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In Slovenia, we are in the centre of Europe. Only here, we can see combination of western, eastern and southern species, all within an hour of travelling time from a single accommodation. During this tour, we will in search of Snakes, Lizards, Salamanders, Newts, Frogs and Toads. These include many special species like the Olm (Proteus anguinus), Italian Agile Frog (Rana latastei), Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata), Horvath’s Rock Lizard (Iberolacerta horvathi), Carniolan lizard (Zootoca carniolica) and Horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes).
The olm is, without a doubt, one of Slovenia’s most iconic animals. Once, people believed that olms were young of dragons, which were born deep in underground caves. In reality, they are a kind of salamander, which is highly adapted to life in total darkness: it has virtually no pigment and its eyes are reduced to small dots, underneath its skin. Instead, it has very well developed electro perception and finds its prey by minute electric fields which all animal tissue makes.
Most reptiles love sunlight and warmth. To see them, we go to some of the sunniest parts of Slovenia, and we plan to be out for much of the day. Each species has its own, specific habitat. In order to get to know the species, we drive to these habitats and, once there, we spend our time searching for these animals. Lizards tend to be fairly numerous and, with care, we can often photograph them from a close distance without a need to catch them for identification. For snakes, teamwork pays off: when several people are search the same area simultaneously, our chances to see them increase significantly.
Newts and Salamanders:
Olm – Proteus anguinus
Fire salamander – Salamandra salamandra
Alpine salamander – Salamandra atra
Smooth newt – Triturus vulgaris vulgaris
Mediterranean smooth newt – Triturus vulgaris meridionalis
Alpine newt – Mesotriton alpestris
Italian crested newt – Triturus carnifex
Frogs and Toads:
Yellow-bellied toad – Bombina variegata
Common toad – Bufo cf. bufo (West-Balkan clade)
European treefrog – Hyla arborea
Grass frog – Rana temporaria
Agile frog – Rana dalmatina
Italian agile frog – Rana latastei
Moor frog – Rana arvalis (former subspecies “wolterstorfii”)
Pool frog – Pelophylax lessonae
Edible frog – Pelophylax kl. esculentus
Marsh frog – Pelophylax ridibundus
Slow worm – Anguis fragilis
Sand lizard – Lacerta agilis
Green lizards – Lacerta viridis/bilineata (we are at the meeting point of L. viridis and a L-bilineata-like clade)
Wall lizard – Podarcis muralis muralis
Adriatic wall lizard – Podarcis muralis maculiventris
Italian wall lizard – Podarcis siculus
Karst lizard – Podarcis melisellensis
Horvath’s rock lizard – Iberolacerta horvathi
Dalmatian algyroides – Algyroides nigropunctatus
Carniolan lizard – Zootoca carniolica (an egg-laying former subspecies of Z. vivipara)
Grass snake – Natrix natrix
Dice snake – Natrix tesselata
Smooth scake – Coronella austriaca
Aesculapian snake – Zamenis longissimus
Western whip snake – Hierophis (viridiflavis) carbonarius
Viper – Vipera berus (Alpine clade)
Asp viper – Vipera aspis
Horned viper – Vipera ammodytes
European pond turtle – Emys orbicularis hellenica
Our guide Paul waits for us at Ljubljana airport in the morning. Today, we have all day to go to the field in search of Reptiles and Amphibians, to get to know the area where we stay and to enjoy the spectacular Slovenian Karst landscape!
We start at an impressive gorge, which is full of steep cliffs, caves and Karst springs, in the middle of the forest. This is especially a good area for lizards with Wall lizards, Green lizards Slow worms and the locally rare species Carniolan lizard, Horvath’s rock lizard and Sand lizard. We have a good chance to see Green frogs and Grass snakes and even the Olm has been observed a few times here.
Imagine a large lake, where the water level changes from day to day. In summer it dries up, therefore, there are few fish. In springtime, the lake fills with water and becomes a heaven for frogs and toads. To get the best possible impresison of the area, we start the day at a small exposition which is dedicated to Lake Cerknica. The rest of the day, we spend in the actural area. Where we go may depend on the water level 🙂
Along the shores, we find especially many Green frogs as well as Grass snakes who are after the frogs. The surrounding forest is home to Common toads, Grass frogs and Agile frogs while at a few places we can find Newts as well.
In the evening, we offer an option to go bear-watching (not included in the tour-price).
The Olm is by far the most charismatic amphibian species in Slovenia. This large salamander (up to 35 cm) is entirely adapted to live in underground waters. It has almost no pigment and its eyes are reduced and invisible underneath its skin. Most of its habitats are inaccessible (networks of small underground streams where we can’t enter) or only accessible to licenced and experienced speleologists. Fortunately, nearby our accommodation, there is a cave which is easier to access. In the company of a local cave-guide, we will spend much of the morning exploring this cave. Both the water level and the clarity in the cave are dependent on rainfall in the region. Under favourable circumstances, we may see quite many “baby dragons”.
During the afternoon we will visit a nearby rocky place which has a population of Horned vipers, as well as several lizard species.
