A new year, a new trip and a new tripreport on my new website. Just got back from an exceptionally good trip from the southern coast of Turkey. While last years trip already was great with many species, the recent discovery of three new species of salamander from this beautiful region made me want to go there again. Fellow "Schwanzlurche" enthousiast Laura Tiemann said yes straight away when I asked her to come along and we asked Sjuul Verhaegh and Sandra Panienka to come along with us.
Our trip mainly focused on amphibians as in winter they are predominantly active while most reptiles still remain cryptic. The Lycian coast is especially interesting because of the presence of several endemic species of salamander, on a stretch of land of roughly 800 km there are nine species to be found. These salamanders can only be found during the wet wintermonths, during the scorching hot summer they remain submerged in deep crevices in the karstic landscape and retain a subterranean lifestyle. Even when there is a period of drought in winter these animals can be hard to find. Luckily, the week prior to our trip has had torrential rains so the soil was still soaking wet when we arrived. Also during the trip we were extremely lucky with the weather circumstances as we had some sun by day (nice for reptiles) and rains by night (great for amphibians).
16th of February 2013
Me and Sjuul had a very early flight leaving from Schiphol airport, we arrived at Antalya in the early morning where we quickly had our luggage and we went out for our first drink on Turkish soil. After rehydrating and enjoying the sun we got a taxi to take us to one of the last remaining coastal dune ecosystems in the wider Antalya area. We left our luggage at the taxi stop (as I did last year) and went out to search for reptiles. Sadly no chameleons were found this time but we did find a whole range of other species such as Snake-eyed Lizard (Ophisops elegans macrodactylus), Ocellated skink (Chalcides ocellatus), Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio), Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca), Black Whip Snake (Dolichophis jugularis) juvenile, Eastern Tree Frog (Hyla orientalis) larvae and Green Toad (Bufo viridis) larvae and adults. Also many White-spectacled bulbul (Pycnonotus xanthopygos) flew around in the dunes. A great start!
After that we took a taxi again and went to the lower Düden falls, we admired the waterfall, enjoyed the sun and how many people almost fell of the 40 meter high cliff and had a drink. In the late afternoon Laura and Sandra arrived with the rental car and we soon drove of to the first salamander stop, a valley east of Antalya were two species are known to live and also hybridize. Both Antalyan Landsalamander (Lyciasalamandra antalyana) and Bille's Salamander (Lyciasalamandra billae) were soon found along with many hybrids. Also a Common Toad (Bufo bufo), Green Toads (Bufo viridis), Tree Frogs and Levant Water Frogs (Pelophylax bedriagae) were found along the road.
Then a hotel in Hurma, a nice meal and straight to bed.
17th of February 2013
We got up at eight, got ourselves a small breakfast and went to another location for Bille's Salamander. Laura gave us all rape whistles in case if we encountered some promiscuous Turkish people but they also proven to come in handy in case one of us found something or we wanted to gather back at the car. Soon the first whistle blew, I found the first salamander after which many followed along with many Eastern Snake-eyed Skinks (Ablepharus budaki).
The second stop of the day was the incredibly gorgeous Göynük Canyon for our third species of salamander. After making some canine friends at the entrance of the canyon we climbed along some cliffs and over shaky bridges to find four Irfan's Salamanders (Lyciasalamandra irfani) with great ease. Also some Green Toad larvae, Levant Water Frogs, a few Oertzen's Rock Lizards (Anatololacerta oertzeni) and two Kotschy's Geckoes (Mediodactylus kotschyi) were found.
After admiring this really beautiful species which was only described in 2011, we went to search for two species that were only described last year. At the type locality of Yehudah's salamander (Lyciasalamandra yehudahi) we soon found three individuals and the first Anatolian Worm Lizard (Blanus strauchi). It got dark so we went for a meal somewhere along the road, the only food they had left was Gözleme which tasted much better than it sounds. While we were dining, rain came down and a small hike around the restaurant delivered a female Arikan's Salamander (Lyciasalamandra arikani). We drove on to Finike were we found a cheap hotel and we drank some beer on the hotelroom. I got a very cool gift from Laura so now I can learn everything there is to know about dancing with cats, thanks again!
18th of February 2013
After a lovely breakfast we headed for a small peninsula near Finike. Here we soon found several Luschan's Salamander (Lyciasalamandra luschani finikensis).
The sun was already shining and we decided to try to find some reptiles with this sun, we came across some very cool coastal dunes with a ruined city behind it, the perfect place for some herping! We soon found Spur-thighed Tortoise, Starred Agama, Ocellated Skink, Limbless Skink (Ophiomorus punctatissimus), Anatolian Worm Lizard and two Worm Snakes (Typhlops vermicularis). After loosing Sjuul and finding him again we said goodbye to our canine friends here and went to a garrigue covered slope above agricultural land. While Green Toads and Tree Frogs were calling from below we soon found several Luschan's Salamanders (Lyciasalamandra luschani basoglui).
