Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Barba Amarilla...

Known locally as the Barba Amarilla (yellow beard), Terciopelo or Fer-de-lance, Bothrops asper is a member of the lancehead family of pitvipers and is without doubt the most dangerous snake in Central and South America. It causes more human fatalities each year than any other species found in the region. Injecting an average 105 mg of venom with each bite, just 50 mg is considered a fatal dose for humans. The venom causes pain and swelling and has cytotoxic and hemotoxic qualities. If the bite doesn't kill it causes significant pain and tissue damage often resulting in the loss of limbs or severe disfigurement. 

6ft female Bothrops asper showing why it gets its
local name Barba amarilla

This snake is surprisingly common and is found throughout humid lowland forests up to approx 2000+ m from southern Mexico through Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama to Colombia, Venezuela and western Ecuador in South America.

Juvenile Bothrops asper.
Only 12 inches long but just as deadly as the parent.
Tapirus Lodge, Costa Rica

Being common certainly contributes to the number of encounters with people but it is also a highly irascible snake. It usually sits tight when disturbed and is often trodden on, it becomes easily aggravated and confrontational if interacted with. At Tapirus Lodge in Costa Rica, it was the most frequently encountered snake and we had several close encounters whilst walking to the restaurant in the evenings, including the juvenile above. The cameraman Mike Hutchinson, almost trod on this one in the dark between the restaurant and the accommodation.

Bothrops asper, male
Osa Biological Station, Costa Rica

Male Bothrops asper, Tapirus Lodge, CR
This one was sitting next to the path
outside my accommodation!

Same individual as above. This view clearly
shows the 'lancehead' formed by the
large venom glands behind the eyes.

Despite their terrifying reputation, bites can be mitigated if you are aware of their presence and take simple precautions - using a head torch/torch at night, wearing stout footwear and avoiding stepping blindly over logs and fallen trees across footpaths (their favourite ambush cover) will all help. Personally I can't wait to see these incredible reptiles again when travel allows.



For those in any doubt as to the seriousness of the effects of Terciopelo venom, the following image from Google clearly illustrate what happens to human flesh after a bite.

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Guatemalan Beaded Lizard

The Guatemalan Beaded Lizard (Heloderma horridum charlesbogerti) is one of the rarest reptiles in the world. Found only in a limited area of seasonally dry forest habitat of the Motagua in southern Guatemala, it is estimated there are less than 500 individuals left in the wild. The 'beaded' refers to the armour-like scales covering their body. They are perfectly designed for living in such challenging conditions.

The only way to safely hold a Beaded Lizard
is from underneath.

These phenomenal lizards are larger versions of their close relatives the better known Gila Monster, which has a wider distribution in the southwest United States down into New Mexico. Like the Gila Monster, the Guatemalan Beaded Lizard is venomous. Although relatively slow moving they can bite with surprising speed, flicking their head back and around with alarming dexterity. When handled they exude the saliva-like venom from their mouths, a thick clear liquid that smells surprisingly pleasant - like sugar and lemon! Although not life threatening the effects of a bite are very unpleasant. Daniel Ariano-Sánchez, a research biologist who has dedicated his career to studying the lizards, has taken a few bites in his time and describes feeling weak and nauseous with non-stop vomiting for about 24-48 hours.

Guatemalan Beaded Lizard

Their diet consists mostly of eggs, including the equally endangered Guatemalan Spiny-tailed Iguana Ctenosaura palearis (also endemic to the region). They are so closely linked that should the iguana population decline, the fate of the Guatemalan Beaded Lizard would follow.

La Aurora Zoo in Guatemala City (under the direction of Indigo Expedition's Rowland Griffin) is now working with NGO's and universities to assist with the captive breeding programme, which will eventually allow reintroductions to boost the population. 

Researchers fitting a radio transmitter.

When we visited there were several conservation assistants who helped with the radio tagging in order to track their movements. However, like most projects of this nature, the Heloderma Reserve has been hit particularly hard by the Pandemic with no visitors in 2020 resulting in a reduction of staff to just a few core assistants.  If you feel you could help with the preservation of this amazing animal that's really living on the edge, please consider donating at their GoFundMe page.

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

New for the garden list...

Well, this had to be the surprise of the autumn for me. Just a few hundred metres from my house and staying for two weeks, one of the Isle-of-Wight release programme White-tailed Eagles was present until a few weeks ago. 

