North border. August 2019

Updated: Sep 23, 2019

Being a Peloponnese native, I feel blessed when the discussion comes to reptiles. But northern Greece has its own unique fauna and it is with great expectation that I travel north, almost every year. This time I had a special lizard in mind. Zootoca vivipara is a small lizard found in a vast range in Europe and Asia, all the way to Japan. It is found far above the Arctic Circle, its success being the fact that it gives birth to live small lizards instead of laying eggs. And that is because it can bask in the sun and warm itself and the embryos. Last year, friend Ilias Strachinis together with Korina Karagianni, Martin Stanchev and Nicola Stanchev, published a paper about a population they found exactly at the north border of Greece (with Bulgaria). In my quest to see and photograph every species of reptile in Greece, I had to visit this small area. So we arranged with Bulgarian naturalists and photographers Martin Popov, Julian Bojilov and Miroslav Todorov to go together and find them.


Zootoca vivipara female, basking on a log

Another female under the sun. The animals were active in the late morning, and very common in their habitat

Male Zootoca vivipara. They can be found in the grass and also basking on logs

Baby Zootoca vivipara. The juveniles are very dark, almost black when seen in poor light

male animal. We could not stop photographing them

Martin and Juli making photos

After leaving our Bulgarian friends, I met my old friend Giorgos Spyridakis for a search on the same mountains. We tried to find Vipera berus. We had no results, but we found other beautiful creatures


Giorgos scanning the slopes for Rupicapra

Lacerta viridis on Rhodope Mts

Anguis fragilis on Rhodope Mts. In fact we found these lizards up to very high altitude, above trees

Sleeping site on the mountain

Lacerta agilis

Rana graeca in the brook

Large female Rana graeca in its habitat

Rhodope forests

Young Anguis fragilis lower in the forests. This legless lizard and Lacerta viridis are the commonest species in the forests

Leaving Rhodope Mountains I headed west, to a mountain on the border again. There I searched again for Vipera berus and other critters, this time with some success. I happened to find a female pregnant Vipera berus bosniensis basking in early morning sun to warm its little snakes inside.


Vipera berus bosniensis at last

Vipera berus bosniensis, pregnant. You can easily see the bulge at the rear end, just before cloaca, where the little snakes are.

The last leg of the trip was to the shores of Lake Prespa and the forests around. The weather was very hot making it very difficult to find things. But I had a very rare experience. As I was walking in an oak forest one afternoon, I spotted and old tortoise carapace. I decided to make a photo of this, lying on the ground to include the trees on the background. As I stood up, I noticed a female Vipera ammodytes, which were sitting motionless among the oak leaves. It didn't move, nor hiss at all. I had placed my cheek at 10 cm from it. After that I continued to make some photos of this calm snake, which didn't move for at least half an hour with me all over it. A great snake indeed!


The first photo I made of the decomposing carapace, before noticing the viper

The viper photographed in situ, exactly where it was lying motionless. I had placed my face and hands at 10 cm from it

The same beauty, in situ close up

Male Algyroides nigropunctatus

Young Lacerta viridis hiding and basking in the thicket

A freshly killed Dolichophis caspius by the road. Unfortunately I didn't find a live one

Pelophylax kurtmuelleri, common everywhere

Bufotes viridis, easily to find at night on the roads

Podarcis erhardii riveti., common at some places

Female Podarcis muralis, common lizard in the oak forests and the mountains

Male Podarcis muralis

Circaetus gallicus, the professional reptile hunter


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