Greek dragons

Male Black-tailed Skimmer

Whilst editing the next batch of bird photos, from our recent trip to Northern Greece, I thought I’d feature a few of the dragonflies we saw. I’m reasonably confident about the identification but, as a relative beginner to this interesting taxa, I’m always happy to receive comments and corrections. Not surprisingly I failed to photograph a goods number we saw but of those I did, I added at least seven to my slowly growing list of European ‘drags’.

Female Black-tailed Skimmer

White-tailed Skimmer

Scarlet Darter or Broad Scarlet

Green-eyed or Norfolk Hawker

Southern Skimmer

Keeled Skimmer

Blue Chaser

Banded Demoiselle

Beautiful Demoiselle, festiva

Bladetail

Yellow-winged Darter

River Clubtail

and final, though not strictly a dragonfly, Antlion

Next blog will be the birds of the Rodopi Mountains and Evros delta…

Greek Lakes to the Evros Delta, wildlife highlights – Part 1

We knew, when we were planning this trip, that we would be too late for Spring migrants, so our expectations for a week’s wildlife watching in early June were suitably modest. In the event Northern Greece turned out to be an excellent choice – during the week we racked up 166 bird species, plenty of butterflies & dragonflies, flowers, snakes, mammals and more.

We flew with Ryanair from Stansted to Thessaloniki and did a circular tour of the north east, from Lake Kerkini to the Evros Delta – using Steve Mills’ guide, Birdwatching in Northern Greece, as our bible. We booked all accommodation on-line or through email and were able to pay at most places with a card – there was reasonable access to ATM’s in the bigger towns. Hire car was booked through Ryanair with Hertz, who are in the terminal, with just a short bus-ride to the vehicle pick-up point. Petrol is an equivalent price to the UK but, due to the ailing Greek economy, there are fewer cars on the roads than you might expect, making driving in the countryside a pleasure (watch out for the pot-holes though!). People were very friendly, helpful and had enough English for us to get by. This is definitely a location to be recommend and we’re looking forward to a return visit soon.

Our tour started at Kerkini, a huge man-made lake, created in the ’30’s by the damming of the Strimonas river, covering up to 72 km sq. The thing you notice immediately about the surrounding area is the relatively low-intensity agriculture, with lots of uncultivated areas, rough grazing and overgrown hedgerows. As a consequence, lots of wildflowers, insects and birds – four species of shrike breed in the area, with Bee-eaters everywhere and Roller all feasting on the abundant prey.

Red-backed Shrike are common, with fewer Lesser Grey, and Woodchat – Masked also present

There were Bee-eaters everywhere!

Roller are well distributed, helped by the provision of nest-boxes, particularly around the Evros Delta, made possible by BirdWING (birdwatching in Northern Greece) – the conservation charity, set up by Steve and Hillary Mills

The lake is an internationally important wintering location for wildfowl of every variety but is critical important in respect of globally threatened Lesser White-fronted Geese.

It’s also the breeding location for pelican – with both White and the globally threatened Dalmatian, present in good numbers

Heron and Egret species can be found in abundance around the lake, along with both storks and Glossy Ibis

Lake Kerkini is an important breeding location for Pygmy Cormorant

I’ve never seen so many Great Crested Grebe – there were hundreds of breeding pairs

In the surrounding hills and mountains, which form the border with Bulgaria, there were plenty of raptors including a flock of 20-25 migrating Red-footed Falcon, several Eleanora’s Falcon, and a Golden Eagle.

Eleanora’s Falcon

In the next part, the birds of the Evros Delta and the Rodopi Mountains..

 

Coming soon – highlights of our wildlife week in Northern Greece

Squacco Heron – one of fifty or more seen along the north east shore of Lake Kerkini, Northern Greece

We’ve been meaning to visit Northern Greece ever since we came across Steve & Hilary on the Lake Kerkini and Birdwing stall at the Rutland Water Birdfair, a few years ago. They, along with Nikolaos, who runs an excellent hotel for birders close to the eastern shore of the lake, do a fabulous job of promoting bird conservation in this beautiful but threatened corner of Greece. Armed with a copy of Steve’s site guide, Birdwatching in Northern Greece, we, accompanied by our youngest son Jake – a passionate birder himself, recently enjoyed a weeks birding and general wildlife watching holiday exploring the numerous sites between Lake Kerkini and the Evros Delta. A full annotated check-list and selected photos will appear on this blog in the very near future.

