On the 25th of January at 1.25 p.m., after couple of hours of waiting, our Olympic Airways plane finally took off from Madrid airfield and the flight to Athens had begun.
It was a pretty boring flight but it passed surprisingly quickly. We landed earlier than scheduled, found our luggage, which had travelled straight from Tenerife very easily and took a look around.
We took a bus, number E-93, which we were told in the information centre was the right bus to take us to the railway station. Also the driver confirmed that this was the bus, so we jumped in happily.
The bus trip was horrible! Driver drove like a lunatic! The bus had something badly wrong with it and it was really noisy. Janne luckily had earplugs in his pockets, so he was able to wear them. First we were driven around the whole of Athens and then along some really narrow small streets.
Finally we reached the last stop, but surprisingly we noticed we weren’t in a railway station, we were in bus-station! So we went again to information point to ask for help. Soon we were boarding bus number 051 and there we started to ask help from other passengers. Luckily there was a young man on the bus who spoke good English and he helped us to find our way to a metro station. From there we caught a train which took us to the railway station. This man also told us it was impossible to get to railway station by bus! Incredible! But we did finally manage to get there.
In railway station we found out that next two trains to Thessaloniki were full. So we got some tickets (14€/each) for the 11.51 p.m. train. So we had to wait again.
At first we were waited outside wearing all the warm clothes we had, but it was so much colder than in Canary Islands where we had been that we had to move into the waiting room which was full of smokers. (There was also some snow on the ground. There had been big snow-storms in Southern Greece couple of days earlier.)
The train was on time but the trip was a really horrible 8 hours because of the seats! They were really awful! It was impossible to sleep at all. And also everybody in train was smoking all the time.
We arrived at Thessaloniki 6.40 a.m. We found our luggage and bought two tickets (2.40 €!) to Livadia. After an hour of waiting we were on our way again.
The sun started to rise just as the train left. So we began to collect some trip ticks. It was also nice to see some views. We saw 35 Common Buzzards and 1 Merlin. Luckily we found out that there was less snow here in the north of Greece than in Athens. The snowstorms hadn’t been here.
At 9.17 a.m. we arrived at Livadia. An officer from Kerkini information Center, Andonis, was there waiting for us. He drove us to the Kerkini Wetland information centre.
At the centre we had a room, which was much better than we had excepted. It was even warm! Hanna had been there working as a volunteer as a student in winter 1999 for a couple of weeks, and then it hadn’t been warm at all.
We went to do some shopping, and surprisingly we found a bakery too. After breakfast we walked a kilometre to the western coast of big Lake Kerkini. On the way we saw Collared Doves, Black Redstarts, Grey Wagtails, Tree Sparrows, Rooks, Chiffchaffs and one Great White Egret which was standing in the middle of a field.
Near the coast we saw the first flock of Dalmatian Pelicans. On the coast at small fishermen’s harbour we saw spectacular views! The lake was really beautiful and it was full of birds! Thousands of Pochards, Great Crested Grebes, Little Grebes, Cormorants, big dense flocks of Shovelers, Coots and lots of other shorebirds. Most common passerines were Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Robin and Crested Lark. Better observations were Kingfisher, Water Pipit, Hen Harrier, Black-necked Grebes, some Smews, 100 Dalmatian Pelicans, Flamingos and couple of small flocks of Pygmy Cormorants.
The weather was pretty cold but it was nice, we watched to the lake for a couple of hours before we felt ourselves too tired. We had been awaken too much in last two days. Janne had slept only 5 hours in last 60 hours!
While walking back to the information centre we heard some unfamiliar passerine calls. After little searching we found the caller, it was a Moustached Warbler. We found also couple of Cetti’s Warblers and 3 Water Rails. Nice little ditch! We also had our first Syrian Woodpecker.
On this day we had already seen 53 bird species without trying which was pretty good in comparison with what we were used to seeing on the islands over the last 1.5 months.
We slept for a few, and then after a couple of hours talking with a member of staff, Mihalis, we went to have lunch at the closest tavern. (Big amount of food 12.40€.)
On the 27th of January we walked at dawn to the harbour. On the way we saw big flocks of Yellowhammers and Linnets and some Wrens and a Great Spotted Woodpecker etc. The lake was again full of birds. But the weather was cold and windy so we soon walked back to the centre.
The staff was already waiting for us. At 9.45 a.m. we left with one member of staff, Panayotis, to ring Dalmatian Pelicans close to the village of Lithotopos. While driving to Lithotopos we saw 4 Whooper Swans.
On the beach we set up, down to the water under the sand, five traps which were attached to each others. In front of traps we threw some fish to attract the birds. Panayotis spread the sand a little so the traps weren’t visible, and then we drove further away to wait and se what happened.
Pelicans didn’t show any interest in the frozen fish at all. They were just swimming around 20 meters from the traps. They really seemed to know that it wasn’t wise to touch these fish.
We waited 3 hours, inside a fishermen’s tent or outside, but nothing happened. While we were waiting fishermen emptied their traps and they really had caught a lot of fish. Outside we were looking for other birds with telescope and we saw a lot. With 150 Dalmatian Pelicans there was a female White-headed Duck, Shelducks, some Common Gulls and huge amount of Great Crested Grebes, Cirl Buntings, Common Sandpiper and some Pygmy Cormorants.
The weather was getting worse all the time and it started to snow pretty badly. It became impossible to use telescope anymore, so it started to get boring. Then finally something happened! A Grey Heron, which Pelicans had been chasing, saw our fish and flew to the water and started to walk closer and closer to our traps. We were thinking what will happen if the Heron steps in the trap. Its legs are so much thinner than those of Pelicans. When the Heron reached the fish, the Pelicans went crazy. They all attacked the fish (or Heron) but that was just what we had waited for. Quickly the first Pelicans reached the fishes and they started to eat them and then it happened! We saw one of the birds get caught! It tried to rush away while other birds were still eating. Soon the other birds realized something was wrong and they flew further away. We shouted to Panayotis, who was having a cup of coffee or ouzo, and we drove to release the bird. Surprisingly the bird was caught by both legs, but Panayotis released the big bird easily and soon he was “sitting” over the bird as he told us what to do next.
Janne was keeping the bird’s bill still and Hanna and Panayotis were ringing the bird. They put rings on both legs, and glued the rings closed. Panayotis also measured the bill and took some feathers for DNA testing. Soon the bird was free to rush back to the water.
We were happy when we were driving back. Surprisingly we didn’t drive back to Kerkini but to the other Pelican place. Some fishermen had just finishing their work, and there was lots of Dalmatian Pelicans eating the leftovers. We set down the traps again and one fisherman stayed there and started to feed the Pelicans. It took less than two minutes and the Pelicans rushed to the fishes. We saw immediately that there was a bird trapped. When we ran to the traps there was surprisingly two birds trapped. But an adult one was already ringed so we released it after checking the numbers. Panayotis caught the young bird and now, as we already knew what to do, we were soon finished.
Soon we were driving back to the information centre. At the evening we helped Mihalis, went shopping and relaxed. When we went to sleep there was already at least 5 centimetres snow on the ground.
