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It's all Greek: Northern and Central Greece, December-January 2022/23 (1 Viewer)

Andrew Whitehouse

Professor of Listening
So I'll be making an attempt at doing an 'as I go along' trip report, which isn't something I've done for a while. And used to always peter out when I did them. We'll see how we go.

I'll be in Greece until around 10th January, mostly in the northeast. It's not a country I've visited before and, while there aren't likely to be many lifers, I'm hoping to see a few things I've not often seen before.

I arrived on the evening of 21st at Athens Airport. On arrival I received a not entirely surprising text to say that my hold luggage hadn't made it all the way with me. Not a great start. Anyway, I went through immigration and picked up a hire car before heading off a short distance to Artemida to spend the night.

I was up early this morning, greeted by cool temperatures but bright, clear skies and lovely views across the bay. I spent an hour or so looking around nearby Artemis Lagoon. There weren't huge numbers of birds but the sounds of Sardinian Warblers and Cetti's Warblers made me feel like I'd definitely travelled south. A few ducks were on the small lagoon, including a lovely pair of Pintail. A Black Redstart topped a telegraph post near the entrance.

I then headed over to the airport, where my bag had finally arrived. Fully equipped, I headed northwards on what's likely to be the longest drive of the trip. It was pretty smooth going once I got out of Athens, aside from the frequent toll booths. My only stop en route was at a rest area for a quick break and lunch. There were a few birds here, including a male Hen Harrier quartering the nearby scrubby hillside, a flyover Serin and a pair of Stonechats.

After nearly five hours driving, I turned off the motorway to the small village of Nea Agathoupoli, where I would be spending the rest of the day and the night. After checking in, I set off for a wander for the last hour or two of the day. The calm waters of the bay soon caught my attention. A group of Dalmatian Pelicans were loafing a few hundred metres away, accompanied by several Pygmy Cormorants. Scattered across the water were small groups of Black-necked Grebes and a few Red-breasted Mergansers. Along the shoreline were an Avocet, a few Grey Plovers and a Spoonbill. In the distance, perhaps 1000 Greater Flamingos were swarming. Proper Mediterranean birding.

I wandered the fairly short distance along the path through the marshes, hearing Cetti's Warblers and Water Rails as I went. The path took me to the very fancy looking bird tower, no doubt constructed to attract birding tourists. It was, however, closed when this birding tourist visited. I could obtain similar views from the nearby hillside, albeit from a bit further back. I could see why they put a bird tower here. There really were a lot of birds. The tower overlooks a reed-fringed lagoon that was probably more ducks than water. I'd estimate between 5000-10000 Teal, along with smaller numbers of a variety of other species (see picture). A lovely group of four Bewick's Swans arrived in for a short time. An Osprey loafed on the saltmarsh. Across the reedbeds, several Marsh Harriers drifted and Buzzards perched atop the willows. Many birds were gathering to roost: hundreds of Magpies and Jackdaws, flocks of finches, a few Corn Buntings and, perhaps inevitably, several thousand Starlings. As dusk came, two male Hen Harriers appeared, probably also looking for somewhere to spend the night.


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I had to wait for the ice to melt off the car windscreen this morning, but managed to get away in reasonably good time. My first destination was a short distance north, in the riverine forest at Aliakmon in the Axios National Park. I weaved my way along under the highway and along a few dirt tracks before parking near the river. I walked back a little way from where I'd come and soon picked out a few interesting looking buntings in an isolated tree in the nearby stubble fields. There were a few Corn Buntings but some smaller, rather plain looking buntings. The light wasn't too good, so I tried to move closer and into better light. Would they be the ones I was looking for? On closer inspection, no they weren't. They were rather plain but still noticeably yellow in the right light - just a group of wintering Yellowhammers. They were soon joined in the tree by a large throng of Spanish Sparrows, which were very numerous in the fields here.

I headed back to the river, seeing a couple of Green Sandpipers on the muddy banks, a few flyover Pygmy Cormorants and eventually getting nice views of a female Syrian Woodpecker. Soon after, I was walking next to a tangled patch of scrub where the forest edges onto the fields. I began hearing some 'Yellowhammer' type jinking calls. I was looking into the low sun initially, but several birds flew up and perched. There were a few Chaffinches and Reed Buntings but most of the birds appeared to be exactly what I was looking for - Pine Buntings, at one of their only wintering sites in Europe. I think there were probably around ten but could only ID four with confidence, as most of them soon disappeared. Four birds stayed to give great views, including a splendid male perched up in a tree in good light.