Asked not to put the news out by the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation (who run the release scheme), we couldn't unfortunately share the news. Now that it has moved on though I can at least share a few photos. An amazing bird to see, they are the proverbial 'flying barn door' and watching it glide over Whitestaunton being harrassed by Ravens on a near daily basis, was a sight I never thought I would see and almost certainly never will again.

It's not G463's first foray into this part of the southwest peninsula, having started a tour of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall in October, at which time it passed close to Axminster. However it didn't stay anywhere for very long until it reached South Somerset on its return from Cornwall. Two weeks in one spot showed a marked change in its behaviour and was the main reason the foundation didn't want its location made public.

White-tailed Eagle G463 from the house!

With corvid convoy...

As you would expect, it was continually harassed in flight by both gulls and covids but it didn't seem to care too much and when perched it would often sit quietly with corvids in the same tree.

A sheep carcass proved popular with the eagle
and a flock of around 20 Ravens but the fun was
over as quickly as it had begun when the farmer 
found and disposed of the carcass.

Resting up in its favourite Ash Tree

The photo was taken around 60 m away with the P1000. It crossed the A30 backwards and forwards dozens of times and often perched within full view of the road but remained unnoticed. It was at times though, very difficult to locate. Despite moving around a relatively small area it was not an easy bird to monitor and report back on.

Young male G463

Not a bird I ever thought would be added to the garden list. Glad it's on the move though, hopefully more people will connect with it as it heads home in the coming weeks.

Sunday, 23 August 2020


Whilst lockdown for Covid-19 is over in the UK, things still feel far from normal. Travel restrictions are making filming overseas difficult, although there's light at the end of the tunnel. Running the moth trap two or three times a week from home has been a lifesaver during this time.

Persistence paid off last week when I found a Bedstraw Hawkmoth in the trap, a new species for me.

Bedstraw Hawkmoth

Bedstraw Hawkmoth

Other species from the last few weeks include:

Limespeck Pug

Barred Hooktip


Marbled Green

Yellow Shell


Rosy Footman

Small Yellow Wave

Iron Prominant

Copper Underwing

Red Twin-spot Carpet

Pebble Prominent

Buff Arches

Drinker, female left and male right

Elephant Hawkmoth

Lilac Beauty

Large Emerald

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Bee Orchids...

2020 has been exceptional for many reasons, Covid-19 has disrupted lives around the planet, in the UK we have experienced the warmest, driest May on record and (now that we can travel locally) I've seen more Bee Orchids, Ophrys apifera, than ever before.

The conditions this spring seem to have been ideal for many orchid species - ironic considering we haven't been able to travel to see them for the first time ever! However, now that lockdown has eased slightly, my son and I have returned to doing his preferred walk in Seaton and it was on one of these walks a couple of weeks ago that I noticed a large colony of Bee Orchids in pristine condition. The Ophrys family are probably my favourite of the British orchids, they are very distinct, attractive plants and the Bee is certainly one of the most exotic looking.

One of around 30 flower spikes

I went back again to make a short video with Nigel.

Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea
also adding a splash of colour.

Stinking Iris - I usually find them when they're
past their best so nice to see it in flower.

Sunday, 7 June 2020


Starlings are a great group of birds. Generally either loved (for their cheeky character, quirky manners and colourful plumage  or ignored (pests, noisy, too common), I'm certainly in the former group. An adult European Starling in breeding plumage is one of our most attractive birds IMO.

In recent days we've seen an influx of scarce Rosy Starlings from Eastern Europe and Asia, they've been popping up in flocks of regular starlings up and down the country. Yesterday a pair were found in Seaton, Devon about 12 miles away from here. When I heard the news I turned and looked out of the window to see a small group of half-a-dozen starlings foraging in the field behind our house. My heart jumped as a pale bird moved randomly among them - bloody hell! Could it be a Rosy Starling here too?  I frantically ran for my camera and bins and after a few tense seconds realised that it was in fact a leucistic European Starling! An individual that was completely snow white (but with a dark iris, so not albino). My short-lived disappointment (at it not being a Rosy) was soon replaced with awe as this stunning little bird weaved in and out of the tussocks and crept ever closer. Later in the day it appeared on the wires outside the house and I was able to get decent images of it.

Fast forward to Sunday (today). After hearing the news that the Rosy Starlings were 'showing well' at Seaton again this morning, I had to go and see them. They are stunning birds and being so close to home, it would have been amiss not to pay a visit. Nigel couldn't resist going for this one either and joined me there.

