Northwest Turkey

Sakarya and Bolu provinces

From the 17th until the 21st of May 2024

Overlooked by many herpers, the northwestern region of Turkey is rarely visited, but is home to a very interesting species assemblage. This is where Europe meets Asia and several ecoregions meet here. From the northeast, several species typical for the Black Sea coast enter the region, while from the northwest, species typical for Central Europe venture into Turkey. On the south facing slopes of the Pontic Mountains, one is able to observe species typical for Central Anatolia, and then there are also the true endemics which can be found nowhere else. The main attraction for me were the newts of which no less than three endemic species can be found here. Together with herping buddies Dominik Hauser and Sander Schagen I spent a long weekend in this area, which was way too short, but gave us the chance to observe many of our targets in the field. We also chose the right time to visit as all the plants were in bloom, the weather was perfect and amphibian reproduction was in full swing. We also found most species in big numbers, which was a joy to see. However, snakes gave us a hard time despite the seemingly perfect conditions, season and habitat. 

Overview of prospected sites.
Overview of prospected sites.
Team kittenmilk from left to right: Dominik Hauser, Jan Darma, Sander Schagen and myself.
Team kittenmilk from left to right: Dominik Hauser, Jan Darma, Sander Schagen and myself.

17th of May 2024

After a long day of teaching in rubber boots, it was time for me to make my way to the airport where I met Sander. We had a very smooth journey and even arrived a little earlier than scheduled in Istanbul. We didn't have to wait at all for Dominik either, and before we knew it we were crossing the Bosporus and making our way into Asia. Well past midnight we dropped off our luggage at our hotel in Adapazari and although our beds were tempting, we went out to explore a nice wetland area. We first spotted many Levant Water Frogs (Pelophylax bedriagae) while Eastern Tree Frogs (Hyla orientalis) were providing a massive chorus. In the dense reeds it was very difficult to search for our main target, but finally I spotted what we came here to see and found the endemic subspecies of Fire-bellied Toad (Bombina bombina arifiyensis). We also saw a Southern White-breasted Hedgehog (Erinaceus concolor) and somewhere around 4 in the morning we were in bed.

18th of May 2024

Due to the late night, we got out of bed a little late and after some breakfast in the hotel we drove back to the wetland of last night. It was starting to heat up already, but Spur-thighed Tortoises (Testudo graeca) were having breakfast along the path and lizards such as Eastern Slow Worm (Anguis colchica), Eastern Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis meridionalis), Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis), Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis tauricus) and the first Bithynian Lizards (Darevskia bithynica tristis) were basking. In small puddles next and on the road we found several Levant Water Frogs (Pelophylax bedriagae), larvae of Kosswig's Smooth Newt (Lissotriton kosswigi) and several baby European Pond Terrapins (Emys orbicularis). From the dense reedbeds we still heard many Fire-bellied Toads (Bombina bombina arifiyensis) and Eastern Tree Frogs (Hyla orientalis) calling.

During the hottest part of the day we drove further east towards Bolu. After a short stop for some food and checking in into the hotel, we drove into the mountains around Abant Gölü. Here we searched both in the late afternoon as well as in the evening at flooded meadows, ditches and ponds. We found a great number of amphibians (and some reptiles), the amphibian diversity in these mountains is just amazing! Most species were present in large numbers such as Kosswig's Smooth Newt (Lissotriton kosswigi), Anatolian Banded Newt (Ommatotriton nesterovi), Common Toad (Bufo bufo), Eastern Tree Frog (Hyla orientalis), Levant Water Frog (Pelophylax bedriagae) and Caucasian Brown Frog (Rana macrocnemis). One newt species took a little more effort to find, but eventually we also found several Anatolian Crested Newt (Triturus anatolicus) in a pond I had marked in Google Earth.

19th of May 2024

Weather conditions were excellent for snakes, with partially clouded skies and pleasant temperatures. South of Bolu we ventured into the mountains to search for a rarely seen snake, the Baran's Adder (Vipera berus barani). We explored several clearings, forest edges and finally also some alpine meadows higher up in the mountains. We saw several Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix) and Dice Snakes (Natrix tessellata), but no sign of our viper target... Very strange to search for vipers in seemingly perfect habitat, under excellent conditions, during the right season and to not find anything. Lizards were loving this weather though, and we saw several Snake-eyed Skinks (Ablepharus kitaibelii) and Common Wall Lizards (Podarcis muralis), but especially Bithynian Lizards (Darevskia bithynica) and Eastern Green Lizards (Lacerta viridis) were all over the place. Back in Bolu we had dinner near the hotel before we drove into the mountains again. We explored some other ponds, ditches and bogs and we found the same species as the night before. Being not really in the mood for photography, we decided to just enjoy the amphibian opulence and marvel at seeing all these species in such large numbers. While driving back to the hotel we did some spotlighting in the hope to pick up the eyeshine of a bear, but were in no such luck. 

