Still bedazzled after an amazing trip to Greece. This spring I intended on doing a trip to the south of Italy where several new species still await me. After I found out that I had two weeks of springholidays this year instead of the usual one week I thought it would be much more satisfying to spend those two weeks in an area that hosts far more species despite the fact that less of these species where new to me, so Greece it was! I decided to go to the island of Milos and combine it with a tour on the beautiful mainland. Gertjan Vespui was the first to tag along and also Belgian friends Jeroen Speybroeck and Bert Vandebosch were quick to join in. Shortly before departure to Greece, Daniel Bohle from Germany also joined in for the Milos part of the adventure and salamanderfriend Laura Tiemann joined us for the larger mainland episode.
27/28 April 2013
The island of Milos is a very popular destination amongst European herpetophiles due to its many endemic (sub)species. Getting there is less easy as there is always a transfer via Athens involved. We decided to take a flight to Milos and not a ferry despite the latter being cheaper. I arrived at Copenhagen first to fly from the Danish capital to Athens and arrived there at 20:00h. Gertjan was already at the scene, he had been for a one day trip to Crete before so arrived earlier. The Belgian and German amigo's arrived at 01:00 while our flight to Milos would only depart at 06:00, a lot of waiting involved. Luckily I brought my frisbee and were there some French girls willing to participate in this jolly game.
After arrival to the small island we crawled into our tiny rental car, drove to Adamas, woke up the people from whom we would rent the appartment, dropped our stuff and went straight on to a place on the eastern half of the island. We found many Kotschy's Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi), fewer Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus), Snake-eyed Skinks (Ablepharus kitaibelii), Milos Wall Lizard (Podarcis milensis) and Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata hansschweizeri). Daniel and I both found a Grass snake (Natrix natrix schweizeri) while GJ found our first Blunt-nosed Viper (Macrovipera lebetina schweizeri). A very succesful start!
After this we went to the western half and found both Gecko species again, Milos Wall Lizard and a pond with many Water Frogs (Pelophylax spec.). The exact species of frog living on Milos isn't known, it might be the same species living on the mainland as well as a new species. Also a Hoopoe (Upupa epops) and several Golden Orioles (Oriolus oriolus) flying through the olive groves. After this very hot midday search we decided to take a break and went to Adamas for some food and a swim were I was attacked by the warrior in our group. Knowing of his upcoming defeat he scarred me with his watch.
Next stop was the only lake on the island where we found both Gecko species again, Milos Wall Lizard, Balkan Green Lizard and Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata). While photographing the terrapin I was again attacked but this time by many Amphipods in the lake, biting my legs. Also a few nice Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides) in the trees along the lake. After dinner we did another search and met up with Guillaume Gomard and a friend of his, Alan, and I found a nice Blunt-nosed Viper laying in ambush along some water and Guillaume and Daniel found both a Catsnake (Telescopus fallax). A very succesful first day with all (except one) species of the island.
29 April 2013
First back to the lake were we found the three most common lizard species (Mediodactylus, Hemidactylus and Podarcis) again and after we went to a concrete bassin where we found more Water Frogs (Pelophylax spec.). Catching the frogs requires a net which I of course forgot at the car, so I ran back to collect it and went into the water. Herp-friend Matt Wilson encountered a decaying goat corpse under the water surface so I was a bit wary at first but luckily I only encountered mud and frogs.
After this again a meal in Adamas and a swim in the Aegean sea after going to two famous valleys for vipers that we didn't find. We decied to do one last stop before diner and drove to another place. This wetland place was also not very fruitful untill I looked inside a deep well and saw a viper laying on a ladder. We got it out to rescue it and take some pictures. On the road we saw a nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) and under some rocks Ladybird Spiders (Eresus sandaliatus).
30 April 2013
In the early morning we decided to go to a place on the eastern half of Milos, to a place where the lizards are supposed to be less shy as anywhere else on the island. This Milos Wall Lizard is very shy and doesn't use the same basking places but just walks around and basks where ever possible. With my little camera I need to go close to the animals so I still wasn't able to photograph any of the Milos Wall Lizards. But the stories are true and the lizards posed nicely and I was able to take some nice shots. We also photographed a beautiful balkan Green Lizard and Bert found another Blunt-nosed Viper. Of course many geckoes were seen as well.
After this we got some breakfast and drove on to a very nice valley but where we only saw the common species besides some Shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) along the beach and an Eleonora's Falcon (Falco eleonorae) flying over the road. We went again to Adamas for a swim and a lunch. The two search sites after lunch delivered Snake-eyed Skink besides the common species and I can't remember who it was, but someone found an ugly striped leopard Snake (Zamenis situla). It was fun to to spend some time with the mosquitos at this place but we decided to get some nice Gyros in Adamas and went again to the same searchsite of this morning. While I was scanning the rockwall for Catsnake I saw a huge viperhead sticking out of the wall. Closer inspection made it clear that three (!) vipers were sitting together in this wall next to eachother, maybe some mating behaviour? We caught one which was 89,5cm.