Seasonal job opportunity in Scotland!

Gal8

My brother, who lives in a beautiful part of Scotland, recently sent me this information about a seasonal job opportunity they have, which might appeal to a keen young birder/ naturalist.

‘We recently got EU part-funding to employ someone for the coming season. The job spec can be found at Greenhillock Glamping and we think it might suit a young birder or similar looking for seasonal employment. We would be happy for the person to occupy one of our bell tents for the duration so it doesn’t have to be anyone local. A big part of the job is to develop the wildlife & conservation education programme, so it could offer valuable experience for someone looking to move into a ranger or teacher role.’

If you know of anyone who might be interested perhaps you would share the link with them.

Cerro Lodge – a Fitting Finale

 

Our superior bungalow accommodation, Cerro Lodge

Our final stop was at Cerro Lodge, on the edge of the Carara National Park – a fitting finale for our Costa Rica adventure. Bob & I had stayed here on our previous trip and we had fond memories of the place. Things immediately got off to good start when the receptionist informed us that, although we’d booked standard cabins, they’d upgraded us to their new superior bungalows – and superior they were too! The birding around the grounds was every bit as good as we remembered and the National Park also lived up to expectations. As we only had one full day in the park we decided to do the river trail in the morning with the main park trails in the afternoon. We enjoyed a very full day’s birding from the moment the gates opened right up until closing time. On the morning of our departure we did manage to squeeze in a couple of hours early morning birding around the grounds of the nearby Hotel Villa Lapas, at the start of the waterfall road. The birding was again excellent and provided us with a couple of ‘eleventh hour’ ticks. This hotel, though large and more touristy, would provide a very acceptable and cheaper alternative to Cerro Lodge. The rest of our time in Costa Rica was spent driving back to San Jose and finding our ‘off-airport’ car hire depot. It took us an hour to find a way across the airport runway and main road to return the car!

On our way between Sierpe and Cerro Lodge, we stopped off for a few waders and herons on one of several estuaries on route. This is Least Sandpiper

and Bare-throated Tiger-Heron

First bird we saw on our walk around the lodge grounds was this Stripe-headed Sparrow

This rather magnificent White-throated Magpie-Jay was a wary visitor to the feeding station

Middle of the afternoon and we came across this guy calling continuously around the chalets. Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

and he really did have ‘eyes in the back of his head’!

Another ‘garden bird’ – this is the unbelievable Painted Bunting

Once in the park proper we had a succession of interesting birds – unfortunately many of them in deep, dark undergrowth, with very little prospects of getting a decent photo. This female Black-hooded Antshrike was no exception!

This Common Tody-Flycatcher was a little more obliging

At the end of the River Trail – a river!, where we watched Crocs and Green Kingfisher  

In the afternoon we walked the main trails and saw some excellent birds. Two in particular stand out, Great Tinamou – not photographed unfortunately, and Ruddy Quail-Dove, which was!

as was this Red-capped Manikin – but rather badly

On our last morning we did manage a couple of ‘ticks’ in the grounds of Hotel Villa Lapas. The aptly named Eye-ringed Flatbill

and Blue-black Grosbeak

Then it was back to the lodge, load up our bags and enjoy the final few minutes of this wonderful place over a cup of coffee on the veranda with, of course, a few birds. Red-legged Honeycreeper, male and female

and the truly breath-taking Scarlet Macaw – a bit of a Cerro Lodge celebrity

Costa Rica is a ‘premier league’ birding destination. The people are friendly, the food is good and the scenery spectacular. With so much variation in habitat from sea to mountain, the Caribbean to the Pacific, wet forests to dry grassland, it’s not surprising that this small country is home to more than 800 species. In just a couple of weeks, entirely self-guided, we manage to find and identify over 320. Pushing my overall Costa Rica bird list to over four hundred, in just three weeks of birding. You can’t go wrong with this place.. if you haven’t tried it already, then give it a go!

