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Monday, 23 May 2011

Lesvos Birding in Northern Greece

NorthERN Greece –

Dadia Mountains to Lake Kerkini

5 – 12 May 2011

Steve Dudley, Steve Chalmers, Dave & Jackie Nurney

Report by Steve Dudley (SPD). All photos © Steve Dudley

This was an extension to our now usual Lesvos spring week(s). SPD was on Lesvos from 14 April to 5 May with the others there from 28 April.


Lesvos to Thessaloniki and Thessaloniki-Athens-Heathrow all with Aegean.


Economy car rentals (www.economycarrentals.com).

We booked a small mini-bus-type vehicle (Fiat Diablo type) for €395, but we were given a Citroën Jumpy. We were more than happy with this as we had more room and SPD was used to driving these things off road (used on Lesvos for last 10+ years) and with the extra ground clearance it certainly got to places the smaller vehicle (or normal car) wouldn’t have done and only a 4x4 would otherwise have reached.

The quite amazing, go anywhere, Citroen Jumpy - bags of space for four and the ability to get to places only a 4x4 has the right to get to!


Dadia/Evros area – Hotel Thrassa, Tichero (www.thrassa.gr | thrassa@gmail.com) - a very comfortable hotel providing B&B (inc. breakfast) for €45 per room per night. Free wi-fi throughout the building. The hotel overlooks a small lake which held Little Bittern, Night-heron, Squacco Heron, Great Reed Warbler. Located c.10km from Dadia and c.25km from Evros Delta.

Lake Kerkini – Morfi Hotel, Kerkini (www.hotelmorfi.com | info@morfihotel.gr) - another comfortable hotel costing €60 per room per night (inc breakfast). Free wi-fi throughout the building. The hotel is a short walk from the west side of Lake Kerkini and great birds! If you use this hotel note that it actually isn’t the Morfi! The Morfi burnt down some year ago and you stay at the Oikoperiigitis Hotel next door! I tried to find out the relationship, but it was too much hard work! The Taverna Morfi is still there and runs separate to the hotel and its own taverna.


We struggled to find truly good tavernas serving traditional Greek fayre (certainly nothing comparable to those we are used to on Lesvos).

Dadia area - Tichero has several tavernas and bars. Avoid the one on the main road to the village (between the hotel and the village - it was recommended by the hotel but was very poor). The bar Alter Ego in central Tichero serves excellent (real) coffee (none of your Nescafe crap here). We also found the food OK in central Soufli.

Kerkini area - after a couple of nights of a choice of grilled meat only (hotel taverna and Morfi tarverna) we chanced upon a great taverna in central Ano Poroia (north west of Kerkini village) - situated in the old village square, it is shaded by plain trees and Nuthatches and Tree Sparrows bouncing around the tables. The food was excellent too. We ate here twice on our final day.


Dadia area - Soufli, Tichero and on the main road between Tichero and the highway (E90).

Evros area – along the main Ferez – Monastriraki road.

Kerkini area – easily found in villages around the lake inc. Kerkini, Iraklia and nr Ano Poroia.

Petrol is very expensive in Greece – even more so than in the UK – unleaded was c.€1.65 - 1.75 per litre. We travelled around 1200km during our week and spent around €300.


Road Editions no. 1 Thrace 1:250,000 – fine for eastern areas

Freytag & Berndt Greece 1:500,000 – OK, but lacking some finer detail.

We couldn’t find the Road Editions no.2 Macedonia map wither in the UK or locally in Greece.


Birdwatching Guide in Northern Greece – 2nd Edition (Steve Mills) – this was used but with mixed results. Site information for the main areas of Dadia, Evros Delta and Lake Kerkini were by and large good (but these areas are very easy to do without the book anyway), but we found information on specific sites for key target species (e.g. the rarer woodpeckers) and site info away from these three main sites very disappointing. There are frequent mentions of target species listed at the end of many site sections, but nothing specific about where in the various hills or mountains to search. If you dedicate enough time you can overcome this, but I think many birders wanting to see species such as Black and White-backed Woodpeckers will find it frustrating – you have to find your own sites.

