Greece, Peloponnese

From the 29th of May until the 4th of June 2019

Two years ago I travelled with the students of my Herpetological Study Group to Mallorca to see one of the rarest amphibians of Europe in the wild. This was a big success and it was really inspiring to take a small troupe of young and aspiring biologists to unique locations in Europe to look for wildlife. Also this school year I have such an enthusiastic group of students that I decided to make new travel plans. Sadly Wouter couldn't join again as a supervisor but my former students Tieme and Madeleine were up for the task. Flights were booked, accommodation and rental car were easily sorted and an itinerary was formed with little effort. 

The team from left to right: Madeleine, Kyra, Duncan, me, Jesse, Tieme, Finn and Bas.
The team from left to right: Madeleine, Kyra, Duncan, me, Jesse, Tieme, Finn and Bas.

All images © Laura & Bobby Bok (unless stated otherwise)

29th of May 2019

Traditionally I spent the last week of May running a fieldwork project for the students in the Kaverpolder, a unique stretch of nature surrounding the school. While the sunny weather was really enjoyable I had to leave on time to catch the train to Schiphol. My students of the Herpetological Study Group were already waiting and in no-time we were on board the Transavia flight to Athens. A late arrival and a long drive to the first location made sure we went straight to bed in the Verde Al Mare Hotel. But the first herp of the trip was found as a female Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea) was hopping in front of the hotel.

30th of May 2019

After a night with little sleep (we were all way too excited!) we had an elaborate breakfast in the hotel, but we quickly hit the stunning Umbrella Pine (Pinus pinea) forests at the coast. The air was buzzing with insects and blooming flowers carpeted the forest floor. A female Hermann's Tortoise (Testudo hermanni) was quickly found and under car tyres we found dozens of Mediterranean Checkered Scorpions (Mesobuthus gibbosus), several small Green Toads (Bufotes viridis) and our first Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelli). At the second stop the tally quickly rose and we found our first Grass Snake (Natrix natrix), Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus), Ionian Wall Lizard (Podarcis ionicus), Balkan Green lizard (Lacerta trilineata), Epirus Water Frog (Pelophylax epeiroticus) and Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus) apart from more Hermann's Tortoises. Our youngest member Finn even found our first Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes) and I'm glad he didn't try to catch it ;-) While driving to a small beach we had tortoises crossing the road and even an additional Nose-horned Viper. At the beach itself it was rather polluted but we found a lower jaw of a seaturtle. On our way to the main beach we stopped for some birding in the wetlands and had distant views of Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus) and Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea). At the beach we spent the hottest part of the day, snorkeled a bit and found many small Green Toads hiding underneath the boardwalk at the shower. In the late afternoon we left again to find largely the same species again most notably a Glass Lizard and two more Nose-horned Vipers found by Duncan and me. A large Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus) escaped but we could add Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina) to the list thanks to Madeleine.

The dinner at the hotel was very tasty and after replenishing our lost energy supplies we hit the field once more. In the dunes it didn't take us much effort to find a big Grass Snake, Green Toad, Tree Frog and three African Chameleons (Chamaeleo africanus). Something the students were really looking forward to seeing! The local dogs (Emiel!) were annoying as hell though so we went to an open grassy patch to find our next target. That also took us less than a minute to find: several Eastern Spadefoot Toads (Pelobates syriacus) and even more Green Toads. At the last stop we found both Water Frog species again, more Grass Snakes and our first European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis). Back at the hotel we found several Moorish Geckoes (Tarentola mauritanica) which seems to be a new location for them. Looks like this introduced species is spreading throughout the Peloponnese. All in all, a late night but well worth it!