The Magic of Marenco Lodge

Our chalet at Veragua River House, Sierpe

We took a leisurely drive from San Vito down to the Pacific coast, arriving at Sierpe by mid-afternoon. We stayed one night at the old colonial style Veragua River House Bed & Breakfast, on the edge of town, before departing on the boat for Marenco Lodge the following day. We had two nights at this fabulously located lodge, including Jane’s 60th birthday, in cabanas over-looking the ocean and watching the sunset over Cano Island. The bird and animal life seen around the various trails was excellent.

In the grounds of our accommodation at Sierpe, this Mangrove Black Hawk

Other birds around the grounds included Cocoa Woodcreeper

 this diminutive Inca Dove

and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Along the river edge, Purple Gallinule

Just outside our chalet at Marenco Lodge, a resident pair of Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

In the dense forests surrounding the lodge, lots of interesting stuff – this was the rather skulking Black-hooded Antshrike

Riverside Wren

Orange-billed Sparrow – seen at several previous locations, but not quite so well

Another one of the superb Trogons – this one is Black-throated

And the ‘star of the show’, the electric sparking, hopping and popping! – Orange-collared Manakin

Shorebirds were scarce but we did catch up with Magnificent Frigatebird

and Wandering Tattler

Marenco Lodge was a wonderful experience. The isolated location, with access to largely undisturbed rain-forest and coastline, was a memorable experience. The chalets were comfortable and the food reasonable. There is however an air of neglect about the place and the staff, whilst friendly, are too busy with their own stuff to be of much help to the self-guiding birder. Another expensive lodge which is trading on it’d former reputation, sadly in this instance, there is no ready alternative.

Our journey is drawing to an end now, last stop is Cerro Lodge, on the edge of the fabulous Carara National Park.

 

 

South to San Vito

Our journey took us south to San Vito, close to the Panamanian border and more than 5,000 feet lower than Quetzal Lodge. We stayed in the cabanas at Cascata del Bosco, five kilometres from the town and situated practically at the entrance to Las Cruces Biological Station, ‘a quintessential example of a (primary) forest fragment.’ This very well appointed hotel/restaurant complex has good facilities and extensive grounds, with very similar species to the Biological Station – only free! George and his excellent team of helpers made for a very pleasant stay. This is a highly recommended stop-over if you are visiting this area of Costa Rica.

First stop on the way down was the road-side cafe with feeders at San Isidro de El General . Several new species were added, including this Tropical Mockingbird, a recent but increasingly well distributed colonist

and two colourful tanager species –  Bay-headed 

and Flame-coloured

In the grounds of Cascata del Bosco we saw plenty of interesting species including yet another tanager – this time the appropriately named Speckled

Collared Trogon – although in some lights it looked more like Orange-bellied!

Two new parrots were added to the list during this leg of our journey. These Orange-chinned Parakeet were first seen sitting on a street sign above the ATM in San Isidro

and this Brown-throated Parakeet, another recent colonist from Panama, was in our hotel grounds

Black and White Warbler is a common and widespread North American species which winters in Costa Rica. Nevertheless, still a very striking bird

In the gardens of the Las Cruces Biological Station we had several new hummers – this one I think is Snowy-bellied, but happy to be corrected!

and this one, Blue-throated Goldentail

Also on the feeders outside the Restaurant building, this Thick-billed Euphonia

At a site, close to the border, we came across the third and final Oropendola on the Costa Rica list – Crested Oropendola. First recorded in the country less than twenty years ago, but now expanding

On a nearby pond – not the most attractive of wildfowl but a tick nonetheless – Muscovy

To end this section a Variable Seedeater, of the Pacific race

and Great Kiskadee attacking a Yellow-headed Caracara!

Next stop Sierpe, the departure point for the boat which will take us an hour and a half around the coast, towards Isla del Cano and the remote Marenco Lodge.