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Saturday, 23 March 2013

A Lesvos Birding Holiday

Northern Greece
– Lake Kerkini and Dadia Forest
10 – 17 May 2014
A week-long guided bird and wildlife holiday with Steve Dudley
Min. group size 3, max. group size 6
Price c.£1300-1400 per person (to be confirmed, excludes flights).

Northern Greece is a large area with a fabulous variety of landscapes from mountains to lowland wetlands. And it is packed with birds! 

Black Vultures look you right in the eye in Northern Greece!

Day 1 – meeting up
We will meet up at Theassaloniki airport at 1430h.

Based on 2013 flights, I recommend the following flights to Thessaloniki:

From Lesvos (for those combining Lesvos with this trip) - Aegean Airlines - dep. Mytilini c.10.30, arr. Thessaloniki c.11.30h.

From Gatwick - BA – dep. Gatwick c. 08.30, arr. Thessaloniki c.13.45h.

Those wishing to use other routes/carriers must be at the meeting point at Thessaloniki airport at 1500h.

Other routes/carriers: Gatwick (EasyJet), Heathrow (Aegean) and Stansted (Ryanair).

We will transfer from Thessaloniki to our hotel
 overlooking Lake Kerkini. After freshening up we will spend the late evening watching part of Lake Kerkini.

Day 2 – 4 – Lake Kerkini and surrounding areas
The first half of our week will be spent birding in and around the utterly fabulous Lake Kerkini. Our hotel sits on a hillside overlooking the lake providing breathtaking bedroom views.

Lake Kerkini is a vast reservoir made by the building of a dam in 1932 and flooding an area over 100km2. At its two widest points it is 17km long and 5km wide – it’s big!

The lake is home to vast numbers of wetland species including breeding Dalmatian and White Pelicans, Pygmy and Great Cormorants, Night-herons, egrets, herons, wildfowl and waders. Wherever you stand around the lake you’ll have masses to see. But no area is as good as the north-west corner – the home of the drowned forest where most of the tree-nesting species breed. The north-west corner is also the point at which the River Strimonas flows in to the lake and this provides a natural river highway for arriving and departing flocks of Great Cormorants and pelicans.

The woodland and field areas bordering the lake is not to be ignored either. Grey-headed, Lesser Spotted, Syrian, Middle Spotted and Great Spotted Woodpeckers all breed here, along with many warblers (including Moustached and Great Reed), shrikes and Hawfinch.

Further afield, time, weather and snow line permitting, we’ll search the foothills of the adjacent Kerkini mountains for the extremely elusive White-backed and Black Woodpeckers. The wooded mountain slopes also contain many other species including Common Treecreeper, Marsh Tit and Semi-collared and Collared Flycatchers. Eagle Owl is also a possibility. We'll also spend some time searching in the wider Kerkini area for Roller, Western Rock Nuthatch, woodpeckers and other species.

Day 5 – Mount Paggeo and/or Nestos Riverine Forest
We move east today breaking up our 300km journey to Dadia Forest with some birding at Mount Paggeo and/or Nestos Riverine Forest (depending on weather). 

The beech-clad slopes of Mount Paggeo are home to woodpeckers including the extremely elusive, crow-sized Black Woodpecker. It’s a secretive species which we are more likely to hear than see – but you never know! Rock Bunting occurs higher up as the beech woods begin to thin and give may to montane forest. Above the tree line, weather and snow permitting, we’ll search for mountain species including Rock Partridge, Water Pipit, Black Redstart, Alpine Accentor, Common Rock-thrush, Horned Lark and Alpine Chough.

Nestos Riverine Forest is at thin strip of remaining forest along the banks of the Nestos River. The woodland holds several woodpecker (inc. Black) species, shrikes and other woodland and woodland edge species.

Days 6 – 7 – Dadia Forest and Evros Delta
We’ll spend our final two full days exploring the Dadia Forest and foothills running down to the coast and the Evros Delta. 

Hotel Thrassa is ideally situated for exploring the nearby Dadia Forest and the Evros Delta, and is situated on the shores of a private lake where you can watch birds during breakfast!

The forest mountains are our main focus and raptors are our main quarry. Dadia Forest boasts the largest raptor list of anywhere in Europe – 36 species! We hope to see 20+ species at this time of year including Black, Egyptian and Griffon Vultures, but the area also boast resident Golden and Eastern Imperial Eagles, Levant Sparrowhawk and migrants species such as Red-footed Falcon. The forest and hills are also excellent for many migrant species such as shrikes, Eastern Bonelli’s Warblers and Ortolan Bunting, and we will also look for Syrian and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers.