Weather changes – cold
We slept long. While waiting for Theodoros (our “boss”) to come Hanna spent time in library, mostly owned by English who lived in the area, and Janne wrote trip reports, but Theodoros never came. We had a nice walk with the street dogs and saw couple of Syrian Woodpeckers. At the ditch we saw Moustached Warbler, Cetti’s Warblers and Water Rails again.
During the afternoon we walked to the mouth of Kerkinitis River and from there via harbour back to the village. We found plenty of Corn Buntings, Kingfishers, Snipes, Water Pipit and couple of Ferruginous Ducks. A flock of Stock Doves and Wood Pigeons flew over us. Chaffinches were everywhere now.
In the evening we relaxed. After the sunset a Little Owl began to call on the roof of a neighbouring house, even as it was snowing and really cold!
It was raining at the morning. We didn’t know what to do, but luckily Panayotis came to take us to Lithotopos again.
We set up the Pelican traps and started to wait again. While we were waiting we saw a flock of Red-crested Pochards and a young White Pelican (which is not common in winter). Suddenly a Yellow-legged Gull flew to our fish and again the Dalmatian Pelicans got angry. But now the worst happened! The Gull managed to get trapped!
We released the Gull and found out it was injured but not too badly. We took some pictures, of course, and released the bird.
After this episode the Pelicans understood that there was something wrong with the fishes and they didn’t even come close at all. So we moved on to the other Pelican place, but we weren’t lucky there either.
So we still visited a cafeteria at Lithotopos and checked the Strimonas River where we saw some Ferruginous Ducks, Grey Herons, Great White Egrets and Cormorants. Still we saw only a few Pygmy Cormorants which was pretty weird. The place should have been full of them.
On the way back to the centre we finally saw Theodoros. We arranged that Andonis drives us to Theodoros’ office in Vironia the next morning. We would do the monthly bird count for the lake!
In the afternoon we walked again to the harbour. On the way we saw couple of Great Spotted Eagles and a Great White Egret which let us photograph it pretty close.
During the night there were several Little Owls calling. We ate again at the tavern and our lunch was both bigger and cheaper than the first time! We even got the dessert free! At least we knew where to eat in future.
In the morning we woke up 6.30, visited the bakery and at 7.30 Andonis drove us to Vironia to Theodoros’ office.
At 8.15 we left to do the counting. We started pretty surprisingly from Akritohori hill, pretty far from the lake. The view was good, but we could count only the bigger birds which weren’t hiding.
Meanwhile Cirl Buntings were singing and Jays shouting, we counted all birds which were possibly to identify at this distance. We had for example 6 Great Spotted Eagles which we couldn’t have seen from any other place.
Next we continued to the fish harbour of Mandraki. We all counted different species, so that all water birds and shorebirds came counted. There were really a lot of birds! With thousands of Pochards and other ducks, there were also a lot of Lapwings, Dunlins, Little Stints etc. Better observations were Peregrine Falcon, Greylag Geese, White-fronted Geese, Gadwalls, Ringed Plovers, Golden Plovers and of course Flamingos. Some better birds which weren’t included in the counting were Water Pipits, White Wagtails, Kingfishers and Water Rails. The only thing that wasn’t so good was that the weather was getting worse all the time.
By Lada Niva we drove, through weird looking lowlands, where there were thousands and thousands of Skylarks and Starlings, to the middle of delta forest. Here we found about 600 White-fronted Geese which were afraid and hid in the forest. Some new Great Spotted Eagles and some Green Sandpiper were found too.
Next we counted along the banks of the Strimonas River. We counted all the birds while driving which was not so easy at all! Anyway we saw Pygmy Cormorants, Ferruginous Ducks and of course hundreds of common water birds.
While we were driving it started to rain pretty hard. Limnohori was full of birds! Somehow we managed to count all the birds before the optics were wet. Peregrine, 30 Snipes, a Curlew and thousands of Pochards.
At Lithotopos on the Strimonas River we counted several Ferruginous Ducks, Gadwalls, Pygmy Cormorants, Great White Egrets and Red-crested Pochards…
All other places, long western and southern coast, we had to count quickly. We stopped only when we saw a lot of birds, otherwise we counted everything while driving. Anyway we were very wet when we finished.
We finished just before the dusk at 17.00 p.m. Little Owls were already calling when we got back to the information centre.
Totally we counted more than 27000 birds. 11000 Pochards, 3000 Mallards, 2000 Great Crested Grebes, 1000 Teals and Coots. Other nice sums and observations were 180 Dalmatian Pelicans, 57 Great White Egrets, 126 Grey Herons, 4 Spoonbills, 321 Flamingos, Whooper Swan, 101 Shellducks, 24 Red-crested Pochards, 5 Ferruginous Ducks, 51 Smews, 83 Goldeneyes, 1 White-tailed Eagle, 18 Great Spotted Eagles, a male Hen Harrier, 2 Peregrines etc. Totally we saw in whole day 87 bird species!
At night when we walked to do some shopping we heard some really bizarre frogs.
On the last morning of January we went out early to check the ditch again. Surprisingly we saw several Water Rails climbing higher and visible in the reeds. They came to the sun to get warm. Of course we hadn’t got our cameras with us!
Because we didn’t have anything to do (even though we really were volunteers and ready to do anything), we walked to Kerkinitis river. We planned to try to get a ride to Lithotopos.
But we never got a ride! All the cars that passed us were full. So we just checked the beaches and continued to the nearest hills which are the beginning of Krousia mountains. We thought we might find some trip ticks.
Cirl, Reed and Rock Buntings and Yellowhammers and some Hawfinches were seen while getting to the hills. After some walking we found a good track which climbed up to the hill through the dense bushes which were full of needles.
Directly we found several Buntings more and a Tit which was calling unfamiliarly. We tried to find the Tit pretty hard and finally we saw it was a Sombre Tit.
Later we found couple more Sombre Tits but they all disappeared very quickly.
Happy because of lifers (even Hanna got a lifer) we walked back to Kerkini to relax.
Photographing at Lithotopos
On the morning of the 1st of February we walked to the closest ditch to try to photograph Water Rails. All the same birds were there again, and we even managed to photograph some Water Rails after a long wait. They came out again to take the sun over the fallen reeds. Janne also managed to digiscope a woodpecker, but it was unfortunately just Great Spotted Woodpecker.
Soon we called a taxi and drove to Lithotopos (10€) to do some more photography. First we photographed Dalmatian Pelicans, which were quite easy to photograph. We stayed near the fishermen’s hut, so Janne was invited to join their breakfast. Fat and warm booze (zippuro) were not the best breakfast Janne has ever had.
Along the Strimonas river there was lots of birds again. Cormorants and Pygmy Cormorants were not that easy to photograph because they were really shy. While we were photographing Pygmies suddenly 4 young Night Herons flight next branches to us. Really nice!
On the bank of the river there was a flock of 150 Grey Herons and Great White Egrets, even one Spoonbill with them.
