Birdlife and autumnal bird migration at Lake Kerkini in the northern Greek bird paradise with „Bartmeise Reisen“
24.10. – Finally it starts – Ελλάδα, έρχομαι
On 24.10. We started very early from Düsseldorf and headed towards Frankfurt, where the travel participants from all corners of Germany gathered to fly together to Thessaloniki. Bartmeise Reisen, the organizer, was on site with 2 representatives, Hartmut the boss and Andre, who besides his job as guide also acted as driver of one of the two cars. From Thessaloniki we drove just under 2 hours to our accommodation, the beautiful Hotel Limnaio in Chrisochorafa.
After the room distribution and a short welcome we went directly on a quick exploration of the surroundings. As dusk fell, we were able to catch a glimpse of Lake Kerkini and witness the evening flight of the cormorants to their roosts.
Afterwards we drove to our first dinner in a local restaurant. Since we were away from mass tourism, Greek was the operative language. So it was good that our local guide Giorgos and the owner of the Limnao, who was always with us in the evening, could translate.
After a sumptuous dinner, everyone, including me, probably fell straight into bed because of the long day.
25.10. – A first impression of Lake Kerkini
I woke up with anticipation of the new day. At 7:30 we had breakfast (very tasty and lots of choices), and at 8:30 we were off, first to the east dam of Lake Kerkini.
This morning started with a bang. We could watch 2 greater spotted eagles tearing up a fish.
For me, as a newbie to birding and wildlife photography, it was the first time I’d seen this species, an absolute highlight. We continued with passing cranes passing in the distance and the first flamingos.
Towards the north end of the dam we could then observe a herd of water buffalo grazing, which are bred on a nearby farm.
At the very northeastern end, in front of a picnic area, there were a few ponds to which we would be drawn again and again during the coming days. Here we saw little grebes, pygmy cormorants, a turtle, several species of ducks, kingfishers and even a water rail.
Afterwards we drove to a quarry above Vironia. There western rock nuthatches, black redstarts and blue rock thrushes were waiting for us. Unfortunately, the thrushes did not come in front of my lens. The small birds were far enough away that they posed a considerable photography challenge due to focal length and image processing. Nevertheless I managed to take some pictures.
In addition, one could look down nicely on the Lake Kerkini.
As if that wasn’t enough, in the afternoon we drove through the fields north of Strymonas, where we saw various birds of prey.
There was one long-legged buzzard we tried to follow until it sat quietly on a dead tree. Again, the distance was extreme even for large telephoto lenses and unfortunately no reasonable picture was possible due to the air turbulence. But unreasonable people, like me, will always try it anyway.
As a further highlight Giorgos spotted a wolf in the distance.
We drove back again to the ponds where we had been in the morning. This time the scenery was much more exciting, as the setting sun allowed atmospheric pictures with reflections on the water.
On the way back to our accommodations we finally saw the promised little owl sitting on the roof of a house at dusk.
So a beautiful, eventful day with many bird species new to me came to an end.
26.10. – In search of the white-backed woodpecker and lesser white-fronted goose.
After breakfast, we drove the cars about 1 hr into the Belles Mountains and arrived at the habitat of the white-backed woodpecker, found at an altitude of about 1000m in wintry temperatures. We parked in a meadow where the autumn crocus were still covered with night frost.
The next hour was devoted to looking for the white-backed woodpecker, always listening and with the camera ready. But this one did not want to be photographed today, remaining hidden, while only a black woodpecker flew past us. But we did see a treecreeper (probably a Eurasian treecreeper) and the moon setting behind the autumnal mountains.
On the way back we made another stop in the mountains and saw sunbathing lizards and a very distant golden eagle flying in the neighboring valley.
The first boat trip on the Kerkini lake was planned for that afternoon, going to the flamingo colonies, but also with the expectation that there also should be some lesser white-fronted geese among the many white-fronted geese.
Here now the hour of the birdwatchers struck, and we had to hold far from the shore due to the low water level. After intensive observations through the spotting scopes we saw some lesser white-fronted geese. For me at least pictures of flamingos in flight, the first Dalmatian pelican close up and atmospheric twilight pictures were highlights. (Pictures)
27.10 – Kalochori lagoon Thessaloniki
Today we had to get up even earlier but the anticipation of the lagoon made up for the too short sleep. Half an hour earlier than usual, we drove on this morning to Thessaloniki to the Kalochori lagoon. Already at the first stop we could see flamingos and little egrets.
There was a newly built circular path around the lagoon, which we partially walked. Here we could see many crested larks, a patient little ringed plover and white wagtails.