The Evros Delta is a large coastal wetland bordering the Turkish border. We’ll spend most of our second day searching the wetlands for waders, egrets and herons, marsh terns and migrants.

Day 8 – return to Thessaloniki and home.
We make an early start to cover our 340km journey back to Thessaloniki for midday (timed to coincide with the BA flight back to Gatwick).

Read about my first spring visit to the area - click here.

This week makes a great two-week holiday combined with either Lesvos (direct flights between Mytilini and Thessaloniki) or even a stay in Athens (direct flights between Athens and Thessaloniki) to take in the fabulous Greek archeology and ancient culture. Or you can just fly out from the UK.

I’m also planning long-weekend late winter trips for max. four people (including myself as we need a 4x4 in winter) for winter eagles, cranes, pelicans, woodpeckers, etc, so let me know if this tickles your fancy too - click here for a trip report.

Get in touch if you want to join me on any trips.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Northern Greece - 5 - 12 May 2011

NorthERN Greece –
Dadia Mountains to Lake Kerkini
5 – 12 May 2011
Steve Dudley, Steve Chalmers, Dave & Jackie Nurney
Report by Steve Dudley (SPD). All photos © Steve Dudley

This was an extension to our now usual Lesvos spring week(s). SPD was on Lesvos from 14 April to 5 May with the others there from 28 April.

See here for a short report on a long winter weekend around Lake Kerkini.

Birdwatching Guide in Northern Greece – 2nd Edition (Steve Mills) – this was used but with mixed results. Site information for the main areas of Dadia, Evros Delta and Lake Kerkini were by and large good (but these areas are very easy to do without the book anyway), but we found information on specific sites for key target species (e.g. the rarer woodpeckers) and site info away from these three main sites very disappointing. There are frequent mentions of target species listed at the end of many site sections, but nothing specific about where in the various hills or mountains to search. If you dedicate enough time you can overcome this, but I think many birders wanting to see species such as Black and White-backed Woodpeckers will find it frustrating – you have to find your own sites.
The guide also lacks information on local tavernas, hotels, petrol stations, etc. – all key to planning a days birding.
We used several trip reports, in particular Ian Kinley’s report (his third visit) (http://www.birdtours.co.uk/tripreports/Greece/ne-greece-4/greece-may-2010.htm).
We of course had the Collins Bird Guide on hand for reference.

Day 1 – 5th May 2011
We travelled up from Lesvos arriving at Thessaloniki airport mid-afternoon to grey skies and rain. We collected the hire car and drove east to Tichero (4.5 hrs with a stop for food near Xanthi).

Day 2 – 6th May 2011
We spent the morning at the Dadia Forest Centre (sadly on the demise with the hostel closing down in April, no taverna/café, toilets closed, staff spoke little English).
On the drive to Dadia village and on to the centre we saw several Black Vultures, Griffon Vulture, 1 Egyptian Vulture, 1 Booted Eagle, 1 Lesser Spotted Eagle, and 5 Red-footed Falcons.
From the centre car park we saw Black Vulture, Griffon Vulture and Booted Eagle.
We walked up to the feeding station hide. They say 60 minutes in the literature but it took us 1.5 hours at birding pace and seeing plenty on the way up inc. excellent views of Black Vulture, Griffon Vulture and Levant Sparrowhawk. Woodland birds were disappointing but included Long-tailed Tit.
At the very comfortable hide we looked across to the feeding station (c.600m) which held 6 Black Vultures, 2 Griffon Vultures, 1 Egyptian Vulture and 2 White-tailed Eagles during our stay.
The walk back to the centre took 70 minutes (advertised as 45 mins) and we obtained further views of Black, Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, European Sparrowhawk, Short-toed Treecreeper and Firecrest.

View of the vulture feeding station from the hide taken with 400mm lens. Two Black Vultures can be seen in the centre of the photo (there are Griffons and White-tailed Eagles in there too!).

Adult Egyptian Vulture, Dadia Forest Centre

We lunched in central Soufli.
The afternoon was spent in the Kapsalo area raptor watching, in particular watching Black and Griffon Vultures coming in to roost on the crags here. On returning back towards Lefkimi in the evening we chanced upon a Wild Cat in the edge of the forest.

