Amphibian, Reptile and Fish Study Tour 2018

Rana latastei

Amphibian, Reptile and Fish Study Tour 2018

This is a specialised tour to study amphibian, reptile and fish species in their habitats in Slovenia. 

Although we do certainly see beautiful landscapes and we will stop at the sight of colourful flowers and rare birds, this is not a typical eco tour. In stead, you may find us wading through the mud, staring intensely at the ground in the hope to see a small creature called the Yellowbellied Toad. Or hiking several hours deep into a cave to find a Salamander which is so unusual that it got nicknamed a “baby dragon” and a “human fish”: the Olm, Proteus anguinus. We may even ask someone to place a gentle electric current on a small part of a stream in order to stun fish, which we will release unharmed after we take a good look at them. If you are one of those people who grew up chasing sticklebacks and frogs in the streams and ditches near your home, then this is a tour especially made for you. Don’t hesitate to contact us for information or just book the tour straight away. 

Please note that all native amphibian, reptile and crayfish species and many of the freshwater fish are legally protected in Slovenia. With care, we can often photograph them without the need to catch or disturb them. For the purpose of this tour, our guide will have special permits for occasionally catching individual animals for the purpose of identifying the species. For catching and handling freshwater fish we will cooperate with local specialists, who have the necessary permits to do so. All animals will be released at the same place where we found them. While this tour is not meant as a survey to collect many distribution data, we will provide all our observations to the national Slovenian database. 

 

The Animals along Streams and Rivers Tour will start on 10th May and end on 17th May 2018. This is the best season for amphibians in Slovenia.

Day 1: Arrival day

Day 2: Small Species Day: Italian Agile Frogs, Yellowbellied Toads and Italian Crested Newts

Day 3: Going Underground: a Cave Expedition to see the Olm, the enigmatic cave salamander

Day 4: Some like it hot: in search of Mediterranean Lizards, Snakes and Terrapins

Day 5: Snake Day: in search of Vipers

Day 6: White, Black or Golden? The Black Olm and the Balkan Golden Loach

Day 7: Frogs of the Disappearing Lake

Day 8: Final day

   

 

We visit a different area each day. Shortly after breakfast, we depart from the accommodation. Slovenia is a small country, so our driving time is limited to 1-2 hours most of the days. At each destination, we stop close to the sites which we intend to visit, to maximise the time we spend in nature. We have lunch in the field (picnic), for this, we take everything we need with us in the van. Dinner is planned around 6.30, which leaves us time in the evening for sorting photographs, socialising, or a walk in the surroundings of the accommodation.

Please note that this program is what we will do when we have reasonable weather. With heavy rain, some sites may become inaccessible and we will have to adapt the program, including visiting alternative sites.
 

Day 1: Arrival day

We advise to travel to Venice Marco Polo airport, from where we will come to pick you up. We will assist in the planning of transportation from other arrival points as well. Depending on our arrival time and the weather, we aim to make a stopover at river Tagliamento in Italy: the only large river in Central Europe which remains natural from the spings in the Alps all the way to it’s delta in the Adriatic sea. 

 

Day 2: Small Species Day: Italian Agile Frogs, Yellowbellied Toads and Italian Crested Newts

We start our study tour in the complete southwest of Slovenia, in the Vipava valley, wich is much influenced by the Italian Po plain. The northern edge of this valley is formed by a series of spectacular steep rock walls. Streams flow from underneath these walls towards the river Vipava, a tributary of Soča (Isonzo). In the morning we walk along some of these streams, in search of a small frog: the Italian Agile Frog (Rana latastei). This species was once widespread in the entire Po plain, where it’s numbers dwindled because of the intensification of agriculture. Its remaining strongholds are in Slovenia, on the edge of its range. Here it still finds damp forests along unregulated small streams. It shares this habitat with the more widespread “common” Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina), as well as with Italian Crested Newts (Triturus carnifex) and Mediterranean Smooth Newts (Lissotriton vulgaris meridionalis). 

In the afternoon, we will look for the unique freshwater fish in the region, for which we enlist the help of a local specialist. Adriatic freshwater fish share common ancestors with the more familiar Central and Western European species, but have evolved in distinct species of their own. In the Vipava valley, we hope to find among others Triotto (Rutilus aula), Alborella (Alburnus arborella), Italian Spined Loach (Cobitis bilineata) and the small Padanian goby (Padogobius bonelli). 

In the evening our guide will give a presentation on how to identify tadpoles and newt larvae, which we may encounter in the coming days. 

