Monday, August 12, 2013

Northern Greece - 11 - 18 May 2013

Steve & Liz Dudley

Dadia Forest/Evros delta area - Hotel Thrassa in Tichero, three nights at €40 per double room per night.
I've used this hotel a couple of times before. Its very welcoming and comfortable. Good breakfast, limited evening meal option (check when booking for availability), but excellent when offered. Wi-Fi available throughout the hotel.

Kerkini - Villa Belles Hotel, Akritochori, four nights at €40 per double room per night.
A new hotel with stunning views of Lake Kerkini (see photo below) from all rooms. Wi-Fi in the reception area only. Breakfast OK but limited evening meal and poor value for money. But finding decent eating places in the area is difficult.

Miils, S. Birdwatching Guide to Northern Greece (2nd edition).
Map - Thrace 1:250,000 (Road Editions no. 1)
Map - Macedonia 1:250,000 (Rod Editions no. 2)
Map - Greece 1:500,000 (Freytag & Berndt)

Day 1 - Travel day

I travelled up from Lesvos to Thessaloniki (€71 one way) and Liz flew BA from Gatwick (£180 return). I had a couple of hours to chill, have lunch and watch Pallid Swifts whizzing around the airport building - fabulous! Also Booted Eagle at the airport.

We collected the hire car, a Suziki Grand Vitara 4x4 from Alamo (€407 for the week). We went for a 4x4 with full cover as we knew we would be going to some dodgy areas and we weren't wrong!

We drove arriving in Tichero after the five our drive with two stops, one for fuel the other for a stretch and picking up a Roller for our efforts.

Day 2 - Dadia Forest

We spent our first full day out in the Dadia Forest with, despite a big thunder and lightening storm at lunch time and overcast and cool weather through the afternoon, we racked up 15 species of raptor plus a host of other goodies.

Spur-winged Plover was a real surpise this morning less than five minutes from the hotel at Thermaria Pools near Tichero and Provatonas. I wonder how many records for the Dadia area there have been?

One of many Black Vultures seen today in the Dadia Forest.

Many butterflies around Dadia Forest today including this Black-veined White.

Our raptor list for today (very few birds on the wing midday to c.5pm due to thunderstorm and cool temps in afternoon) -
Black Vulture 6 at Dadia Centre (am) and 6+ at Kapsalo (pm)
Griffon Vulture 1 at Dadia Centre (am) and 1 at Kapsalo (pm) 
Egyptian Vulture 1 at Dadia Centre (am)  
Lesser Spotted Eagle 2
Short-toed Eagle 6+
Marsh Harrier 3
Honey-buzzard 1 male
Black Kite 1
Common Buzzard 3
Long-legged Buzzard 2
Levant Sparrowhawk 1
Goshawk 1
Peregrine 1
Hobby 1
Common Kestrel 5+

Day 3 - Dadia Firest and Evros Delta
Purple Heron, Evros Delta

We spent the morning up Kapsalo enjoying the raptors as the temperature rose. Our tally for the 1.5 hours we were there was -

Black Vulture 8+
Griffon Vulture 7+
Lesser Spotted Eagle 2
Short-toed Eagle 4+
Long-legged Buzzard 2
Common Buzzard 3
Honey-buzzard 1
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 1
Hobby 1
Peregrine 1

In addition we had great views of Blue Rock-thrush, Crag Martin and Subalpine Warbler.

We lunched near Tichero (by the BP garage on the main road north to Dadia) then coffeed in Alto Ego in Tichero where we enojoyed the three stork nests right by the cafe and had a Collared Pratincole fly over the town!

In the afternoon we went down to the Evros Delta - superb! Birdies included Calandra Lark, hundreds of marsh terns, Bittern booming, herons, egrets, Glossy Ibis (hundreds) etc, etc. Just a fantastic afternoon. My best on the delta.

Day 4 - Nestos Forest and Mt Paggaio
Roller, Nestos Forest

Travel day today, but you wouldn't have guessed with the amount of birding and quality birds we saw!