20th of May 2024

We skipped the breakfast in the hotel to be in the field on time. A 1,5 hour drive brought us to the south facing slopes of the Pontic Mountains, where a whole new species assemblage was waiting for us. At the shore of a big manmade lake we again found lizards to be present in big numbers. At a sparsely vegetated field we found Dwarf Lizard (Parvilacerta parva), which was another target species for us, whereas Bithynian Lizard (Darevskia bithynica) and East Aegean Green Lizard (Lacerta diplochondrodes) were more common in the denser vegetation. Along the shoreline, Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata) and Levant Water Frog (Pelophylax bedriagae) were incredibly common. Since we didn't find the much anticipated Transcaucasian Long-nosed Viper (Vipera transcaucasiana), we tried our luck at another beautiful spot nearby. Here we saw Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii) and Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans macrodactylus), but again no vipers. During the hottest part of the day we took a small nap in the shade after a refreshing dip in a nearby stream. When the temperatures became more agreeable, we set out again, but only found the same species as before. Just when we wanted to drive back to Bolu, Dominik spotted a large snake on the road. We hit the brakes and ran back, but the smell already gave away that this Ottoman Viper (Montivipera xanthina) was dead for a bit longer. Super interesting to find this species here, at a place we didn't expect it. But at the same time, we were incredibly frustrated to see this beautiful snake dead on the road after a long day of searching in vain. Of course we searched a bit in the very promising looking habitat, but only found a Worm Snake (Xerotyphlops vermicularis). We all agreed we would come back though...

21st of May 2024

Our last day already and we all felt like this trip was way too short, especially when your target species require more time to find them. We got up early again to try first for Baran's Adder. Again such perfect circumstances, but not a sign of a viper. At the same time, the place where we found a xanthina yesterday was also still in our minds. We calculated the time needed to get back to the airport and how much the detour to the xanthina place would cost us. With screeching tires we drove there and set a time to be back at the car. We all searched relentlessly, but it already got very hot and we didn't find much besides a few Spur-thighed Tortoises (Testudo graeca) and East Aegean Green Lizards (Lacerta diplochondrodes). Then it was time to leave so Sander and I walked back to the car. I heard a little rustle and although it sounded like yet another tortoise, I decided to check it out. And then a very big and beautifully coloured Ottoman Viper (Montivipera xanthina) was crawling through the high grass! I made the jump, met some barbed wire in that high grass, but at the very last minute we could still enjoy an absolutely gorgeous viper. What an ending to our little trip! Needless to say we had to hurry to the airport, but along the way we could at least fulfil our lifelong dream of throwing unripe plums into the Bosporus. We arrived a little later than planned back at Istanbul airport, but sweaty, dusty and very happy we were seated in the plane back home.


Kosswig's Smooth Newt (Lissotriton kosswigi)

Anatolian Banded Newt (Ommatotriton nesterovi)

Anatolian Crested Newt (Triturus anatolicus)

Common Toad (Bufo bufo)

Green Toad (Bufotes viridis) DOR

Fire-bellied Toad (Bombina bombina ssp. arifiyensis)

Eastern Tree Frog (Hyla orientalis)

Levant Water Frog (Pelophylax bedriagae)

Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina)

Caucasian Brown Frog (Rana macrocnemis)

European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)

Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca)

Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii)

Eastern Slow Worm (Anguis colchica)

Bithynian Lizard (Darevskia bithynica ssp. tristis)

East Aegean Green Lizard (Lacerta diplochondrodes ssp. galatiensis)

Eastern Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis ssp. meridionalis)

Dwarf Lizard (Parvilacerta parva)

Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis)

Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis tauricus)

Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans ssp. macrodactylus)

Worm Snake (Xerotyphlops vermicularis)

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)

Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata)

Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus) DOR

Ottoman Viper (Montivipera xanthina)


Many thanks to Christoph Andrijczuk, Wouter Beukema and Michael Franzen.