Struggling to survive

In the first days of 2017 I visited again the Gallikos river estuaries in Thessaloniki. This time I was looking for a Pacific Golden Plover that had appeared there. This species is a rare vagrant to Greece and since I was returning to Athens after seasons holidays, I changed my return schedule in order to see and take some pictures of it. The mouth of the Gallikos river is located at the outskirts of the city of Thessaloniki. Just where the river flows into the sea, at some point the water is almost stagnant. As a result many items that are gathered throughout the course of the river are congregated there. Plastic bags, bottles and all kinds of miscellaneous items, create a not so pleasant sight. I was just passing from that point after visiting the Pacific Golden Plover spot. Suddenly I saw a Jack Snipe feeding there, completely ignoring my presence. A true midget with a body no bigger than that of a sparrow, was feeding frantically between plastic bottles and bags into the half frozen waters of the Gallikos river, struggling to survive. I took a few pictures of it before I leave for Athens. As for the Pacific Golden Plover, I finally found it after a few hours search. It was impossible to get to the perfect light angle but I finally managed to get some decent pictures.

A (not so…) usual daily excursion

There are some times, when in order to take pictures of species rarely seen in Greece, you are "forced" to make some not so close daily trips. One such case was a few days ago. Near the mouth of the Gallikos river, just outside the city of Thessaloniki, appeared almost simultaneously a Long-tailed Duck and two Velvet Scoters. These species are breeding in the Arctic Circle and they rarely descend so South even in winter. Whenever I tried to see them here in Greece, either I haven't managed to find them, or they were so far away into the sea, that you can only spot them with a telescope. The bad thing was that I had very limited time available, so one Sunday several hours before dawn, I started my 500km  journey for Thessaloniki with Michael and George, two fellow Nature photographers. Our first goal was to find the Long-tailed Duck. Our info was that she wasn't feeding far into the sea as usual. Instead she was found in one of the seasonal water ponds created between the estuaries of Gallikos and Axios rivers. We did manage to find her easily. However taking pictures of her, proved to be not an easy task. The Duck was feeding at the other side of the pond and she didn't seem to be approaching the point where we were waiting. At some point it seemed that she was moving slowly towards us. However a passing Marsh Harrier forced the Long-tailed Duck to quickly flee into the sea! Luckily, after a while the duck returned to the same spot and after a long wait, she finally made a quick pass close to the point that I was sitting. I managed to take a few decent photos just in time, because we were running out of time! It was almost noon when we left the Long-tailed Duck to search for the two Velvet Scoters, which were spotted some kilometers away. On our way there, we had some more nice photo opportunities. We saw almost all common wader species (Common Redshanks, Common Greenshanks, Grey Plovers, Eurasian Curlews, Dunlins, Little Stints among others) and in addition Pygmy Cormorants, European Cormorants, Dalmatian Pelicans, various other common duck species etc.. In addition among the great number of Black-necked Grebes that we spotted in the sea, we found a Horned Grebe (Slavonian Grebe) that was feeding very close to the shore. A small number of them is spotted every winter in the area, but I had never managed to get that close before. The light was nice and soft, so we made a quick stop and took some pictures.

It was afternoon when we finally got to the spot where the two Velvet Scoters were. They were feeding on crabs, far into the sea. However they were slowly approaching the shore. The beach was facing South so the light was far from perfect, but I had never seen this species so close, so I took some pictures even though quality is certainly not the best.

We left for Athens after the sunset. I arrived home at 22:30 having photographed two bird species for the first time. Not bad for a daily excursion.  

Autumn migration at Messolonghi

It is hard to imagine autumn migration in Greece without at least one visit to the wetlands of Messolonghi. This year I managed to make two visits there, although these were only short daily visits and there was not enough time to search all the hotspots of the vast wetland area in and around the city of Messolonghi. My purpose was to take pictures of some less common bird species (for Greece), mainly waders. The basic targets were (as always) the Broad-billed Sandpiper, the Red Knot, the Bar-tailed Godwit, the Greater Sand Plover and the Osprey. Finally even though I tried hard, I didn't find any Greater Sand Plovers or Bar-tailed Godwits, but I did have some good photo oportunities with a couple of Broad-billed Sandpipers and some Red Knots. In addition I may have missed the Ospreys but I did find the nice young Peregrine Falcon shown in the picture below. However the most rare species I found was two Red-necked Phalaropes. Unfortunately I didn't manage to get any good pictures to post here due to the great distance and the harsh light. Nevertheless the wetland was full of life and I did saw and photograph many wader species. My favorite bird was this Grey Plover still in his breeding plumage although it was late September.

