Keen to escape the dreadful northern European winter, Laura and I were looking into a trip to the African continent. While Namibia was soon of the table due to a new virus variant, we started looking into Tanzania. Soon that was also not an option anymore as ticket prices started to rise. We looked into many other countries, but we decided that staying a bit closer to home was probably wiser considering the circumstances.
One destination which is not only close to home, but also close to our hearts, is the Turkish south coast. This unique region holds well over 60 different species of amphibian and reptile and is home to several endemics. Of these endemics, one genus of salamanders stands out. The genus Lyciasalamandra holds 7 species of which 6 occur in Turkey along the south coast. Many new subspecies have been described since Laura and I last visited, so it was about time we paid another visit. Luckily, flights were still available and affordable so we were good to go. Long time herping buddy Sander Schagen (NL) was quick to join, and so were new herping buddies Rick Middelbos (NL) and Loïc van Doorn (BE). Sadly Jeroen Speybroeck (BE) could not join the entire trip but met up with us a few days later.
The weather conditions during the trip were generally favourable for amphibians. We had lots of rain prior to our arrival and also during the first few days of our trip. This was definitely to the benefit of finding salamanders. The soil was moist and flipping rocks almost immediately delivered our desiderata. Moreover, temperatures at night were generally around 10°C, so we could observe salamanders out and about whenever we tried. The dry sunny spell we could enjoy during the middle part of the trip was enough to lure out some early reptiles, although certainly not en masse. Seeing basking lizards or agamas was not common, and we definitely saw less tortoises than we would see during our trips in February.
27th of December 2021
On Schiphol airport Laura and I met up with Sander and Loïc. From there, we flew to Dalaman airport via Istanbul. Rick arrived in Dalaman shortly after us, and after cramming all our stuff and 5 people in our small rental car we drove to the Smyrna Hotel in Dalyan. Knowing we wouldn't be able to sleep before having seen the first salamanders we drove towards the coast. A small stop at a known Pelobates place gave us the first Levant Water Frogs (Pelophylax bedriagae) but nothing else. Inside the forest we quickly saw more amphibians. Along the road we saw many Dalyan Dildodragertjes (Lyciasalamandra fazilae ulfetae), our first Common Toad (Bufo bufo) and Green Toads (Bufotes viridis). A heavy downpour made us retreat to the car and back to our hotel.
28th of December 2021
During breakfast the heavy downpour finally seized and we made our way across the Dalyan River making use of the rowing boat shuttle service at the end of town. First up was the ancient ruined city of Kaunos. With the rain of the previous night we didn't see as many herps as we had hoped, but still found an Anatolian Worm Lizard (Blanus strauchi), a Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans), several Balkan Terrapins (Mauremys rivulata) including a mating pair and many Green Toads. In the impressive amphitheatre we didn't get to see any snakes this time, but Western Rock Nuthatches (Sitta neumayer) and a pair of Persian Squirrels (Sciurus anomalus), which are always nice sightings as well.
When we arrived back in town we easily arranged a boat to bring us to a place where Sander and I spent most of our time during our visit to Dalyan in 2009. At the side of a steep cliff there is hot water coming to the surface. These hotsprings are a delight, especially with the grim weather conditions we experienced this trip. On the river we caught our first glimpse of an African Softshell Turtle (Trionyx triunguis) but the biggest highlight was warming up in the thermal waters.
When the rain caught up with us again we went back to the boat and back to the car. Next, we decided to drive up to the "Amazing Viewpoint" on the Bozburun Tepesi. We weren't disappointed. Not in the slightest. Not only did the rain stop, we also found another Dalyan Dildodragertje. But most impressive were the stunning vistas on the entire Dalyan area which were adorned with a double circular rainbow, creating an otherworldly landscape.
We found a nice place to eat in Dalyan at Kebapci Yusuf, where our new friend Irfan offered us a boat at any time of day. We would come back to that... During dinner the heavens opened again and we were doubting to go out at all. Our plan was to search for chameleons, but one glimpse outside didn't exactly make us very confident at finding those. We still decided to go for it and when we reached the chameleon spot it luckily stopped raining. It was still windy and cold though, but Salamanders and Green Toads were out in numbers. Past midnight I found the first Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon), shortly followed by a big battered adult found by Laura. It was interesting to see these animals still out despite the unfavourable conditions.
