Its been a while

It has been two years since I’ve visited Mpumalanga on a herping related trip, the previous trip was a huge success with a decent species count and a good few new species I’d not photographed before so I was really hoping this trip would produce similar results.

A few months in the making with Courtney and Delport. Not before we made a quick (90 kms round trip) road cruise out to Maropeng – which was unrewarding with only a DOR Mole Snake and an unrecognisable DOR toad. We headed back to Courtney’s house at around 12 am hoping this would not be a sign of how the weekends trip would be.

We planned a 6 am departure time and set off from Johannesburg first stop being the most iconic stop on the trip which of course was to Millie’s for breakfast. Had a decent spinach and feta pie and some tea whilst checking work emails and getting some admin out of the way. Delport and I tried to educate Courtney on how sugar pourers work for his coffee but that failed and resulted in Courtney having about 5 teaspoons of sugar in his black tea – sorry!

After breakfast straight to Bourke’s Luck Potholes in search of our first target species for the trip Van Dam’s girdled lizard (Smaug vandami), not before Courtney almost contributed to our first DOR count of the day when an adult red duiker rushed out onto the road wouldn’t have been a good start.

Arriving at Bourke’s Luck Pothole it was fairly hot, both Courtney and Delport needed some water but after trying to find a place they had to settle for a 2l sugary drink from the local tavern.

After a quick unpack and getting our gear in order we soon spotted a few Southern Rock Agama’s (Agama atra) shooting in between the horizontal rock cracks, before long between the three of us we were able to noose a few them as well as a single vividly marked Eastern Ground Agama (Agama aculeata distanti) we saw plenty of Sekhukune Flat Lizards (Platysaurus orientalis orientalis) but these avoided capture, together with loads of Variable Skinks (Trachylepis varia)

The main target species for this area was Van Dam’s Dragon Lizard (Smaug vandami) Delport spotted a small specimen at the entrance to a rock crack and we were able to extract it without much effort. Later I saw two large adults clambering across some rocks and managed to noose a large adult quite easily with the help of Courtney and Delport.

We spent a good 2 hours photographing specimens after releasing the specimens we headed to spot near Lisbon where both Courtney and I had previous success finding the Swazi Rock Snake (Inyoka swazicus)high on Delports wish list.

We turned up a few magnificent Common Crag Lizards (Pseudocordylus melanotus melanotus), more Variable Skinks (Trachylepis varia ) and Spotted Dwarf Gecko (Lygodactylus ocellatus ocellatus) unfortnately we dipped on the Swazi Rock Snakes this time.

With the light fading we decided to head to Graskop to grab some late lunch, water and Delport bought some AAA batteries in preparation for the nights mission of the Wolkberg Dwarf Chameleon – Bradypodion transvaalense. We headed back to God’s Window to search for the chameleons but with no luck at Courtney’s spot we heading back towards Graskop where I had previously seen them. We saw at least 10 adults and juveniles combined so not a bad haul for a quick 30min search. After shooting some photos we decided to head to our accommodation for the evening some 80kms away.

On the trip back we saw DOR Olive Snake (Lycodonomorphus inornatus), DOR Herald Snake(Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia), Southern Brown Egg Eater (Dasypeltis inornata), Guttural Toad (Sclerophrys gutturalis), Red Toad (Schismaderma carens), Racous Toad (Sclerophrys rangeri) and Tandy’s Sand Frog (Tomopterna tandyi). A large portion of the road was really terrible graded sand roads and took a good 2 hours to travel around 60 km’s noteably tired. Courtney grabbed a large Wahlberg’s Velvet Gecko (Homopholis wahlbergii) around the lights of the house and headed to bed around 12:45am

Next morning we were all up relatively early made some much needed breakfast and had a few cups of tea and coffee to get us going and we set off to Lydenburg to meet up with Paul Swanepoel who none of us had previously met but all were well aquinated with from Facebook over the years.

We meet up with Paul outside Spar in Lydenburg had a quick introduction and proceeded to head out to a spot Paul had been eyeing out for a while.

The weather was overcast, cool and misty – ideal weather for one of the local inhabitants we were hoping to see the Berg Adder (Bitis atropos). Within the first few minutes I managed a few Montane Dwarf Burrowing Skinks (Scelotes miris) Delport came across a young Black Headed Centipede Eater (Aparallactus capensis) which he released it was a tiny specimen and would have proved difficult to photograph.

I flipped a female Delalande’s Sandveld Lizard (Nucras lalandii) under a rock with 7 small eggs. Courtney was ecstatic as this was one of the species he was hoping to see on the trip. Once he calmed down to a mild panic we continued and I found a few Transvaal Girdled Lizards (Cordylus vittiver).

The mist was much thicker higher up on the slope and we lost sight of paul but continued on, after reuniting with Delport who had found a few Van Son’s Geckos (Pachydactylus vansoni)

I headed towards the summit of the ridge we were on amongst the now damp grass between some vegetation and rocks I saw a minute Berg Adder (Bitis atropos) briskly wriggle in front of my boot and take refuse on the side of a large rock. Needless to say we were all pretty chuffed with the find and managed a few shots insitu before moving it to a more suitable rock to get further photographs.

We made contact with Paul who was by now quite some way from us. He had found a couple of Berg Adders (Bitis atropos), a Cross Marked Grass Snake (Psammophis cruicifer) and a Rain Frog (Breviceps mossambicus).

By now the fine mist had turned into a more frustrating rain, with dense mist which made photographing the specimens difficult the wet conditions aren’t ideal to photograph reptiles, although the Rain Frog didn’t seem to mind much.

We spent far too long photographing in the rain, gear totally soaked but that is why you buy decent weather sealed equipment for field work. We finished up released specimens and made a long soaking trek down the mountain which was a little longer than expected as the mist played
havoc with our directions.

Getting back in time we dinner we had a decent meal. We went out again to check the small damns on the property, which before long produced Painted Reed frogs (Hyperolius-marmoratus-taeniatus/) and two Bubbling Kassina’s (Kassina senegalensis).

Next morning we photographed a few remaining specimens released the balance and headed back to Johannesburg, a brief weekend herping in Mpumalanga that turned well with some good friends.

by Tyrone Ping

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