Today, we go southwards, in the direction of the coast. Here, we enter a different climate zone with an entirely different set of reptile species. Lizards are relatively straightforward to find and we expect Karst lizard, Italian wall lizard, Dalmatian algyroides and Green lizards (which cannot reliably be identified without DNA in this region). We will be in some good areas for snakes as well, but for this, we depend on intensive searching, good luck and good weather. Then, we have a chance to see Aesculapian snakes, Dice snakes and incredibly fast shiney black Whipsnakes. At some points, we have a chance to see Pond terrapins as well.
The areas which we visit are good for birds as well including Hoopoe, Red-backed shrike, Oriole, Bee-eater and Short-toed eagle! We expect to be outside all day, have a local dinner and return to the accommodation late in the evening.
The Italian Agile frog is a tiny, somewhat fragile-looking brown frog. It used to be common in all of northern Italy, between the Apennines and the Alps. This lowland region, known as the Po-Plane, is used for intensive agriculture now. Italian Agile frogs still live there but to see really strong, natural populations, you have to be in Slovenia. Reason enough to go southwest, to the habitat of the Italian Agile Frog!
Afterwards, we continue to the northwest, where we reach the easternmost populations of the Asp viper, which co-occurs with Common vipers and Horned vipers! Neither of these species occurs in large densities, so we expect to need some careful searching before we find any …
In a remote area, covered with extensive Dinaric beech forests, we find the highest Slovenian mountain outside of the Alps. This is a special area in many respects, not in the least because it is the type-locality for the Carniolan lizard, the egg-laying former subspecies of the (viviparous) Common lizard! For a long time, it was believed that there are Bosnian vipers here (Vipera berus bosniensis), but genetic research shows that the local vipers belong to the Alpine clade – even though their juvenile colouration and scale-patterns remind of “bosniensis”. Adult vipers in this region are mostly a deep, shiny black (black adders). Upon the mountain, there is a population of glossy black Alpine salamanders as well.
On the way, we make a stopover at the edge of an ancient forest, where, at the roadside, we hope to find Horvath’s rock lizards.
Expect to be hiking for much of the day. We will cover an altitude difference of 800 meters, so: the path is steep in some places.
Not far from the Croatian border, we erach a special area. Here, we find a habitat type which has almost disappeared from Europe: Old Growth Flooded Oak Forest! This is by far the best place to search for amphibians with especially large numbers of Moor frogs, Yellow-bellied toads and various newt species! Later in the year, it can swarm with mosquitoes. Now, in spring, the mosquitoes are only a minor inconvenience.
Today we pack and, on the way to the airport, we make smaller stopovers when time permits.
The price of our custom tours is 1,195 € per person.
This price includes 7 nights accommodation, meals, transport in Slovenia, guiding, entrance-fees, transfer between Ljubljana airport and the accommodation.
The price does not include: airplane tickets, travel insurance, any private expenses, alcoholic drinks
There is a single-room supplement of 135 € per person.
Transfer from other arrival points like Venice airport.
Bear-watching on one of the evenings (80 Euro per person)
For this tour, we have a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 8 participants.
This tour is guided by Paul, who is a local field herpetologist and a licensed local guide, living in southern Slovenia. He speaks English, Slovenian and Dutch. Sometimes, he is joined by other specialized guides. For instance, in caves, there will be a specialist cave/guide.
Transfer to and from Ljubljana (Brnik) airport is included in this tour. Please tell us when you arrive at another location or by other transport means so we can help you arrange transport to the meeting point at the accommodation.
For groups, we cooperate with several local accommodations which are comparable with Agritourism or a countryside hotel.
3 participants: a personal car, the guide is also the driver
4 – 8 participants: a minibus, the guide is also the driver
We think that tasty, high-quality meals are a very important part of any tour! Where possible we prefer it when we can eat local dishes, based on locally produced ecological products. Often, we include seasonal fruits and other farm products.
Breakfasts often include home-made bread with pršut (Slovenian wind-dried ham), cheese and eggs from local farms, as well as home-made marmalade and Slovenian honey.
Lunch during our tours is often a tasty picnic, which we enjoy in a beautiful, natural area. Such a picknick consists of delicious home-baked bread and a variety of local products depending on the seasons together with home-made juice and Slovenian tea.
Dinner is usually served at the accommodation, but in case you stay at our farmhouse “the Dormouse house” we may drive with you to a local farmhouse and eat there. Have you every tried Slovenian štruklji, which are a delicious kind of dumplings, or ajdove zganci, a buckweed-based food – a Slovene staple from the old times?
We can provide vegetarian meals and of course take any requirements into account which you may have, like allergies and based on religious beliefs. We will ask you about this sometime before the start of the tour. Sometimes, it means that we will have to buy ingredients which are not available locally.
This tour is 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 places, it may be muddy and we may encounter dense and thorny vegetation as well. Please make sure that you have good hiking shoes and sturdy trousers!
We will be out all day in practically any weather type and even sometimes at night. Be prepared for sunny summer days, rain and a cool cave.
Waterproof hiking shoes
Rubber boots (wellingtons)
Tick- and mosquito repellent
Refillable water bottle