AÂ shortÂ but entertaining holiday report on a fortnight in Greece by young Devon birder Joe Ray……Â
Greece April 2008 trip report
I’ll start off by saying that this was in no shape or form a birding trip, simply a family holiday which happened to be in a good location. I did as much birding as possible however, and was pleased with the final tally as well as catching up with a few tricky species along the way.
6th April – Day 1
A quiet start to the trip, I awoke at about 7am, and walked out onto the balcony of the hotel where my family and I had spent the night after landing at 3am in Athens. As it got lighter, a few birds started to appear. Swift, Swallow and House Martin, a handful of Yellow-legged Gulls and a few Hooded Crows.
Once the family was up, we ventured out into Athens for breakfast, and then headed for the Acropolis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. An imposing place it was too, a pretty steep walk up, but once at the top, the views over the whole of Athens were absolutely stunning.
On the way back down I located a Lesser Whitethroat in an isolated bush, but otherwise apart from a few Blackcaps, the place was quiet bird-wise.
Plenty of wildflowers kept me occupied however.
Later, but after about an hour things started to pick up. A cracking adult male Black-headed Wagtail Motacilla flava feldegg was on the path ahead, just as 4 Marsh Sandpipers flew in on the marsh to my right. A few Sedge Warblers were singing in the reeds lining the path, along with occasional ‘explosions’ of song from a couple of Cetti’s Warblers.
After about two hours, my dad and I decided to head back towards the car. On our way, a falcon swept in over the reeds. I got my bins on it as it flew closer. Lanner! A great and unexpected bonus bird. It flew almost directly over us and then off towards the hills bordering the reserve, where it was lost to view.
7th April – Day 2
On the morning of the 7th, we left the hotel, picked up the car, and began the long drive towards the Peloponnese.
First stop was the famous and imposing amphitheatre, Epidavros. Whilst my mum recited poetry in the centre of the stage, I was on the top tier, photographing the landscape. A Short-toed Eagle drifted past. One could sense this was a very special place.
Another couple of hours drive and we stopped at a roadside cafe for a drink. Coke in one hand and bins in the other, I felt like an idiot, almost like a ‘kiss-me-quick’ birder, if such a species exists. Round the back of the cafe was an area of pines, scrub, olive trees and open ground. After 5 minutes of watching, an Orphean Warbler appeared out of nowhere, followed by a second. Another lifer to boot.
Later that afternoon, whilst passing Nafplio, I caught sight of a small lagoon near the sea which looked very promising. We pulled up and I was given half an hour of birding time. In that time, I logged a Crested Lark, 10+ Black-headed Wagtails, a Great White Egret, 11 Kentish Plover, 4 Green Sandpiper, a Little Ringed Plover, 2 Black-winged Stilt, 4 Curlew and a few Meadow Pipits.
An awesome experience, but time was catching up with us. There was still a long drive ahead, and we wanted to be at our next hotel before dark. Walking back towards the car, I heard a Serin singing and caught a brief glimpse of it. Moments later a Hoopoe flopped across the track ahead.
Later that evening, one final stop was made, at a small lake near Astros. One scan over the lake revealed another bonus bird. An Osprey was fishing. I watched it in the scope for about 10 minutes, before reluctantly rejoining my family and journeying on.
8th April – Day 3
The small hotel in Plaka in which we had spent the night was located right by the sea.
I was up early that morning, to check out the scrub on the nearby hillside. I soon found a flock of 8 Cirl Bunting, as well as a couple of Blackcaps and then a bright male Sardinian Warbler, my 4th lifer of the trip.
We soon left, as there was still a long drive ahead. For the rest of the day, we drove through more fantastic scenery, but with few stops this time, as we had a good few hours driving to do.
While passing through the village of Kosmos, right up in the mountains, I was looking out of the window as usual, when I noticed a bird on a telegraph pole. It was silhouetted, but I persuaded my parents to stop in spite of my sister’s protests, and I leapt out. Once the light was behind me, I could confirm what I had suspected – an adult male male Rock Thrush!
About three hours later, and we at last arrived at our final destination. The house which we would be staying in for the next 10 days or so. A charming little place at the edge of the village of Vasilits, surrounded by olive groves and only 5 minutes from the sea. That evening, I went for my first walk down one of the winding and seemingly endless tracks which snaked through the groves. I had barely started when I heard the first Sardinian Warbler, shortly followed by my first ever Subalpine Warbler, another adult male and another lifer.
That night, while lying in bed, a Scops Owl did not stop calling until about midnight.