The guide also lacks information on local tavernas, hotels, petrol stations, etc. – all key to planning a days birding. We had a GPS unit and a Nokia handset with Nokia local maps loaded and this helped us find petrol stations when necessary.

We used several trip reports, in particular Ian Kinley’s report (his third visit) (http://www.birdtours.co.uk/tripreports/Greece/ne-greece-4/greece-may-2010.htm).

We of course had the Collins Bird Guide on hand for reference.

Day 1 – 5th May 2011

We travelled up from Lesvos arriving at Thessaloniki airport mid-afternoon to grey skies and rain. We collected the hire car and drove east to Tichero (4.5 hrs with a stop for food near Xanthi).

Day 2 – 6th May 2011

We spent the morning at the Dadia Forest Centre (sadly on the demise with the hostel closing down in April, no taverna/café, toilets closed, staff spoke little English).

On the drive to Dadia village and on to the centre we saw several Black Vultures, Griffon Vulture, 1 Egyptian Vulture, 1 Booted Eagle, 1 Lesser Spotted Eagle, and 5 Red-footed Falcons.

From the centre car park we saw Black Vulture, Griffon Vulture and Booted Eagle.

We walked up to the feeding station hide. They say 60 minutes in the literature but it took us 1.5 hours at birding pace and seeing plenty on the way up inc. excellent views of Black Vulture, Griffon Vulture and Levant Sparrowhawk. Woodland birds were disappointing but included Long-tailed Tit.

At the very comfortable hide we looked across to the feeding station (c.600m) which held 6 Black Vultures, 2 Griffon Vultures, 1 Egyptian Vulture and 2 White-tailed Eagles during our stay.

The walk back to the centre took 70 minutes (advertised as 45 mins) and we obtained further views of Black, Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, European Sparrowhawk, Short-toed Treecreeper and Firecrest.

View of the vulture feeding station from the hide taken with 400mm lens. Two Black Vultures can be seen in the centre of the photo (there are Griffons and White-tailed Eagles in there too!).

Adult Egyptian Vulture, Dadia Forest Centre

We lunched in central Soufli.

The afternoon was spent in the Kapsalo area raptor watching, in particular watching Black and Griffon Vultures coming in to roost on the crags here. On returning back towards Lefkimi in the evening we chanced upon a Wild Cat in the edge of the forest.

Black Vulture, Kapsalo

Key species seen today – Black Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, White-tailed Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Booted Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Levant Sparrowhawk, Red-footed Falcon; Wild Cat.

Day 3 – 7th May 2011

We returned to Kapsalo in the morning to watch the vultures leave their roost. Once the raptor action had died down we birded some of the tracks and river crossings lower down towards Lefkimi where we saw more raptors including Golden Eagle and Honey-buzzard, as well as Ortolan Bunting and Syrian Woodpecker. Returning towards Lifkimi we chanced upon three raptors circling together, two Common Buzards and a sub-adult Imperial Eagle!

Raptor watching from below the Kapsalo mast

Kapsalo - the vulture roost cliffs in the centre

Ortolan Bunting below Kapsalo

Imperial Eagle near Lifkimi

We lunched in central Tichero (and coffeed at Alter Ego).

Pallid Swift, Tichero

After lunch we went in to the Evros Hills. Our targets were woodpeckers, but the sites in the Mills guide lacked any specific site info for any species so we simply stopped and searched as we saw suitable habitat. We found only Syrian and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, but during the course of the afternoon also saw a Lesser Spotted Eagle, 6+ Levant Sparrowhawks, 1 Roller, several Eastern Bonelli’s Warblers, Sombre Tit and a flock of 140+ White Pelicans over.

White Storks nr Kapsalo

In the evening we ate at a kebab café in central Ferez.

Key species seen today – Black Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Imperial Eagle, Golden Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Honey-buzzard, Levant Sparrowhawk, Hobby, Syrian Woodpecker, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Roller, Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler, Ortolan Bunting; Hermann’s Tortoise.

