Thursday 19th - Monday 23rd November 2015

Thursday 19th November 2015
We all met at Gatwick Airport bright and early ready for our flight down to Greece which took off a few minutes behind schedule but arrived 15 minutes early in a warm and sunny Thessaloniki. We met up with Dobry, our guide for the tour who along with Steve sorted out the other vehicle and we were soon on our way round the outskirts of the second largest city in Greece.

We arrived at the wetland reserve at Kalochori where the first bird spotted, a PEREGRINE of the Mediterranean race brookei, was perched up on the marsh. Several MARSH HARRIERS caused havoc amongst the roosting gulls which consisted of BLACK-HEADED and YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS. A scan through the masses of birds yielded quite a few SHOVELER, WIGEON, TEAL and SHELDUCK with waders including AVOCET, GREY PLOVER, GREEN SANDPIPER, RUFF, CURLEW plus some very elegant GREATER FLAMINGO.

Moving position to get better light conditions proved favourable as we enjoyed watching a cracking male HEN HARRIER quartering the marshes whilst BLACK REDSTART, STONECHAT and CRESTED LARKS frequented the disused buildings in front of us.

A KINGFISHER perched up in full view for us to enjoy and a LITTLE OWL sat at the side of a telegraph pole beside the road. On the seaward side of the marshes we watched several SANDWICH TERNS fishing along with COOT, GREAT EGRET, GREAT CRESTED GREBES and our first PYGMY CORMORANT of the tour.

Moving further along the road we soon located a good flock of around 26 BLACK-NECKED GREBES, plus a couple of GOLDENEYE which seemed slightly out of place on the Mediterranean! LITTLE GREBES were also seen and we had great views of a close-up PYGMY CORMORANT roosting on a jetty.

With time getting on, we moved back to another area of marsh where we located a flock of DALMATIAN PELICANS, including a bird with a bright orange bill which occurs when they start to display. There were also 12 SPOONBILL, PINTAIL, MALLARD, SPOTTED REDSHANK, GREENSHANK and lots of calling WATER RAILS, plus one that was seen by a few as it zipped across a ditch.

DUNLIN and COMMON SNIPE were added to the ever-growing bird-list, but the best birds of the afternoon were the two MOUSTACHED WARBLERS that flitted around the edges of the reed-bed calling frequently, but hard to see in the ever diminishing light.

The light pretty much went but we could still see CORN BUNTINGS, TREE SPARROWS and STARLINGS going off to roost while the ever-present MARSH HARRIERS flew overhead.

From here we headed north around the ring road and arrived at our lovely accommodation later than planned. After dropping off our bags in the rooms, we headed straight down for dinner, which consisted of some superb Greek cuisine and all washed down with a glass or two of wine.

We retired for the evening very much looking forward to our tour around Lake Kerkini and its environs during the following days.

Friday 20th November 2015
We awoke to find slightly misty conditions over the lake, in fact we couldn't see the lake! Around the hotel we found quite a few ROBINS plus a fine pair of CIRL BUNTINGS and BLACK REDSTART, JAY, SONG THRUSH, WREN and BLACKBIRD.

Soon it was time for breakfast which was excellent and soon afterwards, we loaded up the vans and headed south to the Strimonas River. At our first stop we saw a brief MERLIN and then a probable SYRIAN WOODPECKER flew into some nearby trees but soon disappeared. Moving on, we stopped at a harvested Maize field which produced a GREEN WOODPECKER plus a few winter-plumaged WATER PIPITS. Carrying on further down the road we parked up and took a walk along a track which produced several SISKINS feeding with GOLDFINCHES in the trees above us.

Several CHIFFCHAFF were seen plus a small flock of LONG-TAILED TITS of the race macedonicus. We were almost back at the vans when a pair of SYRIAN WOODPECKERS flew into the tops of nearby trees giving good views.

We then drove to a nearby flooded pool and found a GREEN SANDPIPER and out on the plains were up to six CRESTED LARKS running around in the open. MUTE SWANS, PYGMY CORMORANTS, WIGEON, GADWALL, TEAL and MALLARD fed on a large lagoon and nearby we watched a massive female SPARROWHAWK perched in a tree and surrounded by lots of CHAFFINCHES.

We stopped in our tracks when two SPOTTED EAGLES sat in trees right in front of us and with some field-craft, we got superb views of this sought-after raptor. Lots of COMMON SNIPE were on the marshy edges of the pool and then Dobry shouted out OTTER!

Over the next ten minutes we had amazing views of a dog OTTER fishing in front us without a care in the world, a stunningly magic moment! Seven COMMON CRANES bugled as they flew past over the fields before we retraced our steps along the track, where a MUSKRAT swam out from below us into an area of reeds.

