Thursday, November 10, 2016

Birdwatching in Athens: Full day trip, November 9, 2016

Joe Church from the United States came to Greece to run for the Marathon. Being a keen birder, he arrived to Athens a few days earlier so that he could enjoy birdwatching with us.

Starting the trip at 06.15, our first stop was the hill of Lycabettus, downtown Athens. Just before dawn, we put the first bird on our list (and a lifer for Joe): Scops Owl! This nocturnal bird of prey overwinters in southern Greece and is particularly common in parks of Athens.

Next stop was the Aesthetic Forest of Kaisariani on Mt Hymettus, a popular place for birders. We managed to find, among other things, two more lifers for Joe; Goldcrests and Hawfinches have arrived and were rather easily found. A Sparrowhawk was also seen, along with lots of Jays, Robins, Chaffinches and a flock of Siskins.
Hawfinch 
We left Mt Hymettus for another mountain: Mt Parnitha is the highest mountain close to Athens and home to many interesting birds like the Sombre Tit. Even though the weather was not good (fog and low temperatures), we managed to see it along with the Dunnock (common winter visitor and a lifer for Joe). We also enjoyed the view of several Red Deer!


We left Mt Parnitha for warmer habitats like Schinias Marshes. We explored Athens' most important wetland and even though it is fairly dry due to very few rains in autumn, the Ferruginous Duck was present in the Olympic rowing center, along with hundreds of Coots and a small group of Common Pochards. 

Ferruginous Ducks along with Coots and a Little Grebe

The sudden thunderstorm and the strong winds later on, hindered our quest for lifers but we managed to see both Meadow and Water Pipits (new for Joe) along with Fan-tailed Warblers, a Red-backed Shrike and two Barn Swallows (exceptional records given the date). Another beautiful sighting was a Weasel that came out in the open for a few seconds

Weasel 

Just before dusk we left Schinias and headed back to Athens. The total list of birds seen and/or heard is quite impressive, given the bad weather. Another successful bird trip was over. Thank you Joe for your wonderful company, hope to see you again in Athens! 

TRIP BIRD LIST (L = Lycabettus Hill, H = Mt Hymettus, P = Mt Parnitha, S = Schinias Marshes)

Teal S
Mallard S
Pochard S
Ferruginous Duck S
Little Grebe S
Great Cormorant S
Marsh Harrier S
Sparrowhawk HS
Buzzard S
Kestrel S
Coot S
Common Snipe S
Black-headed Gull S
Yellow-legged Gull S
Collared Dove S
Scops Owl L
Kingfisher S
Woodlark (heard) P
Barn Swallow S
Grey Wagtail S
White Wagtail S
Meadow Pipit PS
Water Pipit S
Wren (heard) HPS
Dunnock P
Robin LHPS
Black Redstart PS
Stonechat PS
Blackbird LHPS
Song Thrush HS
Mistle Thrush P
Cetti's Warbler (heard) S
Fan-tailed Warbler S
Blackcap S
Sardinian Warbler HPS
Chiffchaff HPS
Goldcrest H
Blue Tit (heard) HP
Great Tit HPS
Coal Tit (heard) HP
Sombre Tit P
Rock Nuthatch (heard) P
Red-backed Shrike S
Jay HP
Magpie HPS
Hooded Crow PS
Raven P
Starling S
House Sparrow S
Spanish Sparrow S
Serin (heard) P
Greenfinch PS
Goldfinch PS
Siskin HP
Linnet (heard) P
Crossbill P
Hawfinch H
Cirl Bunting HP
Corn Bunting S










Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Birding in Athens, trip report: 2 Yellow-browed Warblers at Imittos Mt

Today's birding trip around Athens was fascinating, combining late migrants, awesome resident species as well as mega rarities. Let's start from the morning pick up:
Patty Meehan from Oregon and Ann Howe from Boston asked us to run a birding trip around the city for October 15th. We picked them up from their flat in Acropolis area and started our trip from Schinias National Park. Along with Zitting Cisticola, Red-backed Shrikes and Tree Sparrows, we had great views of breeding Ferruginous Ducks, which were one of Patty's lifers.

