Friday, 22 April 2016

Lake Kerkini - Part 1

I'm writing this in Thessaloniki Airport, waiting for Pam who is joining me for a week at Lake Kerkini where we are staying in a beautiful hotel in Korifoudi, just outside the town of Kerkini.
I left Rohzen in the southern Bulgarian hills at around 07:30 on 17th April for the short journey to the Kulata crossing, as usual there were long queues of lorries but cars sailed straight through. No checks on the Bulgarian side and when I told the Greek customs official I was heading for Kerkini I got the strong impression that he would have liked to have gone with me as he waved me through.
It was only about a 45 mins drive to Kerkini from the border so it was still reasonably early when I arrived. My first stop was Mandraki Harbour, which has been my home for the last four days. 
Mandraki Harbour
The view from the harbour is stunning with hundreds of herons around the lake, scattered groups of pelicans, both White and Dalmatian and huge fishing parties of cormorants, both Great and Pygmy.
The first bird to greet me on my arrival was the Great Reed Warbler, with several birds singing in the Phragmites beds, next to where I parked. In the mornings they climb the reed stems to sing so give fantastic views whereas later in the day, although they are still vocal they tend to sing lower down.
Great Reed Warbler
Another new bird for the trip was Squacco Heron, there were 20-30 feeding around the edge of the harbour and on the large lilly pads, beautiful birds in the evening sunlight.
Squacco Heron
There are two birds in particular that Kerkini is deservedly famous for, both are globally scarce and Kerkini is a very important lake for them; Dalmatian Pelican and Pygmy Cormorant. When you visit some sites for specific species they can still  be difficult to see, like the Dupont's Lark, but not so with the pelican and cormorant, it would be impossible to visit and miss them. 
Dalmatian Pelican
Pygmy Cormorant - up close they look like they have eye make-up on, little white lines above the eye
Getting good photos is another matter however and I will be doing at least one boat trip with Pam during her stay.
The combination of pelicans and cormorants creates one of the great spectacles of the lake the mass feeding frenzy.
Cormorants and pelicans - feeding
Spring is well underway here, Nightingales are singing from almost every bush, or so it sounds, Golden Orioles can be heard around the lake and the calling of both Hoopoe and Bee-eaters is a constant reminder that this is the Med, if one were needed.
Bee-eater - living up to its name!
There are fewer duck and waders then I had expected, I've seen 4 Ferruginous and just one pair of Garganey. Wood Sandpipers can be seen in groups around the grassy margins and there are probably hundreds but they are difficult to see unless they fly. I've also seen Oystercatcher, 8 Black-winged Stilt, 5 Ruff and several parties of Common Sandpiper but no stints, so far.
Wood Sandpipers - with single Dunlin at the front
Birds of prey are also scarce but I've been compensated by good views of what I have seen. Single Lesser Spotted Eagle, female Montagu's Harrier, a very close Short-toed Eagle, a few Marsh Harriers and single female Red-footed Falcon plus several Kestrel.
Lesser Spotted Eagle - adult, quite long p7 but definately had pale iris so not Spotted
Montagu's Harrier - adult female
Short-toed Eagle
Most evening up to 5 Black Storks have come to feed on the marsh at Mandraki Harbour where there is also a single Cattle Egret.
Shrikes are also in short supply but I got very good views of Masked, which is one of the reasons I came so far south in to Greece on my 'trip north', fantastic birds which put on a great show the male passing food to the female. I've probably seen four or five Woodchats but that's it so far.
Masked Shrike - female
Masked Shrike - male
I hadn't met any other bird watchers since France and thought there would be plenty at Kerkini but I only met two other English birding couples Steve and Marion Holmes from Cheshire and a couple from Kings Lynn, both spending a week at Kerkini. It was very helpful to meet up with them to see what they had been seeing and I met Steve and Marion most evenings to share notes. Steve had 40 raptors one day on the south side of the lake including Eastern Imperial Eagle which I completely missed.
So plenty of birds seen, but plenty still to arrive. I haven't seen any 'marsh' terns, the only buntings has been Corn and Cirl and few warblers and flycatchers, only one Spotted Flycatcher a few Whitethroats and odd Eastern Olivaceous (Steve had one Olive-tree). So I'm hoping to see some new arrivals during my next week at Kerkini.
Sunset - Mandraki Harbour

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