Sunday, July 23, 2017

Back With the Alfreys: Part 2

 Took me a little while, but here's part two of our adventure! :)

Part 2:

 Soon after my first visit at Shipka for the year, Dylan's family invited me over again. The first time wasn't anything special, but this time was expected to be different. Cuz on the day before I left, Dylan called me, saying he stumbled upon a dead Caspian whipsnake in the lake. The news had me very excited, for the Caspian whipsnake is my all time favorite snake. I was, of course, sad when I heard it's dead, but that means there is a chance of us finding a live one.

 After I got off the bus, me and Dylan went straight to the lake, not wasting even a second of daytime. It was the end of the mating season for the Asculapian snakes, so I had the chance to catch my first adult one!

A very sad sight, especially for me, was seeing my favorite species dead. Last time Archie, Dylan's little brother, spotted a very large snake near the lake. We couldn't catch it, but we assume it's highly possible it was the same snake as this Caspian.

I guess the poor fella got stuck in a net some lazy idiot threw in the water... :/  

Also had the chance to take a few shots of this rare prince!

Great Peacock moth, dead. Gabrielle (who, to my surprise, was still around) had found it a few days back.

This cutie-pie followed us for a little while on the way home. While I, as a cat person, was rambling about how cute it is, Dylan was making sure the whole village knows dogs are better, and Gabe was just standing there awkwardly. XD 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Back With the Alfreys: Part 1

 Hey guys! As I said in a previous post I was planning to go visit Dylan and his family once again. Last time I was in Shipka I made a post about it and it got pretty popular, so I hope this one is as good, if not better than the last one. Now, the story is quite long, so I'll split it in  three parts - one for each day I spent there.
 Credit for most of the photos (the prettier ones, to be exact XD ) goes to Chris, who you'll meet later in this post.

Part 1:

 I couldn't get on the early bus from Sofia to Kazanlak, so I took a late one instead, which was pretty awful. What was worse, though, was the fact that it wasn't even a bus, but a minivan. All the seats where taken, so there was too little room for comfort. The journey went on for about four hours, so it was very exhausting. When I finally arrived in Kazanlak it was already quite dark (about 9:00pm). Dylan was waiting for me. We took a taxi to his village, Shipka. While in the taxi, we caught up with each other for the past year or so. The poor driver was stuck listening to our excited babbling, but he didn't mind, especially when Dylan left a tip for him.

A funny looking pigeon at the bus station in Sofia.
 When we got to his house everybody was there waiting for us. Pete, sadly, couldn't make it to Bulgaria this year, since he was busy with his new baby, but promised to come and visit as soon as possible.
 The next day me and Dylan got pretty early and prepared ourselves for some early herping (about 10:00am, which is considered early for snakes and other herps). Didn't expect to see anything thrilling, so we just walked casually, catching up on what we haven't yet. First we stopped at the garden. Last night Dylan's mom, Sophie, told us that she saw a little dead snake there, but couldn't identify it, so we decided to look for it. It wasn't long before we discovered it - a young dead Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus):

Poor thing's head probably got smashed by a non-educated gardener or something.

 After we where done guessing the cause of death we moved along. Surprisingly, a lot of cold-blooded critters where out and about already. Green and Balkan green lizards where darting around in the bushes, and a lot of insects and arachnids where hiding under rocks and stuff.

A dead Green lizard (Lacerta viridis). It's tail and abdomen were probably bitten off.
False black widow. First time I've encountered one. It was definitely a cool experience, though Dylan is slightly terrified of spiders. XD

 At one point we reached a little water fountain. We wanted to drink, but it seems we weren't the only thirsty ones around:

Dylan specifically told me not to film him while he went for a drink with the bees. I'm not sitting on the sidelines, tough! Of course I'm gonna get all the action on camera. XD 

 The find of the morning was definitely this guy though:

 A juvenile Aesculapian snake. As soon as we saw him crossing the street we raced to catch him, because we had a bet who would catch more snakes on my visit - me or Dylan. Luckily, I caught this one (Dylan claims that he went easy on me this time, but he totally didn't XD) It was a pretty healthy lookin' fella, except for the tail, witch looked broken and twisted. Definitely a nice find, but our main goal was an adult one, 'cause I've never caught one before. 

