With the whole world still in the firm grip of covid, traveling plans were cancelled and foreign herping adventures became impossible. While anxiously following the news, towards summer it became clear that at least travelling to southern Europe would be an option as several touristic destinations opened their borders again. Jelmer, Sander and I were originally destined for Ghana while Jasper and Dieuwertje were supposed to fly to Papua New Guinea. Of course those destinations weren't possible so we decided to team up and visit one of the most biodiverse countries in the Mediterranean. A plan was forged to visit the Peloponnese, several areas of the Pindos Mountains and the Prespa Lakes. Despite the drought it became clear that with sheer will it would be possible to find many species so we spontaneously decided to also visit the region of Thrace in the far east of Greece.
9th of July 2020
We met up at Schiphol where also the staff wasn't really sure what to do with all the restricting measures. Do we need a printed form or is a digital one ok? Can you please wear a facemask although I am not wearing one? Please take 1.5m distance while we try to push hundreds of people through one security check... In the end we easily got through all the hoops and hurdles because I could wave my frequent flyer pass around, and we were on our way to Athens where we arrived with only a minor delay. While one of us was picked out of the line for a random covid check, it was also easy to get out of the line and just walk on. We collected our rental cars (we had two as five people in one car is not allowed), put some Fanta lemon in the ashtray and started driving to the far south of the Peloponnese. Our first stop was the nice waterfall I discovered last year and without much trouble we found our first herps. Greek Algyroides (Algyroides moreoticus), Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata), Peloponnese Slow Worm (Anguis cephallonica) and Balkan Stream Frog (Rana graeca). Afterwards we drove to our accommodation in the middle of nowhere, dropped our luggage and went for a meal in Pylos. The night search delivered a surprisingly high density of African Chameleons (Chamaeleo africanus) which was great to see after many years of low numbers. Also our first Kotschy's Geckos (Mediodactylus kotschyi), Turkish Geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus) and European Pond Terrapins (Emys orbicularis) were seen.
10th of July 2020
No visit to this area is complete without a visit to my favourite waterfalls. We got up early to beat the crowds and that worked well. We still saw many lizards along the path and could easily photograph Peloponnese Wall Lizard (Podarcis peloponnesiacus), Balkan Green Lizard and Greek Rock Lizard (Hellenolacerta graeca). Also some Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix) and Dice Snakes (Natrix tessellata) were observed along with the ubiquitous Balkan Stream Frogs and Marsh Frogs (Pelophylax ridibundus). We hiked up to a part of the waterfalls I had not been before and we had this amazing place all to ourselves for a moment. After the tourists started pouring in we hiked back and stumbled upon a very interesting predation record as a small Grass Snake was being eaten alive by a Freshwater Crab (Potamon fluviatile). The afternoon was spent snorkeling and jumping of the cliffs at a hidden beach. When the temperature dropped we herped a bit at the dunes and found our first Snake-eyed Skinks (Ablepharus kitaibelii) and Hermann's Tortoise (Testudo hermanni). After dinner we found Common Toads (Bufo bufo), Marsh Frogs, Balkan Stream Frogs, Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina) and our first Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax) by Sander. Back at the accommodation we fell asleep with an impressive concert of howling Jakhals (Canis aureus) very close to our window.
11th of July 2020
In the morning we hiked up to one of the nicest viewpoints in this area and Sander flipped a Limbless Skink (Ophiomorus punctatissimus). Otherwise it was hot and dry and there was nothing on the move. We decided to drive to the waterfalls again and spend the day there. Despite the later hour it was relatively quiet and we enjoyed peace and tranquility with an abundance of wildlife around us. When the temperature dropped we moved on and visited some caves outside Pylos. Here I caught our first Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus) and we saw several Snake-eyed Skinks. After another tasty dinner at La Piazza the other team went to bed while Jelmer and I searched again for chameleons.
