Rodopi Mountains to the Evros Delta – part 2

Spur-winged Plover, breed in small numbers on the Evros Delta and along the coast – stunning birds!

From Lake Kerkini we headed east, first to the excellent Kyveli Hotel at Kariofito, in the Rodopi Mountains, and then, via Porto Lagos, on to the Evros Delta, close to the Turkish border. In the mountains we explored the road which heads north from the hotel to the Forest Village (for details see Steve Mills’ book p110), now largely derelict. There was excellent birding along this road including Rock & Cirl Bunting, Eastern Orphean Warbler and five species of woodpecker, including Black – just south of the Forest Village. The following day we visited the various lagoons and salt-works in the Porto Lagos area, seeing a few late waders, flamingo, terns and gulls, before finally arriving at the Hotel Isidora, practically opposite the Evros Delta Visitors Centre. We had a day and a half to explore the delta, which is divided into two sections West and East – for which a permit is required, in advance.  We quickly discovered that the delta is vast and slow to circum-navigate but packed full of interesting wildlife – in addition to the many and varied birds, we had good views of Golden Jackal and Wild Cat. We also managed to squeeze in an early morning visit to the Dadia forest, taking the mountain road to the Kapsalo transmitter mast view-point. Here, we eventually caught up with both Black & Egyptian Vulture and Blue Rock Thrush.

Cirl Bunting were relatively common in the Rodopi Mountains – here an adult feeds a youngster

Rock Bunting were, however,  much less common – seen between Kariofito and the Forest Village

On the lagoons around Porto Lagos, Flamingo with a group of Greenshank and several Slender-billed Gull

Whilst birdwatchers are free to visit the western Evros Delta, you do need a permit, arranged in advance, to visit the eastern delta, close to the Turkish Border 

On the Evros Delta there were still a few migrant waders, including Wood Sandpiper

Distant Marsh Sandpiper – part of a group of 20 – 25 with just a few of the flock of 350+ Ruddy Shelduck, in the background

These distant Collared Pratincole were a delight to watch, hawking for insects over the flooded rice fields

Surprisingly, we only saw a couple of Purple Heron

Along the many tracks which bisect the Evros Delta, several Greater Short-toed Lark

and Calandra Lark

To our delight, on our first evening in the delta, this juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoo

One species we did see in reasonable numbers, both here and back at Kerkini, was Turtle Dove. Weird how the pattering on the coverts make the bird look out of focus!

Distant views of one of two Black Vulture seen at Kapsalo

On our last day in Northern Greece we had a long drive back from the Evros Delta to Thessaloniki – but we still managed to fit in some birding on route.. see my next blog for details!

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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 Hilary 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.