04 September 2011 – In search of the Peninsula’s herpetological gems
If anything, our challenge to re-see (or see for the first time!) all the birds, mammals, reptiles and frogs in the Western Cape has certainly given us some direction for our time in the field. When we started it at the beginning of 2010, it was really easy as even the most common of species were yet another tick that got added to the list. We made sure that when vagrant birds were found, we tried our utmost to get to them and see and photograph them as one never knows when next you might get the opportunity to catch up with those species in the province but, as for the rest, it was just a case of getting out there and seeing what we could find. As time has moved on, a large proportion of the easy species have now been found, so the efforts have to become more and more concentrated on finding specific targets.
From late August through to the end of September, it is generally classed as a very good time for reptiles and frogs in the Cape and therefore, it is no surprise that our recent efforts have been focused on these. The Cape Peninsula, itself, has an incredible amount of really tough to see critters, many of them endemic to the region, so with this in mind, the decision was made to target the Cape Point section of the Table Mountain National Park today in the hope of tracking down a few of these special animals for our challenge list. We were joined by friends Barrie Rose, Rob Leslie and Faansie Peacock in our quest. And thanks also to Faansie for providing some of the “people shots” used in this post…
Arriving at Cape Point, we donned the gum boots, an integral part of frogging in the wet fynbos areas we would be working in and then set off in search of our first target, Rose’s Mountain Toadlet. Interestingly, Barrie Rose who was with us, is the grandson of the late Walter Rose, a well respected herpetologist and one of the pioneers of frog research in South Africa and also the person for whom this frog is named. After arriving at some suitable looking habitat, Rob Leslie almost instantly found our target animal and, within minutes, we managed to find a good number more of them. This frog is a Western Cape endemic restricted mostly to montane fynbos areas although, in some areas, it does come down to lower elevations. It is the only known voiceless frog in southern Africa and lacks a tympanum too. They are also only active for a very short period each year when they are breeding and, otherwise, they are extremely difficult to find, so we were very excited that we had hit the timing spot on for this one and spent the next hour or so finding several more individuals and photographing them. This latter task was not easy as we were effectively in the middle of a swamp (and there was a light drizzle just to add to things) and getting down to a low level to photograph the frogs meant we ended up getting totally drenched even although we had brought waterproofs along.
Our next target was the Cape Platanna (aka Cape Clawed Frog), another endemic which inhabits black water ponds in fynbos areas. This time it was Faansie’s turn to be the first to find it (after about 15 minutes or so of searching). Now we were faced with the dilemma of how to photograph this animal. Trying to do it in situ in its natural environment is pretty close to impossible as you can see nothing in that black water. Most experienced people would put these animals into a glass tank and photograph them through it, but, being out in the field, we did not have this luxury. Fortunately, Barrie had had some forethought and produced one of his wife’s treasured Tupperware pieces, put a thin layer of whitish sand at the bottom of it and then filled it with some water from one of our drinking bottles and, voila, we had a decent photographic prop! We then spent a while photographing this rather unphotogenic frog in the Tupperware trying to make something decent out of the photos.
With the constant drizzle, it meant that there were also a lot of other frogs calling around us and the Cape Peninsula Moss Frogs were particularly vocal. We tried several times to look for them with no success at all – they seem to sit in the most impenetrable of vegetation and stop calling as soon as you get close to them, so eventually we gave up knowing that we would have to try again at some stage as we still needed it for our challenge list. But all was not lost, and turning over a few rocks in the general area gave us a couple of Black Girdled Lizards as well as a very unfriendly Herald Snake. Although he was small, he certainly had a lot of attitude…
Moving to another spot in the reserve, the constant calling of Cape Mountain Rain Frogs also started getting to us. Another species that we still needed for the challenge, these Rain Frogs are among our favourite groups of frogs anywhere and certainly have a lot of character. And so we set about scratching around and trying to find one of them. Eventually, after almost having given up, Trevor hit the jackpot and managed to find one. What a relief! These lovely little rotund frogs are really something worth seeing – there can be no other frog anywhere in the world with a sadder looking face. And, no matter how many times you photograph them and from how many different angles you try, you can never get them to look anything other than totally depressed with their situation… Our third new species of frog for the challenge today with all 3 species being lifers for Margaret. In terms of frogging expeditions, it doesn’t get too much better than that, especially considering that all 3 species can be very tough to find and are quite range restricted as well.
With spirits running on a high, we thought we would have a quick try to see if we could find a Knox’s Desert Lizard as well. It was a species that we had already seen a couple of times during the challenge period, but had yet to actually find one that was going to sit still for long enough to allow us to get a photograph! So, after a bit of scratching around at a site where we knew that they occurred, we eventually struck gold and found an animal that posed, even giving us a little bit of attitude for the photo. Rather than tempt fate any further and end up disappointed, we decided to call it a day and head home after what had turned out to be an extremely successful day in terms of the challenge. Don’t you just love it when things work out well…!