Kerkini in Winter – 10,000 Birds

Again in July, my fellow 10,000 Birds contributor Dragan wrote a pleasant piece about birding Lake Kerkini in spring. I first visited Kerkini and this bird-rich area of northern Greece 15 years in the past, and have been returning recurrently ever since. Whereas spring is undoubtedly probably the most rewarding time to go to, I’ve loved a number of autumn and winter journeys, too, made extra fulfilling by the truth that the climate is normally a lot sunnier, and hotter, right here than it’s at house within the UK. Final yr, in November, I notched up a dozen species of butterflies, a formidable whole anyplace in Europe so late within the yr.

Queen of Spain Fritillary, photographed in mid November
Clouded yellow – one other frequent November butterfly

For the autumn or winter customer, the largest draw is the flock of Lesser Whitefronted Geese that in recent times have been common and dependable wintering birds on the lake. I’ve seen them on each autumn go to to Kerkini, however regardless of many encounters, I’ve but to get shut sufficient to get a good image of them. (My {photograph} under is of a captive chicken). Normally they’re a number of hundred metres away, and it takes a whole lot of laborious work with the telescope to be sure that they’re certainly Lessers, and never the Better Whitefronts that additionally winter right here. They’re, in fact, a smaller extra compact goose, however selecting out the varied distinguishing options (such because the yellow eye ring) at such vary is invariably difficult, to say the least. Typically one of the best clue is counting the flock. In the event you look on the Portal to the Lesser White-fronted Goose (https://www.piskulka.internet/) you possibly can test on the present flock measurement: if the flock you discover is sort of precisely the identical measurement as that reported on the Portal, then you definitely may be fairly positive that you’ve got discovered your quarry. It’s an uncommon solution to establish a chicken, but it surely’s dependable.

Maybe curiously, the Better and Lesser Whitefronts by no means appear to combine. Maybe they do often, however not after I’ve seen them. Pink-breasted Geese do flip up at Kerkini recurrently, and one yr I watched a Pink-breast blended in with the Lessers. Pink-breasted geese are so distinctive that you’d assume that they’d be straightforward to pick in a flock of gray geese, however surprisingly that’s not the case. 

Better flamingoes winter in massive numbers
Kerkini’s wintering Flamingoes most likely breed in Turkey
Forty years in the past Flamingoes have been uncommon guests to Greece: a number of thousand now winter on Kerkini

Lake Kerkini is a man-made lake, its depth various significantly all year long. It’s all the time at its lowest in late autumn, and this may be irritating because the birds – and there’s all the time plenty of them – are normally very distant. Even if you happen to take a ship trip out on the lake (advisable), the vanity of the water will limit how shut the boatman will be capable of take you to the birds. Nonetheless, you’re sure to get nice views of Better Flamingoes, as a number of thousand winter on the lake. By November almost all of the White Pelicans have gone south (there all the time an opportunity of seeing a younger chicken that has been left behind), however you’re sure to see loads of Dalmatian Pelicans, certainly one of Europe’s rarest birds, however a typical resident right here. 

The Dalmatian Pelicans have a particular relationship with Kerkini’s fishermen
Dalmatian Pelican reflections

Kerkini’s Dalmatian Pelicans lure photographers from throughout Europe. The most well-liked month for pelican pictures is February, when the Dalmatian’s beak pouch is an intense shade of red-orange. (They quickly lose the color because the spring progresses). The pelicans have developed a particular relationship with the Kerkini fishermen, so have grow to be tame, approachable and really photogenic.

Kerkini does, in fact, entice super numbers of wintering wildfowl, together with big numbers of Widespread Pochard, by far probably the most quite a few of the diving geese. You may, if you’re fortunate, see just a few Ferruginous Geese, too, and maybe even a Pink-crested Pochard, however I’ve but to see a White-headed Duck right here, although they’ve been recorded. There’s all the time good numbers of all of the surface-feeding geese that you’d count on, from Pintail to Eurasian Wigeon. Each Bewick’s and Whooper Swans happen in good numbers.

