Birdwatching in Greece
the classical tour: macedonia & thrace ©
Covers Greece’s most famous birding sites including Evros River Delta and Dadia Forest’s birds of prey sanctuary, and five of the country’s 10 Ramsar Convention wetlands*.
Places: Thessaloniki, Kerkini Lake *, Strimonas River, Fraktos Forest, Nestos Delta * & Gorge, Xanthi, Porto Lagos *, Lake Vistonida *, Lake Mitrikou *, Thracian Lagoons, Dadia Forest Reserve of Raptors, Traianoupoli, Feres, Evros Delta *, Avas Valley, Iasmos Gorge, Kavala, Strimonas River Delta, Volvi * and Koroneia * Lakes.
Number of species usually seen in a 8-10 land days period: 160-195, with a peak at 245.
Warning: the enumeration of birds is just to wet the appetite and is in no way limitative — nor a guarantee to see them.
Day 1-2. Arrival at Thessaloniki airport. Transfer to Kerkini lake. Settling in guesthouse. Information about the aquatic sanctuary of the lake. Welcoming dinner.
At noontime we attend a presentation by a local biologist and get a chance to ask specific questions, including about the lake conservation. In the afternoon we tour the sanctuary in 3-seat canoes, passing through patches of water lilies where Whiskered and Black terns breed, silently approaching, but not too much, the more than 700 nests of the famous Cormorants colony.
Day 4. We depart eastwards through way off-the-beaten path, but easy mountain roads (we may catch a glimpse of the Rock Thrush). On the way, we hike in the afternoon in the Virgin Forest of Fraktos which extends to the Bulgarian border, hoping to find the Somber Tit, and at least one of the Woodpeckers, the White-backed or the Grey-headed one. We continue through an uneven plateau made more desolate as dusk approaches, but, instead of the end of the world, we arrive in very alive, cultural Xanthi. We settle in our 4-star hotel where we eat.
Day 5. It’s simple with Nestos, morning the delta, afternoon the straits. Well, almost. So, we start by driving in the vast, covered by riparian softwoods, Nestos River delta up to its mouth — the rare Spur-winged Plover is waiting for us there, one of 300 species. Let us also mention the Masked Shrike and the Olivaceous Warbler, because their names are as beautiful as their persons. At noon we picnic in a subtropical environment or, inland, passing some Booted and Lesser Spotted Eagles, on the way to the mountain top, with a superb view of the river’s straits. Finally, under the warm sunshine colors of the afternoon, we walk on the old cobblestone path at the foot of the majestic cliffs, looking for equally awe-inspiring Rock Buntings, Golden Orioles, Syrian and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Red-rumped Swallows, Short-toed and Bonelli’s Eagles, Levant Sparrowhawks, Collared Flycatchers.
Day 6. Again, eastwards departure (we’ll soon be in China…) But first, we visit Xanthi’s Old City and, if we have the chance of being a Saturday morning, we go shopping at the very colorful market where mountain, Muslim (yes!) peasants come down in their traditional dress to sell their products. Then, off we go.Very quickly, we arrive at Porto Lagos, by Vistonida Lake, another famous birdwatching spot — Black-headed Bunting, Collared Pratincole, Greater Flamingo, Black-necked Grebes, Little Tern, Roller, and… the Gulls, Slender-billed and the Mediterranean one. If we did not see the Spur-winged Plover, we may catch it here. Late afternoon we continue to Dadia and settle in the very peaceful guesthouse.
Day 7. Early to bed, early to rise. This is the place par excellence to do it. In the magic post-dawn light, we hike up and down through a rocky, thick Mediterranean pine forest up to the observatory to find some of the Griffon, Egyptian, or Black Vultures, or still Imperial, Golden, or Lesser Spotted Eagles, if not the lone Lammergeier, feed themselves on dead animals before they start to fly, taking advantage of the rising heat.