Some more shots from our morning trip:

Those brown things that look like hanging poop are actually wasp nests.
Yup... definitely a new FB profile pic. XD
I don't know if it's visible, but there are threads of frog and toad eggs in this puddle.
A dragonfly, ready to emerge from his childhood and into adulthood.
Waiting for it's wings to strengthen and dry out. 

 Later that day Dylan's parents introduced us (well, Dylan already knew them) to Gabriel and Chris (he's the guy who made some of the photos on this post). The four of us where planning to go herping on the "herping/birding" road me, Dylan and Pete used to visit last year. It was nice to go back there, though we didn't see much snakes.

A truly magnificent looking Balkan green lizard.

And it wasn't just that one, we found a dead calf in a underground river pipe as well!
 At some point the wind brought an awful stench to our noses. It appeared to be a rotting dead cow. At first we where just standing there, looking at it, but Gabrielle broke the silence with a joke: "Well... I guess dinner is served?".
 We also found a few big Mediterranean banded centipede, of witch, oddly enough, I don't have any photos. Last time I argued with Dylan and Pete if those where dangerous to people. Chris, who's an entomologist, said that while they do possess venom, they aren't too dangerous to humans. Feeling confident, I looked at Dylan proudly: "Did ya hear that?". Though, as I said it, the centipede bit my right index finger. It stiffened momentarily from the venom and remained like that for the next half an hour, making flipping larger rocks a lot harder. Well, at least I learned my lesson...
 After a while we where ready to give up. It was too hot, we'd ran out of water and there was no sign of any snakes. Dylan, now angry and frustrated, flipped one last rock, and what he found under it was a huge female Smooth snake.

It was a big one, about 80 centimeters, witch is crazy for a Smooth snake, considering they are normally 60 or, rarely, 70cm, and the biggest one ever found is about 90cm!

It still wasn't as cool or rare as the combo-morphed "gold and cream" one from last year, but it was the biggest one each of the four of us had ever seen, so it was definitely a great find!

 So, that'll do for part 1 from my stay with the Alfreys. Soon I'll be posting part 2, so be sure to check it out as well. ;P

Friday, May 19, 2017

Smooth Snake Relocation Mission

 Yesterday (5/18/20017) I went to Samokov for karate practice. Usually this is when I visit the Iskar river, since it's right next to the building I train at. The weather was nice, so I decided it's gonna be a great time for a little herping. Sadly, I was wrong: I only saw about 4 or 5 snakes, all of which where Grass snakes, except a young female Smooth snake (Coronella austriaca). They are very rare in that section of Iskar that crosses the city, and the reason is very simple: they don't belong here.

 Usually, Smooth snakes end up in Samokov when the spring snow up in the mountain melts and the river drags them down to the city. Smooth snakes are reptilophagous (I don't know if that's even a real word XD ), meaning they prefer to eat reptiles such as lizards and rarely baby snakes. The problem, though, was that the wall alongside the river gives a huge advantage to the lizards to escape a hungry Smooth snake, leading it to its eventual starvation and death, which is the reason they haven't already created a stable population in this region. So, what I had to do, was to find a suitable bottle to keep the snake in while I was at practice, and when I was done - to take it to my village and release it in a proper habitat for it. Eventually I found my bottle. I made sure it's a water bottle, and not from beer or some other strong-scented beverage that the snake wouldn't be comfortable with. And, of course, I did look for an empty one.
 I made some holes in the bottle and introduced it to its temporary inhabitant. Luckily, the snake didn't mind it and snuggled in. I left the bottle in a dark hole in the wall, making sure its the kind of place a snake will feel most safe and secure in, and went to karate. Two hours later I was done and went to get the snake. Everything was alright, thank God, but the sun had almost went down, and the snake was a little cold, so I heated the bottle with my breath. It worked and the snake became a bit more active.
 When we arrived home we grabbed our bikes and raced to the hills to the west to catch the last sunlight. Sadly, we missed it. Nevertheless, we released the snake in a crack in the rocks, but not before we took a few goodbye shots:

 We where a bit surprised to see that in the crack there was already another Smooth snake, as if waiting for our little adventurer. Good thing is that Smooth snakes aren't territorial and don't fight with each other. They both snuggled in the hole and we left them in peace, and headed home with the feeling of a job well done.

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