Evros Delta to Thessaloniki

The ever-present White Stork, here along the shores of Lake Koronia

Our final day in Northern Greece was spent in a long, leisurely transit from our base in the Evros Delta to the airport at Thessaloniki, via the Nestos river delta and Lake Volvi. We saw plenty of good birds, including several high mountain species at the now derelict ski-centre on Mount Paggeo – N.B. the track from there to the radio mast is now only navigable on foot.

Distant views of Mount Paggeo 

Mount Paggeo – the only place we saw Ortolan Bunting, but they were here in good numbers

Distant views of an elusive male Rock Thrush

Horned Lark, seen just below the radio mast on Mount Paggeo. Considered to be breeding, so we kept our distance

Tawny Pipit – a surprise species to find high up in the mountains

A last look back to Lake Volvi before heading for the airport and home..

We were very impressed with our first trip to Northern Greece. Thanks again to Steve and Hilary for their gentle encouragement to visit. The birding was excellent, the scenery superb and the people friendly and helpful.

To view our annotated checklist, of all 165 species seen during our week-long holiday, follow this link.

Long-billed Dowitcher – 350th for Norfolk!

Distant grab-shot of Long-billed Dowitcher, Cley NWT

This morning’s Long-billed Dowitcher at Cley NWT, was my 350th bird for Norfolk. Not a big score I know, compared with the serious County listers, but as a relative new-comer to this part of the world I’m pretty pleased! The bird, well-found by Jake Gearty and Co, played cat and mouse with the 50 or so birders stationed along East Bank, as it moved between the tussocky grass of The Serpentine and Arnold’s Marsh.

and again, with wings out-stretched

 

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!

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.

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!