Elatia Forest In June

Last month I visited Elatia forest at Drama prefecture. This forest is unique for Greece and in many cases it is the only place that you can find some species of flora and fauna. It is the south-est spot in Europe where you can find Nutcrackers and Capercaillies and the only place in Greece where you have a good chance of spotting Hazel Grouse, Tengmalm's Owl and Pygmy Owl among others. I spend 4 days there with two friends and fellow nature photographers and although the weather was not good (every day was raining and we even had hail a couple of times) our visit was quite successful. As soon as we arrived there we went to a place where we had some info that a Pygmy Owl was spotted last year. We heard the bird calling almost at the same spot that it was last year! What was even more amazing, was that when we finally found it, we heard a Tengmalm's Owl responding to the Pygmy Owl call! And it was midday! I suppose that heavy overcast is responsible for that behaviour. This meant that out visit was already successful before the end of the first day! It was not easy to locate the Tengmalm's Owl inside the forest but we did found it and we were rewarded with some nice photos of this hard to spot nocturnal bird. These are actually my first photos of this bird species. I have managed to hear his call some times in the past but I have never actualy seen it in the wild before. In a short night walk not far from our hotel, we also found a pair of Tawny Owls to complete our Owl observations for this visit. However we didn't get any photos of these, since it was already very dark. In the next days the weather prevented us to search for the Three-toed Woodpecker and we didn't find Capercaillies but we found Nutcrackers, Hazel Grouses, Marsh, Willow and Crested Tits, Bullfinches, Common Crossbills and many other forest bird species. In addition we did find Roe Deer in many spots inside the forest. We will try to visit the forest again in Autumn hoping that the weather will be better. Don't forget that by clicking on the pictures you can see them in a larger/sharper version with their Exif Data.

At Last!

After many years of unsuccessful attempts to find and take pictures of a Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria), my quest was completed during the last days of the year just completed, in a place just outside the city of Kastoria. Just outside the city and in the middle a pretty big slope, inside a natural cave there is a small church that can be reached using a steep path. I had the info that at least one Wallcreeper overwinters in those cliffs. Just one day before the end of 2015 I got there and after several hours of waiting, my luck changed. I had the opportunity to see up close and for the first time this special and difficult to observe bird species. In addition the bird gave me several good photographic moments. The pictures here are just a small sample! Don't forget that by clicking on the pictures you can see them in a larger/sharper version with their Exif Data.

Antikythera island

This summer I visited the Antikythera island for two weeks participating in the "Raptor migration watch" voluntary program of the Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS). I had a very good time there and the days passed really fast. When you spend several days in such small and remote places you get closer to the people there and as a result leaving is always a little more difficult since it means more than just the end of the holiday. I hope that I will be able to go there again in the future. In the photography sector of my visit I must admit that my expectations were higher. It proved that Spring is the most suitable season for photographing the migratory birds that pass right through the island on their way to their breeding or wintering places. Nevertheless there are several species endemic or breeding on the island giving many opportunities for nice images. The most obvious target is of course the Eleonora's Falcon (Falco eleonorae) since Antikythera island hosts world's second largest breeding colony with approximately 900 pairs. Other bird species include the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), Chukar (Alectoris chukar), Common Raven (Corvus corax) and several species of nocturnal raptors. During my stay I saw Scops Owl (Otus scops) and Barn Owl (Tyto alba) very close to the guesthouse of the HOS. You can always click on the images to see the Image Exif Data and to view a larger/sharper version.

