Sunday, June 12, 2005

Mt Hymettus - Athens (send from Lefteris Stavrakas)

Athens is not exactly the number one destination for foreign birdwatchers, but it can offer some very fruitful birding trips, especially in spring. The mountain is very close to Athens and is ideal for those who stay in the city and still want to see rare species such as Ruppell’s Warbler or Cretzschmar’s Bunting. Other interesting birds include the Long-legged Buzzard, Short-toed Eagle, Red-backed Shrike, Orphean Warbler, and Sombre Tit.
The mountain is easily accessibly by car. You can head for Kaisariani’s Monastery (a very interesting historical monument) and then take one of the numerous footpaths leading to every possible direction. In Kaisariani area, which is mainly covered by olive groves and conifer woodland, you can find breeding Red-Backed Shrikes, Firecrests, Olivaceous warblers, Coal Tits, Great Tits, Sombre Tits, Jays, Hoopoes, Cirl Buntings, and other common species such as Chaffinches, Serins, Goldfinches, Blackbirds, etc.
Those who are more interested in scrub-related species can take the road that leads to the monastery of Ag. Ioannis Kareas (it’s located in a slope of central Hymmetus). From there, they can take the dirt-road that leads to the south and traverse the slopes so as to reach a higher altitude and follow another dirt road leading south. The area of Kareas has lost a great proportion of its Aleppo pine forest due to fires (the last one occurring in 1998), but the maquis-covered area was rapidly regenerated and now occupies the same or even more area than it had before 1998. As a result, birds of more open areas increased their numbers. On the other hand, woodland species’ populations were severely depleted. Kareas maquis is the ideal place for watching Ruppell’s Warblers, Subalpine Warblers, Rock Nuthatches, Blue Rock Thrushes, Chukar partridges (introduced by man many years ago), Little Owls, Nightjars, Sombre Tits, Red-backed Shrikes, Woodchat Shrikes, Black-eared Wheatears, Cretzschmar’s Buntings while several raptors like Peregrine, Long-legged Buzzard, Buzzard, forage the area.
Apart from birds, the mountain holds healthy populations of Foxes, Stone Martens, Hares, Wild Rabbits, Hedgehogs, various rodents, and bats. There are also a lot of snakes such as the Balkan Whip Snake, Dahl’s Whip Snake, Leopard Snake, Four-lined Snake, and the Nose-horned Viper. Tortoises include both Marginated and Hermann’s Tortoise. From amphibians, only Green Toads have been seen so far. For those interested also in flora, it should be mentioned that forty-four (44) orchid species have been recorded in Mt Hymmetus (a very rich area, even in European level).
Mt Hymmetus is highly recommended for anyone living in Athens and wants to see typical Mediterranean habitats’ species, without having to move too far from the city.

Lefteris Stavrakas
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