Stream Frog
  4. Marbled Sucker Frog
  1. Green Cascade Frog
  2. Gyldenstolpe’s Frog?
  3. Taylor’s Stream Frog
  4. Taylor’s Stream Frog
  1. Limborg’s Frog
  2. Dark-sided Frog?
  3. Big-headed Frog?

At these elevations most of the pond-breeding frogs are no longer around, though I did see a Four-lined Treefrog up this high once.  Dark-sided Frogs, Green Cascade Frogs, Limborg’s Frogs, Taylor’s Stream Frogs, Gyldenstolpe’s Frogs, and Big-headed Frogs are all found here.  A couple species that like the really high-torrent waters, like the Marbled Sucker Frog and the rare Inthanon Stream Toad, are first found in these steep reaches.

waterfall up to 900 meters or so1

  1. Forest Crested Lizard
  2. Doi Suthep Bent-toed Gecko
  1. Khasi Hills Keelback
  1. Indian Forest Skink?
  2. Berdmore’s Water Skink
  3. Speckled Forest Skink

I haven’t been as fortunate at finding snakes at this elevation, though both Green Keelbacks and the rarely-seen Khasi Hills Keelbacks can be found alongside the streams.  I’ve also seen Banded Kukri Snakes and Oriental Whip Snakes on the road.   A couple lizards appear to like these steep streams just like the frogs do – specifically Berdmore’s Water Skinks and the Doi Suthep Bent-toed Geckos.   The unique Big-headed Turtle used to be found in the mountain streams here, though it has not been seen in some time and may now be extinct on Doi Suthep.  In the forest, these are the elevations where the Indian Forest Skink, Forest Crested Lizard, Common Sun Skink, and Speckled Forest Skink appear in good numbers.  Those species can be found at lower elevations in other areas, but perhaps don’t find the appropriate habitat as often lower down on Doi Suthep.

 

Towards the upper reaches (900m to 1200m)

If you’re making your way on your bike, this is when you’re probably getting a bit tired and really starting to feel the elevation.  This is also where some of the forest can get a bit moister and denser, and the species get interesting as a result.

upper waterfalls to 1200 meters

  1. Unidentified Limnonectus
  2. Taylor’s Stream Frog
  1. Dwarf Bush Frog
  2. Unidentified Limnonectus
  1. Limborg’s Frog

These high elevations (over 3000 feet) are where you first begin to see one of Doi Suthep’s more famous species – the Crocodile Newt.  Thailand’s only salamander, the Crocodile Newt is only found on the higher elevations of northern Thailand’s highest mountains.  Another unique amphibian up here is the Doi Suthep Caecilian, found in only one valley.  I’ve seen a number of the typical frog species around here – Dwarf Bush Frogs, Limborg’s Frogs, Taylor’s Stream Frogs, Common Indian Toads, Dark-sided Frogs, etc.

upper waterfalls to 1200 meters1

  1. Assam Mountain Snake
  2. Thai Water Skink
  3. Doi Suthep Gecko
  4. Reeve’s Smooth Skink?
  1. Black-spotted Smooth Skink?
  2. Doria’s Smooth Skink
  3. Common Sun Skink
  4. Rough-bellied Mountain Dragon
  1. Green Keelback
  2. Burmese False Bloodsucker

For some reason I haven’t seen many dead snakes on this section of road (possibly because I’ve traversed it less often and there is less car traffic up here), but I have seen Green Keelbacks and Assam Mountain Snakes on the trails.  The lizard life becomes really fascinating at these elevations – this is where I first see Rough-bellied Mountain Dragons and Burmese False Bloodsuckers in the forest.  There’s also a wide range of mountain-loving Scinella skink species here – I’ve found Reeve’s Smooth Skinks, Doria’s Smooth Skinks and possibly Black-spotted Smooth Skinks here.  Common Sun Skinks and Doi Suthep Bent-toed Geckos continue to be found up here, but at about the 800m elevation mark the water skink species changes, with only Thai Water Skinks being found up this high while the Berdmore’s Water Skinks are restricted to the lower elevations.   I’ve also seen a dead Tokay Gecko at this height.