We continued, always along the sea from the lagoon to the delta of the river Axios, which is part of a larger national park. On the way there we made several stops and walked longer distances, because there was a lot to see.
Again and again flamingos, old or young, flying or standing, in groups or alone came before our lens.
There was a lot to see from the smaller dunlins and common sandpipers to the somewhat larger grey plover, redshank and greenshank to the Eurasian curlew.
I also got to see a black-necked grebe here for the first time.
Cormorants dried their wings in the sun and looked almost tiny when a Dalmatian pelican strutted past them.
Below some rocks, a squacco Heron hid and lay in wait for prey.
In the sea we even spotted loons in the form of black-throated loons and red-throated loons, which I could only admire in the spotting scope because of the distance.
We then passed fishermen’s houses, which were built as accommodations for fishermen but mostly stood around unused. Ideal for a little owl as a hiding place.
With a last view of this wonderful area (pictures) we said goodbye and drove through the fields in search of willow sparrows.
We also got to see a few willow sparrows but it was not enough for a photo. But a black woodpecker sat decoratively on a pole in the backlight and let himself be photographed.
Shortly before sunset we made the long way back to Chrisochorafa, where I was hungrily looking forward to the evening’s visit to the restaurant.
28.10. – Dalmatian pelicans up close
Today the highlight of the trip would be on the plan for me, a boat trip on the lake with the chance to feed the pelicans. For this we drove to the west side of the lake to a place where our hotel owner took us in his boat. He was equipped with a bag full of fish and a thick glove against too voracious pelicans. After a short ride, a group of pelicans approached the boat, knowing full well that there would be something to eat here in a moment. All cameras were pulled out and then it started, the unleashed photographing of the spectacle running before our eyes, the approaching, landing and waiting of the pelicans, the tearing open of the large beaks, the snapping and eating of the prey. More than 300 pictures were taken in a short time. The later selection, editing and above all the painful deletion of the pictures that are not needed took a considerable time. But it was worth it, as the following pictures hopefully show.
I was still pretty excited from this experience, which was to continue. We stayed on the west side of the lake and made a detour into the wild area at the end of the lake. In the bushes to the right of the road there were some songbirds to see. But this was topped by the jays, under whose flight path we must have been. Every few minutes, jays flew overhead and, typically, some of them had acorns in their beaks.
We spent lunch time on the dam at the north end of the lake. There we saw the approximately 2000 cormorants flying past us in a long line, on their way to catch fish. The noise from the wing beats alone was deafening.
There was also a group of long-tailed tits nearby and they let themselves be photographed (picture).
We spent the afternoon in the area of Sidirochori looking for woodpeckers and indeed a Syrian woodpecker came in front of our lens (picture).
Passing the time until sunset once again at the ponds on the east side of Lake Kerkini, we passed a little owl sitting on a fence on the way there, so of course a photo stop was made.
At the ponds themselves, I was able to photograph a greater scaup, a starting ferruginous duck and a flying Squacco heron.
Thus again a great day with many beautiful impressions came to an end.
29.10. – Quiet end
Today we went once again to the west into the hills. We drove via Sidirokastro to Achladochori and from there into the fields. But first we went up a mountain road. Several times we stopped at bridges in search of white-throated dippers, but they did not appear. But there were miniature chapels at the roadside from time to time.
In the stony fields near Achladochori there were not too many birds.
Corn buntings and and cirl buntings as well as hawfinches came before my camera.
A great grey shrike was to make the highest demands on focal length and postprocessing, because while it sat very decoratively on a twig, it was ridiculously far away.
After this not-so-productive morning we stopped in Adladochori. There we sat comfortably on the central square in the sun and drank our coffee, wine or beer.
On our way back we came again to Sidirokastro. There we made a detour to a Byzantine castle ruin (Issari castle), where we expected to see rock sparrows. We were probably a bit too careless, since just as we turned a corner of the ruin, three little fellows flew away. Whether they were the hoped- for rock sparrows we could not tell. Otherwise, the place was not very productive for bird watching but scenic. Without seeing rock sparrows, we drove back to Limnao.
30.10. – Side trip to Lake Dojran and farewell – Αντίο Ελλάδα
Since we still had some time before our return flight, we took a short drive to Lake Dojran, which forms the border to northern Macedonia. The lake forms a picturesque backdrop with its dead trees.
Last but not least we saw a lesser spotted and a middle spotted woodpecker and as a special highlight a kingfisher, decoratively perched on a tree root.
This was a worthy conclusion of a nice trip with pleasant fellow travelers and competent guides. Certainly not my last trip with „Bartmeise Reisen“.