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ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

Lake Kerkini and surronds (1 Viewer)


Well-known member

The end of January 2024 saw me changing companies, and after five years of continuous employment, I decided to undertake a short trip between contracts. Initially I had grand aspirations of perhaps taking a month or so off and heading out to Asia, however with a mortgage to pay, and a wife who loves to travel, I had to settle for considerably more modest plans. Some friends had visited the Lake Kerkini area in 2022, and their enthusiasm for the area and its birds, along with the affordability and short travel time inspired me to follow in their footsteps.
Although there were few new species, feasible targets included one of my most wanted - Wallcreeper - along with the possibility of several south-eastern European species, and I was joined by my good friend Kieran for the first time for a while (and by John FT at the eleventh hour!), all of which was to hopefully make for an enjoyable short trip.


We booked flights to Thessaloniki for £82 return from Gatwick, opting to take carry-on luggage only. An early morning flight meant getting a train across the previous evening and a night in the airport, however this meant that we were able to have an additional half days’ birding. We booked an SUV via Easyjet, with a discounted rate of £60 for five days' hire. We got a Dacia Duster (with some quite impressive dents already in situ) from Centauro. Car hire out of season is incredibly cheap, with a hatchback available for less than £8 per day. At under £300 per person all in, we were hopeful we had the makings of a cheap and fun trip with some winter sunshine and decent birding.

We used our mobiles for navigation, pre-loading various grid-reference locations into a group chat prior to the trip to ensure that we all had access to the information. In the past I’ve used maps.me and downloaded the respective tile for the area for offline navigation, that would likely also work well.

Our first night's accommodation was at Dimitra’s Home (via Booking.com), giving us an apartment a stone’s throw from Kalochori lagoon, and within striking distance of sites for Wallcreeper and Pine Bunting. Our main base at Kerkini was the Kerkini Aura apartments at Vyroneia, located on the north-east corner of the lake. Dimitra’s Home was a great base, offering a comfortable and modern place to stay, whilst the Aura apartments were more basic. We didn’t have much success with eating out, with the best options on the east side of the lake being in Irakleia.

Some gen was kindly provided by our friends Johny and Oli who had undertaken the trip in 2022, with additional information gleaned from various trip reports (mostly on Cloudbirders) and also via ebird. We had been warned that the weather was likely to be pretty cool, and as a result packed and dressed accordingly, though our appearance mirroring the michelin man at Gatwick on the Saturday evening must’ve been bemusing to some.


There were a number of new birds for each of us, varying to a degree on our exposure to European birding. We established the primary targets of the trip as Wallcreeper, Western Rock Nuthatch, Sombre Tit, Eagle Owl, Dalmatian Pelican and Pine Bunting, which would be new birds for all of us.
We also wanted to target some of the “classic” species on offer which would either be new birds for at least Kieran and/or John, or giving us the opportunity to increase our collective experience and exposure to some species which we don’t get to see regularly. These included Eastern Imperial and Greater Spotted Eagle, Great White Pelican, Smew, Red-Breasted and Lesser White-fronted Goose, Calandra Lark, Moustached Warbler, Long-eared Owl, Long-legged and Rough-legged Buzzard, as well as various winter plumaged waders and wildfowl. Other potentially interesting species in the area included Nutcracker (a serious bogey bird of mine), the potential future split of the lilfordi White-backed Woodpecker, Alpine Accentor, Rock Partridge and Pygmy Owl.​
Day 1: Around Thessaloniki

Following a morning flight, we arrived in Thessalonki around mid-morning with enough time for a few hours birding. Once we had collected our hire car, we headed for a potential Wallcreeper site to the north-west of the city (see here), but not before a brief stop to take in some sea air (and birds) at Dendropotamos river estuary. The birding began immediately outside the airport, with Hooded Crow, Ring-necked Parakeet, Crested Lark, and Common Buzzard, all present, whilst the drive along the ring-road produced a surprise Black Stork for John and Kieran.