 

The mountaintop (1200m-1676m)

Doi Suthep is rather small as mountains go, peaking out at 1676 meters (5,500 feet), though they don’t come much bigger in Thailand.  Thus, there are a few high-elevation species which are only found on the very tippy-top of the mountain.

I’ve been up to the top of the mountain twice, both times in poor conditions for herping, so I’ve seen very little up here.  I’m aware that the famous Crocodile Newts can be found here, and I’ve seen a dead Common Indian Toad, but that’s it for amphibians (though more could possibly be revealed with better work).

top reaches above 1200 meters

  1. Collared Black-headed Snake
  2. Reeve’s Smooth Skink?
  1. Hampton’s Slug Snake
  1. Mountain Pit Viper
  2. Black-spotted Slug Snake
  3. Assam Mountain Snake

It’s the snakes that are interesting.  Near the highest reaches of the road I’ve found dead Black-spotted Slug Snakes, Hampton’s Slug Snakes, Collared Black-headed Snakes, and Mountain Pit Vipers – all species which you will find only in these high elevations above 1000-1200 meters.  I’ve also seen Assam Mountain Snakes and Reeve’s Smooth Skinks up here, and the interesting McClelland’s Coral Snakes are found at these upper elevations.  Like I said, my limited time up at these elevations means that more could likely be found with additional searches.

 

You should know that there are many other species on Doi Suthep which I have not found myself yet.  These include Smith’s Litter Frog, Lesser Stream Horned Frog, Burmese Horned Frog, Mud Slender Frog, Twin-spotted Tree Frog, Large-warted Tree Frog, Doria’s Treefrog, Butler’s Narrowmouth Frog, Yunnan Dwarf Gecko, Common Flying Gecko, Blanford’s Flying Dragon, Orange-winged Flying Dragon, Banded Slender Skink, Bengal Monitor, Slender Worm Snake, Collared Reed Snake, Triangle Black-headed Snake, Common Bronzeback, Hill Wolf Snake, Indian Banded Wolf Snake, Red Mountain Racer, Red-tailed Racer, Big-eyed Mountain Keelback, Chinese Keelback, Mock Viper, White-lipped Pit Viper and dozens of other species.  Each of those species have their own habitat requirements and their own little niches on the mountain within which they can be found.

I hope that tour gives you a bit of the sense of the kinds of things you can notice with a lot of systematic herping in the same area.  It also might give you an appreciation for the need to preserve every little habitat.

  • If the lowlands get completely developed or poisoned with pesticides and fertilizers, we’ll have trouble seeing Asian Painted Frogs, Round-tongued Floating Frogs, Chinese Edible Frogs,  Sunbeam Snakes, Yellow-bellied Water Snakes, and Red-tailed Pipe Snakes.
  • If we lose the lowest-elevation forests, we might lose White-spotted Slug Snakes, Keeled Slug Snakes, Many-spotted Cat Snakes, Thai Cat Snakes, Mountain Bronzebacks, and Malayan Pit Vipers.
  • If something harms the habitat of those steep streams in the mid-elevations, then Dark-sided Frogs, Green Cascade Frogs, Limborg’s Frogs, Taylor’s Stream Frogs, Gyldenstolpe’s Frogs, Big-headed Frogs, Marbled Sucker Frogs, Inthanon Stream Toads, Khasi Hills Keelbacks, Berdmore’s Water Skinks and Doi Suthep Bent-toed Geckos might disappear.
  • If we encroach too much on the mid-elevation forests, we might not see Dwarf Bush Frogs, Doi Suthep Caecilians, Forest Crested Lizards, Rough-bellied Mountain Dragons, Burmese False Bloodsuckers, Specked Forest Skinks, Reeve’s Smooth Skinks, Doria’s Smooth Skinks, or Black-spotted Smooth Skinks anymore.
  • Those few water bodies up above 800m are the only habitat where the Crocodile Newts and the Thai Water Skinks are holding on, and without that habitat, they may become extinct from Doi Suthep just like the Big-headed Turtle apparently has.
  • Finally, it is only by preserving the forests at the very top, above 1200m, that we’ll preserve Black-spotted Slug Snakes, Hampton’s Slug Snakes, Collared Black-headed Snakes, Mountain Pit Vipers, and McClelland’s Coral Snakes.