On the river there were big mixed flocks of Ducks. When Janne went to digiscope them, Hanna tried to photograph flying ones. We both got good pictures of Ferruginous Ducks, Red-crested Pochards, Wigeons, Mallards, Pintails, Gadwalls, Tufted Ducks, Pochards, Smews and of course both Cormorants.
Day was already long and the cameras batteries (Janne) or films ran out (Hanna), so we walked back to the Pelican place and tried to hitchhike back to Kerkini. We were lucky because already the second car gave us a ride.
In the afternoon we had a lunch in tavern again and on the way one of the street dogs decided to adopt us as its parents. It followed us “home” and stayed behind the door whole night.
Finally we had a day when we mostly relaxed! We didn’t care about the birds at all but let our nerves and senses cool down. We talked a lot with Mihalis and also Panayotis whose English was getting better.
We were shopping, playing with street dogs and even worked a little.
Only observations were big flocks of Wood Pigeons and Stock Doves, 3 Syrian Woodpeckers and 4 Little owls.
After that we had another easy day also. It was cloudy and really cold, so we helped the centre staff and even made a small bird guide of the local birds for them.
We had a nice walk to the harbour with our dog. We found the only White Stork which we had heard was wintering in the area.
On the 4th of February at 9 a.m. we asked Panayotis to give us a ride to the Mandraki fish harbour. We saw Flamingos, White-fronted and Greylag Geese, Shelducks and many waders. Some Great Spotted Eagles were soaring over the delta forest and a Green Woodpecker was calling behind us. A Kingfisher which was living on the harbour pool was pretty brave and we got some pictures. Panayotis came to get us back about at midday.
During the afternoon we walked to Kerkinitis River. Our dog was following us again, but suddenly it refused to follow us anymore. We wondered what was wrong when suddenly 2 really big sheepdogs attacked towards it. Luckily our dog was like a flash and these ugly dogs were left without a snack.
The dog was still waiting for us when we came back. It looked very happy because it had thought for sure that the sheepdogs had eaten us. The only bird we had seen on the walk was very familiar looking Great Grey Shrike.
Next day we worked with Panayotis. We cut lots of huge reeds for the Pelicans nests. On the lake there were two artificial wooden breeding islands. Before 2002 the Pelicans hadn’t bred on the lake at all but after these islands were made some of the Dalmatian Pelicans had started to breed on them during the summer. We also fixed the stations boat a little.
During the evening Janne finally got a Syrian Woodpecker digiscoped. Also the Little Owl couple was scoped against the moon.
In the morning we just relaxed, but after midday Hristos and Panayotis gave us a ride to Lithotopos. First we photographed ducks on the Strimonas River. Ferruginous Ducks, Red-crested Pochards and of course Cormorants were photographed again. One young White Pelican was soaring on the sky with some Dalmatian Pelicans.
After we had taken some hundreds pictures, we continued towards the dam and the lakes birds. There were big flocks of Dalmatian Pelicans which were fishing in big groups. It was weird looking! They swam close to the school of small fish and then they all attacked together. Then they had to let all the water out of their bills before they swallowed the fish.
While we were photographing the Englishman Gordon Ramel who was bicycling by, saw us and came to talk with us. Mihalis had contacted Gordon before and we had planned to go to do some birding with him on Sunday. Gordon, who was living in a small village nearby, was really interested in all nature! While we were talking he ran couple of times and caught some insects, butterflies and grasshoppers. Meanwhile Janne digiscoped some flying Dalmatian Pelicans and finally also the same young White Pelican swimming.
After an hour and a half of talking we noticed that sun was already setting down. So we started to try to hitchhike to Kerkini.
After half an hour a young man gave us a ride. The ride was something weird! This man was listening music (Queen) as loud as possible! It was horrible! Otherwise the man seemed to be little crazy too, but anyway Bohemian Rhapsody and Another One Bite the Dust were nice to listen to.
Finally we arrived at Kerkini (our ears almost bleeding). It was also funny to realize that this man had driven to Kerkini just because of us, he had been going to church in the other direction. And he refused to take any money.
During the evening we had a nice lunch again in the tavern. We also taught our dog to sit.
7th of February we woke up at 8.30 a.m. We took the bikes, which we had repaired and cycled to Krousia hills west side of the lake.
Our dog followed us until it realized we were going again towards the sheepdogs.
The bikes were awful and our butts were sore after we turned towards the hills after only 3 kilometres of cycling.
The weather was really great! Maybe that was why there was not so many birds. The hillsides were full of flowers, butterflies were flying and lizards were taking the sun.
We really enjoyed this spring weather! It was about 20 degrees. Without trying we saw 2 Sombre Tits, 8 Hawfinches, Rock Buntings, Wood Lark was singing and a Goshawk flew over us. After couple of hours we managed to cycle back to Kerkini. The bikes were really for 30-40 kilo children or something.
In the evening we went for a walk with all 3 street dogs. We had our white “sausage”, beautiful blue-eyed white husky and reddish brown hunting dog.
Finally real birding
Gordon came early in the morning, a little too early even. Anyway we were quickly on our way to do some birding. Near the Kerkinitis River we saw a Peregrine Falcon sitting over a dry dead tree. We continued towards Lithotopos and ofcourse had several stops. We saw Cirl and Rock Buntings while trying to look if an old White-tailed Eagle nest was still in use. Last time there had been a breeding pair of Eagles in 1998. But now there was two old Eagles staying in the area.
Surprisingly we found these birds sitting on a dead tree, and this was the first time these two birds were seen together. Soon they flew towards the lake and continued to the other side of the lake. So it wasn’t that promising about the nesting in the known place. We also heard a Green Woodpecker on the way to Lithotopos.
We continued to Limnohori, where we really found lots of birds. The best species was early Temminck’s Stint.
After visiting Theodoros at the office we continued to Kerkini mountains. Long-tailed Tits and Rock Buntings were common. Soon we found also 2 years old Golden Eagle soaring against the mountains.
Gordon had a talk with a priest because he had thought to put a malaise trap (a permanent insect trap) up in the monastery yard. When this priest heard we had asked Theodoros about this he promised Gordon he could do that.
We continued higher stopping on the way. We also caught all kinds of insects for Gordon – spiders, grasshoppers and everything else that moved.
Once more Janne made us stop because of some voices, but this time it was worthy. One flock of Tits had Marsh Tits, Goldcrests, Treecreeper and Lesser-spotted Woodpecker with all common ones. We also heard a Black Woodpecker calling.
Rocky road was in pretty bad shape but we kept on going. After some difficult places Gordon hit his “baby” on a big rock and a tire went flat. But it took only couple of minutes to change the tire, and we were going on again. I had never seen anyone change the tire that fast!
Even we were little worried because we hadn’t more tyres, we decided not to drive directly down to Mandraki but continued going up. After couple of kilometres the road went really bad. We had to collect the worst rocks away from the road to pass by. But soon we had to turn around because we saw that the landslide had wiped the whole road out! More than 100 metres was gone!
The way down to Mandarki wasn’t easy either. But luckily we managed to get there. Otherwise we should have had to drive the whole way back to the point where we started it morning.