After adjusting to driving “continental style” and negotiating a manual gearbox, we arrived at the delta some 30 minutes later. We were unsure of the access arrangements for this site, so we opted to park sensibly on the flyover and scope the area. There were plenty of birds around, with a large gull flock containing Yellow-legged, Mediterranean, Black-headed and 10+ Slender-billed Gulls, with a couple of Sandwich Tern also mixed in. Kieran picked up a smart 2cy Little Gull when a Marsh Harrier flew over the site. The wetland areas held more birds, with our first Greater Flamingo, a flyby Spoonbill, Redshank, Green Sandpiper and three very smart Spur-winged Lapwing - our only individuals of the trip.
The wider rather industrial backdrop held several Crested Lark, Tree Sparrow and a singing Black Redstart. We moved a bit further around the coast to access the shoreline (here), where we enjoyed better views of the same species, as well as adding Grey Heron and Spoonbill, whilst the first of many Pygmy Cormorant whizzed overhead in a rather prehistoric fashion. A large group of Tree Sparrow provided some distraction, whilst 5+ Water Pipit gave good views amongst the spartina. Soon enough we decided that the stench of the sewage outflow was fast approaching unbearable levels, and headed up into the mountains above Thessaloniki for some fresh air.

Our next destination was the Oraiokastro quarry, which has held Wallcreeper in the past. Unfortunately, temperatures were quite high for most of our trip, and the limited snow cover high in the mountains meant that we would draw a blank for the species at all the sites we targeted. On the contrary, the pleasantly mild weather and lengthy spells of sunshine made the experience much more enjoyable than birding in the UK! The quarry proved to be fairly birdy, with both Rock and Cirl Bunting showing very well in the lower areas, a fine Firecrest feeding in some juniper bushes, and some elusive gamebirds flushed from a scrubby slope, which eventually were confirmed as Grey Partridge. As we made our way up into the quarry, we were joined by some locals who drove up to drink beer and throw rocks around - not exactly conducive for birding. Despite the noise, we headed up the slopes where a distinctive call revealed our first Western Rock Nuthatch of the trip, feeding amongst the scree and boulders before occasionally singing. Unfortunately Kieran wasn’t feeling too well and only had brief views before returning to the car, whilst John and I continued up the slope to the top of the quarry. We perched on the rather precipitous edge, carefully scanning the rock faces opposite. Two Western Rock Nuthatch were present and giving good views at eye level, whilst 2 - 3 Black Redstart shivered their way across the cliffs. Eventually we picked up a rather fine female Blue Rock Thrush quietly foraging around the quarry rim, giving good albeit slightly distant views.

With the afternoon sun beginning to wain, we headed down towards our base in Kalochori, with the afternoon light providing perfect light for some birding around the lagoon. Large numbers of Greater Flamingo were evident, with groups of wildfowl including Teal, Wigeon, Pintail, Gadwall, Mallard and Shelduck present. There were also many Pygmy Cormorant present, with a minimum of 35 present. A few waders were also present, with Grey Plover, Avocet, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank and Curlew present amongst several Redshank. Several Crested Lark and Water Pipit were present, whilst a hovering Kingfisher allowed exceptionally close views. Scanning the wider area it became obvious that large numbers of Marsh Harrier present, with the final tally of 80+ birds dropping into roost, with a maximum of 34 individuals present in the air at one time. With such large numbers present, I continued to grill the birds arriving and was rewarded with a pair of vocal male Hen Harrier dropping in together. Further along the lagoon were several Great and Little Egret, whilst the first large group of Corn Bunting were assembled on overhead wires, with 40+ individuals present. Corn Bunting numbers throughout the trip were a highlight, with the species common across all areas, and likely over 1000 individuals recorded. By this time, the light was beginning to fade, and we continued back towards our accommodation, but not before a final treat in the shape of a group of 7 Little Stint. These birds were the most obliging any of us had encountered, allowing a careful approach to just 3 metres - an astonishing privilege, and evidence of the lack of fear these birds show having unlikely encountered humans before.

It had been a fantastic introduction to the area with some memorable moments already, and we ended the day with 81 species observed. After finding some food, a few beers and arguably the late Carl Weathers finest role (Predator - dubbed in Greek) we retired for some much needed sleep.​
Day 2: Around Thessaloniki to Lake Kerkini

After a decent nights sleep, we were up before dawn, and already adding birds to our list from the apartment, with Serin, Siskin and Greenfinch along with Black Redstart and a flyover Marsh Harrier. Our day started with some birding around Kalochori lagoon and surrounding areas.