Continuing in Rafina's stream we saw colorful Kingfisher as well as a Grey Plover close to the seaside. Artemis Lagoon was also interesting, with waders such as Turnstones and Dunlins.
One of todays' highlights was seen at Spata fields, an impressive Short-toed Eagle that we enjoyed mostly with out spotting scope.

After an authentic greek lunch with gyros, greek salad and lots of tzatziki we headed for Imittos Mt, looking for the first arriving Robins and other winter passerines. A nice Red-breasted Flycatcher was observed, a species which is very rare in western Europe.

Red-breasted Flycatcher (Ficedula parva) at Imittos Mt
Firecrest in Imittos Mt

However, the birds of the day was just beside Kesariani Monastery, we saw 2 Yellow-browed Warblers (Phylloscopus inornatus), which have invaded Europe from Siberia this autumn. This species is vagrant in Greece, with around 20 sightings. There were 2 birds moving very fast, so we had to run to our car in order to bring a camera with big zoom lens, in order to take pictures of this rare visitor. Pics will be send to the Hellenic Rarity Committee, for justification.
Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) in Imittos Mt
Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) in Imittos Mt
Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) in Imittos Mt     

Here's in the complete bird list for Oct 15th
Little Grebe
Grey Heron
Little Egret
Teal
Ferruginous Duck
Marsh Harrier
Common Buzzard
Short-toed Eagle
Kestrel
Sparrowhawk
Grey Plover
Turnstone
Dunlin
Coot
Water Rail
Moorhen
Kingfisher
Collared Dove
Crested Lark
Stonechat
Robin
Barn Swallow
Grey Wagtail
Spotted Flycatcher
Red-breasted Flycatcher
Chiffchaff
Firecrest
Yellow-browed Warbler
Sardinian Warbler

Zitting Cisticola
Red-backed Shrike
Hooded Crow
Starling
Blackbird
Great Tit
House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Goldfinch
Chaffinch
Greenfinch
Corn Bunting



Friday, September 30, 2016

Birdwatching in Athens: Half-day trip, September 13, 2016

September is a busy month, in terms of both migration and bird tours. On September 13, we ran another half day trip, this time with Steve, an enthusiastic American birder who wanted to see birds before the start of his cruise with his family.

The first stop of the day was the small but very important for waders Artemis lagoon. We saw, among others, a juvenile Purple Heron!

Purple Heron
Other birds seen include the Garganey, the Little Ringed Plover, the Sanderling and the Curlew Sandpiper.

Next stop was Vravrona Wetland, quite dry at this time of year but still important for birds; the Penduline Tit was the highlight of our visit.

Penduline Tit
Red-backed Shrikes, Sardinian Warblers and Cetti's Warblers were quite common in Vravrona, while Fan-tailed Warblers and Cirl Buntings were also present.

After Vravrona, we stopped for half an hour at the famous stand of Turpentine Trees close to the town of Spata. These trees are full of fruit and migrant birds! We saw, among others, a lovely Lesser Whitethroat.

Lesser Whitethroat

Last stop was the Aesthetic Forest of Kaisariani, the closest birding hotspot to Athens. Even though we spent little time there, we managed to have some really good views of birds like the Spotted Flycatcher and the Common Redstart


Common Redstart

Another great birding day was over. Steve, tired but happy, returned to his family to start the "mainstream" part of his holiday in Greece. We are looking forward to birding with him again! 








Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Birdwatching in Athens: Express birding trip, September 7

Vince Knight came to Athens for a couple of days before departing on a cruise ship. He desperately wanted to bird the area but had roughly a morning. So, what was the only solution to his problem? Greece Bird Tours of course!

Having just three hours to bird, we suggested a very fast but productive birding walk in the Aesthetic Forest of Kaisariani, on the lower slopes of Mt Hymettus. This site is just 15 min away from downtown Athens (in low traffic conditions like very early in the morning). On 7.30 we were already watching the first bird of the area; and what a bird it was - a Red-breasted Flycatcher!

