Saturday, 14 October 2017

Northern Greece (03-10 October)

Megan and I went to Northern Greece for a week in early October, Megan interested in the antiquities and me hoping to see Dalmatian Pelican. Neither of us had been to Greece before and we were not disappointed.
Dalmatian Pelican Lake Kirkini
Tuesday 03 October 2017. We flew with easyJet from Gatwick to Thessaloniki, an early departure that had us a Summer Parking at 03:45 car. Our flight arrived a little early and we collected an upgrade to our pre-booked car from SiXt, a very nice Mini Cooper diesel automatic even if it did have very low seats. Less impressive was learning our prepaid fully comprehensive insurance didn't cover the car's mirrors, wheels or underneath. We decided against paying extra for those but immediately wondered if it would be a false economy. We drove north to Lake Kirkini near the Bulgarian border navigating using downloaded on my phone. We stopped at the south of the lake and scanned, and not far offshore were two Dalmatian Pelicans. It is always nice to see one's target bird early on in a trip. We made a few more stops along the lake before arriving at our accommodation, the very friendly Morfi Hotel in Kirkini. We wandered around the nearer part of the for the rest of the day. There were lots of birds on the lake but most were too distant to identify. We saw more pelicans (most distant Dalmatians), 3 Pygmy Cormorants, a Black Stork, hundreds of distant Greater Flamingos, 2 Caspian Terns, Kingfisher, a few common migrant hirundines and warblers (just like Sussex), 4 Spotted Flycatchers and a few Jays and Hooded Crows.
my first Dalmatian Pelicans were the first birds seen on Lake Kirkini
it was third time lucky for me having missed them in January 1980 when Bharatpur was exceptionally dry. I failed again in Mongolia this May, although we had already booked to visit Greece by then so I was fairly relaxed about it
Mexican stand-off
friends again

Lake Kirkini, two pelicans and two Pygmy Cormorants were around the central line of nets
bizarre birds
Pygmy Cormorant

Squacco Heron
distant flamingos and pelicans
Wednesday 04 October 2017. After an earlyish breakfast which included enough food to make a packed lunch we drove to the NW corner of the lake but the light was very poor. We tried a road down to the lake along its northern edge from where birds were closer, but still distant, and the light much better and spent the best part of an hour there. We then found a track to the eastern side of the lake, the light was great but birds again very distant. It would have been possible to drive around this part of the lake on a rough track and we might have tried it had we gone for the wheel and underneath cover although I'm not sure it would have taken us much closer to the distant pelicans and flamingos. We continued on to Serres, rather too busy for our liking but some nice views looking down on the city. Back to Kirkini we tried the NW corner again, the light was very much better but most of the birds no closer. We also tried the western side again but a group on horses and few birds were in the best looking area. Birds seen included 6 Garganey, 100 Shoveler, 1000+ Greater Flamingos, Squacco Heron, hundreds of Pelicans (most too distant to identify), Pygmy Cormorant, 8 Avocets, 200+ Common Snipe, 100 Wood Sandpipers, 10 Greenshank, 25 Yellow-legged Gulls, 8 Jays, 30 Hooded Crows, 50 Swallows and a House Martin, 30 Willow Warblers and 5 Chiffchaffs, 10 Spotted Flycatchers, 120 Yellow and 3 White Wagtails, a Red-throated Pipit seen and one heard and 3 Hawfinches.
mountains beyond Lake Kirkini, the nearer ones mark the border with Bulgaria
our car (at its cleanest), very nice to drive (photo: Megan)
Great Spotted Woodpecker at Kirkini, black saddle at the base of the bill well hidden
looking north from the eastern side of Lake Kirkini, pelican and flamingo shimmer and impressive mountains
mainly flamingos
Dalmatian Pelican

Willow Warbler
hills above Serres
Megan at the Cityzen walls
looking down on Serres
back at Lake Kirkini
close Dalmatian Pelican
Thursday 05 October 2017. After breakfast we tried the track to northern side of the lake again but birds were no closer and despite being earlier the light not much better. We continued to the eastern side of the lake to a rough track which headed in the direction of the lake shore but after walking for half an hour open water was no more apparent. We returned to the Morfi and checked out. It had been an excellent place to stay. We drove west to Edessa stopping at Lake Dojran on the border with Macedonia for a picnic lunch we'd prepared at breakfast. The route was then a bit cross country to Edessa, not helped by my missing a couple of turnings. We arrived in Edessa mid afternoon, found our hotel, the Hagiati, and parked easily in the street opposite. The hotel was ideally located close to the waterfalls and the old town. We looked around them until dark. Birds seen around Lake Kirkini included 500+ Greater Flamingos, 2 Spoonbills, 20+ Dalmatian Pelicans, Marsh Harrier, 20 Avocets, 2 Green and 20 Wood Sandpipers, a Sand Martin and 100 Swallows, 6 Willow Warblers and 40 Chiffchaffs, 8 Spotted Flycatchers. At Dojran we saw 6 Dalmatian Pelicans, 20 Pygmy Cormorants and a Red-backed Shrike with another 5 Red-backed Shrikes and 6 Crested Larks on the journey to Edessa. Perhaps best of all was a superb Wood Warbler in Edessa.
NW corner of Lake Kirkini looking north
Lake Dojran looking west to Macedonia
looking north
frogs at Lake Dojran