The day started with something of a bang, with the first bird flying head-on towards the car along the access track being a ringtail harrier. As the bird banked the boa, dusky secondaries and four obvious primaries confirmed this was a fine 2cy Pallid Harrier. We enjoyed the bird quartering the marsh and interacting with the local Hooded Crows, whilst a superb male Hen Harrier was largely overlooked despite vying for our attention. Whilst scanning the area after the Pallid Harrier departed, we picked up a calling Woodlark, with yet more Water Pipit and Crested Lark present and correct. A rattling call drew our attention to a male Sardinian Warbler, whilst Stonechat and Cetti’s Warbler provided a more familiar backdrop.

A similar suite of species was present, with the Little Stint joined by 3+ Common Sandpiper and a showy Greenshank, whilst a second Spotted Redshank had joined the first. A group of 25 Spoonbill gave fantastic views in the early morning sun, allowing John some fantastic photographic opportunities, whilst Kieran and I were just content to soak up the atmosphere in perfect light. I picked out a distant bulk atop a tree on the other side of the marsh which resolved into a fine adult Greater Spotted Eagle, giving decent scope views whilst receiving a bit of hassle from the local Buzzard and Magpie population. A quartet of White Stork flew off to feed in some arable land behind the lagoon. Scanning through the wildfowl revealed a pair of Black-necked Grebe loosely associating with a group of Little Grebe, allowing for plentiful opportunities to compare and contrast the two species, as well as take a few photos.

Our next stop was to be the fairly well known site at Axios National Park which has held good numbers of Pine Bunting in recent winters. We stopped the car along a likely looking area holding large groups of passerines and spent a while sifting through. At least 50 Spanish Sparrow were here, along with smaller numbers of both House and Tree Sparrows. Once again good numbers of Corn Bunting were present, along with C. 10 Yellowhammer and large numbers of Chaffinch were joined by singles of Brambling. All these passerines attracted raptors, with three Hen Harrier (one male and two separate ringtails) buzzing the group, as well as Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, along with the ubiquitous Marsh Harriers. Better yet was a female Merlin which attempted a couple of unsuccessful high speed passes at the flock, briefly buzzing a Chaffinch before flying directly towards us and landing directly overhead in an Ash tree - the best views any of us had had of the species. Other raptors included a particularly showy sub-adult Greater Spotted Eagle, which provided obscured but close views on several occasions as it took cover along the field boundaries.
We split up to try to cover more of the area, with John and Kieran adding White-tailed Eagle, as well as Syrian, Great-spotted and Green Woodpecker. They also both had brief views of an interesting ticking bunting, with Kieran noting an obvious white spot in the ear coverts, along with some rufous in the face - most likely a Pine Bunting (or hybrid), but despite rejoining together and scouring the area, we drew a blank. A thermalling party of Dalmatian Pelican was the first of the trip, but remained distant. More impressive was a bugling flock of approximately 80 Crane which landed in the arable fields to forage. After a few hours of grilling the area without success, we reluctantly decided that the increasing heat and lower activity levels meant that we were not going to catch up with Pine Bunting.

Soon enough it was time to head north and onto our primary destination - Lake Kerkini. Having scoured ebird ahead of the trip, I had noticed a decent-sized wintering flock of Smew being reported from Faviochori reservoir, so opted to take the slightly slower route to Kerkini to allow us to attempt to catch up with these handsome duck - it had been over a decade since I’d last seen the species, one of the downsides of living in the west country. Some odd quirk of our sat-nav had us driving several km down a dirt track, which turned out to be rather fortuitous; a large mixed flock of passerines contained upwards of 60 Corn Bunting, tens of Spanish and Tree Sparrow, White Wagtail and many Crested Lark, but best of all were the 20 odd bulky, stubby billed and black under-winged passerines which exploded out from the flock - the first Calandra Lark of the trip, a new bird for John, and the first Kieran and I had seen in over a decade. Whilst we were watching this mass of birds, the reason for the disturbance became apparent, as a fine male Hen Harrier quartered the area, occasionally dropping into longer areas of grass. Whilst watching this bird, a pair of Hen Harrier appeared and followed the line of flight the first male had followed, giving us the perfect opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the size difference between the sexes.

