Italy and Bulgaria, 27th of April to 11th of May 2009

This was mainly a trip to visit a couple of national parks in Europe for my book-project: “Guide to nature in Europe”. And since I have decided not to travel by air in Europe, I travelled by train. I bought the railpass for 10 travelling days within 22 days. At 5 a'clock on Sunday evening the 26th of April I took the night train from Copenhagen to Munich. The day after I continued to Bologna and then Foggia close to the Gargano national park. I arrived at 10 a clock in the evening the 27th of april and stayed at a hotel in Foggia.
Special thanks to Jeroen Speybroeck for tips for the trip.

28th of april, Tuesday

I collected my rental car at 9 a'clock and drove directly out of Foggia heading for Gargano. Outside Manfredonia I made the first stop by the road with a nice view over the Gargano mountains. The spring flowers were at itheir best and as the sun rose, the lizards started to be active. I saw a dark snake disappear under some tires and several Italian Wall Lizards, Podarcis siculus.

Italian Wall lizard, Podarcis siculus
Italian Wall lizard, Podarcis siculus

Lake Umbra
Lake Umbra

Common Toad Tadpoles, Bufo bufo
Common Toad Tadpoles, Bufo bufo

Red-eared Terrapin, Trachemys scripta
Red-eared Terrapin, Trachemys scripta

Wall Lizard, Podarcis muralis
Wall Lizard, Podarcis muralis

29th of april, Wednesday

I made a tour up to Forest Umbra and visited a lake (Lagetto d´Umbra) close to the information centre. Here were tadpoles of Common Toad, Bufo bufo, Red-eared Terrapin, Trachemys scripta, and Wall Lizard, Podarcis muralis. There had been a storm with heavy rain the days before and it was wet and muddy in the forest. I hoped to see Salamandra salamandra but without luck. The weather was good but I did not see or hear many lizards during the day. The main focus for me was the rich orchid flora in the area. At night I slept at hotel San Angel in Monte San Angel. The view from the village and the hotel was fantastic.

Italian Wall lizard, Podarcis siculus Tongue orchid, Serapias lingua
Italian Wall lizard, Podarcis siculus Tongue orchid Serapias lingua

Pasture close to Monte San Angel
Pasture close to Monte San Angel

Pasture close to Monte San Angel with Naked Man Orchid, Orchis italica
Pasture close to Monte San Angel with Naked Man Orchid, Orchis italica

Burnt orchid, Orchis ustulata
Burnt orchid, Orchis ustulata

Ponds in the south of the Gargano national park
Ponds in the south of the Gargano national park

30th of April, Thursday

I arrived to Venice in the morning and spent the day in the beautiful city with thousands of turists. In the afternoon I took the train to Villach in Austria where I changed to the night train for Beograd.

1st of May, Friday

I arrived to Beograd in the morning and changed for the train to Sofia in Bulgaria. I arrived to Sofia at 6 a'clock in the evening and met with my wife who had taken the plane. We stayed at Lion hotel not too far from the station.

2nd of May, Saturday

The rental car arrived to the hotel at 8 a'clock and we started the week-long tour in Bulgaria. First we went to Rila, three hours south of Sofia. At the slopes of the mountains there is a nice site with eroded hills where the rocks have protected pillars of red soil in nice formations. The sun started to warm the ground and a juvenile Green Lizard, Lacerta viridis, was seen.

Eroded hills south of Rila
Eroded hills south of Rila

Juvenile Green Lizard, Lacerta viridis
Juvenile Green Lizard, Lacerta viridis

The rest of the day we spent at the Rila Monastery and with a walk in the mountains up over the tree line. If was cloudy without any herpetofauna to be seen. At the lower part of the mountain the beech forest had got the leaves but higher up the spring had just started. The night was spent at the hotel next to the monastery.

The Rila Monastery
The Rila Monastery

The Rila Mountains
The Rila Mountains

3rd of May, Sunday

We continued to Pirin National Park and the city of Bansko at the northern side of the Pirin Mountains. The weather was not that nice but we made some excursions on the slopes of the mountains.

