We had seen all Greek lizard species before but we wanted to get better pictures of some species. Furthermore, we were interested in certain color morphs on several Ionian Islands. The consequence: Besides of some stations on the mainland we visited 5 islands within 10 days. Anyhow, this cruise didn’t turn into an Odyssey due to the fact that we had several beautiful ferry transfers which significantly decelerated our trip. Special thanks to Philippos Katsiyiannis.
We arrived at Corfu airport at 10:30 p.m., checked into a hotel in Corfu city harbor and celebrated our upcoming adventures with some Retsina.
In Corfu Town we picked up our slightly rachitic rental car – „a brand new Skoda Citigo“ (we named it „Scrappy“) – and clattered straight inside the belly of the next ferry which brought us to Igoumenitsa on the mainland. There, the weather was rather rainy and we headed south along the coast. In the afternoon, we stopped for a break on Lefkada. This “island” is separated only by a small channel from the mainland. It’s quite an attractive place with its nice beaches on the northern coast and its interesting lizards: Algyroides nigropunctatus kephallithacius. Actually, this species shows a remarkable variability in the Ionian area. Anyhow, we had seen the lizards from Lefkada already in 2014. Therefore were content with some quick snapshots this time. Afterwards, we headed back to the mainland and went further south. The weather was still unsettled when we arrived at the Rio Bridge which connects central Greece with the Peloponnese – a masterpiece of engineering. We crossed the Gulf of Corinth to meet Philippos Katsiyiannis (www.greeknature.com) and his wife which live south of Patras. They welcomed us with a delicious dinner and we started to make plans for the next days.
We went to Erymanthos, a mountain of more than 2000 altitude in north-western Peloponnese. Here, Philippos wanted to show us some reptile habitats. This area is home of the north-westernmost populations of Hellenolacerta graeca. Beside of this species we came across Algyroides moreoticus, Lacerta trilineata and Podarcis peloponnesiacus. As a “bycatch” to these lizards we had Hierophis gemonensis, Elaphe quatuorlineata, Xerotyphlops vermicularis and a Pseudopus apodus which we saved from the road. A perfect fieldtrip! Generally, the Erymanthos area seems to be poorly explored as it is aside of the common herping spots. Probably, still a lot could be discovered in that area! When we returned to Philippos’ home, a thunderstorm came up generating a dramatic evening scenery with beautiful light – the perfect finale…
Philippos showed us another beautiful mountain habitat. Unfortunately, the weather up there was cold and wet. Only some brave Podarcis tauricus and Ablepharus kitaibelii were out. Anyway, we found some Anguis cephallonica under stones… After this, it was already time to say goodbye to Philippos: Thanks for your great hospitality – we had a beautiful time!
We left the mountains and headed to Kyllini on western Peloponnese to get the 3 p.m. ferry to Zakynthos Island. Zakynthos has an international airport. In consequence, it is full of tourists which spend their time cruising over the island on quads. Not very attractive… On the other hand, the males of Algyroides moreoticus on Zakynthos frequently show bright yellow colors on the flanks. We wanted to see this! When we arrived, we booked a room for one night and started searching for lizards. Algyroides moreoticus as well as Podarcis tauricus ionicus are quite common on the island and it was easy to take some pictures. In the evening we had a meal in one of the “typical Greek” taverns on the tourist strip (Insider-Tip: Tsatsiki based on Mayonnaise!).
In the morning we had another photo session with Algyroides moreoticus. Afterwards, we took the 11 a.m. ferry to back to Kyllini: We had spent less than 20 hours on Zakynthos – an efficient trip… Back on Peloponnese we had a stopover in the Santameri Mountains. Despite of the afternoon heat some reptiles were active: Testudo hermanni, Podarcis peloponnesiacus and Lacerta trilineata. Afterwards we headed north: We crossed the Rio Bridge and in the evening we arrived at Astakos, a sleepy ferry harbor at the west coast of Acarnania.
In the morning we explored the surroundings of Astakos. This area has nice landscapes with mountains and wetlands – anyhow, it turned out to be a difficult place for herping: We only found Emys orbicularis, Lacerta trilineata and some Pelophylax sp. During our 2014 trip, we experienced the same in Acarnania: few species, low numbers...