Every habitat is important.  Doi Suthep has an incredible array of habitats and an incredible array of herps to fill them, and I hope this treasure can be preserved for generations to come.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2016 in Herping adventures

 

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A night on Doi Suthep

The mountain looms over the city, dominating my thoughts. In this hot, dry March it is a place of elevation and humidity, streams and undergrowth, magic ingredients that lead to herps when the lowlands are 100 degrees and baked to a crisp.

But even if herps were everywhere, I would still look to the mountain. The mountain is wild, and I need to go into the wild.

I began pedaling towards the mountain in the early afternoon. There are other options for getting there, but the bicycle gives me the feeling of relative freedom of movement, and it places me here. 11 kilometers to get to the mountain, another 7km of panting to climb the first part of it. I’m out of practice and know that as far as today goes, this is as much as my legs want to handle. I’m only up to 2,000 feet elevation, but the habitat has started to feel good.

In the early afternoon the joyful noise of Thais and foreigners playing in the waterfall reaches my ears. I load up my water bottles and hit the trail. Fifty paces later, the tell-tale black-on-green banding of a Green Keelback hits my eye. A juvenile. In disbelief I watch the snake with the noise of tourists coming around the corner. In this over-trafficked place, snakes are out? My t-shirt proclaims a simple slogan, “Life is Good”. Today looks like it will be a good day.

Green Keelback Rhabdophis nigrocinctus juvenile

I pass bikini-ed tourists playing in the waterfall’s spray.

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It cannot go unnoticed that just a week earlier, in my first hike of this trip, I had rushed down to this spot in a failed attempt to render assistance to a man who died falling from the heights above this same waterfall. I wonder if the tourists in front of me know. All of them are staying low, where it is safe. I head up.

I pass the heights of the upper waterfall without looking and head up into the jungle. Now begins a three kilometer stretch that I have taken a dozen times in the last 3 years. In those dozen trips, I have never once seen another soul on this particular trail.

Tonight will be the first time that I do the return trip in the dark.

At these lower elevations bamboo and trees intermingle and there are breaks in the canopy. The lizards enjoy these breaks, and both skinks and agamids are present in numbers.

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Forest Crested Lizard Calotes emma juvenile

I follow the stream up, the canopy takes over, a hint of coolness enters the air. Just past the waterfall, the enormous white feather of a Silver Pheasant lays across the trail. My legs are still tired from the bike and the route is steep enough that I am climbing more than hiking. New waterfalls appear at regular intervals.

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As I navigate a log to make a stream crossing, a second juvenile Green Keelback moves away and disappears into the rocks. I don’t get a picture, though I have been so blessed with Green Keelbacks (4 sightings now in the last 3 hikes) that it doesn’t bother me in the least. This keelback is only 3 meters from where I had seen my lifer Khasi Hills Keelback crossing the stream last week, a rarely seen species that I felt fortunate to have found in the midst of hot season.

Khasi Hills Keelback amphiesma khasiense

The last major waterfall of the route comes and goes, and I give it only a cursory search for snakes. Usually I would spend time here inspecting the area for stream frogs. But today is special, and their time is yet to come.

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The rest of the climb is nondescript. I try a trail I’ve never done before, see some pretty plants, cross a few streams, but the early snake success isn’t replicated. Most notable is a cave/rock complex near the top of my hike, with Buddhist shrines of all sorts and 15m trees with 20m root systems clinging to the sides of the cliff.

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I flip a few rocks, and am surprised by a large adult water skink under one of them.

