It's simple - Lake Kerkini offers some of the most accessible, and best, opportunities for both birding and bird photography in Europe. As the year unfolds January and February can be cold, and, wildfowl numbers reach their peak with over 20 000 Pochard often with a handful of Red-cresteds. Spotted and White-tailed Eagles are frequently seen, Great White Egrets are everywhere. Dalmatian Pelicans are looking their very best and Cranes are increasingly arriving to spend the winter here, with 28 in February '13.
Migration begins in early March, with the arrival of pioneering Garganey and Osprey. White Storks arrive towards the end of the month. Migration gathers steam through April into early May, when every bush seems to hold warblers. Glossy Ibis are regular and there can be over a thousand of each species of pelican.
The early summer sees the drowned forest alive with herons and egrets. Golden Orioles sing in the poplars and Bee-eaters and Rollers sit on the wires. Great Spotted Cuckoo bred in 2010.
Returning wader migration begins as early as late June, continuing into October, although by then numbers are small. The autumn sees the water level at its lowest, exposing acres of mud, particularly at Mandraki and along the eastern embankment. This is attractive to waders but they are often some considerable distance away. Collared Pratincole pass through in good numbers in early autumn. Pelican numbers build again as Dalmatians arrive to spend the winter and Whites stop off on passage.
October typically sees the Lesser-spotted Eagles replaced by Spotteds. The remaining months bring the ducks back, together with Lesser White-fronted Geese, which spend time here before moving on south-east to the Evros delta.
In the winter of 2007 - 2008 the total number of birds on the lake was counted at just over 41000.
There is also great birding to be had in the nearby hills, with Long-legged Buzzard, Rock Nuthatch, Calandra Lark, Subalpine and Olive-tree Warblers. Nearby woods hold Black, White-backed, Middle-spotted and Grey-headed Woodpeckers and the mountains to the east have Capercaillie, Nutcracker, Rock Thrush, Wryneck, Semi-collared Flycatcher and Barred Warbler.
Following heavy rains in the winter of 2010 - 2011, the Strimonas River changed its course to the south of the Vironia bridge, with the result that it enters the lake at an earlier point. This has cut through the embankment at site 3 in the site guide where it can now be a little tricky to turn the car around if there's been recent rain.
The new river channel has had a detrimental effect on birdwatching at site 4. Previously the shallow waters by the embankment were a favourite spawning ground for carp in spring, bringing huge feeding frenzies of pelicans, cormorants, herons and egrets close to shore. The new river course means that as the river enters the lake earlier the spawning grounds have gone as a result of the strong current.
Work to return the river to its previous course was completed in October 2014 and it remains to be seen whether site 4 regains its former birding quality.
How many did you get? Which did you find most difficult? Let us know your thoughts!
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There were 1200 Greater White-fronted Goose on the lake in February along with 116 Lessers, 54 Greylags and, unusually, 3 Red-breasted Geese. During this month some 590 Dalmatian Pelicans were counted together with 4 Whites. Also of note were 1800 Flamingos, 25 Common Cranes, 72 Bewick’s Swans, 17 Whoopers, 8 Ruddy Shelducks, 38 Goldeneye, 7 Smew, 15 Spotted Eagles, 4 Golden and 3 White-taileds.
The number of birds at the lake is a joy to behold. Several thousand White Pelicans have assembled around the river mouth getting ready for their departure, over 1500 Flamingos line the water's edge, Great White, Little and Cattle Egrets are all present as are over 100 Spoonbill. Only a few passage waders remain as Snipe and Avocet numbers build and the impending arrival of winter can be seen in the 3 recently arrived Spotted Eagles. The best news concerns the Lesser White-fronted Geese. The largest number since 1992 - 107 - arrived on the 2nd suggesting a fantastically successful breeding season. Let's hope a corner has been turned for this species and that numbers will continue to build over the coming years.