We continued onto the reservoir, where we quickly found the 41 Smew (including no less than 14 “white nuns”) present and correct - albeit at a distance. Despite the impressive numbers of this concentration, the birds remained on the far side of the water, and we didn’t really obtain the views we had hoped for. Other birds here giving the site a distinctly wintry feel included 27 Bewick’s Swan, and 2 Green Sandpiper, whilst the 10 Spoonbill, pair of Dalmatian Pelican and single Whiskered Tern reminded us that we were very definitely still in southern Europe! The surrounding area attracted yet more Corn Bunting and Spanish Sparrow, as well as a showy Sardinian Warbler and Black Redstart.

Once again time was ticking on, and with only a few hours of daylight remaining, and over an hours drive to reach our destination, we made tracks and continued north and east towards Lake Kerkini and our base at Vyroneia. Our final destination for the day was the small quarry to the north of the village, which had previously held Wallcreeper, as well as being fairly reliable for Eagle Owl.
Driving up the track to the quarry past the football pitch brought our first Hawfinch of the trip, with several small parties feeding amongst the scrub and trees. We were to be in with a treat, as the Hawfinch roosted in the Junipers above the quarry, with an estimated minimum of 35 birds coming in to roost during the afternoon. There were more finches on offer, with good numbers of Siskin, as well as a pair of Serin, whilst several Cirl Bunting were also present, giving fairly good views occasionally. A stand of trees just below the quarry held yet more Hawfinch as well as the first Middle-spotted Woodpecker of the trip. A calling Marsh Tit eventually showed around this area, whilst the local Raven buzzed an immature Peregrine - our only one of the trip. As the light began to drop, the familiar call of a Little Owl was heard, with John eventually picking the bird out on the roof of a nearby abandoned building. A Woodcock was a surprise addition, quickly bursting from the undergrowth and disappearing down the slope. The light was beginning to go by this point, and despite a lengthy wait well after dark we drew a blank with Eagle Owl. The day was yet again to end on a high however, as 20 mins after sunset we were surrounded by the slightly unnerving howling of a pack of Golden Jackal, a truly haunting sound with the backdrop of an artists palette of colour provided by the last vestiges of sunlight.​
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Thanks all for the positive comments, much appreciated and glad it is providing some entertainment. The next instalment is a biggie...

Day 3: Lake Kerkini

Our third day in Greece, and we had finally arrived at our destination - Lake Kerkini. The main area to concentrate on was the east bank (or so we had been told), which is where the River Struma enters the lake. During the winter, the water levels are approximately 2-4 m below where they are during the spring due to most of the water being locked up in the ice high in the mountains, and as a result this north-eastern corner resembles a plain rather than a lake shore. Our first port of call was the small track immediately south of the Strimon River Bridge, which can be followed along the south bank of the river, passing through a mixture of habitats. Our first stop was about 300m west along this track where there is a stand of Poplars - this area was particularly rewarding for woodpeckers, with Lesser-spotted, Syrian and Green Woodpeckers all immediately obvious and calling within this area, giving prolonged views. A quick scan of the river here produced no less than 5 Little-ringed Plover and a good scattering of Green Sandpiper, as well as our first wild Greylag. John picked up on some Hooded Crow mobbing something at the water's edge, and was astonished to find a female Goshawk enjoying an early morning drink. The crows moved off fairly rapidly, and we spent a good 10 minutes or so enjoying this rather candid moment. Although I am very fortunate to see this species regularly, it was the first time I’d seen one on the deck in such a relaxed state.

We continued west to a small farmstead where large numbers of passerines were feeding on spilt grain; Spanish and Tree Sparrow, Corn Bunting, White Wagtail, Goldfinch, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Chaffinch and Hawfinch all dropping down to feed. Although we saw this matrix of species regularly throughout the trip, we always stopped to just enjoy the diversity and numbers involved, for three birders in their mid-thirties, it was a bit like a window into what the countryside of the UK must’ve been like some 50+ years ago. Next up was yet another close Greater-spotted Eagle, perched in some roadside trees. Given the efforts we had made collectively to see this species in Poland across various trips, it felt a bit like closure to finally be rewarded with such good views.