In the afternoon, we wanted to take the ferry to Ithaca. So, one hour before departure we queued behind the other cars waiting for the ferry. The latter one actually arrived with 40 min delay. Anyhow, soon we were travelling on the sea, again, and passed the numerous islets off the Acarnania west coast. Time to let the mind wander… Overall, the transfer to Ithaca took more than three hours as we had a stopover on Kefallinia. In the late afternoon, we finally arrived at our accommodation and started exploring the island: Ithaca is a calm and beautiful spot, spared from mass tourism. We do understand that Ulysses just chose this place to retire… Soon, we spotted the first herps: Podarcis tauricus, Algyroides nigropunctatus kephallithacius, Algyroides moreoticus, Tarentola mauritanica and Mediodactylus kotschyi – a promising start.
Our target species on Ithaca was Algyroides moreoticus: on this island the males show bright blue colors on the flanks. Unfortunately, it wasn’t easy to find these secretive critters and it was even harder to get good pictures of them (we had already experienced this the day before). The fact that temperatures were quite hot didn’t make it easier. The result of our search in the morning was Algyroides nigropunctatus, Lacerta trilineata, Podarcis tauricus ionicus, Pseudopus apodus – but no Algyroides moreoticus. In the afternoon, it became too hot for reptiles – time for siesta. In the evening, the temperatures didn’t drop significantly. Also the strong wind wasn’t really helpful. Despite of intensive search we didn’t find Algyroides moreoticus – frustrating…
Time was running out: In the afternoon, we wanted to take the ferry back to the mainland. Hence, we gave it another try for Algyroides moreoticus in the early morning – and this time we succeeded: during half an hour we could observe some lizards basking in the morning sun. Afterwards, they disappeared in the vegetation. At least in summer, this species seems to be quite secretive.
In the afternoon, we went to the harbour and waited for the ferry which actually arrived with 45 min delay… Departure schedules at best seem to be approximate values in this area, Ithaca is no place for hectic people. On our way back we had another stopover on Kefallinia and reached Astakos in the evening. From there, we went to Palairos, a beautiful coastal place where we had already spent some days during our 2014 trip.
We left Palairos and went to Lake Ozeros and the Amvrakian Lake, two poorly explored fresh waters with beautiful habitats. Anyhow, temperatures were high and we only got a quick snapshot of Algyroides nigropunctatus kephallithacius. Furthermore, we saw some Natrix natrix and Mauremys rivulata disappearing in the reed. After this short stopover we headed back north. Our increasingly weak rental car jolted bravely towards Igoumenitsa (meanwhile, Scrappy focused on live-supporting functions, unnecessary applications like the indicator were out of service). At Igoumenitsa we took the next ferry to Corfu Town. From there we crossed the island and arrived at Acharavi at the northern coast in the evening. We checked in at our accommodation and had a short evening walk: We learned that Algyroides nigropunctatus is omnipresent on this island. Specimens from Corfu are so far referred to the nominate subspecies. Genetic analysis however revealed that it seems to be a separate clade which occurs on Corfu and the adjoining mainland only.
We went to Sidari, a popular holiday destination with an attractive variety of fish&chips restaurants and sportsbars. From Sidari, there is a daily ferry to Erikoussa, an inhabited islet 10 km north of Corfu – the northernmost Ionian island. An article by Stille & Stille (2016) describes that males of Algyroides nigropunctatus in this island show reddish instead of bluish throats. Of course we wanted to see that.
On our way to Sidari we had a short stop and came across Lacerta viridis. At Sidari harbor we spotted among “normal” Algyroides nigropunctatus a male with a red throat – was it necessary at all to visit Erikoussa? Anyhow: we entered the boat to Erikoussa where we arrived at 11 p.m. – Not the best time for a lizard trip but we were lucky because the sky was cloudy. On Erikoussa, we didn’t have to search long: the village was densely populated with Algyroides nigropunctatus, some of them having intense reddish colors. These animals were real stunners! In the afternoon we took the boat back to Corfu – the last ferry trip of our journey.
Another hot day and we didn’t expect to see many reptiles. We searched in the north of Corfu but only found some Lacerta trilineata and Algyroides nigropunctatus as well as Testudo hermanni. We decided to focus on heat-resistant species and went to Corfu Town. The city walls are populated by Laudakia stellio stellio, an introduced species on Corfu. Even in the afternoon sun the males were basking on their lookouts – gorgeous animals! In the evening, back at the north coast, we came across some nice Algyroides nigropunctatus but no other interesting species. The next morning, we headed back to Germany.
A trip which is focused on specific color morphs of certain species inevitably requires frequent changes of accommodations and travelling a lot. Travelling by ferry is quite time-consumptive and some of the islands we visited for sure had deserved a longer stay. On the other hand, it were just the numerous ferry transfers during our trip which gave us an impression of this region – the Ionian Islands area is worth visiting - not only because of its herpetofauna. Unforgettable…