1st Prespa Bird Weekend

The Society for the Protection of Prespa (www.spp.gr) in cooperation with the Hellenic Ornithological Society (www.ornithologiki.gr) organized an event that they hope it will become annual. The event took place during the first days of May. The "1st Prespa Bird Weekend" therefore included two days filled with walks in the beautiful nature of the area and observation of the rich and very interesting bird fauna. Moreover, the SPP covered living expenses and feeding of all the event participants. On the first day the participants were divided into teams and each team had to walk through a specific predefined path and to record all the observed bird species, while the second day the participants were divided again into separate teams and their task was to observe as many bird species as they can in all the Prespa lakes area. The Prespa Lakes area is characterized by an extraordinary variety of habitats that contribute so that an enormous number of bird species (compared to the relatively small region) are nesting in the area. Among these species are the Dalmatian Pelican (globally threatened species that retains the largest breeding colony of approximately 1400 pairs in the area), the White Pelican, the Greylag Goose (the southernmost breeding site in Europe), the Goosander (also the southernmost breeding site in Europe), the Pygmy Cormorant, the Barred Warbler (one of the very few nesting places in Greece), the Golden Eagle etc. As someone would expect I managed to find some time for photography between all the event activities. The time was limited so I decided to focus on species that are difficult to see elsewhere. Nevertheless I managed to take some decent pictures of Greylag Goose, Dalmatian Pelican, Golden Oriole, Barred Warbler and even a nice Red Fox. A small sample of these pictures are shown here. Don't forget to click on them to see a larger/sharper version together with the Exif Data.

Nea Kios

A month has already passed since my visit to the area of Nafplio and Nea Kios. I'm late enough to upload pictures and impressions because in the meanwhile I also made a trip to Spain (Extremadura) for which there will be a next post. Spring migration to Nea Kios was in its full swing. I spotted several migratory bird species such as the beautiful Little Gull which was feeding at close range, a Ruppel's Warbler, a nice male Collared Flycatcher, some Black-tailed Godwits and many more. Beside these species I also saw a good number of "winter" and resident species like Teals, Wigeons, Blue Rock Thrushes (this must be the best place in Greece to photograph this species), the Jackdaw colony and several passerines like the nice female Blackcap pictured below. You can always click on the images to see the Image Exif Data and to view a larger/sharper version.

Evros

This year I decided to close the winter season with a nice photographic excursion to the Evros river estuaries. That visit proved quite eventful since we had to postpone it for two weeks because of major floods that hit the area just the period we had planned to be there. Eventually I found myself at Evros river delta with George and Michael the last weekend of winter and just for two days instead of three originally planned. We also had some other minor unexpected problems that forced us to abandon our plans to visit the whole river estuaries and to restrict ourselves only to the western part. Nevertheless the trip was a great success as it was the first time that we managed to see the one and only European flock of Lesser White-fronted Geese! Although we had all visited several times the Evros river delta during Winter, this was the first time that we were so lucky. Actually In the above photo you can see about one third of the European population for this species. There were also many other beautiful moments during our visit, one of them being when two (out of a total of three) White-tailed Eagles spotted during our visit, flew just above our heads in close range giving us a good opportunity for nice photos. We also saw and photographed several Common Gulls feeding on Grooved Razor Shells. After finding the shells they drop them from a sufficient height in order to be able to open them up more easily and eat their soft interior. Finally, I have to mention the excellent hide for passerines that was built by the management body of the National Park of Dadia forest. Our time was very limited so we only stayed there for an hour, but during that time we have seen and photographed several species such as Great, Blue and Coal Tits, Blackbirds and even a Brambling which is quite difficult to spot in Greece. The next time you find yourself in the area don't go only to see the famous vulture feeder. I think that this excellent hide deserves some of your time also. You can always click on the images to see the Image Exif Data and to view a larger/sharper version.

A Baillon’s Crake in Athens (Rafina)

Several days have passed from the appearance of a Baillon's Crake at the estuary of the stream of Rafina city near Athens. Since this is a quite difficult bird species to observe in Greece, there were many bird watchers that went to see it. Baillon's Crakes are usually passing migrants for Greece and you can only spot them during the migration period. In addition they usually remain hidden into dense reeds, which makes spotting them even more difficult. This time however everybody had the chance to easily see and even take pictures of that species in November!