Happy with how things had gone and with a bit of driving and shopping to do, I continued northwards. Google Maps decided to take me a different route to what I expected, which encouraged me to stop at Lake Doirani on the North Macedonian border. It was a delightful, peaceful spot for lunch. The birds were interesting with a few distant Dalmatian Pelicans, some swooping Marsh Harriers and a surprise female Scaup in with the Pochards.

I didn't have too much further to go to get to where I was staying for the next few days. I messaged my hosts to say I'd be arriving at 2.15. When I arrived they were surprised and said they were expecting me after midnight! I guess everyone uses the 24-hour clock in Greece. Everything else was fine though, not least because I was staying right next to Lake Kerkini, perhaps the best place for birding in Greece. I unpacked and headed off to the nearby lakeside harbour. Not too many birds were nearby, although there were several Pygmy Cormorants, dwarfed by their larger relatives. I could see there were a lot more birds on the other side of the lake, so decided to head in that direction.

I soon reached Mandraki Harbour, where the jetty seems to finished several hundred metres from the lakeshore. Despite the lack of lake, there were stacks of birds nearby. Most were commoner ducks, but there were over a hundred Greater White-fronted Geese and some Greylags. A pair of Cranes sauntered along the edge of the marsh. A couple of Greater Spotted Eagles were perched up prominently, surveying the scene. A Kingfisher was quietly sat by a stream. Along the lakeshore were dozens of Spoonbills and Avocets and a family of Bewick's Swans swam through the throng of wildfowl.

It looked like there was quite a bit of action further to the west, so I headed along to the lake embankment near Livadia. This was a very good spot, in fine light at the end of the day. The hordes of Greater Flamingos were closer here. Huge numbers of ducks were congregated and, although not rare species, hearing drake Pintails giving soft trilling calls and watching busy gangs of circling, dabbling Shovelers stretching half way across the lake was a great spectacle. Several Water Pipits were scattered across the mud and another Greater Spotted Eagle was waiting in the lakeside trees. I'm looking forward to exploring more tomorrow.


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It was another fine day here, although the frost was sharp first thing. I set out to circumnavigate Lake Kerkini, and just about managed to do so. I began at the tracks near Vyroneia, hoping for a few woodland species in the riverine forest. A Hawfinch was a good start but things were mostly fairly quiet, aside from another Syrian Woodpecker. The highlight was non-avian - a fantastic pack of four Golden Jackals, prowling busily along the edge of the fields.

I then headed off along the lake's eastern embankment, which is where I spent most of the day. The embankment isn't that close to the lake shore initially but overlooks a mix of marshes and pools. This is actually where a lot of the best birding is. There were flocks of Bewick's Swans coming and going, along with a few Whooper Swans. A large group of over 400 White-fronted Geese were grazing. A few Cranes were scattered about and were later joined by a noisy flock of around 150.

All this was attracting a few predators. A couple more Golden Jackals were picking about in the distance. Several Greater Spotted Eagles in various plumages were seen, mostly sitting about but sometimes flying through the ducks and scattering them. I spent a lot of time focused on a large falcon that was sitting about on the marshes. It was an immature bird but seemed paler than a normal Peregrine. I wondered what it might be but eventually (thanks to the new edition of the Collins Guide) decided it was a calidus subspecies. It certainly looked different to Peregrines I'm used to and even behaved a bit oddly, pecking at random things on the ground and coming down to drink among confused looking ducks, which it later shot about hunting. On one occasion when it was panicking the ducks, it was joined by another falcon: an absolutely brilliant male Merlin. It's not often I see an adult male - a gorgeous blue and orange thing.

The way along the embankment was also busy with passerines. Nothing too rare but groups of Spanish Sparrows, a couple of Redwings, a Black Redstart and a few Water Pipits. A Coypu pottered about along the edge of a ditch. At the end of the embankment, I picked out at least three Caspian Gulls near the dam.

It was now fairly late afternoon and I stopped briefly looking for gulls before continuing on to a river mouth area on the west shore. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was here: a drake Wood Duck, loafing with the Mallards. Goodness knows where it's come from, although I'm guessing the answer isn't America. I also saw my first White Pelicans of the trip, looking very pinkish compared to the numerous Dalmatian Pelicans.