After a slight wrong turn, we were back on track, and onto our next stop at the Megalochori triangle, and in particular the scattered reedbeds around the pond. This area is mentioned in a number of trip reports for its woodpeckers, and in spring, Crakes. Little chance in early February of the latter of course, but we did add Water Rail here, whilst yet another Lesser-spotted Woodpecker called from nearby trees. A distinctive hard “tak” call betrayed the presence of our main target here, and after a bit of scanning we were finally rewarded with a furtive Moustached Warbler - yet another tick for John and Kieran. We continued around along the east bank, before stopping to scan over the expanses of the delta which are home to many geese in the winter. Here we met a ranger, who told us that we were not supposed to drive along the embankment, and after talking for a while, he could understand this was a genuine mistake, and allowed us to drive to the other end without turning back. The ranger also spent about 20 minutes birding with us, helping to locate a flock of approximately 100 Lesser White-fronted Geese, as well as 178 Greater White-fronted Geese. There were also large groups (totalling approximately 150 + individuals) of Common Crane foraging in the area, as well as another Greater Spotted Eagle, a ringtail Hen Harrier and several Dalmatian Pelican. We heard about the conservation efforts undertaken in protecting these species, as well as some of the interesting ringing recoveries made over the last 25 years or so, before our new friend had to continue with his rounds. A brief male Lesser-spotted Woodpecker put in an appearance, again flying directly overhead before alighting in a tree just meters away - yet another memorable moment. We once again turned our attention to the geese in an effort to try to pick out any Red-breasted geese which occasionally occur, when the birds became agitated and began shifting around - the cause of the commotion quickly became clear as four Golden Jackal were weaving their way around the flock on the lookout for an easy meal. We had hoped that we may see some mammals, but this was completely unexpected, and a real privilege to witness.

We continued along the embankment to where the water reached the structure, and began to grill the wildfowl. Here we had our first 12 Tufted Duck of the trip, proving a real challenge to pick out amongst the Pochard. It is entirely possible that we overlooked other diving ducks, and estimated the number of Pochard at somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 individuals - staggering numbers. A group of 15 Spoonbill waded in the shallower areas, with large numbers of Teal also hugging the shoreline. Closer scrutiny revealed a few Snipe, Lapwing and Green Sandpiper whilst small groups of Water Pipit held a few White Wagtail and Meadow Pipit.

Rather than risk causing any disturbance to the wildfowl or upsetting any other officials, we headed for the dam at the south end of the lake via Limnochori, and it appears that the best option is to drive here, and walk either up or down the embankment - a useful tip for other birders.
Arriving at the dam, it quickly became evident that a different suite of species was present, and exploring the bays to the west and north of Lithotopos proved to be very successful. Many Black-headed Gull were joined by Yellow-legged and Caspian Gull, whilst three Whiskered Tern flew around the shoreline. Offshore were huge numbers of Great Cormorant, with many Pygmy Cormorant also present. We also had our best views of pelicans here, with 25 - 30 Dalmatian (many of which were in full breeding attire, complete with Julius Caesar crown feathers) as well as 4 Great White Pelican, with two 1cy, one 2cy and an adult positively glowing with a soft pink wash (bizarrely reminiscent of a breeding Ross’s Gull). We spent quite a while just watching the antics of the various birds and their interactions with the local fishermen, with the occasional squabble for fish scraps mostly seeing the pelicans emerging as the victors. Keiran and I picked up two thermaling Greater Spotted Eagle, whilst up to 7 Cirl Bunting foraged in the waterside vegetation. A reported Armenian Gull put in a very brief appearance, though sadly John and Keiran obtained only brief views before the bird departed in the direction of the dam.

We continued north along the west side of the lake, stopping at various points to look for birds, before ending up on the shore east of Livadia. This area proved very birdy, with huge numbers of birds present, however the light was poor and views distant, making for a slightly frustrating experience. Large numbers of duck were again present, whilst we added C.20 Ruff, 2 Black-winged Stilt in addition to Greenshank and around 50 Snipe. Another male Hen Harrier put in a brief appearance here, though despite the quality (and quantity) of birds present, we soon abandoned the area in favour of somewhere with better light.