4th of May, Monday

In the morning we drove down to the Struma Valley and made some stops along the road to Melnik. It was a day with sunny weather after heavy rainfall during the night. We spent some hours in Melnik and in the hills around the small village but did not see much of herpetofauna. On a small road south of Melnik I found a dead Eastern Montpellier Snake, Malpolon insignitus, on the road (thanks Jeroen for identification).

A very dead Eastern Montpellier Snake
A very dead Eastern Montpellier Snake on the road south of Melnik

Putting potatoes in the field in the traditional way
Putting potatoes in the field in the traditional way

We continued through the Rodope Mountains on poor and twisting roads for seven hours until we reached Plovdiv (Google maps said three and a half hours). The landscape was wonderful with old time agriculture and a lot of people out on the fields working. Most farmers still use the horse for transport and plowing. In Plovdiv we stayed in the old city at a guesthouse.

The old Roman Theatre in Plovdiv
The old Roman Theatre in Plovdiv

5th of May, Tuesday

The morning we spent in Plovdiv and in the afternoon I drove my wife to the airport in Sofia. After that I continued to the Balkan National Park in the Central Balkan mountains. I made an excursion on the Trojan road over the mountains and then headed for Kalofer where I stayed at a very nice old style pension with the Tsutsov family. They have a nice homepage in English and also speak good English.

View from Central Balkan Mountains to the valley of Roses in the south
View from Central Balkan Mountains to the valley of Roses in the south

The Tsutsov pension in Karlof
The Tsutsov pension in Karlof

6th of May, Wednesday

The son in the family, Nicolay, offered me to join him for an excursion in the national park in the morning. The weather was wonderful and we drove up on very poor roads to a ravine with a nice nature trail. The trail had eight bridges over deep canyons. Beside the trail I saw a Wall Lizard, Podarcis muralis. It was still wet in the forest and we looked for Salamandra salamandra but without luck. At lunch I left Kalofer and drove to Sozopol south of Burgas at the Black Sea coast. I arrived at 6 a'clock and stayed for two nights. I was the only guest at the hotel since the season didn't really start until the 1st of June.

Nature trail in Central Balkan National Park
Nature trail in Central Balkan National Park

Wall Lizard, Podarcis muralis
Wall Lizard, Podarcis muralis

7th of May, Thursday

This was the first day I could spend completely focusing on herpetofauna during the hole trip. The weather was OK in the morning but became cloudy and cold in the afternoon. First I drove down to the river Ropotamo and made a walk along the river. Beside the boardwalks on the northern side of the road I saw Marsh Frogs, Pelophylax ridibundus, and Agile Frog, Rana dalmatina. The forest along the river was very nice and a longer walk in the area could have given more species. I continued with the car south to the Strandza National Park close to the Turkish border. The first stop was by the sea just inside the park. Here I found a Wall Lizard, Podarcis muralis, and also a Dice Snake, Natrix tessellata, that crossed the road.

The Ropotamo River
Nature trail in Central Balkan National Park

March Frog, Pelophylax ridibundus
March Frog, Pelophylax ridibundus

Wall Lizard, Podarcis muralis
Wall Lizard, Podarcis muralis

Dice Snake, Natrix tessellata
Dice Snake, Natrix Tessellata, crossing the road

I then drove up to the inland with forested hills and open pastures. This was a nice landscape for herpetofauna with low impact from modern agriculture and vast areas with shrubs, creeks, forest borders, open pastures etc. I saw more than ten killed snakes on the small road going through the area. I made several stops along the road in nice places and had several Green Lizards, Lacerta viridis, in nice colours. My hope was to find a Meadow Lizard, Darevskia praticola, and I took a lot of photos on every brown-gray lizard i found. Most of them were Wall Lizards, Podarcis muralis, Balkan Wall Lizards, Podarcis tauricus, and young Green Lizards, Lacerta viridis. Thanks to Jeroen Speybroek, the lizard in one of the photos was later identyfied as a Meadow Lizard, Darevskia praticola. This area is also the only place in Europe where you can find the Reddish Whip Snake, Coluber collaris.

