ROMANIA - APRIL 2019
Niklas and I had met twice in 2018 and since we're both cool guys, we decided to do another trip in 2019. Over the course of the winter we had many, many ideas about where to go and what to see, but one dream of ours stood out in immediately: We would both love to see lowland Meadow Vipers (Vipera ursinii). Our initial idea was to go for the Hungarian Meadow Viper (Vipera ursinii rakosiensis) in Romania, but due to our lack of time and the long travel to the area, where this subspecies occurs, we made a different plan. This time we planned to see the Moldovian Meadow Viper (Vipera ursinii moldavica). Since we knew this species occurs close to habitats of Nikolsky's Adders (Vipera nikolskii) we were even more intrigued to give this trip a try. We did our research and came up with the ideal place and time: Eastern Romania around Easter. We booked our flights and the hype began. About a week before the flight, Niklas visited me in the black forest where we (besides herping) booked car and accomodation for the trip. Everything was prepared.
April 18th The Shock
We arrived at the airport after a fairly short flight from Vienna. The car rental picked us up and we began going over details with them. One thing was foul though: We had to pay 50€ more for the insurance. Mad, but too tired to make a big deal out of it, we decided to pay the extra money, only to find out, that the car rentals machine was broke and I could not pay with my credit card. Gladly Niklas managed to pay, but the trip was off to a bad start. After a long drive through very bad traffic we arrived at our dodgy hotel. Being german we were very pissed and decided to go get some food. But no restaurant, so what to do? We went to the closest supermarket and decided to live off of bread and chocolate for the next day. Not wanting the day to end bad, we drove to a nearby amphibian habitat and managed to find a couple Fire Bellied Toads (Bombina bombina) along with Marsh Frogs (Pelophylax ridibundus) and calling Oriental Tree Frogs (Hyla orientalis) after dark. It got quite cold very quick, so we went back to the hotel. There we discovered, that our room had no heating so we had a cold night ahead. Niklas told his friend Sebastian Dörnemann about the whole situation and for some reason, Sebastian decided to join us and fly over the next day. I still dont know why he would have wanted to join after what we told him, but in the end, it was a good decision.
April 19th First viper and Sebastian arrives
Sebastians flight arrived in the afternoon, so in the morning, Niklas and I decided to head to the ursinii habitat. Arriving there, we got to whitness a pack of stray dogs emerge from an old pipe and go out for a hunt. A weird sight, that makes you think of the economical and ecological situation in this area. After seeing some wildlife in the early sunlight, the first herp showed up quite fast: A Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis). After short photo session we proceeded to search the steppe habitat but soon started to realise how hard it was ging to be to find one of europes rarest snakes in this grassland. Reptiles were quite rare overall and so all you can spot is an occasional lizard running off. However the lizards are very beautiful, mostly the male Sand Lizards (Lacerta agilis chersonensis). After a long time of nothing, Niklas shouted: "Theres a snake ... its an ursinii!". I saw something run off, but honestly I thought it was a lizard. But gladly I was wrong and Niklas had found our main target on the first morning. Due to being watched by a sheppered, we had a very quick photo session, before releasing the snake.
At around noon a storm came rolling in and so we drove back to the hotel and later picked up Sebastian. In the evening, we revisited the amphibian spot of the first night and found all of the same species along with Green Toads (Bufotes viridis) Spadefoot Toads (Pelobates fuscus) and Crested Newts (Triturus cristatus). It was a very good first full day and it definately made up for the shocking first day.
April 20th Nikolskii day
Exhausted from the steppe herping on the day before, we decided to head to a foresty area in search for our second target: Nikolsky's Adder (Vipera nikolskii). Having seen a lot of Adders (Vipera berus) in the weeks before the trip, I was quite keen to see these vipers, that appear to be very similar to Adders in many, but not all ways.
Arriving at the spot, we were not alone and so we had to wait for a couple of people to pass, before we could start our search. However, 5 minutes in, Niklas found an amazing nikolskii male. It was big, around the size of an adult Asp Viper but had the coloration of a Balkan Adder (Vipera berus bosniensis). It was weird, but awesome! After the first snake came a long time of not finding anything, until some clouds rolled in and covered the hot sun. Quickly the snakes began to come out again and so we found a couple Smooth Snakes (Coronella austriaca) before finally finding two more nikolskiis: One in shed and a black one. The final snake of the day was a small Grass Snake (Natrix natrix), coiled against a plastic bag next to the train tracks. In the same habitat we also saw a couple more Green Lizards.
we went for another quick amphibian session in the evening after eating a very good Pizza at an incredibly friendly restaurant. It was a really good day.
April 21st Steppe fail
Since Sebastian has not seen the first ursinii, it was obvious, where to spend the day. The morning started like the last one in the steppe with Green Lizards, then Sand Lizards. The only difference: No snakes this time. We walked the dry grassland for hours. The sun got hotter and hotter and after not even seeing any lizards in a while, we gave up hope and made plans to head back to the forest in search of more herp species. There, we found back 2 nikolskii from the day before, but no new ones, so we headed to a pond in search for amphibians. We had heard reports of Yellow Bellied Toads (Bombina variegata) from this area, but could only find more Fire Bellied Toads. Around that pond we also managed to find Agile Frogs (Rana dalmatina) and a single Common Frog (Rana temporaria). The evening was spent at our favorite pizza place again and we went to bed early to be ready for our final morning in Romania.
April 22nd Steppe showdown
On our final morning the weather seemed bad. It was cold, windy and the sun only came out a couple of times. Having seen a juvenile ursinii already, Niklas and I were fairly satisfied, but not super happy. Sebastian was really hoping for another viper aswell. The night before we had agreed upon a strategic way to search the area, rather than to walk all over the place. Limiting our search to only a small part of the valley, we began walking. Again the first reptiles we saw were Green Lizards, followed by Sand Lizards. I had already given up hope completely and was thinking about the flight home, when suddenly I spotted a beautiful pattern in the grass. There, in front of a hole layed the one thing we were hoping to see since January: A beautiful male Vipera ursinii moldavica. Needless to say, we were crazy happy. So happy in fact, that we did not want to push our luck on that spot and switched to another area in the valley, where we managed to find a shed, before it got way to windy for snakes. We were HAPPY! And so we drove to the airport early with a good feeling.
In conclusion, we had a good time in Romania. The herp species where beautiful and the people incedibly friendly. Going for these two viper species in only 4 days maybe was quite a high goal though, and although we found them, we were very exhausted after the trip. The most negative aspect was seeing the habitatloss the reptiles are facing. The vanishing steppes become more and more inhospitable to these animals and seem to soon be lifeless. Nevertheless, there seems to be hope as there are some specimen left, eventhough these do not seem plentiful.
I want to thank my friends Niklas and Sebastian for this great trip, I had an amazing time with you!
Hopefully we will be able to do another trip like this soon.
For a more extended trip report with great photography, please make sure to also check out Niklas' trip report:
Here are my 7 favorite images of this trip. Thank you for reading the report and
Lacerta agilis chersonensis
Natrix natrix natrix
Vipera ursinii moldavica