12th of July 2020
After a morning session with the African Chameleons we drove to the harbour. Temperatures were soaring already and despite a slow start the Loggerhead Turtles (Caretta caretta) just came swimming past. Although numbers were lower than a year before, we still saw at least six individuals and even some interaction as some turtles started fighting/playing. We observed the turtles for some time and had a tasty lunch in the harbour. Because swimming here will give a fine of €500 (this time I asked), we tried the beach closeby but the deep murky waters here didn't deliver any more turtle sightings. The final stop today was the lake with the thermal springs where we could snorkel with Balkan Terrapins (Mauremys rivulata) and European Pond Terrapins. While photographing an Epirus Water Frog (Pelophylax epeiroticus) one of these cheeky terrapins even decided to see if I was edible and bit me in the belly. After this life threatening event we searched along the lake shore in the last light to find some snakes. Both water frog species were easily observed again but it took a while before I found what we came for, a big and beautiful Four-lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata) on the move. After admiring this feisty snake we headed for dinner at the Taverna Ta Pefka and put up our tents in the forest along the lake. A short evening search delivered a Grass Snake, another Cat Snake and several African Chameleons.
13th of July 2020
After a warm but comfortable night in the tent we searched along the lake and the nearby dunes and found some African Chameleons, Hermann's Tortoises and Balkan Green Lizards. We drove on to saltpans further up north where we didn't see any flamingos like last year but instead big numbers of Collared Pratincoles (Glareola pratincola) along with Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus). After a hot birding session we drove to the Verde al Mare Hotel, appeared at the front desk looking like complete hobos, dropped our luggage and went to the beach for a dip in the sea. On the way back Jelmer and I stopped at the lake and spotted the first Dalmatian Pelicans (Pelecanus crispus) and a big Balkan Whip Snake (Hierophis gemonensis). We had an early dinner after which we met up with Greek friend Elias Tzoras who showed us some great places for herping. At the first spot we easily found Grass Snake, Dice Snake, Four-lined Snake, Worm Snake (Xerotyphlops vermicularis) and Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata). At the second site an Eastern Montpellier Snake shot away and at the third spot we heard several species of Owl calling but we did not find the much anticipated Sand Boa. After that we drove to the last spot of the day and found several Nose-horned Vipers (Vipera ammodytes) and Kotschy's Gecko in a rather unusual habitat. The others went to bed as Jelmer and I visited a marshy area just a little further. Water Frogs, Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea) and Balkan Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates balcanicus chloeae) were found.
14th of July 2020
In the morning we searched in the forest and found species such as Marsh Frog, Epirus Water Frog, Common Tree Frog, Grass Snake, Nose-horned Viper, Hermann's Tortoise, Ionian Wall Lizards (Podarcis ionicus), Balkan Green Lizards and a plethora of invertebrate species. The temperatures started to rise and as the breakfast at the hotel had only started now, we went back to the hotel for some food. We explored the surrounding area a bit more but it was already hot, hot , hot so we decided to rest at the hotel. I couldn't really sit still and hiked to a remote beach by myself. The snorkeling was very nice and I even saw an octopus. After an early dinner we searched again for Sand Boas but again without luck. We did see the comet Neowise above the horizon along with some different owl species and after a beer a the hotel we went to bed.
15th of July 2020
Before breakfast we headed into the forest again and more or less found the same species as the previous day. After breakfast we again visited several places within the stunning Umbrella Pine forest but with the temperatures on the rise we only found some more of the common species. The hottest part of the day was spent on my remote beach. This time we weren't alone and were quickly approached by a handsome Greek named George. He wasn't aware shaking hands is a no-no in covid times, and neither is taking viagra at a public beach. But he got our hint to get lost and we enjoyed an otherwise peaceful day at the beach. After an early dinner we explored the forest but only missed an Eastern Montpellier Snake. Roadcruising was more productive and we saw several Grass Snakes, Dice Snakes and another Nose-horned Viper besides Jakhal, Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Badger (Meles meles), Beech Marten (Martes foina) and Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo). At the walls of the hotel we photographed the Turkish Geckos and Moorish Geckos (Tarentola mauritanica).
