Can you believe this? I just spent a full month in Croatia, a country known among herpetologists to be an excellent country for field herpetology trips, because of its relatively high species richness in comparison to the rest of Europe, but also because of the ease of finding herpetiles in spring. A full month, and besides hundreds of wall lizards and some Scheltopusik, I only managed to spot five western whip snakes, one grass snake, and the cherry on the pie: a long-nosed viper.
You might consider six snakes a good haul. Okay… It is not too bad, given that it was early spring. Yet, considering the hours I spent actively searching for them, I wasn’t deeply impressed. I thought I had lost my skills. Skills – I might add – that I have built up over the better part of three decades. I started herping at a young age!
Today I’ve proven that there’s nothing wrong with my skills. And I wasn’t even trying…
We’re staying in Oberndorf am Lech, a Bavarian town close to the river Lech, as you may have guessed from the name. We just ended up here rather spontaneously with the camper, and figured that a nice hike in the area would be a good way to spend the afternoon.
And so we hiked. A bit.
After a short path we ended up in an artificial forest pond. It was small, but when we walked around it, I already stumbled upon the first big fat female grass snake (Natrix natrix). I was carrying my boy, so had no agility to take pictures. The family didn’t even see it. (They seem to also enjoy finding snakes, which I of course am very happy about. Maybe they pretend, in order to make me happy, but that’s also a sweet thing to do.)
The hike continued towards another lake, slightly bigger, and seemingly used for fishing and not much else. We had a short break here, ate some fruit, and Heike and the kids played on the water edge a bit. I took a quick stroll around the lake. Without doing much, I found another four grass snakes in about fifteen minutes!
I managed to capture two of them on camera. A big fat female that had just swallowed a brick (or more likely a frog). She was resting in the sun, trying to digest that big prey item. In the meantime, she was also sexually harassed by a teeny tiny male. Males in this species tend to be more slender and usually shorter. This one was particularly small, emphasizing the sexual size dimorphism in the species.
I tried to get closer for some good snaps, but the female was warmed up and on high alert and after some slow tongue flicks she probably figured I was already too close and slithered away. The male was only following his (two!) male parts, but probably was so high on testosterone that he noticed little else but the lady in front of him.
I’m glad to see that the population here is apparently quite healthy. It’s been a long time since I’ve found such numbers in such a short time frame. And really. Really. I wasn’t even looking for them.