Shortly before the whole world was in the firm grip of the pandemic, I was contacted by Dan Lay who is an operations manager for Naturetrek. He asked me if I would be interested in guiding tours to my beloved Greece. I didn't need long to think about this and the answer was of course yes! Dan and I set up a route across the Peloponnese which is one of the biodiversity hotspots within Europe. This route would potentially allow us to see almost all species of amphibian and reptile that occur on this big peninsula. Sadly Covid-19 forced us postpone the trip not once, but twice, but luckily this year it could finally take place. During our stay we were blessed with some excellent spring weather - although night temperatures were still in the single digits and the first few days we had a strong cold wind coming from the north. Despite this, we managed to see an interesting array of species, not only amphibians and reptiles, but also butterflies, dragonflies, mammals and orchids. Most guests had a broad orientation and arriving from bitterly cold Blighty, they all appreciated the spring conditions.
9th of April 2022
In the early morning a taxi brought me to the airport of Schiphol from where I had a smooth journey towards Athens. After collecting the rental van I didn't have to wait long until the first guests arrived as well. We drove in a westerly direction towards the Verde al Mare Hotel. Some stops along the highway already yielded our first Peloponnese Wall Lizards (Podarcis peloponnesiacus) and Balkan Green Lizards (Lacerta trilineata). A roadside dumpsite gave us smelly hands, not only from flipping unidentifiable objects, but also with finding the first Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix) and Dice Snakes (Natrix tessellata) of the trip. We had an excellent dinner at the hotel, after which we explored some very interesting marshland. Despite the cold wind and overall dry conditions, it didn't take us long to find Balkan Spadefoot Toads (Pelobates balcanicus) and Green Toads (Bufotes viridis). In nearby reedlands we found several Tree Frogs (Hyla arborea), Marsh Frogs (Pelophylax ridibundus) and Epirus Water Frogs (Pelophylax epeiroticus).
10th of April 2022
Breakfast at the hotel was excellent as always, and we soon headed out to explore the surroundings. In the pine forest we quickly found several Hermann's Tortoises (Testudo hermanni), Marginated Tortoises (Testudo marginata), Glass Lizards (Pseudopus apodus), Balkan Green Lizards, Snake-eyed Skinks (Ablepharus kitaibellii), a small Greek Newt (Lissotriton graecus) and Worm Snakes (Xerotyphlops vermicularis). Our main target kept eluding us however. When Robin and I checked out one last good stretch of habitat, his eagle eyes spied a small snake basking between the dry vegetation: a Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes)! An excellent find which made us all very happy. After shopping in town for groceries we moved to a more rocky habitat where we also ate our lunch. It was a tad windy and because of that we also didn't find much at this particular site. Another place which was more sheltered from the wind did immediately deliver and we saw several Balkan Whip Snakes (Hierophis gemonensis), more Glass Lizards, Balkan Green Lizards and the first Greek Algyroides (Algyroides moreoticus). Most guests wanted to spend some time to relax in their rooms so Robin and I set out to do a few more quick stops to search for Four-lined Snake, unfortunately without much success. During dinner the wind picked up again and rain started to fall but we still tried to find chameleons at the coast. Luckily we quickly found a small African Chameleon (Chamaeleo africanus) so we could get back inside. Together with a small group we searched in the marshland again, but mostly found the same species as the previous night. We did run into three Dutch herpers and we could show them their first Spadefoot Toads.
11th of April 2022
Another windy day in paradise. Rock flipping didn't deliver anything new to the list, but we could admire some small flocks of Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) and Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus) close to the road. The second stop of the day was even more windy and trying to point a telelens at birds such as Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) or Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) was quite challenging. We did see our first European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis) crossing the path here. This species proved to be plentiful during our stop for lunch as well, alongside Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata). The late afternoon we moved to the shores of a big lake to target a certain stripy snake, but again the strong wind prevented any sightings. We did get to see an invasive species in the shape of a Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta). When everybody was at the hotel, Robin and I made use of the last hours of sunlights and searched around the lake although we didn't find much. In the evening we had a stroll in some interesting habitat where we found a Tree Frog and even some adult African Chameleons.
12th of April 2022
Before breakfast Dan and I had a small stroll along the lake shore, and after breakfast we did the same with the guests to show them some stunning African Chameleons. We also encountered some more Grass Snakes, Dice Snakes, Peloponnese Wall Lizards, Balkan Green Lizards, European Pond Terrapins, Tree Frogs and Snake-eyed Skinks. Around noon we continued the tradition of lunch with chelonians, and had lunch with Loggerhead Turtles (Caretta caretta). In the afternoon we hiked up to a beautiful Venetian castle on a very scenic mountain top and enjoyed great views all around. Under stones we also found the first Limbless Skinks (Ophiomorus punctatissimus). Robin and I again couldn't sit still and visited a very promising dumpsite with lots of fun trash to flip. Under one of the last things to flip I finally struck gold and I found Robin his first Leopard Snake (Zamenis situla). There were cries of joy and we both couldn't believe our luck. Back at the hotel we enjoyed a fabulous dinner at the Karalis Beach Hotel and went out to search for more chameleons. We quickly found Turkish Geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus), Tree Frogs, European Pond Terrapin and a few juvenile African Chameleon. We also met a small group of Belgian herpers who were after the same targets. Along the way back to the hotel we stopped at a small building where I knew we would find another addition to the list and easily found several Moorish Geckos (Tarentola mauritanica).