9th April – Day 4
Once more, an early start, this time without any time pressures. The olive groves once again produced several Sardinian Warblers, as well as Garden Warbler and a couple of Whitethroats. The best was yet to come, however.
I rounded a corner in the track, and there just a few metres in front of me was an adult male Woodchat Shrike. I watched it for a few minutes before it became aware of my presence, and flew. The next corner, and a movement low to my right at the base of a tree. A Wryneck! Only a brief view, but yet another lifer. A few more decent birds and half an hour later, I sat down on the bank for a sandwich. Glancing up at the sky, over glides a Honey Buzzard! I carried on through the olive groves, picking up a few more species for the trip list. Jay, Buzzard, and a Willow Warbler. Time ticked on, and I decided to slowly make my way back towards the village, which I had long left behind. Further ahead, loud scalding calls from a pair of Sardinian Warblers grabbed my attention. A small group of birds was mobbing something in a low tree. I crept round until I was opposite the tree. Suddenly, I found myself staring straight into the unblinking black and yellow eyes of a Scops Owl! I thought of trying to get a photo, but with just a compact digital camera, it did not seem worth the risk of flushing the bird for a crap record shot. I watched it for a few more minutes, until a particularly loud scald from a Subalpine Warbler finally pushed it off, and it disappeared into the undergrowth. A fantastic sight.
As ever, the wildflowers were also fantastic. All along the track in the centre, on both banks, in the groves bordering the roads, flowers were a major feature of the area.
Later that day, my family decided on a trip to nearby Zaga Beach. I took the scope this time, thinking of perhaps having a look at what’s on the sea. A short 20 minutes seawatch produced a pair of Balearic Shearwaters, but little else. An ambling walk along through the dunes reminded me strongly of Holme in Norfolk. To my surprise, a Nightingale suddenly burst into song just a short distance away. I managed to locate it in a small bush for a few seconds, before it disappeared.
On the way back, a Hoopoe flew directly over the car.
10th April – Day 5
The best day of the trip, without a doubt. In the morning we drove an hour or so to the wetland reserve of Gialova. I was given three hours of unbroken birding time. All I had to do was step out of the car, and immediately I was greeted by a Corn Bunting. A Zitting Cisticola (Fan-tailed Warbler) was the next bird up, in song flight over a field of tall grass alongside the edge of the reserve. A lifer for me.
I made by way along a track to the first hide. The cobwebs and rusty hinges on the door suggested it had not been visited in a long time. I went to open the first window – it came away in my hands. The place was filled with cobwebs, and also contained a broken two-legged chair. Still, after brushing away few large spiders, I set up the scope and scanned the lagoon ahead. A few Cattle Egrets, a distant Great White Egret, and 2 Black-winged Stilts were visible. I went to open a window on the other side. The same thing happened.
In an area of low reeds, there was a mobile flock of Yellow Wagtails of various races. Feldegg, flava, and cinereocapilla.
I walked on down the path running alongside the lagoon. 7 Marsh Sandpipers, 4 Kentish PLovers, a few Dunlin, a Common Sandpiper, 9 Black-winged Stilts and a Greenshank flew up.
5 Crested Larks and a Hoopoe were on the path 100 metres in front of me, while another Zitting Cisticola displayed overhead. A couple more Corn Buntings sang in the hedgerow, along with a Whitethroat and a Sardinian Warbler.
Further ahead was the second Nightingale of the trip. Heard only this time, a short liquid burst of that evocative song which has made such an ordinary-looking bird so well known.
I rounded the end of the lagoon, and continued onto a wider track running between the small lagoon alongside which I had been walking, and the main, large body of water. On the track ahead was a a female Northern Wheatear, and 30m further on appeared my first Black-eared Wheatear, a cracking male, which flew up and perched on a bush in full view. Before i could get the scope up to take a pic, however, the bird flew. Still, I had the scope up, so decided to scan the far bank of the main waterbody, a good mile away. 7 pink dots and a cormorant were the result. At 60x magnification, I could just make out what the pink dots were. Greater Flamingos, the first I’d seen in the wild. Another rather unexpected bonus bird.
I carried on along the track. More Corn Buntings, more Crested Larks, more Black-winged Stilts, more Marsh Sandpipers. After about a mile, I reached the last hide, a tower with 20+ steps up. From here, I had a 360 degree view over the entire reserve. The marsh straight ahead of me, although distant, was the most productive. After half an hour of scanning with the scope, I found, amongst the species already recorded, 30 Garganey, a Wood Sandpiper, Teal, Shoveler , 5 Ruff and 3 Black-tailed Godwits. But the icing on the cake came in the form of herons/egrets. Within one scope field of view I had Cattle Egret, 9 Little Egrets, 11 Great White Egrets, 2 Grey Herons, 12 Purple Herons, 4 Squacco Herons and 3 Night Herons. Oh if only this were Britain… I was soon reminded that it was not, by the sight 18 Night Herons and 2 Spoonbills gliding in from the back of the reeds. Quality birding.
