Kresna area

The first spot we visited on our trip was the area around Kresna, a small village in southwest Bulgaria, 120 kilometers south of Sofia, close to the Greek border. The road passing right through the village is the main road to Greece. Alongside this busy road you’ll find a few 24 hours-shops and some coffee houses.

From 19-28 May 2007 we visited Bulgaria. Unknown territory for all of us at the start. Not for Nikolay Tzankov, a herpetologist working at the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia, who was going to be our guide and fellow traveller for the next ten days. The meeting turned out to be an impressive one. Bulgaria grabbed our attention from day one.

One of the 24 hours-shops in Kresna along the transit road to Greece. (BV

Kresna is situated in the valley of the river Struma, and surrounded by overwhelming nature. The steep rocky slopes, the gorges, all very impressive and very green.


The Kresna gorge is a relative small area, about 17 km long, but extremely rich in wildlife. This richness probably comes from the fact that it’s located exactly on the dividing line between the Central-European and the Mediterranean climate zones. The narrow rocky gorge is a refuge for 31 species of reptiles, 75 species of mammals (including 17 bat species) and 232 species of birds. Besides its fauna the gorge has also importance for harbouring a number of mediterranean trees. European importance for a high number of these rare and endemic species made it a Natura 2000 site.


One of our first observations was a big group of cormorants flying in V-formation high up the gorge. Strange picture for us Dutch guys: cormorants in the mountains. But the Struma river, and the Kresna gorge especially, turns out to be an important passageway for migrating cormorants.

Kresna would be our homebase for the next three nights. Unfortunately the sun hid from us these days. Mainly cloudy with light rain and some brighter moments from time to time. It was during these brighter moments that we found our ‘wished for’ species. 

Planning the day during breakfast


Nowadays the Kresna gorge is in danger. There are plans to build a motorway, passing through the valley. This plan will directly affect habitats and the species living in it. Of course there are good reasons for Bulgaria to develop its economy but there are also good reasons to protect the gorge and its teeming wildlife. Economical reasons, for example, could be the developing of eco-tourism and watersports like rafting. In Holland a rare tiny snail (Vertigo moulinsiana) forced politicians to come up with alternative routes for a highway. Here it is not a snail, it’s the habitat of, for example, brown bear, golden eagle and leopard snake. We hope that the authorities find an alternative route for the motorway to Greece.


The surroundings of Kresna were visited over the next days. Observations we made in the Gorge are mentioned in table 1. Despite the bad weather we saw quite a lot of specimens. Just a glimpse of sun was sufficient to make snakes and lizards appear everywhere. At one location we found within one hour 12 Dahl’s Whip snakes, Large Whip snake, Cat snake, and a Montpellier snake. The same place a day later added Leopard snake to our observation list. Its obvious that the density of reptiles is extremely high. Curiously we missed horn-nosed viper (for viper groupies it is subspecies Vipera ammodytes meridionalis). According to Nikolay, our guide and fellow traveller, this species is common here. Or ‘typical’ as he would say.

A car drive at night near Kresna proved to be very good for amphibians. Sadly though Eastern Spadefoot is endangered here now. The mayor pond where they used to be common was turned into farmland recently, leaving just a small number of survivors. At the end of our late night drive we found one tadpole between the Common tree frogs in a small stream and one adult. 

Reptiles & amphibiansKresna
Eastern spadefoot Pelobates syriacus1
Common toad Bufo bufo1
Green toad Pseudepidalea viridis1
Common tree frog Hyla arboreachorus
Balkan stream frog Rana graeca2 subad.
Marsh frog Pelophylax ridibunduschorus
Spur-thighed tortoise Testudo graeca4
Green lizard Lacerta viridis5
Balkan green lizard Lacerta trilineata1
Worm snake Typhlops vermicularis12
Montpellier snake Malpolon monspessulanus1
Large whip snakeDolichophis caspius1
Dahl’s whip snake Platyceps najadum12
Leopard snake Zamenis situla1
Grass snake Natrix natrix1
Dice snake Natrix tessellata2
Cat snake Telescopus fallax1
Other highlights  
Yellow-banded skipperPyrgus sidaex
Nettle-tree butterflyLibythea celtisx
Thread-winged lacewingNemoptera sinuatax
CormorantPhalacrocorax carbox
Golden eagleAguila chrysaetosx
Male green lizards (Lacerta v. viridis) get very colourful here. 
But this specimen had by far the deepest blue throat of all.
In the eastern part of Europe lives a subspecies of Montpellier 
snake, Malpolon monspessulanus insignitus.
Leopard snake (Elaphe situla), one of the most striking European snakes
In several locations we found this eastern European specialty: the satyrid Kirinia roxelana

Old villages

South of Kresna the landscape is much flatter. Close to the Macedonian border we visited some old villages like Struma and Ribnik. Inhabited by peasants and gypsies with only a few cows or goats. The ‘engine’ on their transport vehicles being either a horse or a donkey. This part of the European Union is a great example on how to fight global warming. Just saddle up! 

One horse power. 

Promised Land

Guido and Kosta on the wagon of a local who insisted on inviting them to his yard where he claimed to have a pool full of frogs. His yard, the promised land… oh yeah, it had a muddy pool with some green toads.

Kosta shows the jar with the meat that they were served and felt forced to eat out of politeness. lots of homemade wodka helped them to swallow the greasy mass.

Warm water springs

Near Sandanski, close to the Greek border we visited a location with a natural warm water spring. The water comes to the surface from deep down and is hot enough to burn your fingers! Throughout Bulgaria there are more than 500 of these warm water springs. Internet tells us that these springs cure many modern diseases like: kidney stones, rheumatoid arthritis, bronchitis and even cellulite. No wonder that we saw mainly elderly people taking a bath. Although tempting, we didn’t come for a bath. Our goal was a rocky hillside where leopard snake and possibly Sandboa live. We weren’t lucky this time. Some interesting butterflies and a huge bush cricket, Bradyporus dasypus (body 7 cm), caught our eye instead. Nikolay called this cricket it ‘Ground pig’. As far as we know, the species is quite rare, locally occurring in Romania, Bulgaria and Greece.

Nikolay in the Struma valley south of Kresna, habitat of leopard snake (Zamenis situla), 
sandboa (Eryx jaculus) and the impressive bush cricket Bradyporus dasypus.
Reptiles & amphibiansSouth Kresna
Yellow-bellied toadBombina variegata4 + eggs
Agile frog Rana dalmatina1
Marsh frog Pelophylax ridibundus3
Hermann’s tortoise Eurotestudo hermanni1
Spur-thighed tortoise Testudo graeca4
Green lizard Lacerta viridisA few
Worm snake Typhlops vermicularis1
Grass snake Natrix natrix1
Other highlights  
Large copperLycaena dispar1
Lattice brownKirinia roxelanaA few
Ivory white-legged damselflyPlatycnemis latipesA few
 Bradyporus dasypus1
Grey-headed woodpeckerPicus canus1
Local peasant Boris Zahlipretchkov smiled and said: “I told You. No sandboa’s today 
A juvenile green lizard (Lacerta v. viridis) taking a sunbath in a scrub
Wherever we stopped, there were always some large 
coppers (Lycaena dispar) around. We Dutchmen have only
a few isolated and intensively protected populations left.
The thread-winged Lacewing (Nemoptera sinuata) is very abundant here.