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! :)

Videos:


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






Thursday, September 29, 2016

Adventures in Malta

Hey, guys! This April we went on a 5 day vacation to Malta. It was very exciting - every day we got to a different interesting destination on the island - and I also got a chance to meet some fascinating animals. Our apartment was right next to the beach and there was a very cool bay with loads of crabs, sea snails, tube worms and even squids (I managed to catch one and the result I got was pitch-black clothes)! But my main goal was to catch one special snake (of 4 species total in Malta) - the Black Whip Snake.

Veined Rapa Whelks (Rapana venosa). Found those two in the bay alongside some crabs, shrimp and other cool critters.

My brother Fifo's crab buddy

I managed to meet this beauty face to face at the terrarium department of the Malta National Aquarium. 

European Chameleon (Chamaleo chamaleon). I was chasing an Ocellated Skink when I accidentally pushed this guy off the leaf he was standing on. At first he was green, but quickly changed to gray and then to black.

Close-up of the same individual (I mean the chameleon, not me. :P).


My sister Linka was the happiest of all. On the day before we got here I promised to find her a chameleon. Glad I was able to fulfill that promise.

The little bugger attracted some curious tourists who had never seen a chameleon. I had no choice but to answer their questions before releasing him back where I found him (across the road).

Last day on Malta. While we where waiting for our flight, we went to visit a very cool Chinese-themed garden filled with Wall Geckos (Tarentola mauritanica mauritanica), where I finally caught an Ocellated Skink (Chalcides occelatus). This is the only picture I have of it, so please don't mind my idiotic grin and admire the lizard 

And now, here's the crown of our trip - a young male Black Whip Snake (Coluber viridiflavus carbonarius). This is the only snake I caught on Malta, and it was exactly the one I was hoping for! I was "scavenging" the garden for probably an hour or so when finally was rewarded with success. At first he was very bite-y, but soon he got bored of it and honestly, I didn't care. In fact, for at least five minuets after I found him I was so excited that I sounded like a 10yo girl. :P

I told you he was feisty! 

My sis with her favorite plush owl, admiring nature while the snake is biting her ears (it's under her hair). :P

And so, our amazing journey to Malta ended with a blast! It was very fun, educating and most of all, successful. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Man vs Reptile

 Found this beautiful Grass Snake near my house. It wasn't something incredible, but it sure was gorgeous!
Trying to give an "One with nature" feeling to this photo. :P


Gotta love those shiny little jewels!




And here is another one, though this one is special. It's a mix between two subspecies (cetti x helvetica). It's not super rare, but definitely a cool find! 



And then there's me. With the snake on my back. Making weird faces again... :D



Tuesday, September 27, 2016

New record for fastest snake-finding! :P

Juvenile Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca). Sorry for the crappy photo, that's the only one that I managed to get. Found this cutie-pie under a piece of wood just 10 SECONDS after leaving the yard! I probably broke the previous world record for finding a snake that fast! :D

Pregnant lizard

A pregnant female Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis). Me and my little friend Toma, who came on a visit, found it under a piece of wood in the fields in front of my house.

Looks like it's tail has been bitten off in the past. And no, they don't give birth to live babies, this beauty is just filled with eggs.

Herping around in the village

So, me and my siblings decided to take our mom on a walk around the village, because she works a lot and though living here for like 5 years she still didn't get a good chance to look around and we decided it was 'bout time.

Shrew (Sorex araneus). Pretty common here, in the fields.


White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) footprint (with me for scale). :P

Female Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis)...

...and the rug we found it under.

Juvenile Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis) and me making weird faces.

Some sort of very injured beetle (probably a Green Lizard tried to eat it) that I assume it's some kind of dung beetle. I would very much appreciate if someone could give me an ID on it...

Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina). Very common in Bulgaria.

Underside of the same individual. Usually their underside colors are brighter.

A nest, probably belongs to a female Common Blackbird (Turdus merula). It still had chicks in it and momma got real angry when she saw us, so we took a quick shot and where back on track.


Glow worm of a firefly (Lampyridae sp.)

Yellow-belied Toad (Bombina variegata). My mom's favorite amphibian, besides the axolotl.

Defense mechanism (Same toad).

Another beetle. Again, I don't know what species it is so every piece of info will be greatly appritiated.

Another bug, a moth this time, that I don't know the name of. Though I got the feeling it's poisonous, so I washed my hands after that. Better safe than sorry.

I assume this is an ant queen, though not very sure...