Saturday, August 27, 2016

Birding in Greece: Mesolonghi full day, August 14th 2016

This year is definitely "dedicated" to this great wetland of Western Greece. We have already run quite a few birding trips and more will follow. This time, Lori Pivonka, an american birder, wanted to explore the birdlife of the area.

The weather was great, not too hot and not too windy and that predisposed us for a great time and it really was!

By the time we entered the lagoon, hundreds of terns and gulls welcomed us: Gull-billed, Caspian, Whiskered, Black, Little and Common Terns were the most common, while Slender-billed Gulls were also present.



Gull-billed Tern with a freshly caught frog
A very nice surprise was the presence of more than 10 Pygmy Cormorants. Very common nowadays in the north, the Pygmy Cormorant steadily expands its range and it will soon establish itself in the area of Messologhi. 
Pygmy Cormorant
Dalmatian Pelicans, Flamingos and Avocets were also there as these species are common and widespread. Herons were also common: hundreds of Little Egrets along with Great Egrets, Grey, Squacco and Herons. A few Purple Herons were also present

Purple Heron

Other birds of interest included dozens of Garganeys, hundreds of Dunlins and a few Marsh Sandpipers and, of course, Kentish Plovers and Collared Pratincoles

A Dunlin retaining its summer plumage

But it's not just the lagoon. The surrounding area is also very productive as the last remaining Griffon Vulture colony of the region is found very close; the birds can be easily seen flying in and out of their nests. 

Griffon Vulture

But the day was not over, in terms of active birding, even when we headed our way home. Instead of using the state-of-the-art bridge that connects western Greece with the Peloponnese, we used the ferry because we wanted to find the Scopoli's Shearwater. And there it was, soaring just above the waves!

Scopoli's Shearwater

Lori and Lefteris in action, watching a Wood Warbler

Another fine day was over. The total list of birds seen and/or heard is more than 80 species! An impressive count for August, don't you think?

CHECKLIST 

Mallard
Garganey
Ferruginous Duck
Little Grebe
Great Cormorant
Pygmy Cormorant
Dalmatian Pelican
Litte Bittern
Night Heron
Squacco Heron
Little Egret
Great Egret
Grey Heron
Purple Heron
Glossy Ibis
Flamingo
Griffon Vulture
Short-toed Eagle
Marsh Harrier
Buzzard
Kestrel
Water Rail
Moorhen
Coot
Black-winged Stilt
Avocet
Collared Pratincole
Little Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Grey Plover
Little Stint
Dunlin
Curlew
Redshank
Marsh Sandpiper
Greenshank
Common Sandpiper
Black-headed Gull
Slender-billed Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Little Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Caspian Tern
Moustached Tern
Black Tern
White-winged Tern
Sandwich Tern
Common Tern
Collared Dove
Kingfisher
Bee-eater
Hoopoe
Crested Lark
Sand Martin
Barn Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Yellow Wagtail
Northern Wheatear
Blue Rock Thrush
Cetti's Warbler
Zitting Cisticola
Reed Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Wood Warbler
Spotted Flycatcher
Collared Flycatcher
Blue Tit
Rock Nuthatch
Penduline Tit
Red-backed Shrike
Lesser Grey Shrike
Woodchat Shrike
Jay
Magpie
Raven
House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Chaffinch
Greenfinch










Monday, August 15, 2016

Athens Birding Trip report: August 6-12th 2016

Birding tours around Athens in August can be frustrating, since the heat is usually keeping birds very silent and rather lazy to move. However, autumn migration has started, so one might have the chance to see great species, usually in the morning.
We organized 3 different birding trips during these days, for fellow birders visiting Athens for holidays, who had an extra day for birding.
Firstly we set a tour for Tomasz K., a nature photographer from Poland. We decided to visit Schinias National Park, as the best area close to the city to watch birds during this month.
We started from Ramnounda fields, were we saw the first lifer, a male Woodchat Shrike. After a while, we saw several more adult birds, and a few juveniles. In the same area, we managed to get a second lifer for Tomasz, a nice Cirl Bunting, hiding in the olive trees around us.
Moving into the central marsh of Schinias area, we got great views of soaring Short-toed Eagle. The bird had a lizard caught in its mouth and landed on the highest wooden pole to eat it.
Apart from these, we had Black-eared Wheatear, a nice Black Stork (very rare for Athens indeed!), and several other species such as Sardinian Warbler, Cuckoo (not easily seen in Athens during autumn)