Thai Water Skink Tropidophorus thai

Thai Stream Skink Tropidophorus thai

This incredible semi-aquatic species is usually found in waterfall spray zones, taking on the ecological role of an American torrent salamander, though they are occasionally found away from the water. Earlier in the week I had seen juveniles of a closely-related species in remarkable (but difficult to photograph) hidden spray zones.

Berdmore’s Water Skink Tropidophorus berdmore

 

A birder hoping for sightings in the coming twilight is the first person I’ve spoken to in 2.5 hours. I throw out, “Evening”. He doesn’t reply. He’ll be the last person I speak to tonight. I reach the road. It’s almost 6pm, and I am still a shade under 4,000 feet high, but this is as far as I go today. The coolness at this height, in the midst of hot season, surprises me. Aren’t there nocturnal snakes at this elevation? It feels that it will quickly become too cold. I sit down for a spell, drink a little water, let the sun drop. Then I head down the road.

The last half hour of daylight is uneventful. No snakes come to take in the road’s heat. I move off onto a trail and head a couple kilometers to a favorite spot where a tiny creek keeps the surrounding depression humid. In daylight hours the previous week, keelbacks, agamids, smooth skinks, and tiny frogs gathered here, including my first Pseudocaleotes.

Green Keelback Rhabdophis nigrocinctus

Mountain Horned Dragon Acanthosaura lepidogaster

Rough-bellied Mountain Dragon Acanthosaura lepidogaster

Burmese False Bloodsucker Pseudocalotes microlepis

Burmese False Bloodsucker Pseudocalotes microlepis

Taylor's Frog Taylorana limborgi

This time around night has fallen and I put on my head lamp. Being my first time on the mountain in the dark, the internal clock which exaggerates how little battery life my headlamp and backup flashlight have on them begins to tick away. But the trickle of a creek provides a distraction – for if I thought it was adequate for frogs in the daylight, it is hopping with them at night.

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Invigorated by the frog life, I start down the mountain in the dark. My headlight plays on the ground, lighting up the eyes of large beetles hanging with unknown intentions on the edge of dead leaves. I am hoping for snakes while also cautious for the many species – kraits, corals, mountain pit vipers, Malayan pit vipers – which would be unwise to step on in the dark. Leaf litter is thick, and I give myself little chance of catching any arboreal snakes as I keep my headlight to the path.

Smooth skinks, not snakes, rustle in the litter. Three species of Scinella are officially recorded from the mountain, though I am not certain how well that has been verified. Right away I appear to find representatives of two different species, though I fail to remember the ID keys needed to distinguish the 3rd species from them.

 

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I move from this slightly open route into the steeper, canopied hill forest. The trail narrows and its impact on the ground is light. Though it has been some time since I have seen a soul, this is where I feel like I drop from the world and am truly alone. In the light of my headlamp, every tree is beautiful, every vine special. The trail takes on a new intimacy as I only see the next few meters at any time. In the dark, under the canopy, I am surprised to find a smooth skink far from any openings. It is strikingly spotted, unique for the smooth skinks I have seen. Is this my third species?

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The sounds of the highest waterfall begin to reach my ears. I cross the first small trickles of water, hoping they bring life, but nothing shows up. It takes time to make the descent, and in the dark every minute stretches out for me as if it were five. I clamber over roots and down rock faces, taking every precaution.

I reach the waterfall. And it is alive.

All the work that I’d done hunting stream frogs in the daylight feels meaningless and naïve as my eyes lay upon this sight. Sprinkled across the stream, on exposed rocks, in quiet pools, the reflecting eyes of frogs look at me from all around. Marbled Sucker Frogs sit in and above the torrent sprays. Taylor’s Stream Frogs float quietly in the shallows of the pools. Dark-sided Frogs call meekly from within submerged litter and underneath overhangs. I am blessed to be here, in this night.