At noon we hide from the sun and visit the Information Center and watch a documentary film… in English! Then to nearby Soufli, an architecturally interesting town known as a center for the production of silk since ancient times. In the afternoon, the bravest will ascent to the peak Gibrena, to enjoy Semi-collared Flycatchers, Woodlarks, and Subalpine and Olive-tree Warblers… as well as a panoramic view of the region.
Day 8. Departure for a whole day visit of Evros delta and inland, hilly areas. No need to present this classical birdwatching place at the very limit of Greece, opposite the Asian shore. But we can mention some of the prizes: Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Short-toed and Calandra Larks, Isabelline Wheatear, Crag Martin, White-tailed Eagle… and the last chance to see the Spur-winged Plover. Optional visit at Traianoupoli therapeutic spring, and at Feres, of the 12th century Virgin Savior of the World church, also called the Parthenon of Thrace and a miniature of Aghia Sofia in Constantinople.
Day 9. Finally, we head westwards. We soon stop in Alexandroupolis to enter Avas Valley, with its Bonelli’s Warblers, Sombre Tits, Rock Nuthatches, as well as Lesser Kestrels, Peregrines, Black Kites, Honey Buzzards. We continue in the same direction, for less-known Iasmos gorge and its series of vultures (all four) and other birds of prey, the Ortolan Bunting, and… a pair of nesting Eagle Owls. We backtrack a few kilometers to Komotini and its luxurious mansion, or is it a hotel?
Day 10. Departure for nearby Mitrikou Lake and the famous Thracian lagoons. Good hiking around them and, for the brave, sea swimming. By the way, we can also watch the Black and Whiskered Terns, Lesser Grey Shrike, Short-toed Lark, Ferruginous Ducks, and the whole series of Herons.
Follows the long drive on what used to be the Via Egnatia, linking the Western Roman Empire with its Eastern part, soon to become Byzantium — there is actually a somehow hidden spot where you still see parts of it. We will rest in one more very well hidden place, Sohos village, up on the hills above Volvi and Koroneia Lakes, the last sites we will see, not far from Thessaloniki — from the pool you almost see down the lakes.
Day 11. Morning visit of the twin lakes. Although they have been heavily damaged by agriculture and pollution, as well as largely ignored compared to the more illustrious places, they have quite a few interesting spots, like the enchanting riverine forest of Appolonia, with its Cirl Buntings, Stonechats, Hoopoes; the unique, old and tall plane-tree between the two lakes, full of Herons’ nests; the Rendina valley with its raptors and the Black-eared Wheatear; or simply the reedbeds of Lake Koroneia with, again, water buffaloes, accompanied by Night Herons, Little Egrets, Little Bitterns, Redshanks, Pochards, Black-necked Grebes, Spanish Sparrows; and, why not, the strange saurian with the equally funny name of Agama Stellio, hiding on a very special, rocky spot on the north bank of Lake Volvi.In the afternoon, we deserve to finally see some large urban area, especially if it has Ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Jewish, Turkish sites — and more “modern” ones like the 15th century White Tower, the symbol of the city! I named Thessaloniki, our last stop, the place of our farewell dinner.
an original tour: Western Macedonia and the South mainland ©
Less known than the previous one, this tour nevertheless takes in first-class birdwatching at Prespes Lakes and in the Amvrakikos Gulf and goes through wilder and quieter areas, including four more of the country’s 10 Ramsar Convention wetlands *, without forgetting Mount Olympus…
Places: Thessaloniki, Prespa Lakes (Ramsar wetland), Amvrakikos Gulf (Ramsar wetland), Acheloos-Messolonghi (Ramsar wetland), Mount Olympus, Axios and Aliakmon Delta (Ramsar wetland), Kitros Saltpans.
Day 1. Arrival at Thessaloniki airport. Transfer to Aghios Germanos village overlooking both Prespa lakes in a majestic setting against the Varnous mountains. Settling in guesthouse. Welcoming dinner.