We then drove along the embankment noting a few COMMON BUZZARDS and then Steve shouted EAGLE OWL! There in a willow sat a cracking Eagle Owl and although partially obscured we had good views from the van. Eventually Steve caught up with the other van which turned to go back and luckily the Owl was still there! The second group also had the added bonuses of a male LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER and a flock of around 100 LESSER-WHITE-FRONTED GEESE.

By now our stomachs were rumbling so we drove along the track noting SPANISH SPARROWS, HAWFINCH and a male GOSHAWK that flew quickly across the fields. We then stopped and tucked into a picnic lunch whilst watching many GREATER FLAMINGOS, SPOONBILLS, AVOCETS and BLACK-NECKED GREBES plus lots of wildfowl.

Afterwards we drove on the main roads towards the dam and saw a male SPARROWHAWK zip across fields in pursuit of STARLINGS. Then a lucky few saw a GREAT GREY SHRIKE perched on roadside wires but it was difficult to stop along the winding road.

Eventually we reached the dam and could see squadrons of CORMORANTS flying over and out on the lake, where we found at least five WHISKERED TERNS plus BLACK-HEADED, YELLOW-LEGGED and a possible CASPIAN GULL. PYGMY CORMORANTS were numerous along with DALMATIAN PELICANS and we briefly watched a WHITE PELICAN flyby into the mist.

The mist moved in as we drove onwards around the west side of the lake, so scanning was slightly tricky. On the edge of the lake were up to 50 COMMON SNIPE plus two AVOCET and lots of TEAL. A couple of WATER PIPITS fed on the damp edges of the marsh and two GREEN SANDPIPERS and a GREENSHANK were flushed from a pool when we got out of the vehicles.

As time went on the fog descended, so we called it a day and headed back to the hotel for a shower and a rest before meeting to complete the bird list over a pre-dinner drink.

Dinner was fantastic and we tucked into various Greek dishes with a glass or two of the local wine.

Saturday 21st November 2015
Our pre-breakfast walk was a little quiet due to misty conditions which continued to be a nuisance for our plans.

After a hearty breakfast we opted to head for higher ground and try to beat the weather at its own game. Our first stop produced a male ROCK BUNTING plus FIRECREST, GOLDCREST and many SONG THRUSHES.

A SARDINIAN WARBLER rattled from the scrub down the hillside and a lucky few managed to get glimpses of it. A male BLACKCAP perched up briefly in a small tree before vanishing from view.

We drove further along the road and made several stops where a few more ROCK BUNTINGS and HAWFINCHES were seen along with lots and lots of CHAFFINCHES.

The most productive spot was near a small village where a couple of SOMBRE TITS gave us the run-a-round in the scrub, before simply vanishing into thin air. A female SYRIAN WOODPECKER was seen well plus a male GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER sat on top of a tree. Suddenly a GREEN WOODPECKER called from down the slope and out of nowhere we watched a male MIDDLE SPOTTED WOODPECKER feed in a small oak tree, but this vanished also! Just to round off the woodpecker fest we watched a male LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER feeding in the tops of a Poplar.

A pair of GOLDEN EAGLES soared overhead and several RAVENS 'cronked' as they flew through the valley. A few CIRL BUNTINGS perched atop scrubby bushes on a nearby ridge whilst behind us we saw four WOODLARK flying away.

We moved back down the valley noting a couple of roadside SOMBRE TITS, plus a male MERLIN carrying prey and arrived at our lunch spot after what had been a good but frustrating morning with birds being very skittish.

Our picnic lunch was very much enjoyed as we sat under a large Plane Tree. Birds around the area included more CIRL BUNTINGS and a couple of ROBINS.

With the mist still lying thickly in the lower valleys, a plan was hatched to visit a site in the mountains. This was an adventure in itself as we drove up the bumpy track to around 1800 metres. We parked and wandered slowly along the remainder of the track where birds were even more skittish than before. Despite this we watched a mixed tit flock move through consisting of COAL, BLUE, GREAT, LONG-TAILED and MARSH TITS with a NUTHATCH thrown in for good measure.

Two woodpeckers in a nearby tree proved to be a male WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKER but this also vanished down the heavily wooded slopes along with a female. A SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER was seen briefly and this disappeared too!

RAVENS flew overhead and there was quite a movement of MISTLE THRUSHES through the valley. Whilst several members of the party were stopping for facilities in the trees they spotted a BLACK WOODPECKER flying just below the tree tops and away.

Liz did well to find both WILDCAT and RED DEER tracks on the path and further along we could hear CRESTED TIT calling and a flock of around 20 BRAMBLING flew to roost.

With the light going, we drove down the track and the group in the leading minibus were lucky to see three WOODCOCK on the way down.

We arrived back in the dark after what had been a good day with some good birds seen, although they didn't exactly play ball with us today!

Sunday 22nd November 2015
The weather was very much improved and we watched a beautiful red sunrise over the lake, which still had a slight covering of mist. This created a very atmospheric scene!