Red-breasted Flycatcher

This rare passage migrant is almost always seen in this site in September. Not shy but restless, it can be seen quite easily but usually only briefly.

The forest was teeming with passerines, resident and migrant. The light rain actually helped us, as the birds were too busy feeding during the pauses of the rainfall and paid no attention to our presence. Redstarts, Spotted Flycatchers, Blackcaps, Willow Warblers were there, along with local Robins, Great Tits and Blackbirds. Hiding in the lush vegetation but very frequently coming out in the open to feed on the Turpentine Tree fruits or any unlucky insect.

Robin

Male Common Redstart
But it was not just the ground that was full of birds. Hundreds of all three Swift (Common, Pallid and Alpine) species were flying low, chasing insects along with a large group of House Martins! 

It was a full three-hour' birding frenzy! Vince was more than happy to share a photo with me after the trip!



TRIP CHECKLIST

Cuckoo
Common Swift
Pallid Swift
Alpine Swift
House Martin
Robin
Common Redstart
Blackbird
Blackcap
Lesser Whitethroat
Subalpine Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Willow Warbler
Firecrest
Spotted Flycatcher
Red-breasted Flycatcher
Long-tailed Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Coal Tit
Short-toed Treecreeper
Jay
Magpie
Chaffinch
Crossbill
Cirl Bunting





Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Birding in Athens: Trip Report, Athens 28.8.2016

Birdwatching in Athens can be rather challenging in August. Autumn migration has already started, with shrikes and small waders reaching peak numbers. We run a birding tour for S.Burton, a birder from England, on Sunday 28th, basically around Easten Attica.
Broad-billed Sandpiper at Artemis (Loutsa) Lagoon
We started from Spata fields, were Sylvia warblers start their migration, basically the juveniles. Garden Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Willow Warbler, Whitethroat, Blackcap,  (and Lesser Whitethroat the next day), together with Red-backed Shrike, Spotted Flycatcher, Northern Wheatear and Black-eared Wheatear.

Garden Warbler at Spata fields
Spotted Flycatcher at Spata fields

Our next stop was Schinias National Park. Two impressive Short-toed Eagles was well observed. Other specialties of the area were Zitting Cisticola, Woodchat Shrike, Lesser Grey Shrike, Black-headed Wagtail (heard), and beautiful Penduline Tits at the Olympic Rowing center. We also had Rock Nuthatch around their nesting area, and the close by hill, as well as Chukar.
Our last stop was the small Artemis (Loutsa) Lagoon, north of Athens International Airport. This small pond always holds water in summer, which attracts a lot of migrant waders. So, we had the chance to see Black-winged Stilt, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff, Redshank.

Red-backed Shrike enjoying cicada as lunch, at Pikermi
Little Owl at Schinias National Park
The complete bird list (54 species) for this Athens half day birding trip on August 28th 2016 is as follows:
Little Grebe
Grey Heron
Little Egret
Mute Swan
Mallard
Marsh Harrier
Common Buzzard
Common Kestrel
Short-toed Eagle
Chukar
Moorhen
Coot
Black-winged Stilt
Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Curlew Sandpiper
Broad-billed Sandpiper
Ruff
Redshank
Yellow-legged Gull
Little Owl
Collared Dove
Common Swift
Hoopoe
Crested Lark
Barn Swallow
House Martin
Red-rumped Swallow
Blackbird
Whinchat
Stonechat
Black-eared Wheatear
Northern Wheatear
Spotted Flycatcher
Cetti's Warbler
Willow Warbler
Blackcap
Zitting Cisticola
Garden Warbler
Whitethroat
Subalpine Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Great Tit
Penduline Tit
Rock Nuthatch
Red-backed Shrike
Woodchat Shrike
Lesser Grey Shrike
Magpie
Hooded Crow
Greenfinch
Goldfinch
Cirl Bunting

Ringed Plover at Artemis Lagoon

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Birding in Greece: Mesolonghi full day, August 14th 2016

This year is definitely "dedicated" to this great wetland of Western Greece. We have already run quite a few birding trips and more will follow. This time, Lori Pivonka, an american birder, wanted to explore the birdlife of the area.