 

Day 3: Going Underground: a Cave Expedition to see the Olm, the enigmatic cave salamander

The Olm (Proteus anguinus) is by far the most charismatic amphibian species in Slovenia. This large salamander (up to 35 cm) is entirely adapted to live in underground rivers and streams. It has almost no pigment and it’s eyes are reduced and invisible underneath it’s skin, in an adaptation to life in total darkness. Most places where it occurs are inaccessible (networks of small underground streams where we can’t enter) or only accessible for licenced and experienced speleologists. Fortunately, nearby our accommodation, there is a cave which is easier to access and in the company of a local cave-guide we will spend much of the day exploring this cave. Both the water level and the clarity in the cave are dependent on rainfall in the region, but under favorable circumstances we may see quite many “baby dragons”.

In the remaining part of the day, we will visit a population of yellowbellied toads which we photograph individually in order to make an estimation of the population size. 

 

Day 4: Some like it hot: in search of Mediterranean Lizards, Snakes and terrapins

Today go southwards to the Mediterranean cost of Slovenia, where we visit a beautiful, small river which flows over white rocks. Here we find an endemic fish, the Istrian Chub (Squalius janae) alongside Padanian Barbels (Barbus plebejus). The shores of the river are a good place to observe reptiles including Wall Lizards (Podarcis muralis), Italian Wall Lizards (Podarcis siculus) and occasionally dice snakes (Natrix tesselata). Nearby is the only Slovenian locality with Four Lined Snakes (Elaphe quatuorlineata), but the chance to see this species is relatively low: the place is well known among local herpetologists and even the “locals” don’t manage to find this species each year. Other species which we may see include Yellowbellied Toads (Bombina variegata) and Green Lizards (Lacerta cf. bilineata). In the afternoon, we make shorter stops to several places, in search of Whip Snakes (Hierophis carbonarius) and Mediterranean Toothcarp (Aphanius fasciatus). 

 

Day 5: Snake Day: in search of Vipers

In Wstern Europe, heathlands would be the place to go if you want to see vipers. In Southern Slovenia, you may find similar places at roadsides in forests, but this is not where most vipers are. In stead, you’d have to go to places which have either an Alpine-like vegetation or to open, rocky places with thorny scrubs. For today we will invite local field herpetologist Erika Ostanek to join us. Under her guidance, we will learn how to search for vipers and how to do this safely in this rather different habitat.

 

Day 7: White, Black or Golden? The Black Olm and the Balkan Golden Loach

Now that we have seen the enigmatic “normal” white Olm, it would be nice to see it’s black counterpart as well. The Black Olm is hardly known outside Slovenia, and no wonder, because it only lives in a single valley where it can be observed in only a single spring. And this is where we will go today. The Black Olm differs not only in colour, but also because it has normally developed – although a bit smallish – eyes. To get here, it is a bit longer drive, but we feel that it is well worth it. 

Nearby we find river Kolpa, which has an exceptional rich diversity of freshwater fish. With the help of local specialists, we will try to see Balkan Golden Loach (Sabanejewia balcanica), Balkan Spined Loach (Cobitis elongata), Spirlin (Alburnoides bipunctatus), Danube Gudgeon (Gobio obtusirostris) and many more species. 

 

Day 7: Frogs of the Disappearing Lake

Sometimes the Lake Is, and sometimes, It Is Not. That’s how the locals summarise the highly fluctuating water levels at Lake Cerknica. The Intermittent Lake Cerknica up during the summer and sometimes also in winter. Every time the lake dries, many fish become stranded and die, although some are saved by the local fishermen and others survive in streams which have permanent water. When the lake fills up with water from the spring rain and melting snow, it forms an extensive habitat for amphibians, with a very low density of predatory fish. From underground hibernating places (partly in caves), many thousands of Grass Frogs (Rana temporaria) appear, forming the biggest population in Slovenia and one of the biggest in Central Europe. Considering their numbers, they become surprisingly difficult to find in summer, when they disperse into the surrounding forests. Along the lake, we can find numerous Common Toads (Bufo cf. bufo) and a healthy population of Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix). In the surroundings of the lake, we can also find small populations of Wall Lizards (Podarcis muralis) and Italian Crested Newts (Triturus carnifex).

We spend te afternoon exploring the nearby hills, where small streams have formed quiet valleys which remind somewhat of the Alps. Typical stream animals include Stone Crayfish (Austropotamobius torrentium), Yellowbellied Toad, Grass Frog and Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra). We also have a fair chance to see Viviparous lizard (Zootoca vivipara), which lays eggs in this region, and Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca). If the water level is not too high, we may see the endemic Barje Sculpin (Cottus metae) on the way.

Later on, we re-vist the population of zelloebellied toads which we photographed on day 3 and repeat our photographing-action. When we compare our photograph from both days, we can estimate the total population size.  

