A fall trip to the Balkans

After several issues with our cars over the last two years, Judy got a new car and we decided to convert it into a micro-camper with plenty of help from her brother. With the newly won freedom of being able to sleep basically anywhere, we soon decided to do a classic end-of-the-season panic trip. As per usual there could only be one destination: the northern Balkan countries. Niklas and his girlfriend Tabea had similar plans and so we made a targetlist and agreed on a tour. Our main target was the leopard snake (Zamenis situla), a species that I have failed to see in all of my six years of intense herping. Besides situla, we hoped to see Cat-eyed snakes (Telescopus fallax) and as usually, the vipers. 

In the end, we stayed on the Balkans for about two weeks from the end of September to early October. Eventhough the Bora winds made times a bit difficult, we were able to visit all of our destinations in fairly good conditions. We began our trip in Slovenia with the usual viper targets, continued to the adriatic coast in Croatia and finished the trip in the Croatian backcountry with some wildlife targets we have been wanting to see for a while.

1. Northern Slovenia

No Balkans trip without a stop in northern Slovenia and no Balkans trip without Nose-horned vipers (Vipera ammodytes). Luckily we were able to check these two points of our list within in the first two days. After a long night of driving and a very rainy night in our camper, we went to a spot, that we have known for a long time and found two vipers in very short time. We also found many dice snakes (Natrix tessellata), a small whip snake (Hierophis (viridiflavus) carbonarius), Wall lizards (Podarcis muralis), Eastern green lizards (Lacerta viridis) and common toads (Bufo bufo). Since I still had some redemption to do at a very well known mountain, where three viper species occur, we soon headed up a very bumpy road, finally having a car that was able to take us there. It did not take long and Judy found the first adder (Vipera berus), which marked the final species for me in that place. We spent the night in the forest and checked the spot again in the morning, finding some more vipers. Our plans to visit the adriatic coast were crossed by the Bora winds that day, since many roads and bridges were closed for safety reasons, so we drove to southern Slovenia and waited for another night.

2. Adriatic coast

After waiting a night in southern Slovenia, the winds finally calmed down and we were able to make it to the coast, where we met Tabea and Niklas. We went to a location, where Judy and I had failed to see Leopard snakes in spring, which nevertheless seemed very promising. And fair enough, Tabea found our first ever Leopard snake (Zamenis situla) that night! Full of excitement we went for nose-horned vipers the next day, not only finding our target, but also a Balkan whip snake (Hierophis gemonensis) and Dalmatian wall lizards (Podarcis melisellensis). That night we tried to push our luck and went to another spot for Leopard snakes. After a short while, finding a juvenile viper, Tabea again found a leopard snake! At this point it seemed ridiculous to find two of these snakes without a single Cat-eyed snake, so we tried again the next night. That night, we finally managed to find Cat-eyed snakes (Telescopus fallax) and again another Leopard snake. Besides that, we found a few different mantis species, wolf spides, scorpions and European green toads (Bufotes viridis).

And then we finally took some time for another main target of the trip: the predatory behaviour of nose-horned vipers in fall. At this time, the vipers lay in ambush on branches in anticipation of migratory birds landing in front of them. For European standarts it was a very unusual sight, seeing snakes, specifically vipers up in the bushes and trees. Almost all the vipers we saw were found like this.

3. Plitvice National Park and Croatian backcountry

After a very successful time on the coast, we had two difficult days in the Croatian backcountry, only adding Aesculapian snakes (Zamenis longissimus), Smooth snakes (Coronella austriaca), an Eastern Montpellier snake (Malpolon insignitus) and Slow worms (Anguis fragilis) to our species list. We then moved on to the famous Plitvice National Park to do some photography. Besides the beautiful landscapes, we were also able to find the first Ural owls of the trip near the park. 

4.  Croatian Forests

After Plitvice we again focused more on wildlife, mainly deer, bears and owls. We moved to an area with very old forests and found a very trusting Ural owl there. We were able to photograph it for four evenings, even being able to observe it hunt several times. Besides this however, we saw very little animals and no herpeto-species whatsoever. It still proved to be a very successfull destination for photography and so we drove back to Germany very happy.