31st of May 2019

After enjoying another amazing breakfast at the hotel we ventured into the field. First stop was checking if the Montpellier Snake would be back at its den which wasn't the case. The next stop was recommended to us by a Greek lady whom we met at the wetlands the day before. On the way there I spotted an Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus) on the road. I stopped the car, ran out but only had it by the tail while it was disappearing in a hole. No chance to get it out whithout harming the animal so we let it go. At the saltpans we enjoyed a huge flock of Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) with several Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus) foraging as well. While checking some abandoned buildings Bas found a very pretty Four-lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata) resting in a brick wall. Without disturbing it we could admire the snake very well and even make some pictures. That is the way I love observing snakes best! Next stop was at a thermal spring with both European Pond Terrapin and Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata) present in big numbers. We also found a small Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata). With staggering high numbers of roadkill Stone Martens (Martes foina) we reached a nice beach which should be home to some interesting species. Sadly the clouds disappeared and the sun came out in full force so our only sightings here were Peloponnese Wall Lizards (Podarcis peloponnesiacus) fast as lightning. We decided to take it easy and have lunch in a small harbour nearby. We only just sat down when Madeleine ran off shouting "Zeeschildpad!" which is Dutch for seaturtle. Lunch had to wait a little as there were indeed more than twelve (!) Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta caretta) slowly swimming below the surface. We decided to have our lunch (which was very yummy) and afterwards go into the water to snorkel with the sea turtles. We had amazing views of these gentle giants and I was gutted I didn't bring my underwater camera. When the students left the water I was the last to come out and there was a police car waiting. Oops. We put up a very innocent act and asked for places to swim without breaking the law. This worked and soon we were of to location number two. The students were all sleeping and I decided to wake them at a very beautiful place I knew on our way to the hotel. Small detour which paid off richly. Within a few minutes I flipped a stunning Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus) and our first Worm Snake (Xerotyphlops vermicularis) while Tieme and Madeleine found our first Limbless Skink (Ophiomorus punctatissimus). Herping buddies Paul and Trevor also just arrived from Brexit land and were well pleased to see this species which was new to both of them. After dropping the stuff at the hotel we had dinner at the townsquare. The food was amazing and our British friend treated us on an icecream for finding the Limbless Skink. The night search quickly gave us many Turkish Geckoes (Hemidactylus turcicus) but finding the African Chameleons is getting harder every time I visit. In the end we did find three individuals but I find it worrying how hard it has become. After some drinks at the balcony it was of to bed, a little later than planned...

1st of June 2019

Getting out of bed started to become a little hard already. But another nice breakfast made up for the early morning and we quickly checked out a promising looking abandoned factory. We didn't find anything there so we moved on to a nice hill at the edge of a stunning beach, surrounded by saltpans and olive groves. Although it was rather hot already we saw some Balkan Green Lizards, Peloponnese Wall Lizards, Golden Jakhal (Canis aureus) which ran within a few meters from us and three Eastern Montpellier Snakes which escaped. We climbed the hill and enjoyed the view before we turned around to check on the snakes again. A good call and this time I was able to grab a decent sized Montpellier Snake for a closer inspection. A real beauty and afterwards we tried to enjoy the beach. It was a little crowded and the snorkeling disappointing so we moved towards the hotel pool. On the way we found a freshly killed Balkan Whip Snake (Hierophis gemonensis). After some hours at the pool temperatures started to drop and we decided to move on to the next place. For me this was a location I didn't know before and it immediately delivered. Within minutes we found Peloponnese Slow Worm (Anguis cephallonica), Greek Algyroides (Algyroides moreoticus) and Greek Stream Frog (Rana graeca). Paul and Trev arrived a little later than us and we had the table set for them. We earned another round of icecream for finding the Slow Worms! We had dinner a bit earlier this time and set out in the evening to herp around an abandoned castle. Herping was slow and moving around in the overgrown castle was hard so we only found a few additional Limbless Skinks and Turkish Geckoes.

One of the most beautiful places in the world! (click to enlarge)
One of the most beautiful places in the world! (click to enlarge)
The view from our balcony. Not bad for a schooltrip! (click to enlarge)
The view from our balcony. Not bad for a schooltrip! (click to enlarge)

2nd of June 2019

With so many species already found we felt like we deserved an easy day and drove towards my favourite waterfalls nearby. Also here there was plenty to see and we saw a baby Sand Boa, a freshly killed Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax), Balkan Green Lizards, Peloponnese Wall Lizards, Greek Rock Lizards (Hellenolacerta graeca), Greek Stream Frogs and Marsh Frogs. This place was amazing and we thoroughly enjoyed the fresh water of the streams and falls for quite some time while the Rock Lizards and Stream Frogs were regular seen species throughout the day. In the afternoon we relaxed a bit before going out to herp with cooler temperatures. A nearby olive grove looked really promising but didn't yield the much desired Marginated Tortoise but only Peloponnese Wall Lizards and several Stick Insects. Our favourite Italian restaurant at the town square was again the perfect place to close the day and prepare for the night. We decided to check out the place where Paul and Trev found the dead Cat Snake in the morning. Sadly this species eluded us once more but we did get to see several massive Common Toads (Bufo bufo) and Tieme found our only Kotschy's Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi) so far. On the way back to the hotel we saw some mammals crossing the road such as a Fox (Vulpes vulpes) and a small group of Wild Boar (Sus scrofa).

