Herpetofauna of Europe : n greece (may 2004)
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Herpetological trip to northern Greece
30 April - 14 May 2004

All pictures (c) of Jeroen Speybroeck.

This is a report of an extraordinary herp hunting trip. Twelve people searched day and night for herps: Jan, Mark, Elfriede, Anniek, Peter, Gerd, Robert, Patrick, Lydia, Tekla, Stefaan and myself – most of them members of the Belgian herpetological task group HYLA, which is part of the NGO Natuurpunt. As many as 45 species of amphibians (12) and reptiles (33) were observed in the north of Greece. Main areas covered were the Nestos river, Dadia forest, Evros river delta, Lake Mikri Prespa and Chalkidiki. Probably the most interesting observations were a Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus) in the southeast of the Rodopi prefecture, and Meadow Lizard (Darevskia praticola) and Orsini's Viper (Vipera ursinii graeca), both at one of the very few Greek sites of these species. Furthermore, fifteen species of snakes seems -at least to us- a lot for just one trip. The high number of species is due to a highly enthusiastic and large group of rock turning and snake jumping maniacs – thank you very much everyone for the beasts and the fun! “Blauwe druifjes” will stay linked to this trip forever; an excellent organisation so little time is wasted looking for a place to stay – great job done in a dozen of languages by our leading man, Jan!; the ideal weather and season – not too hot and a few short periods of rain made a lot of herps come out. These factors add up to the fact that only few species, present in the prospected area, were not found.
Apart from the fantastic group of which I was a part, I would like to thank some people who shared their knowledge on where to find some or several species: Hans Jerrentrup, Hakon Nettmann, Lasse Bergendorf, Per Blomberg, Anders Selmer, Yiannis Ioannidis, Göran Nilson, Nikos Petrou, Maria Dimaki, David Bird, David Buttle, Byron Asimakopoulos, Achilles Dimitropoulos, Benny Trapp and especially Henk Strijbosch.


overview of prospected sites

30 April

We flew from Zaventem (Brussels - Belgium) to Thessaloniki (Greece) on April 30th. Our first herps were Common Tree Frogs (Hyla arborea), calling near the airport. We drove to Keramoti at the mouth of the Nestos river, where we stayed for three nights.

1 May - Nestos river

We had arranged prior to our trip for Hans Jerrentrup (EPO - Society for Protection of Nature and Ecodevelopment) to guide us through the Nestos area. We stopped at some small fresh water pools close to the sea at Keramoti, riparian forests, freshwater lakes, sandy dunes and some other sites I cannot even remember (there were many!). Hans was an excellent guide, able to come up with the name of every plant or animal. In the open grassy dune vegetation and along the fresh water, we observed Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis tauricus), both Spur-thighed (Testudo graeca) and Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni), several Large Whip Snakes (Dolichophis caspius, maybe better “Caspian Whip Snake”), Green Lizards (Lacerta viridis meridionalis) and Glass Lizards (Pseudopus apodus – we found this species quite a lot; about each day of our trip), Grass Snake (Natrix natrix persa), Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus), Greek Marsh Frog (Pelophylax kurtmuelleri), Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina), Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata), European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis), larvae of Common Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris vulgaris) and Tree Frog. Some other remarkable observations were Masked Shrike (Lanius nubicus) and Golden Jackal (Canis aureus) and several orchids e.g. Ophrys mammosa.


Hans Jerrentrup introducing the Nestos delta area to our group

the area visible in the previous picture is full of tortoises, like this young Hermann's (Testudo hermanni)

head of a Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus)

Large Whip Snake (Dolichophis caspius) - one of two found underneath the same piece of plastic

Libellula fulva

Zerynthia polyxena

Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis tauricus) - despite its name nearly always found on the ground in between herbs

herp hunters are crazy

the gang - Peter, Mark, Stefaan, Anniek, Robert, Lydia, Patrick, Jan, Hans Jerrentrup, Elfriede, Tekla and Gerd

the men and the sea - Patrick and Jan on the lookout

a male Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis meridionalis)

Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)

riparian forest along the Nestos river, with Jan and Elfriede walking in front of me

view on a hill above the Nestos fresh water lakes, with Salvia colouring the scene

