Herpetofauna of Europe : n greece & milos (april-may 2013)
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Herpetological trip to Greece – Milos Island & northern mainland
27th of April - 12th of May 2013

Unless specified otherwise, all pictures (c) of Jeroen Speybroeck.
Make sure you also check out Bobby's report, GJ's report and the albums of Laura and Bert.

My 11th trip to Greece. Bobby set up a schedule that would allow to revisit some of my favourite places in the country, so off we were. Due to a number of attractive endemics, we first spent some days on Milos. Then, we explored the Pindos mountains, the Mikri Prespa area, eastern Thrace (Evros province) and some places not too far from Thessaloniki.

During the Milos episode we were five people – Bobby Bok (NL), GertJan Verspui (NL), Bert Vandebosch (B), Daniel Bohle (D), and myself. For our mainland adventure, we traded Daniel for Laura Tiemann (D), while GJ’s girlfriend Cynthia (NL) also joined in for the last days.

In general, temperatures maxed rather unusually to well over 30°C, which might have affected our results and/or our stamina to a certain degree. Nevertheless, we enjoyed observing 53 species (16 amphibians and 37 reptiles, plus a snake species found only DOR).

Thanks for info go to Benny Trapp, Daniel Bohle, Ilias Strachinis, Matt Wilson, Henk Strijbosch, Lasse Bergendorf, Thomas Reich, Maarten Gilbert, Peter Oefinger, Ronald Laan, ...


prospected sites indicated with appropriate icons (see story below)

April 27th – evening start & insomnia

An evening flight together with Bert from Brussels to Athens, where we met the others and spent the night in the airport before catching an early flight to Milos.

MILOS

April 28th – already nearly all Milos species

Our sleepy heads landed on Milos in the early morning. Warm and dry, as there had been no rain over the last four months. A rare large freshwater pond which is one of the island's known herpetofauna hotspots unfortunately turned out to be completely dry. The species were still there, as we soon found Kotschy’s Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi), Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus), Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii), Milos Wall Lizard (Podarcis milensis), Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata), Milos Blunt-nosed Viper (Macrovipera lebetina schweizeri) and two rather unattractive Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix).


photographing the first snake of the trip (Natrix natrix schweizeri)


sneaking up to a Milos Wall Lizard (Podarcis milensis) can be challenging


our first Blunt-nosed Viper (Macrovipera lebetina)


the rare endemic subspecies of Grass Snake - Natrix natrix schweizeri

No frogs here, so we went to another spot hinted to us by Matt Wilson, and found also an additional spot with a lot of frogs.


a bunch of frogs in a deep pond

After that, a little bit of hanging around the Achivadolimni lake, where Daniel managed to grab a Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata).


Milos Wall Lizard (Podarcis milensis)


Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)

After dark, we went out again. Not too warm, yet another viper and two Cat Snakes (Telescopus fallax). One of the latter was found by Guillaume Gomard, who was also on the island, so we teamed up for a few brief moments.


Bobby needs to pose with everything he catches, so here it is ;-p


Blunt-nosed Viper (Macrovipera lebetina)


Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax)

April 29th – frog catching and multiple searches

Back to Matt’s frog spot, so we could catch one for a closer encounter. Lazy day with a few low-result searches. Saved another viper from a water hole after dark.


deploying the Bobby…


… hardly ever fails


setting up for some photos


Milos Water Frog (Pelophylax sp.)


the Milos crew (minus me)


a strange guy with a swimming addiction


a strange guy with a wiper addiction


nocturnal ladder snake - Blunt-nosed Viper (Macrovipera lebetina)


Blunt-nosed Viper (Macrovipera lebetina)


GJ and Bob in love with the viper

April 30th – frog catching and multiple searches

I skipped the morning session to gain some energy, while the others went to Plaka for some lizard photography of animals that are more used to human presence, hence not so shy. Some more viper searching followed after they picked me up.


GJ and Bobby scrutinising viper habitat

During a twilight session near the hotspot with the dried-up pond, GJ found a pre-shed Leopard Snake (Zamenis situla), so that was it for the Milos herping list.


occult gathering in admiration of a snake


Leopard Snake (Zamenis situla)


GJ and leopard

Back to Plaka in the dark. In an open space in the drystone wall, we found three vipers together, including two large, dark ones. Maybe some mating-related interaction?


Blunt-nosed Viper (Macrovipera lebetina)


Blunt-nosed Viper (Macrovipera lebetina)


Bobby practicing for the bushmaster he will catch next summer in Peru

May 1st – a great little valley and the end of the Milos episode

Daniel hit the jackpot with 6 vipers in a stretch of a small valley in the western part of Milos, providing a great end to our stay on Milos.


