My last adventure brought me to Romania and Bulgaria (13 – 19 October 2014). It was my first autumn trip to another part of Europe. We hoped the weather would still be good to see reptiles and amphibians. Bobby warned me that it could be a disappointment, because it was also possible that we did not see anything. Bobby gambled and we trusted him, or held him responsible. After Malaysia last summer this was, as Louis van Gaal would say, ‘different cook’.
One half of the international fellowship consisted of Paul Lambourne, Trevor Willis, and Sean Cole from the UK. The other half was Bobby Bok, Gert Jan Verspui and I from the Netherlands. Besides Bobby all the guys were new to me. Well, I met Gert Jan once on the Veluwe, but I knew that it was him afterwards.
Before I arrived on Bucharest Otopeni Airport I already had my first exciting moment. I did not have a seat on my KLM-flight. The strategy to fly with a full airplane at all cost is overbooking the flight. When someone does not show up you have a seat and when not you have to take another flight (later that day and money) or someone has to volunteer to give the seat to me (and get receive money). After waiting with Gertjan, who was on the same KLM-flight that I booked, I finally got the good news. I had a seat. So no delay for me, I was on my way.
I was very excited about going to the Carpathians. The species that are supposed to be there, mountains, autumn and I hoped for Eurasian Brown Bear (Ursus arctos arctos). As it is with hoping for good weather during your holidays it is with seeing wildlife during a trip like this. The weather was good during the day. During the sunny parts of the day I walked in a t-shirt. During nighttime it was already quite cold. That might be the reason that our stay in the Carpathians was not really successful for wildlife.
Please, do not stop reading. Our first spot was not really successful. The Yellow-bellied Toads (Bombina variegata) were great, but the smell of poop in the car was not. A member of the fellowship stepped on a brownish snake (lets call it Natrix faeces).
The highlight during our first night was the Ural Owl (Strix uralensis). I was walking next to a stream looking for newts. All I found was a dead bird. I thought a buzzard or some kind of owl. Yes, I am really not the bird expert. Sean is, and he wanted to see the bird. When we were almost there we saw the Ural Owl flying up, at 10 meter distance, to a branch. The owl just sat there. The owl was easy to approach so we all had a good sight. I made some shots before dusk came and it would be too late to get good photos. For herpers this was a great sighting, for birders it would have been a ‘birdgasm’.
We did a lot of searching, but we just found the ‘common stuff’. My standards are lower. I enjoy seeing and photographing common species. While photographing a Common Lizard (Zootoca vivipara) Bobby and I had to hurry, because we were ‘wasting time’. I still love the result of the photos, so I disagree.
During the night we did search for bears, but we did not have succes at the places were they are a common sighting. Maybe the wrong time of the year. I still have a goal to look forward to.
The autumn colored leafs on the mountain slopes, Dracula’s Castle, the Ural Owl, and ‘common stuff’ were great, but it was time to move on to the next location.
In the afternoon we drove to a forest outside Bucharest. We did not find the Meadow Lizard. The specie we were looking for. We did find other ‘common’ but beautiful animals. It was dusk already, so many photos are not worth showing. I do want to show an Eastern Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis). After this we had a long drive to Mamaia, at the Black Sea coast.
Wider Dunabe delta
In Mamaia we stayed in La Scoica Land. They have good pizzas to keep us going. During our first night we already had a very welcome guest. It was a Green Toad (Bufotes viridis) checking out where all the loud noises were coming from.
The next morning we went to the wider Dunable delta for Steppe Runners (Eremias arguta). We did not see them immediately. We had to wait for more sunshine. Bobby’s rude prayers were heard, and the so wished sunshine was there. I also saw the Steppe Runners. I did not find a cooperative one, so I do not have a photo.
Before the Steppe Runners were there we already found some beautiful animals. We all heard Eastern Tree Frogs (Hyla orientalis) calling, but Bobby found one in the bushes next to him. Tree frogs are always a joy to photograph, so my day was already perfect.
I also photographed a Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca). I also photographed one the day before, but that was at dusk. This one was during the day. Smooth Snakes are snakes that also live in the Netherlands, but I have never seen them in the Netherlands. I just see them on trips to other countries. Someday I will find one in the Netherlands.
Cobra or not?
Trevor and I found a Grass Snake (Natrix natrix). Most of the time Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix) are very calm, pretend to be dead, and smell like poop. This one was different. This Grass Snake flattened the neck like a cobra, was pumping and hissing like a viper, and was striking aggressively like a viper (but much slower). A very beautiful snake to photograph!
We did see many other great things like a Caspian Whip Snake (Dolichophis caspius), several Dice Snakes (Natrix tessellata) and a few more Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix).
Later in the afternoon we went to the the Histria ruins. We found a Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis tauricus) and three European Pond Terrapins (Emys orbicularis) that were saved by Gert Jan. There were also many Dice Snakes on the walls.
Eastern Spadefoot Toad party
After dark we went to a place where we found easily 30 Eastern Spadefoot Toads (Pelobates syriacus). We really had to be careful not to step on them. I observed two defensive strategies. One was that they make themselve bigger than they and one is digging in. And maybe there is third one, a loud and long ‘rubber duck peep’.
Benny Trapp, thank you for the tip!
