Thursday, April 27, 2017

Grass Snake Mating Season

 Today and yesterday I'm all about snake-hunting, because it's one of the best times of the year for herping - the mating season. Grass snakes are everywhere at the Iskar river in Samokov, so I decided to take advantage of the moment.

The first two snakes I caught yesterday, a big female (left) and a gorgeous olive-green male (right). Though not the most spectacular in terms of size, the male, without a doubt, was the find of the day for me. 
Another shot of the two.
Headshot of the male only.
After releasing those two I continued my journey. Though not the most pleasant to the eye, the Samokov part of Iskar is a great place for herping.

View to the north
View to the south.
A pretty healthy looking male Natrix.
Awesome shot of the same individual I'm especially proud of. XD
What I noticed is that during mating season the best strategy to find a lot of snakes is to find a big female, they're often in the center of a huge area filled with males. One female means a handful of males.
Later on, I stumbled upon a ball of six baby Grass snakes basking in the sun in one of the cracks of the wall. I didn't manage to take a shot, sadly, because they quickly scattered in all directions.
In the evening, when I was back in my village, me, my sis and bro stayed up late outside. Our game of hide and seek was interrupted by a stunningly beautiful Great peacock moth. Here they're pretty damn rare, so I was very excited to see one.

Isn't it a beauty? They're famous for having unique patterns on their wingtips that represent snake heads to scare some predators away.
 The next day I went to Samokov again, but this time my bro Fifo accompanied me.
The first snake we caught today, a normal sized male Natrix natrix. It was a good start.
Derp. :P
Another three males. My theory from yesterday clearly appeared  to be correct - these three naughty boys where trying their luck with a fairly big female, which, unfortunately, slithered away before we could catch it.
While looking for snakes, Fifo found a nest with cute little birdies inside. I couldn't get an ID on them, 'cuz we didn't want to disturb them for too long.
Besides baby birds we also found an adorable little mouse. (> v <)
Ok, this guy was straight up odd. When we caught him he started SPITTING saliva from his mouth at us like a spitting cobra instead of the normal disgusting mucus from the cloaca. 
Dice snake (Natrix tessellata). Pretty rare in Samokov.
Another shot of the same individual.
Find of the day was this huge female Fifo caught all on his own. He is very proud of himself and so am I.
Strange thing was that there where absolutely no males around, considering the size of that big girl.

I couldn't miss the opportunity to make a new facebook profile pic. XD 
Last snake of the day - a very nice looking male Dice snake. We where very surprised to see a second one despite them being so rare in our region.

Lets hope I can make as many herping trips as possible before the mating season ends. Oh, and by the way, next month I'll probably be visiting Dylan Alfrey from the Balkan Ecology Project once again, so stay tuned for the upcoming awesome adventures!


Note: I forgot to speak English in the vids, so I apologize to all viewers who don't know Bulgarian. :P



Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Samokov Herping 2017

 Today I went to Samokov to repair my bicycle that I haven't used for about two years. The bike looked terrible, all dusty and warped in spider webs, but after the man I took it to finished repairing it, it actually started looking like a suitable vehicle. So, while waiting for the bus, I decided to go on a little herping trip at the Iskar river. Loads of Wall lizards, as always, but I also managed to catch a young male Grass snake, the first snake I've caught in my home region this year.

 After I was done herping, I thought it would be very nice to just ride my bike around the city, listening to music on my headphones (I bring them literally everywhere). I felt so good and free, I didn't feel like taking the bus to my village, but ride my bike through the fields instead. It was a long trip, maybe 30-40 minutes or so, I can't remember, I lost track of time.
 While I was pedaling my way to the village, I got the opportunity to do a little on-road birdwatching. Common buzzard, White stork, Common kestrel and Common raven are some of the more interesting species I stumbled upon.

Was nearly home when this guy showed up. He got pretty angry and growled when I started taking pictures. The little bugger was in the middle of the road, so I had to move him aside.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

March Update: South Park Herping

 Spring has officially begun, and so has the mating season for most animals, which means the time for herping has come. So today, I'll show you guys everything I've seen so far in the month of March.

Agile frog (Rana dalmatina). Saw this one in my backyard while eating breakfast.
Isn't it a beauty?

As I said, mating season has started for many species. Butterflies are no exeption.

 I spent the first weekend of March in Gotse Delchev, southern Bulgaria, staying at my cousin's house. Not much went on then, except that the weather was a lot warmer there, meaning that the reptiles had already awakened from their winter hibernation. Loads of Wall lizards where darting around on the walls on both sides of the nearby river. In one of the cracks of that wall I found a dead Great Tit, which at first I assumed suffocated in the wall, but then it all became clear - a young adult male Caspian Whipsnake had captured and killed it. As soon as I moved the bird aside, the snake hissed and slithered further underground before I could even catch it. So, yeah... sorry guys, no photos of it, yay!