16th of July 2020
In the morning we met up again with Elias and searched in vain for some of our targets. We still very much enjoyed the company, the scenery and saw a great amount of birds such as Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) and Flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus). From an amazing viewpoint we saw many herons and Western Rock Nuthatch (Sitta neumayer). Then a long drive north started, over the impressive Rio-Antirrio bridge at Patras and into the mountains. At the late afternoon we had a first attempt for Greek Meadow Viper but only saw some Common Wall Lizards (Podarcis muralis). The first idea of camping at 1800m absl we had to give up as a strong wind blew, the temperature dropped significantly and we encountered some angry shepherds. We found some nice food and a warm bed in the town below and after a beer went for an early night.
17th of July 2020
We got up before sunrise and after a long and arduous drive we were back at the spot. The hike to the spot was long and dangerous as finding Greek Meadow Viper is never easy. But in the end we were rewarded with four individuals of Greek Meadow Viper (Vipera graeca). One male, two females and a juvenile and we were over the moon with these findings. We ate some cookies for breakfast at a nearby lake and found our first Yellow-bellied Toads (Bombina variegata scabra) and Alpine Newts (Ichthyosaura alpestris veluchiensis). In a park lower down we herped a bit before the long drive further north and found Common Wall Lizard, Eastern Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis) and Dice Snake. During the drive we were surprised by a thunderstorm and rainclouds rolling, offering us some great vistas, a Marginated Tortoise and a welcome relief from the heat. In the afternoon we arrived in an amazing little mountain village where we ate something before hauling our camping gear into the mountains. At night there was a lot of amphibian activity and Balkan Stream Frogs, Yellow-bellied Toads and Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) larvae were easily seen in great numbers. After a beer under the stars it was of to bed for us.
18th of July 2020
We could sleep in a bit as we were already on the location. In the early morning we saw Common Wall Lizards, Balkan Green Lizards and Dalmatian Algyroides (Algyroides nigropunctatus) enjoying the sun along the riverbanks and along the road. After breakfast in town we drove towards the Voidomatis river for a very refreshing dip and some herping on the sides. Of course both Natrix species were easily seen besides Balkan Stream Frog and a Four-lined Snake which just finished raiding a Black Bird's nest. We decided to not disturb the snake as he would regurgitate its meal. Also White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) and Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) were seen here. We then drove towards another amazing small town and soaking up some amazing scenery along the way. Also here conditions were too cold for camping so we just decided to stay in a cheap and comfy hotel. After some amazing grilled chicken we checked out some ponds with great success. Of course Yellow-bellied Toad and Marsh Frog were found but also great numbers of Greek Newt (Lissotriton graecus) and Macedonian Crested Newt (Triturus macedonicus) and even a sleeping Dalmatian Algyroides. We even witnessed a Greek Newt being eaten by a Macedonian Crested Newt. A very cool place!
19th of July 2020
We took it easy and herped a bit around town. It became some sort of a tradition at this point of the trip, that people would come towards us and show us pictures of animals they saw. Usually species we hadn't seen before. At least we knew some of these species were around so we hiked again towards an old monastery which was closed due to renovations. At least closed for regular visitors unlike us, so we had this amazing place all to ourselves! We again saw Common Wall Lizard, Balkan Green Lizard, Dalmatian Algyroides, Common Toad, Balkan Whip Snake and finally also Greek Slow Worm (Anguis graeca). Here we also befriended a Dutch couple, Joke and Willem, who got seperated on their hike to the monastery. While Joke was looking for her husband we were so kind as to lure her down a steep path as she confused my voice with her husbands. I think she really enjoyed hiking down the hill to see an overgrown abandoned basketball field! We later met them again and enthusiastically greeted them from the car which they also really liked! Then it was time for the most important moment of the trip. We drove towards the Vikos viewpoint at Oxia for a great view on one of the deepest gorges in the world. It was here where a watermelon slipped out of Sander's hands and fell below. It didn't just splash but was completely vaporized and it is a shame someone didn't get a video of it! At a random stop along the road we found a plethora of species such as Yellow-bellied Toad, Macedonian Crested Newt, Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca), Nose-horned Viper, Eastern Green Lizard and Snake-eyed Skink. After a semi-long drive north we arrived in the stunning area around the Prespa Lakes. Jelmer and I found a gas station just in time but did see the first Golden Orioles (Oriolous oriolus). At Psarades we had the only non-tasty dinner of the trip, found a place to stay nearby and Jelmer and I went out to look for amphibians. It was cold and dry so we didn't see anything and called it an early night.