3rd of June 2019

We were a little sad we had to leave our beloved hotel and this beautiful area behind, but new adventures were waiting for us. First stop was the coastal dunes where we saw several Hermann's Tortoises before Tieme found our first Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata) completing our list of Greek turtle species. We saw a few Balkan Terrapins, European Pond Terrapins and Marsh Frogs as well. Temperatures rose quickly and the majority of the group didn't mind at all to visit the waterfalls again so we did exactly that. We didn't stay so long though as we had a big drive awaiting as well. While driving towards the monastery in the mountains we got a call from Paul and Trev that the place was teeming with ticks and not particularly interesting so I made a new plan and choose a nice gorge close to the hotel. Again a rather good spontaneous decision because the place was teeming with lizards and snakes. We saw several Balkan Green Lizards, Greek Algyroides, Balkan Whip Snakes (Hierophis gemonensis) and finally also Dahl's Whip Snake (Platyceps najadum). Catching them proved hard in the overgrown olive grove with many rocky walls but ultimately I could catch a Dahl's Whip Snake. Finn spotted this individual and it was great to see it crawling over the walls. At the Irida Holiday Apartments we quickly dropped our luggage and went for a meal closeby. We had to wait ages for mediocre food which soured the mood a bit. So a lot later than planned we drove up the winding roads and into the mountains. Most streams had gone dry but luckily we found a place with Greek Stream Frogs, Common Toad, Grass Snake and what we came for; Fire Salamanders (Salamandra salamandra). Sadly only larvae but we were happy anyway. Also many big Greek Rock Scorpions (Iurus dufoureius) were lurking in cracks in the rocky walls of the valley. A Badger (Meles meles) on the road completed our list for the night and after a drink on the balcony we fell asleep in our cozy apartments. 

4th of June 2019

After picking up some breakfast from the bakery across the street, we drove towards a promising looking olive grove nearby. We found many species such as Limbless Skink, Marginated Tortoise, Kotschy's Gecko, Peloponnese Wall Lizard, Balkan Green Lizard, Glass Lizard and finally also a small Sand Boa although not the orange specimen we had hoped for. With a long drive ahead of us we drove north where we arrived in the afternoon. It didn't take us long to find our final addition to our already impressive list and Finn found the first Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus) after which I found two more. Other finds at this location were Kotschy's Gecko and Balkan Green Lizard. Sadly we also had to say goodbye to Paul and Trev here after a very successfull little trip in Greece. Was good to see you guys again! En route to the airport we stopped at an interesting submersible bridge over the Corinth Canal. At the airport we had dinner at the Burger Kind (McDonalds is gone: #sad), did the final finances and in the end had to run to catch our flight. Suddenly the screens went from delayed (boarding in an hour) to final call. At least we made it and all fell happily asleep the plane. At least I did ;-)

Epilogue

It was so good to be back in Greece once more, I simply love that country. The ever changing landscape, the food, the people and the culture are simply amazing and on top of that, we had so many memorable wildlife encounters. The best part of this trip was the group though and to travel with such a mixed group of aspiring biologists through one of the richest parts in Europe was something really special. The students were all so energetic and enthusiastic, and whenever I asked what they wanted to do, they replied back with what other species we could find in the area. Never giving up, never complaining and always happy with what we found. The mood never turned sour and spirits were always high so thanks a lot for this amazing trip guys!

Local newspaper article covering our very special schooltrip, click to enlarge. (NHD, 21 June 2019)
Local newspaper article covering our very special schooltrip, click to enlarge. (NHD, 21 June 2019)

Species

Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra ssp. werneri)

Common Toad (Bufo bufo)

Green Toad (Bufotes viridis)

Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea)

Eastern Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates syriacus ssp. balcanicus)

Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus ssp. kurtmuelleri)

Epirus Water Frog (Pelophylax epeiroticus)

Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina)

Balkan Stream Frog (Rana graeca)

Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)

European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis ssp. hellenica)

Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)

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)

Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus)

Limbless Skink (Ophiomorus punctatissimus)

Peloponnese Slow Worm (Anguis cephallonica)

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)

Peloponnese Wall Lizard (Podarcis peloponnesiacus)

Worm Snake (Xerotyphlops vermicularis)

Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus ssp. turcicus)

Four-lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata)

Balkan Whip Snake (Hierophis gemonensis)

Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus)

Dahl's Whip Snake (Platyceps najadum ssp. dahlii)

Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax) DOR

Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus)

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix ssp. persa)

Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata)

Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes ssp. meridionalis)

 

Many thanks to Martin Jansen, Jeroen Speybroeck and Elias Tzoras.