The weather was great, not too hot and not too windy and that predisposed us for a great time and it really was!

By the time we entered the lagoon, hundreds of terns and gulls welcomed us: Gull-billed, Caspian, Whiskered, Black, Little and Common Terns were the most common, while Slender-billed Gulls were also present.



Gull-billed Tern with a freshly caught frog
A very nice surprise was the presence of more than 10 Pygmy Cormorants. Very common nowadays in the north, the Pygmy Cormorant steadily expands its range and it will soon establish itself in the area of Messologhi. 
Pygmy Cormorant
Dalmatian Pelicans, Flamingos and Avocets were also there as these species are common and widespread. Herons were also common: hundreds of Little Egrets along with Great Egrets, Grey, Squacco and Herons. A few Purple Herons were also present

Purple Heron

Other birds of interest included dozens of Garganeys, hundreds of Dunlins and a few Marsh Sandpipers and, of course, Kentish Plovers and Collared Pratincoles

A Dunlin retaining its summer plumage

But it's not just the lagoon. The surrounding area is also very productive as the last remaining Griffon Vulture colony of the region is found very close; the birds can be easily seen flying in and out of their nests. 

Griffon Vulture

But the day was not over, in terms of active birding, even when we headed our way home. Instead of using the state-of-the-art bridge that connects western Greece with the Peloponnese, we used the ferry because we wanted to find the Scopoli's Shearwater. And there it was, soaring just above the waves!

Scopoli's Shearwater

Lori and Lefteris in action, watching a Wood Warbler

Another fine day was over. The total list of birds seen and/or heard is more than 80 species! An impressive count for August, don't you think?

CHECKLIST 

Mallard
Garganey
Ferruginous Duck
Little Grebe
Great Cormorant
Pygmy Cormorant
Dalmatian Pelican
Litte Bittern
Night Heron
Squacco Heron
Little Egret
Great Egret
Grey Heron
Purple Heron
Glossy Ibis
Flamingo
Griffon Vulture
Short-toed Eagle
Marsh Harrier
Buzzard
Kestrel
Water Rail
Moorhen
Coot
Black-winged Stilt
Avocet
Collared Pratincole
Little Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Grey Plover
Little Stint
Dunlin
Curlew
Redshank
Marsh Sandpiper
Greenshank
Common Sandpiper
Black-headed Gull
Slender-billed Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Little Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Caspian Tern
Moustached Tern
Black Tern
White-winged Tern
Sandwich Tern
Common Tern
Collared Dove
Kingfisher
Bee-eater
Hoopoe
Crested Lark
Sand Martin
Barn Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Yellow Wagtail
Northern Wheatear
Blue Rock Thrush
Cetti's Warbler
Zitting Cisticola
Reed Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Wood Warbler
Spotted Flycatcher
Collared Flycatcher
Blue Tit
Rock Nuthatch
Penduline Tit
Red-backed Shrike
Lesser Grey Shrike
Woodchat Shrike
Jay
Magpie
Raven
House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Chaffinch
Greenfinch










Monday, August 15, 2016

Athens Birding Trip report: August 6-12th 2016

Birding tours around Athens in August can be frustrating, since the heat is usually keeping birds very silent and rather lazy to move. However, autumn migration has started, so one might have the chance to see great species, usually in the morning.
We organized 3 different birding trips during these days, for fellow birders visiting Athens for holidays, who had an extra day for birding.
Firstly we set a tour for Tomasz K., a nature photographer from Poland. We decided to visit Schinias National Park, as the best area close to the city to watch birds during this month.
We started from Ramnounda fields, were we saw the first lifer, a male Woodchat Shrike. After a while, we saw several more adult birds, and a few juveniles. In the same area, we managed to get a second lifer for Tomasz, a nice Cirl Bunting, hiding in the olive trees around us.
Moving into the central marsh of Schinias area, we got great views of soaring Short-toed Eagle. The bird had a lizard caught in its mouth and landed on the highest wooden pole to eat it.
Apart from these, we had Black-eared Wheatear, a nice Black Stork (very rare for Athens indeed!), and several other species such as Sardinian Warbler, Cuckoo (not easily seen in Athens during autumn)