20th of July 2020
An early morning as we wanted to be in the mountains on time. We got there shortly after sunrise but it was still 7 degrees and windy so we could have stayed a little longer in bed. Luckily it warmed up rather quickly and we started seeing the first Common Wall Lizards and Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis bosnica). We found fresh bear droppings and suddenly the Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus) started alarm calling nearby and came running out of the forest and into the open. For sure this Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) was still very close by. Sadly we didn't get to see the bear or the Adders (Vipera berus bosniensis) but very cool to look for snakes in a place where bears still roam. In the afternoon we searched along the shores of both Prespa Lakes and found Hermann's Tortoise, Grass Snake, Dice Snake, Nose-horned Viper and Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis tauricus). We enjoyed the sunset at a nearby beach with Pygmy Cormorants (Microcarbo pygmaeus) and Dalmatian Pelicans around us. It was a bit tricky with the razor sharp mussels at the shore, but I was only bleeding on three limbs when I came out of the water. We changed restaurants this evening and had a slightly better dinner. Still we didn't finish all of it, to much joy of local mascotte dog Prespa who became three times as round afterwards.
21st of July 2020
At first daylight we searched the slopes around the village and found many Balkan Green Lizards, Erhard's Wall Lizards, Hermann's Tortoises and saw several big snakes disappear. At a nearby ruin we also weren't lucky in catching any more snakes so we decided to drive up into the mountains once more. Here conditions were perfect and we saw more lizards then the previous day plus an additional Smooth Snake. Again we struck out on Adders but Sander and I flipped some Fire Salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) which was a surprising find at 2000m absl. We met up with Jasper and Dieuwertje along the road and drove on to the east. We planned on camping at a very good spot for Ottoman Viper but when we arrived there in the late afternoon there was a lot of military presence. Although they were friendly they told us we couldn't look for snakes after sunset, let alone go camping there. We did see larvae of Common Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris schmidtleri), a tiny Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophiops elegans) and our first Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca). We had dinner in a nearby hotel, found a room there and set out to look for snakes. Near a town full of partying roma we searched a bit but the place was filthy so we quickly moved on. After another unsuccessful stop the other team went to bed while Jelmer and I drove further north. We found some Marsh Frogs and larvae of Buresch's Newt (Triturus ivanbureschi) but sadly no adults were found in the water. As it was late we drove with 160km/h back to the hotel, smoked a last cigarette under the watchful eyes of many Eastern Tree Frog (Hyla orientalis) and slept like babies in our comfortable beds.
22nd of July 2020
We encountered a proper supermarket and a bakery on the drive towards Dadia forest which was a welcome change from the crisps and cookies of the previous days. The temperature was reasonable when we arrived and snakes were on the move. With joined effort Jelmer and I could finally catch an Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus) which was a big morality boost. Another target here took some time under these dry circumstances but also Meadow Lizard (Darevskia praticola) was seen in low numbers. Other species we encountered were Yellow-bellied Toad, Agile Frog, Balkan Stream Frog, Fire Salamander larvae, Eastern Green Lizard, Eastern Balkan Green lizard (Lacerta diplochondrodes), Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis), Glass Lizard and Grass Snake. At the hottest part of the day I had a dip in the shallow stream but the others preferred something more swimable so we drove towards the coast. In the later afternoon we again searched at the famous hill (no military this time!) and at a nearby riverbed. Both amazing places but herp activity was very limited. I didn't bring my camera so of course I had great views on Orioles, Rollers (Coracias garrulus), Bee-eaters, Black Storks (Ciconia nigra) and a Coypu (Myocastor coypus) next to a basking European Pond Terrapin. Sadly not the much anticipated Ottoman Viper or Blotched Snake but still a nice afternoon in an amazing area. After dinner we tried the hill again but there was nothing on the move besides a Hedgehog (Erinaceus roumanicus).