Day 4 – 8th May 2011

We spent the morning in the Evros Hills again, again looking for woodpecker sites. Lowland fields near Itea delivered Roller and Calandra Lark. A forest walk nr Melia brought Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler and a single Eleonora’s Falcon. But again, without any specific gen we failed to find woodpeckers (other than Syrian and Great Spotted).

White Pelicans over Monastriaki

We lunched in lowland fields near Monastriraki approaching the Evros Delta and had a fabulous hour with Lesser Spotted and Booted Eagles, Honey-buzzard, Levant and European Sparrowhawks, White Pelicans over, two calling Quail and a Wood Warbler feeding in the only tree in sight!

Hoopoe nr Melia - wrong shutter speed or art?

Roller nr Melia

Calandra Lark nr Monastriaki

After lunch we birded the western section of the Evros Delta. We had ordered permits for the eastern section, but we had already decided our time was to be spent ’pecker hunting in the hills, so this was our only time in the delta and we would concentrate on the western side only. As it turned out it was a good move as we all found the delta very disappointing! I’m sure the eastern site would have been better, but others confirmed they found the delta equally disappointing. The best area by far was the Anthia marshes where we encountered good numbers of marsh terns and waders.

Spoonbill, Evros Delta

On the way back to Tichero we saw up to 6 Rollers on wires and a Hobby south of Ferez. On the recommendation of the hotel we ate in the taverna on the main toad between the hotel and Tichero but wouldn’t recommend it.

22 species of raptors seen in three days. Not bad!

Key species seen today – Quail, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Booted Eagle, Honey-buzzard, Levant Sparrowhawk, Eleonora’s Falcon, Peregrine, Hobby, Collared Pratincole, Black Tern, White-winged Black Tern, Whiskered Tern, Roller, Calandra Lark, Isabelline Wheatear, Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler

Day 5 – 9th May 2011

Our travel day west to Kerkini. We decided to make only one birding stop, Mount Paggeo, for alpine species and woodpeckers. The Citroën Jumpy was great, easily getting us up to the summit despite the section from the ski area to the summit being treacherous at times. We drove straight up to the top and birded our way down. At the summit, between bouts of low cloud we got great views of Horned Lark and Alpine Chough. On the drive up/down from the ski centre we had a pair of Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush. At the ski centre we saw Water Pipit, Black Redstart and Cretzschmar’s Bunting. We then birded slowly down through the wooded sections. We frustratingly heard Black Woodpecker but failed to see it, but did manage Honey-buzzard and Rock Bunting.

Summit of Mt Paggeo

Horned Lark, Mt Paggeo

Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush, Mt Paggeo

We snacked whilst up the mountain and then had an extended mid-afternoon coffee and cake stop at the fabulous Dolcetto café (with free wi-fi) on the north edge of Eleftheroupoli – definitely recommended!

Key species seen today – Honey-buzzard, Black Woodpecker (heard), Horned Lark, Water Pipit, Black Redstart, Alpine Chough, Rock Bunting.

We arrived at Kerkini and checked in to the Morfi Hotel (actually the Oikoperiigitis Hotel) and ate in the hotel taverna (grilled meats only on offer).

Day 6 – 10th May 2011

After breakfast we birded the hotel area down to the lake. The poplar copses were alive with the sound of Golden Oriole and Common Nightingale and we also heard Grey-headed Woodpecker. We spent the rest of the morning birding the north and east areas of the lake. A truly fabulous area with constant streams of wetland species to-ing and fro-ing from the lake. In the Veronia fields we recorded Great Spotted and Syrian Woodpckers, Honey-buzzard, Levant Sparrowhawk and Less Spotted Eagle. Along the north shore of the Strimonas River the highlight was a Griffon Vulture heading high to the east. The eastern embankment was simply hoochin’ with birds. Both species of pelicans, thousands of Great Cormorants in seemingly endless streams heading to and from the lake, Pygmy Cormorants, Night-herons, Spoonbills, Squacco, Grey and Purple Herons, Black-necked Grebe, Black Terns, etc, etc. It was simply breathtaking.

