The omens were good for a successful herping trip right from our first morning in Flores, the last town before we hit the jungles of El Peten. Our breakfast overlooking the lake was accompanied by basilisks (Basiliscus vittatus) scurrying around in the vegetation and on the roof!
A few hours later, after a bumpy and dusty ‘road’ trip that took us into the Laguna del Tigre National Park, we were enjoying the breeze as we started the last part of our trip by boat along the Rio San Pedro. Less than five minutes in and we’d seen our first (of many) Morelet’s crocodiles (Crocodylus moreletii) basking on a fallen tree and giving us all a good view. I’d literally taken one step ashore when I encountered the next species; this time a beautiful lizard, Sceloporus teapensis – proving the point that often a photograph of a species just can’t do it justice.
These lizards are very common in the grounds of the Las Guacamayas Biological Station but I certainly didn’t tire of them, they provided great entertainment with the males in full breeding colours strutting their stuff for the females! All this and I hadn’t even dropped my bag in my room!
For many years I’d been captivated by the thought of walking through the jungle at night, and our first outing didn’t disappoint. After a dismal winter in the UK, walking around the forest at midnight with the temperature at about 25 centigrade and very high humidity seemed like heaven! By the end of the night we’d added to our total of lizard species with our first anole (Norops sagrei), and a wonderful Yucatan Banded gecko (Coleonyx elegans) – Rowland remarked that this stunning specimen was in fact quite dull for the species (and indeed he was right, the others we found were even more strikingly marked!). We also bagged our first snake, the Northern cat-eyed snake (Leptodeira septentrionalis).
On the amphibian side we also encountered Cane toads (Chaunus marinus) and the Gulf Coast toad (Incilius valliceps) as well as the ubiquitous Mexican tree frog Smilisca baudinii, all of which we were to see many more of. Not a bad days herping!
That’s how thing went on for the rest of the first week as well, with many more stunning species such as the Mexican parrot snake (Leptophis mexicanus), and a couple of fer-de-lance, Bothrops asper . I’d been very excited at the possibility of seeing a speckled racer (Drymobius margaritiferus) but seeing and handling this amazing species surpassed anything I could have imagined. A truly amazing snake, and certainly the fastest moving serpent I’ve ever seen!
In the same category of ‘have to see it to believe it’ beauty was the Rainbow ameiva, Ameiva undulata, that I watched foraging through the leaves at the edge of Las Guacamayas. Unfortunately I was so stunned and excited by this lizard that my photos ended up being of leaves and branches! I tried very hard during the rest of the trip to find this animal again but no luck…. all the more reason for a return visit I think!
During this first week it was incredibly hot and the forest (technically tropical dry forest anyway as opposed to true rainforest) remained dry. We could feel the humidity steadily growing and we waited for the rains to break to see what the change in conditions would do for herp activity.
TESTIMONIAL: Gary Powell, Expedition June 2013 First Expedition Part 1 IMAGE: Leptophis mexicanus, bronzeback parrot snake Read part 2 HERE