Primorsko and Strandzha

As the days went by in the Kresna area, our time in the field was limited more and more by bad weather. Chances to find any of the central European species in their habitats higher up in the mountains seemed very slim. In the early morning of day 4, the ongoing rains thus made us decide to change plans and move to the southeast. 

Our decision proved right. On approaching the Black Sea coast, dark clouds made way for sunny spells. Close to Sozopol, just north of Burgas, we couldn’t hold it anymore and parked the car to check out a promising spot close to the road. We soon discovered several European glass lizards, a Large whip snake and a tiny second year Spur-thighed tortoise. This was an encouraging start in a new area. We checked in at a hotel in Primorsko, our base for the next three days.


This lively town held everything we needed to feel comfortable in between trips. A decent hotel, plenty of restaurants, a good bakery … And coffee machines with acceptable coffee on every corner! Parking was allowed anywhere. No-parking signs seemed to have no meaning here.

No coffee at this family shop, but plenty of smiles in stock. (BS

Unspoilt coast

We explored the area north of Primorsko. Due to its variety of habitats – forests, patches of grassland rich in flowers and insects, and a lake with reedbeds – the area yielded many herps, such as quite a few nose-horned vipers, both spur-thighed tortoise and Hermann’s tortoise and an Aesculapian snake. Under a piece of wood a group of eight male grass snakes chasing a female was discovered. Two of our group saw a golden jackal. Our observations of Primorsko can be found in table 3. 

Herp-searching like here at the Black-sea coast can be performed by turning stones like Arjan is doing, by scrutinizing the vegetation (Ronald) or by just being there hoping something crosses your path (Bart). In this place we only found some green lizards (Lacerta viridis), a Kotchy’s gecko (Mediodactylus kotchyi), and a Spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca). (BV)

Unfortunately we failed to spot two species of snake we were very eager to find, Blotched snake and Reddish whip snake. The latter in particular is a rare species, with a very limited distribution in Europe. Both species are recently recorded in the Primorsko area. 

This section of the Black Sea coast is surprisingly untouched by human development. Extensive forest, apparently not grazed by goats or sheep, grow all the way up to the rocky coast, only dissected by some unpaved roads. Unspoilt coastal areas such as this one are increasingly rare in Europe. Hopefully, the Bulgarian politicians realise this in time to stop the expansion of Primorsko, which is now taking place in al its uglyness.

One of the rare places where the forest still grows up to the sea. Habitat of a.o., eastern green lizard (Lacerta viridis), wall lizard (Podarcis muralis), marsh frog (Rana ridibunda), 
glass lizard (Ophisaurus apodus), reddish whip snake (Platyceps collaris), Caspian whip 
snake (Dolichophis caspius), Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus) and spur-tighted 
tortoise (Testudo graeca).

Bat Hotel

This never-finished building in the woods was meant to become a refuge for the last Bulgarian dictator Todor Zhirkov. But after the fall of the Berlin wall it was abandoned and left to ruin. To the grace of many animals. In the direct surroundings of this building we twice saw a jackal

The dark subterranian part became a real bat hotel.
Standing in the bats’ flight path Ben and Nikolay felt the beat of black wings on their ears. 
With the bat detector several species of RhinolophusMyotis, and Miniopterus were 
identified. On the ground lived agile frog (Rana dalmatina), treefrog (Hyla arborea) and 
grass snake (Natrix natrix).
There were several colonies of many bat-species. Here Geoffroy’s bat 
(Myotis emarginatus). (BV) 
Common treefrogs (Hyla arborea) resting on a rusty iron bar deep in one of the pits 
around the abandoned building.

Nightly chorus

The Arkutino swamp lies within Ropotamo Reserve, north of Primorsko. Visitors have to pay an entrance fee of two leva. A 50 m boardwalk crosses the reedbed after which there is an open view over the lake and the wooded hills surrounding it. Ferruginous ducks were plentiful. A little bittern was spotted crossing the lake. On top of our wish list for this area was Fire-bellied toad, which we found soon. Among the numerous Marsh frogs, several European pont terrapins, shy as ever, were spotted.

A reserve alongside the main road near Primorsko. Habitat of fire-bellied toad 
(Bombina bombina), Balkan newt (Triturus karelinii), tree frog (Hyla arborea), marsh frog 
(Pelophylax ridibundus), edible frog (Pelophylax esculenta), and European pond terrapin 
(Emys orbicularis).

An after-dark visit to the lake was even more impressive. The sounds of zillions of Marsh frogs, and quite some Common tree frogs filled the air. Our torches discovered Fire-bellied toad, Balkan crested newt, and several large and creepy medicinal leeches.