The landscape in Strandza National Park
The landscape in Strandza National Park

Green Lizard, Lacerta viridis
Green Lizard, Lacerta viridis

Wall Lizard, Podarcis muralis
Wall Lizard, Podarcis muralis

Wall Lizard, Podarcis muralis
Wall Lizard, Podarcis muralis

Green Lizard, Lacerta viridis
Juvenile Green Lizard, Lacerta viridis

Meadow Lizard, Darevskia praticola
Meadow Lizard, Darevskia praticola

Meadow Lizard, Darevskia praticola
Meadow Lizard, Darevskia praticola

Meadow Lizard, Darevskia praticola
Meadow Lizard, Darevskia praticola

Balkan Wall Lizard, Podarcis taurica
Balkan Wall Lizard, Podarcis taurica

Green Lizard, Lacerta viridis
Green Lizard, Lacerta viridis

I returned back to the area south east of the bridge over Ropotamo River. This nice peninsula just north of Priomorsko seems to be a very nice area for herpetofauna and can only be reached from the south. I just drove up on the hills and back but saw almost ten killed snakes and lizards on the road. Among them a European Glass Lizard, Pseudopus apodus, and Dice Snake, Natrix tessellata. When I took a photo of the Glass Lizard I heard something in the grass beside the road and found a Spur-thighed Tortoise, Testudo graeca. I then stopped at the lake north of the river where there is a boardwalk out in the reeds in the lake. Here were hundreds of Fire-bellied Toads, Bombina bombina, and Marsh Frogs, Pelophylax ridibundus. My last stop was at the lagoons south of Dyuni and the sand dunes along the coast. I had a lot of birds very close and a Dice Snake, Natrix tessellata.

The Lagunes
The Lagunes

A dead European Glass lizard, Ophisaurus apodus
A dead European Glass Lizard, Ophisaurus apodus

Spur-thighed tortoise, Testudo graeca
Spur-thighed tortoise, Testudo graeca

Spur-thighed tortoise, Testudo graeca
Spur-thighed tortoise, Testudo graeca

Spur-thighed tortoise, Testudo graeca
Spur-thighed tortoise, Testudo graeca

Dead snake Dead Dice Snake
Dead Snake Dead Snake

Dice Snake, Natrix tessellata
Dice Snake, Natrix tessellata

The lagoons south of Dyuni
The lagoons south of Dyuni

Juvenile Green Lizard, Lacerta viridis
Juvenile Green Lizard, Lacerta viridis

8th of May, Friday

This day I had to wait until 8:30 before I could check out from the hotel. Then I drove down to the information centre by the lagoons south of Burgas. A very nice volunteer from the Peace Corps showed me around. Then I made a walk out to the hide and along the coast. Here were a lot of cormorants, Little Egrets, Grey Herons, Mute Swans, Avocets amd Black-winged Stilts. It was difficult to see the lizards razzling in the high grass and reeds. On the way back I had two small Dice Snakes, Natrix tessellata on the path and Marsh Frogs, Pelophylax ridibundus, croaking in the fresh water lagoons. Just when I was almost back at the car I found a very big snake on the side of the path. It seemed as it had got stuck by making a knot of itself around reed straws. I tried to see the head and get some photos but it was difficult in the high grass. Finally I could see the head of what was a Large Whip Snake, Dolichophis caspius, almost one and a half meter long. It had a nice yellow and red head. This was in the very last minutes because after this I started my three day trip back home to Sweden. First I had a 5 hour drive back to Sofia where I spent the night at Lion hotel.

Poda Nature Reserve
Poda Nature Reserve

49 Brown Argus, Aricia agestis
Brown Argus, Aricia agestis

Dice Snake, Natrix tessellata
Dice Snake, Natrix tessellata

Dice Snake, Natrix tessellata
Dice Snake, Natrix tessellata

Large Whip Snake, Dolichophis caspius
Large Whip Snake, Dolichophis caspius

Large Whip Snake, Dolichophis caspius
Large Whip Snake, Dolichophis caspius

9th to 11thof May, Saturday to Monday

I took the train from Sofia for Beograd at 11:55 and arrived at 20:00. The night train for Wien via Budapest left at 22:00 and arrived at 9:00. I then took a train for Munich and then the night train for Copenhagen. Around lunch on Monday 11th of May I was back home in Lund.

/Per Blomberg

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