Field trip Lesbos 09-2016

Thursday the 22nd of September me and my gf flew to Lesbos from Amsterdam at circa 7:30. It wasn’t going to be a hardcore herping trip, as we had some touristy stuff planned, but still I wanted to especially get some snake species such as the Leopard snake and the Coin-marked Snake. (all photos credit to Michèle Sons, thanks for the support!)

Lesbos is a very popular destination for Dutch and British birders, this is mostly during spring time when it has extensive wetlands. Upon landing however I noticed how the island was completely arid and dry. On the trip from Mytillini airport to Skala Kallonis (the centre of Lesbos where we stayed) I only saw dried up river banks, furthermore, temperatures were supposedly going to rise over 30 degrees celcius on most days – not the ideal snake weather and timing by any means.valley.jpg

Day 1

After getting to the apartment and a bite to eat, we headed into the field in the so called Potamia valley near the Kalloni inland lake. This flat valley consists of small scale agriculture and has olive gardens on the edges of it, where it becomes more mountainous. After feverishly looking for some waters that could sustain life we finally found a small river bank. Surprisingly, it harbored no life, and only some decaying goat bodies… we would later find that goat skeletons and decaying goats are apparently somewhat normal on the island. After some further searching we finally found some ‘clean’ water, with the first herps, a couple of Balkan Terrapins (Mauremys rivulata) and some Levant water frogs (Pelophylax bedriagae).

kaspische

After cruising around for a while we also found a Balkan terrapin far away from any water (close to a dried up river bank), I hope the little guy made it. When we returned later on he had moved.IMG_3983.JPG

Day 1 was definitely a disappointment herp-wise, I had expected to stumble over species like the Balkan Terrapin and the Starred agama (Laudakio stellio), but it seemed the conditions were just too poor.

Day 2

On the second day I ventured to look for the  ‘Kalloni inland lake’, a lake very popular with birders. When I was in Lesbos some 20 years ago I remembered it was teeming with Grass Snakes, Dice snakes and terrapins. However, upon getting there, it was completely dried out! What a bummer.

Only species of the morning were a couple of Levant water frogs and a  Persian squirrel, (Sciurus anomalus) hopping on a telephone line.

In the afternoon we went to the touristy town in the North Molyvos. There we found two Starred Agamas, and later one sole Snake-Eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii).

Day 3

I had given up on my hopes of finding many snakes, but I was not to be denied. On our way to the ‘petrified forest’ we stopped at a polluted nearly dried out riverbank. After seeing a Starred Agama scurry away I noticed a large Scheltopusik (Pseudopus apodus) sitting beneath some shrub. Dang! Forgot the camera in the car. After we had gotten the camera it had already fled. I decided to flip some rocks, and suddenly a tiny – but fierce- Dahl’s whip snake (Platyceps najadum) appeared. It tried to bite at every move and he did not relent. After getting some nice shots we went on. At the Petrified Forest – which was extremely arid and only covered wth thorny shrubs – I noticed a large amount of Snake Eyed Lacertids (Ophisops elegans) on the footways. How strange. Afterward we drove to a beach; I flipped some rocks and found a Kotschy’s gecko (Cyrtodactylus kotschyi). We also saw a bird of prey the Long-legged buzzard (Buteo rufinus) and a Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus).dahl.jpgdahl3.jpgdahl2.jpg

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Day 4

Not a lot of herping done, some usual suspects in very low numbers. After driving to a monastery the road became more rocky and rocky. We persisted, which turned out to be a bad idea. We struck a rock and damaged our oil container, resulting in engine oil leakage. What a bummer. We had to call the car rental place, which luckily managed to get us a new car by night and toed our old one.  A helpful local ‘mimi’ helped us get home as we were stranded in a somewhat desolate place, thanks!

Day 5

We went for a nice walk from Agiassos to Dmitris. Getting to Agiassos proved to be pretty exciting; we apparently drove through military terrain without knowing it. After passing a shooting range (with lots of armed soldiers staring at us) we were later stopped by two guys with huge guns. After realizing we were just ignorant tourists they let us pass. No problem!

It was a shady walk through pine forests and some more open parts. We saw our first Balkan green lizards (Lacerta trilineata) from the trip, some 6 specimens. Surprisingly, no other species were found.

Day 6

Not a lot of herping done, we went to the south to Vatera, which had a nice long beach, featuring some scorpions and many snake-eyed lacertids.

Day 7

On the final day we went for a hike near where our car had broken down. It was actually very nice. With many Balkan green Lizards and Snake-eyed lacertids, but no new species.

Conclusion

It was simply too hot and dry, with very low herp activity as a result. I did not go looking at night, which could have yielded some results. I was a bit disappointed by the truly extensive and ravaging grazing that was being carried out by goats everywhere, everywhere we walked, goat poo…

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Furthermore, Lesbos is often called ‘untouched’, in my experience however the agriculture is fairly extensive. Especially the insane amounts of goats, grazing down everything surely hurts the herps, only the thorniest of brushes remain. Additionally, almost every field is fenced, which makes herping difficult, although there were some abandoned olive gardens that could be accessed.dry2.jpgdry.jpg

Species

Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata) (20+)

Levant Water Frog (Pelophylax bedriagae) (20+)

Starred Agama (Laudakio stellio) (10+)

Snake-Eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii) (1)

Scheltopusik (Pseudopus apodus) (1)

Dahl’s Whip Snake (Platyceps najadum) (1)

Snake Eyed Lacertids (Ophisops elegans) (50+)

Balkan Green lizard (Lacerta trilineata) (15)

Kotschy’s Gecko (Cyrtodactylus kotschyi) (3)

Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) (1)

 

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