At Mandraki we checked the harbour: Flamingos etc. The sun was already setting when we drove towards Kerkini. Near the nearest harbour we found a Red-necked Grebe, which isn’t very common in this area.
We still tried to find Moustached Warbler for Gordon, but we saw only the common ones. Little Owls were already calling at the station and we could write down our species number 82 for the day.
And more birding
On the 9th of February at 8 o’clock Gordon came again and after visiting the bakery we left again towards the ditch. Janne saw Moustached Warbler briefly but nobody else managed to see the bird before it disappeared into the reeds and bushes again.
Next stop we found 2 Spanish Sparrows. This species is a partial migrant and now the first birds which had arrived.
We continued to see the White-tailed Eagles again and we found the birds again easily. One was sitting on a branch of a tree near the beach and another on a high tree in the forest. Soon they took off and flew just towards the old nesting place. We hurried after them and we found these eagles sitting near the nest. After one hour waiting the birds didn’t do anything so we decided to continue birding. While waiting we saw a Firecrest and a Goshawk.
At Lithotopos we had a look at information centre and continued to the Strimonas River. We saw again young Night Herons, Ferruginous Ducks and all the other familiar birds.
Next we drove 20 kilometres to Sidirokastro, to a high rocky hill to try to find Blue Rock Thrushes and Rock Nuthatches.
After one hours searching we could find just Wood Lark, Firecrest, some Rock Buntings and other common birds.
We tried to continue towards the next cliff and we managed to get pretty close but not up there. We scoped up to the hill and managed to find a beautiful pair of Long-legged Buzzards.
After some time we continued towards the border of Bulgaria driving in rocky landscape. Wind was getting really hard and it was nice to see the views from the car, but getting out was not so nice. It was really nice to see different kind of views for a while.
After 20 kilometres we realized the road was not the one we had thought. So we had to make an U-turn and drive back. We decided to drive directly back to Kerkini.
At the station Mihalis was still working. He invited us to have a lunch. With Mihalis and his girlfriend Sofia we had a good time and a good lunch at Macrinitsa village. We even had Water Buffalo and several different kinds of desserts. With such nice company we had really good time! After 10 p.m. we were back at the centre and Mihalis and Sofia started their way back home, 65 kilometres from Kerkini.
Little bit lazyer
Next morning, after a slow start everything went even more slowly when we opened the door. The wind was extremely hard and cold! So we stayed indoors until a conference started in the centre. Because we weren’t invited (everything was in Greek) we went to have a look to the lake with a German girl Bettina. Bettina had came to have a look to the lake from Nestos information centre where she was working as a student.
The wind was horrible and there were almost no birds at all. But Smews and Flamingos were something anyway, at least for Bettina.
When we walked back to the centre Bettina took a bike and went to continue birding, even though we tried to tell her that the bike wasn’t okay.
During the afternoon we joined the conference people and went to eat. At our tavern we had a possibility to find out what is eating in Greece style! We really ate all different kind of foods and all the time the waitress carried in more and more. It was nice just to collect everything on your own plate.
During the evening we just played with the dogs. When the conference ended we went to eat again! And this time we had everything from the neighbouring restaurants menu. We had never been so full!
All the leftovers were taken for dogs, so our dog was happy in the evening, and also in next morning.
Next few days we worked indoors. The weather was like in winter again, so we painted number plates for the colony trees. In future the condition of all trees and sum of birds breeding in each tree could be checked.
First we cleaned 2000 metal plates and then painted numbers on them. Hristos also stamped the numbers into them. Later in the summer someone should put these plates on the trees in delta forest. (But we were wondering if anyone will.)
On Thursday evening we had a nice lunch with Gordon and his friend Dimitris at Mandraki. Dimitris offered a tasty lunch and delicious desserts, and we really had nice time.
On the 13th of February it was still extremely cold! Humidity was something that we weren’t used to. We walked to the harbour where we saw some Little and Black-necked Grebes, Smews, Kestrel and 2nd year White-tailed Eagle. Later we finally saw our first Yellow Serin too.
Like the day before we kept warm inside the station. In the village we saw again some Black Redstarts and Grey Wagtails like when we had arrived. Cold weather had pushed these birds down to the village again. Also one Hawfinch was in a bush near the harbour.
We painted some hundreds of plates again; at least we were able to do something for our free accommodation. Anyway we had thought to do something more interesting and important.
During the afternoon we continued our big job of trying to get our dog clean! We killed some 30 insects and even washed him! The dog was of course a little bit scared (probably this was his first shower ever) but after one hour it was our friend again.
Last day in Kerkini was the best in whole trip! In the morning Gordon came and we went to have a real birdrally. Our target was to find 100 species in one day and only from Kerkini Lake area. Gordon wanted to test this because he was writing a book about Kerkini and he wanted a proof about how many birds it is possible to find in winter.
We started by the ditch where were Waterrails, Cetti’s Warblers, Song Thrush and Sparrowhawk which was sitting on one White Storks nest. Janne managed to photograph this bird quite well.
At the other side of Kerkinitis River we found Kestrel, Hawfinch, 6 Yellow Serins and of course all the common ducks.
White-tailed Eagles weren’t at the nest so we continued to Lithotopos. On the way we got 4 species of Buntings: Yellowhammer, Rock, Cirl and Corn Buntings. Common Gull was seen also on the way. At Strimonas River we saw almost everything possible. White Pelican was sitting on a bank at the other side of the river, a Spoonbill flew over us and all the normal birds were found quickly (Pygmy Cormorant, Ferruginous Duck, Red-crested Pochard and Night Heron).
Megalohori was again really good! A Mute Swan was swimming, 2 White-tailed Eagles were sitting on the trees with Great Spotted Eagle and Peregrine Falcon. In a flock of White-fronted Geese there was a big surprise, a Barnacle Goose! We thought right away that this couldn’t be a normal bird here. We also found couple of Moustached Warblers (finally for Gordon too), Firecrest, Green Sandpiper and Goshawk.
While driving to Mandraki we saw again Goshawk sitting on a tree, and soon we saw a Common Buzzard which was sitting over its prey. We stopped and Janne decided to digiscope this bird, but it got scared. But this was only good, because there was a Peregrine sitting nearby and now it flew back to its prey. So Janne managed to get some much more interesting pictures. We thought that the prey (female Teal) belonged first to this young Peregrine anyway.
Mandraki beaches were frozen, so Flamingos and many waders weren’t there at all. Greylag Goose was the only new species we found.
Next we continued to the hill up from Ano Poroia, where was a beautiful forest. Marsh Tit was the only new tick for us but we could imagine what kind of place it would be in the spring or summer?
Along the Kerkinitis River we had another forest stop. We found 4 species of woodpeckers in 5 minutes. The species were Syrian Woodpecker, Common Woodpecker, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Green Woodpecker. We saw also Goldcrests, Long-tailed Tits and Grey Wagtails.