Black Vulture, Kapsalo

Key species seen today – Black Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, White-tailed Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Booted Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Levant Sparrowhawk, Red-footed Falcon; Wild Cat.

Day 3 – 7th May 2011
We returned to Kapsalo in the morning to watch the vultures leave their roost. Once the raptor action had died down we birded some of the tracks and river crossings lower down towards Lefkimi where we saw more raptors including Golden Eagle and Honey-buzzard, as well as Ortolan Bunting and Syrian Woodpecker. Returning towards Lifkimi we chanced upon three raptors circling together, two Common Buzards and a sub-adult Imperial Eagle!
Raptor watching from below the Kapsalo mast

Kapsalo - the vulture roost cliffs in the centre

Ortolan Bunting below Kapsalo

Imperial Eagle near Lifkimi

We lunched in central Tichero (and coffeed at Alter Ego).

Pallid Swift, Tichero

After lunch we went in to the Evros Hills. Our targets were woodpeckers, but the sites in the Mills guide lacked any specific site info for any species so we simply stopped and searched as we saw suitable habitat. We found only Syrian and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, but during the course of the afternoon also saw a Lesser Spotted Eagle, 6+ Levant Sparrowhawks, 1 Roller, several Eastern Bonelli’s Warblers, Sombre Tit and a flock of 140+ White Pelicans over.

White Storks nr Kapsalo

In the evening we ate at a kebab café in central Ferez.

Key species seen today – Black Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Imperial Eagle, Golden Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Honey-buzzard, Levant Sparrowhawk, Hobby, Syrian Woodpecker, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Roller, Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler, Ortolan Bunting; Hermann’s Tortoise.

Day 4 – 8th May 2011
We spent the morning in the Evros Hills again, again looking for woodpecker sites. Lowland fields near Itea delivered Roller and Calandra Lark. A forest walk nr Melia brought Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler and a single Eleonora’s Falcon. But again, without any specific gen we failed to find woodpeckers (other than Syrian and Great Spotted).
White Pelicans over Monastriaki

We lunched in lowland fields near Monastriraki approaching the Evros Delta and had a fabulous hour with Lesser Spotted and Booted Eagles, Honey-buzzard, Levant and European Sparrowhawks, White Pelicans over, two calling Quail and a Wood Warbler feeding in the only tree in sight!

Hoopoe nr Melia - wrong shutter speed or art?

Roller nr Melia

Calandra Lark nr Monastriaki

After lunch we birded the western section of the Evros Delta. We had ordered permits for the eastern section, but we had already decided our time was to be spent ’pecker hunting in the hills, so this was our only time in the delta and we would concentrate on the western side only. As it turned out it was a good move as we all found the delta very disappointing! I’m sure the eastern site would have been better, but others confirmed they found the delta equally disappointing. The best area by far was the Anthia marshes where we encountered good numbers of marsh terns and waders.
Spoonbill, Evros Delta

On the way back to Tichero we saw up to 6 Rollers on wires and a Hobby south of Ferez. On the recommendation of the hotel we ate in the taverna on the main toad between the hotel and Tichero but wouldn’t recommend it.
22 species of raptors seen in three days. Not bad!
Key species seen today – Quail, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Booted Eagle, Honey-buzzard, Levant Sparrowhawk, Eleonora’s Falcon, Peregrine, Hobby, Collared Pratincole, Black Tern, White-winged Black Tern, Whiskered Tern, Roller, Calandra Lark, Isabelline Wheatear, Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler

Day 5 – 9th May 2011

Our travel day west to Kerkini. We decided to make only one birding stop, Mount Paggeo, for alpine species and woodpeckers. The Citroën Jumpy was great, easily getting us up to the summit despite the section from the ski area to the summit being treacherous at times. We drove straight up to the top and birded our way down. At the summit, between bouts of low cloud we got great views of Horned Lark and Alpine Chough. On the drive up/down from the ski centre we had a pair of Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush. At the ski centre we saw Water Pipit, Black Redstart and Cretzschmar’s Bunting. We then birded slowly down through the wooded sections. We frustratingly heard Black Woodpecker but failed to see it, but did manage Honey-buzzard and Rock Bunting.