 

 Day 8: Final day

Depending on our aeroplane schedules, we may still have much of the daytime to spend in the field. We drive stepwise in the direction of Venice Airport and make stopovers at some remarkable habitats. One of the species which we hope to find is the White Clawed Crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes), which is in Slovenia restricted to the Adriatic basin …

   

This study tour differs from regular nature tours because we have a busy evening program. This evening program depends partly on the weather and will be fully worked out in the weeks before the tour takes place. The evening program will include: 

 

A presentation on frogs, newts and salamanders of Slovenia, including species identification, distribution and threaths.

 

A presentation on the identification of tadpoles and newt larvae: as many amphibian species occur both in Slovenia and in western Europe, the identification methods are the same and can be used throughout much of Europe!

 

A presentation on amphibian diseases and field protocols: what do we know and which preventive measures can we take to avoid that we spread diseases to the animals which we like most?

 

An evening visit of a museum/exposition which explains the dynamics of the intermittent Lake Cerknica, one of the most important habitats for amphibians in Slovenia

 

An excursion to listen to amphibian calls, including tree frog, green frogs and common toads as well as to observe newts by torchlight

 

A fun quizz to test your identification skills based on photographs of Slovenian amphibians, reptiles and freshwater fish

 

The Bombina-memory game: a practical demonstration on how to, in a fun way estimate the population size of the endangered yellowbellied toad by capture-photograph-recapture, using the photographs which we made on day 3 and 7. 

Some of the highlights of the Amphibian, Reptile and Fish Study Tour are: 

We expect to see up to many remarkable amphibian, reptile, fish and crayfish species, some of which are endemic to the region

We visit extraordinary species-rich habitats in which we will see high diversity of plants as well as beautiful landscapes

Our tour guide is an experienced field herpetologist who knows the species and area form extensive personal experience

We travel at a slow pace and take a lot of time for nature photography

The places which we visit are off the beaten track, and we are often the only ones who are there

The guide on this tour is a Dutch biologist who is living in Slovenia: on the way, we will hear a lot of background information about the areas which we visit

For this tour, we made reservations at the Logar Tourist Farm with whom we cooperate for over 15 years. The farm is located in Žerovnica, in southern Slovenia. The accommodation consists of rooms in two authentic village houses and a third, newer building which is made in the local style. Both older buildings are fully restored to accommodate guests. Each of these has two rooms on the lower floor and two rooms on the first floor. Because these rooms are made in old farmhouses, there is a shared bathroom on each floor. The newer building has en-suite facilities. Please indicate what are your wishes so we can divide the rooms accordingly.

Besides good rooms and quality service, Logar Farm offers other advantages:

  • Most of our meals will be based ecological food from the farm (vegetarian is possible)
  • Every morning we will have fresh home-baked bread at breakfast
  • The farm is located in the Cerknica Valley, which is a RAMSAR site and has lovely extensive meadows starting right behind the accommodation
  • The location is central in the region which we will visit, thus reducing driving time

Participants should arrange the transport at least to a nearby airport (or train station). This is not included in the price of the tour.

The closest airports to the accommodation are:

Ljubljana Airport (Slovenia), transfer time about 1 hour

Trieste Airport (Italy), transfer time about 1 hour and 15 minutes

Venice Marco Polo Airport (Italy), transfer time about 2 hours and 15 minutes

Zagreb Airport (Croatia), transfer time about 2 hours and 30 minutes

From these airports, we can offer you transfer by car or van at no extra costs.

During this tour, we will use a van which has eight seats for participants and one for the driver. The tour guide will also be the driver of the van. This gives us a maximum of flexibility: how long we like to stay at each place, is up to us.

Moderately difficult and occasionally demanding. During the tour, we will walk slowly and stop many times, but terrain can be difficult, rocky and occasionally steep, without real climbing. At other placesit may be muddy and we may encounter dense vegetation as well. 

Please make sure that you take both rubber boots and good hiking shoes!

The price of the Amphibian, Reptile and Fish Study Tour is set at 1.100 Euro per person, with a single room supplement of 135 Euro. 

 

The price includes: 

All transport during the tour

All meals

Accommodation in a “tourist farm” where we have double rooms (single supplement 125 Euro)

Guiding

Tourist tax

Accident insurance during the tour

 

The price does not include:

The costs of the aeroplane ticket

Personal expenses

Costs of a visa

Alcoholic drinks

Below you can see a selection of photos of species which we hope to see during our tour. Please note that what we can see depends partly on the weather. After heavy rain, the water level in streams and rivers rises and some areas may become inaccessible. 


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