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It was an interesting Christmas Day this year, with a few unexpected turns of events. It was the warmest day of the trip so far, getting up to at least 15 degrees, although it was quite breezy at times as well. I began the day at Mandraki Harbour. A Merlin popped up early doors, swooping across the marshes before perching in a tree. There were more waders about today, including a huge flock of Dunlin and several Spotted Redshank and Ruff. A very large flock of Stock Doves also flew over, presumably coming out of their roost. A distinctive call caught my ear from the pier and I headed to the small woodland patch nearby to look for the source. Soon, I picked out a Black Woodpecker flying across before perching on the trunk of a small tree to give very decent views. Always an absolutely splendid bird to see.

I then headed up into the nearby hills near the Akritochori Reservoir. I was mainly hoping for woodland birds but saw more than I expected. A tit flock along the north side of the lake included a lovely Firecrest, a species that seemed common here. A bit of pishing brought in a few tits and then another small crest-like bird. It showed nicely for several seconds and I was astonished to see it was clearly a Pallas's Warbler. Before I could try and get pictures, it flitted out of view and it and the flock it was with seemed to evaporate into the forest. I was pretty flabbergasted by this but frustrated I couldn't get photos or longer views. I spent the next two hours searching for it but there was no further sign. Apparently, it's the second ever record for Greece. I hope it pops up again, either for me or someone else. While I was looking, I had good views of a Middle Spotted Woodpecker just below the lake.

I then headed over to Sidirokastro to visit the well-known quarry, hoping for rock loving species. The quarry was in shadow and there was nothing happening there at all, aside from an obliging Peregrine that flew about and eventually perched up on the sunlit slopes opposite.

After a bit of mucking about in the narrow streets of Sidirokastro I headed out to a site that Steve Mills' book refers to as 'Six Tit Wood'. I didn't see much in the way of tits but did find a few Cirl Buntings in the open areas around the edge. More notable than the birds were the butterflies, with several Red Admirals and Clouded Yellows on the wing. Even better, I spotted a strange looking butterfly along the track. It stopped to bask in the sun and I realised it was a Nettle Tree Butterfly - a new species for me and a very distinctive one at that. It's not often you get a butterfly tick in Europe on Christmas Day.

I ended the day at another quarry. This was Aetovouni Quarry near Vyroneia. The rock face here was catching the sun nicely and was covered in Black Redstarts. I briefly saw a fine looking male Blue Rock Thrush as well. A few Cirl Buntings were around, including one that was singing. The star bird, and one I'd been looking for all day, was my first Sombre Tit for 27 years, busily hacking at a nut in the bushes. I hung around until after dark hoping for one of the local Eagle Owls to make an appearance but drew a blank.


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It was a lovely day again at Lake Kerkini. I spent a lot of time around the northern part of the lake, seeing plenty but mostly a similar selection of birds to two days ago. I began at Mandraki again. A good selection of birds included three Greater Spotted Eagles. Once again, I heard Black Woodpecker from the nearby woods (and would do so when I visited in the afternoon as well).

I then set off along the eastern embankment. The light was good across the marshes and there were large numbers of Cranes, Greater White-fronted Geese and Bewick's Swans. My first Lesser Spotted Woodpecker of the trip was seen nicely as it called from the top of some poplars. A White-tailed Eagle flew overhead, clearing much of the marshes of birds as it did so.

I popped back up to Akritochori Reservoir for lunch, but it was very quiet for birds. The warmth of the sun was bringing out plenty of insects, including a surprise Queen of Spain Fritillary and large numbers of (I think) Common Darters.

I headed back to Mandraki but not too much was happening there. I ended the day in the northwest corner by the pier at Livadia. Although this doesn't get mentioned in the guides to the area, it currently seems the best place to get close to the north shore of the lake and to lots of birds. The light was beautiful for the last hour or so of the day and lots of waders, Greater Flamingos and ducks gave views. I picked out at least 45 Little Stints and 24 Spotted Redshanks on the mud.


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Hi Andrew,
Nice report. It seems like the elephant in the room, but are you looking for lesser white-fronted geese at lake kerkini? Seems like views are normally very distant except maybe when water levels are higher ( at the end of the winter?). But surprised you’ve not mentioned them at all.
Enjoying your report Andrew - Northern Greece looks like a really birdy location.