13th of April 2022
On the menu for today was one of the most beautiful places in the world if you ask me. Sadly more and more people have discovered this place and it becomes more crowded every year. We still found a wide variety of amphibians and reptiles such as Marsh Frog, Greek Stream Frog (Rana graeca), Marginated Tortoise, Peloponnese Wall Lizard, Greek Rock Lizard (Hellenolacerta graeca), Greek Algyroides, Balkan Green Lizards, Peloponnese Slow Worm (Anguis cephallonica), Glass Lizard, Balkan Whip Snake and Grass Snake. During lunch I had a refreshing (or freezing) dip in one of the crystal clear waters. At the second stop we visited another waterfall where we saw Marsh Frog, Greek Stream Frog, Greek Algyroides and Balkan Green Lizard. Some stunning olive groves delivered Hermann's Tortoise, Glass Lizard and Peloponnese Wall Lizard. We also tried the dumpsite again to find some more snakes, but not everybody enjoyed that as much as most herpers do. In the late afternoon a small group joined me to a known Sand Boa spot. We didn't find that species but instead Dan found a small Dahl's Whip Snake (Platyceps najadum) which was a big highlight as well. After dinner we took it easy, searched a bit around the castle outside of Pylos, but as it was rather cold we didn't see much and called it an early night.
14th of April 2022
Before breakfast I was strolling along the coast together with Dan, Robin and Julie and the Bay of Navarino was beautifully lit by the rising sun. While the scenery alone was worth getting up early, there was a mammal swimming in the bay which was the biggest highlight of the trip for me. An adult Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) was making its way along the coast and allowed us to observe it for a brief moment. What a sight! In the morning we hiked up to a chapel with a stunning view on the entire Pylos area. Here we saw species such as Marginated Tortoise, Peloponnese Wall Lizard, Balkan Green Lizard, Glass Lizard and Balkan Terrapin. In the afternoon a small group joined me as we ventured south. Around a Venetian fortress we found Marginated Tortoise, Glass Lizard, Greek Algyroides, Peloponnese Wall Lizard and Balkan Whip Snake. On the way back to the hotel we stopped in an extensive olive grove where we found Marginated Tortoise, Kotschy's Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi), Balkan Green Lizard, Peloponnese Wall Lizard, Greek Algyroides, Snake-eyed Skink and Worm Snake. Robin was an absolute hero, not only finding, but also catching a big female Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus). After admiring this stunning snake species for a while we made our way back to the hotel, had dinner and prepared for the evening excursion. Sadly we didn't find all targets due to the cold night temperatures, but at least there were plenty of Kotschy's Gecko to be admired by everyone.
15th of April 2022
Time to head north! During a toilet break we saw the last Western Peloponnese Wall Lizards before entering the range of Eastern Peloponnese Wall Lizard (Podarcis thais). A second stop delivered that species along with our first Ionian Wall Lizard (Podarcis ionicus), Kotschy's Gecko and another Montpellier Snake. Higher in the mountains we enjoyed our lunch and found many species such as Marsh Frog, Hermann's Tortoise, European Pond Terrapin, Snake-eyed Skink, Limbless Skink, Peloponnese Slow Worm, Greek Slow Worm (Anguis graeca), Eastern Peloponnese Wall Lizard, Balkan Green Lizard and even two more Leopard Snakes found by Robin and I. The last rays of sunshine proved to be very good for finding snakes and with combined effort Robin and I found 34 snakes over 4 species: Worm Snake, Dice Snake, Balkan Whip Snake and another Nose-horned Viper. In the picturesque mountain village of Kefalari we found a very cozy stay at the Arhontiko Kefalari. The food was very tasty but plentiful and nobody finished their meal. The sociable dire wolves outside the door of the restaurant didn't mind though...
16th of April 2022
Our last morning was spent at another lake in the vicinity. Here we could add Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis) to our list, and found more Ionian Wall Lizards, Balkan Green Lizards, Snake-eyed Skinks and Robin found another Leopard Snake. Of the much desired Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) we only found larvae in puddles but sadly no adults. We had our lunch surrounded by snow-capped peaks before it was time for a long drive back to Athens and to the airport.
We could all look back to an intense herping trip where we sometimes had to put in a little bit more effort, but which was surely worth it for all involved!
Greek Newt (Lissotriton graecus)
Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra ssp. werneri)
Common Toad (Bufo bufo) - Robin only
Green Toad (Bufotes viridis)
Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea)
Balkan Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates balcanicus ssp. chloeae)
Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus ssp. kurtmuelleri)
Epirus Water Frog (Pelophylax epeiroticus)
Balkan Stream Frog (Rana graeca)
Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)
European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis ssp. hellenica)
Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)
Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)
Hermann's Tortoise (Testudo hermanni)
Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata)
African Chameleon (Chamaeleo africanus)
Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)
Kotschy's Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi)
Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)
Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibellii)
Limbless Skink (Ophiomorus punctatissimus)
Peloponnese Slow Worm (Anguis cephallonica)
Greek Slow Worm (Anguis graeca)
Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus ssp. thracius)
Greek Algyroides (Algyroides moreoticus)
Greek Rock Lizard (Hellenolacerta graeca)
Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata)
Ionian Wall Lizard (Podarcis ionicus)
Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis)
Peloponnese Wall Lizard (Podarcis peloponnesiacus)
Eastern Peloponnese Wall Lizard (Podarcis thais)
Worm Snake (Xerotyphlops vermicularis)
Balkan Whip Snake (Hierophis gemonensis)
Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus)
Dahl's Whip Snake (Platyceps najadum ssp. dahlii)
Leopard Snake (Zamenis situla)
Grass Snake (Natrix natrix ssp. persa)
Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata)
Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes ssp. meridionalis)