Saturday, 30 April 2016

Porto Lagos

I arrived at Porto Lagos around mid-afternoon with the rain that had started in Kerkini still falling, although only lightly. I have never been to Porto Lagos but had heard quite a bit about it over the years. When I first started birdwatching, in my early teens, all the talk form the older folk was of trips to the Camargue and tales of amazing birds they had seen there but in my mid-teens, before birdwatchers really went global with their hobby, Porto Lagos was the mythical location the experienced guys were talking about. 
Slender-billed Curlew had been a regular visitor in those days along with Broad-billed, Terek and Marsh Sandpipers. Birds of prey included Red-footed Falcon and Levant Sparrowhawk. I had more tales of the area when my good friend Paul Doherty, in his late teens, spent a month travelling around northern Greece.
So it was with some, entirely unrealistic, anticipation that I arrived yesterday. I stopped at the West Wood and scanned the area immediately noting three distant falcons circling high over the sand flats - distant views but definitely Eleonora's. I moved on to the salt works, which was closed and thought I had the same three raptors circling overhead but no these were Levant Sparrowhawks.
Levant Sparrowhawk - male and female
Carrying on my 'recce' of the area I headed for Mandra Beach, as I made the turning from the Xanthi road two yellow buntings popped up by the roadside, my first Black-headed Buntings of the trip.
Black-headed Bunting - male
The pools at Mandra looked good, and even better when a group of 32 White-winged Black Terns dropped in, flew around for a while then moved off East. A few minutes later another group of 64 appeared and did the same. What fantastic birds these are and great views even though it was getting late.
White-winged Black Tern
I stayed overnight at the Camping Natura site which is in a great location and could hear Little Owls and booming Bittern during the night.
Up early this morning and exploring the marshes on foot. Leaving the campsite at first light a Syrian Woodpecker was drumming on the small trees by the beach.
Syrian Woodpecker
More terns appeared first 15 Whiskered then 3 Gull-billed followed a little later by more White-winged Blacks, flying so close I could barely focus the camera!
Gull-billed Tern
There were hundreds of waders on the pools, many hidden but groups kept appearing. 
Ruff with a few Curlew Sandpiper and who knows what else!
Numbers were difficult to estimate but at least 200 Ruff, 100 Curlew Sandpiper, 50 Little Stint, 50 Spotted Redshank and at least 2 Marsh Sandpiper and quite a few Temminck's Stints. 
Spotted Redshank
Curlew Sandpiper
I managed some decent views and with both Curlew Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank coming in to summer plumage it's difficult to say which is the most attractive of these two birds - Spotted Redshank probably just gets it I think.
Marsh Sandpiper
Three or four Marsh Harriers were quartering the area causing the waders to rise in mixed flocks of 100 or more.
In a dryer area I came across a single pair of Spur-winged Plover, it looked like the female was probably siting on a nest so I didn't approach them. 
Spur-winged Plover
Although I have seen them in Israel and Turkey these were my first for Europe and they are only found in small numbers between Porto Lagos and the border with Turkey.
Well no Slender-billed Curlew, so far, but quite an amazing morning at Porto Lagos.
Not many passerines but Wood, Willow and Eastern Olivaceous Warblers plus Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes, Spotted Flycatcher and a female Pied type that I would have like better views of.

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