Vironia Fields, Lake Kerkini, looking north-west towards Kerkini Mountains

North-east corner of Lake Kerkini looking towards the 'ibis strip'

Dalmatian Pelicans, Lake Kerkini

Great Cormorants, Lake Kerkini

Below Kerkini dam at Lithotopos

Adult Spoonbill, below Kerkini dam at Lithotopos

We eventually dragged ourselves away and had a late lunch in Irakila (only one of two tavernas we found during the week offering traditional Greek meze dishes rather than grills or schnitzels).

Sub-adult Night-heron, Lake Kerkini

Adult Night-heron, Lake Kerkini with the drowned forest in the background

After lunch we continued around the eastern side of the lake stopping at the dam area, Himarros, the Mavrovouni Hills, Korifoudi Marshes and back to Kerkini. After the morning on the east embankment the afternoon was a little disappointing apart from the dam area where we watched several feeding frenzies – the noise is amazing!

Feeding frenzy, Lake Kerkini

Adult Night-heron, Lake Kerkini

White Pelicans, Lake Kerkini

Adult Night-heron, Lake Kerkini

Great Reed Warbler, Korifoudi Marshes, Lake Kerkini

Southern White Admiral, Himarros, Lake Kerkini

Mavrovouni Hills, Lake Kerkini

Key species seen today – Goosander, Black-necked Grebe, White Pelican, Dalmatian Pelican, Pygmy Cormorant, Spoonbill, herons, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Honey-buzzard, Levant Sparrowhawk, Syrian Woodpecker, Grey Wagtail Masked Shrike; Southern White Admiral, Beautiful Demoiselle, Green-eyed Hawker, Southern Darter.

Day 7 – 11th May 2011

We were out at 6am back along the east embankment of Lake Kerkini. Although still a fabulous time, it wasn’t the same spectacle as the previous late morning. We got the feeling it takes the lake a few hours to ‘warm up’ and the bird activity to really get going.

View of Lake Kerkini, the drowned forest centre left, from mountainside above Ano Poroia

After breakfast we decided to dedicate the whole day to woodpeckers by birding a single area of the Kerkini Mountains hard. We chose the deciduous-coniferous forest area above Ano Poroia. Again the Citroën Jumpy allowed us to reach areas that a normal car would never have got us to. After several hours we nailed White-backed Woodpecker. It was just as we arrived back at the car to head back to the village for lunch when Steve saw a bird fly near the van – a female White-backed pecker. In a flash it was gone, but we did hear it call several times and this confirmed to Dave and myself that the odd Blackbird-like ‘pock’ call that we had been hearing on and off was indeed this species.

Wooded mountainside above Ano Poroia

With the site sorted, we went for lunch at the fabulous taverna in the centre of the old square in Ano Poroia where we watched Nuthatches and Tree Sparrows flitting around the tables. We had a good coffee in the (trendy-looking) café on the corner opposite the taverna.

After lunch we went straight back up to our White-backed Woodpecker site. Within minutes of leaving the car I saw a woodpecker in flight and soon started hearing the deep ‘pock’ calls. It didn’t take us long to track down a pair actively feeding in one section of the coniferous wood. Both birds were feeding on decaying stumps at ground level, hacking out the rotting wood and digging out some large, pale grub. We were able to watch the female on one occasion for at least five minutes as it dug away at the base of a stump. We were ecstatic! Whilst watching the White-backs we could hear a Black Woodpecker nearby, and once the female had made a beeline for her nest we headed off in search of the king of European woodpeckers. And it didn’t take us long! Within 100m along the track we soon found the calling bird and had good views as it moved around us, but never surrendering to the camera as the White-backed did. Job done! We’d birded the area really hard and were delighted with our rewards. This forest area also held a male Semi-collared Flycatcher, good numbers of Willow Tit, several Common Treecreepers, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Blackcap.