Blunt-nosed Viper (Macrovipera lebetina)


Blunt-nosed Viper (Macrovipera lebetina)

In the evening, we met up with Guillaume again. Another Cat Snake and a final little viper.


Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax)


Blunt-nosed Viper (Macrovipera lebetina)

MAINLAND

May 2nd – transit to Pindos and first time up

Early flight from Milos back to Athens, where we said goodbye to Daniel and hello to Laura. With high hopes and raised spirits, we started the drive north to the Pindos mountains, where we would search for the Greek Meadow Viper (Vipera (ursinii) graeca). Along the road, already some rather common species like Eastern Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis) and Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni). We arrived in the area in time to venture up the hill already. A landslide (including a walking tree) blocked the dirt road, so on foot from there on. No snakes but Greek Stream Frog (Rana graeca), Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis), Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata) and Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris).


road’s end


slope fun


slope necessity


always keep on searching


Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris)


Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris)


newt photo fun 1


newt photo fun 2


GJ


LT


BB


BVDB

On our way to food and a bed, a few big Common Toads (Bufo bufo) were to be admired.


Common Toad (Bufo bufo)


road photo 1


road photo 2


road photo 3

May 3rd – ursinii failure & Prespes thunderstorm

A more dedicated attempt also did not produce any Meadow Viper (while see 2004 report of same spot). The spot did however allow (next to the species of the day before) observation of Green Lizard, Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis), Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) and two alpine Nose-horned Vipers (Vipera ammodytes). One of the latter lacked a pronounced horn.


beautiful place


Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes)


Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes)


Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes)


hornless Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes)


fairy and wizard coming down the mountain


Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes)


GJ is a gigantic warrior


Laura in the sky


tough guys


GJ sees his photography angle blocked by a wizard


vizard meets wiper

We were a bit sad about the missed target, but after about five rounds of voting, we decided to translocate our time, bodies and minds to our next area of interest and continued north to the Prespes lake area. Nearly there, warm and cloudy weather brought us among others an Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus) on the road.


Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus)


Eastern Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis)

Near the lake, we started with a late afternoon check of some great small ruins where Peter found a Four-lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata) in 2004 (see report, although I didn’t see that snake while going for ursinii…). A nearing thunderstorm provided cool light for pictures.


slope-hiking GJ


Laura and Bert


Bobby is unable to hide his concern about the fire in the sky


BB, BVDB, LT


GJ is a gigantic warrior


the background rainfall nearly hits Bobby’s head


the Dutch heroes


there’s a storm coming…

After a tiresome attempt to get some semi-decent food from xenophobic people, the heavy downpour stopped as we went out to see some amphibians in action. On the road as well as trapped in some irrigation wells, we found good numbers of Green Toad (Bufo viridis), Macedonian Crested Newt (Triturus macedonicus), Eastern Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates syriacus), Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina), and Marsh Frog (Pelophylax (ridibundus) kurtmuelleri). A lot of water frog calls and a few tree frog calls from the lake side.


Green Toad (Bufo viridis)


Macedonian Crested Newt (Triturus macedonicus)


Eastern Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates syriacus)


Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina)


Eastern Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates syriacus)

Locating a great newt pond from 2004 seemed harder to achieve in the dark than anticipated, so we would try that again the next day.

May 4th – a lovely day at the lake

First back to the old ruins. No quat, but huge numbers of Erhard’s Wall Lizard (Podarcis erhardii) and some Nose-horned Vipers, Caspian Whip Snake (Dolichophis caspius), Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis tauricus) and some other species were much appreciated.


Erhard’s Wall Lizard (Podarcis erhardii)


Erhard’s Wall Lizard (Podarcis erhardii)


Erhard’s Wall Lizard (Podarcis erhardii)


Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes)


warriors are also great at pointing out lizards


LLL (= Laura’s lovely lichen) setup for a Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes)


pleased


Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis tauricus)

Then a lunch break during the heat of the day.


Pygmy Cormorant (Microcarbo pygmeus)


hot = swim 1


hot = swim 2




after-swim curls

Towards later in the afternoon, we drove to find the newt pond that remained hidden in the dark of the previous night. Now, we found it easily. Photographic conditions were not really enjoyable, but newts and other beasties were abundant.


Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus)


Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus)


people at the pond


GJ goes for newts, Bob holds some grass snakes, Jeroen writes boring caption


Laura’s snake whisperer’s hands


Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)


Macedonian Crested Newt (Triturus macedonicus)


Macedonian Crested Newt (Triturus macedonicus)


Greek Slow Worm (Anguis graeca)

Quickly, on to a spot for Dalmatian Algyroides (Algyroides nigropunctatus). We spotted a few, but they were very shy in the hot weather. Back to the same great restaurant at Mikrolimni. After dark, we sneaked up to some Common Tree Frogs (Hyla arborea).


dinner table sunset


Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea) – in situ


Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea)


warriors are also useful allies in a frog hunt


Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea)

May 5th – another mountain failure

We left our lakeside hotel and drove on to a mountain slope where we searched for Bosnian Adder (Vipera berus bosniensis), but failed to find one.


mountain meets warrior


Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis)


Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis)


Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis)

Then, on to the east to a hinted spot for Balkan Crested Newt (Triturus (karelinii) arntzeni). Great herping site, but ponds full of exogenous fish didn’t hold any newts.


Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni)

This day’s Magic Hour search was at the northern shore of Lake Volvi. A young Four-lined Snake and an Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus) were the most appreciated trophies.


me and Malpie - (c) Laura Tiemann

We spent the night nearby and hung out with local hospitable people.


nightlife 1


nightlife 2


nightlife 3

May 6th – Ismarida and to Evros province

First back to Volvi to photograph and release some snakes.


Four-lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata)


Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus)


Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus)

Then to Ismarida, where we briefly met with Ilias Strachinis. Tough spot for Blotched Snake (Elaphe sauromates), but some other species were found, including our first Worm Snake (Typhlops vermicularis) and Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca).


Worm Snake (Typhlops vermicularis) – some day I’ll have patience…

We drove on to enter Evros province and slept like roses.

May 7th & 8th – coastal hills, Evros river, olive orchard and befriending law enforcers

First, we checked out two hills near the coast. No Ottoman Viper (Montivipera xanthina) yet, but a bunch of other species.


Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata) eating - 1


Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata) eating - 2


Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata) eating - 3


Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans)


Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus)


another version of sneaking up to frogs


timid European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)

We drove to a spot where Bobby saw Fire-bellied Toad (Bombina bombina) in 2010. A lot of people where barbecuing or driving noisy motorbikes on the river banks, but we just did our thing. GJ found a young Blotched Snake (Elaphe sauromates), but missed a single Bombina before it got away, leaping into a drain tube.


river bank scenery


reddish European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)


Blotched Snake (Elaphe sauromates)


flower snake

We decided to revisit the spot after dark, to improve our chances at spotting all sorts of amphibians. The Magic Hour search lead us west to an area with great olive orchards, where we found two Sand Boas (Eryx jaculus) and a small Ottoman Viper.


Ottoman Viper (Montivipera xanthina)


Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus)


Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus)


Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus)


Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus)


Eryx love - (c) Laura Tiemann

After a lovely meal, we drove back to the river. Very strong wind, yet water and tree frogs were calling.


Eastern Tree Frog (Hyla orientalis)

Then, at about 23:00, an unpleasant adventure began. After a short while of searching, a police car pulled up to where we were taking pictures of tree frogs. They informed us that we were trespassing in a military zone, being as close as we were to the Turkish border. This surprised us greatly, as we did not see a sign or indication of any kind to highlight this, and we had seen the area crowded with a couple hundred people during daytime. Nevertheless, we had to go to the nearby police station. Here, we were told not to worry too much, but they had to take us to Alexandropouli, to have inspectors run through our cameras and check if we took pictures of military infrastructure (which obviously we didn’t). Well after midnight, we were interrogated at the police station. After having checked the several thousands of pictures our collective cameras held, we were still not allowed to go but were placed under formal arrest, leaving our fate in the hands of the local prosecutor. She would decide the next morning. After 12 hours without sleep or food, being held in an unsanitary police office where everyone smokes inside the building and having fingerprints and mug shots taken from all of us, we were escorted to the local court, to meet with the prosecutor. She questioned us and informed us that we would appear before a judge after one hour. Two hours later, we received our surreal trial and were deemed innocent in the end. To ice the cake, the promised lift from Alexandropouli back to where our rental cars were, was suddenly not possible anymore. So far the facts… Sentiments of harassment, burocracy, inefficiency and unlawfulness is what we carry with us from this absurd incident in a supposedly modern democracy, EU nation.

The case was picked up by the local media.
http://www.agelioforos.gr/default.asp?pid=7&ct=4&artid=178216
http://www.makthes.gr/news/reportage/104009/
http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_wsite1_1_08/05/2013_497793
http://www.enetenglish.gr/?i=news.en.article&id=849

What these media (somewhat interestingly) fail to mention is that the police actually seemed serious in considering that we were journalists which might want to expose Greek military secrets.