Our pre-breakfast walk produced good views of HAWFINCH plus a hidden SARDINIAN WARBLER that called several times.

Flocks of WOOD PIGEONS moved south as did around 15 STOCK DOVES and several parties of STARLINGS.

We returned for breakfast and afterwards headed back to the eastern side of the lake to try once again to locate the flock of Lesser White-fronted Geese. Whilst walking out across the flats we had amazing views of a sub-adult SPOTTED EAGLE plus a GREAT GREY SHRIKE perched on a post.

A scan of the area produced another six SPOTTED EAGLES plus COMMON BUZZARDS, PEREGRINE, MERLIN and a couple of flyover SPARROWHAWKS as well as a mixed flock of BEWICK'S & WHOOPER SWANS and the same party of COMMON CRANES that we saw a few days earlier.

Despite a good search we couldn't find the goose flock so we moved up onto the embankment where we had good views of several WATER RAILS in a ditch, but bird of the day went to a SPOTTED EAGLE of the rare variant fulvescens that flew over, landing on the flats.

This superb-looking bird looked stunning in the sunshine especially when zoomed in on the scopes. A couple of WHITE-TAILED EAGLES were out on the water’s edge, but distant and only really identifiable on size when compared with SPOTTED EAGLES nearby. The count of the latter was around 12 birds scattered in different locations.

We then headed off towards Kerkini Dam noting along the way a beautiful LITTLE OWL perched on a house plus GREEN WOODPECKER, SPARROWHAWK and both SYRIAN and GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKERS.

Arriving at Kerkini Dam, we boarded a boat to take us on a shortened trip due to low water levels. A couple of WHISKERED TERNS perched on top of submerged fencing and lots of PYGMY CORMORANTS and CORMORANTS were seen feeding on the large numbers of fish.

YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS and mighty DALMATIAN PELICANS swam close to the boat where they afforded great views. Other birds seen included a few juvenile WHITE PELICANS plus GREAT CRESTED and LITTLE GREBES and distant a GREAT EGRETS and GREATER FLAMINGOS.

One minute the water was like a millpond and the next the wind got up and it was decidedly choppy and more like the sea than a lake! We returned earlier than planned due to safety reasons and went for a delicious lunch in a nearby taverna.

Later we checked out the fields surrounding the lake, again looking for the geese and found a juvenile male HEN HARRIER, two GREAT GREY SHRIKES, STONECHAT and flocks of SKYLARKS and GOLDFINCHES.

With the light going, we concluded the day on the embankment in the hope that the geese would come into roost, but unfortunately they failed to show.

We then returned to the hotel for a shower before meeting for a pre-dinner drink and to complete the bird list after a good day's birding.

Monday 23rd November 2015
We had an early breakfast and said goodbye to our excellent hotel and whilst loading up the vans with our luggage we spotted a small flock of geese flying west over the lake. With some spare time we drove down to Mandraki Harbour where we identified them as GREYLAG GEESE.

Several KINGFISHERS and GREEN SANDPIPERS flew around the channel and a couple of WATER RAILS flew from reed-bed to reed-bed. A small herd of BEWICK'S SWANS fed out on the flats and on the water’s edge we found a small flock of DUNLIN plus CURLEW, AVOCET, LAPWING and a few BLACK-TAILED GODWITS.

GREATER FLAMINGO and GREAT EGRETS took advantage of the shallow water levels and a flock of POCHARD were new for the bird list. Dobry was in contact with the National Park rangers but they hadn't located the Lesser White-fronted Geese so we drove the short distance to Vironia Quarry.

As we drove up the road, there in the middle was a HERMANN'S TORTOISE! Brian got out of the van and put it in a safe place beside the road and a few photographs were taken.

Eventually we parked and walked up to the cliff face where Dobry had scouted ahead and located three stunning WESTERN ROCK NUTHATCHES feeding and calling from the sheer rock face. Whilst we enjoyed watching them a GOLDEN EAGLE called from the hillside where it eventually was joined by another bird and it was great to see them perched side by side.

The scrub-covered hillside produced good numbers of CHAFFINCH plus a lovely SOMBRE TIT that perched up for all to see, plus a brief ROCK BUNTING and some SISKINS overhead. It was lovely and warm with amazing views down over the lake. As we wandered down the track we noted GOLDEN JACKAL droppings plus evidence of where a WILD BOAR had been feeding.

Unfortunately, time got the better of us so we started the drive back to Thessaloniki which produced many COMMON BUZZARDS. We said goodbye to Dobry who was driving back to Bulgaria and checked in our luggage only to find that the flight had been delayed slightly.

After going through security, we had lunch and eventually boarded the plane. We arrived back to a decidedly chilly Gatwick Airport on time and once we retrieved our baggage we departed company with the group after what had been a really good tour, with great accommodation, great food, some cracking birding and most of all, a lovely group of customers!