Northern Greece (Thrace, Limnos, Prespa lakes)
Northern Greece- Thrace- Limnos-Thessaloniki-Prespa lakes 1st-15th May 2010
This is a trip I had been planning for quite some time, and after putting together ideas we came up with some fantasic choices for herping destinations in northern Greece. Initially the plan was to visit Thrace close to the Turkish border, but then other ideas such as visiting Limnos island to give the island some much needed attention from Herpetologists, as well as the Prespes area in north-west Greece soon became part of the plan. Our team consisted of myself, Bobby Bok, Thomas Reich and Ilias Strachinis, Limnos was Ilias’s idea as he knows the island well and has a holiday home there. We had many targets for this trip, and due to the dedication of our small team, we found almost all of them, our only ‘failure’ was to find a heathy adult specimen of the Blotched rat snake (Elaphe sauromates). We found that four was a perfect number for a herping group, enough to see plenty of animals but at the same time not too many to avoid a ‘queue’ for photographing animals.
The trip was very successful with ideal weather throughout the two weeks, mild to quite warm daytime temperatures with little wind and no rain. I had actually hoped for some rain during the trip to aid the finding of Eastern spadefoot toads (Pelobates syriacus), however we found plenty without rainfall due to the nice time of year just after the toads have been breeding. Altogether we found 46 species of reptiles and amphibians, and as nearly always we are very grateful to Jeroen Speybroeck for his help together with Andreas Meyer. However on this trip most of our success was by stopping randomly at ideal looking habitats, and only with some specific species targets did we have to visit known sites.
You will probably notice I am being especially vague on area descriptions in this report and that is to protect the animals for the ever persistant terrarium collectors.
All photos (C) Matt Wilson unless otherwise stated.
Day 1 1st May
Thomas and Bobby has already been in Greece for two days and had made some nice findings at the Olympos area. I arrived by plane from Manchester to Thessaloniki at midday and was greeted by Ilias, Thomas and Bobby and we immediately set out heading east with our hire car. After several hours of driving our first stop was Lake Ismarida, were we found Large whip snake (Dolichophis caspius), many Spur-thighed tortoises (Testudo graeca), Balkan green lizards (Lacerta trilineata), Green lizard (Lacerta viridis), European pond terrapin (Emys orbicularis), Balkan terrapin (Mauremys rivulata) and Grass snake (Natrix natrix persa). After this we drove further east into Thrace in the early evening and stopped at a nice looking coastal olive grove with stone walls. This was a very good decision as here in 5 minutes we found a juvenile sand boa (Eryx jaculus) soon followed by a large adult found by Ilias, a large Ottoman viper (Montivipera xanthina) that escaped, two Glass lizards (Pseudopus apodus) and Worm snake (Typhlops vermicularis). We would re visit this area some days later which proved to be even more successful. That night, we (minus Thomas) made a short nocturnal drive and found an Eastern spadefoot toad (Pelobates syriacus) and calls of Common tree frogs (Hyla arborea). I was very happy with this observation!
We woke up early today, our target for the morning was Ottoman viper (Montivipera xanthina) and for the afternoon Fire-bellied toad (Bombina bombina). First we visit a known (too well known) spot for vipers, and one minute after leaving the car Thomas had already caught a big viper that was pre moulting which meant it was not a very nice photo subject but still a nice start to the day. Then we split up, Bobby and I found many Spur-thighed tortoises (Testudo graeca) having breakfast, several basking Glass lizards, Green lizards and a Large whip snake (Dolichophis caspius). Ilias and Thomas then caught another much more attractive adult viper and we of course made many nice photos, not helped by the amount of mosquitoes in this area! Searching some more we found two more adult vipers that we did not catch because they were identical to the previous animal. Furthermore in a small ditch Bobby and I found some Smooth newts (Lissotriton vulgaris) whereas Thomas caught an adult large whip snake. We left this area at midday and headed to the Evros delta, on the road we found a dead Dahl’s whip snake (Platyceps najadum), and on arriving at the delta was stopped at some artificial drinking cisterns for cattle and found more newts and Marsh frog (Pelophylax ridibundus). After driving around the delta I helped a Dice snake (Natrix tessellata) across the road and Ilias spotted a nice juvenile of Blotched rat snake (Elaphe sauromates) also crossing the road. Driving some more in the early evening we found Balkan wall lizard (Podarcis tauricus) and finally started to hear calls of fire bellied toads. We were then able to catch a male specimen to photograph. Another successful day!
