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 repeatedly 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 pleasant by the truth that the climate is often a lot sunnier, and hotter, right here than it’s at dwelling within the UK. Final 12 months, in November, I notched up a dozen species of butterflies, a powerful whole wherever in Europe so late within the 12 months.

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 lately 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} beneath is of a captive fowl). Normally they’re a number of hundred metres away, and it takes a variety of arduous work with the telescope to ensure that they’re certainly Lessers, and never the Higher 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 the perfect clue is counting the flock. If you happen to look on the Portal to the Lesser White-fronted Goose (https://www.piskulka.web/) you may examine on the present flock measurement: if the flock you discover is nearly precisely the identical measurement as that reported on the Portal, then you definately might be fairly positive that you’ve got discovered your quarry. It’s an uncommon technique to determine a fowl, however it’s dependable.

Maybe curiously, the Higher and Lesser Whitefronts by no means appear to combine. Maybe they do sometimes, however not after I’ve seen them. Purple-breasted Geese do flip up at Kerkini repeatedly, and one 12 months I watched a Purple-breast combined in with the Lessers. Purple-breasted geese are so distinctive that you’d suppose that they’d be straightforward to pick in a flock of gray geese, however surprisingly that’s not the case. 

Higher flamingoes winter in giant numbers
Kerkini’s wintering Flamingoes in all probability 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 synthetic 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 a lot of them – are often very distant. Even in the event you take a ship experience out on the lake (really helpful), the vanity of the water will prohibit how shut the boatman will be capable to take you to the birds. Nevertheless, you might be sure to get nice views of Higher 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 fowl that has been left behind), however you might be sure to see loads of Dalmatian Pelicans, one in all Europe’s rarest birds, however a standard 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 preferred month for pelican images 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 change into tame, approachable and really photogenic.

Kerkini does, in fact, entice super numbers of wintering wildfowl, together with big numbers of Frequent Pochard, by far probably the most quite a few of the diving geese. You would possibly, if you’re fortunate, see just a few Ferruginous Geese, too, and maybe even a Purple-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 anticipate, from Pintail to Eurasian Wigeon. Each Bewick’s and Whooper Swans happen in good numbers.

Whooper Swans winter in good numbers
Round 20,000 Frequent 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 fowl that has notably elevated in numbers lately is the Frequent 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 beneath) 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 we now have a mere three resident woodpeckers, however within the neighborhood of Kerkini it’s not tough to seek out all of Europe’s peckers besides the Three-toed. Center-spotted might be present in many of the woods and forests, Syrian are frequent within the villages, whereas Lesser-spotted (now a uncommon fowl within the UK) are pleasingly frequent. In the midst of every 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, however it was a delightfully confiding fowl.

Syrian Woodpecker (above) and Center Noticed Woodpecker (prime)
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 generally is a problem to seek out. Some years Rock Nuthatches are straightforward to find (attempt any of the native quarries, or the cliff face beneath the fortress of Sidirokastro), however in others they are often elusive. Wintering Wallcreepers are all the time a risk, too, typically in quarries the place Eagle Owls are resident.

Rock Nuthatches might 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 might be discovered all 12 months, however Noticed Eagles are a winter particular, and there’s often a dozen to be discovered wintering on and across the lake. Such an abundance of wildfowl attracts Peregrines. One 12 months we discovered an impressively huge calidus Peregrine, feeding on a Wigeon that it had killed. A wanderer from the arctic, we thought at first it might need been a Saker, a fowl I’ve but to see right here.

There’s often 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, aside from the odd Roe Deer. Golden Jackals have been growing lately, however they’re shy and also you usually tend to hear them at night time than see them. Otters are repeatedly reported, however I’ve but to see one right here, however I’ve had numerous encounters with Wild Cats, that are fairly frequent and should even be encountered in the course of the day. Kerkini’s most well-known mammal is the domesticated Water Buffalo – giant herds are stored across the lake. Regardless of appearances, they’re remarkably docile.

Herds of domesticated Water Buffalo might be seen across the lake

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


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