29th of December 2021
Today we drove west to target the next species of salamander on the list. Although the first stop gave us our first Krüper's Nuthatch (Sitta krueperi), which is another specialty of the area, salamanders remained elusive. However, at the terra typica of the ilgazi subspecies of the Geelpotige Dildodragertje (Lyciasalamandra flavimembris ilgazi) we got lucky and Sander and Rick both found an individual. Further south along the road to Marmaris we visited a spot where Laura and I have seen the nominal subspecies in the past. This spot immediately delivered several individuals of Lyciasalamandra flavimembris flavimembris. At a peninsula we explored a huge cave until sunset. The forests on the peninsula came alive when darkness set in and we saw many more salamanders. In Marmaris we found a place to eat and to get ripped-off. We couldn't wait to leave horrible Marmaris behind and flee back to tranquil Dalyan. Shortly before midnight we visited our friend Irfan and kindly asked him about the possibility to bring us to the hotsprings in the middle of the night. That was no problem at all and off we went. Low temperatures and a slight drizzle made the hotsprings even more enjoyable and the beer taste better. Thanks a lot for the great help Irfan!
30th of December 2021
After a last amazing breakfast at the Smyrna Hotel we said goodbye to our new friend Idil and her cute cats. We then drove east towards a lake fed by thermal springs. This lake is a very good place to see one of the most unique reptiles of Turkey in the wild. Although being widespread in Africa, in Turkey the African Softshell Turtles are restricted to waters with thermal springs to spend the winter and have a discontinuous distribution. We saw many individuals within minutes and it was a feast for the eyes to see these massive turtles slide gracefully through the water. Sadly the rains returned quickly and the turtles somehow lost their interest in us, so it was time to move on. The afternoon was spent looking for the nominate subspecies of the Dalyan Dildodragertje (Lyciasalamandra fazilae fazilae) which took a while before we finally found a few in bottleneck-habitatjes. I was so happy that I almost killed Rick with a car tyre! After a long drive to the Meyveli Ev Pansiyon in Karadere we grabbed a fantastic bite to eat at the Ata Mezze Grill in Kalkan and went to bed.
31st of December 2021
On the last day of the year quite a few highlights awaited us. In the terra typica of the Dodurga Dildodragertje (Lyciasalamandra luschani luschani) we quickly found many individuals of this beautiful subspecies. Also the sun was out for the first time, and we enjoyed the sunrays and bird songs in this beautiful valley. Along the road we flipped some more salamanders and the first Anatolian Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus anatolicus).
The afternoon we spent at one of the most scenic ruined cities along the Lycian Coast, which is luckily still off the beaten track and visited by few. Here we found our first Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca), several Snake-eyed Lacertids and some more salamanders. We explored the ruins with the theme song of Lord of the Rings in our heads until it was getting dark.
Sadly our favourite restaurant in Kalkan was reserved for a private party, but we found a nice alternative for having our last dinner of 2021 all the same. Our first stop of the evening was a ruined city near the dunes. This wasn't a success as there were now fences, cameras and barriers all around, whilst on previous visits to Turkey I could always enjoy an amphibian bonanza here. On Google Maps I spotted some seemingly interesting habitat closeby, so we decided to drive there. We parked the car and set foot into the flooded fields. Barely five minutes had passed when Loïc found our target for the area: an Eastern Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates syriacus). The rains of the previous days had flooded the whole area and they were at the start of their breeding season. It wouldn't remain our only individual found that night - everywhere we looked there were males of this enigmatic species peaking with their heads above the water surface, while Eastern Tree Frogs (Hyla orientalis) were calling our ears off. We also saw a Mediterranean Chameleon and a few Levant Water Frogs, Green Toads and Common Toads, and it was just amazing to see this opulence of amphibian breeding activity. The highlight was a false amplexus between a male Spadefoot Toad clasping a female Tree Frog, which would be my last herps of 2021. Shortly before midnight we went into the nearby dunes, where we found a nice little valley to start a bonfire. Here we celebrated the new year in style with Turkish wine and extreme fire-jumping where some of us lost some body hair... The lack of fireworks was made up for by the arrival of three local dudes with an automatic hunting rifle which we could fire. The best New Year's Eve one could wish for!
1st of January 2022
Before breakfast, Rick and Sander already wanted to have a New Year's Dip, and decided flooding their entire room was the best way to go. It did make Sander very hungry and he demanded our last bread: "The last bread. I want it". With the sun out we drove quickly towards the range of the next subspecies of the Dodurga Dildodragertje. Near a lone Lycian Tomb we started flipping and quickly found Lyciasalamandra luschani basoglui. Finike Rock Lizards (Anatololacerta finikensis) and Snake-eyed Lacertids were running around and enjoying the sun. Under rocks we found many Green Toads, and Loïc found an Anatolian Limbless Skink (Ophiomorus kardesi) and spotted a juvenile Coin-marked Snake (Hemorrhois nummifer) basking. After a successful start we drove to a nearby coastal ruined city. From the small harbour Rick spotted a Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas), while in the city itself we saw our first Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio), Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) and Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus), but little else. After a refreshing New Year's Dip, it was time to drive on. Along the way to Finike, we spotted a small flock of Flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) and had dinner in Finike itself. Our friendly host at the Heredot's House had prepared a welcome party with fresh oranges, homemade wine and an army of baby animals. The rest of the evening we were entertaining ourselves with puppies and kittens.