Summit of Mt Paggeo

Horned Lark, Mt Paggeo

Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush, Mt Paggeo

We snacked whilst up the mountain and then had an extended mid-afternoon coffee and cake stop at the fabulous Dolcetto café (with free wi-fi) on the north edge of Eleftheroupoli – definitely recommended!
Key species seen today – Honey-buzzard, Black Woodpecker (heard), Horned Lark, Water Pipit, Black Redstart, Alpine Chough, Rock Bunting.
We arrived at Kerkini and checked in to the Morfi Hotel (actually the Oikoperiigitis Hotel) and ate in the hotel taverna (grilled meats only on offer).

Day 6 – 10th May 2011
After breakfast we birded the hotel area down to the lake. The poplar copses were alive with the sound of Golden Oriole and Common Nightingale and we also heard Grey-headed Woodpecker. We spent the rest of the morning birding the north and east areas of the lake. A truly fabulous area with constant streams of wetland species to-ing and fro-ing from the lake. In the Veronia fields we recorded Great Spotted and Syrian Woodpckers, Honey-buzzard, Levant Sparrowhawk and Less Spotted Eagle. Along the north shore of the Strimonas River the highlight was a Griffon Vulture heading high to the east. The eastern embankment was simply hoochin’ with birds. Both species of pelicans, thousands of Great Cormorants in seemingly endless streams heading to and from the lake, Pygmy Cormorants, Night-herons, Spoonbills, Squacco, Grey and Purple Herons, Black-necked Grebe, Black Terns, etc, etc. It was simply breathtaking.

Vironia Fields, Lake Kerkini, looking north-west towards Kerkini Mountains

North-east corner of Lake Kerkini looking towards the 'ibis strip'

Dalmatian Pelicans, Lake Kerkini

Great Cormorants, Lake Kerkini

Below Kerkini dam at Lithotopos

Adult Spoonbill, below Kerkini dam at Lithotopos

We eventually dragged ourselves away and had a late lunch in Irakila (only one of two tavernas we found during the week offering traditional Greek meze dishes rather than grills or schnitzels).

Sub-adult Night-heron, Lake Kerkini

Adult Night-heron, Lake Kerkini with the drowned forest in the background

After lunch we continued around the eastern side of the lake stopping at the dam area, Himarros, the Mavrovouni Hills, Korifoudi Marshes and back to Kerkini. After the morning on the east embankment the afternoon was a little disappointing apart from the dam area where we watched several feeding frenzies – the noise is amazing!
Feeding frenzy, Lake Kerkini

Adult Night-heron, Lake Kerkini

White Pelicans, Lake Kerkini

Adult Night-heron, Lake Kerkini

Great Reed Warbler, Korifoudi Marshes, Lake Kerkini

Southern White Admiral, Himarros, Lake Kerkini

Mavrovouni Hills, Lake Kerkini

Key species seen today – Goosander, Black-necked Grebe, White Pelican, Dalmatian Pelican, Pygmy Cormorant, Spoonbill, herons, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Honey-buzzard, Levant Sparrowhawk, Syrian Woodpecker, Grey Wagtail Masked Shrike; Southern White Admiral, Beautiful Demoiselle, Green-eyed Hawker, Southern Darter.

Day 7 – 11th May 2011
We were out at 6am back along the east embankment of Lake Kerkini. Although still a fabulous time, it wasn’t the same spectacle as the previous late morning. We got the feeling it takes the lake a few hours to ‘warm up’ and the bird activity to really get going.
View of Lake Kerkini, the drowned forest centre left, from mountainside above Ano Poroia

After breakfast we decided to dedicate the whole day to woodpeckers by birding a single area of the Kerkini Mountains hard. We chose the deciduous-coniferous forest area above Ano Poroia. Again the Citroën Jumpy allowed us to reach areas that a normal car would never have got us to. After several hours we nailed White-backed Woodpecker. It was just as we arrived back at the car to head back to the village for lunch when Steve saw a bird fly near the van – a female White-backed pecker. In a flash it was gone, but we did hear it call several times and this confirmed to Dave and myself that the odd Blackbird-like ‘pock’ call that we had been hearing on and off was indeed this species.