2 May – Nestos gorge

Again, we were guided by Hans Know-it-all but now we moved uphill towards the beautiful canyon formed by the Nestos river. Along the road towards the gorge, we spotted a few Spur-winged Plovers (Vanellus spinosus). We walked along the eastern side of the river and on a rocky slope snake-eyed Patrick caught our first Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes) and Worm Snake (Typhlops vermicularis). We also found a Common Toad (Bufo bufo spinosus), Green Lizards and Kotschy’s Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi). Near a small brook, Robert was able to make some sound recordings of Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata scabra). The brook also contained some Common newts (Lissotriton vulgaris, nominal form vulgaris) and the ever present Marsh Frogs. We drove to a hilltop, where we had a beautiful overview of the river. There, we found our first Green Toad (Bufo viridis). On the way back down, Jan spotted a dead juvenile of Leopard Snake (Zamenis situla) on the road. We searched for a short while for a living one near some dry-stone walls, but without any luck, except for a juvenile Glass Lizard. At night, we spotted some more Kotschy’s Geckos on the walls in Keramoti.


not exactly a beauty - the Mediterranean Common Toad (Bufo bufo spinosus)

Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes meridionalis) and me

view of the side of the river in the Nestos gorge with Cercis in bloom

a U-turn in the course of the Nestos river

brook, back out of the gorge, with Bombina variegata scabra, Lissotriton vulgaris vulgaris and Rana graeca

Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata scabra) at it

panoramic view over the Nestos gorge

always a beautiful model - Green Toad (Bufo viridis)

juvenile Glass Lizard with typical colouring (Pseudopus apodus)

3 May – from Nestos to Evros

We moved on to our next stay, which was Hotel Plotini in Loutros (or Loutra Traianopouli). On the way from Keramoti to the east, we made a stop at Lake Ismarida. Jan had seen several Blotched Snakes (Elaphe sauromates) here before and after intensive searching, Peter found a beautiful adult specimen of the species. We also saw our first Marsh Frogs (Pelophylax ridibundus) here. Between Maronia and Makri, we made a very fortunate stop: after finding 2 dead adults (traffic victims) we (= Tekla) found here about five juveniles of Ottoman Viper (Montivipera xanthina), another Worm Snake and … a Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus) of about 40 cm! A hectic photoshoot deployed as the sun was setting and people were queuing for that one great shot of each of the three snake species.


Blotched Snake (Elaphe sauromates)

first observation of Ottoman Viper (Montivipera xanthina) - yes, that's one of our cars and no, we didn't run over this dead snake

n°1 catch - Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus)

portrait of Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus)

Worm Snake (Typhlops vermicularis)

one of our first living Ottoman Vipers (Montivipera xanthina) was this juvenile

habitat of Montivipera xanthina, Eryx jaculus and Typhlops vermicularis

4 May – Evros delta, around Alexandroupoli airport and Doriskos hill

We explored the wetland area and did some nice birding. Our next target was the Doriskos hill. Here, we found our first Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans), Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata) and Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata), but a long search was not possible because of military exercises going on in the area. At night, we returned to the area next to the airport and besides a beautiful soundscape of several frogs and toads, we found 3 Eastern Spadefoots (Pelobates syriacus) which demonstrated with pleasure their digging capacities.


Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca)

Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans)

dune ponds near Alexandroupoli airport - habitat of Pelobates syriacus, Hyla arborea, Bufo viridis and Pelophylax ridibundus

Eastern Spadefoot (Pelobates syriacus)

Saturnia pyri - the largest butterfly of Europe

5 May – Dadia forest

We drove into the Dadia forest reserve, towards the deserted village of Pessani – more like some stone piles actually. Mark caught our first Dahl’s Whip Snake (Platyceps najadum) here. Also Balkan Green Lizard, Snake-eyed Lacertid and Nose-horned Viper were present again. As it started to rain, we had to hold our breaths for a while and we went for a drink in the town of Dadia. Luck was on our side, because the rain stopped quite quickly and the sun popped up again = ideal herping weather. We drove towards the more or less central European, humid forest (Fagus and Quercus but not the typical mediterranean ones) around the old lumberjack camp of Tris Vrysses. On an extremely beautiful open spot with a brook running through it, we found as many as fifteen species in no time: Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra), Common Toad, Balkan Stream Frog (Rana graeca), Agile Frog, Yellow-Bellied Toad, Marsh Frog, European Pond Terrapin, Spur-thighed Tortoise, Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii), Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca), Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus), Grass Snake, Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis), Green Lizard and the one we were hoping to find here: Meadow Lizard (Darevskia praticola). Again, crazy photography came to life, with everyone running from skink over snake to lizard. After this madness, Mark found another Montpellier Snake along the road between Dadia and Gianouli.


Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata)

herp hunters are crazy (2)

Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca)

juvenile Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra)

habitat of at least fifteen species near Tris Vrysses

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix persa)

Meadow Lizard (Darevskia praticola)

subadult Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus)

detail of the same animal

the favorite target of all European snakes with a temper - Jan Van Der Voort

the man (Stefaan) who caught the snake, admiring his catch

large female Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina) - lives here together with Balkan Stream Frog (Rana graeca)

in the league of "small and shiny" - Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii)

the scene of the day with Tekla, Jan, Elfriede, Lydia, Stefaan, Robert, Patrick, Peter and Mark

6 May – edges of Dadia forest

We drove more or less all the way around the Dadia forest. Few new species to add to our list but enough species anyway. Near Gianouli, we found Tree Frog, Balkan Green Lizard, Balkan Wall Lizard, Dice Snake, Green Toad, both terrapins, Common Newt and Spur-Thighed Tortoise. Near Mega Derio, we found Erhard’s Wall Lizard (Podarcis erhardii), Hermann’s Tortoise, Dahl's Whip Snake and along the road, we found another Smooth Snake. Our final stop, at the southern edge of the forest, resulted in yet another juvenile Ottoman Viper, Worm Snake, Grass Snake, Montpellier Snake, Marsh Frog and Green Toad.


Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea)

young Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus)

picture of a happy man - after seeing the one European snake species (Eryx) he had not seen before this trip, Patrick caught Platyceps najadum for the first time himself

another beauty - Dahl's Whip Snake (Platyceps najadum)

same

a common sight during our trip: gathered around a snake - Patrick, Anniek, Robert, Mark, Peter and Jan

Worm Snake (Typhlops vermicularis)

7 May – southern villages of Evros prefecture

On a hill, we finally found 2 adult Ottoman Vipers and another juvenile. Some other species, like 3 Worm Snakes, Common Newt and Snake-eyed Lacertid were also encountered here. Near Nipsa, we found several Balkan Green Lizards, about three juvenile Large Whip Snakes, Marsh Frog (as if there is one drop of water without them …), European Pond Terrapin, Common Newt. Near Makri, we found another juvenile of the Ottoman Viper, some Kotschy’s Geckos and Glass Lizard.


adult Ottoman Viper (Montivipera xanthina) - large and fierce

a juvenile of Kotschy's Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi)

8 May – from Dadia to the Prespa lakes

This day was mainly consumed by driving. Along the road a dead Nose-horned Viper was seen, but we were mainly concentrating on reaching our lodge on the small island in Lake Mikri Prespa. We arrived in the late afternoon at the tremendously beautiful lake, and we could already spot the in the area very common Erhard’s Wall Lizard and the gigantic pelicans (both White and Dalmatian but mainly the latter).


ruins of Ag. Achilleos on the small island in Mikri Prespa, where we stayed - a habitat for Podarcis erhardii

male of Erhard's Wall Lizard (Podarcis erhardii)

9 May – around Mikri Prespa - part 1

We stopped at a cliff along the road towards Psarades, and found again some Nose-horned Vipers (seems rather common in the area), Erhard’s Wall Lizard together with a few individuals of Common Wall Lizard, Green Lizard and the good looking Dalmatian Algyroides (Algyroides nigropunctatus). It started to rain as we found some juveniles of Macedonian Crested Newt (Triturus macedonicus) and an Eastern Spadefoot. We went indoors for another drink and because the rain didn’t want to stop, we drove towards Vrondero anyway and found several tens of adult Crested Newts.


male Dalmatian Algyroides (Algyroides nigropunctatus) - loves some shade, hence tricky to take a picture of

habitat of Algyroides nigropunctatus

Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes)

a male of the Macedonian Crested Newt (Triturus macedonicus)

