Thursday, October 16, 2014

Birdwatching in Greece: Looking for the Ring Ouzel, Greece's rarest thrush

The Ring Ouzel is a very rare resident of Greece, breeding birds confined to high altitude woodland of the north. Even in winter, it is by no means common, and most of the records come from birds shot (illegally) by hunters...
It seems, though, that it may be actually more common and widespread but overlooked among the hundreds of thousands of thrushes coming each winter to Greece. A group of more than 15 birds has been sighted on Mt Parnassus. The birds preferred the forest edge (alt: 1,800 m) and they were joined by Song Thrushes and Mistle Thrushes.

Ring Ouzel 
At the same area, small groups of Alpine Choughs flew overhead. This is the most common and widespread chough, found in most of the mountain regions of mainland Greece.

Alpine Chough

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Birdwatching in Athens: Red-breasted Flycatcher parade

The Red-breasted Flycatcher is one of the least common passage migrants seen in Greece. Fortunately, Athens is on its pathway and the Aesthetic Forest of Kaisariani at Mt Hymettus is probably the best place to look for it during autumn migration and especially in September. This year was particularly fruitful, as many birds could be seen around the monastery!

The white tail feathers are one of its most marked features 

The Red-breasted Flycatcher rarely exposes itself to open areas

It is pretty hard to get  good "clean" close view of the bird...

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Birdwatching in Greece: 17-19th September Bird Trip - Day 3

After a full day at Mesolongi, the third day was dedicated to a completely different set of habitats; fir forests and alpine grassland!

We left Mesolongi early in the morning and headed to Mt Parnassos, via the towns of Nafpaktos and Galaxeidi. Mt Parnassos is very famous for the ancient oracle of Delphi, but also for the ski centres and the nighlife of the picturesque village of Arachova. It was, of course, very early in the morning, so we had to focus on birds; a large flock of Pallid Swifts and Crag Martins welcomed us!

The extensive fir forest of Parnassos is home to many interesting woodpeckers, including the majestic Black and the very elusive White-backed; we found them both!

Black Woodpecker

White-backed Woodpecker
 These, of course, were not the only birds we saw; Coal Tits, Nuthatches, Firecrests, Short-toed Treecreepers, Great Tits and Chaffinches were the most common, while Crossbills, Robins, Wrens and Mistle Thrushes were also present. Squirrels were also easily seen, as they are very common.

Red Squirrels of Greece are actually not red!
 The next stop was the alpine zone of the mountain. Unfortunately, very few birds were seen (Northern Wheatear, Willow Warbler and Black Redstart being the most common) and we had to leave the area because we wanted to check the plain of Kopaida, on our way back to Athens. This vast plain used to be a seasonal marsh but an extensive drainage canal network built in the early 1900s has converted it to very fertile agricultural land. We found several Common Buzzards, Long-legged Buzzards and Kestrels, along with literally hundreds of Yellow Wagtails, Spotted Flycatchers, Whinchats and Red-backed Shrikes. The drainage canals held Kingfisher, Cetti's Warbler and Penduline Tit.

Yellow Wagtail 
The time had passed and we had to return to Athens. We didn't use the National Highway, of course, but preferred driving back to the capital via Erythres, a small village with a very beautiful plain. There we saw, among others, a Short-toed Eagle and the typical farmland passerines. From Erythres, we moved east through the mountain of Parnitha and then reached Athens, via the very impressive Gorge of Yannoula. A day full of sights of beautiful landscapes, unknown to most of the tourists (and even the Athenians!)