West side of the lake offered us Wagtail, which we had been waiting for, and our old friend Red-necked Grebe. It had caught so big fish that we wondered if it can ever swallow it? Well we hadn’t time to check this out but we continued towards the Kerkini harbour. We still managed to find Wood Pigeons and Black-necked Grebes to our list.
Even we had driven around the whole lake we still continued to the place where we had seen Sombre Tits before. We found surprisingly a flock of 200 Spanish Sparrows but nothing else.
Before the dusk we had a desperate try along the Kerkinitis River because we hadn’t found any Common Sandpipers. Luckily we found our long-legged friend White Stork. Our last species was of course Little Owl. Our neighbours were already calling when we arrived at the centre. It was our species number 95. So we couldn’t get 100, but the day had been excellent, and still there were several waders, Black Redstart, Merlin and Flamingo missing.
We had a lunch in tavern and we were extremely tired when Janne decided to check how rare Barnacle Goose is from Birds of Greece -book. It was a surprise to find out that there was no Barnacle Goose in whole book! We had found a new species for whole country!
We text messaged Theodoros about the Goose and managed to arrange a ride for us to the train at 7.30 a.m. Then we packed and went to sleep.
At Kerkini we saw, in small area, in 3 weeks 118 bird species, which is pretty good in winter!
On the 16th of February we woke up at 6.30 a.m. and then we had to hurry! Less than an hour later we had cleaned our room, eaten breakfast and said goodbye to our dog which had slept outside our door. At 7.25 a.m. Andonis drove us quickly to Rodopoli railway station. There we tried to buy tickets for the 8.15 a.m. train to Alexandroupoli, but the officer didn’t sell us tickets to that train. We never understood clearly why.
8.15 this inter-city -train passed the station, but no-one climbed in, even the train was almost empty. After this the officer started to sell tickets to next train. Maybe the officer had decided not to sell any tickets to the earlier train because it was twice as expensive as the normal train? Anyway now we had our tickets to 8.50 train and we even saved some money.
Our train was on schedule and for the next 5 hours we were looking at the views from the train windows. The railway went through some mountains following the Nestos River. The views were really nice! We knew it would have been possible to see some Griffon Vultures on the way, but it was snowing in the mountains, so we didn’t see any. We saw 50 Common Buzzards, more than 10 Sparrowhawks, 3 Kestrels and a Long-Legged Buzzard.
At 1.50 p.m. we arrived at Alexandoupolis. Strangely, the train entered station backwards. Eleni, Hannas old friend, was already waiting for us. Hanna had been working in Evros two months in 1999.
Somehow we managed to get our luggage into Elenis’ Jeep. After visiting a bakery and a shop we drove 10 km to Traianoupoli to Evros Delta information centre, where we had a room.
Eleni was in hurry as she explained to us what we would be doing in few days and all other things necessary to our visit. So everything seemed to be better organized than in Kerkini.
Soon we were walking in Traianopoli village with all our equipment. First we saw male Marsh Harrier flying over the Lutros River and 2nd and 3rd calendar year Red Kites. We also saw couple of Great Spotted Eagles and some Black Kites.
While we were still walking we saw some Common Buzzards, Hen Harriers, White-tailed Eagle, Yellow Serins and Syrian Woodpeckers. We also had a view to Delta which was quite far but anyway we could see it was really full of birds! Swans, Flamingos and other bigger birds were visible, so we really wanted to get there as soon as possible.
And some birding again
On the 17th of February 8 a.m. when workers came to the information centre, we were already ready to do something. We met all the workers (totally 9 and 6 of them were Life-project workers).
About 9 o’clock we left with Eleni to have a look to Evros Delta. Also we went to have a look to see how we should try to do our work which was trying to find Lesser White-fronted Geese amongst thousands of White-fronted Geese. While we were packing our Jeep we saw couple of Red Kites.
We had no permit to go to the border zone yet, so we just checked all the allowed places. When we reached the coast we saw a good selection of birds: Grey Plovers, Redshanks, Oystercatchers, Red-breasted Mergansers, Greenshanks and Avocets which were all trip ticks. We also saw a lot of ducks, Shelducks, Flamingos and Dunlins.
Soon we also found our first geese. Of course they were White-fronted Geese but there in the first flock there was also one Red-breasted Goose. In a next field there was a flock of 400 Geese, 200 White-fronted and 200 Red-breasted Geese.
In the next place there were lots of White-fronted Geese, so we counted more than 3000 of them totally. But we couldn’t find any Lesser White-fronted Geese.
We also found a Bittern standing between some reeds. When I tried to photograph it, it decided not to be so calm anymore and it just stood like a stick in the reeds. It was almost impossible to see even we were really close! It looked really funny when it was looking at us with its yellow eyes behind its risen bill!
We also saw that far in border zone there was a lake full of Whooper Swans, totally 1500 of them. Some Dalmatian Pelicans, Pygmy Cormorants, Green Sandpipers, Little Owl etc. were still seen but about 2 p.m. we drove back to the centre.
One worker gave us a ride up to the hills, where we thought we could see some raptors. While we were climbing to the highest hill the weather turned really bad. Anyway we decided to climb up. On the top Janne saw a female Blue Rock Thrush which disappeared very quickly. After some watching we started to see Eagles: In two hours we counted 32 Great Spotted Eagles and one adult White-tailed Eagle. Last of the eagles came little bit closer but we couldn’t get any good pictures.
It was already dark when we walked back to the centre. We continued directly to a restaurant which was on the other side of the Lutros River. Unfortunately this restaurant was not as good as that which we had become used to in Kerkini.
At 6 a.m. the next morning Eleni picked us up and we drove to the delta. We were going to try to count all the geese while they are flying from sleeping places to their feeding fields. We had also decided to count how many of the geese are wounded by hunters. (1999 Hanna had counted this was 20%. Now it was allowed to hunt White-fronted Geese, so we were quite worried.)
While we were driving along the small delta roads we saw a wild cat (Felis silvestris). And when we were almost in our counting place we saw a bigger mammal running across the road. Janne had only strange feeling that he already knew what it was.
Before the sun rose, about 6.30 a.m. the weather was cold but nice. Soon we heard strange voices behind the fields – a Golden Jackal was calling! After couple of seconds we heard an answer and soon there were at least 4 Jackals calling around the field. Soon we found one of them walking on the field, and we managed to see it quite well with telescope, even though it was still dark.
When the sun started to rise, the Jackals stopped calling. Then the geese started to call and soon the first flocks were on their way. At first we saw only small flocks (less than 100 birds) but soon the numbers started to rise. In two huge flocks we counted more than 2000 geese, and they all flew right over us. It was impossible to count them well and we managed to check only a small percent of the birds to see if they were wounded or not. Eleni had to write down the numbers that we were telling all the time. All birds landed to their feeding field in one enormous flock, it was really great!
After these huge flocks we still saw some small flocks, and finally we saw also our first Lesser White-fronted Geese in one flock. After one hour we had counted totally 6700 geese and as many as 25% of those birds we managed to check were wounded!
Next we went to check the feeding fields to see if we could the find Lesser White-fronted Geese.