Today we drove north to more temperate woodlands in an area hinted to us by Jeroen as a nice spot for Meadow lizard (Darevskia praticola). After leaving our hotel we came across a viper on a road, expecting an Ottoman viper we were surprised to see a recently killed Nose-horned viper (Vipera ammodytes). The road was next to the area we had found several Ottoman vipers the previous day. We made our first stop at a nice looking area with several Glass lizard, Marsh frogs, Green lizards and in a small ditch, some mating Yellow bellied toads (Bombina variegata). Moving on to the forested areas we found quite alot of species: Erhardi’s Wall lizard (Podarcis erhardii), Green lizard, Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissumus), Snake-eyed skink (Ablepharus kitaibelli), Common wall lizard (Podarcis muralis), Spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca), Montpellier snake (Malpolon insignitus) and the ever present Glass lizards. After these nice findings we split up again in search of fresh water, we soon found a stream with larvae of Fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra), Yellow bellied toads, Marsh frog, and Agile frog (Rana dalmatina). Bobby and Thomas phoned me to say that had found several Meadow lizards, so Ilias and I went for a look. We found one more lizard but I was unable to photograph it…However further down the stream we found more toads, salamander larvae, a nice Grass snake (Natrix natrix persa), a single Greek stream frog (Rana graeca), 3 Slow worms (Anguis fragilis), Common toad (Bufo bufo), Green toad (Bufo viridis) and towards dusk Thomas found a Smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) hunting for prey.
Driving back to our hotel in the evening we came across several animals basking on the country roads that needed helping across: Juvenile Glass lizard (Pseudopus apodus), Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus), Spur-thighed tortoises (Testudo graeca). We also found two freshly killed snakes: Montpellier snake and a female Nose-horned viper (Vipera ammodytes). That night we did another short nocturnal drive for spadefoot toads but only found a Grass snake crossing the road.
This day we went back to the Ottoman viper spot, with the hope of finding an adult Blotched rat snake (Elaphe sauromates). Again setting out in the early morning I caught a juvenile ottoman viper, and searching the area some more we found Worm snake (Typhlops vermicularis), Snake-eyed lacertid (Ophisops elegans), an adult ottoman viper, and the ever present tortoises and glass lizards. We left this area and tried to find some nice spots ourselves, we first stopped next to a small pond were a large Montpellier snake (Malpolon insignitus) was seen, and an adult Large whip snake was caught by Thomas. Driving around some country roads in the heat of the day we suddenly had to slam on the breaks as an adult Blotched rat snake was lying in the road, thrashing in agony as it had been run over by the arsehole in a jeep driving ahead of us. Ilias and I quickly ended the snakes suffering and we were all very disappointed that this would be our only observation of an adult of this beautiful species. Driving around some more we found two dead juveniles of blotched snake and dying adult Ottoman viper that again required me to end its life. We then explored a hillside close to where we found the dying rat snake, despite the fact some areas had been burnt by fire in recent years we again had to stop the car to allow a big Ottoman viper to cross the road, just to be sure I chased it into the undergrowth. Still hoping for an Elaphe Ilias and I drove alone in the evening hoping another specimen would cross the road, instead we found several Large whip snakes and a lightning fast Dahl’s whip snake (Platyceps najadum) moving at the roadside.
Our last day in Thrace before taking a ferry from Kavala to Limnos island, so we decided to re visit the excellent area we had found on our first day. Driving to the coastal spot we found another dor juvenile Blotched rat snake and a Glass lizard. We made a quick stop next to the sea were we found tortoises, green lizards and the skin of an Ottoman viper. Searching a very nice looking hill the result wasn’t so good, only glass lizards, tortoises and a Grass snake. On arriving at ‘our’ spot we were immediately welcomed by a juvenile Ottoman viper sat in the road, which I of course picked up and moved to a safe place. Searching here for about two hours we found two adult Ottoman vipers, including a huge male that escaped Ilias, a viper killed by a farmer, several unidentified snakes, glass lizard, worm snake, Turkish gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) and then I flipped a large stone to find two sand boas beneath it. What a great area! We then went to Kavala for a kebab before boarding the ferry to Limnos, arriving at our accomodation at about 1am.