On the way back I had a Kingfisher fly past, and was treated to another concert from the Nightingale, with Corn Bunting, Sardinian Warbler, Crested Lark, Black-winged Stilt and Zitting Cisticola as back up. 6 lifers in a day.
11th April – Day 6
A quiet day, not much birding done. After a lie in, I headed down to the local beach for a few hours.
This was not a birding visit, merely a beach trip, but nevertheless, a Woodchat Shrike showed well on the clifftop although unfortunately the light was behind it.
2 hours later and I was lying sunbathing on the beach when some movement on the cliffs attracted my attention. I had my bins beside me (better safe than sorry!) so quickly got a view. Rock Nuthatch! My jammiest tick yet. A brief view, enough to confirm the ID, before it flew around the corner of the cliff to the next area of rock.
12th April – Day 7
Another quiet day, spent mainly around the town of Koroni.
After lunch by the harbour, we headed off once more to our favourite beach. This time, again on the way back, a flock of 40+ Bee-eaters went over. A beautiful sight, their bubbling calls filling the air.
13th April – Day 8
Once more, a quiet day around Koroni. In the afternoon, I went for another walk around the olive groves outside our village. I counted 25 Sardinian Warblers, mainly males in song. The usual species were also seen. Whitethroat, Subalpine Warbler, Buzzard etc. Both Black-eared and Northern Wheatears were found on a patch of dry open ground, and I had good views of both Hoopoe and Nightingale. Other more unexpected birds encountered included a female Pied Flycatcher, as well as a Wood Warbler which looked rather out of place in a small olive tree.
14th April – Day 9
Our second and final visit to Gialova. I followed the same pattern and route as on my first visit, with similar results. As previously, the first few species were Zitting Cisticola, Corn Bunting, Sardinian Warbler and Crested Lark. In addition, driving towards the reserve we passed a huge swirl of Alpine Swifts. At least 70, with a few Common Swifts scattered in amongst them. A few Hooded Crows were scattered at intervals along the path.
On the main lagoon was a resting flock of 10 Sandwich Terns. A Sand Martin flew over, but there was little else in terms of new species.
Wader numbers were similar to the previous day, but no herons and only a couple of Garganey remained on the furthest lagoon.
On the way back, a pair of Stonechats were on a nearby hedge, and a Cattle Egret was standing in a field directly underneath a cow.
15th April – Day 10
The final day before the long drive back to Athens and then the journey home. The morning was spent around Vasilitsi, our village. Wood Warbler, 17 Sardinian Warblers and a Woodchat Shrike were the pick of the birds. I was surprised to observe the Woodchat Shrike in full song. Something of a scratchy warble which reminded me of a Crested Lark and at the same time of a Garden Warbler. Weird.
16th April – Day 11
An early start in preparation for the long drive back to Athens. A different route was taken this time, via Arcadia. We stayed the night in a mountain village overlooking the Arcadian valley. On a small road in the middle of nowhere, my sister spotted a tortoise out of the window by the side of the road. My dad soon found that the braking system of our hired Renault Scenic was in excellent condition, and we pulled up to have a look at it. A little further on was a lizard sunning itself on a rock.
17th April – Day 12
In the morning I recorded Golden Eagle, Short-toed Eagle and Hen Harrier from the car, with Black-eared Wheatear towards mid-day. But the icing on the cake came in the afternoon. We had stopped for 10 minutes in a small and quiet valley, so while my family prepared some food, I made the most of the opportunity to do my last birding of the holiday. A small flock of Cirl Buntings was on the nearby hillside. As I got closer towards them, something flew up with a soft call. It was a Rock Bunting, a contester for bird of the trip. I watched it for a few minutes, with Nightingale, Sardinian Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat singing in the background. Does it get any better?
This brought my birding to an end for the trip. What is it they say about Greece? ‘An incomparable blend of climate, culture and cuisine’. Well someone got that one right. A great holiday and a great trip.
115 species were recorded during the 12 days I was there. 18 were lifers.
Species list – in chronological order.
Yellow Wagtail (3 subspecies seen)
Little Ringed Plover
Great White Egret
Western Rock Nuthatch
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Trip Report by Joe Ray 2008 (c)