 On the 24th of March, I traveled to Sofia to help some friends with a garden they where working on. After the work was done, I headed for the park in southern Sofia, called the South Park. It's a pretty popular place, and some cool animals could be seen there, too. Last September me and Dylan Alfrey went there herping and found some beautiful Grass and Dice snakes, as well as European pond turtles and some Red-eared Sliders. So, after the garden work was done, I decided to visit it once again.

The stunningly beautiful ponds in the southern part of  South Park. Here I find most interesting animals I see in Sofia.

Some ducks are swimming in the ponds as well, alongside the snakes and turtles. There's also a ton of fish and crayfish.

Some more landscape shots.

A dead duck, probably killed by a dog. A sad sight, indeed, but it cannot be helped in the park, where dogs interact with wild animals.

And here's my first snake of the year. It's a totally ordinary Grass snake, but it still was a cool find.

Challenge for all of my fellow herpers: Try to find a snake while listening to music. It's A LOT harder than it sounds. :P
Red-eared Slider. They aren't native to Bulgaria, but a lot of irresponsible pet owners release them in the wild, resulting in them creating a fairly stable population.

Some more shots of the same individual.

 Now, time for some videos! ;P Sorry for the awful quallity, but the Grass snake wraped itself around my phone earlier and covered my camera with mud.




Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Back in Business

 Hi, guys! Long time no see. :)
 Today me and my family went to get new haircuts and I decided to check on the critters in the Iskar river nearby. I didn't see any snakes, but there were Wall lizards (Podarcis muralis) already zooming about, so you'll maybe start seeing more of me pretty soon! 
P.S: Sorry, no pictures this time, I didn't have the opportunity to take some shots. :P

Friday, September 30, 2016

Herping with Dylan and Pete

This July I went to visit my friend Dylan Alfrey from the Balkan Ecology Project in Shipka. He's a herper like me, so the main goal of the visit was to go snake hunting together. His uncle Peter Alfrey, who is a birder, was with us on every trip. I was there for a week or so and for this much time we caught amazing stuff. I really wanted to see an Aesculapian Snake (Elaphe longissima), which I didn't have a chance to do, but I'm okay with that. Anyways, here are the photos.

Me and Dylan looking for skinks.

The first snake we caught together. In the evening on the same day I got there me, Dylan and Pete went on a little herping/birding expedition. We where just talking about how Dylan had never seen a Smooth Snake up close, and the minute we got out of the car, under the first rock I lifted, there was a juvenile female Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca). Dylan was very excited, and so was I.

Spurge Hawk Moth caterpillar (Hyles euphorbiae). Loads of those on the herping/birding road the three of us visited almost every day. We wanted to take the first three we found with us, but unfortunately lost them in the car. :P

This is the habitat of our herping/birding road. While me and Dylan where herping, Pete would take out his binoculars and start searching for birds.

Evening on day one. We where releasing the Smooth Snake we caught earlier in the Alfrey's garden when suddenly Dylan saw this magnificent Natrix natrix in the pond, and jumped in to catch it before it could escape. Yeah, herpers are crazy! :P

European Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis). We found this and one other at Haji Dimitrovo lake. This particular one had it's back right leg bitten off, probably by a pike. We placed them both in the pond back at base.

Pete, Dylan and I often took Stoyan (on the left) on herping trips with us. 

We went up in the mountains (in the background) to look for cool stuff, like Horn-nosed Vipers, but didn't find any. Instead, our faithful 4x4 companion decided to "die" on the way back. We where driving on inertia for around 15-20 minuets when we finally stopped.   

Paul, Dylan's dad, came to the rescue.

While we were waiting for Paul I aimlessly flipped an old inflatable baby pool and found the most amazing thing we have seen during my visit, and maybe the most amazing thing we've seen at all - a female combo-morph gold and cream Smooth Snake. This buddy is SO rare, I didn't know they even existed! The four of us where very excited, especially me and Dylan.

After releasing the gold and cream Smooth Snake we found another one, this time a juvenile male. We released this one in the nearby river because Dylan wanted to test if Smooth Snakes are good swimmers. The result was positive.

Last day at Shipka. Dylan, Pete and I went to a small lake to look for Grass Snakes. We found two huge ones (95cm and 110cm). They where both eating the same frog.

Of course, Pete couldn't go without a selfie with the big one! :D

All in all, I spent some great quality time with people who understand my passion and learned many new things. Thanks everybody! :)


Gold and cream Smooth Snake

Me catching the two huge Grass Snakes

Dylan made a video featuring all critters we caught during my visit. I helped him a bit (not a lot, he made pretty much the whole thing), but he still gives me some credit for it because it wouldn't exist if we hadn't found these amazing creatures together. Thanks, bro! ;)

Link to Pete's blog, if someone's interested in birding: 

P.S: The photos from this post aren't mine, Pete made them. I just asked him for permission to use them