I especially enjoyed your fluffed-up jackal photos and wondered about Barbary Falcon for your young Peregrine before remembering the troubles similarly plumaged calidus Peregrines caused me in Hong Kong in a couple of winters.

Like James I was also wondering about geese, but Red-breasted instead of Lesser White-fronts.

Thanks for the comments. And yes I'm definitely looking for Lesser White-fronts. A flock was apparently seen from the eastern embankment a couple of days ago (when I didn't go there) but they've not been there when I've visited. Birds come and go quite a bit from that area though. I don't think Red-breasted are so regular here but there's a chance of them elsewhere. Barbary Falcon wouldn't be too likely in Greece as far as I know Mike.
The warmth of the sun was bringing out plenty of insects, including a surprise Queen of Spain Fritillary and large numbers of (I think) Common Darters.
Wonderful trip 👍

Mention of these two doesn't surprise me too much as they are exactly the last two species I sometimes see here in Lithuania, surviving right through till the first real frosts in late October (and this year November)
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Today was an interesting day. It started out quite foggy over the lake, so I decided to head into the hills and back to Akritochori Reservoir. I had unfinished business there. I had a wander round the lake and then headed along the wide track just below it. As I was doing so, I saw a few tits and Chiffchaffs in the bushes along the edge. A bird with them caught my eye from a distance. Interested, I walked quickly towards and there found the phyllosc I had seen two days ago. Happily, it proceeded to flit about in the bushes for a good five minutes. Unhappily, the light was awful, as I was looking right into the low morning sun and mostly at silhouettes. I focused mainly on trying to get as many pictures as I could. I watched it for a bit but it seemed duller than it had previously and I couldn't make out any yellow rump or other features I was hoping for. Checking my photos on the camera didn't help too much, as most were too dark to make anything of. I decided that, in my excitement, I had made an error and it was 'just' a Yellow-browed Warbler. Still a good bird for Greece, but one seen fairly regularly. I was at least happy to have resolved things, or so I thought. There were a few other birds about, including two Hawfinches and an absolutely cracking pair of Rock Buntings.

Things were starting to clear lower down, so I headed to the east embankment again. There was the usual selection of stuff, including a few hundred Greater White-fronted Geese, lots of Cranes and Bewick's Swans. A lovely immature male Merlin perched up nicely in a tree. Quite a few Greater Spotted Eagles were about, including a couple of various nice spotty immatures. There were still no Lesser White-fronts however. I did meet another birder who told me they were definitely around and that he reckoned they were over towards Mandraki Harbour. I headed in that direction.

At Mandraki, there were quite a few geese in the distance but they were too distant to be sure of. I suspect they mostly weren't Lessers but maybe there were some amongst the throng. I then continued to Livadia. As usual, it was very pleasant here. I scoped a soaring Black Stork and White-tailed Eagle over towards the delta. There were at least three Caspian Gulls around and they seemed to be spending their time gliding over the water and attacking the ducks. The ducks in turn seemed surprisingly terrified of them, often scattering noisily in a clatter of feet and wings.

I had another quick check again at Mandraki before heading up to the quarry at Aetovouni for the end of the day. A Middle Spotted Woodpecker was in the trees by the road and Sombre Tit, Cirl Bunting and Blue Rock Thrush were all still present. There was no owl activity again, though as night fell I was treated to a raucous howling chorus from (I presume) some Golden Jackals.

When I get back to my accommodation, I checked the warbler photos to see what could be seen on the computer screen. They looked a bit 'interesting' as I checked through them and then I got to one that stopped me in my tracks of the bird hovering in mid air and showing an obvious square yellow rump. It was a Pallas's Warbler after all! A bit weird how I got 'cold feet' on it. It shows that sometimes you should stick to your first impressions.


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A few more pictures from the day...