Long drive to the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast
After a long drive by Gert Jan we arrived in Primorsko (Bulgaria). We made short stops and during the stops we ran our of the car to search for reptiles, amphibians or chocolate.
During summer it might be the place to be, now in October it was a ghost town. Before going to an hotel we went to three locations to search for snakes. Our main goals for the days in Bulgaria were Reddish Whip Snake (Platyceps collaris) and Blotched Snake (Elaphe sauromates). On the first locations we did not find them, but we did find Nose-horned Vipers (Vipera ammodytes ssp. montandoni)!
In the area around Primorsko we had some main search sites. From now on I will stop with my attempt to make a chronological report. My main focus is to show my photos and add the story behind the photos. I will tell about some locations and, after that I will also give some special species a little bit more attention.
Unfinished (bat) hotel
The unfinished (bat) hotel was a great search site. A lot of building material was still present. It was a perfect place for reptiles and amphibians. When entering the hotel you could see bats in every room. In the basement Bobby and I found Marsh Frogs and also a Grass Snake hunting them.
Trevor found the Eastern Slow Worm (Anguis cf. colchica) which was one of our goals. He was the hero of the day!
Gert Jan found another highlight. He found a Grass Snake eating an Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina). Saying it was great to see is a bit cruel, so I call it ‘interesting’.
Thracian rock sanctuary of Beglik Tash
Again a beautiful place with a lot of reptiles as you can see on the photos. The Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni) was great to see, but hard to photograph. They just keep on walking, and almost never in the direction I wanted. It took some time to get the photo I wanted.
‘My nose is burning!’
During a night search in the Arkutino Swamp we were looking for Fire-bellied Toad (Bombina bombina). Fire does not just stand for the color of the belly. After photographing two beautiful specimen I made a rookie mistake by touching my face without washing my hands. The Fire-bellied Toads defend themselves with poison that made my nose and eyes burn really bad. A valuable lesson for me, and after showering it was gone.
Nose-horned Viper madness
Bulgaria was a Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes ssp. montandoni) paradise. Bobby, Gert Jan and Paul combined found eight of them. I do not know the final score.
I had seen two of them before in 2012 when I was in Montenegro. For me it was really special, so I made many photos.
Nose-horned Vipers are very venomous, so we had to be careful. Venomous Snake Protocol’ was into force.
Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus)
In the area around Primorsko I thought I saw a juvenile Grass Snake. After a better look I saw that it was something different. It was a juvenile Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus). A new specie for me!
On the way back to the car Gert Jan had to show off and find a bigger and dark colored Aesculapian Snake.
Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus)
On the way back to Romania Bobby wanted to do one more search on our first searching place. He returned with a beautiful snake and mixed feelings. The snake was stunning, and a new specie for me, but he hoped for another snake. With every snake we found he hoped for a Reddish Whip Snake (Platyceps collaris) or a Blotched Snake (Elaphe sauromates). Paul almost made him happy, but sadly it was a fresh roadkill. Bad luck is part of our hobby. Sometimes snakes play hard to get, to get our our attention.
Gecko, gecko, gecko!
During our stay in and around Primorsko Trevor found a Kotschy’s Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi). A great bonus! It is the third European gecko specie that I have seen now. We were looking for it in the center of the town. We already gave up and walked back to the hotel, until Trevor saw one. It was in the middle of the shopping street. It was by night so there were not many people on the streets.
I did not have mixed feelings about this trip. I really enjoyed the company of the fellowship. I learned a lot about snake searching, newt searching, about Nose-horned vipers (Venomous Snake Protocol), climbing a gate by the joint, and English tea. For me the trip was very successful. I saw fifteen new species and I made many photos I really like. I want to thank Bobby Bok, Gert Jan Verspui, Paul Lambourne, Sean Cole, and Trevor Willis for the great week and I hope to make a trip with you in the near future.
This was my last international trip of 2014. I am making plans for 2015. I hope 2015 will be a great year too. 2014 was a great year!
This list was created by Bobby Bok. Thank you for that.
Salamanders and newts
- Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris)
- Balkan Crested Newt (Triturus ivanbureschi)
- Common Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris)
- Danube Crested Newt (Triturus dobrogicus)
- Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus)
- Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina)
- Common Toad (Bufo bufo)
- Eastern Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates syriacus)
- Eastern Tree Frog (Hyla orientalis)
- Edible Frog (Pelophylax kl. esculentus)
- Fire-bellied Toad (Bombina bombina)
- Grass Frog (Rana temporaria)
- Green Toad (Bufotes viridis)
- Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus)
- Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata)
- European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)
- Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni)
- Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis tauricus)
- Common Lizard (Zootoca vivipara)
- Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis)
- Eastern Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis meridionalis)
- Eastern Slow Worm (Anguis cf. colchica)
- Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus)
- Kotschy’s Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi)
- Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis ssp. chersonensis)
- Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibellii)
- Steppe Runner (Eremias arguta)
- Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus)
- Blotched Snake (Elaphe sauromates) – roadkill –
- Caspian Whip Snake (Dolichophis caspius)
- Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata)
- Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus)
- Grass Snake (Natrix natrix ssp. persa)
- Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes ssp. montandoni)
- Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca)
If you want to read more about this trip, check out two more trip reports:
Bobby Bok – Romania and Bulgaria from 13 until 19 October 2014
Gert Jan Verspui – Romania & Bulgaria, October 2014