Cuckoo
Black Stork
Sardinian Warbler
Short-toed Eagle
Woodchat Shrike




Then a half day trip was organized, in order to take a look at the wet areas of the marshes. We saw 20+ Black-winged Stilts, Snipes, Curlew Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers, Little Stints, Common Sandpipers, lots of Red-rumped Swallows, Hoopoe and the first Lesser Grey Shrikes and Spotted Flycathcers for this autumn migration. 
Spotted Flycatcher 



The third visit at Schinias National Park was on Friday, August 12th, with Ellen Smith, a birder from Austin TX. Ellen was rather lucky to see so many birds in a half day trip, and checking 12 lifers in 4 hours! We had an amazing moment while watching a Little Owl, were we had 4 species on the same wire: Little Owl, Lesser Grey Shrike, Hoopoe, and Cuckoo a bit further away!
Little Owl
Black Storks
Lesser Grey Shrike
Hoopoe and Little Owl
and just beside: Lesser Grey Shrike!
We even saw the Short-toed Eagle again, a 5 Black Stork landing on the main observation tower of Schinias, truly a very rare sighting for Athens.

Overall, we saw 58 species. Here's the complete bird list:
Little Grebe
Mallard
Ferruginous Duck
Black Stork 
Little Egret
Grey Heron
Black winged Stilt
Wood Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Snipe
Little Sting
Redshank
Curley Sandpiper
Dunlin
Short-toed Eagle
Common Buzzard
Common Kestrel
Marsh Harrier
Sparrowhawk
Moorhen
Water Rail
Collared Dove
Turtle Dove
Little Owl
Scops Owl (heard)
Yellow-legged Gull
Crested Lark
Red-rumped Swallow
Barn Swallow
House Martin
Common Swift
Pallid Swift
Hoopoe
Cuckoo
Black eared Wheatear
Nothern Wheater
Blackbird
Stonechat
Spotted Flycather
Yellow Wagtail
Black-headed Wagtail
Woodchat Shrike
Lesser Grey Shrike
Red-backed Shrike
Jay
Magpie
Hooded Crow
Great Tit
Cetti's Warbler
Whitethroat
Sardinian Warbler
Zitting Cisticola
House Sparrow
Greenfinch
Goldfinch
Cirl Bunting

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Birding in Greece: Weekend birding tour in the Peloponnese, July 9-10, 2016

Another exciting birding tour took place in the region of Peloponnese, on the 9th and 10th of July. From our "base" in Epidavros, we toured Mt Parnonas, a very rich area in birdlife but rather unknown to birders, Lake Stymfalia, the coastal wetland of Nea Kios, close to the city of Nafplio and Lake Moustos. We managed to see some 75 species, a remarkable number given the time of year!

On the first day (July 9), we visited the extensive mountain range of Parnonas, a diverse area with large tracts of maquis scrub, conifer and broad-leaved woodland. Birds were everywhere; Honey-Buzzards, Short-toed Eagles, Common Buzzards and Kestrels soared the skies, while Cirl Buntings, Woodlarks, Woodchat Shrikes and Goldfinches were few of the passerines seen. Sombre Tit was also found and seen from a close distance.

One of the many Short-toed Eagles of the area
Close to Mt Parnonas is Lake Moustos, a small but very important wetland. Numerous Water Rails and  hundreds of hirundines were seen, while Turtle Doves were singing from tamarisk trees. A Whiskered Tern was a very unique sight, perched on a small tamarisk!

Whiskered Tern
On the second day, we started our tour in the coastal wetland of Nea Kios, watching waders like the Black-winged Stilt, the Curlew Sandpiper, the Greenshank and the Kentish Plover. A group of 10 Flamingos was a remarkable sight as it flew right in front of us, making several passes before leaving the area. Common Terns were still mating!

Common Terns
We left Nea Kios and drove to Lake Stymfalia. On our way, we stopped at the ancient castle of Larisa, at the city of Argos and enjoyed close views of Blue Rock Thrushes and Rock Nuthatches.

Rock Nuthatch
Lake Stymfalia holds Ferruginous Duck, a rare and endangered waterfowl. We saw qute a few, along with Mallards, Little and Great Crested Grebes. The surrounding farmland held Lesser Grey Shrikes, Red-rumped Swallows and Middle-Spotted Woodpeckers.

