A rarity at mount Vardousia

This photo is certainly not one of my best. In fact, normally I would delete it without second thought. The light is from the wrong direction, it is heavily cropped, and I had to remove a number of metal wires beside the bird during post processing. BUT this little bird is a Pine Bunting (Emberiza leucocephalos) and this is only the 5th observation of this species for Greece. The 4th was at 2004 and the previous one (3rd) was back at 1981! This short (less than 2 minutes) encounter and the spotting (from a distance) of at least five Ring Ouzels (Turdus torquatus) saved an otherwise mediocre weekend.

After a pleasant close encounter with a young Goshawk at the beginning of the ascent to the mountain refuge, the rest of the weekend was not so exciting. Even though we did see the couple of Golden Eagles that nest in the area, they stayed quite far from us and we had no chance of getting any good pictures. The only alpine species that we found was a group of Alpine Choughs but the distance was even bigger than that of the Eagles. Other notable observations include a Hen Harrier and a Marsh Harrier! at an altitude of more than 2000 meters. We also found a large group of about 30 Yellowhammers that I have never seen that south, feeding together with the sole Pine Bunting

Target species: Bearded Reedling

Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus) is one of my favorite bird species. They can be usually found in marshes having dense reed beds and the most suitable season to see and photograph them is winter. In winter they form large noisy flocks and they keep moving and feeding on the reeds.

Given these facts when Michalis and George proposed to visit the Lamia marsh in an attempt to photograph Bearded Reedlings I quickly agreed. Lamia marsh is located at the west coast on Peloponnese and it is the southernmost place in Greece where these birds can be found.
We spend the whole day at the Lamia marsh and the adjacent Strofylia wetland. Felix another follow nature photographer joined us. We managed to find and get some pictures of Bearded Reedlings although it was more difficult than expected. The three Spotted Eagles that we found there was an added bonus :-). We also saw some waders and Egrets but since the time was limited and our focus was on the Bearded Reedlings we didn’t spend much time with them.

Our next visit was scheduled to be at mount Vardousia in just a few days. More on that in the next post.

An autumn visit to Messolonghi

It is a well known fact that the wetlands surrounding the city of Messolonghi at western Greece is one of the best places for watching and photographing migration. Having that in mind I went there a few days ago. I left Athens at five o’clock in the morning and I was at the Kleisova lagoon just before eight. I spend the whole day around the lagoon till I left the place late in the afternoon, when the sun was setting. As it turned out once again, one day is not enough time to visit all the hotspots of the area.

I spend most of the time in just two spots. The first was the one that I have discovered last year. It seems that it is one of the favorite spots for the small number of Greater Sand Plovers when they pass through the area during migration or when they choose to spend the winter there. I spend more than two hours there lying on the wet ground and even though I managed to get nice images of Bar-tailed Godwits, Sanderlings, Dunlins, Oystercatchers, Curlews and other wader species, I didn’t manage to get very good pictures of the only Greater Sand Plover that came close to me. Perhaps I will be luckier next year. I left that spot when the light has become quite harsh and my water resistant clothes could not gather any more mud…

The second spot was just before the completion of the walk around the lagoon. It was there that in some concrete poles I saw an Osprey! which didn’t seem to be bothered with my presence. After getting some nice images a second Osprey!! appeared and the two birds left together. I spend the next few hours at that area observing the two Ospreys fishing (from a distance) and eating their prey (from quite close).

I returned to my home in Athens with my mind (and my memory cards :-)) full of nice pictures.

Summer in Athens

This year unfortunately I had to spend most of the summer in Athens. Even though time was limited, I did try to get some photos. The heat and the strong sunlight did not help much but I did manage to get some decent pictures. Apart from the well known locations such as mount Hymettus and many of the city parks, there are many other spots in the outskirts of the city in which you can take photos of some bird species that breed in the area. This Hoopoe is a good example.

Another interesting finding was a Stonechat that I found at Schinias wetland which was ringed! Unfortunately even though the bird was pretty close, the ring cannot be read…

An unexpected visitor at Schinias wetland

This year is probably the first in many years that Schinias wetland (which is located next to the Olympic Rowing Center of Athens) has so much water in July. This is certainly due to the heavy rainfalls we had this year in Athens. As a result, several species bred successfully this year, and in addition we also have some unusual visitors to the wetland.

The most notable and rare presence is that of a Whooper Swan which was spotted and it still stays into the wetland for several days now. This species is rarely seen to the Southern Greece. Moreover I cannot remember any other observation near Athens during summer. Usually several individuals are wintering in northern Greece and in spring they are migrating to their breeding places near the arctic zone. The bird does not seem to have any problem, and it was seen moving and flying comfortably, giving the opportunity for an interesting observation during summer to many birdwatchers.

Spring at mount Vardousia

Last weekend I found myself once again at mount Vardousia. The goal was (again) the “alpine” bird species that can be seen only at high altitude. My companion was once again Giorgos and Michalis but this time another friend and known nature photographer Nikos Petrou joined us. Unfortunately Nikos could not stay for the Sunday. On the other hand we had prearranged to spend the night at a mountain refuge located to an altitude of about 2000 meters, in order to be in the center of the action on Sunday morning. The last time we did this (last October) we encountered bad weather and thick fog for two days and we had to return home disappointed and empty handed.

