This trip was initially planned as “island hopping” on the Western Cyclades: Milos – Serifos – Kithnos – Kea. However, our ambitious travel schedule underestimated the deficiencies of Greek ferry services. So we only could visit two of these stations: Besides of another visit on Milos (see our 2011 trip report) we had the opportunity to explore Serifos Island extensively.
Part 1 - Milos
We arrived at Athens airport on Saturday evening and spent the night at an accommodation in the – not very attractive – surroundings of the airport. Our continuation to Milos was scheduled for the next morning.
Sunday morning, 9 a.m.: our host picked us up at Milos airport and brought us to our accommodation at Adamantas where we organized a rental car: Holiday! In spring, Milos is a rather laid-back place, mass tourism seems to be a summer phenomenon. The landscapes of Milos are – apart of some scenic coastal areas – less spectacular than on other Cyclades Islands: The interior part of the island is characterized by rather smooth grassy hills and heathlands. During our stay, temperatures were warm although the sky was temporarily clouded.
We had seen the Milos Wall Lizard (Podarcis milensis) on our trip in 2011 but this time we wanted “better” pictures of this pretty species. In the gardens around Adamantas we were able to observe plenty of these lizards. Moreover, we also wanted to take “better” pictures of the local Balkan Green Lizards (Lacerta trilineata hansschweizeri): it took us some patience, but we succeeded. Initially, we hoped to do a trip to the Ananes Archipelago which is located about 30 km south-west of Milos in order to visit the endemic subspecies Podarcis milensis adolfjordansii. Unfortunately, this turned out to be impossible: We didn’t find anyone with a seaworthy boat; moreover, our undertaking was meant to fail due to the lack of knowledge of the locals – “There is no place on Milos called Ananes…”
Besides of the lizards, we came across the following reptile species: Mauremys rivulata (Balkan Pond Turtle), Mediodactylus kotschyi (Kotschy's Gecko), Hemidactylus turcicus (Turkish Gecko), Ablepharus kitaibelii (European Snake-eyed Skink), Telescopus fallax (Cat Snake), Macrovipera lebetina (Blunt-nosed Viper). On the contrary, we didn’t find Zamenis situla (Leopard Snake) and Natrix natrix (Grass Snake) this time, which we had seen in 2011.
Our records of Mauremys rivulata are somehow remarkable: We weren’t very optimistic to find this species as the island suffered from drought despite of the early season. The creeks were dry and ponds had low water. Surprisingly, we could observe some specimens basking along a completely dry streambed. At least temporarily, this species seems to be less dependent on water than we expected.
Part 2 – Serifos
On Tuesday at noon we entered the ferry which carried us via Sifnos to Serifos, our next station. Serifos welcomed us with the impressive view of the main village Chora with its Cyclades-style white houses built on a steep hill. Our accommodation was close to the harbor at Livadi. The gardens of this village had been wetlands some years ago with a rare population of Natrix tessellata (Dice Snake) – more about this below.
The major part of the island consists of paltry mountains but there are also some water courses with lush vegetation. In particular, the Steno-Reservoir north of Livadi turned out to be a good spot for nature photography: This artificial lake has never been brought into service; hence its shores developed a rich flora and fauna. Apart from the major settlements of Chora and Livadi, Serifos is a calm and lonely place: The few other villages seemed almost abandoned and the sporadic tourist settlements at the coast still were asleep due to the early season.
Actually, we planned to leave Serifos after one day and head on to Kithnos and Kea, subsequently. However, a ferry strike put an end to these plans and we were stuck on Serifos for three days. In the end, we knew each lizard by its first name… But perhaps, reducing the speed of this trip was the best which could happen to us: We were able to explore Serifos in-depth and, due to the strike-induced isolation, the island appeared like a magic forgotten world.