We woke early after our long night of travelling to Limnos and were greeted by the sight of a very flat, yet beauitful Greek island. Limnos has not been studied too often for its herpetofauna, apart from Ilias’s casual observations on family holidays, we were especially eager to confirm Ilias’s findings of two dor Nose-horned vipers 10 years ago which he unfortunately did not photograph. First was a nice sand dune area with fresh water were we found several Spur-thighed tortoises (Testudo graeca) which Ilias believes to have differences from those from elsewhere regarding shell texture. We also found Levant water frog (Pelophylax bedriague) although we are not 100% sure this is the correct taxon, Snake-eyed lacertid, Turkish gecko, and a dor Grass snake. In the afternoon we stopped at a nice ruin where I caught a Dahl’s whip snake with only three spots on the neck, and Thomas caught a Montpellier snake, a rare species on the island. We also found several Green toads beneath stones we flipped here together with an interesting Camel Spider. At night we went for a nocturnal drive in hope of some Spadefoot toads (Pelobates syriacus), I was not disappointed as we found about 10 specimens sitting on the tarmac road.
We decided to visit the western part of the island where the habitat is very rocky and dry, a sharp contrast to the eastern areas we had explored the previous day. Driving across the island we helped a Balkan terrapin that was sat in the road to its nearby stream before making a stop in a very rocky area, that looked to us ideal for vipers. Searching here I caught our first Glass lizard from Limnos (would soon be followed by many more) and with lizard in one hand I caught a 160cm Large whip snake (minus an eye) with the other. Thomas and Bobby also found a Glass lizard together with Snake-eyed lacertid. Leaving this area we found several dead on road glass lizards before stopping at a nice looking area with large flat stones. In no time we had found two Sand boas (Eryx jaculus), one of which was 79cm and had recently taken a huge prey item. That night on the road we again found many spadefoots.
We decided to visit a nice valley with a stream passing through it, and stopping to search in cloudy conditions we found many glass lizards, some dahl’s whip snakes, 2 large whip snakes, tortoises and a DOR Grass snake. Driving around some more we often had to stop to help a Glass lizard reach the other side of the road, and we also found many specimens already dead. Most of the afternoon was spent in a tavern and having a well deserved rest.
The previous morning Thomas has left early on his own in search of vipers, no vipers turned up but he had found some Kotschy’s geckos (Mediodactylus kotschyi) so we got up very early on this day to visit the area. We quickly found the geckos, well over 30 specimens and then we split up and searched the rocky hillside in a last hope of finding a viper. Again no vipers, but we found several tortoises, a few Dahls whip snakes that all escaped, many Glass lizards (over 50 were seen on Limnos), and the ever present Snake-eyed lacertid. That afternoon we re visited the large wetland area and found a well filled with large tadpoles of Spadefoot toads. Ilias then showed up with two juvenile Grass snakes (Natrix natrix persa), and we observed hundreds of newly developed Green toads (Bufo viridis). Driving back to Ilias’s village he spotted an adult Grass snake at the side of the road and jumped from the car to catch the nicely coloured snake. That evening Ilias recieved a phone call about a snake on agricultural land, we went to take a look but the snake had gone, due to the description and the area we assumed it to be another Sand boa. Late that night we drove to take the ferry back to Thessaloniki, and I stopped one last time to photograph a Spadefoot toad sitting in the road. In the end we were unable to confirm Ilias’s observations many years ago of dead vipers, but they must still be there somewhere…
After our 8 hour boat ride to Thessaloniki we arrived at about 10am. Sadly we now had to say goodbye to Bobby and Thomas and we left them at the airport that afternoon. Ilias and I did abit of herping on the outskirts of town and found three Dahls whip snakes that all escaped, together with some Starred agamas (Laudakia stellio), over 50 Hermann’s tortoises (Testudo hermanni), a female Common Toad (Bufo bufo) Balkan green lizards (Lacerta trilineata) and some Yellow bellied toads. That night I spent the night at Ilias’s parents house and we went to sleep early to get up around 4 30am to begin our drive to Florina prefecture and the Prespa lakes.