Leaving Stymfalia, we saw Corn Buntings on the fields and Alpine Choughs close to the surrounding mountain tops. The day ended with a visit to the newest White Stork nest of the area!

White Storks are coming back to the Peloponnese! 



Tired but really happy after two days of birding!

TRIP CHECKLIST (75 species)

Mallard
Ferruginous Duck
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Little Egret
Grey Heron
Flamingo
White Stork
Honey Buzzard
Short-toed Eagle
Marsh Harrier
Common Buzzard
Kestrel
Water Rail
Coot
Black-winged Stilt
Little Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Curlew Sandpiper
Curlew
Common Redshank
Greenshank
Green Sandpiper
Black-headed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Whiskered Tern
Sandwich Tern
Common Tern
Turtle Dove
Tawny Owl
Hoopoe
Green Woodpecker
Middle Spotted Woodpecker
Crested Lark
Woodlark
Barn Swallow
House Martin
Red-rumped Swallow
Yellow Wagtail
White Wagtail
Robin
Blue Rock Thrush
Blackbird
Cetti's Warbler
Zitting Cisticola
Reed Warbler
Blackcap
Subalpine Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Firecrest
Spotted Flycatcher
Long-tailed Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Coal Tit
Sombre Tit
Nuthatch
Rock Nuthatch
Short-toed Treecreeper
Penduline Tit
Lesser Grey Shrike
Woodchat Shrike
Jay
Magpie
Hooded Crow
Alpine Chough
Raven
House Sparrow
Chaffinch
Serin
Greenfinch
Goldfinch
Linnet
Cirl Bunting
Corn Bunting





Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Birdwatching in Greece: Birding in Messolonghi Lagoon, June 26, 2016

Messolonghi Lagoon is a favourite birding destination all year round. Even in summer, it offers a great many interesting species that breed in the wetland or the surrounding areas.

That's why when James C Greenwood, member of the board of the National Audubon Society contacted us for a full day birding trip, Messolonghi was, undoubtedly, the place to go.

We started very early (05.30) from Athens so as to spend as much time as possible at the area, since it is a full 3 hours' drive (a large part of the national road leading to Messolonghi is under construction).

When we reached the lagoon, we enjoyed the view of several passerines that were moving in the dense reedbeds; Cetti's, Reed and Great Reed Warblers, along with Penduline Tits, were abundant.

The lagoon itself was full of terns: Little, Common, Caspian, Gull-billed Terns all breed there, while there were also Whiskered, Black and White-winged Terns. There were also several Dalmatian PelicansOystercatchers, Avocets, Flamingoes, Black-winged Stilts and Redshanks.
Some Little Terns are still mating, while others have already chicks

Oystercatchers
 Other interesting birds found at the lagoon include Little and Great Egrets, Grey and Purple Herons, Stone Curlews and Kentish Plovers. The most interesting passerines were the Rufous Bush Robin, the Zitting Cisticola and the Spanish Sparrow. 

Male Spanish Sparrow


Close to the lagoon is the small village of Lesini. A small but increasing (thanks to nestboxes put the last few years) population of Lesser Kestrels is the greatest attraction. A Honey Buzzard, mobbed by the Lesser Kestrels, was also a very nice sighting.
Male Lesser Kestrel

The "intruder" Honey Buzzard

Another interesting site close to the area is the Lesini Ash Forest, home to woodpeckers, like the Middle and the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Tired but happy after a very productive trip, we stood for the typical "selfie"!





Monday, June 13, 2016

Birdwatching in Greece: Lake Dystos summer birding

Lake Dystos is a premier birding site of the island of Evvoia, Greece's second largest island after Crete. The rich birdlife includes mediterranean specialties like the Ruppell's Warbler, the Cretzschmar's Bunting and the Olive-tree Warbler, raptors like the Long-legged Buzzard, the Short-toed Eagle and the Lesser Kestrel and very elusive species like the Rock Partridge and the Bittern.

Although May is the best time of year to visit it, June is also very productive, especially if the weather is not hot.

Lesser Kestrels are foraging in the farmland

Cretzschmar's Buntings breed on the scrubby hills

The Black-headed Bunting is abundant in the farmland

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Birdwatching in Greece: Messolonghi Full day trip, May 25th 2016

May is a great month for birdwatching in the area of Messolonghi: lots of summer visitors along with very interesting resident birds can be easily seen in the lagoons but also in the surrounding area.