Day 2-3. Information about the aquatic sanctuary of the lakes at the Society for the Protection of Prespa. Two days exploration of the rich avifauna prominent among which the Dalmatian and White Pelicans, their only breeding place apart from the Danube delta, but also the Pygmy Cormorant, Glossy Ibis, Squacco Heron, hopefully the Hazel Grouse, and above, the Egyptian Vulture, Golden Eagle, Short-toed and White-tailed Eagles. Lesser Kestrel, Little Bittern, Marsh Harrier, Rock Partridge, Barred Warbler, are just some of the over 260 species to be found in Megali (Large) and Mikri (Small) Prespa Lakes.
Day 4. We depart on a straight southwards line from this remote, northwesternest corner of Greece to the Ionian Sea just below Corfu island, through easy mountain roads. On the way, we birdwatch on Kastoria Lake and in Vikos Gorge. We overnight in Philipiada, very conveniently located at the head of the Amvrakikos Gulf road.
Day 5-6. Two days to look at many prime spots around this very extended gulf full of riparian forest, lagoons, river delta, for the Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Common Tern, Collared Pratincole, Dalmatian Pelican, Ferruginous Duck, Flycatchers, Garganey, Glossy Ibis, Golden Eagle, Goshawk, Grey Heron, Griffon Vulture, Gull-billed Tern, Kentish Plover, Little Bittern, Little Egret, Little Gull, Little Tern, Marsh Harrier, Night Heron, Olive-tree Warbler, Pochard, Purple Heron, Pygmy Cormorant, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Short-toed Eagle, Sparrowhawk, Spoonbill, Squacco Heron, Yellow-legged Gull, and many others.
Day 7-8. Easy morning transfer to the town of Agrinio. After leaving our luggage at the hotel, we continue via the Klissoura Gorge with its Griffon vultures colony. But also its Lesser Spotted Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Short-toed Eagle, Subalpine Warbler, Wallcreeper, and the beautiful Blue Rock Thrush. Don’t run away when you see that footless snake coming around the rocks — he is but the Glass Lizard.
And the Acheloos-Messolonghi wetland is ours with its 276 species, all in its gulf, its lagoons, its sand-beaches, its Fraxos Forest, its salt-marshes. Black-necked Grebe, Black-winged Stilt, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Collared Pratincole, Common Tern, Curlew Sandpiper, Dalmatian Pelican, Glossy Ibis, Grey Heron, Gull-billed Tern, Kentish Plover, Lesser Kestrel, Little Bittern, Little Egret, Little Ringed Plover, Little Stint, Little Tern, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Penduline Tit, Purple Heron, Redshank, Slender-billed Gull, Slender-billed Curlew, Spotted Flycatcher, Squacco Heron, Stone-curlew, Terek, Waders, Yellow-legged Gull.
Day 10. All day on famed Mount Olympus. Black Vulture, Booted Eagle, Eleonora’s Falcon, Golden Eagle, Griffon Vulture, Lammergeier, Lanner, Levant Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Shore Lark, Short-toed Eagle, Three-Toed Woodpecker, Wallcreeper.
Day 11. All day on the large delta made by Axios-Aliakmon and actually a third river, Loudias. Avocet (nesting on the saltmarshes), Black-winged Stilt (nesting on the saltmarshes), Broad-billed Sandpiper, Cattle Egret, Collared Pratincole (breeding & nesting on the saltmarshes), Common & Little Tern (breeding), Glossy Ibis (breeding), Little Bittern, Mediterranean Gull, Penduline Tit (nesting), Red-footed Falcon (feeding), Red-throated Pipit (feeding), Rufus Bush Robin, Shrike, Spoonbill (breeding), Squacco Heron, and of course waders.
Day 12. Visit of nearby Kitros saltpans with no less than 170 species. Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Calandra, Caspian Tern, Collared Pratincole, Greater Flamingo, Gulled-billed Tern, Lesser Grey Shrike, Mediterranean Gull (over 3.000, the largest in the Mediterranean), Penduline Tit, Rufus Bush Robin, Short-toed Larks, Slender-billed Gull, Spoonbill, Squacco Heron, Stone-curlew, Tawny Pipit.