view from Edessa
Preying Mantis in Edessa
Painted Lady
view of the ancient city (near brown/cleared area) from from Edessa city wall
Friday 06 October 2017. We walked down past the waterfalls to the foot of the escarpment and the ancient city. Back in town, not as steep a climb as we'd feared, we visited a few sites before finishing the day driving a short distance to the Agas Reservoir. We failed to access it from the north, the road our map showed running alongside provided no more than views of the tops of some reeds with the only track we found off it soon heading in the wrong direction. The south side was more successful. Areas of open water were few but did host about 10 Ferruginous Ducks. Other birds seen during the day were 320 Little and a Red-necked GrebeBitternPurple Heron, 3 Pygmy Cormorants, a Red-rumped Swallow, another superb Wood Warbler (in Edessa), Spotted Flycatcher, 2 Grey Wagtails and a Red-throated Pipit and poor views of 4 Cirl Buntings.

behind the main waterfall

main waterfall at Edessa

site of ancient Edessa

the Byzantine Bridge in Edessa
Ferruginous Ducks at Agas Reservoir

Saturday 07 October 2017. After several warm sunny days the weather changed and it was heavily overcast when we left Edessa. We drove to the ancient site of Pella where it was blowing a gale. We had just about finished looking around the ruins when the rain set in. We visited the museum and drove to Vergina in improving but still quite rough weather. The Museum of the Royal Tombs, once we found it, was very impressive despite being an underground excavation. Above ground sites were closed for renovation which was disappointing even if visiting them would have been rather bracing. We drove the short distance to the Ktima Kalaitzi, our hotel for the night set somewhat remotely in a vineyard on a hill top. An ideal location for a creepy murder mystery although it was hosting a wedding reception. Once checked in we returned to a supermarket in Vergina to buy some food and visited nearby Veroia Reservoir. Birds seen during the day included a Pygmy Cormorant, 800+ Coot, 2 Yellow-legged Gulls, a Little Owl, 4 Tree Sparrows, 5 Spotted Flycatchers and a Black Redstart.

Little Owl in Vergina
Sunday 08 October 2017. We left Vergina and drove towards the coast to the main north-south highway. Turning off just before it we took a track 2-3 kms down to the coast where we saw 100 Greater Flamingos, 10 Great White Egrets, 4 Dalmatian Pelicans, Pygmy Cormorant, Marsh Harrier, 2 Curlew, 4 Greenshank, 5 Crested Lark and some Rock Sparrows in mobile mixed sparrow flocks. We drove back to Thessaloniki although it took a while to rejoin the main road. Traffic was light out to the airport where we returned the car, somewhat muddy thanks to the coastal excursion. We caught the airport bus back into the city centre, missing our stop which added a couple of minutes to a short walk to Hotel Ilisia where we were staying for our last two nights. It was a typical cheap, basic, city centre hotel and although our room had a nice view we later discovered the road outside was quite busy all night. We walked to the seafront and along the prom to the White Tower seeing 5 Caspain Terns and 4 Yellow-legged Gulls. The Battlecruiser Averoff making its first visit to the Aegean since WW2 was moored at a nearby quay too good to miss so we headed there at sunset.

Ktima Kalaitzi, early morning
fantastic setting, Veroia Reservoir in middle distance
view from the hotel
Thessaloniki prom and the Battlecruiser Averoff from the White Tower, 
Megan at the White Tower
Alexander the Great
inside the Rotunda
Thessaloniki seafront
Battlecruiser Averoff

still struggling with the Greek alphabet

Monday 09 October 2017. A day visiting museums, we saw some nice mosaics, lots of stone pillars and statues (many headless) and enough pots, coins and religious icons to last me a lifetime. I also saw 4 Yellow-legged Gulls, 2 Caspian Terns, 25 Alpine Swifts, 500+ Rooks (roosting in the town) and a Spotted Flycatcher. At dusk we revisited the Averoff.

Thessaloniki's White Tower
The Roman Agora
we arrived just after it had closed although we could see it quite well walking around the perimeter

Thessaloniki Metro archaeological preparatory works
with so much archaeology progress was going to be slow
Battlecruiser Averoff with Mount Olympus in the background

10 October 2017. We caught the airport bus, rather more crowded than previously, checked in and flew home. It had been an enjoyable, relaxing and successful holiday.

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