This time however we managed to enjoy 3 hours of nice weather during Saturday afternoon and another 3 hours during Sunday morning. Then the weather went really bad with a mix of thick fog, rain, and snow and we had to leave the mountain well before noon. However this time we managed to get some nice images. On Saturday afternoon we climbed 100 meters higher than the mountain refuge. We did manage to see two Alpine Accentors and after that, we had a close encounter with a White-winged Snowfinch. This was unfortunately just a few minutes after Nikos left. Horned Larks were relatively common (!) and we saw many of them displaying just beside the refuge. However they were not as close as we have hoped. All these sightings were made in a place of unique beauty that can not be easily described in words.

Other interesting observations include several Rufous-tailed Rock Thrushes, Ortolan Buntings, Common Linnets and a few Alpine Choughs. Finally we also found a Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra balcanica) feeding at the higher grassy fields but weather conditions prevented us from getting decent pictures of it.
Having visited so many mountain sites, I have come to the conclusion that mount Vardousia is the best place in Central and Southern Greece for observing and photographing alpine animal species even though weather conditions are unpredictable and turn to bad most of the times. As for me, I am already planning my next visit there.

Lesvos 2013

I have just returned from a 4 day visit to Lesvos island. It was one of the most successful trips I have done with George Alexandris and Michael Kotsakis.
Lesvos combines a great diversity of ecosystems (wetlands, forests, fields, rocky mountain areas etc) in a relatively limited space. As a result, a vast range of bird species can be seen there especially during migration. In addition the island is located near the Turkish coast and because of that a number of Asian wildlife species can also be spotted there. For these reasons a large number of bird watchers and nature photographers from all over the world visit the island every year. The most “famous” bird species of the island are the Kruper’s Nuthatch, the Cinereous Bunting and the White-throated Robin. In addition there are also some Asian subspecies of more common European bird species such as the atricapillus subspecies of the European Jay. Of course there is also a good number of other Asian animal species beside birds that can be found at Lesvos. The most known is the Persian squirrel (Sciurus anomalus). Lesvos is the only place in Europe this squirrel species breeds.
During our four days visit we were able to photograph almost all these species and many others that although not so rare, it is far from easy to spot them in other places like Little Crake, European Roller, Common Cuckoo, Long-legged Buzzard… the list is quite big.

The big star for this year at Lesvos island is the White-throated Robin. This species is not spotted every year; in fact there are less than 10 records for Greece including this year’s, all of them in Lesvos island. This year 2 males and a female were spotted in the Petrified Forest area near Sigri. We were there during the first days and we managed to get some pictures of a male before it is confirmed that there are more than one individual there and before the place gets too crowded.
What is even more impressive at Lesvos this time of year is the large number of people from all over the world that visit the island from mid-April to late May and share their observations with one another. It is like a big party for bird watchers and wildlife photographers, and nobody wants to miss it. There are many people visiting every year for many years now and some of them have better knowledge of the island than many of the locals!

There is so much I would like to write but time is short and Easter is coming fast… In addittion my monitor has failed on me and I did not had the chance to see all of my photos. Of course the article would not be complete without a photo of this year’s major star of the island. And since I have already posted photos of the Cinereous Bunting and the Kruper’s Nuthatch from my previous visit to Lesvos here and here, I decided to upload a photo of the atricapillus subspecies of the Eurasian Jay with the black top of the head. A species that although is common it is not so easy to photograph.

Harriers: The spring visitors of the vineyards at Spata

Last days I wanted to write something about the small seasonal lake at Spata just beside the Athens International Airport. Thousands of migrating birds spend some days in the pond and in the area around the flooded fields. Yesterday I even saw an Osprey(!) fishing(?) there. However most of that has already been said when this pond was created for the first time after many dry years. That was two years ago (in 2011).

What has never been said is that beside all other bird species, a relatively large number of Harriers likes to use the vineyards around the flooded area to rest during their migration to the North. Of course an even larger number of Harriers uses the open fields of Athens International Airport for resting but it seems that some of them also like to visit the nearby fields outside the airport and rest on the vine trees there. Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers are not common species in Greece and the best (if not the only) chance to see them is during the spring migration period. For that reason I am trying to visit the place as often as I can these days. I can’t stay there for more than one hour but most of the times I find a cooperative Harrier and manage to get some good pictures of it.

After several visits I have come to a short path that can be done in a short time and goes through the most possible Harrier spots. Even Pallid Harriers that are normally not easy to get close to, can be easily approached during their relaxing time at the vineyards of Spata. Observing and making pictures of these harrier species has never been more easy and fun.

A different Bee-eater

Last week one Blue-cheeked Bee-eater appeared at Nea Kios just outside the city of Nafplio. The news upset the small community of birdwatchers and Nature photographers especially those of us who live in Athens and it was easier to travel the 140 kilometers of the route to see up close the rare visitor from Africa. Most of the people chose to go there in the evening, but leaving the office during midday was not an option for me. That’s how I found myself with Akis and Gerasimos at 5 am in the car en route to Nea Kios!

Akis was the first to spot the bird roosting into some dense reeds. As soon as the bird woke up it left the place. Thanks to the help of our local friends who were the first to spot it in the region, we were able to find it again. We stayed there watching this unusual Bee-eater for a while and in addition we managed to get some pictures of him despite the low light, the rainy weather and the relatively large distance.

The small lake at Spata is here again!

It was a quite wet winter this year. The heavy rains here at Athens contributed to the creation of the small seasonal lake at Spata area just beside the Athens International Airport. This is the second time this lake is created during the last few years. Water is not as much as it was the last time (back in 2011), but it should be enough to maintain the little lake during the entire spring migration period.

I went there 10 days ago and the first spring visitors were already there. The Ruff shown in the following photo was one of them.

It seems that spring migration will be very interesting this year…