Our main goal on Serifos was the local morph of the Aegean Wall Lizard (Podarcis erhardii erhardii). Though the lizards from Sifnos, which we had seen in 2011, are also referred to the nominate subspecies, we had heard that the lizards on Serifos “look completely different”. We didn’t have to search a lot for this species – it is common and widespread all over the island, particularly in habitats with sufficient humidity. On Serifos, males as well as females of Podarcis erhardii show striking yellow throats (whereas the lizards on Serifos have white throats). Furthermore, males and females of the Serifos lizards are about same size (see also WETTSTEIN, 1953). In contrast to this, males of Podarcis erhardii are much bigger than females on other islands.
Moreover, these lizards showed a strong tendency to pairing which we didn’t notice in other populations of Aegean wall lizards so far: Their behavior somehow reminded us to some Lacerta species. Especially in densely populated habitats – e.g. the shores of the water reservoir mentioned above – we frequently noticed couples of these lizards. Obviously, mating season had already been finished: we saw numerous pregnant females. The males didn’t seem to be excessively territorial or aggressive. With regard to this, it would be interesting to know if there is some correlation between the low sexual dimorphism and the distinct pairing behavior… Be it as it is: The Serifos lizards turned out to be great photo models!
The second Lacertid species on Serifos is Lacerta trilineata hansschweizeri which we could easily observe in the gardens of Livadi where it wasn’t too shy. Other reptile species we found were Ablepharus kitaibelii, Hemidactylus turcicus, Mediodactylus kotschyi, Mauremys rivulata, Telescopus fallax and Hierophis caspius (Caspian Whip Snake) - no picture of the latter one, unfortunately. Zamenis situla, which also occurs on Serifos, wasn’t found. The amphibians of Serifos are Bufotes virdis (Green Toad), which was found under stones, and Pelophylax sp. (Water Frog), which was seen at several water bodies.
Natrix tessellata on Serifos
In the 20th century, Natrix tessellata was said to be common on Serifos. However, in the early 21st century it was unclear whether this species still was present on the island: BROGGI (2011) pointed out that in 1985 CATTANEO had been the last one who has seen this species on Serifos. However, the record of a dead specimen in 2015 which was published on serifoswildlife.net indicated that this species was still present. The wetlands of Livadi which have been mentioned in literature are now cultivated land with houses and gardens. Remaining populations of Anacamptis laxiflora indicate that this area must have been a lush habitat before. However, it is doubtful whether Natrix tessellata still occurs in this area (and the locals kill any snake they come across). The water course in the Haramia valley which also has been mentioned in literature has been interrupted by the construction of the Steno Lake. Regarding this massive interference we weren’t too optimistic to find Natrix tessellata here. However, the creek below the water reservoir has areas with dense vegetation populated by frogs and green toads – a suitable habitat for dice snakes. Actually, we found the remaining of a dead specimen here.
A living dice snake was finally found at another place: During our last day on the island we photographed lizards at the shores of Steno Lake and suddenly noticed a dice snake in the water. Luckily, we were able to take some quick shots. Actually, this species has survived on Serifos. Remarkably, all newer records (or own plus the one from serifoswildlife) are located in the Harania /Steno valley.
Due to their unsteady water levels, storage lakes usually are rather hostile for wildlife. In this regard, it turned out as an advantage that the Steno reservoir never has been brought into service. As far as we noticed, it is now an important secondary habitat for birds and dragonflies. With regard to this it could be reasonable to define the lake and its surroundings as a protected area: sweet water areas are rare on Aegean Islands. However, the future of this lake is uncertain: the dam is leaky with water running down the wall at several spots… Overall, regarding the Dice Snake, it doesn’t seem unlikely that further populations of this species occur in inaccessible valleys on the island.
Epilogue – Athens
Friday evening, a ferry approached at Serifos and brought us back to Piraeus, finally. We slept in a hotel at nearby Palaio Faliro. There, we visited a population of introduced Podarcis siculus campestris (Italian Wall Lizard) the next morning. The lizards were basking at the seafront next to the highway and didn’t care about the numerous people passing by. The Italian Wall Lizards once more proved as an invasive species with low habitat requirements. We quickly took some shots and headed to the airport as our return flight was scheduled for Saturday afternoon.