Then we went to Xanthos, sadly the sun was already setting so we didn't see much from this insanely beautiful place. The rock tombs of the acropolis are amazing and feeling like Hiram Bingham I went looking for herps. We found Snake-eyed Lizard, Green Toads, Anatolian Worm Lizards, Turkish Gecko and Spur-thighed Tortoise while a Barn Owl (Tyto alba) was screaming from the ancient amphitheater.
After darkness we drove to Gelemis, we slept at a small Pansiyon where we were friendly welcomed by a Turkish family, we had a deliciuous, freshly made meal so we were good to go again, into to the dunes near Patara Beach. Many amphibians were out and about and we saw (and heard) Green Toads, Levant Water Frogs and Tree Frogs. On our way back a Beech Marten (Martes foina) crossed the road.
19th of February 2013
Again the Turkish people were we stayed had arranged a bulky breakfast so when we were on the road again we were pretty well fed. We drove to Dodurga where we searched in a beautiful valley for the last subspecies of Luschan's Salamander (Lyciasalamandra luschani luschani). Flowers were blooming, insects were pollinating and literally thousands of birds were singing. Coming from the dull grey and cold Holland I got instantly injected with spring fever and this made me euphoric as hell. We lifted a few stones and I had the honour of finding the one and only individual we could find, but it was such a beautiful female, that it didn't really matter we only found one.
The same couldn't go up for the next species of salamander, several Fazilae's Salamanders (Lyciasalamandra fazilae) were easily found in a beautiful forested valley outside of Göcek. Also a juvenile of Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata), Oertzeni's Rock Lizard and Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii).
Next stop, some thermal springs outside Dalaman where a population of African Sofshell Turtle (Trionyx triunguis) resides. These African animals have some relictual populations in the eastern mediterranean bassin and are highly endangered. Nonetheless they are easily found as they are used to people.
After observing these stunning creatures we headed for Dalyan, jumped out of the car, got the first boat we could find and went to the ancient city of Kaunos. Clouds came in, temperature dropped and so we weren't able to find many species. Levant Water Frog, Green Toad, Common Toad, Anatolian Worm Lizard and Spur-thighed Tortoise were found and also a species we were not expecting to find here, Transcaucasian Ratsnake (Zamenis hohenackeri). It was basking while the sun set and rain came in. Truely awesome to find this rare and elusive species!
After dark the boat picked us up again, went for a delightful kebab and/or cheeseburger in Dalyan and Sjuul and I learned that "Möpse" is not just a German word for a dog that stares at you, begging for kebab meat. We stayed in the same hotel were I stayed last year and moved on to our first search stop that evening. Last year local biologists told me that when it rains, a certain road is covered with salamanders. As we had rain this evening we went there to have a look. We parked the car, the torrential rains stopped immediately and we walked along this road. Salamander #1 was found easily, and so was #2, #3, #4,...#132 etc. We counted at least 150 Fazilae's Salamander of which four couples in amplexus. Great start!
With some more wind coming in we feared that our next species would be somewhat more tricky to find so we moved on to a large temporary lake outside of Dalyan. Here we saw (and heared) many many Green Toads, Tree Frogs and Levant Water Frogs. Balkan Terrapins (Mauremys rivulata) were found foraging in the clear, shallow water of the lake and I managed to find two Eastern Spadefoot Toads (Pelobates syriacus). Amazing night and certainly an unforgettable day!
We went for a late night drink in the Jazz Cafe to celebrate this day, some got a bit tipsy from the raki or beer.
20th of February 2013
First we searched north of Marmaris where we found three juveniles of Marmaris Salamander (Lyciasalamandra flavimembris). South of Marmaris we also found a subadult and an adult female besides another Anatolian Worm Lizard.
After this we only had one more Lycian Salamander species to find, we went for a MacDonalds to destroy some rainforest and we then went for the long and horrifying drive to Side. We arrived at twilight and while we went to look for a place to sleep I saw an Egyptian Fruit Bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus) flying over me, cool! In the hotel/antique museum we dropped our luggage and went to eat at a very nice restaurant. A football match made it a very loud place but I had a pizza in front of me so I was feeling great. Sjuul and I bought some beer, drank it on the hotelroom and went to bed at 2am-ish.
21rd of February 2013
The ruins of Side where our first search site of today. While we were herping in the dunes we suddenly got caught in the spring migration of marathonrunners and people were coming from everywhere. We were still able to find some species such as a lot of Green Toads, Starred Agama, Spur-thighed Tortoise, Ocellated Skink and Hatay Lizards (Phoenicolacerta laevis) which were very shy.
Our second stop proved to be an adventurous one. First of all, we thought it would be a small climb but that proved to be very, very steep. Also we had to cross a small river first. All in all, a very nice adventure but not the Atif's Salamander we were hoping for. We did find a Spur-thighed Tortoise, Snake-eyed Lizard (Ophisops elegans basoglui) and some cool invertebrates.
Another long drive followed, all the way to Silifke. We found a cosy room for all four of us (in fact the only choice we had) and around midnight we went into the Göksü-delta. many Green Toads and Levant Water Frogs were out and about but mostly Lemon-yellow Tree Frogs (Hyla savignyi) were active and we saw a few couples in amplexus. Also one Balkan Terrapin.