PRESPA LAKES, FLORINA PREFECTURE
Getting up very early we set out for the three hour drive north-west, but before reaching the Prespa lakes area we wanted to take a shot at finding a very restricted species in Greece: the Adder (Vipera berus bosniensis). This species is only found at very high elevations in Greece, and we started to ascend a mountain with a known population. A few weeks previously Ilias had tried to reach this area but failed due to the bad road being covered with snow. No snow on the road this time and we were able to reach around 2000m in a wonderful habitat. We started our search and after 10 minutes Ilias shouted that he had found a male Adder! However this beautiful male would be our only finding of this species, some other observations here were a couple of Sand lizards (Lacerta agilis) and a few sparse Common wall lizards (Podarcis muralis). Happy with these findings we proceeded to Prespas were we drove around some agricultural areas searching for Crested newts (Triturus macedonicus). We found a large dam type contraption at the roadside with hundreds of animals trapped inside: Crested newts, Common newts, Green toad, Common toad, Grass snake, Dice snake, Marsh frogs. We tried to save what we could but in the end too many animals were out of reach, especially snakes that would swim away from us. The water was also filled with dead animal carcasses, which meant it was not safe for us to wade through. After this we drove to a nice country village we were found two dor snakes: Aesculapian snake and our only Four-lined snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata) of this trip. That evening we found a dying Nose-horned viper on a road and visited a nice ruin on agricultural land were we found an Aesculapian snake, Grass snake and by flipping stones, two Smooth snakes (Coronella austriaca). At the lake edge we also observed many dozens of Dice snakes.
The next morning after a sleepless night thanks to a local festival we had some hours left to search before the drive back to Thessaloniki. I was desperate to find a Nose-horned viper (Vipera ammodytes) since we had not found a living specimen so far. We set out to a nice rocky hillside, on the way we rescued a big blue spotted Slow worm (Anguis fragilis). Ilias saw a large female viper but was unable to catch it, we then saw many Dalmation algyroides (Algyroides nigropunctatus), Erhard’s wall lizards, Grass snakes and Dice snakes. Searching alone in a different area I caught a nice female Nose-horned viper. After this nice find we started our journey back to Thessaloniki, finding a dead Aesculapian snake and further east a dead Montpellier snake on the road.
The last day after again sleeping at Ilias’s parents place I spent the day with Ilias on three snake rescues around the city, two ended in failure to find a snake but we were able to relocate a Large whip snake from an urban garden. The following morning Ilias drove me to the airport and I flew home back to Manchester. What a great trip, thanks so much to Ilias and his parents for the accomodation and nice food!
Fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra)
Smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris)
Crested newt (Triturus macedonicus)
Green toad (Bufo viridis)
Common toad (Bufo bufo)
Eastern spadefoot toad (Pelobates syriacus)
Fire-bellied toad (Bombina bombina)
Yellow-bellied toad (Bombina variegata)
Common tree frog (Hyla arborea)
Agile frog (Rana dalmatina)
Greek stream frog (Rana graeca)
Levant Water frog (Pelophylax bedriague)
Marsh frog (Pelophylax ridibundus)
Spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca)
Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni)
European pond terrapin (Emys orbicularis)
Balkan terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)
Green lizard (Lacerta viridis)
Balkan green lizard (Lacerta trilineata)
Snake-eyed lacertid (Ophisops elegans)
Balkan wall lizard (Podarcis tauricus)
Common wall lizard (Podarcis muralis)
Erhard’s wall lizard (Podarcis erhardii)
Dalmation algyroides (Algyroides nigropunctatus)
Sand lizard (Lacerta agilis)
Turkish gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)
Kotschys gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi)
Snake-eyed skink (Ablepharus kitaibelli)
Meadow lizard (Darevskia praticola)
Slow worm (Anguis fragilis)- few
Glass lizard (Pseudopus apodus)- over 100 specimens
Starred agama (Laudakia stellio)
Worm snake (Typhlops vermicularis) -10+
Sand boa (Eryx jaculus) -7 specimens
Large whip snake (Dolichophis caspius) -20+
Dahls whip snake (Platyceps najadum) -10+
Montpellier snake (Malpolon insignitus) -only 3, plus several dor
Grass snake (Natrix natrix persa) -about 30
Dice snake (Natrix tessellata) -100+
Smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) -3 animals
Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus) – 5-6
Blotched snake (Elaphe sauromates)- 1 dor adult, several juveniles
Four-lined snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata) DOR
Adder (Vipera berus bosniensis) -only 1
Nose-horned viper (Vipera ammodytes) -2 large females, and several dor
Ottoman viper (Montivipera xanthina)- 20 animals found