From first flock of 500 White-fronted Geese we managed to find one female Lesser White-fronted Goose, which soon disappeared inside the flock. Some of the birds were starting to move to different fields already. In same field there were also some Calandra Larks.
In next field there was a flock of 1600 geese. While we were checking the flock we heard a calling Penduline Tit. And again we found a single female Lesser White-fronted Goose.
After an hour searching we realized it was not possible to find more Lesser White-fronted Geese from the flock, so we continued to the border zone (yes we had got the permits) to look if there would be more geese.
The best birding places were inside the boarder zone, and there really were lots of birds! We found an adult White Pelican, counted 2000 flying Cormorants and of course also Dalmatian Pelicans and Pygmy Cormorants were found, but not as many as we had thought.
Now we had an opportunity to check how many Swans were in that lake we had seen before. But most of the swans weren’t there anymore, only 115 Whooper Swans and 5 Bewick’s Swans were present. Most of the swans had flown towards Turkey where there were several good lakes quite near, so probably most of the Mute Swans were also already there?
Nevertheless we drove for some time around the beautiful places and we saw some Spoonbills, Flamingos, too many ducks, Black Kite and a lot more. When Eleni had to go back to the centre we still decided to stay in the area. So Eleni dropped us in the Western part of the delta.
From the coast we saw 85 Avosets, Flamingos, Spoonbill, some Great Spotted Eagles, 3 White-tailed Eagles. Last birds were soaring over us and they were calling all the time.
In the afternoon two workers who had been guarding the area took us to the centre. After good naps we walked to the village of Lutros to do some shopping. In the evening we just relaxed!
Another day searching for geese
At 8 a.m. we were already waiting for someone to take us to the fields. Strato did come early but we left only after coffee and some small-talk.
We found the geese where we had thought to. In the first flock we saw 2.500 White-fronted Geese! After a long searching Hanna managed to see briefly an adult and a young Lesser White-fronted Goose which disappeared again inside the flock.
After another half an hour Janne found a pair of adult Lesser White-fronted Geese, which we managed to see little bit better.
The next flock had more than 1000 White-fronted Geese but nothing else. The haze was too bad and the flock was quite far so of course we couldn’t be sure there weren’t some Lessers too.
While searching for geese we also saw some other birds like Short-eared Owl and 8 Great Spotted Eagles. Before the midday we drove back to the centre because the haze was far too bad for using telescope anymore.
So we continued with Strato to Alexandroupoli to rent us a car for the next few days. We managed to get a brand new Opel Corsa with help of Strato at quite good price 150€/4 days and without kilometre limits. (Anyway the price was high if you compare to Portugal)
At noon we did some shopping in Alexandroupoli (we saw some Sandwiched Terns on the sea), and after that we had a nice lunch with Eleni and her family.
Sometimes there are also worse days
20th of February before then sun raised we were already on our way to Dadia which is the place to see vultures.
We arrived at Dadia information centre at 8.30 a.m., when we had arranged an appointment with some local workers. After half an hour of waiting we met Javier (Spanish) and Dimitris, with whom we had greed to work, helping them in their daily duties. So we left directly to check possibly nesting places of Black Vulture.
After a long drive Dimitris left us with Javier to check a potential nesting place. Checking if the vultures were breeding was simple. We just had to stay and look at the nest (with telescopes of course) for whole day and look if there was any activities on the nest.
We had just started to talk with Javier when we saw young Golden Eagle coming behind the hills and starting to soar. The bird had a stick on its bill but after a while it dropped it. Then the bird decided to get a new stick, and it flew many times against the branches trying to break some loose. Soon it landed to a big dead tree and it started to jump on a huge branch to get it broken. It also tried to hit it with its bill, but the branch was too strong. The bird really made itself look ridiculous!
We were still wondering how long the Golden Eagle would try when we found a pair of Black Vultures soaring on the sky. Then also the Golden Eagle gave up and flew up to soar with these extremely big vultures. After some time all these disappeared behind the high hills.
In a hard wind we stayed still several hours, but nothing interesting happened. So we were just talking while Hawfinches, Dipper, Nuthatches, Marsh Tits, Short-toed Treecreepers, Firecrests, Long-tailed Tits and Green and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker were seen or heard.
We did see also an 3rd year Golden Eagle, another pair of Black Vultures and one Griffon Vulture before the weather turned too bad. The wind started to blow very strong and it started to rain too. But we had to stay for the rest of our 6 hours so the study would be done correctly.
Finally Dimitris came to pick us up and he was happy – he had seen a Black Vulture pair sitting on a nest, but they had left almost directly.
It was already afternoon when we were back at the centre. We decided still to walk to the feeding place to see some more vultures. Janne was dreaming to get some pictures even though the hide was known to be quite far from the vultures (Hanna had been there couple of times before).
After some 40 minutes forest walk we finally arrived at the hide. We were already extremely tired, but soon we came also angry… We found out that there were no vultures at all but a shepherd with hundreds of goats just some 50 meters from the feeding place. All the goats had bells on their necks and the sheepdogs were barking all the time, so there was not even a hope to see any vultures. Soon one of the dogs managed to get to the feeding place, and it had its lunch free!
We were really disappointed when we started our way back to the centre. I think the shepherds were lucky that we didn’t see them up close. They might have lost their teeth?
At the station we told the station workers (not vulture specialists) what had happened and they just said – it happens! So probably it really happens every day? We didn’t understand how it can be possible in a restricted area, but anything is possibly in this country, even if it is in the European Union! (Later we heard that the same thing had happened to some other birders the following week, and earlier there hadn’t been any food for vultures.)
Late in the evening we finally made it back to Traianoupoli.
Guided birding at Porto Lagos
We were up early again. We packed our car and were ready to go to Porto Lagos.
Driving was very easy along the new motorway, and we arrived at Vistonia bay before 8 a.m. So we had time to check the bay before we had an appointment with Paul Mollat – a British ornithologist who lived here. Janne had met Paul some years ago in Siikalahti. A quick check was pretty good: a flock of 200 birds, mostly Pochards but also 50 White-headed Ducks.
Paul was already waiting for us and scoping to the lake when we arrived at the meeting place. We had contacted Paul by email and he had promised to be our guide in the area. A Dowitcher species, which one had been on the area already for months, was of course our main goal. So first we went to try for that.
When we saw the place we really felt like we were home… The place was an extremely good looking wader place like the coasts of Hailuoto or Siikajoki Tauvo. Water was now even lower than usually, so the place was really good looking! And there was also quite a lot of waders. Of course not as many as in Hailuoto or Tauvo, but more than in other places we had been in Greece. And of course the species were quite interesting: Dunlins, Grey Plovers, Oystercatchers, Redshanks, Kentish Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits and Knots.
Right after Paul had told us that the dowitcher used to stay together with Redshanks Janne found it, and it was with Redshanks. The bird was even quite close, about 100 meters away, so Janne started to digiscope it directly. Of course we tried to identify it but probably it wasn’t possible? We tried to get closer, but the Redshanks were really shy. When they left the Dowitcher left too. The Redshanks were calling of course but we didn’t hear the dowitcher calling at all. A couple of times we made the birds fly but the only call that Janne heard was a kjipipip -call, he couldn’t be sure if it was a Dowitcher or the Redshanks. Finally the birds flew to one sandy island and we let them be.
We continued our guided tour of Porto Lagos area for the whole day. We really had a good time even if the weather was far too cold and windy. We talked a lot with Paul and of course we saw also lots of birds: about 75 White-headed Duck, Black-necked Grebes, Dalmatian Pelicans, Pygmy Cormorants, Little Egrets, Avocets, Sanderling, Spotted Redshanks, 2 Black-winged Stilts, Golden Plover, Slender-billed Gulls, 4 Wood Larks, 4 Stonechats…
We probably checked all the better birding places of the area and it was already afternoon when we dropped Paul to his apartment. It was already dark when we were back at Traianoupol. At the center we worked out that we had seen 82 birdspecies during the day, without trying al lot.
Another try for the vultures
I think all the cocks were still sleeping when we were setting off towards Dadia again. While packing the car we saw amazing flock of Starlings – hundreds of thousands of birds flew over us like a cloud.
We drove this time along a curvy forest road and when the sun was rising we started to stop. We tried to find woodpeckers and we succeeded – Many Great Spotted Woodeckers and some Green and Grey-headed Woodpeckers.
On one stop we found a Nuthatch which gave Janne a photograph of itself and also Sombre Tit was seen. This tit was really different looking from those birds which we had seen at Kerkini, much browner. There was also Cirl Buntings, Wood Pigeons etc.
At 8.30 a.m. we were again walking towards the feeding place and after half an hour we stepped into the hide. Now we were lucky – there were lots of vultures feeding on a cow. All the time there were new vultures coming. There was more than 20 vultures feeding together and more just sitting, one 2nd year White-tailed Eagle and we also saw a Great Spotted Eagle passing by. The White-tailed Eagle was too shy (and small!) to go to feed with vultures, but it took its part from the Ravens.
We stayed in the hide almost 3 hours and we managed to read rings or wing tags of 16 birds. Finally we saw 37 Griffon Vultures and 17 Black Vultures.
It was midday when we were back in a parking place and we continued to the village to have lunch. Happy and with our stomachs full we drove back South and turned onto the only asphalted road between Dadia and Traianoupoli that went West. It seemed that the road should go up to about 800 meters altitude. So we were thinking to try to find Chukars.
The road went really high and the views were really great. But the asphalted road ended pretty soon, so we decided not to drive further. But right there in this place there was an amazing beautiful woodpecker forest! We easily found Nuthatches and a Middle Spotted Woodpecker. So we decided to walk some more. A Black Vulture flew over us and in next 10 minutes we found Great Spotted Woodpecker, a pair of Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Green, Lesser Spotted and Black Woodpecker! So 6 woodpecker species in 100 meters! (Later we heard that the area is forbidden, but how would anyone know that? So I think this place is worth of going anyway.)
Next we continued back to the highest place of the road and parked the car. We climbed up to the good looking hill but we found only some feathers and shit, no Chukars. Naturally when we were up there we found out that there was also a road climbing there. So somehow we should have been able to drive up there. There was some kind of view tower up there!
We did walk around the top of the mountain for some time but we found just some Chukars footsteps and a huge feaces of a Wolf. Maybe the Wolf had eaten all the Chukars?
While walking back to our car we saw a pair of Black Vultures again, which came to look at us when we lay down and whistled for them. But when they saw we were still too much alive they continued their way. We saw also some Rock Buntings and Janne heard once a promising call which might have been a Chukar, but there was a Jay calling lower so no lifer this time.
Searching for Slender-billed Curlew
On the 23rd of February Janne’s phone just didn’t wake us up in the morning. So we didn’t manage to go and see the morning flight of the geese. But couple of hours extra sleeping wasn’t bad either.
About 15 minutes after waking up we were already out and going towards delta. We had heard that a local birder had seen a Slender-billed Curlew only couple of weeks before. So we decided to try to find it.
We drove directly to the place where the bird had been seen on the Lake Palugia. There was a huge flock of Mute Swans and even more ducks, mostly Pochards.
We concentrated just on Curlews, but all we found were just normal ones. Soon we found a flock of Black-tailed Godwits and Ruffs, which were the first real migrants for us. Even though the weather was still cold and dark, the Southern wind had started the migration and soon we found several more flocks of Black-tailed Godwits.
Then other waders had come: Dunlins, Little Stints, Temminck’s Stints, Greenshanks, Spotted Redshanks and Redshanks. Jannes 200th year tick was a Marsh Sandpiper and then the first Wood Sandpipers were found.
While continuing with Curlews we found a Great Spotted Eagle sitting on a pole beside the road. Janne managed to photograph it quiet close, but the light conditions were really poor again. While photographing it we found out that in next field there was a flock of geese. And almost the closest birds were 3 Lesser White-fronted Geese. So Janne decided to digiscope these too.
On the Southern side of Drana Lagoon Hanna finally found a lifer for Janne that we had been already waiting for, a beautiful adult Imperial Eagle was sitting far on the branch. That was handsome! Couple of minutes later Janne found, while checking the Curlews, a gull which was clearly an Armenian Gull.
As we continued to Western beaches it started to rain. We also met two cars full of British birders. It was weird to meet birders in Greece! Then when we were checking the Western places we met one more British group!
In the afternoon we drove to Alexandroupoli and returned our car. We had some shopping and went back to the centre by bus.
Again geeseday with Strato
About 8 o’clock the next morning we were again checking the geese fields. We drove again the traditional roads straight to the fields where we had used to find the biggest flocks. Again we found couple of thousands of geese there.
The first flock which had more than 1000 White-fronted Geese had also 5 adult Lessers and really strange looking hybrids of probably Domestic Duck and White-fronted Goose! Unfortunately these birds were too far even to digiscope. We had never seen any this like these.
Next field had 320 White-fronted Geese and again 3 old Lessers! So we had seen already 8 Lesser White-fronted Geese in short time.
We continued on our round, but the rest of the Western side had only a few Geese. We couldn’t find Red-breasted Geese at all. While driving to the Eastern side we saw 250 new geese landing into the flocks we had already checked! So we knew we couldn’t get really good results even if the beginning was promising.
The Eastern side had only 1 White-fronted Goose. Many other good birds had also disappeared: some Great Spotted Eagles were seen, Cetti’s Warblers and Water Rails were calling. There was many less birds than a couple of days before!
In the afternoon we got a ride to Alexandroupolis and we did some shopping again.
On the 25th of February at 6 a.m. we started a huge work. We had decided to count all the birds of whole Evros Delta area. We had to split into two groups so Hanna and Eleni took the Eastern side of the Delta and Janne and Alexis took the Western side.
Hanna and Eleni started from the border and they counted the morning flight of Pygmy Cormorants and Janne and Alexis counted the flight of geese.
After some waiting both birds started to come in small flocks. The Pygmy Cormorants flew really far towards Turkey and the White-fronted Geese also flew quite far to their feeding fields. In both places more than 5.000 birds were counted.
