The drive from Thessaloniki to Alessandroúpoli took a little over three hours along a good highway. David Nixon and Wolfgang were our drivers. Finding Hotel Bell Air took a little longer but we arrived in good enough time to consider a recce up the coast before darkness. On the road almost directly outside the hotel we encountered our first 'herp' an adult road-killed Thracian scheltopusik (Pseudopus apodus thracius).
Hotel Bell Air, Alessandroúpoli, our Base in Thrace
(click to enlarge any images)
Arriving at Hotel Bell Air in our herp bus
(l-r) Dave R., Axel, Dave N., Wolfgang & Øyvind
Our first herp was sadly a road-kill outside the hotel, an adultThracian scheltopusik, Pseudopus apodus thracius
Our apartment accommodation at Hotel Bell Air
The grounds and pool at Hotel Bell Air,
from as close as we ever got to it!
Hotel Bell Air boasted a number of amenities including a tempting pool in the grounds. During our stay we never went near the pool or any of the other facilities, in fact the other guests and the staff must have been puzzled about us: "those guys from England, they disappear in the morning when it is still dark, they don't reappear until well after dark at night, they never use the pool or come into the hotel itself, and sometimes pillow cases disappear from all the beds and then reappear a day later all covered in mud, blood and....."
Actually, the pillow case thing, it only happened once.
Shortly after arrival someone sighted a small tortoise which appeared to be trapped under a rock on the other side of a chain-link fence. As the oldest member of the party, but also the best climber in the group, it was up to me to climb over and check it out. The tortoise was long-dead, it was sadly not the last dead tortoise we saw on the trip.
Climbing over the fence to rescue a 'dead' tortoise!
photos: r: Wolfgang Wüster; c & l: Dave Nixon
Once we had settled in we drove up the coast a short way towards Mákri, looking for suitable herp habitat. We spent time in two locations.
Location one was a road-side dump, an unsightly place for tourists but a good place for herpetologists to search for reptiles and amphibians. However, this location was not very productive, we only found Greek spur-thighed tortoises (Testudo graeca ibera) and a few Balkan green lizards (Lacerta trilineata trilineata). Most of the tortoises were heavily parasitized with ticks so Øyvind pulled out a magnifying glass and a pair of forceps and proceeded to de-tick every one we encountered. There were also a large number of reddish centipedes under the trash, probably the highly variable Megarian banded centipede (Scolopendra cingulata).
Scubby hillside habitat between Alessandroúpoli and Mákri
Øyvind & Axel de-ticking a tortoise on the dump,
Wolfgang looks on and Dave takes photos
Looking for ticks
(photo: Dave Richards)
One of the offending ticks removed
(photo: Dave Nixon)
Location two was a low-land scrub area along a stream, just across the road from the beach. There was not much herpetofauna in evidence but I did capture a juvenile Thracian scheltopusik (Pseudopus apodus thracius) under a stone. The juveniles are beautifully marked compared to the unicolour brown adults and this was the first one any of us had ever seen although we were familiar with the adults which used to enter the pet trade in large numbers in decades gone by.
The coastal habitat fringing a stream, it was getting dark when we finished here
In darkness we drove back to the hotel to plan our four full days of herping over a few beers, and this re-grouping over a meal and beers became the relaxing moment of each evening.
Each evening we chilled out over a meal and a few beers
(photo: Dave Nixon)
The final evening's meal in Alessandroúpoli
(photo: Axel Barlow)