(P=Parnassos, K=Kopaida, G=Galaxidi, E=Erythres)

Short-toed Eagle E
Sparrowhawk P
Common Buzzard PK
Long-legged Buzzard K
Pallid Swift P
Kingfisher K
Green Woodpecker P
Black Woodpecker P
White-backed Woodpecker P
Crag Martin P
Barn Swallow K
Red-rumped Swallow K
Yellow Wagtail K
Wren P
Redstart K
Whinchat K
Northern Wheatear PKE
Blue Rock Thrush G
Blackbird PKE
Mistle Thrush P
Sardinian Warbler KGE
Willow Warbler PKE
Firecrest P
Spotted Flycatcher PKE
Great Tit PKE
Coal Tit P
Long-tailed Tit P
Nuthatch P
Rock Nuthatch GE
Short-toed Treecreeper P
Penduline Tit KE
Red-backed Shrike PKE
Magpie KGE
Hooded Crow KGE
Crossbill P
House Sparrow KGE
Chaffinch P
Goldfinch K
Cirl Bunting PKE

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Birdwatching in Greece: Bird Trip September 17-19th: Day 2 - Mesolongi Lagoon

The second day of our trip was devoted to the very important wetland of Mesolongi. A complex of lagoons forms the most important habitat in western Greece for great numbers of herons, waders and many other species.

We first visited Kleisova lagoon, the water body next to the town of Mesolongi. This is the best place to look for the Greater Sand Plover, a wader that has become annual visitor to the area. We did find it, along with Kentish, Ringed, Little Ringed and Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher and lots of Curlews.

Greater Sand Plover
The canals west of the lagoon are also very good birding sites. A great variety of terns (including Black, Moustached and Caspian) were found, along with Garganeys, large numbers of Coots, Moorhens, Little and Black-necked Grebes and two very interesting birds: the Pygmy Cormorant and the Dalmatian Pelican! The latter is now breeding in Mesolongi and can be seen year-round. 

Dalmatian Pelican

We also saw our first Slender-billed Gulls along with dozens of Kingfishers. Needless to say, hundreds of Flamingos were seen almost everywhere. 

After Kleisova, we visited the impressive gorge of Kleisoura, to check for the Griffon Vultures that still persist in the area. We saw three birds, along with Long-legged Buzzards and several migrating Short-toed Eagles! 
Griffon Vulture
 We left Kleisoura and headed to the extensive wetland complex of Louros, southwest of the town of Aitoliko. This vast ecosystem includes agricultural land, grasslands, a series of canals and lagoons that host very large numbers of herons, waders and many more. Literally hundreds of Little Egrets, White Egrets and Grey Herons foraged the flooded areas, along with Avocets and Glossy Ibis, while a very remarkable sighting was the flock of more than 60 Stone Curlews found in open grassland close to the sea. Other interesting species seen include the Ferruginous Duck and the Gull-billed Tern. Hundreds of Yellow Wagtails were following cattle, while Northern Wheatears and Whinchat were seen all over the area.

Stone Curlew
A quite unexpected encounter was that of a Hobby that was perching on a small rock. The bird was very tame, allowing us to take many good photos!


As the day was coming to its end we headed back to Mesolongi, and, as the sun was very close to the horizon, we saw more than 50 Spoonbills along with dozens of Redshanks. A great way to call it a day!

(K=Kleisova, L=Louros, G=Kleisoura Gorge)

