Already 8 years ago Laura and I set foot on this Greek island which would hold a special place in our hearts ever since. Not only is this one of the few islands with a terrestrial salamander, it is also the island we visited on our very first trip together. After a few winter trips to the Iberian Peninsula we felt like it was time to go back to the Eastern Mediterranean once more. This time we decided to go one and a half months later in the season to see more reptile activity, which in part turned out to be true. The weather was however cold and windy during most of our stay. Despite several rain showers also the salamanders were harder to find, and we only found 32 salamanders in comparison to 116 back in 2012.
16th of February 2020
From Munich we flew to Athens and were disappointed to find out our connecting flight to Karpathos was delayed for two hours - in addition to the already long stopover of 4 hours. Thus, we had quite some additional time to kill and decided to go into the city. Taxi driver Anestis dropped us off at the Acropolis where we tried to find some early reptiles. The chilly wind made sure all the tortoises and skinks were deep in their burrows, but we did see our first Turkish Geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus) in a manhole. After a nice stroll with views on the Parthenon it was time to return to the airport, have dinner at the Burger King and catch our flight to Karpathos. Late in the evening we arrived there, collected the rental car and drove to our apartment. We both forgot how cold it gets at night on this island and we needed all blankets available to stay warm.
17th of February
It was a sunny and rather warm day, so after picking up a tasty breakfast from the bakery in town we drove to the north to visit several beaches. On our way to the beach we found both Turkish Gecko as well as Oertzen's Gecko (Mediodactylus oertzeni) under rocks and in a manhole. At a clearing close to the beach we had a real sense of spring with flowers in bloom, insects flying around and Snake-eyed Skinks (Ablepharus kitaibelii) basking on the rocks. Also here under rocks several more geckos and the first Karpathos Salamanders (Lyciasalamandra helverseni). After lunch on the deserted beach with the sun in our faces it was time to move on. In the afternoon we drove to Olympos in the far north of the island. This scenic town is completely deserted at this time of year, with all shops and taverns closed and the streets filled with cat poop. From the slopes we saw a nice stream below the town and decided to try our luck there. Here we also found Oertzen's Gecko, Snake-eyed Skink and much to our surprise Levant Water Frogs (Pelophylax bedriagae) in good numbers. The frogs on Karpathos used to belong to Pelophylax cerigensis and although they indeed do look very different, genetic analyses tell a different story. In any case very interesting to see these rare frogs thriving here. During the drive back to the capital of the island (Pigadia) we spotted a Beech Marten (Martes foina). We also had our first dinner on the island at the Agnanti Cafe Bar, which we declared as our usual evening-hang-out-spot from there on, as it provided great food, service and atmosphere.
18th of February 2020
Again we were blessed with sun and temperatures well into the two-digit range, although the wind was still chilly. We bought some breakfast at our favourite bakery and ate it in the sun at the beach. While flipping a few things we turned up the only Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus) of the trip. After that we visited several beaches at the SE and SW coast. At Fokia Beach and Diakoftis Beach I even had the first dips of the year in the cold Mediterranean Sea. Not many animals were found apart from the ubiquitous Snake-eyed Skinks and Oertzen's Geckos and a few Blue Rock Thrushes (Monticola solitarius). Shortly before driving to the airport we searched a bit around Damatria Beach. A tiny stream with some small ponds is a habitat you don't see often on this island and we indeed found some wildlife here. A falcon was hunting in the sky and several Chukar (Alectoris chukar) were foraging on the slopes. While jumping over a ditch I slipped and lost my footing, landed on my back and luckily broke nothing but my phone. In the late afternoon we collected our non-European friend Paul from the airport. We visited the Mili Caves, had dinner in Pigadia and visited the beach population of salamanders again. There we found several individuals on the road to the beach, but at the spot itself only 1 animal walking around.