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Today was my last day around Lake Kerkini. It was a much cloudier day than it's been recently, and there were even a few spots of rain. It felt pretty chilly near the lake too. I spent the morning looking, entirely unsuccessfully, for Lesser White-fronted Geese. They seem to be very elusive at the moment, if they're around at all. I began at Mandraki, where there were good numbers of Spoonbills and some Greater Spotted Eagle activity. I then went on to the eastern embankment. Quite a lot of Greater White-fronted Geese came in, which resolutely evaded my efforts to string them into Lessers. The most notable birds were an odd couple of ducks in the small lake at the start of the embankment. The female was a regular looking Ferruginous Duck but the male was a hybrid Ferruginous x Pochard. Not a combination I've seen before, as far as I can remember. The marshes were frequented by at least two Peregrines, who ended up scrapping in the skies above me. A smaller bird was persistently diving at a much larger individual. The small bird was probably the very smart male brookei Peregrine I later saw sat on the marshes.

I headed back to Mandraki in the hopes that Lessers might have materialised there. No luck, but there was an immature calidus Peregrine about - perhaps the one I saw a few days ago. I decided to cut my losses and headed off. I stopped again at Sidirokastro Quarry. There was a bit more activity there today with a male Blue Rock Thrush and a few Black Redstarts around the top of the quarry. A Sardinian Warbler was seen briefly down the road.

I'm now back down on the coast at Nea Karvali and will be exploring various places in this area for the next couple of days.


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Before going through today's sightings (which won't take that long!), a note that Greek birders saw two Pallas's Warblers at the Akritochori Reservoir today. Amazing stuff.

I spent most of the day on Mount Pangaion hoping for some high altitude stuff. It's a relatively accessible mountain and, with a four-wheel drive, you could drive right to the top. With a regular car, you can easily get most of the way on a surfaced road. The road goes up through some lovely beech forest. I stopped along the way, seeing a few woodland birds like Marsh Tit and Eurasian Treecreeper, as well as hearing the loud drumming of a Black Woodpecker.

I drove above the treeline, seeing a Fieldfare from the car, before heading up the track to the summit. I had hopes that walking to the summit would be productive for birds. As it was, between the car and the summit area, I saw precisely zero birds apart from a flock of small finches that whizzed past and evaded identification. The first bird I identified was one I was looking for: an Alpine Accentor hopping about on the rocks just below the summit. The weather was reasonable if cold but the clouds were rolling in more and more and the summit was getting smothered in mist a lot of the time. I could hear Alpine Choughs giving their freaky calls out of the clouds but it took a while to locate the group, floating about over a nearby ridge. Otherwise, there didn't seem to be any birds about, although I enjoyed seeing the feathery 'ice flowers' that had formed on the tussocky grasses.

I headed down the mountain, seeing literally no birds, and drove back through the beech forests. A pair of Black Woodpeckers flew through the trees and I managed a reasonable view of the male when I stopped.

It was late afternoon when I got back to Nea Karvali and, with a bit of daylight remaining, I thought I'd have a quick look on the sea. A few Black-necked Grebes were gathered among the numerous Great Crested Grebes. Several Harbour Porpoises and a few dolphins (not sure of the species) were surfacing in the calm waters. I still had time to find a Greek rarity, with a group of five Velvet Scoters that were diving a few hundred metres out.


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Another very pleasant day in lovely weather. The Velvet Scoters were still off Nea Karvali in the morning. I then spent an enjoyable few hours wandering the riverine forest of the Nestos Delta. Here, the only sounds are from birds, particularly the woodpeckers that throng the poplar stands. Black Woodpeckers were soon apparent and very vocal. They were followed by Lesser-spotted and Middle-spotted, with Great-spotted eventually putting in an appearance. The one I was looking for was Grey-headed Woodpecker, a couple of which eventually appeared. As the day warmed, a number of Greater Spotted Eagles took to flight, giving fine views.

I had lunch in the scenic spot of Nestos Gorge. Bird activity was low but eventually a few raptors appeared. A Griffon Vulture sailed down the valley. A ringtail Hen Harrier appeared over the ridge. Then a Peregrine caused panic as it, somewhat ambitiously, tried to stoop on a Cormorant.

I continued east to the wetlands around Porto Lagos. I looked out over the huge Lake Vistonis and soon found the birds I was looking for. I eventually counted 428 White-headed Ducks - I would guess the largest concentration in Europe. It's a good place to see a lot of White-headed Ducks, but if you want to see them well, you should maybe consider somewhere else. The lake is very large and the ducks very definitely favour the middle bit of it furthest from the land.

I then crossed the road to look around Porto Lagos lagoon. Plenty of stuff here and I enjoyed close views of an immature Greater Spotted Eagle. Mute Swan and Oystercatcher were both new for the trip.


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