Macin and Iasi

The first part of this trip we followed the Danube in western direction. It is a stunning example of an undisturbed river-ecosystem. No dikes, no levees, no fences, no industry.

The river still has many side-streams and swamps providing good breeding grounds for fish. And the broad beds of reed aside give room to many birds.

Slightly higher up the riverbank there are the zones that don’t get flooded anymore. Here are small scale agricultural fields. Without fences, so shepherds wander freely over the area. Next to the (geographically young) river are the (very old) rounded hills. We visited these hills near the town of Macin (two hours stop) before taking on the track to Iasi.

With an hourly average of barely 50 km, travelling through the Romanian countryside is much different from what the internet route planners want you to believe. Of course the roads are not always as good as you would like them to be. But on top of that traffic gets slowed down by the omnipresent horse-powered wooden carts, still widely used for transporting peaple as well as cargo. Many are driven by Roma people, and often they are loaded with complete hay piles.

So after some five hours we arrived in the city of Iasi (pronounced as “jashj”) to meet our guide Alex Strugariu.

A view from Macin hills 
Another view from the Macin Hills on the fenceless fields in the valley below. 

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Reptiles & amphibians surrounding of Macin
Danube crested newt Triturus dobrogicus 5
Common newt  Lissotriton vulgaris 2
Fire-bellied toad  Bombina bombina several
Green toad  Pseudepidalea viridis 1
Common spadefoot  Pelobates fuscus larvae
Spur-thighed tortoise  Testudo graeca 7
Green lizard  Lacerta viridis >10
Sand lizard  Lacerta agilis 10
Balkan wall lizard  Podarcis taurica >20
Large whip snake Dolichophis caspius 2
Grass snake  Natrix natrix 2
Other highlights
Golden eagle Aguila chrysaetos x
Booted eagle Hieraaetus pennatus x
Grey-headed woodpecker Picus canus x
European souslik Spermophilus citellus x
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On our way to Iasi we also inspected a ditch near Galati. Habitat of fire-bellied toad, common 
spadefood, common newt and the Danube crested newt. In a tense moment Guido is
fulfilling his dream: catching a Danube crested newt
And here a close up, beautifully showing the characteristic white speckles on its throat.

Iasi and surroundings

Iasi is situated in the district of Moldavia, the poorest region of Romania. Moldavia existed as an independent state from the 14th century until 1859. The western part of Moldavia is now a part of Romania with Iasi being its capital. East of the river Proet, the eastern part of Moldavia now forms the Republic of Moldovia.

After Bucharest, Iasi is the largest city of Romania, with more than 500.000 inhabitants. The city is the economic, cultural and academic centre of the region Moldavia. Iasi has five public and three private universities and accommodates almost 60,000 students. We were surprised by the beauty of Iasi’s churches, university buildings, theatres, not to mention its colourful people …

Students dominate the modern centre of Iasi.
A big contrast with the world outside Iasi: welcome back in the world of carts…

On the edge of extinction: Europe’s rarest adder

The hills surrounding Iasi are covered with forests and halfopen country, with friendly small villages scattered around. Our main goal here was to find Vipera ursinii moldavica and Vipera berus. The next morning, after a good night’s sleep in a typical Romanian hotel, Alex took us to a grassland area just outside the city. At first sight, the area, although rich in flowers, did not seem particularly interesting for reptiles. We probably wouldn’t have stopped here at all if it wasn’t for our guide Alex to tell us that these small pockets of grassland host one of the last remaining populations of Vipera ursinii moldavica. Given the nearby, and ever expanding, city limits and the increasingly intensive farming practices in the surrounding area, it is even more astonishing that this last resort of V. ursinii moldavica has no protected status! Romanian biologists, however, do recognise the importance of this habitat, and have been trying for years to convince the Romanian government to legally protect the area. For this single field belongs to the very last acres where this subspecies still occurs!

We made a walk through the grasslands in the morning. The diversity of flowering plants seemed unbeatable. The downside of this was that some of us were struck by a severe hay fever. After a while we managed to locate five Vipera ursinii moldavica. All were found in patches of bare ground and low vegetation. Other highlights of these steppe-like meadows are mammals such as sousliks and several species of hamster and molerat, not to mention the variety of insects.

The burrows of the molerats (Spalax graecus) form small open patches in the vegetation, providing the adders places to catch some sun. 

These colourful grasslands are one of the last strongholds of Vipera ursinii moldavica.
Vipera ursinii moldavica (female)  

Because of the high temperatures we decided to spend the afternoon in a forest on the other side of Iasi. Here we found many northern crested newts and common newts. Later that day we went back to the ursinii-grasslands to do some photography.

Even carts make road victims. Here a subadult European pond terrapin.

The next day Alex took us to the Barnova forest to search for common viper, Vipera berus. A large percentage of the population here is melanistic. We stopped at a small train station in the woods to walk along the railroad. Despite the heat that day, we found three common vipers, one of which was black, and several smooth snakes. This population is studied by Alex and his colleagues, so all specimens were caught for Alex to take measurements and photograph the head pattern for individual recognition.

Railtracks provide excellent habitat for reptiles, because of the open edges where the soil
heats up quickly. 
Vipera berus was our target species in this area. We were lucky to find several.
Especially the black variety

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