19th of February 2020
Today was predicted to be the sunniest day of the week, so we decided to drive north again and really try to find some early snakes. A valley close to Olympos offers some really promising habitat for multiple species. We quickly found some Oertzen's Geckos and Levant Water Frogs, but the high densities of Snake-eyed Skinks were most impressive. It was lovely to sit in the grass and observe these tiny lizards engaging in their daily business. Also several Levant Freshwater Crabs (Potamon potamios) were spotted in the stream. After lunch we drove even a bit further north to a spot where we found so many salamanders back in 2012. This time it took us quite some time before we found a salamander at all, and in total we only found 7 individuals. Around sunset we drove back to Pigadia, had dinner at Agnanti and fell asleep in our cold apartment.
20th of February 2020
It took us some time to find the right road to Axamandia, but we made it there and were greeted by the happiest dog on the planet. It was hard to leave Safi behind, but we had herps to find in the beautiful valley below. We quickly found Oertzen's Gecko, another Turkish Gecko and many Snake-eyed Skinks again. The salamanders were thin on the ground, but in the end Laura turned up a beautiful female Karpathos Salamander. The salamanders in this population are known for their spotless backs, and also the female we found had a purplish back without any spots. A drive through the rugged landscape with its windswept pines led us to a well-known frog spot. The wind picked up however and we could only find a few small frogs underneath rocks. Along the westcoast we drove back to Pigadia with a few scenic stops along the way. After dinner we had a bit of rain, so we decided to try our luck again at our coastal salamander spot. A good decision as there were several salamanders on the road. We photographed them in a 12th century church along the way which was a rather special experience. With the wind howling outside and rain falling, we were rather comfortable amidst the faded frescoes of old.
21st of February 2020
Another drive up north. First to Olympos, where we made our way through the labyrinth of cat poop, piss and vomit, up to the windmills, where we found and photographed some salamanders. The howling storm didn't make this the most memorable experience, and our curses could probably be heard through the whole town of Olympos. We bided our time for those rare moments with a little less wind, as otherwise it would have sent the salamanders flying off their rocks. After the photosession from hell we hiked to the ancient city of Vrougoúnda. The hike was equally windy, but seeing the rough sea, walking the three-millennia old stone paths and visiting an underground rock chapel were well worth it. We also had some hope to see Mediterranean Monk Seals, which occur here and are said to sometimes make use of the rocky shores, but we probably never really had a realistic chance. After making it back to the car we once more drove to Olympos, found some more salamanders and took pictures in the town center while being photobombed by the ubiquitous cats, and drove back to Pigadia. Paul wasn't feeling like his usual self and went to the apartment to get some rest. Laura and I went to Stacey's Yum-Me Kitchen, the only sushi restaurant on the island where we enjoyed a lovely meal. After drinking some Mastiha (very herby liqueur) at Agnanti, it was also time for Laura and me to go to bed.
22nd of February 2020
With only a morning left on the island we took it easy. We slept a bit longer, packed our bags, had our usual breakfast at the bakery in town and drove to the airport. In Athens we said goodbye to Paul and had lunch at the Burger King, before it was also time for us to fly back. We had a great stay on Karpathos. The island is very quiet in winter time and there is nothing going on in every other town but Pigadia. The roads are empty but the frequent rock slides make driving tricky (like in a computer game) as there are every day new boulders laying on the tarmac. The weather was certainly nicer than back in December but still we had some very cold and windy days. Reptile activity was not yet booming. Only the Snake-eyed Skinks had their prime time now, as they were the most frequently sighted animal of the trip. Oertzen's Geckos were also seen active by day but not so often. Salamanders were much easier to find in December though and despite several rain showers it took us some more time to find them.
Karpathos Salamander (Lyciasalamandra helverseni)
Levant Water Frog (Pelophylax bedriagae ssp. cerigensis)
Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)
Oertzen's Gecko (Mediodactylus oertzeni)
Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii ssp. fabichi)
Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus)
Many thanks to Sergé Bogaerts, Jeroen Speybroeck, Benny Trapp and Sebastian Voitel.