The lagoons are home to, among others,  the endangered Dalmatian Pelican, the elegant Avocet, the elusive Stone Curlew and the buyoant Collared Pratincole 

Dalmatian Pelican

Stone Curlew

Avocet

Collared Pratincole
There are also very interesting birds of prey in the surroundings; the gorge of Kleisoura, north of the lagoons, provides shelter to the Griffon Vulture, while a Black Vulture arrived two years ago and is still there! 

Black Vulture

Griffon Vulture

Finally, the elusive Levant Sparrowhawk breeds close to the city of Agrinio, 30 kms north of Messolonghi! 

Levant Sparrowhawk 

More than 70 species can be seen in just a daily trip from Athens!



Monday, May 16, 2016

Birdwatching in Athens: Half-day trip, May 12th 2016

A half-day trip around Athens, to look for all the local specialites was the choice of Mike and Max, two experienced British birders. They wanted to see the Ruppell's Warbler, the Cretzschmar's Bunting, the Sombre Tit, the Rock Nuthatch, the Chukar and the Eastern Orphean Warbler. A lot of birds, so we had to visit Mt Hymettus and Mt Parnitha that can give us all the aforementioned species.

We set off quite early, at 06.30, and reached Mt Parnitha at around 07.30. The sky was very hazy, because of the African dust that had invaded Athens, but this was no obstacle for our search. We found a small group of Rock Nuthatches very easily, the birds being very cooperative and calling from rocky outcrops for a while. Our next target, the Sombre Tit, was not that friendly. We managed to see one adult but it took as more than half an hour. Unfortunately, no Eastern Orphean Warbler was found; we did see many Subalpine Warblers, Black-eared Wheatears and the local pair of Peregrine Falcons! We also heard a male Olive-tree Warbler, definitely a passage migrant, singing from a bush. The bird was really reluctant to come out in the open and we only saw it flying from one bush to another.

Black-eared Wheatear

Subalpine Warbler

We left Mt Parnitha and headed to Mt Hymettus, the haven of the Ruppell's Warbler: it is very common in the high altitude maquis scrub, favouring Kermes Oaks. We managed to see more than one singing males, along with a very close Chukar and a confiding Cretzschmar's Bunting! 

Ruppell's Warbler

Cretzschmar's Bunting

Chukar
The sky was full of Swifts (Common, Pallid and Alpine) and hirundines. Blue Rock Thrushes were also present along with Rock Nuthatches. 

Satisfied already with their new species, Mike and Max thought that it was time to call it a day. But I had other plans for them: during the day they told me that they also wanted to see the Black-headed Bunting, so I gave them a bonus! We visited Spata fields and very quickly we saw a male singing on top of a thistle. 

Black-headed Bunting

This was a great way to call it a (half) day. Mike and Max were really happy to have seen almost all (5 out of 6) of their wanted birds, plus the Black-headed Bunting! 

Mike (left) and Max 

We're looking forward to seeing both of them in Athens for another trip! 







Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Birdwatching in Greece: Meteora and Mt Antichasia birding trip

The area of Meteora and Mt Antichasia is and ideal birding destination in spring, especially from mid April to late May, when all the summer visitors have arrived and migration is still running.

Mt Antichasia lies at Central Greece, close to the city of Trikala. It is mainly covered with deciduous woodland Oaks (Quercus spp.) being the dominant tree. River Ion flows at the north and west slopes of the mountain, and the riparian forest consists of Planes (Platanus orientalis) and Willows (Salix spp.).

Meteora, apart from being a very popular tourist destination because of the unique rocks and the monasteries, is also the home of the last Egyptian Vultures of Central Greece...This very rare vulture declined rapidly in the last 20 years and now only a couple of pairs still remain in the area...

Egyptian Vulture
Other interesing raptors breeding in the area include the Lesser Spotted Eagle, the Lanner, the Black Kite, the Levant Sparrowhawk and the Short-toed Eagle

Black Kite
Mt Antichasia is also home to Bee-eaters, Cuckoos, Golden Orioles, Turtle Doves and Rollers. These summer visitors come every year and breed in large numbers in the woods. 

Roller
The riparian forest is the best habitat to look for the Semi-collared Flycatcher. This rare flycatcher has a quite dense breeding population along the river and singing males are quite easy to find. 

Semi-collared Flycatcher





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