16 October 2011 – in search of SA’s smallest frog…
With a very strong wind predicted along the coast, a decision was made to head slightly more inland for the day and so we joined Barrie Rose and Cliff and Suretha Dorse for a small expedition to the Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area. Situated up in the mountains just east of Porterville, this area has a real taste of the Cedarberg about it and has some fantastic habitat, especially for reptiles. Needless to say, there were a few possible species that we could get for our challenge list, so this made the visit even more enticing.
It was about a 1,5 hour drive from home and, after meeting up with the others en route, we were on site just before 9am being greeted by 3 Grey Rheboks as we arrived. It was already quite warm with not too much wind (so it turned out to be a good decision!), so we headed straight off to the rocky ridges to see what small critters we could find. The first few rocks we turned didn’t hold too much but, before too long, we found our first reptile of the day, a beautiful little Cedarberg Dwarf Leaf-toed Gecko. This is a fairly common species in the area, but nevertheless, we spent some time taking photos of it before moving on.
The herping was slow and hard work, but slowly, we started increasing our day list. A cracking juvenile Burchell’s Sand Lizard was a really enjoyable find (it really was a pretty animal!) and was our first new species added to our challenge list during the day whilst other early finds included Southern Rock Agama and Variegated Skink. We spent the next few hours turning over LOTS of rocks with not huge amounts of success, but a Small-scaled Dwarf Leaf-toed Gecko was quite an exciting find. A new animal for our challenge list, it was only the second one we had ever seen (the first one was at this same site a couple of years ago) and it is actually quite a rare reptile. In fact, we know of a few professional herpetologists that have never seen this species in the wild before!
We were also lucky to find quite a friendly Southern African Vlei Rat that even posed for a few photos whilst a damp patch held a few Clicking Stream Frogs. A few more hours of rock turning and scanning eventually also added Southern Rough Thick-toed Gecko and Cape Crag Lizard to our reptile list, before we returned to the cars to have a bite to eat and something to drink.
The afternoon session would be spent in a moist depression which is one of only 3 known sites for South Africa’s smallest frog, Northern Moss Frog. At a maximum size of only 14mm, it really is tiny! Although we had seen this species once before, it was still a full lifer for Barrie and would be a new species for our challenge list, having seen it prior to us starting the challenge at the beginning of 2010. Moss Frogs are notoriously difficult to find, but the Dorses are amongst the best in the game at locating them, so it was good to have them along to improve our chances of actually finding these little beasts. There are probably less than 15 people that have ever seen this frog in the wild, so the thought of possibly seeing one again was quite exciting! Well, it took some time, more likes loads of time (around 2,5 hours) of really hard searching through the extremely thick vegetation before Cliff suddenly bellowed out “I’VE GOT ONE!” We had all but given up at this stage, so it was with incredible relief that we heard those words! A small celebration for a great challenge tick and big congratulations to Barrie for becoming one of a select few that have seen this little frog as well as a whole load of photos and, finally, we could hit the road for the drive home satisfied that the day had been successful in delivering 3 new species to our challenge list and also given us the opportunity to spend some fantastic time out in the field in a wonderful area with some close friends. It just doesn’t get much better than that!