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marbled sucker frog Amolops marmoratus

marbled cascade frog Amolops marmoratus

Black-striped Frog Sylvirana nigrovittata

Marbled Sucker Frog Amolops marmoratus

 

I cross the stream on a log, climb some rocks, make my way up to gaze at the 30-meter heights of the main falls. I could already tell that frogs were sitting at the base. But I don’t expect the sight I get when I turn up my head lamp and play it across the falls themselves. Frog eyes sparkle like stars in the night. They are at the bottom, the top, the middle, everywhere in between. I try to count 20, 30, but lose count past there. Cascade frogs have always been a special and beautiful species to me, the kind of frog I might find once here, once there. Yet right now, those beautiful green Muppet-like creatures are everywhere, from 100 feet above my head to right in front of my face. In the night, photos cannot do justice to the sight before me. I play my headlamp across the frogs and take it in.

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I force myself to turn around and carefully scoot down the rocks back to the bottom. As I pass a large rock, a large and gorgeous gecko scurries across. A lifer – both the first Cyrtodactylus I’ve ever seen in northern Thailand and the largest and prettiest one I’ve seen, anywhere.

Varigated Bow-fingered Gecko Cyrtodactylus variegatus

Varigated Bow-fingered Gecko Cyrtodactylus variegatus

That moment, the gecko, the frogs on the waterfall, I realized that it was a magical night.

As I worked my way down the stream, the magic continued. Every pool, every riffle, every waterfall was the same. There were frogs everywhere.

Marbled Cascade Frog Amolops marmoratus

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Pegu Torrent Frog Amolops marmoratus

 

At the next waterfall I played my light around the dry cliffs and found a bird nest. I swept my light from there to the top to catch an inexplicable sight. 25 feet above the water, on a perfectly dry spot on a perfectly dry cliff, an enormous Green Cascade Frog sat like Simba surveying all that was below him. The first one I’d ever seen! I couldn’t tell which excited me more – seeing a big and beautiful frog for the first time, or marveling at the inexplicable situation he had chosen to rest in.

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Frogs, frogs, frogs continued as I went down. Before I knew it I was at the top of the main lower falls. In the dark, alone, I stood in the same spot where a crying Spanish-speaking women had rushed to me a week before and told me that her boyfriend had fallen off the cliff.

I stood there, thinking about the life that had been lost, thinking about his soul, praying to my God.

From the viewpoint at the top of the waterfall, a gap in the trees showed a thriving city below. I was reminded of my contact with civilization, both the regret and the safety that entailed. I took a photo.

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Then I looked up, and saw the moon. Eclipsing. It had slipped my mind that tonight was the night of a lunar eclipse, but events had come to frame the moon right there in the middle of another gap in the trees, a bite taken out of it by our collective shadow. I watched as the shadow slowly passed off into the darkness of space.

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After taking in the scene, I again explored the stream, and again was met by frogs everywhere. In this low-gradient bend right before the waterfall’s drop, a clownishly fat species sat in the water’s edges, the male version of several female frogs I had seen earlier.

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I approached the frog, staying on safe and stable ground but concerning myself with how close to the waterfall’s edge I was straying. The frog took two, three hops, and jumped over the edge.

It’s a frog. It lives on top of the waterfall. It does this thing. I could not see where it landed, and it could well be just fine. But the parallel thumped on my mind and my conscious, and I was shook. I moved back away from the edge and thought again about a man I never met.

More of the frogs were in the stream behind me, along with others.

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Another five minutes and I had reached the bottom of the major waterfall. I looked to the waterfall and almost expected him to be there. Lights appeared on the cliff face, different colors, some big and some small. I turned my head lamp away…and the lights remained. I turn off the light…and their light is still there.

A moment’s disquiet is calmed when I realize that there must be glowworms and fireflies on the cliff. It is an interesting array – I see colors of bio-luminescence that I’ve never seen before. At least three different species are plying their trade on the cliff. Down at the ground floor I find one variety.

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Like all the waterfalls before, the abundance of frogs in this last pool was amazing.

