Khosrov Reserve

The last 45 minutes of our three hour ride from Yerevan to Khosrov Nature Reserve were in complete darkness. Surprisingly, the old Lada with Marine and Aslan, the man we picked up in Vedi, seemed to easily overcome the bumps and holes of the dirt road leading us to the reserve. Our comfortable, but much bigger Ford bus barely managed to keep up. The road in front of the headlights, full of rainpuddles, formed our only view of the landscape. The sound of calling lemon-yellow tree frog and marsh frog added to the atmosphere.

On arrival we were warmly welcomed by the family who would be our hosts for the next two days. One of their bedrooms was used to serve us coffee and supper first, and was then transformed into our bedroom by evacuating the beds, so that enough ground space was left to fit in our six camping pads.

What a welcome in Khosrov! All in the same room: (1) a warm welcome, (2) a warm meal and (3) a warm blanket.
After our meal and some Armenian drinks we changed the room in our sleeping place
Herping in the valley on the first morning. Very exciting..
Marine and Anna are taking data from some of the captured animals. After that the animals are released.

The next morning, we were delighted by the view of the luscious mountain valley that surrounded us. We felt very privileged that, thanks to the arrangements made by Marine, we had the opportunity to be in this reserve, a 239 km2 large, wild and remote area of high mountains and deep valleys, and with an old forest which is said to be planted in the years 330-338 A.D. by the Armenian king Khosrov. At present, Khosrov Reserve still harbours much wildlife, including bear, wolf, lynx and a few remaining leopards. Just climb to any hilltop in Khosrov and you will find yourself amidst of sheer pristine mountainous landscape, devoid of cars, buildings, people nor plains as far as the eye can reach. 

That day we first explored some of the south-facing slopes in the valley upstream from the farm where we stayed. This resulted in our first Caucasus frog. Snake-eyed lacertid, Strauch’s runner, glass lizard and worm snake were common, and there were a few Darevskia raddei and dotted dwarf snakes around. Again we were surprised to find a beautiful Schneider’s skink. But due to the relatively cool weather and the fact that winter had lasted longer than usual this year, reptile numbers were rather low.

After a well-prepared Armenian-style lunch, the afternoon was spent around the farm. ‘Snake of the day’ was an adult coin-marked snake, that measured 1,64 m. Also new to us was Schmidt’s whip snake. A most spectacular road victim that afternoon was a 1.26 m long blunt nosed viper, found near the farm. It was fresh dead, and very unfortunate, since traffic on this road is very low. The offer by our Armenian colleagues to prepare the snake for supper couldn’t, of course, be refused.

An evening walk up to a steep mountain slope not far from the farm was very interesting. Quite a few Schneider’s skinkswere found, as well as a Dahl’s whip snake. By coincidence, turning a large stone revealed a well-preserved khachkar, a typical Armenian carved memorial stone. On our return, when passing a shepherd summer camp, two large dogs came to us and showed their teeth to impress us. 

In the meantime, George Papov and Tigran Hayrapetyan, had arrived to reinforce our group. They would travel with us for the rest of our trip in Armenia. Before dusk, a mist net had been installed by them along the river. Unfortunately, no bats were found caught when checking the net later that evening. Temperatures had dropped considerably and bat activity, apparently, was very low: Ben’s bat detector only picked up a few distant (and unidentified) pipistrelles.

Another aspect of Khosrov: dry semi-desert, and sheep. These nomadic shepherds certainly have an impact on the landscape

The second day in Khosrov was largely spent on a plateau, about an hour walking from the farm. On our way up we found Dahl’s whip snake, dotted dwarf snakeand our first Caucasian agama. Although reptile activity, overall, was not yet at its top, Khosrov certainly was a delightful area to klooi around.

Our landlady and her family studying our field guides.
Tigran, George, Kosta and Guido discuss politics and Nagorno Karabakh

The taste of Viper

Our first big viper (Macrovipera lebetina obtusa) was a dead one, just caught by a car. None of us had ever seen any viper of this size: 1.26 meter in length. Very impressive! Now what to do with it? Throw it away? What a waste. So, our Armenian friends proposed to get the still fresh meat prepared for dinner. Great experience. It tastes like chicken, a bit more ‘elastic’ between the teeth.

Reptiles & amphibiansKhosrov
Lemon-Yellow tree frogHyla savignyicall
Marsh frogPelophylax ridibunda>10
Caucasus frogRana macrocnemis5
Green toadBufo viridis1
Caucasian agamaLaudakia caucasia1
Strauch’s runnerEremias strauchi>10
Snake-eyed LacertidOphisops elegans>20
 Darevskia raddei2
Glass LizardOphisaurus apodus>10
Schneider’s SkinkEumeces schneideri6
Worm snakeTyphlops vermicularis>30
Dotted dwarf snakeEirenis punctatolineatus5
Coin-marked snakeHemorrhois nummifer1
Schmidt’s whip snakeHierophis schmidti1
Dahl’s whip snakePlatyceps najadum5
Grass snakeNatrix natrix1
Blunt nosed viperMacrovipera lebetina
Other highlights  
Common RosefinchCarpodacus erythrinus5
Red-fronted SerinSerinus pusillus5
Cretzschmar’s BuntingEmberiza caesia2
Monk Vulture Aegypius monachus1
LammergeierGypaetus barbatus1
Long-legged BuzzardButeo rufinus1
Booted EagleHieraaetus pennatus1
Worm snake (Typhlops vermicularis) was the most common species alongside the track
Bart taking pictures of coin marked snake.
Coin marked snake (Hemorrhois nummifer) had exactly the same pale grey colour as Macrovipera lebetina obtusa. Where this species co-exists with Macrovipera xanthina (Western Turkey) the nummifer shows more contrast (like xanthina). And where nummifer lives together with Macrovipera palestinae (Israel) the nummifer is as blotched as the palestinae. This indicates mimicry.
Strouch’s runner (Eremias strauchii) inhabited in abundance the sandy parts of Koshrov.
Eirenis punctatolineatus, the smallest of all snakes we found, was also common. This juvenile only measured about 20 cm. The dorsal pattern fades as the snakes grow.
Schneider’s skink (Eumeces schneideri).
Darevskia raddei.

Ben photographing the extremely hairy Stachys lavanduliifolia, commonly found on rocky slopes