Herpetofauna of Europe : kythira & pori - greece (may-june 2011)
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Herpetological trip to Kythira and Pori (Prasonisi) (Greece)
28th of May - 5th of June 2011

Unless specified otherwise, all pictures (c) of Jeroen Speybroeck.
Make sure you also check out Peter & Birgit's report.

As a final target in my silly quest to see all European amphibian and reptile species, as defined in the list of Speybroeck et al. (2010 - some kind of self-fulfilling profecy...), a Greek islet with a maximum width of 800 metres became the final place to visit – Pori, or –as local people address it with a name given to many small Greek islets- Prasonisi. This islet is the home of the Pori Wall Lizard (Podarcis levendis), a species described as recently as 2008, yet supported by strong molecular and some morphological evidence. Since this species is not rare within its range, being Pori and the adjacent even smaller islet Lagouvardos, getting there is the main challenge. After a failed attempt from Crete and Ilias Strachinis’s failed attempt from Antikythira, I tried to arrange for a boat to take us there from Kythira. To make the trip more elaborate than just a crazy single lizard twitch, we added a week on Kythira to the adventure. Kythira is a very beautiful island, which has been kept more or less secret from mass tourism. The herpetofauna of the island is poorly investigated. Records of a quite limited number of established species seems to be accompanied by somewhat more remarkable/doubtful/weird claims. Also striking, is the absence of any wall lizard species. Not without some subjective personal judgement, we compiled a list of 10 or 11 species for Kythira. We ended finding 9 species, including one which was not on the list, thus serving as a small discovery. In other words, we probably missed 2 or 3 species.
The team was small, consisting of Jan (B), Gijs (B/NL) and me (B) representing the Hyla crew and Tekla (NL) and Leonard (MT) joining us once more. Lizard lovers Peter and Birgit Oefinger (D) also spent a week with us. Benny Trapp (D) was with us for only a short visit, mainly interested in the Pori episode.

Since Kythira is small and we revisited a lot of places, it seemed less useful to provide a day-by-day report.


overview of prospected sites

Pori / Prasonisi

Arriving in the evening of Saturday 28th, we already could go to Pori on Sunday. That turned out to be a very good thing, because not all of the subsequent days were as calm in terms of waves and winds. Based in Kapsali, we were staying just next to the harbour from which we had arranged a boat. The boat was quite big and very fast, doing the 28-29km in only about 45minutes. Once the steep shore cliffs were overcome and we reached the islet’s plateau, it took us not much effort to spot Pori Wall Lizard (Podarcis levendis). Unfortunately, the lizards were already heated up by the time we arrived. As a result, at least my pictures are no award winning material for sure. Nevertheless, we could observe them (speedy but) nicely and in abundance, and the Pori islet turned out to be a beautiful and impressive rock. A logical second reptile species was present – Kotschy’s Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi). After about 4 hours we headed back to Kythira, although staying on might have offered better pictures. In any case, it turned into a very memorable and agreeable day. Back on Kythira, we enjoyed our meal and drinks ever so intensively.


fisherman in Kapsali harbour


looking back on Kapsali harbour


Jan and Tekla looking back on Kapsali harbour


Benny looking back on Kapsali harbour


Jan, Birgit and Peter at sea


Peter, Birgit, Jan and Gijs preparing for the climb up to the islet’s plateau


eastern part of Pori


Pori Wall Lizard (Podarcis levendis)


Pori Wall Lizard (Podarcis levendis)


Pori Wall Lizard (Podarcis levendis)


hiding in the bushes - Pori Wall Lizard (Podarcis levendis)


Pori Wall Lizard (Podarcis levendis)


Pori Wall Lizard (Podarcis levendis)


