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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
|Reptiles & amphibians||Primorsko|
|Balkan crested newt||Triturus karelinii||Numerous|
|Common newt||Lissotriton vulgaris||About 5|
|Fire-bellied toad||Bombina bombina||> 10|
|Eastern spadefoot||Pelobates syriacus||2|
|Common tree frog||Hyla arborea||chorus|
|Agile frog||Rana dalmatina||Abundant|
|Marsh frog||Pelophylax ridibundus||Chorus|
|Edible frog||Pelophylax kl. esculentus||Some|
|Hermann’s tortoise||Eurotestudo hermanni||3|
|Spur-thighed tortoise||Testudo graeca||3|
|European pond terrapin||Emys orbicularis||4|
|Kotschy’s gecko||Mediodactylus kotschyi||2|
|Green lizard||Lacerta viridis||Abundant|
|Balkan green lizard||Lacerta trilineata||1|
|Common wall lizard||Podarcis muralis||> 10|
|Balkan wall lizard||Podarcis taurica||About 10|
|Slow worm||Angius fragilis||2|
|European glass lizard||Ophisaurus apodus||About 20|
|Montpellier snake||Malpolon monspessulanus||1|
|Large whip snake||Dolichophis caspius||8|
|Aesculapian snake||Zamenis longissima||2|
|Grass snake||Natrix natrix||Abundant|
|Dice snake||Natrix tessellate||1|
|Nose-horned viper||Vipera ammodytes||About 20|
|Golden jackal||Canis aureus||2|
|Fallow deer||Dama dama||1|
|Red deer||Cervus elaphus||A few|
|Wild boar||Sus scrofa||A few|
|Little bittern||Ixobrychus minutus||1|
|Large copper||Lycaena dispar||> 10|
|Medicinal leech||Hirudo medicinalis||> 10|
|greater horseshoe bat||Rhinolophus ferrumequinum||>10|
|unidentified small horseshoe bats||Rh. hipposideros, Rh. euryale and/orR. mehelyi||abundant|
|Schreiber’s bat||Miniopterus schreibersii||some?|
|Geoffroy’s bat||Myotis emarginatus||abundant|
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.
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 & amphibians||Strandzha|
|Common toad||Bufo bufo||1|
|Green toad||Pseudepidalea viridis||1|
|Marsh frog||Pelophylax ridibundus||Some|
|Spur-thighed tortoise||Testudo graeca||1|
|Green lizard||Lacerta viridis||> 10|
|Meadow lizard||Darevskia praticola||About 20|
|Common wall lizard||Podarcis muralis||> 10|
|Snake-eyed skink||Ablepharus kitaibellii||About 10|
|Slow worm||Angius fragilis||1|
|Large whip snake||Dolichophis caspius||1|
|Aesculapian snake||Zamenis longissima||1 juv.|
|Grass snake||Natrix natrix||2|
|Dice snake||Natrix tessellata||5|
|Nose-horned viper||Vipera ammodytes||1|
|Black stork||Ciconia nigra||1|
|Ground beetle spec||Procerus scabrosus||3|