For friendly, expert advice call: +44 (0) 1962 733051

New tour: Greece - Lake Kerkini in Spring

Bee-eater

European Bee-eater

Contained by the natural barriers of the Kerkini Mountains to the north and the Mavrovouni Mountains to the south, Lake Kerkini lies close to the Bulgarian border in northern Greece and is renowned as one of the finest wetland sites in Europe. Historically, the wild marshlands along the floodplain of the Strymon River were regarded as virtually uninhabitable and largely abandoned to nature but, in the early twentieth century, a sustained campaign over many years witnessed the conversion of thousands of hectares of marsh into arable land, a process assisted by the creation of a huge irrigation reservoir which, together with a network of canals and ditches, helped to control the flow of water. The river was, however, reluctant to relinquish its influence on the landscape and alluvial deposits washed down from the mountains continued to limit the effectiveness of the new reservoir for over 50 years until a new, higher dam was constructed in 1982, this defining the shape of present-day Lake Kerkini.  

Our tour begins with a flight from London to Thessalonika, followed by a 2-hour drive to a pleasant lakeside hotel. Here we will be based for seven nights, enabling us that rare luxury on a birdwatching tour of being able to unpack suitcases! From here we get our first views of the lake shimmering in the spring sunshine and, over the following week, we will be able to explore every facet of this Ramsar-acknowledged wetland paradise. Skirting the popular areas set aside for public recreation, we will be seeking the quieter corners of this huge reserve where Little Bitterns, Purple Herons, Squacco Herons, egrets and many other waterbirds enjoy the sanctuary of waterside vegetation from which the guttural rasping of Great Reed Warblers competes with a chorus of frogs to provide a constant background symphony. In deeper water the branches of drowned trees still reach towards the sky above the surface of the lake and these form perches for a noisy congregation of avian tenants which we will view at close range from boats.

Two of Kerkini’s most distinguished residents are the endangered Dalmatian Pelican and Pygmy Cormorant, both of which breed here and thrive on the abundant supply of fish in the lake. As ‘stars of the show’ the former always demand particular attention, whether soaring on thermals high over the lake or excitedly chasing a shoal of fish through the water, often joined in their hunt by rafts of both Greater and Pygmy Cormorants.   As we move deeper into the countryside surrounding the lake we will be captivated by the sights and sounds of summer. Beeeaters swooping after insects over the fields, Golden Orioles uttering their fluty calls from roadside trees and Hoopoes flashing black and white wings as they dash away are three of the most colourful local species, but there is also great interest in the more sober-plumaged inhabitants of the bushes and trees proclaiming spring territories with rich outpourings of song. Warblers include Subalpine, Barred, Marsh, Cetti’s, Olivaceous and Olive-tree, the latter something of a European speciality of northern Greece, often heard but much harder to observe. Red-backed, Lesser Grey, Woodchat and delicate little Masked Shrikes wreak havoc among the insect population and often adorn the telephone wires, sharing these prominent perches with Black-headed, Cirl and Corn Buntings. As we explore further we should find Lesser Spotted Eagles soaring over woodlands, Black Storks, Penduline Tits, Black-eared Wheatears and perhaps some less predictable migrants pausing in this food rich haven before continuing their journey. Our own excursions will also take us into the nearby mountains where raptors include Golden, Short-toed and Booted Eagles along with one or two pairs of White-tailed Eagles which find easy prey in the lake below. Rock Nuthatches are one of the hillside residents and other species found at the higher elevations or on the forested slopes include Rock Partridge, Black Woodpecker, Nutcracker, Ortolan, Rock Bunting and both Rock and Blue Rock Thrush.  

During our week at Lake Kerkini we are assured a great many memorable birdwatching encounters but not all the attractions are ornithological. Herds of semi-feral Water Buffaloes forage through the lake shallows, creating scenes more reminiscent of Asia than Europe, whilst local reptiles enjoying the sunshine include Hermann’s Tortoise and both Green and Balkan Green Lizards. Over a hundred butterfly species have been recorded from the countryside around the lake and mammals inhabiting the montane forest slopes include both Beech Marten and Wildcat. Add to this wonderful variety a stunning flora and it is easy to appreciate why this picturesque lake is destined to become a favourite Naturetrek destination in future years.

This new 8-day tour departs on 6th May 2017. For more information please click here or contact dan@naturetrek.co.uk.