1 May 2013
We decided to sleep a bit because our programme of everyday a warm lunch and swimming in the sea was very strenuous and we were all feeling exhausted. In the early afternoon we started driving to the SW of the island when we encountred to Germans on the road, covered with blood. They fell with their scooter and were in bad shape (broken fingers, missing nails etc.) so GJ brought them to the hospital in Plaka with our rental car and I offered as a volunteer to bring the scooter back to Adamas. 70 km/h is a very nice speed and really a liberating feeling after the cramped backseat of our rental car. It was already late in the afternoon when we encounterd Guillaume Gomard and Alan again in the field, after catching up on each others finds we decided to search in the same area as they have been and were quite succesful and found 7 vipers in a beautiful valley with small, remnant puddles while bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) were plentiful.
After Gyros in Adamas again to the lake for a last search on Milos, I found another Catsnake and Guillaume found a nice Blunt-nosed viper and we drank some pirates drink before saying goodbye to each other and going to bed.
2 May 2013
After a very early flight from Milos to Athens we said goodbye to Daniel and welcomed Laura Tiemann in our team. We got the rental cars and headed straight on to the Pindos mountains. We arrived there in the afternoon and decided to check some nice Greek Meadow Viper (Vipera (ursinii) graeca) habitat. Unfortunately the road was blocked by a landslide so we had to hike up a bit more than expected. We soon found Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata), Greek Stream Frog (Rana graeca), Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris veluchiensis), Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis) and Eastern Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis). Also few tracks of bear and wolf on the trail and we saw a fox running below in the walley. After this beautiful place we went to Metsovo, photographing Common Toads (Bufo bufo) along the way, found a nice hotel and a nice meal and after a beer we went to bed.
3 May 2013
An early morning because the vipers awaited us. Laura and I climbed up to 1900m absl which was quite strenuous but very rewarding, the view, the spring flora and amazing views on a pair of Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) soaring above our heads was more than great. Of course we also found some nice animals including the same species as the previous day but Laura and I also saw a few Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis bosnica) walking along the edges of the snowfields and both Gertjan and I caught a nice Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes) and I found a Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) hiding in the burrow of a Vole (Microtus spec.). Sadly no Meadow Vipers for us...
Then we drove on in the direction of the Prespes lakes, along the way we found Green Lizards and Gertjan caught a nicely coloured Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus). After arrival at the lakes we did a little search while thunderclouds came in. We soon found Hermann's Tortoise (Testudo hermanni), Balkan Green Lizards, many Erhard's Wall Lizards (Podarcis erhardii) and massive numbers of recently hatched grasshoppers, probably a prelude of the rains which was about to come down.
We checked in a very nice hotel and had a meal in the town. The local people weren't very eager to serve us and it took us a long time before we finally had some greasy (but well flavoured) chicken and some chips. After paying the bill we quickly headed for some nocturnal roadcruising and we checked some waterholes along the road which proved to be very rewarding. Eastern Spadefoot (Pelobates syriacus), Green Toad (Bufo viridis), Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus), Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina), Macedonian Crested Newt (Triturus macedonicus) and Grass Snake (Natrix natrix persa) were quickly found. We also heared some Tree Frogs (Hyla arborea) calling.
4 May 2013
First stop of the day, the slope were we ended the previous day with mostly the same species but this time also Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis tauricus), Eastern Green Lizard, two Nose-horned Vipers by Bert and a juvenile Caspian Whip Snake (Dolichophis caspius) by Gertjan.
We had a very nice lunch at Mikri Prespa where we saw many nice birds such as Pygmy Cormorant (Microcarbo pygmaeus) and Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus) as well as many swimming Dice Snakes (Natrix tessellata) while we were eating. Of course in such a beautiful lake, swimming is obligatory so Laura, Gertjan and me went in the water for some synchronized swimming.
After this refreshing swim it was time for another less refreshing swim, this time into a beautiful, muddy pond where we found many species such as Marsh Frog, Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris graecus), Macedonian Crested Newt (Triturus macedonicus), Balkan Wall Lizard, Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis), Green Lizard, Grass Snake and Greek Slow Worm (Anguis graeca).
Two more searches delivered mostly the same species as found earlier in the wider Prespes area but also one very shy (and thus not photographed) Dalmatian Algyroides (Algyroides nigropunctatus). Again a great meal at the fantastic restaurant and after the splendid China chicken we did a Hyla search around the lake.
5 May 2013
We drove on towards an alpine searchsite at 2000m absl. Despite intensive searching under seemingly ideal conditions we failed to find our second mainland viper goal as there was no sign of Vipera berus bosniensis. We did see several Wall Lizards and Sand Lizards.