After an hour or so we suddenly saw two Turkish guys walking fast towards us, they held a large gun and were shouting at us. We were just photographing some frogs but decided to stay together and walk slowly to the car, then more and more people came (with guns) and they were all shouting. They wanted us to stop but we didn't take them for friendly people so walked on, then one of the guys shot right next to us in a small puddle on the path. A big bang and water and mud splashed up and we can only hope they didn't kill any Tree Frogs. Nonetheless we decided to stop now because these guys were serious. We were flattered because they had mistaken us for cool cow thieves but we were only there to admire some frogs. As soon as they realized this they said sorry, we shook hands, wished them good night and we all went our separate ways. What an adventure!
22nd of February 2013
Laura and Sandra got some breakfast for all of us so we were on our way soon. First stop was west of Mersin, a known place for Southern Banded Newt (Ommatotriton vittatus cilicensis). While driving to this place we passed an invisible border, the friendly "Merhaba" made place for a friendly "Salaam" and we obviously arrived in an area where more Arab people live. On our way to the coördinate I spotted a nice Waterbak in an orange grove. We stopped the car, I got out and walked to the place, out of nowhere two guys came up to me and I asked them if there are "Semender" in the concrete bassin. They said yes and through sign language they made it clear that the salamanders were sleeping now underneath the algae. They got some sticks and went searching for me, I got the others and we all went searching. The guys also arranged a ladder for us so we could all get in the bassin. Soon me and Sjuul found a few Banded Newts and the friendly Turks pointed out a place with some loose rocks, underneath these, literally a pile of Green Toads and Tree Frogs, some of them in amplexus. The true "Monte Albo experience" over again! We also saw a dead Spur-thighed Tortoise and a few Levant Water Frogs. In the meanwhile more and more people came and several Turkish families were watching us. A funny experience! When we were all happy with our pictures we said goodbye to the friendly people (we waved and smiled) and they gave us some food for along the way, they didn't want to have any money for it.
We knew it would be hard but we really wanted it to give it a try, a search for Fire Salamanders (Salamandra infraimmaculata) on the most western known place for this species. Sadly we were obviously to early in the season since we didn't find any adults or even larvae. We did find another Starred Agama, Green Toad, Eastern Snake-eyed Skinks and a few Danford's Lizards (Anatololacerta danfordi).
Then again we did a long drive back, we wanted to try it one more time for the Atif's Salamander (Lyciasalamandra atifi). Well after darkness fell in we arrived at the scene, after finding nothing for a long time Laura contacted Sebastian Voitel and he gave us some directions. In the meanwhile it started to rain so we had no problem finding several specimens including a large male, a female and some juveniles. Great!
We had a fancy meal in Manavgat en drove on to Antalya where we arrived late and tired so we took the first the best hotel and went to bed.
23rd of February 2013
We got up at 8, got us some nice Turkish bread somewhere along the road, ate it in the car and headed for the airport. After some çay and a grouppicture Sjuul and I said goodbye to Laura and Sandra and flew back to Holland.
We had an amazing trip, the weather was good, the company was great and the animals we found surely exceeded our best expectations. Besides this we had some real great adventures like hiking up a steep and slippery mountain in search of salamanders, we enjoyed the fabuled hospitality of the Turks, got shot at by Turkish farmers and survived the Turkish traffic. Being back home sucks and I really miss the company and the daily life we had there, thanks again for everything you guys!
Antalya Salamander (Lyciasalamandra antalyana)
Arikan's Salamander (Lyciasalamandra arikani)
Atif's Salamander (Lyciasalamandra atifi)
Bille's Salamander (Lyciasalamandra billae)
Fazilae's Salamander (Lyciasalamandra fazilae)
Marmaris Salamander (Lyciasalamandra flavimembris)
Irfan's Salamander (Lyciasalamandra irfani)
Luschan's Salamander (Lyciasalamandra luschani ssp. luschani, basoglui and finikensis)
Yehudah's Salamander (Lyciasalamandra yehudahi)
Southern Banded Newt (Ommatotriton vittatus cilicensis)
Common Toad (Bufo bufo)
Green Toad (Bufo viridis)
Eastern Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates syriacus)
Eastern Tree Frog (Hyla orientalis)
Lemon-yellow Tree Frog (Hyla savignyi)
Levant Water Frog (Pelophylax bedriagae)
Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)
African Softshell Turtle (Trionyx triunguis)
Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca)
Anatolian Worm Lizard (Blanus strauchi)
Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio)
Kotschy's Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi)
Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)
Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii)
Eastern Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus budaki)
Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus)
Limbless Skink (Ophiomorus punctatissimus)
Oertzen's Rock Lizard (Anatololacerta oertzeni)
Danford's Lizard (Anatololacerta danfordi)
Hatay Lizard (Phoenicolacerta laevis)
Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata)
Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans ssp. macrodactylus and basoglui)
Worm Snake (Typhlops vermicularis)
Black Whip Snake (Dolichophis jugularis)
Transcaucasian Ratsnake (Zamenis hohenackeri)
Many thanks to: Wouter Beukema, Sergé Bogaerts, Joachim Nerz and Sebastian Voitel.