10 May – around Mikri Prespa - part 2

We searched in and around the pools in the sand extraction area in between Megali and Mikri Prespa. The usual suspects turned up, as this was a good habitat for Greek Marsh Frog, Green Toad, Green Lizard, Balkan Wall Lizard, Hermann’s Tortoise and Dice Snake. Another stop was at the northeast of Lake Mikri Prespa, near a small deserted concrete building and some piles of concrete, to-be-used irrigation canals. Hundreds of Erhard’s Wall Lizards, Dice Snake, Balkan Wall Lizard and a large Large Whip Snake could be found here. A last stop at the eastern lowlands resulted in an adult Aesculapian Snake and some nice calling males of Green Toad in one of the irrigation canals.


sand extraction site in between the two Prespa lakes

Libellula quadrimaculata

the ever smelly Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata)

foreparts of a large (1m60) Large Whip Snake (Dolichophis caspius)

two males of the Green Toad (Bufo viridis)

view over Lake Mikri Prespa from the east

view over Lake Mikri Prespa from the north, with the small island with our ecolodge in front

the square white building was our home for about four days

this is what I saw, crossing the bridge - Dalmatian Pelican (Pelicanus crispus)

11 May – Pindos mountains / around Mikri Prespa - part 3

On this day, our group split up in two: five of us went a long way south and the other seven stayed near Mikri Prespa. The latter team found near Agios Germanos a.o. several Nose-Horned Vipers and an adult Four-lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata). I went about 200km south to the southern Pindos with the other team. We searched for 4 hours but in the end, Jan was able to find what we came for, an Orsini’s Viper (Vipera ursinii graeca) of about 35cm (= nearly fully grown!). Also Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) was found, next to Common Wall Lizard, Smooth Snake, Green Lizard, Yellow-Bellied Toad and Balkan Stream Frog.


after a long search with a happy ending - Orsini's Viper (Vipera ursinii)

this individual did not have the white belly that is said to be typical for the subspecies

a cohabitant - Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis)

habitat of Orsini's Viper (Vipera ursinii) in the southern Pindos

Balkan Stream Frog (Rana graeca)

12 May – from Mikri Prespa to Chalkidiki

Mark already had to leave us on this day, so the others were going to spend the last few days not too far away from Thessaloniki airport. After a hectic drive through, around, under and above Thessa City, we were able to drop Mark off and find us a place to stay in Agia Triada. After a drink at the beach, we went into Mt. Hortiatis and stopped at a rocky hill, next to the road to Peristera. Several Starred Agamas (Laudakia stellio) were found here, together with Kotschy’s Gecko, Dahl’s Whip Snake and Worm Snake. In the evening, a few Turkish Geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus) were found on our balcony.


habitat of Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio)

Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio)

Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio)

Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) ...

... and its habitat

13 May – Chalkidiki

We went back to the same hill, and besides the species of the day before, we also found Glass Lizard, Greek Marsh Frog, Green Toad, Yellow-Bellied Toad, Common Toad and both tortoises. In some pools, in between Peristera and Ardameri, we found Greek Marsh Frog and another subspecies of the Common Newt, ssp. graecus, in many ways resembling the parapatric Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus). A final stop was made at the northwestern edge of Lake Volvi. In an agricultural area (next to Glass Lizard, Greek Marsh Frog, an unidentified Whip Snake and Green Lizard), we found both a juvenile and subadult of Four-lined Snake.


Greek Marsh Frog (Pelophylax kurtmuelleri)

a break from the heat - Elfriede, Lydia, Gerd, Patrick, Stefaan, Robert, Anniek, Peter, Jan and Tekla

male of the subspecies graecus of Common Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris)

Fields near Lake Volvi - a habitat for ...

Four-lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata) - note that the adult pattern is only just starting to appear in this 1m05 subadult