After this disillusioning event we drove on to Lefkochori towards a place that Ilias Strachinis hinted us for newts. Arriving at the scene we found many beautiful ponds but all filled with exotic fish species. A large concrete pond next to a restaurant is also supposed to hold newts and Laura and I got ourselves a canoe and went net dipping but only got more exogenous fish. The people from the restaurant told us that a professor Strachinis from the University of Thessaloniki found the newts here before but because of the fish they disappeared. We did see Balkan Wall Lizard, Eastern Green Lizard, Marsh Frog, Hermann's Tortoise, Caspian Whip Snake skins and Bert saw a Dahl's Whip Snake (Platyceps najadum).
The next stop made well up for the lack of snakes during the day and around a large freshwater lake we could find many species such as European Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus), Eastern Green Lizard, Kotschy's Gecko, Hermann's Tortoise, Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus) caught by Jeroen, Nose-horned Viper and I was very happy to flip around 20 Dice Snakes and a subadult Four-lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata), all underneath one blanket.
Sun set and we drove on to a nearby town which was crowded with people. Bars were packed but restaurants closed so we could only manage to find a place with some toasted bread and copporn but with really enjoyable company. While the drivers went for an early sleep, Jeroen, Laura and me joined the locals and learned many cool words such as psoli and moni and danced on Rammstein in a club that only played traditional Greek music (and Rammstein).
6 May 2013
First back to the lake to photograph the snakes from the previous day and went on to the Nestos gorge. A great place to swim and so we did.
Next search stop was at the only freshwater lake of the province of Thrace and here we met Greek friend Professor Strachinis who already spend the day here, searching for snakes. We joined him for the afternoon and found Caspian Whip Snake, Grass Snake, Worm Snake (Typhlops vermicularis), Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca), Eastern Green Lizard and probably Levant Water Frog (Pelophylax bedriagae), the call was too fast to be Marsh Frog. Sadly not too interesting on the herpetological part but I was mesmerized by the sheer abundance of birds. Thousands of Reed Warblers (Acrocephalus spec.) were singing from the reeds as well as few Eurasian Bitterns (Botaurus stellaris). Many Black Terns (Chlidonias niger) filled the sky and as darkness fell in thousands and thousands of Swallows flew over to sleep in the reedbeds. Amazing. Sadly with darkness also comes mosquitos, today it was colourscheme day again so I got attacked immediately. We drove on again and headed for a hotel and a meal near Alexandroupoli.
7/8 May 2013
First stop were two hills close to eachother and close to our hotel. We found Hermann's Tortoise, Spur-thighed Tortoise, Balkan Stream Terrapin, European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis), European Glass Lizard, Grass Snake, Worm Snake, Caspian Whip Snake, Eastern Green Lizard, Balkan Green Lizard, Smooth Newt, Green Toad DOR and Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans).
After this we headed into the Evros delta, many people were out and about, driving around on motorcycles, scooters and cars through the sensitive wetlands. People were playing loud music and having a barbeque and it was awefull to see how this Natura 2000 site is being "used" by the Greeks. Of course we were not there to participate in these petty events and went herping. water Frogs were of course easily found and GJ was the hero of the day catching a beautiful European Pond Terrapin, a juvenile Blotched Snake (Elaphe sauromates) and spotting (what would be) the only Fire-bellied Toad (Bombina bombina) of the trip. Despite the disturbance many birds were also about and we had great views of Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) and Red Kite (Milvus milvus).
In the afternoon we searched for some olive groves and Jeroen and me both found a juvenile Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus), Bert found a juvenile Ottoman Viper (Montivipera xanthina) and we saw common species such as Balkan Green Lizard, European Glass Lizard and Hermann's Tortoise.
In the evening we went back to the Evros delta to look for Fire-bellied Toad. We were photographing Tree Frogs when somthing happened... What followed next was a bizar accumulation of happenings. A police car stopped and wanted us to show our passports to them. They wanted to see our pictures as well and thought them to be so nice we needed to show them at the policestation. Over there they were completely blown away by the utter beauty of tree frogs and by the quality of our pictures so we had to come with them to yet another policestation, the main policestation in the capital of the province; Alexandroupoli.
Well, let's say it went something different. They were being really difficult, they thought we were smuggling people across the border with Turkey and we were held all night at the policestation. We were kept near the enclosures with dingy Albanians in them, one of them was even wearing a T-shirt of Caretta caretta which made us wonder if they were also looking for herps... Nonetheless we tried to catch some sleep in this filthy place but were woken up regularly to be interrogated, they wanted to see all of our pictures (probably more then 5000!) and they took fingerprints (yes with ink!) and mugshots (my e-mail to the policestation remains unanswered, would make a great profile picture for Facebook). At 13:00h we were lead to the judge in the courtroom and after a trial which lasted not more then 10 minutes we were cleared from all charges and the policeman that arrested us (fat, smelly bastard) was being insulted by the judge who was definitly on our side. Maniacly happiness followed but a last kick in the face awaited us, the promised ride back to our rental cars wasn't given and we needed to take a taxi. The next days we saw that the local media picked up on our story:
GJ drove as fast as he could to Thessaloniki to pick up his girlfriend Cynthia and the rest of us spend the day resting and recovering. We ate some emmertjes brood together and went to bed after just a few beers.