As the afternoon was progressing, I once again suggested that another effort at Vyroneia quarry could be a good option, so we headed in that direction. Our arrival coincided with the farmer putting feed out for his cattle, leading to a particularly slow journey up towards the quarry. At the top we split up, with Kieran and John adding a few Black Redstart and a male Blue Rock Thrush to the days proceedings, whilst I focussed on counting the Hawfinch gathering ahead of the roost - a whopping 78 (minimum) appeared over the course of the next 45 minutes or so. Other species included a brief Marsh Tit and more Cirl Bunting, but after a discussion about whether we wanted to stick it out at this site or try elsewhere around dusk, we opted to try another site south-east of Livadia where our friends had some memorable encounters back in 2022.

We arrived at the site with an hour of daylight, enjoying yet another impressive roost of Hawfinch whilst we waited. Our second Woodlark of the trip gave a brief burst of song, whilst a few Cirl Bunting chipped away in some scrub. A female Sparrowhawk made several passes through the area, hunting well into dusk. Anticipation was building with each passing minute, and finally at 6:07pm, the wait was over. A low hoot announced the arrival of our target, and the enormous frame of a Eurasian Eagle Owl materialised as if by magic on the skyline, suddenly appearing in my scope. I uttered something sweary and illegible, but Kieran and John understood and appeared in a flash next to my Swarovski. In the excitement, John kicked the tripod, momentarily losing the bird, before getting back onto it just in time for a second bird to fly in and attempt to mount the first! We watched in silence until well after sunset, with the birds regularly calling to one another, and the second bird disappearing off to hunt. This was a particularly poignant moment for me, as this was a species I had only heard once in the wild, aged 12 whilst holidaying with my parents in Greece, so it seemed particularly appropriate to finally lay eyes on this species in the same country, albeit 25 years later!

It had been an incredible day worthy of celebration, and we did so in style - courtesy of takeaway pizza, several tins of mythos beer and arguably the find of the day, a large bottle of Grants whiskey we found tucked away in the back of a supermarket.​


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nice report, I was there a couple of weeks ago. I’m pretty sure there are no access restrictions for the main part of the eastern embankment from megalochori to limnochori, but the section from this point (41.1804744, 23.2066283) south to the dam is closed to the public.
Perhaps you were speaking at cross purposes with the ranger? I bumped into Kostas Papadopoulos who is (another?) one of the rangers on the embankment north of limnochori and he didn’t mention anything.
nice report, I was there a couple of weeks ago. I’m pretty sure there are no access restrictions for the main part of the eastern embankment from megalochori to limnochori, but the section from this point (41.1804744, 23.2066283) south to the dam is closed to the public.
Perhaps you were speaking at cross purposes with the ranger? I bumped into Kostas Papadopoulos who is (another?) one of the rangers on the embankment north of limnochori and he didn’t mention anything.
Thanks James, it is entirely possible that we were speaking at cross purposes, but he did say that we shouldn't drive along the embankment, and would be in trouble if the police happened to see us - this alone meant that we did not attempt it again. Interestingly when we left the embankment to enter Limnochori, we did notice the red and white "no vehicle entry" signs - assuming these are the same as in the UK. Either way, the ranger we spoke to was really friendly and helpful, and we didn't want to do anything that could either get him into trouble, or risk disturbing the birds.
Hope you enjoyed your trip?
Day 4: Lake Kerkini and nearby surrounds

Having had a full day around the lake, we decided to go a little off-piste on our final full day, taking in some of the surrounding mountains as well as targeting other species that had so far eluded us. Our morning began at the Vyroneia tracks, an area of wet woodland and arable. This area is highly regarded for woodpeckers, and a wander around the various lanes here didn’t disappoint with Green, Syrian, Middle-spotted and Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers all present and correct. The morning was a little cooler than in previous days, and activity was a little low. We had a few Chiffchaff and Cetti’s Warbler, but other than these and a calling Short-toed Treecreeper, it seemed a bit dead.

Our next destination was yet another site with a track record for producing Wallcreeper as well as various other goodies - Sidirokastro Quarry. The site was less complex to get to than other reports had led us to believe, and soon enough we were once again out of the car and scanning the habitat. The main highlight here was a singing Rock Nuthatch, finally giving Kieran decent views. We scoured the various rock faces, but save for a few Black Redstart, we drew a blank. The surrounding pine woodland produced a couple of additions in Coal Tit and Goldcrest, but was otherwise again rather on the quiet side. Heading out of the quarry we did an impromptu stop at the waterfall for photographs, proving to be rather fortuitous with a pair of Cinclus Dipper foraging and singing within the watercourse. A little way further upstream we added Nuthatch to the list, which proved to be a rather scarce species.

