November is the time of year when, like most sensible people, my thoughts turn to warmer places. This year I had toyed with the idea of several tropical destinations but, for various reasons, decided in the end to try southern Portugal, the region known as the Algarve, inspired by the variety of reptiles and amphibians that occur there and by a an article by Matt Wilson.
We got off to an inauspicious start, as it began to snow heavily just a few minutes before we left our home in Sheffield en route for Manchester Airport. About half way across the Pennines, in worsening conditions, the car skidded off the road and caused significant damage but not, fortunately, enough to prevent the continuation of our journey.
We duly arrived in Faro and immediately headed west for the southern-most tip of Europe, Cape St. Vincent, where the plan was to base ourselves for the week. The preceding few weeks had been very dry, which did not augur well for amphibian activity and such proved to be the case. On one evening we experienced a light shower, however, and this period produced three of the five amphibian species seen: Western Spadefoot Toad, Pelobates cultripes, Natterjack Toad, Epidalea calamita, and the very large Southern Common Toad, Bufo bufo spinosus. Two additional species were found by searching during the day: Perez’s Water Frog, Pelophylax perezi, and Iberian Painted Frog, Discoglossus galganoi. We found the latter in the montane area of Monchique while looking for Fire Salamanders, which we were unable to find – the Painted Frog was therefore a consolation prize, but a very acceptable one.
A word about the photography All photos were taken with a Canon 5D Mklll camera and a 100mm or 180mm macro lens. Fill-in flash was used in some cases. Exposures were long due to low light levels so a sturdy tripod (Gitzo 3-series) was essential. Although this prevented any camera movement, the constantly pumping throats of the frogs resulted in some blurring in some cases, which I don’t regard as a problem as it is a natural activity. The same camera, with the 180mm macro lenses was also used to create a couple of short video clips of the Painted Frog.
All species were photographed within a few metres – sometimes a few centimetres – of where we found them and released them back into exactly the same place after a short photo session; this may not be ideal but is really the only practical option when working with crepuscular and secretive species.