Woodland above Ano Poroia - site of White-backed and Black Woodpeckers

Female White-backed Woodpecker collecting grubs from base of decaying fir stump, in woodland above Ano Poroia

We birded on the way back down to Ano Poroia finding loads of Green Woodpeckers but no Grey-headed (too high for most of the time).

Key species seen today – Black-necked Grebe, White Pelican, Dalmatian Pelican, Pygmy Cormorant, Spoonbill, herons, Black Woodpecker, White-backed Woodpecker, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Willow Tit, Common Treecreeper.

Day 8 – 12th May 2011

After breakfast we loaded the car and headed straight back to Thessaloniki for our flight to Athens and then on home to the UK.


Birds (175 species)

Little Grebe

Great Crested Grebe

Black-necked Grebe

Great Cormorant

Pygmy Cormorant

White Pelican

Dalmatian Pelican

Little Bittern


Squacco Heron

Little Egret

Great White Egret

Grey Heron

Purple Heron

Black Stork

White Stork


Great Flamingo

Mute Swan

Greylag Goose

Ruddy Shelduck

Common Shelduck






Tufted Duck

Common Pochard



Black Kite

White-tailed Eagle

Egyptian Vulture

Black Vulture

Griffon Vulture

Short-toed Eagle

Marsh Harrier


Levant Sparrowhawk

European Sparrowhawk

Common Buzzard

Long-legged Buzzard

Lesser Spotted Eagle

Golden Eagle

Imperial Eagle

Booted Eagle

Common Kestrel

Lesser Kestrel

Red-footed Falcon


Eleonora’s Falcon






Black-winged Stilt

Collared Pratincole

Grey Plover


Little Stint

Curlew Sandpiper





Wood Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper

Black-headed Gull

Yellow-legged Gull

Gull-billed Tern

Common Tern

Little Tern

Whiskered Tern

Black Tern

White-winged Black Tern

Feral Pigeon

Collared Dove

Turtle Dove


Common Cuckoo

Little Owl

Tawny Owl

Alpine Swift

Common Swift

Pallid Swift

Common Kingfisher

European Bee-eater



Black Woodpecker

Grey-headed Woodpecker

Green Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Syrian Woodpecker

White-backed Woodpecker

Horned Lark

Calandra Lark

Short-toed Lark


Sand Martin

Crag Martin

House Martin

Red-rumped Swallow

Barn Swallow

Tree Pipit

Water Pipit

Yellow Wagtail

Grey Wagtail

White Wagtail

Common Wren

European Robin

Common Nightingale

Black Redstart


Common Stonechat

Isabelline Wheatear

Northern Wheatear

Black-eared Wheatear

Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush

Blue Rock-thrush

Common Blackbird

Mistle Thrush

Cetti’s Warbler

Sedge Warbler

Eurasian Reed Warbler

Great Reed Warbler

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler

Subalpine Warbler

Eastern Orphean Warbler

Lesser Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat


Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler

Common Chiffchaff

Willow Warbler



Spotted Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher

Semi-collared Flycatcher

Long-tailed Tit

Willow Tit

Sombre Tit

Coal Tit

Blue Tit

Great Tit

Wood Nuthatch

Common Treecreeper

Short-toed Treecreeper

Golden Oriole

Woodchat Shrike

Masked Shrike



Alpine Chough

Hooded Crow



Common Raven

Common Starling

House Sparrow

Spanish Sparrow

Tree Sparrow





Cirl Bunting

Rock Bunting

Cretzschmar’s Bunting

Ortolan Bunting

Black-headed Bunting

Corn Bunting

With more focus on the Evros Delta 180+ is easily achievable in a week if you want a big list. We were surprised just how well we did without going hard after a list and with so much of our time taken up with looking specifically for woodpeckers.

Insects (selected)

Southern White Admiral

Large Tortoiseshell

Beautiful Demoiselle

Green-eyed Hawker

Southern Darter

Mammals (selected)

Wild Cat

Reptiles and amphibians (selected)

Glass Lizard

Hermann’s Tortoise


  1. Excellent report & evocative photos.

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