Pori Wall Lizard (Podarcis levendis) - © Jan Van Der Voort


Pori habitat, with a lot of lizards in and around the larger green shrubs


Jan and Tekla at the little ruin at the top


Lagouvardos as seen from Pori


Gijs on Pori


looking down from higher parts of Pori, with our boat in sight


looking down from higher parts of Pori, with our boat in sight


Falco vespertinus eating in flight - © Jan Van Der Voort


fishing boat along Pori cliff


boat comes back to pick us up, while Leonard is still snorkling


high-speed take-off with Peter

Kythira

For an overall better herping result, it would have probably been better to visit Kythira one month before. However, another trip received priority for that period this year, so we tried to make the best of it. In contrast to many other Greek islands, Kythira has a (small) number of running water sources. “Finding water is finding life” turned into our main activity throughout the week. The warmer parts of the day were as such spend near a nice brook, if not in a taverna in the shade of a plane tree.
Three species were found at every site where we stopped – Kotschy’s Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi), Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata) and Balkan Whip Snake (Hierophis gemonensis). All three appear to occur in very high abundance on the island. Probably equally abundant but rather encountered at the beginning or the end of the day, we also found a lot of Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii). Two shady brooks held quite a lot of Greek Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus kurtmuelleri), while this species was also found at a more open canyon brooklet running into the sea. One of the former brooks held some stagnant pools, which is where we could make our first Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) observations. Towards the end of our journey, we discovered yet another brook with a lot of stagnant pools and just a slight current remaining. Most likely, this brook largely dries up later in the year, but we found here the largest Grass Snake population. In fact, this brook valley and its surroundings were the best place we found, as we could record all but one of the species we observed in this area. Surprisingly however, water frogs appeared to be absent from this spot. In contrast, we found here a species which was beforehand never recorded from Kythira (as far as we know) – Green Toad (Bufo viridis) juveniles and (large) tadpoles literally occurred here by the thousands.
Taking it all a bit more easy than during other trips, we did not do Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax) searches every night. However, 2 DOR and 3 live specimen records lead us to believe that this often rather secretive species has to be abundant on Kythira. While unsuccessfully looking for adult toads along “our top site”, Leonard caught a specimen of 1m20, which is the largest individual we have caught on our trips so far.
The rather elevated daytime temperatures made it not always easy. While having seen at least a hundred, I was unable to get a single decent picture of a Balkan Green Lizard. Furthermore, the hot atmosphere below too many stones was probably the reason why we were unable to find two species which should occur on Kythira – Legless Skink (Ophiomorus punctatissimus) and Worm Snake (Typhlops vermicularis). We really tried very hard to find these, turning tons of stones, but no luck. For sure, earlier in the year would be better, but are they restricted to limited parts of the island? Even in the beginning of June, you would at least expect to find some. Strange.
While to our knowledge not confirmed, it seems likely that Leopard Snake (Zamenis situla) also occurs on Kythira. Because we broke our backs for the two ant-eaters, we often felt like food and drinks at situla time, slightly lacking optimism.
A few other species have been mentioned from the island. Possible but unlikely in our opinion: Greek Stream Frog (Rana graeca) and Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata). While limited habitat seems to be available for the former, we would have expected to find some signs of its presence, given our efforts. The latter’s occurrence seems unlikely as there is practically no suitable habitat for it on Kythira. Conclusively, we would not rule out the presence of some tortoise species (Testudo sp.) or maybe even Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus) or Four-lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata), to name but a few, but the absence of Podarcis species seems to highlight the peculiar origin of the herpetofauna of Kythira.
To conclude, Kapsali's bay is each year from June to August home to two sea turtles. We discussed it with the locals, who claim that it is not Caretta, but some pictures and films will clarify the matter. In any case, it seems a good spot for easy observations. Unfortunately, the animals hadn't yet arrived during our stay.


old watermills brook at Mylopotamos


Greek Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus kurtmuelleri)


Greek Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus kurtmuelleri)


Tekla hunting for reptiles


average Kythira search site


Balkan Whip Snake (Hierophis gemonensis) appeared more yellowish than on the mainland but looked all very similar


Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata) - © Tekla Boersma


Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii)


a moment of weakness


DOR 1m08 Cat Snake with part of a (regurgitated?) Balkan Green Lizard next to the head


nice narrow canyon brook near its sea mouth, hidden away from the civilised world


waiting for the frogs to pop back up again


Caliaeshna microstigma


Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax) - subadult


sunset with Birgit and Peter looking at the Peloponnese mainland


no nocturnal Grass Snake activity, but frogs all over


Iphiclides podalirius


about 10 Kotschy’s Gecko basking on a tree trunk at the end of the afternoon


toads with tails – Green Toad (Bufo viridis)


Jan and Tekla at the site of the previous picture


juvenile Green Toad (Bufo viridis)


photographing Grass Snakes


Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) – all observed lacked persa stripes and were rather angry (even biting once)


juvenile Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)


tadpoles of Green Toad (Bufo viridis)


Kapsali bay from a few curves above our hotel


good times with Tekla, Birgit and Peter


Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)


Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax) – 1m20 giant


Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax)


Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax)


Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax)


Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax)


Jan’s Mylopotamos shower


Jan’s Mylopotamos shower


holidays!!! - © Tekla Boersma


Lestes barbarus


I tried out novel techniques to establish the right time of the day to look for Leopard Snake - © Tekla Boersma


Hora castle hill from Kapsali bay with pale moon crescent at the left


Kythira team : Peter, me, Jan, Leonard, Gijs, Birgit and Tekla – Benny was only with us for a couple of days

Athens

Waiting for our flight from Athens back to Brussels, we briefly hit the city and gazed at the alien terrapins in the National Gardens. Also found Greek Marsh Frog and tadpoles of what must have been Common Toad (Bufo bufo). On the bottom of the terrapin pond was a dead Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata), probably dumped by somebody with a lot of knowledge about turtles and tortoises...


Leonard, Tekla, Gijs and Jan at National Gardens (Athens)


alien terrapin dump National Gardens (Athens)


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