Cuckoo
Black Stork
Sardinian Warbler
Short-toed Eagle
Woodchat Shrike




Then a half day trip was organized, in order to take a look at the wet areas of the marshes. We saw 20+ Black-winged Stilts, Snipes, Curlew Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers, Little Stints, Common Sandpipers, lots of Red-rumped Swallows, Hoopoe and the first Lesser Grey Shrikes and Spotted Flycathcers for this autumn migration. 
Spotted Flycatcher 



The third visit at Schinias National Park was on Friday, August 12th, with Ellen Smith, a birder from Austin TX. Ellen was rather lucky to see so many birds in a half day trip, and checking 12 lifers in 4 hours! We had an amazing moment while watching a Little Owl, were we had 4 species on the same wire: Little Owl, Lesser Grey Shrike, Hoopoe, and Cuckoo a bit further away!
Little Owl
Black Storks
Lesser Grey Shrike
Hoopoe and Little Owl
and just beside: Lesser Grey Shrike!
We even saw the Short-toed Eagle again, a 5 Black Stork landing on the main observation tower of Schinias, truly a very rare sighting for Athens.

Overall, we saw 58 species. Here's the complete bird list:
Little Grebe
Mallard
Ferruginous Duck
Black Stork 
Little Egret
Grey Heron
Black winged Stilt
Wood Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Snipe
Little Sting
Redshank
Curley Sandpiper
Dunlin
Short-toed Eagle
Common Buzzard
Common Kestrel
Marsh Harrier
Sparrowhawk
Moorhen
Water Rail
Collared Dove
Turtle Dove
Little Owl
Scops Owl (heard)
Yellow-legged Gull
Crested Lark
Red-rumped Swallow
Barn Swallow
House Martin
Common Swift
Pallid Swift
Hoopoe
Cuckoo
Black eared Wheatear
Nothern Wheater
Blackbird
Stonechat
Spotted Flycather
Yellow Wagtail
Black-headed Wagtail
Woodchat Shrike
Lesser Grey Shrike
Red-backed Shrike
Jay
Magpie
Hooded Crow
Great Tit
Cetti's Warbler
Whitethroat
Sardinian Warbler
Zitting Cisticola
House Sparrow
Greenfinch
Goldfinch
Cirl Bunting

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Birding in Greece: Weekend birding tour in the Peloponnese, July 9-10, 2016

Another exciting birding tour took place in the region of Peloponnese, on the 9th and 10th of July. From our "base" in Epidavros, we toured Mt Parnonas, a very rich area in birdlife but rather unknown to birders, Lake Stymfalia, the coastal wetland of Nea Kios, close to the city of Nafplio and Lake Moustos. We managed to see some 75 species, a remarkable number given the time of year!

On the first day (July 9), we visited the extensive mountain range of Parnonas, a diverse area with large tracts of maquis scrub, conifer and broad-leaved woodland. Birds were everywhere; Honey-Buzzards, Short-toed Eagles, Common Buzzards and Kestrels soared the skies, while Cirl Buntings, Woodlarks, Woodchat Shrikes and Goldfinches were few of the passerines seen. Sombre Tit was also found and seen from a close distance.

One of the many Short-toed Eagles of the area
Close to Mt Parnonas is Lake Moustos, a small but very important wetland. Numerous Water Rails and  hundreds of hirundines were seen, while Turtle Doves were singing from tamarisk trees. A Whiskered Tern was a very unique sight, perched on a small tamarisk!

Whiskered Tern
On the second day, we started our tour in the coastal wetland of Nea Kios, watching waders like the Black-winged Stilt, the Curlew Sandpiper, the Greenshank and the Kentish Plover. A group of 10 Flamingos was a remarkable sight as it flew right in front of us, making several passes before leaving the area. Common Terns were still mating!