The rest of the day was spent trying to refuel our bodies and minds, with a rather uneventful search near our hotel as single action. In the mean time, GJ drove back and forth to Thessaloniki to pick up Cynthia, greatly delayed by the whole incident. We all went for dinner together, which allowed for digestion of both food and events.

May 9th – into the woods

Shaking off the police hassle and wasted time, we got back on track and drove into the beautiful woods west of the town of Dadia. Crappy weather at first, but clearings are always great for herping, regardless of the weather. A few short-lived rays of sunlight allowed to spot the species that was most on our minds – Meadow Lizard (Darevskia praticola).


juvenile Fire Salamanders (Salamandra salamandra)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra)


Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata)


GJ is one though guy


Dutch behaviour


Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca)


big(!) shiny beetle - Procerus scabrosus bureschianus


Slow Worm (Anguis colchica or A. fragilis)


too bad the sun’s not out (again, see 2004 report...)


Greek Stream Frog (Rana graeca)


Greek Stream Frog (Rana graeca)


Greek Stream Frog (Rana graeca)


Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina)


habitat of Darevskia praticola


baby Meadow Lizard (Darevskia praticola)


Meadow Lizard (Darevskia praticola)


Meadow Lizard (Darevskia praticola)


Meadow Lizard (Darevskia praticola)


broken Bobby break


warrior photography


Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii)


Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii)


moving out

We decided to drive for a bit to check a crested newt pond before dark. Along the road, however, we quickly spotted another, much closer pond, so why not check it out? Bingo!


Balkan Crested Newt (Triturus karelinii arntzeni)


Balkan Crested Newt (Triturus karelinii arntzeni)


Balkan Crested Newt (Triturus karelinii arntzeni)


Balkan Crested Newt (Triturus karelinii arntzeni)


Balkan Crested Newt (Triturus karelinii arntzeni)


a pleasant round of crested newt photography

We ate nearby, followed by a failed attempt to turn up an adult salamander after dark.


(real) flower girl meets (fake) flowers


some things on the menu were mind blowing

May 10th – Dadia and more orchard exploration

GJ and Cynthia urgently needed to get rid of us, so we hiked to the Dadia vulture bird hide all by ourselves. Just a few usual herp suspects along the hike.


a few of a group of hundreds of storks


I like turtles - 1


I like turtles - 2


I like turtles - 3


I like turtles – 4


the return of Hyla hominis?


no comment


Dadia vultures

The kids needed another swim, so Bert and I endured.






Orchard searching near the same town, but not much luck now. Jolly dinner and off to bed.


Greek hobbits rule!

May 11th – towards and near Thessaloniki

As this was our last full day, we drove already to sleep close to the airport. First, another search to do something about our shameful xanthina result, with only Bert missing a biggie. I did some traditional end-of-trip bug shots.


Nemoptera coa or sinuata


Ascalaphus libelluloides


Ascalaphus libelluloides


Empusa pennata


Empusa pennata


scene of the morning


Callophrys rubi


terrapin getaway 1 – Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)


terrapin getaway 2 – Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)


terrapin getaway 3 – Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)


final swim


Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata) with prey


not ready to go home yet - Bert


not ready to go home yet - Bobby


as mad as a hat - Laura

Back on the road it was …


Driver Bert

Stopping at a source in the woods along the road, larvae of Fire Salamander and a big Grass Snake.


Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)


Trophy Bert


herping celebrity Bobby Bok stalked by a Kevin who recognised the Prince of European Fieldherping

Reaching the target site of the afternoon, we parked the car on a rocky hill and immediately saw Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio). Plenty of other species, especially near a tiny nearby stream.


Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio)


Bobby and new best friend


agama lovers


Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio)


Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio)


Laura’s first personally found Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes)


young Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus)

May 12th – final search and home

Our flight wasn’t until the afternoon, so we did a last bit of herping on the same rocky hill, with more or less the same finds.


Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina)


staring frogs out of the water


always happy if fed a sufficient daily amount of amphibians


tired, satisfied and a little bit sad


baby Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)


Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni)

And that was it… Off to a hectic Thessaloniki airport and then home.


inhaling toxic fumes in an aquarium is very cool

It's been a great tour with great friends and a silly adventure we'll never forget. The weird (hot) weather and our lack of energy at times may perhaps have caused for not that many snake specimens to be found. A lot of factors might explain why we failed at finding both mountain viper species, including weather, seasonality, search effort over time, ... . In general, we look back on a great collective list of beautiful animals and astonishing scenery, including some of the best Greece has to offer.


mainland crew with Cynthia, GJ, Bert, Laura, Bob and me - (c) Laura Tiemann

Species list



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