9 May 2013
We headed north in the direction of the Dadia forest after a splendid breakfast. At the first stop I was able to unearth two juvenile Fire Salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) and we saw some larvae of that species in a brook that also held Yellow-bellied Toad.
Then we arrived at a place I also visited in 2010 and where we found many species then. The weather circumstances were a little less ideal now but we were still able to find Wall Lizard, Eastern Green Lizard, Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis or colchica), Snake-eyed Skink, Spur-thighed Tortoise, Greek Stream Frog, Agile Frog, Yellow-bellied Toad, Common Toad, Smooth Snake, Fire Salamander larvae and many of the highly desired Meadow Lizard (Darevskia praticola).
Then we found a nice pond along the road and GJ and I payed tribute to purple thursday. We went in the water in our underwear and caught Balkan Crested Newt (Triturus ivanbureschi) along with Smooth Newt larvae.
After diner we searched around the searchsite of this morning but only found a Common Toad, a nicely coloured European Pond Terrapin and stumbled upon a Wild Cat (Felis sylvestris).
10 May 2013
We drove back to Dadia again while GJ and Cynthia went their seperate way and along the road we saw many, many Storks (Ciconia ciconia) and while photographing them, a Roller (Coracias garrulus) flew by. In Dadia forest we saw Hermann's Tortoise, Eastern Green Lizard, Snake-eyed Lacertid, Agile Frog, Fire Salamander DOR and Bert caught a baby Eastern Montpellier Snake. At a birdhide we spotted many Cinereous Vultures (Aegypius monachus) and other bir of prey species including Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). We had a drink or three at the visitors centre and drove on to Maronia where Jeroen allowed Laura and me to have another swim before we searched some olive groves. We found European Glass Lizard, Balkan Green Lizard, Worm Snake, Spur-thighed Tortoise and I saw but couldn't catch an adult Ottoman Viper. We had dinner and a few beers in the vicinity and after we went on to a nice pond that GJ found during the day. There we spotted Balkan Crested Newt, Smooth Newt, Water Frog, Eastern Tree Frog, Balkan Terrapin, European Pond Terrapin and a huge Waterscorpion (Lethocerus patruelis). Really impressed by this find I ran back to he car to get something to put it in and ran straight into a bramble bush, no more Mythos for me...
11 May 2013
GJ and Cynthia went their own way again after having breakfast together. The dream-team consisting of Jeroen, Bert, Laura and me went to a nice gorge were we found Balkan Green Lizard, Erhard's Wall Lizard, European Glass Lizard, Hermann's Tortoise, Spur-thighed Tortoise, Balkan Terrapin, Agile Frog, Water Frog, Worm Snake, Bert saw another Ottoman Viper and while Laura and I were swimming, we saw a Dice Snake eating a fish.
Then a long drive in the direction of Thessaloniki. A small stop along the road delivered some Fire Salamander larvae in a small cistern, many Eastern Green Lizards and a big fat Grass Snake. While photographing the snake along the road some people stopped because they recognized me and they were also searching for reptiles in the area. But we had no time to waste because we needed the magical hour to search just outside Thessaloniki. here we found Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio) straight away but also many other species such as Grass Snake, Dice Snake, Water Frog, Balkan Terrapin, Snake-eyed Skink, calling Tree Frogs, Yellow-bellied Toads and just before leaving Laura flipped her first Nose-horned Viper ever and I found a juvenile European Glass Lizard.
We found a nice place to stay in the vicinity and some of us were really amazed by the tiger in the hotel. Quick change of clothes and no time to taffelen because we were hungry. Great meal, great beer and we borrowed some beers from the hotelbar and listened to great music at the balcony.
12 May 2013
The day we all feared had come, the day of our departure and the time to say goodbye to eachother. First back to the spot where we ended the last day and we could find all species again plus an Agile Frog.
And then of to an incredibly busy Thessaloniki airport and time to say goodbye to each other. For me the trip has been a great succes, failing to find some of the snake goals doesn't really bother me, I had a great time in Greece enjoying the scenery and the animals but mostly the company that made the trip worth it. Before starting to become sentimentel I will stop typing now...
Many thanks to: Daniel Bohle, Maarten Gilbert, Ronald Laan, Peter Oefinger, Thomas Reich, Ilias Strachinis, Henk Strijbosch, Benny Trapp and Matt Wilson.