Common Terns
We left Nea Kios and drove to Lake Stymfalia. On our way, we stopped at the ancient castle of Larisa, at the city of Argos and enjoyed close views of Blue Rock Thrushes and Rock Nuthatches.

Rock Nuthatch
Lake Stymfalia holds Ferruginous Duck, a rare and endangered waterfowl. We saw qute a few, along with Mallards, Little and Great Crested Grebes. The surrounding farmland held Lesser Grey Shrikes, Red-rumped Swallows and Middle-Spotted Woodpeckers.

Leaving Stymfalia, we saw Corn Buntings on the fields and Alpine Choughs close to the surrounding mountain tops. The day ended with a visit to the newest White Stork nest of the area!

White Storks are coming back to the Peloponnese! 



Tired but really happy after two days of birding!

TRIP CHECKLIST (75 species)

Mallard
Ferruginous Duck
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Little Egret
Grey Heron
Flamingo
White Stork
Honey Buzzard
Short-toed Eagle
Marsh Harrier
Common Buzzard
Kestrel
Water Rail
Coot
Black-winged Stilt
Little Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Curlew Sandpiper
Curlew
Common Redshank
Greenshank
Green Sandpiper
Black-headed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Whiskered Tern
Sandwich Tern
Common Tern
Turtle Dove
Tawny Owl
Hoopoe
Green Woodpecker
Middle Spotted Woodpecker
Crested Lark
Woodlark
Barn Swallow
House Martin
Red-rumped Swallow
Yellow Wagtail
White Wagtail
Robin
Blue Rock Thrush
Blackbird
Cetti's Warbler
Zitting Cisticola
Reed Warbler
Blackcap
Subalpine Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Firecrest
Spotted Flycatcher
Long-tailed Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Coal Tit
Sombre Tit
Nuthatch
Rock Nuthatch
Short-toed Treecreeper
Penduline Tit
Lesser Grey Shrike
Woodchat Shrike
Jay
Magpie
Hooded Crow
Alpine Chough
Raven
House Sparrow
Chaffinch
Serin
Greenfinch
Goldfinch
Linnet
Cirl Bunting
Corn Bunting





Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Birdwatching in Greece: Birding in Messolonghi Lagoon, June 26, 2016

Messolonghi Lagoon is a favourite birding destination all year round. Even in summer, it offers a great many interesting species that breed in the wetland or the surrounding areas.

That's why when James C Greenwood, member of the board of the National Audubon Society contacted us for a full day birding trip, Messolonghi was, undoubtedly, the place to go.

We started very early (05.30) from Athens so as to spend as much time as possible at the area, since it is a full 3 hours' drive (a large part of the national road leading to Messolonghi is under construction).

When we reached the lagoon, we enjoyed the view of several passerines that were moving in the dense reedbeds; Cetti's, Reed and Great Reed Warblers, along with Penduline Tits, were abundant.

The lagoon itself was full of terns: Little, Common, Caspian, Gull-billed Terns all breed there, while there were also Whiskered, Black and White-winged Terns. There were also several Dalmatian PelicansOystercatchers, Avocets, Flamingoes, Black-winged Stilts and Redshanks.
Some Little Terns are still mating, while others have already chicks

Oystercatchers
 Other interesting birds found at the lagoon include Little and Great Egrets, Grey and Purple Herons, Stone Curlews and Kentish Plovers. The most interesting passerines were the Rufous Bush Robin, the Zitting Cisticola and the Spanish Sparrow. 

Male Spanish Sparrow


Close to the lagoon is the small village of Lesini. A small but increasing (thanks to nestboxes put the last few years) population of Lesser Kestrels is the greatest attraction. A Honey Buzzard, mobbed by the Lesser Kestrels, was also a very nice sighting.
Male Lesser Kestrel

The "intruder" Honey Buzzard

Another interesting site close to the area is the Lesini Ash Forest, home to woodpeckers, like the Middle and the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Tired but happy after a very productive trip, we stood for the typical "selfie"!





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