Milos and Kimolos 27th May-4th June
For a long time I have wanted to visit the small group of islands in the Cyclades which are home to the endemic Milos viper (Macrovipera schweizeri) and I finally realized that I could not put it off for another year. Milos is home to the largest population of vipers, but the smaller island of neighbouring Kimolos also has a stable population. Together with Swiss amigo Thomas Reich we decided to spend most of our time on Milos and then visit Kimolos as a day excursion. Our timing for the trip was not exactly ideal, with April seemingly being the best month. However, at the very end of spring, and together with quite hot weather, I was hoping to finally be able to observe active Cat snakes (Telescopus fallax) at night. Together with these two species there are a number of other endemic species and subspecies I wanted to see, such as Milos wall lizard (Podarcis milensis), Milos grass snake (Natrix natrix schweizeri) and the Milos green lizard (Lacerta trilineata hansschweizeri). During the middle of the day we either went to the beach for a swim or I would spend some time watching birds of prey, especially the endangered Eleanora’s falcon (Falco eleanorae) which I saw frequently on both Milos and Kimolos.
After meeting Thomas in Athens on 27th May we spent the night at Piraeus before heading to Milos early on 28th May on a rather fast boat (only 2h30min journey). For the next 6 days we explored most of Milos with our reliable rental car which took some severe battering from the western half of Milos where there are no paved roads. As the middle of the day was far too hot, we usually searched very early in the morning and again in the evening for a few hours with a couple of nocturnal searches. We succeeded in finding 10 living Milos vipers, including two very large specimens, as well as 6 vipers that had been killed on the roads/in the field by locals. One of the vipers was found on a dirt road at night, together with two other vipers that had been run over on different evenings, our other 9 vipers were found during daylight hours. The Milos wall lizard (Podarcis milensis) was observed at every locality together with the amazingly abundant Kotschy’s gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi). The Balkan green lizard (Lacerta trilineata ssp) was a lot harder to track down, and in the western part of Milos we saw it very infrequently. It was not until nearing the end of our trip that we found a lot more of them at more or less one well inhabited site in particular. We also observed quite some Snake-eyed skinks (Ablepharus kitaibelli) but sadly I never got a decent photo of one. Two species facing extinction on Milos, the Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata) that only occurs at one locality was not observed despite several attempts, and neither was the Milos grass snake (Natrix natrix ssp). Another rare inhabitant of Milos, the Milos frog (Pelophylax sp) was found at about 5-6 different sites, including at least one that we believe to be an isolated, and possibly new location for this endangered amphibian. Searching around at night we finally found a nice Cat snake (Telescopus fallax) on our warmest night near the end of the trip. The day afterwards I left Milos and Thomas found a second cat snake at a location we had searched several times before during the week. Another failure was to track down a Leopard snake (Zamenis situla) which was a great disappointment for Thomas, but we certainly tried hard to find one, but you always need luck with this species in my opinion and this time we didn’t have it.
During our one day on Kimolos we could find a single Milos viper, that to us had no obvious morphological differences to the snakes on Milos. Also on this island we could observe Milos wall lizards, Snake-eyed skinks, Kotchyi’s gecko and a few Balkan green lizards. We found some seemingly suitable water sources, such as hillside ravines and some smaller wetlands but did not appear to be inhabited by any species of frog (Pelophylax sp).
Overall we had a very enjoyable stay on Milos and hope the local island police continue their good work in watching our for snake smugglers on the island. Our hotel owner told us the unfortunate stories of occupants of his hotel in the 1980s and 1990s who would have dozens of vipers in cloth bags in their bathrooms. Thankfully such activities seem far less frequent now, although it still does occur from time to time. Needless to say we hope they all get bitten….
All photos (C) Matt Wilson unless otherwise stated