On arrival a few birders were wandering around, scanning the rooftops and it was apparent the birds were not showing. An older couple told me they had been there 45 minutes and not seen it. As I said 'that's a shame' I glanced up at a chimney pot and said, there it is! 

Rosy Starling...punk hair!

Rosy Starling, male singing its heart out!

This could grace my chimney any day.

The female never materialised but the male made up for it in showiness, what a fantastic bird and my best views for sure.


 A stroll along the under cliff afterwards produced in excess of 20 spikes of Bee Orchid, the perfect way to round-off a great morning.

Bee Orchid - a personal favourite.

Fingers crossed that lockdown will cease (or at least be relaxed) soon so that we can travel further and get more active.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Coming to a screen near you soon....

The programmes we filmed last year in Central America are coming to our screens in the next couple of months - perfect viewing whilst on lockdown!  Already available on National Geographic Wild, the two-part presenterless version 'Wild Central America' aired in the UK on Sunday 8th March and can be seen again on NatGeoWild (Sky CH 166) on 27th April at 9am and 10 am

Nigel and cameraman Mike Hutchinson 

The hosted versions (Wild Costa Rica, Wild Guatemala, Wild Panama and Wild Honduras) are due to be shown over the coming weeks and months and will feature on other channels (Eden, Animal Planet). A short teaser for 'Wild Costa Rica with Nigel Marven' can be see on Nigel's Twitter feed https://twitter.com/Nigelmarven/status/1250497219444248577

Stay safe!

Friday, 28 February 2020

Panama City...

Our trip to Panama was coming to an end and we planned to spend the last few days filming  in and around Panama City itself. Panama City is a striking place, it has a stunning skyline that overlooks the Pacific Ocean and a Metropolitan Park just 2 km from the city core that is home to many wild animals.

Panama City from a drone perspective

The park was our first port of call. It's home to 284 species of trees, 254 species of birds, 45 mammal, 36 reptile and 14 amphibian species. A one hour steady climb uphill along a good path brought us to a view point with fantastic views of the city. Joining us were a nice male Summer Tanager, Lineated Woodpecker, a Double-toothed Kite (sitting at head height just feet away) and a family of Geoffroy's Tamarin.

View from the top

Filming the view for the show

Our main reason for coming here was to see a very special bird though. Rosy Thrush-Tanager is nearly always difficult to see and Metropolitan Park is one of the best places to catch up with them if you're lucky.  We were fortunate to see a pair but the male was much more elusive.

Rosy Thrush-Tanager, female

Rosy Thrush Tanager, female

Rosy Thrush-Tanager, female

Rosy Thrush-Tanager, female

He sat further back and only gave brief but stunning views.

Rosy Thrush-Tanager, male

Rosy Thrush-Tanager is in its own monotypic genus with no particularly close relatives. Surprisingly perhaps its nearest species on a molecular level, are the Calcariidea (buntings including the more familiar Lapland Bunting and Snow Bunting). The pair also share the song, when one finishes its phrase the other takes over and it's really challenging to tell where one ends and the other begins. For me they are one of the highlights of the trip.

Back in the city there are dozens of kettling Turkey Vultures using the thermals from the skyscrapers to their advantage. A 10 minute drive later and we are overlooking Panama Bay, one of the most important migrating wader spots in Central America. Thousands of birds can be seen here at certain times of the year and as the tide comes in we get good views of Marbled Godwit, Willet, Greater Yellowlegs, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Sandwich (Cabot's) Tern and a beautiful Tri-coloured Heron.

Nature on your doorstep if you live in the city.

Laughing Gull, Panama Bay...is that a suitcase?

Marbled Godwits

Hudsonian Whimbrel

Semi-P, Short-billed Dowitchers and Marbled Godwits

This was the one and only place we saw horrendous rubbish problems, more to do with the tides washing into this bay rather than people specifically dumping here. They appear to be fighting a loosing battle but could certainly do with more help cleaning it up as it's very much out of control...

Mike filming from the litter strewn beach

That was it!  Filming over we spent the last few hours relaxing and packing at the hotel before heading to the airport for an evening flight back to London via Madrid. 

I've been incredibly lucky this last year and gained invaluable filming experience. 

Wild Costa Rica, Wild Guatemala and Wild Panama will be out on a variety of channels later this year. Hopefully I'll be filming again soon.