Garganey K
Ferruginous Duck L
Little Grebe KL
Great Crested Grebe K
Black-necked Grebe K
Cormorant KL
Pygmy Cormorant K
Dalmatian Pelican KL
Little Bittern K
Squacco Heron L
Little Egret KL
White Egret KL
Grey Heron KL
Glossy Ibis L
Spoonbill K
Short-toed Eagle G
Marsh Harrier KL
Greater Flamingo KL
Griffon Vulture G
Common Buzzard KLG
Long-legged Buzzard G
Kestrel G
Hobby L
Moorhen KL
Coot KL
Oystercatcer K
Black-winged Stilt L
Avocet K
Stone Curlew L
Little Ringed Plover K
Ringed Plover K
Kentish Plover KL
Greater Sand Plover K
Grey Plover K
Little Stint KL
Curlew Sandpiper K
Dunlin K
Snipe KL
Bar-tailed Godwit K
Curlew KL
Spotted Redshank L
Redshank KL
Greenshank KL
Wood Sandpiper KL
Green Sandpiper K
Common Sandpiper K
Black-headed Gull KL
Slender-billed Gull KL
Yellow-legged Gull KL
Little Tern K
Gull-billed Tern L
Caspian Tern K
Whiskered Tern K
Black Tern K
Common Tern K
Collared Dove K
Kingfisher KL (more than 60!)
Hoopoe KL
Crested Lark KL
Sand Martin K
Barn Swallow KL
Yellow Wagtail KL
White Wagtail L
Tawny Pipit K
Robin G
Whinchat KL
Northern Wheatear KL
Blue Rock Thrush G
Blackbird G
Cetti's Warbler K
Fan-tailed Warbler KL
Reed Warbler K
Whitethroat K
Sardinian Warbler G
Willow Warbler KLG
Spotted Flycatcher KG
Blue Tit G
Great Tit KG
Penduline Tit KL
Red-backed Shrike KL
Magpie KL
Hooded Crow L
Jackdaw G
Raven G
House Sparrow KL
Spanish Sparrow K
Goldfinch KL
Linnet L
Corn Bunting L

Friday, September 26, 2014

Birdwatching in Greece: Bird Trip to Athens, Mesolongi Lagoon and Mt Parnassos, September 17-19th, 2014

September is the best month of autumn migration. A three-day bird trip can be really productive at this time of year, and this one was no exception. The trip included visits to Mesolongi lagoon, Mt Parnassos and many sites around Athens. The total count of bird species for the three days was 125 species, a very impressive number indeed!

Day 1 - Athens

We started very early in the morning, at 5.45 because we wanted to find the strictly nocturnal Scops Owl at Mt Hymettus. The search for this tiny owl close to the monastery of Kareas was successful and then we headed for the Sarina ravine. Chukars, Rock Nuthatches and Blue Rock Thrushes were some of the species seen close to the rocky outcrops, while Firecrests, Jays and Coal Tits were found in the woodland close to the monastery.

We left Kareas and visited the Aesthetic Forest of Kaisariani, which is also found at Mt Hymettus. The forest was teeming with birds; Redstarts and Spotted Flycatchers were everywhere, along with Willow and Wood Warblers. There were also some more hard to find species, like the Red-breasted Flycatcher and the Collared Flycatcher. Long-tailed and Great Tits were also common while several Garden Warblers and Blackcaps were also present.

Redstarts are very common in autumn

Mt Hymettus is the best place to look for Red-breasted Flycatchers in autumn
Next stop was Spata Fields. The well known turpentine trees had lots of birds inside their foliage; Lesser Whitethroat, Subalpine and Spotted Flycatcher were the most numerous. The agricultural land was also very interesting as Northern Wheatears, Whichats and Red-backed Shrikes were some of the species found.

The small lagoon of Artemis was the next stop. More than 20 Ferruginous Ducks were present in this tiny wetland, along with Teal, Wood Sandpiper, Greenshank, Little Ringed Plover and many Coots, Moorhens, Water Rails and Little Grebes. 

The last stop of the day was Kandili Peak of Mt Pateras, an extensive but poorly known mountain range of Western Attica. Sombre Tit was among the species seen, while a pair of Ravens was the last species we saw in Athens.

We headed to Mesolongi. It was a near 3-hour drive and we checked in at Hotel Theoxenia, a hotel that's located literally at the banks of Kleisova Lagoon at Mesolongi.