Wooded mountainside above Ano Poroia

With the site sorted, we went for lunch at the fabulous taverna in the centre of the old square in Ano Poroia where we watched Nuthatches and Tree Sparrows flitting around the tables. We had a good coffee in the (trendy-looking) café on the corner opposite the taverna.
After lunch we went straight back up to our White-backed Woodpecker site. Within minutes of leaving the car I saw a woodpecker in flight and soon started hearing the deep ‘pock’ calls. It didn’t take us long to track down a pair actively feeding in one section of the coniferous wood. Both birds were feeding on decaying stumps at ground level, hacking out the rotting wood and digging out some large, pale grub. We were able to watch the female on one occasion for at least five minutes as it dug away at the base of a stump. We were ecstatic! Whilst watching the White-backs we could hear a Black Woodpecker nearby, and once the female had made a beeline for her nest we headed off in search of the king of European woodpeckers. And it didn’t take us long! Within 100m along the track we soon found the calling bird and had good views as it moved around us, but never surrendering to the camera as the White-backed did. Job done! We’d birded the area really hard and were delighted with our rewards. This forest area also held a male Semi-collared Flycatcher, good numbers of Willow Tit, several Common Treecreepers, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Blackcap.
Woodland above Ano Poroia - site of White-backed and Black Woodpeckers

Female White-backed Woodpecker collecting grubs from base of decaying fir stump, in woodland above Ano Poroia

We birded on the way back down to Ano Poroia finding loads of Green Woodpeckers but no Grey-headed (too high for most of the time).
Key species seen today – Black-necked Grebe, White Pelican, Dalmatian Pelican, Pygmy Cormorant, Spoonbill, herons, Black Woodpecker, White-backed Woodpecker, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Willow Tit, Common Treecreeper.

Day 8 – 12th May 2011
After breakfast we loaded the car and headed straight back to Thessaloniki for our flight to Athens and then on home to the UK.


Birds (175 species)
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Black-necked Grebe
Great Cormorant
Pygmy Cormorant
White Pelican
Dalmatian Pelican
Little Bittern
Squacco Heron
Little Egret
Great White Egret
Grey Heron
Purple Heron
Black Stork
White Stork
Great Flamingo
Mute Swan
Greylag Goose
Ruddy Shelduck
Common Shelduck
Tufted Duck
Common Pochard
Black Kite
White-tailed Eagle
Egyptian Vulture
Black Vulture
Griffon Vulture
Short-toed Eagle
Marsh Harrier
Levant Sparrowhawk
European Sparrowhawk
Common Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Lesser Spotted Eagle
Golden Eagle
Imperial Eagle
Booted Eagle
Common Kestrel
Lesser Kestrel
Red-footed Falcon
Eleonora’s Falcon
Black-winged Stilt
Collared Pratincole
Grey Plover
Little Stint
Curlew Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Black-headed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Gull-billed Tern
Common Tern
Little Tern
Whiskered Tern
Black Tern
White-winged Black Tern
Feral Pigeon
Collared Dove
Turtle Dove
Common Cuckoo
Little Owl
Tawny Owl
Alpine Swift
Common Swift
Pallid Swift
Common Kingfisher
European Bee-eater
Black Woodpecker
Grey-headed Woodpecker
Green Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Syrian Woodpecker
White-backed Woodpecker
Horned Lark
Calandra Lark
Short-toed Lark
Sand Martin
Crag Martin
House Martin
Red-rumped Swallow
Barn Swallow
Tree Pipit
Water Pipit
Yellow Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail
Common Wren
European Robin
Common Nightingale
Black Redstart
Common Stonechat
Isabelline Wheatear
Northern Wheatear
Black-eared Wheatear
Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush
Blue Rock-thrush
Common Blackbird
Mistle Thrush
Cetti’s Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Eurasian Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler
Subalpine Warbler
Eastern Orphean Warbler
Lesser Whitethroat
Common Whitethroat
Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler
Common Chiffchaff
Willow Warbler
Spotted Flycatcher
Pied Flycatcher
Semi-collared Flycatcher
Long-tailed Tit
Willow Tit
Sombre Tit
Coal Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Wood Nuthatch
Common Treecreeper
Short-toed Treecreeper
Golden Oriole
Woodchat Shrike
Masked Shrike
Alpine Chough
Hooded Crow
Common Raven
Common Starling
House Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Cirl Bunting
Rock Bunting
Cretzschmar’s Bunting
Ortolan Bunting
Black-headed Bunting
Corn Bunting

With more focus on the Evros Delta 180+ is easily achievable in a week if you want a big list. We were surprised just how well we did without going hard after a list and with so much of our time taken up with looking specifically for woodpeckers.

Insects (selected)
Southern White Admiral
Large Tortoiseshell
Beautiful Demoiselle
Green-eyed Hawker
Southern Darter

Mammals (selected)
Wild Cat

Reptiles and amphibians (selected)
Glass Lizard
Hermann’s Tortoise