Once again, time was ticking on, and we opted for an early lunch back at Vyroneia quarry, with the hope of some butterflies on the wing. As our usual visits had proven, the site continued to deliver plague-proportions of Hawfinch, with a very conservative estimate of 100 individuals feeding in junipers below the quarry. At one point we had three groups in the same field of view in three separate trees - 33, 29 and 18 individuals respectively - with singles and small groups passing overhead concurrently. A trilling call gave us a bit of a boost, and we spent a good quarter of an hour pursuing our next target before it gave itself up - a wonderful Sombre Tit in the scrub and open woodland just south of the church. We were all surprised by the relative heft of this species, enjoying the finer detail of its plumage such as the brown tones to the front of the cap, and the enlarged dark throat - a quirky little bird.

Feeling a bit more inspired following our encounter, it didn’t take long before the next notable encounter occurred, with some noisy Raven clearly unhappy about something. I optimistically suggested they may have found one of the resident Jackals just as a pair of Golden eagle hove into view just a few hundred meters away. Astonishingly, the birds were undertaking some courtship display, occasionally breaking off to ensure that the Ravens kept their distance, and we were treated to extended and rather close views of this majestic species - yet another moment that will linger long in the memory!
We headed up to the quarry for lunch, managing a few butterflies, with the best being an all too brief Large Tortoiseshell, whilst a fine male Black Redstart and yet another Western Rock Nuthatch provided some entertainment.

We decided to head down to the dam area of the lake again, as the light looked suitable for some photography. En-route we hatched a plan involving bread and tins of sardines, baiting the gulls in the hope that the pelicans may show some interest. Arriving on site, there were still plenty of gulls around, and it didn’t take long before John picked out the adult Armenian Gull, which showed exceptionally well. As there was a good variety of birds around, it was time to open the tins and put our plan into action. The bread was a great success, with many gulls appearing, however the sardines only attracted the local feral dog population, and proved to be quite a hit. To ensure that we weren’t going to make them ill, we did a little quality control of our own, and ended up eating a good proportion ourselves…

There were a number of both pelicans present again, with presumably the same glowing adult Great White Pelican showing slightly closer than the previous day. There were also a number of wing-tagged birds, so I helped Kieran reading some of these whilst John fired off some shots. A Spoonbill was also present along the shoreline, whilst we got slightly better views of Sardinian Warbler and Cirl Bunting.

As the daylight was beginning to fade, we discussed the best options for the evening, and unsurprisingly the vote was unanimous; another evening with the Eagle Owls was the only real option. We arrived at the site a little later, with the sun already just dipping below the horizon, and after a short while, we heard the first low calls emanating from the forest behind us. The calls sounded a bit like they were moving around, but I opted to scan the area where we had enjoyed good views the previous evening rather than look for the calling bird, and was rewarded almost immediately with an individual sitting underneath a bush, but out in the open. Again, we all spent time just soaking in the views and atmosphere, when all of a sudden the calls were suddenly much closer - the second bird appearing from somewhere behind us and alighting atop a dead tree just 100m or so away. At this point there was a bit of scramble to get views, and the bird under the bush began calling, causing the second bird to fly off in the same direction. The sheer size and scale, particularly when contrasting against the last of the daylight was a spectacle to behold, almost like somebody parachuting away from the treetops.

It was another end to yet another fine day, with fewer species and quieter sites than the previous 24hrs, but with some truly exceptional experiences and encounters with some tricky species. The question was, with just a half day remaining before our lunchtime flight home, could we pull out one last surprise?​

(Golden Eagle image courtesy of John Friendship-Taylor)


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Day 5: Lake Kerkini to Thessaloniki