Same place at night. Timer shot by Ben.
Reptiles & amphibiansPrimorsko
Balkan crested newtTriturus kareliniiNumerous
Common newt Lissotriton vulgarisAbout 5
Fire-bellied toad Bombina bombina> 10
Eastern spadefoot Pelobates syriacus2
Common tree frog Hyla arboreachorus
Agile frog Rana dalmatinaAbundant
Marsh frog Pelophylax ridibundusChorus
Edible frog Pelophylax kl. esculentusSome
Hermann’s tortoise Eurotestudo hermanni3
Spur-thighed tortoise Testudo graeca3
European pond terrapin Emys orbicularis4
Kotschy’s gecko Mediodactylus kotschyi2
Green lizard Lacerta viridisAbundant
Balkan green lizard Lacerta trilineata1
Common wall lizard Podarcis muralis> 10
Balkan wall lizard Podarcis tauricaAbout 10
Slow worm Angius fragilis2
European glass lizard Ophisaurus apodusAbout 20
Montpellier snake Malpolon monspessulanus1
Large whip snakeDolichophis caspius8
Aesculapian snake Zamenis longissima2
Grass snake Natrix natrixAbundant
Dice snake Natrix tessellate1
Nose-horned viper Vipera ammodytesAbout 20
Other highlights  
Golden jackalCanis aureus2
Fallow deerDama dama1
Red deerCervus elaphusA few
Wild boarSus scrofaA few
Little bitternIxobrychus minutus1
Large copperLycaena dispar> 10
Medicinal leechHirudo medicinalis> 10
greater horseshoe batRhinolophus ferrumequinum>10
unidentified small horseshoe batsRh. hipposideros, Rh. euryale and/orR. mehelyiabundant
Schreiber’s batMiniopterus schreibersiisome?
Geoffroy’s batMyotis emarginatusabundant
Eatern spade foot (Pelobates syriacus) as Bart saw it. Lit by a torch instead of flashlight.
2: Same scene, this time from Ben’s point of view. (BV)
Spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca). (BS)
Many Testudo’s (here Spur-thighed tortoise) are parasitized by ticks. These “pains in the
ass” typically gather around the hind legs and tail. (BV)
Horn nosed viper, Vipera ammodytes, subspecies montandoni, can be recognized by its 
green tail. On the body they are less colourful than the nominate species.
Kotchy’s gecko (Mediodactylus kotchyi).


The forested hills of Strandzha in southeastern Bulgaria are well-known for their diverse flora, which is unique in Europe. Its climate is a little more humid than further north up the Black Sea coast, resulting in a generally lush vegetation and impressive forests with oriental beach (Fagus orientalis), several oak species, and conspicuous Rhododendron ponticum. We visited the area in search for Meadow lizard, of which we found several on dry leaves at forest edges and in forest openings. Again, we were very happy to be accompanied by our knowledgeable guide Nikolay.

Beautiful Kosti

This small, peaceful, village in the central part of Strandzha is a delight. Seemingly untouched by tourism, its (camera-)friendly people and picturesque scenery made us all love this place. In a small stream we spotted Dice snake, Grass snake and Marsh frog. From the main square we hiked through the fields, survived a rickety bridge and walked for a few hours along the Beneka River. Several reptile species were found here (table 4), and the area produced many other interesting observations as well, such as a giant carabid beetle, Procerus scabrosus schuberti, one of the specialties of Strandzha.

Strandzha in danger?

Part of the area is protected since 1995 as the Strandzha Natural Park, at 1116 km2 currently the largest protected area in Bulgaria. The park is highly rated on a European level, for instance for its diversity of reptiles. Its forests, mammals, and invertebrates are even considered to have global significance. Despite legal protection, investors and local politicians have plans to further develop coastal Strandzha for beach tourism. Currently steps are prepared to fight the establishment of Strandzha as a Natural Park in court. Illegal building has already started. Hopefully, the many protestors against these actions will be successful, so that this marvelous area will be secured in all its glory.

Reptiles & amphibiansStrandzha
Common toad Bufo bufo1
Green toad Pseudepidalea viridis1
Marsh frog Pelophylax ridibundusSome
Spur-thighed tortoise Testudo graeca1
Green lizard Lacerta viridis> 10
Meadow lizardDarevskia praticolaAbout 20
Common wall lizard Podarcis muralis> 10
Snake-eyed skink Ablepharus kitaibelliiAbout 10
Slow worm Angius fragilis1
Large whip snakeDolichophis caspius1
Aesculapian snake Zamenis longissima1 juv.
Grass snake Natrix natrix2
Dice snake Natrix tessellata5
Nose-horned viper Vipera ammodytes1
Other highlights  
Black storkCiconia nigra1
Ground beetle specProcerus scabrosus3
Juvenile aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus) (BV)
Finally, after a good search on the half shaded forest floor we found some meadow lizards 
(Darevskia praticola). Like most lizards they are very shy in the beginning, but with some 
patience you get occasions to make pictures of them.
A mole cricket, victim of a Shrike pinned on a branch of a tree (BV)
The true klooiplek-feeling; Nikolay and Arjan waiting for a green lizard to reoccur.