2nd of January 2022
When we woke up in the morning there was a vrolijke man met pit at the breakfast table. After Jeroen's initial plans of visiting the Iberian Peninsula had to be cancelled, he joined team Snaasappel last minute. We soon set off towards the mountains north of Finike, where we could find 20 individuals of Lyciasalamandra luschani finikensis instantly. Also, we enjoyed the great views of the surrounding mountains and observed several Krüper's Nuthatches. In a nearby cave we could observe a big colony of Egyptian Fruitbats (Rousettus aegyptiacus), while Finike Rock Lizards and a fast Dahl's Whip Snake (Platyceps najadum) were enjoying the sun outside the cave.
Further to the east, we searched for the first subspecies of the Witflank Dildodragertje (Lyciasalamandra billae arikani), which we could find not that long after starting our search, albeit only 2 individuals. Our plan of herping in an ancient ruined city near Cirali was ruined by the high water levels in the river, so we stayed on the beach and herped a bit there. Sadly mass tourism has taken over Cirali itself, and what used to be a quiet and laidback town was now rather busy, even in winter. The vegetation in the dunes behind the beach was partially destroyed and people were raking up all leaflitter but leaving the plastic behind. What a great way of cleaning... We still found some herps such as Anatolian Snake-eyed Skinks, a Spur-thighed Tortoise and secretive Hatay Lizards (Phoenicolacerta laevis), which have been introduced here recently.
In the late afternoon we hiked up to the eternal flames of Yanartaş, a place were according to legend the mythical Chimera was slain by the hero Bellerophon. Vents at these rocky outcrops emit methane gasses which are naturally ignited and fuel fires since antiquity. Sadly this place was now also overrun by tourists. We had to pay an entrance fee and every single vent had a group of Russian tourists roasting sausages over the flames. Not exactly a magical place anymore... Luckily Laura and I knew of a second flamefield and we hiked up the steep slopes a bit more. That was definitely worth the effort as we had some stunning vistas on snowy peaks lit by the setting sun, the blue of the Mediterranean Sea far below us and all the flames of the flamefield to ourselves. The homemade wine from the friendly owner of Heredot's House tasted ever better in this magical setting. When all the wine bottles and milk powder boxes were empty we hiked down, found a nice meal at Zakkum Restaurant and searched for chameleons. Luckily they were still doing fine despite the habitat disturbance and we counted over 15 Mediterranean Chameleons.
3rd of January 2022
After breakfast we had some trouble finding back which bungalows were ours. First Rick, Sander and I were throwing oranges at what we thought was the house where Jeroen and Loïc slept. Fleeing back to what was supposedly our own bungalow, we were mistaken once more and walked into a Russian family just waking up. Again the wrong house... When we told Laura what happened, she had to laugh as she had also walked into the same Russian family just minutes before. At the beach we started our herping for the day and quickly found some Mediterranean Chameleons. Next up was the nearby ruined city. We had high hopes with the sudden rise in temperature, but we did not get the reptile abundance we were rooting for. We saw some Balkan terrapins and Levant Water Frogs basking near the water, and Loïc saw another Dahl's Whip Snake escape. Finike Rock Lizards were plentiful, and I found a small Pamphylian Green Lizard (Lacerta pamphylica), but that was about it. On the way back to the car we found a pile of oranges, and as we already found out in the morning, they are great to throw at each other. In the afternoon we searched for Lyciasalamandra billae yehudahi in vain at a first search site, and also at a second place it took quite some time before Jeroen and I could both find an individual. In Kemer we dropped the luggage at our hotel and had a tasty dinner at Brothers Restaurant. Rick, Loïc and I did a roadcruising session to try and find Porcupines but only found lots of turkeys, a greenhouse on the middle of the road and had to avoid entire prides of Caracal that roam this part of the country.
4th of January 2022
The Göynük Canyon is a beautiful place but upon our arrival we also noticed that this place is losing its natural appeal. A big parking lot, a petting zoo, a ticket booth and souvenir shops awaited us at the entrance. After reluctantly paying for our entrance we made our way up the slopes and started looking for salamanders. It took a while, but Loïc and Jeroen found the best spot and found 5 individuals of Lyciasalamandra billae irfani. Stunning animals with star-shaped markings on their backs. In the afternoon we drove on to the outskirts of Antalya where we started searching for Antilliaanse Dildodragertjes (Lyciasalamandra antalyana antalyana). This didn't take long and we found around 20 individuals of this beautiful species and another Anatolian Worm Lizard. With still some daylight left we decided to try Lyciasalamandra billae eikeae. At first Loïc found the first Bulgarian Bent-toed Gecko (Mediodactylus danilewskii) of the trip. And thanks to Jeroen's tireless efforts and persistance, we could see a stunning orange eikeae. At the high altitude where this subspecies occurs, we could almost touch the snow, so we decided to drive on a bit higher to about 1500m absl to play a little with the snow before the sun set. After we arrived at our hotel Kolibry we had dinner at Public Burger & Beer House and went for a fourth Lyciasalamandra target. Outside a small town we hiked along a steep slope and found over 30 Lyciasalamandra billae billae out and about.