After these morning flights counting was continued by visiting all the possible places of the delta, so that as many as possible of the birds were counted. There seemed to be many less birds that in couple of days before but anyway there were lots of them!
Janne and Alexis had quite a boring start for the round, because they checked the fields where there were not so many birds – some raptors and herons of course. First longer stop was made because of the geese. Janne had decided not to spend time because these birds were already counted, but they had to stop there because there was something going on. There had been hunters in the area and now there were several different kind of guardians and authorities trying to catch them.
So Janne and Alexis had time to check the flocks quite carefully. And they easily found 6 different Lesser White-fronted Geese. Also a flock of 200 Red-breasted Geese, which we thought had continued north already, landed to these fields. When these (actually quite dangerous armed) hunters had been caught Janne and Alexis could continue their counting.
Meanwhile Hanna and Eleni had had problems because there were almost too many birds in Palugia. Quickly all ducks were counted and then they continued.
The counting took almost the whole day. Neither of groups found anything really special. Hanna got one more Lesser White-fronted Goose, a Long-legged Buzzard and a Short-eared Owl. Janne found from the westernmost corner, where we hadn’t been yet, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Mediterranean Gull and big flocks of Sandwich Terns. There was also quite a few waders: even Knots and Sanderlings.
In the evening we counted the results and we had seen together 36664 birds. And of course passerines were not included. Some nice numbers were: 108 Dalmatina Pelicans, 128 Great White Egrets, 1012 Mute Swans, 580 Shelducks, 901 Gadwalls, 14 Great Spotted Eagles, 59 Marsh Harriers, 115 Common Buzzards, 341 Avocets, 37 Slender-billed Gulls etc.
After dark, while we walked to Lutros to have dinner we heard couple of Green Sandpipers, Little Owls and Eagle Owl. So altogether we had 97 bird species in this day!
Geese are going to continue
After a slow morning we left with Strato to check the geese again. We found only 600 White-fronted Geese and the familiar flock of 200 Red-breasted. In one hour we found one adult pair of Lessers and their youngster.
We tried to find the rest of the geese but we couldn’t find many, so we decided to try to find Slender-billed Curlew from the Western coast.
We did find many waders: Curlews, Grey Plovers, Dunlins, Oystercatchers, Knots, Sanderlings and Bar-tailed Godwit and lots of Sandwich Terns, but no Slender-billed Curlew.
The Wind was blowing really strongly so we finished quiet early. At midday we were already back in the centre.
In the afternoon we went to Alexandroupolis to visit an internet cafe and to cut our hair, which was already quite awful. We had been on our trip already 2,5 months.
On the 27th of February we went to find the Geese with Eleni, but at first we couldn’t find them at all. We thought they must have already left but then we saw a huge flock, 3500 birds, flying from the easternmost fields to delta. The flock split into many small flocks which landed all around the delta. The change of behaving of the geese was clearly a mark that the birds would soon continue their migration.
We desided to try to find the Slender-billed Curlew again, because the geese were just too difficult this time.
We did find some geese anyway and in one flock there was also 2 Greylag Geese. But in same place there was also amazing flock of 1000 black-tailed Godwits! Also several Great Spotted Eagles were seen, quite a few Spoonbills and Little Egrets had arrived and all kind of Tringa-Sandpipers were found – even Marsh. We also found the first tortoise.
Later the wind started to blow really strongly again, so we gave up. When we drove back to the centre we had a dead Mute Swan with us. We found it lying dead in the delta. And like we guessed it had eaten too much lead.
In the afternoon we did some shopping in Alexandoupolis. Even though the wind was so strong that most of the city had no electricity, Janne managed to buy jeans (and they were blue, even though we couldn’t see that in the shop). We also bought the flight tickets to the Athens. We really wouldn’t like to go by train again.
Spring is coming, but we shall continue south
On the 28th of February we asked some workers who were going to guard the delta to drive us to the Western coast.
The water had risen dramatically because of the storms, so it was not at all easy to get to the beach. The water had come over the dykes so we had to take our shoes (and even trousers off) to get there.
Again we saw lots of waders: Knots, Sanderlings and Little Stints but also Ringed Plover and about 20 Kentish Plovers.
We walked to the Western side of delta, but the meadows were almost empty. Suddenly we heard strange flying call and we saw two feldeggi-Yellow Wagtails passing us. We also saw 3 extremely small Flamingos amongst the others, but after-all they were just normal ones.
At 2 p.m. the boys picked us up and we drove back to the centre.
In the afternoon we climbed to the eastern hills. On the way we saw an adult Imperial Eagle which gave us an interesting flight show. It was again very windy but several other raptors were flying: a couple of Great Spotted Eagles, Sparrowhawks, Common Buzzards and 12 Black Kite were seen. We also heard first 3 Sardinian Warblers calling, and on the top of the hill we saw a pair of Wood Larks.
In the evening we were just packing and cleaning. We had only one day left, before our journey would continue to totally different kind of place, Israel Eilat.
On the last Evros morning we wanted to be where most of the birds are – on Palougia. We decided to walk all around the lagoon.
The wind was too strong again and the water was high, but we found lots of birds. Great Spotted Eagles were flying and sitting in many places, Little Egrets and Slender-billed Gulls were more common than before and our first Little Gull flew over us. Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits were in enormous flocks! Imagine a total of 500 Avocets in two flocks and 2.500 Godwits in one flock!
We also saw a Peregrine Falcon sitting on the same hill as before and a Little Ringed Plover was the last new species for us from Greece. By about midday we had walked all around Palougia and right on time boys came to pick us up.
During the afternoon we packed and cleaned etc. We also threw some old clothes away. We wouldn’t need warm clothes in Israel. This was the reason why we had taken all the most worn clothes with us.
In the evening we ate again at tavern in Lutra. And we ate a lot! We ordered food for at least four people – souvlaki and sausage with french-fries – and still the price was the same as in restaurant in Traianoupoli. And the food was much better! While walking back we had our last listening for horrible George-frogs before we went to sleep to dream about new places and exotic birds.
On the 1st of March we woke 8 a.m. when the boys came to work. Their work had changed because there was no reason to guard the delta anymore. Now they would plant trees for raptors. We gave all our observations and Evros-map that Hanna had drawn to Eleni and she drove us to the airport of Alexandroupoli. At 11.20 a.m. the Aegean Airlines plane took off and we were again going towards the Athens and new experiences.
We flew over the Aegean Sea and saw many islands in beautiful weather. After 40 minutes we landed to Athens, a little too early. So then we had to wait six hours for our next flight to Cyprus Larnaca. From Cyprus we continued to Israel.
All in all, after two weeks in Evros we had seen 154 bird species. Totally in Greece we saw 171 species. Only some species were migrants, so we can really say that Greece is a fabulous place to go to do birding in winter!
THANKS FOR GORDON RAMEL FOR HELPING TO MAKE THIS TRIPREPORT IN BETTER ENGLISH. Gordons The Earthlife Web can be found here.