Checklist for Day 1 (H=Hymettus, S=Spata, A=Artemis, K=Kandili)

Teal - A
Ferruginous Duck - A
Chukar - H
Little Grebe - A
Little Egret - A
Grey Heron - A
Sparrowhawk - H
Water Rail - A
Moorhen - A
Coot - A
Little Ringed Plover - A
Little Stint - A
Greenshank - A
Wood Sandpiper - A
Collared Dove - SAK
Scops Owl - H
Little Owl - HK
Crested Lark - SK
Barn Swallow - HSK
Red-rumped Swallow - SA
Yellow Wagtail - S
Robin - H
Redstart - HS
Whinchat - S
Northern Wheatear - S
Blue Rock Thrush - HK
Blackbird - H
Cetti's Warbler - A
Blackcap - HS
Garden Warbler - H
Lesser Whitethroat - S
Subalpine Warbler - S
Sardinian Warbler - HSK
Wood Warbler - H
Willow Warbler - HSK
Firecrest - H
Spotted Flycatcher - HSK
Red-breasted Flycatcher - H
Collared Flycatcher - H
Long-tailed Tit - HK
Great Tit - HK
Coal Tit - H
Sombre Tit - K
Rock Nuthatch - HK
Red-backed Shrike - S
Jay - H
Magpie - HSAK
Hooded Crow - K
Raven - K
House Sparrow - SAK
Chaffinch - HK
Goldfinch - SK
Cirl Bunting - HK

Monday, September 15, 2014

Birdwatching in Athens: Nigel Marven@Acropolis Hill, Athens!

The world famous TV producer and presenter Nigel Marven was at the Acropolis Hill for the needs of a new documentary! Our team had the privilege to provide guidance for him and his team to complete the shooting in a very short time, under adverse conditions (hot and humid morning followed by stormy noon) and in an area that's crowded with tourists 24/7. It all went pretty well and the show will be aired shortly. Stay tuned for the details!

Nigel, his crew and Greece Bird Tours team

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Birdwatching in Athens: Autumn migration update

Red-breasted Flycatchers have arrived in Athens! As usual, the first birds are seen before the 10th of September and the species is present till the end of the month. Spotted Flycatchers are abundant, as are Willow Warblers and Red-backed Shrikes.

Spotted Flycatcher

Red-backed Shrike
Subalpine Warblers are still on the move while Whitethroat and Garden Warbler numbers have increased. A few Collared and Pied Flycatchers are also seen. Redstarts are becoming more regular and we're waiting for the odd Bluethroat to be found.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Birdwatching in Greece: Athens Panorama Birding Trip, September 4th

September is the peak month of fall migration and a bird trip is always a nice idea. The September, 4th trip, however, was far more productive than we could imagine as we counted c.80 species around Athens, including specialties like Ferruginous Duck, Sombre Tit and Eastern Orphean Warbler! 

The day started very early (5.30 am) as we wanted to check for Scops Owls at Mt Hymettus. We saw at least two birds and we also saw a Nightjar in the ground. Just after dawn, we headed to suitable habitats for Rock Nuthatch, Blue Rock Thrush and Chukar and we saw them all, along with Wood Warbler, Marsh Harrier and more.

The Rock Nuthatch is very common in Mt Hymettus
Wood Warbler is scarce in fall
After we left the rocks, we headed towards the wooded parts of the mountain, where we found, among others, Collared Flycatcher, Coal Tit, Firecrest, Short-toed Treecreeper and Cirl Bunting.

The next stop was Spata Fields. We visited the agricultural land and enjoyed Pallid Swift, Tawny Pipit, Red-rumped Swallow, Whinchat and lots of Subalpine Warblers, feeding on Turpentine berries.

Northern Wheatears are very common passage migrants in fall
Close to Spata Fields, lie the small lagoon of Artemis (aka Loutsa). This tiny wetland was very productive as it held Ferruginous Duck, Purple Heron, Squacco Heron, Ruff, Little Stint, Marsh Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Moorhen and Coot, while Water Rails were calling from the dense reedbed.

Afterwards, we headed north to Oropos Lagoon, the sole breeding site of Kentish Plover. We also found Penduline Tit and had a glimpse of Kingfisher. Large numbers of Little Egrets were also present, along with Sandwich Tern, Grey Plover and Redshank. 