5th of January 2022
This day was off to a slow start. First we tried to find Lyciasalamandra antalyana gocmeni at several stops but only found Bulgarian Bent-toed Geckos. Then we drove east to a place where in summer there are plenty of African Softshell Turtles around. In winter apparently not so much, and we only saw a single Balkan Terrapin. When we arrived at the ancient ruined city of Side, the heavens opened and the flipping-fiesta we were hoping for didn't happen. We seeked shelter at the ancient city walls and forged a new plan. We dropped the luggage at the Irem Garden Hotel and went scouting for suitable amphibian habitat outside of town. We found some pretty good looking puddles at the edge of town with some surrealistic scenery in the background: huge uninspired hotels made for mass tourism and rows of fake pirate ships awaiting the arrival of hordes of tourists. We also couldn't resist flipping a bit and quickly found Starred Agamas, Turkish Geckos, Green Toads and an Eastern Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus budaki). Along the way to our next search stop we had dinner at a restaurant which didn't look like much, but served a mean Köfte ekmek. A short drive later we were in the mountains. The rains had stopped, and the grassy meadows along the forest were teeming with the final species of salamander. We counted over a 100 Grote Dildodragers (Lyciasalamandra atifi atifi), which was an amazing spectacle to behold! Also it was here where we witnessed the only amplexus between two salamanders of the trip. Back at the coast we checked out the ponds we marked during daytime. While the best looking ones were empty, the filthy looking ponds were full of life and we saw Levant Water Frogs, Green Toads and even some more Eastern Spadefoot Toads. A fine ending to an otherwise slow day!
6th of January 2022
Another rainy morning drove us to a nearby breakfast cafe where we ate like royalty. We decided that visiting the reptile hotspots nearby wouldn't be worth it and we drove back to Antalya. We would give gocmeni another try. At the city which had been founded by the mythical hero Bellerophon we searched for salamanders and soon struck gold. Close to the ancient ruins of Termessos, several high yellow individuals of Lyciasalamandra antalyana gocmeni were found. That in combination with the ancient city tucked away on a high plateau, concealed by fog and towering pines was truly a special experience. We had another dinner at the Public Burger & Beer House and arranged a room at the hotel Kolibry. Jeroen and Loïc went for another gocmeni spot at night and found over 50 individuals. Laura, Rick and I went to valley close to Antalya where billae and antalyana hybridize. Here we easily found several salamanders with strange patterns and colours, fitting the description of hybrids, along with a few more Common Toads.
7th of January 2022
On our last day we had hoped to add some more reptiles to the list so we went to a coastal spot where there is plenty of trash to flip. Sadly this place became quite a bit smaller since last time I visited, but we still found many species such as Green Toads, Levant Water Frogs, Turkish Geckos, Starred Agamas and Ocellated Skinks. In the afternoon we went further inland in the stunning Köprülü Canyon. Jeroen and Loïc worked their magic and found many individuals of Lyciasalamandra atifi godmanni. They were keen on seeing the final valid subspecies of atifi and drove even further east where they found Lyciasalamandra atifi bayrami. Sander, Rick, Laura and I didn't want to drive so much anymore and decided to spend our remaining time in Turkey in the canyon. We had some fun with objects shattering from great heights, we filmed a new Muzzy commercial and enjoyed the fabulous scenery. The setting sun set the distant snowy peaks on fire and I already started dreaming of returning to this beloved land. In the Hotel Luna we found an ok-ish place to sleep and in the Rose Restaurant an opulent dinner before going to bed on time.
8th of January 2022
Our alarm went off a few hours too early to my liking, and at the airport we still had to hurry quite a bit. We could walk straight into the plane basically. There we slept all the way until touchdown in Munich. But what a trip... Turkey had been fantastic again. It felt like coming home after a too long time. I'd almost forgotten how amazing this country is and more specifically the south coast. The breathtaking scenery, the vast landscapes, the tranquility of the abandoned ruined cities, the biodiversity, the friendliness of the people, the tasty food, the adventure and the sheer sense of freedom. It was so good to be back!
For more pictures from our trip have a look at Laura's Flickr Album.
Many thanks to Wouter Beukema, Vide Ohlin and Sebastian Voitel.