Green Cascade Frog Odorrana chloronota

 

Limborg's Frog Limnonectes limborgi

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As I moved away from the falls my eyes caught a reptile pattern. At first I thought I had spied a wolf snake in the dark, but I was not disappointed to see that it was actually the tail of another Cyrtodactylus gecko.

Varigated Bow-fingered Gecko Cyrtodactylus variegatus

That would be my last herp of the night. I hiked the last stretch back to the bicycle uneventfully. Reaching the bike (still there!), finding my key in my bag’s pocket (still there!), I sighed relief at being out of the “lonely zone” of the mountain. It was difficult to adjust my headlamp to work with my helmet, then I was on my way, nearly silently floating down the mountain road as fast as I wanted to go. The road was smooth, and snakes were not out. Soon I reached the main road, my headlamp lighting up the incredibly bright and frequent road reflectors. Not for the first time, I was struck by the beauty of pinpoints of light sprinkled through the darkness.

Just as I turned onto the main road, I heard a crashing in the forest besides me. Deer! I parallel their movements with my bike. I have never seen deer on Doi Suthep before. I still have never seen deer on Doi Suthep. They move unseen through the trees, I coast, and silently we go alongside each other in the night, their forms made out in my imagination. I felt an intimacy with them, moving together there in the dark. The sounds stopped, and I float the rest of the way down the mountain, again alone in the night.

An hour later I was home, happy to see my wife. I am safe and in one piece.

In two hours it will be Easter.

He is risen.

Life is good, says the tee-shirt.

There is more to life than herping…but herping too is life. I enjoy the night I have been given, the nature that still exists around me, and am happy for what I have.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2016 in Herping adventures

 

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Hiking for Herps in the Mountains of Mussoorie

Nearly all my herping in Asia has focused on the lowlands in and around megacities (with an occasional Doi Suthep or Khao Yai to get a little higher up). But Asia also has some real elevation in the Himalayan range, and a whole new set of wildlife occupies those heights. I’ve had a couple chances to get up over 2,000 meters high in the mountains near Mussoorie, India. Here are a few pictures from those trips.

The first time I went to Uttarkhand, the first thunderstorm of the monsoon hit on my first day there. That boded well for snake activity, and sure enough, the next morning my friend and I found this beautiful rat snake crawling up a rat-infested wall on our walk to the school:

Hodgson’s Ratsnake (Orthriophis hodgsoni)

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Habitat shot, with the crowd that gathered afterwards

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The most abundant herp in these mountains are a type of ground skink, which were usually sunning near rock piles. I probably saw over 100 of them.

Himalayan Ground Skink (Asymblepharus himalayanus)

Ladakh Ground Skink

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In more forested areas, often camouflaged into the undergrowth, were these rarely photographed agamids.

juvenile Large Mountain Lizard (Japalura major)

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I tried to flip (and carefully replace) everything I could find. Usually this only landed me scorpions:

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But one morning I flipped this little gecko. While the species used to be known as Brook’s Gecko (Hemidactylus brookii), it has now been subdivided into a large number of separate species, with this one in Mussoorie falling under Kushmore’s House Gecko(Hemidactylus kushmorensis).

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On the second day after the rain, I found this beautiful cat snake under a rock right next to school. The 2219 meters elevation that the snake was found at is a slight elevation extension for the species, being found nearly a hundred meters higher than any previous record.

Many-banded Cat Snake (Boiga multifasciata)

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The other time I went to that location, it was a colder time of year and the clouds/fog rarely lifted. However, on one brief sunny moment I went searching and found this Collared Black-headed Snake (Sibynophis collaris) taking advantage of the warmth:

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I like to do a 25km hike from the language school. After paralleling a ridge I dropped into a lush forested mountain valley. The villagers who farm this valley have to walk anywhere from 3 to 10 kilometers to get to the nearest road. The birds on this route are gorgeous and numerous.

Herps, however, were surprisingly rare. Other than a skink, in three trips into the valley the only reptiles I’ve seen were agamas:

Oriental Garden Lizard (Calotes versicolor) – at nearly 2000 meters, very high elevation for this species: