Friday, March 09, 2012


Look what just winged in from sculpture Celia Smith - its the Bittern we commissioned for our new pond (currently under construction - see here).

Ain't it fab! It stands around 45cm high and is made from wire.

For more Celia Smith see here.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Northern Greece, February 2012

Dalmatian Pelican
Mandraki Harbour, Lake Kerkini
Uncropped, as it was in the viewfinder! You could almost smell it.

I'm just back from a long weekend in Northern Greece with fellow Peterbirders Brian Stone (The Natural Stone), Chris Park and Don Gardener.

As is usual these days, I take far too few photos as I would like in and concentrate on the birds. All of these bar the Grey-headed pecker (which was digiscoped) were taken with Canon 7D and 400 f5.6. 

Brian Stone has posted an excellent report here and I will link to specific species as I mention them below. His post will also become a trip report over time and will be infinitely more extensive than these notes!

Friday, 24 Feb 12
We flew out on Friday evening, 24 Feb, with Ryanair from Stansted, arriving at Hotel Morphi in Kerkini village at 2330 - spying a Wild Cat on route!

Saturday, 25 Feb 12
We were out before brekky for a short walk from the hotel down to Lake Kerkini and our first sight of Dalmatian Pelicans, Pygmy Cormorants, Hawfinch, Sombre Tit and the first of loads, and loads, and loads of Water Pipits.

After brekky we headed along the north shore of the lake to Mandraki Harbour where we spent a couple of hours enjoying masses of 40 Red-breasted Geese, White-fronted Geese,  Whooper and Bewick's Swans, Spoonbills, Common Cranes, Dalmatian Pelicans and plenty more waterbirds. Star birds were two grappling Greater Spotted Eagles - an adult and a first winter (2CY) bird - all spotty and a lifer! Unfortunately just too far away for a snap but good scope views. We also had an adult Lesser Spotted Eagle here - where did this bird winter to arrive back here so early?

Dalmatian Pelican
Mandraki Harbour, Lake Kerkini

Common Cranes
Mandraki Harbour, Lake Kerkini

With the weather being so good and the forecast for coming days not as good, we headed up the mountain NW of Kerkini for White-backed and Black Woodpeckers (a site I found in spring 2011). We had to abort though when the snow just got too deep for the 4x4 but the run back down was broken up with stops to look for raptors. more Hawfinches (turned out to be our second commonest finch of the weekend, Woodlark and butterflies. A Snake-eyed Skink was all too briefly seen.

above Ano Poroia

Clouded Yellow
above Ano Poroia

For the rest of the afternoon we headed back to the lake. We walked the Vironia woodland strips just north of the river but failed to find our hoped for woodpeckers. We did hear Moustached Warbler and decided on a suitable patch to head for pre-brekky the following day. So we headed down the eastern embankment of the lake to enjoy more waterbirds.

Large Tortoiseshell
Lake Kerkini

It was great to enjoy so many butterflies in February!

Lake Kerkini

Just before dusk we headed up to the quarry just north of Vironia where we were treated with brilliant views of a soaring Eagle Owl! We also saw and heard European Freetailed Bat here too.

Sunday, 26 Feb 12
Pre-brekky was spent back near Vironia and scoring cracking views of Moustached Warbler. With peckers calling all around us we headed back to the hotel for a quick breakfast and then straight back to the site where we again searched the wooded strips north of the river. This time we scored with four pecker species in quick succession - Grey-headed, Syrian, Lesser Spotted and Great Spotted.

Grey-headed Woodpecker
Vironia Woodland Tracks, Lake Kerkini

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
Vironia Woodland Tracks, Lake Kerkini

Syrian Woodpecker
Vironia Woodland Tracks, Lake Kerkini

We then began our full circumnavigation of the lake - and a cracking day it was! We walked a good deal of the Eastern Embankment which produced stacks of stuff. We saw six Greater Spotted Eagles, making it seven different birds over the two days, loads more waterbirds including Smew, Black Stork and a Little Ringed Plover.

Nettle-tree Butterfly
Vironia Woodland Tracks, Lake Kerkini

Feeding Dalmatian Pelicans
Lake Kerkini

Dalmatian Pelicans
Lake Kerkini

Happy chappies! Towards the end of a splendid evening meal of traditional Greek fayre (wild boar, big beans, saganaki, etc) at the fabulous taverna in the square at Ano Poroia
(photo courtesy Don Gardener)

Mon 27 Feb
We had all day at our disposal before heading off to the airport for our evening flight home. Pre-brekky was again spent along the lake at Kerkini. After brekky we headed north-east. We head great views of a roadside Syrian Woodpecker stashing a wallnut in a gash in a tree. Struggling (again) with some of the directions in Mills' site guide, we ended up above Angistro near the Bulgarian border surrounded by Hawfinches! Heading back down towards Promachonas we found an obliging roadside Middle Spotted Woodpecker before finding a nice peice of woodland which held Green, Great Spotted and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers (and more Hawfinches!).

At Promochonas Quarry we found a large flock of feeding Corn Buntings which held several Woodlarks.

At a quarry near Sidirokastro despite the howling wind we were treated to an aerial display from a male Peregrine trying to impress his misses who was tucked up on a ledge out of sight (we saw her fly in - thats how we knew she was there!).

In Sidirokastro we again found the Mills' site guide inaccurate and eventually found the ice cream rocks but no Rock Nuthatch (if you go there his directions and map don't add up and the ice cream parlour(s) are north of the river bridge and not south as marked on his map - site 8 - there are rocks here but the ice cream parlour(s) are to the north of here with better Rock Nuthatch area here and just north along the field edge opposite site 9 on his map).

We ended our birding day up Mount Vontrou. We made it to the low-scale ski area at Lailias and tried to view some of the woodland areas but with the deep snow banked up along the road stopping was difficult and leaving the road impossible. On our descent we found a fabulous gully just above (west) of Ano Orini which held six very obliging Rock Buntings (one of my all-time fave species), Sombre Tit and Middle Spotted Woodpecker. Not to mention the signs of Brown Bear. We were very happy!

Total bird list was 116 species, with three lifers for me.

A great trip. Great birding with great company enjoying great banter and great food - what more do you want!

Full species list (by Brian Stone) here.