23rd of July 2020
Our last day in Greece and we were very much unwilling to go. We had a last attempt for our two major snake targets but I only saw a Caspian Whip Snake (Dolichophis caspius) dart away along with several Eastern Balkan Green Lizards. After a nice lunch and a swim at the beach it was time to say goodbye to Sander, Jasper and Dieuwertje who had another week left. Jelmer and I drove towards Thessaloniki and stopped along the way to look at Flamingos and Starred Agamas (Laudakia stellio). We were both done with driving so decided to just find a place to stay close to the airport. We had a very interesting (read: rundown) apartment from a Serbian landlady who gave us the wrong key and locked us in but it was perfect for one night. Nearby we ate 1 kilo of Gyros at Bobos and had a final beer at the balcony.
24th of July 2020
After such an intense trip we enjoyed sleeping a little longer than 4 hours in a normal bed. The drive to the airport went smooth and after kicking the damaged parts of the car we could return a spotless rental vehicle. Before we knew it we were back on Dutch soil.
The trip was more than we had hoped for as we knew herping would be hard. Summer can be relentless and this summer was drier than usually. But with persistance, and of course the right knowledge on where to search, we could find almost 60 species of amphibian and reptile. But apart from that, we enjoyed this fabulous country once more and it is just blissful to travel within its borders.
Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris ssp. veluchiensis)
Greek Newt (Lissotriton graecus)
Common Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris ssp. schmidtleri) larvae only
Buresch's Crested Newt (Triturus ivanbureschi) larvae only
Macedonian Crested Newt (Triturus macedonicus)
Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra)
Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata ssp. scabra)
Common Toad (Bufo bufo)
Green Toad (Bufotes viridis)
Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea)
Eastern Tree Frog (Hyla orientalis)
Balkan Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates balcanicus ssp. chloeae)
Epirus Water Frog (Pelophylax epeiroticus)
Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus)
Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina)
Balkan Stream Frog (Rana graeca)
Hermann's Tortoise (Testudo hermanni)
Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca)
Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata)
European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)
Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)
Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)
Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio)
African Chameleon (Chamaeleo africanus)
Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)
Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)
Kotschy's Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi)
Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii)
Limbless Skink (Ophiomorus punctatissimus)
Peloponnese Slow Worm (Anguis cephallonica)
Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis)
Greek Slow Worm (Anguis graeca)
Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus)
Dalmatian Algyroides (Algyroides nigropunctatus)
Greek Algyroides (Algyroides moreoticus)
Meadow Lizard (Darevskia praticola ssp. hungarica)
Greek Rock Lizard (Hellenolacerta graeca)
Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis ssp. bosnica)
Eastern Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta diplochondrodes)
Eastern Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis)
Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata)
Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans ssp. macrodactylus)
Erhard's Wall Lizard (Podarcis erhardii)
Ionian Wall Lizard (Podarcis ionicus)
Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis)
Peloponnese Wall Lizard (Podarcis peloponnesiacus)
Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis tauricus)
Worm Snake (Xerotyphlops vermicularis)
Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca)
Caspian Whip Snake (Dolichophis caspius)
Four-lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata)
Balkan Whip Snake (Hierophis gemonensis)
Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus)
Grass Snake (Natrix natrix ssp. persa)
Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata)
Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax)
Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes ssp. meridionalis & montandoni)
Greek Meadow Viper (Vipera graeca)
Many thanks to Elias Tzoras!