More than 60 Little Egrets were found in Oropos Lagoon
Our last stop was Mt Parnitha. This site was the best way to finish our trip, as we saw Sombre Tit, Redstart and Eastern Orphean Warbler, along with Short-toed Eagle, Pied and Spotted Flycatcher.

The total list of birds seen (and heard) is  76 species! Pretty good for Athens, don't you think?

September, 4th Athens Panorama Checklist

(H=Hymettus, S=Spata, A=Artemis, O=Oropos, P=Parnitha)

 Mallard O
Teal O
Ferruginous Duck A
Chukar H
Little Grebe AO
Squacco Heron A
Little Egret O
Grey Heron O
Purple Heron A
Short-Toed Eagle P
Marsh Harrier H
Common Buzzard S
Sparrowhawk H
Kestrel HSOP
Water Rail A
Moorhen A
Coot A
Black-winged Stilt A
Little Ringed Plover AO
Kentish Plover O
Grey Plover O
Little Stint AO
Wood Sandpiper A
Redshank AO
Marsh Sandpiper A
Ruff A
Black-headed Gull O
Yellow-legged Gull O
Sandwich Tern O
Feral Pigeon HSAO
Collared Dove O
Little Owl H
Scops Owl H
Nightjar H
Swift SAP
Pallid Swift SA
Alpine Swift SAP
Kingfisher O
Crested Lark S
Sand Martin S
Barn Swallow SAOP
Red-rumped Swallow SAOP
Tawny Pipit S
Robin H
Redstart P
Northern Wheatear SP
Whinchat S
Stonechat HS
Blackbird H
Blue Rock Thrush H
Blackcap HP
Eastern Orphean Warbler P
Sardinian Warbler H
Subalpine Warbler S
Zitting Cisticola SA
Reed Warbler A
Willow Warbler S
Wood Warbler H
Firecrest H
Spotted Flycatcher HSP
Pied Flycatcher P
Collared Flycatcher H
Great Tit HOP
Coal Tit H
Sombre Tit P
Penduline Tit O
Rock Nuthatch HP
Short-toed Treecreeper H
Red-backed Shrike S
Magpie HSAO
Jay HP
Hooded Crow P
House Sparrow SAO
Chaffinch HP
Goldfinch SO
Cirl Bunting HP

Monday, September 08, 2014

Birdwatching in Athens: Autumn migration update

The most interesting month of autumn migration is here and migrant numbers are increasing, day by day. Spotted Flycatchers have become very widespread and locally abundant, while Subalpine Warblers are still numerous. The numbers of Whitethroats and Gardean Warblers have slightly increased, while few Pied and Collared Flycatchers are also present. Wood Warbler is scarce in autumn, while Willow is very common.

Spotted Flycatcher 

Even Northern Wheatears visit the berry-rich Turpentine Trees

Garden Warbler
Flocks of Bee-eaters are flying at high altitude, while Yellow Wagtails are on the move. Redstarts and Eastern Orphean Warblers are also present, the latter being quite rare, though.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Birdwatching in Athens: Autumn migration update

September has come and migrant numbers build up: A flock of more than 40 Bee-eaters was flying high above Vravrona, while a male Rufou-tailed Rock Thrush was seen atop a rock in the opposite hill. Migrant warblers are also very common; Subalpine is the one seen in large numbers everywhere, along with a few Garden, Lesser Whitethroat and Common Whitethroat, while Willow is also widespread. The Spotted Flycatcher is also seen very frequently.

Willow Warbler
Subalpine Warbler
 Waders are also moving south; Ruffs, Wood Sandpipers, Little Stints, Black-winged Stilts and Marsh Sandpipers were seen in Artemis Lagoon, along with c.20 Ferruginous Ducks.

Marsh Sandpiper

It is not just the birds that migrate, though. The Plain Tiger, a butterfly relative to the American Monarch is a regular autumn arrival from Egypt, after crossing the Mediterranean Sea...

Plain Tiger

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