I’m always aware when snorkelling in the Mediterranean that there is every chance of stumbling upon the unusual, sometimes of the scary kind.
I’m on holiday in Montenegro this week – that little country sandwiched between Croatia and Albania – and as I glided over a shallow reef and through a swarm of hanging damsel fish, a sinuous movement caught the glint of my facemask. There, just beneath me, a large snake-like creature undulated over the rocks before quickly disappearing into a crevice.
I surfaced, gulped in a couple of breaths of air and dived down again to where the fish had sought refuge. Peering back at me from the hole in the rock was a moray eel, mouth open in threatening manner and displaying an impressive array of needle sharp teeth.
But the eel didn’t seem comfortable within this hiding place and it quickly emerged again into the open water, where I managed to take the photograph shown here.
Although the moray eel does indeed look fearsome, the most stunning feature is its incredible coloration; imagine the beauty of a leopard’s pelt, then multiply the intricacies of pattern by a thousand times. There are blues, greys and yellows, scribbles and dots. A magnificent looking fish, but one that must also be treated with respect, for it can deliver a nasty bite if provoked.
Montenegro is such a beautiful country and so rich in wildlife. The highlight just has to be Lake Skadar, a sweeping expanse of open water and marsh straddling the border with Albania. It is a birdwatcher’s paradise and home to over 260 different species, including the rare pygmy cormorant and Dalmatian pelican.
As we took a boat trip to explore its remoter margins, there was an abundance to see and I was like a child in a sweet shop, not knowing which way to look. There were black and whiskered terns, little egrets and numerous great crested grebes. Pygmy cormorants were two-a-penny.
But Montenegro holds many other wildlife surprises. From a small vegetable patch next to where we are staying, our son Ross calls out excitedly. He has found a young tortoise. The animal is frightened and warily pokes its head out from the protective casing of its domed shell.
This tortoise was in no mood for hanging about and soon disappears into a thick low jungle of French bean plants. They are relatively scarce animals in the Mediterranean these days, a victim of habitat loss that is often the result of tourism development. Something I should perhaps ponder as a tourist myself.
Road traffic must be another major threat to tortoises and later in the holiday I had to swerve our hire car violently to avoid running one over. A silly thing to do from a safety perspective, but the tortoise survived and I was thrilled to watch it through the rear view mirror continue on its way.
Lake Skadar is incredibly rich in wildlife and is home to many types of fish, including several endemic species. One of the star bird attractions is the Dalmatian pelican, but they are few in number and hard to find.