List of the observed species with some remarks

1. Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra salamandra) – 2 animals
2. Macedonian Crested Newt (Triturus macedonicus)
3. Common or Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) - subspecies vulgaris and graecus
4. Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata scabra) - really common in slow moving water in hilly country
5. Eastern Spadefoot (Pelobates syriacus balcanicus) – both at Alexandropouli and at Lake Mikri Prespa
6. Common Toad (Bufo bufo spinosus)
7. Green Toad (Bufo viridis viridis)
8. Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea arborea)
9. Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina)
10. Balkan Stream Frog (Rana graeca) - at two sites
11. Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus)
12. Greek Marsh Frog (Pelophylax kurtmuelleri) – fewer pulse groups in call than 11.
13. Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni boettgeri)
14. Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca ibera) – found as far west as western Chalkidiki
15. European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis hellenica)
16. Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)
17. Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio) - localised but in rather high numbers
18. Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus turcicus)
19. Kotschy’s Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi) ssp. danilewskii and/or bibroni
20. Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans macrodactylus) - not always as dull coloured as often depicted
21. Dalmatian Algyroides (Algyroides nigropunctatus) – at the eastern limit of its distribution
22. Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis bosnica) - only at 1 site
23. Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis) ssp. meridionalis and probably also viridis
24. Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata trilineata)
25. Meadow Lizard (Darevskia praticola pontica) - only at 1 site
26. Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis albanicus)
27. Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis tauricus) - only subspecies tauricus, even at Mikri Prespa
28. Erhard’s Wall Lizard (Podarcis erhardii riveti) - common near Mikri Prespa; often with few muralis
29. Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii kitaibelii)
30. Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus thracius) - a lot of animals seen!
31. Worm Snake (Typhlops vermicularis vermicularis) - about 10 seen
32. Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus turcicus) - just 1 animal
33. Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus)
34. Dahl’s Whip Snake (Platyceps najadum dahlii) - 3 caught
35. Large Whip Snake (Dolichophis caspius) - about 10
36. Four-lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata quatuorlineata) - 3 animals
37. Blotched Snake (Elaphe sauromates) - 1 live animal, 2 dead ones
38. Leopard Snake (Zamenis situla) - 1 DOR only
39. Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus) - 2 caught
40. Grass Snake (Natrix natrix persa)
41. Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata tessellata)
42. Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca austriaca) - 3 caught
43. Orsini’s Viper (Vipera ursinii graeca) - just 1 animal
44. Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes meridionalis) - probably over 15 seen and/or caught
45. Ottoman Viper (Montivipera xanthina) - "northern form" - 11 or 12 animals caught and seen

What we missed …

1. Southern Crested Newt (Triturus karelinii arntzeni)
Although we tried to find this one for quite some times, our net seemed insufficient and we surely did not find such an easy spot as the one where we found Triturus macedonicus. At one pool, Mark probably saw a specimen of this species, coming to the surface for air.
2. Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris veluchiensis)
In Greece, this species is limited to a few mountain lakes, which we did not visit.
3. Fire-bellied Toad (Bombina bombina)
This species is limited in Greece to the restricted area of the Evros river delta. We did not obtain a permit before we left for Mikri Prespa, so we did not go there. In the non-restricted area, we found some eggs which were very probably Bombina eggs. As the Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata) is said to be restricted to more hilly or mountainous country, these eggs might have belonged to the Fire-bellied Toad.
4. Common or Grass Frog (Rana temporaria)
In Greece only found near the border with Bulgaria and FYROM in the Rodopi mountains, which we did not visit.
5. Epirus Water Frog (Pelophylax epeiroticus)
At first, we (or maybe better, I) were thinking of combining the search for Orsini’s Viper with a visit to Lake Ioannina, but that turned out to be a difficult plan.
6. Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata)
We could have only found this one around the Pindos area but, as we were high up in the mountains for Orsini’s Viper, chances were limited.
7. Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis colchica)
We probably didn’t really spend a lot of time in its (potential) habitat but we surely could have encountered it near Mikri Prespa.
8. Balkan Whip Snake (Hierophis gemonensis)
Limited numbers in the area we visited and definitely far much rarer than Large Whip Snake. Maybe the tailtip Jan saw at Lake Volvi belonged to this species.
*. Leopard Snake (Zamenis situla)
Only a single dead specimen of this species could be found. We did look for this species, but maybe we spent not enough time in its ideal habitat. Rarely occurs in large numbers.
9. Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax)
Same habitat and density remarks as with Leopard Snake.
10. Adder (Vipera berus bosniensis)
Like Orsini’s Viper, extremely limited in its distribution in Greece. The people that stayed near Mikri Prespa on May 11th, tried to reach the spot of a known local population but we didn’t have enough details on where the population was situated exactly. It seems likely that the species is only limited to a few mountain slopes in the whole of Greece (cf. scientific papers) and that it doesn’t colonise an entire mountain range.

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