Whooper Swans winter in good numbers
Round 20,000 Widespread Pochard winter on the lake
A flock of Ferruginous Geese (these have been on close by Lake Doirani on the border with North Macedonia )

One chicken that has notably elevated in numbers in recent times is the Widespread Crane, with January counts of as much as 140 birds. Overwintering Black Storks are regular, whereas Spoonbills (which nest within the drowned forest on the lake) stay in some numbers till late within the autumn, presumably overwintering. A function of the autumn is the abundance of Nice White Egrets – as much as 200 on the lake – however so far as I do know they’ve but to breed right here.

Round 200 Nice White Egrets (above and under) winter
Spoonbill ballet

Although the lake could also be the primary attraction, it’s the wealthy number of surrounding habitats that make the world so attention-grabbing for the visiting birder. Within the UK now we have a mere three resident woodpeckers, however within the neighborhood of Kerkini it’s not troublesome to seek out all of Europe’s peckers besides the Three-toed. Center-spotted may be present in many of the woods and forests, Syrian are frequent within the villages, whereas Lesser-spotted (now a uncommon chicken within the UK) are pleasingly frequent. In the middle of per week you can be unfortunate to not join with each Black and Gray-headed, and it’s solely the White-backed (right here of the race lilfordi) that’s prone to be an actual problem. I’ve solely discovered one as soon as, but it surely was a delightfully confiding chicken.

Syrian Woodpecker (above) and Center Noticed Woodpecker (high)
White-backed Woodpecker, the toughest to seek out of the noticed woodpeckers

Of the Balkan specials, Sombre Tit tends to be quiet and unobtrusive, so is usually a problem to seek out. Some years Rock Nuthatches are straightforward to find (attempt any of the native quarries, or the cliff face under the citadel of Sidirokastro), however in others they are often elusive. Wintering Wallcreepers are all the time a risk, too, usually in quarries the place Eagle Owls are resident.

Rock Nuthatches may be elusive

Point out of Eagle Owl brings me to to wealthy number of raptors to be discovered right here in winter. Each Golden and White-tailed Eagles are resident and may be discovered all yr, however Noticed Eagles are a winter particular, and there’s normally a dozen to be discovered wintering on and across the lake. Such an abundance of wildfowl attracts Peregrines. One yr we discovered an impressively massive calidus Peregrine, feeding on a Wigeon that it had killed. A wanderer from the arctic, we thought at first it may need been a Saker, a chicken I’ve but to see right here.

There’s normally a wintering Peregrine round
A resting Sparrowhawk
Wild Cat – be aware the thick, bushy tail. It was photographed on the east embankment.
A Kerkini mini-tiger

Disappointingly, mammal encounters are few, apart from the odd Roe Deer. Golden Jackals have been growing in recent times, however they’re shy and also you usually tend to hear them at evening than see them. Otters are recurrently reported, however I’ve but to see one right here, however I’ve had a variety of encounters with Wild Cats, that are fairly frequent and should even be encountered through the day. Kerkini’s most well-known mammal is the domesticated Water Buffalo – massive herds are saved across the lake. Regardless of appearances, they’re remarkably docile.

Herds of domesticated Water Buffalo may be seen across the lake

Per week’s winter birding ought to produce a tally of something from 120 to 130 species, relying on how laborious you’re employed, luck and the climate. For extra info, I strongly advocate Birdwatching in Northern Greece, the third version of which was printed just lately. Its writer is Steve Mills, the founding father of Birdwing, an organisation that has executed a lot to boost consciousness of chicken conservation in North-East Greece. Steve is a proficient photographer: his glorious footage add vastly to the enchantment of the e-book. By the best way, on the time of writing in mid-November, there was a document flock of 141 Lesser Whitefronts on Kerkini, up from a mere 25 simply 14 years in the past.

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