We drove from Tichero to Nestos Forest where we were wowed by the riverine forest. After a drive by Roller we drove right in to a Black Woodpecker by the roadside! What views. It was too quick for the camera though. We had more flight views of the same bird as we birded the forest as well as masses of Red-backed Shrikes, Golden Orioles, Hawfinch and some fly-over woodpeckers - either Great Spotted or Syrian (we heard Great Spotted for certain).

Rock Partridge, Mt Paggaio

We then headed up Mt Paggaio where we scored Rock Partridge - a tick! Third time lucky in this area for me.

Water Pipit, Mt Paggaio

Further on up the mountain we found this gorgeous bathing Water Pipit.

Horned Larks at the top (boy was the track rough!) were seen distantly and heard singing, but no Alpine Chough or Common Rock-thrush. We did manage Alpine Accentor, Black Redstart, a Honey-buzzard and a single Rock Bunting.

The track up from the ski area to the top of the mountain was the roughest I've experiences and was only just manageable in the Suziki. A true off road 4x4 (e.g. Land Rover) wouldn have made better work of it, but it was rough and would have been daunting for anyone without good off-road 4x4 experience.

We ended up at the Dolcetto cafe in Efleutheroupoli - just the pickup we needed after the slog up and down the mountain!

View from our room at the Villa Belles hotel above Lake Kerkini

We arrived at Lake Kerkini around 7.15 pm. We birded from the balcony until 8.30 enjoying the fabulous view and the hundreds of birds on the lake including pelicans, cormorants, egrets, herons, spoonbills, etc. Can't wait for the morning now!

Day 5 - Lake Kerkini

White Pelicans, Eastern Embankment

We spent the whole day around Lake Kerkini enjoying the wonders of this fabulous area.

We only scored two woodpecker species in our search of the Vironia tracks in the morning, a fly-over Lesser Spotted but good perched views of Syrian. Great Spotted was heard.

Night-heron, Mandraki Harbour

Only a few present along the east embankment this morning but eventually found them at Mandraki Harbour this evening with a few dozen seen.

We ended up in the late afternoon at Mandraki harbour with great light on the drowned forest.

Squacco Heron, Mandraki Harbour

Nettle-tree Butterfly, Veronia

Thousands on the wing this afternoon - everywhere!

We had an early dinner at the hotel then headed back out for a dusk watch for Eagle Owl near Vironia. Calling birds and five views in flight as well as  a couple of churring and displaying Nightjars.

Day 6 - Lake Kerkini

After a morning spent running around the mountains in search of peckers (Black and Grey-headed Heard but not a single bird seen) above Lake Kerkini, we headed down to the lake for a three-hour private boat trip out on the lake and in particular, to the drowned forest. And wow! It was simply amazing. One of the best bird spectacles I've ever enjoyed. The sights, sounds and smells are just fantastic and rival any seabird colony experience I've had in Britain or the Arctic.

The boat trip cost us €80 - a boat to ourselves for three hours. The standard 1 hr 15 min trip costs €20 pp, so this was excellent value for money. 

With over 1500 hundred images from the three hours in the drowned forest, here's just one of the many fabulous sights we enjoyed this afternoon.

Spoonbill feeding young, drowned forest of Lake Kerkini

Day 7 - Sidirokastro area
Our last day in Northern Greece and we took it a little easier. It might have been a recce week, but its also a holiday!

We spent the morning away from Lake Kerkini checking sites in and around the town of Sidirokastro and bumped in to at least six Rollers at two sites. Saw some woodpeckers and a Masked Shrike too, plus a pair of  Rock Nuthatches visiting their nest and stuffing all sorts of stuff, big and small, dawn some very noisy young throats.

After lunch and ice creams in Sidirokastro we drove around the south and western sides of Lake Kerkini with little to show other than half a dozen banjo-bills.

Back home tomorrow!

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