Our final morning dawned rather cool and overcast, a bit of a surprise to the fine, dry and rather pleasantly warm weather we had enjoyed so far. A quick breakfast and the Dacia once again fully laden with our belongings, we calculated we had approximately 5 hours of daylight before we had to check into the airport - including a 1.5hr drive from Kerkini back to Thessaloniki. Our first stop was once again the Vyroneia tracks in an attempt to catch up with Black and Grey-headed Woodpecker, both of which had eluded us so far. The weather was not exactly conducive to high levels of territorial activity, but we once again managed Green, Great-Spotted, Syrian and Lesser-spotted Woodpecker within a matter of minutes. The activity levels were low, with just a few calling Chiffchaff, Cetti’s Warbler, Nuthatch and Short-toed Treecreeper present, so we decided to cut our losses and maximise our birding by taking in a few sites around Thessaloniki. En-route Kieran and John once again gripped me off with another Black Stork, whilst the numbers of both Common Buzzard and Common Kestrel were astonishing - it seemed that every other electricity pylon or pole alternated between the two species.

We decided to try two areas close to the airport in an effort to break 150 species, with the first stop being Lake Koroneia. There had been a few interesting reports from this area on ebird, with a few waders and widespread passerines we hadn’t yet caught up with present in the last week or so. Access to the lake wasn’t obvious, so we opted to try some tracks at the western end of the lake which appeared to pass close to reedbed and exposed mud. We parked up and crept toward the concrete outflow, where there were literally hundreds of ducks present. Large numbers of Shoveller, Teal and Pochard held smaller numbers of Gadwall, Pintail and Wigeon. There were plenty of birds to work through, and we had optimistically hoped for a Red-crested Pochard or Ferruginous Duck, however, what appeared in my scope was more surprising - a female White-headed Duck! I quickly got the others onto it, particularly as this was a new bird for John, though I was a bit perplexed when Kieran mentioned that it was a male rather than a female. I peered back through the scope, and sure enough, there was a male, and a female, and another male…and another 3 females… rescanning the area, we came to a conservative minimum count of 178 individuals present - approximately 1.8% of the global population - though it is likely that over 200 individuals were present as they were actively feeding and diving the entire time. Other species present included the ubiquitous Marsh Harrier and Pygmy Cormorant, whilst Grey Heron and Great Egret stalked about in the shallows. Kieran picked up 5 Little Gull bobbing about in the water, their dainty frames contrasting with an enormous Dalmatian Pelican, whilst a Whiskered Tern put in a brief appearance.

Sadly we couldn’t see any exposed shoreline that would hold any waders, so we headed for another ebird hotspot right next to the airport - the Greek Biotope Wetland Centre. This site again had offered a number of potential additions for the trip list, but on the whole ended up rather quiet by the standards we had enjoyed over the last few days, with just 2 each of Grey Plover and Oystercatcher, 3 Black-necked Grebe, and singles of Marsh Harrier, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper and Water Pipit.

Soon enough it was time to return the hire car and head for the airport after a very enjoyable (and much needed) mini-break. We ended the trip on 148 species, which is a respectable total, particularly given that we missed some rather straightforward species such as Kentish Plover, Zitting Cisticola, Long-eared Owl etc. The only major dips were Pine Bunting and Oriental Turtle Dove, neither of which would’ve been lifers for me, but would’ve been the extra layer of icing on an otherwise very rich cake.

Anyone considering a low-cost, winter sun break offering a range of species and some fantastic encounters would do well to consider this area - a spring trip is definitely on my radar!
Great report, jealous of the golden eagle, Armenian gull and moustached warbler. The latter two species weren’t even on my radar. I did see pine bunting (at aliakmon) and grey-headed woodpecker though.

I asked Kostas and it turns out you are correct, the entire eastern embankment is officially closed to vehicles since approximately a year ago. I did see signs at the opposite ends of the southern stretch as above but didn’t notice them in the northern section. It seems there isn’t any enforcement however and I saw quite a few cars (both locals and birders) on there.
Great report, jealous of the golden eagle, Armenian gull and moustached warbler. The latter two species weren’t even on my radar. I did see pine bunting (at aliakmon) and grey-headed woodpecker though.

I asked Kostas and it turns out you are correct, the entire eastern embankment is officially closed to vehicles since approximately a year ago. I did see signs at the opposite ends of the southern stretch as above but didn’t notice them in the northern section. It seems there isn’t any enforcement however and I saw quite a few cars (both locals and birders) on there.
Thanks for the kind words James, we just got (very) lucky I think! Thanks for following up with Kostas and providing the update regarding access, hopefully of use to anyone visiting in the future.

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