Since the beginning of February we have had a lot of rain . Strimonas river was carrying great volume of water that was pressing the wall of the dike. Some serious dike breaks occurred and so many areas around the riparian forest that used to be plains where various birds and mainly geese found food , flooded. Due to the floods, birds had to gather on very limited number of available dry places so some of them have been probably urged to begin their migration to the north countries earlier than expected.
The pelicans' breeding has already started and some of the birds hatch their eggs in order to have the first new young pelicans. As every year,the Cormorants and the Pygmy Cormorants are the first birds which occupy their nests in the lake forest .The Grey Herons are the first of the Heron family which have settled in their nests.
The birds of prey have made their presence as 15-20 Spotted eagles find their food around Kerkini lake everyday. Two adults Sea eagles are also seen in or around the forest .Sometimes someone can even hear them as they call each other. Lately, the Golden Eagles can be spotted in the north part of the lake near areas with little water and low grass. Some Harriers and Falcon peregrines complete the picture of birds of prey that a visitor can enjoy in the area around Kerkini lake.
The Lesser White-Fronted Geese must have had a difficult time this year because of the flood in the region of Kerkini lake as well as Evros river. They appeared at the beginning of October in Kerkini (1st of October ,this is the earliest arrival of last years) and stayed almost till the end of the first week of December. On October 22, appeared for the first time in Evros' region and a month later on November 20,reappeared in Kerkini. But the difficult living conditions( floods and few dry places) urged them to leave and come back again on February 11 in Evros' region. They may have begun their migration to the North countries by now.
I would also like to present you some statistics about the presence of birds in the broader region lately.
A few Little egrets , Night herons, Spoonbills and Storks(black and white) stayed through winter in Kerkini region. Around 500 Dalmatian pelicans, 4 White pelicans, 1500 Flamingos, three species of Swans around 200 birds, almost 1500 White-Fronted Geese, 30 Greylags and naturally 52 Lesser White-Fronted Geese that was the last total number before they left Kerkini. The presence of Shelducks has been quite important with a number of 2200 birds, the Wigeons almost 1200, the Teals and the Mallards appeared by thousands, the Pintails almost 550, the Shoveler more than 1100, the Pochards around 8000 – 10000 and almost every time among them you could spot some Tufted ducks and a few Ferruginous ducks. Only two Scaups and around 10 Res-crested pochards were noticed a while ago. Among the geese 3 Ruddy shelducks and one Red-breasted goose were spotted. The largest number of Goldeneye has been 40-50 (although I believe they are more). We have also seen a lot of Smew , a few Goosanders (4) and a group of Red-breasted merganser that we haven't spotted again. Avocets, Lapwings in large groups of many hundreds and thousand of other Waders (Dunlin, Sandpipers .. and other birds that live near the lake) comprise a spectacular image especially during their flight (when they are chased by a Peregrine…).
In the perimeter of the lake but in the National Park with a bit of patience ,someone can also watch other species of birds small and big like Eagle owl, Rock partridge, Blue rock thrush, Dipper, Nuthatch, Rock nuthatch, Wallcreeper……
Best wishes for the Spring that will certainly come (even though it is snowing at the moment!)
Thanks to the Lake Kerkini Management Authority for this report.
The annual arrival of the whole of the European population of the Lesser White-fronted Goose to Lake Kerkini is always keenly anticipated. This year the main group arrived earlier than ever, with 44 flying in from the Hortobagy in Hungary on the 1st. it will be interesting to see whether the particularly low water level in the lake at the moment causes them to stay longer or to move earlier to what is usually their next, and final, winter staging ground at the Evros Delta.
Summer hangs on in the form of White Pelicans, both storks and a few Swallows, all on the 25th, and yet the presence of Spotted Eagles speaks of changes to come.
The highlight of the month was the invasion of hundreds of Rosy Starlings which began on the 18th, with the arrival of a few individuals. The 19th brought more and, by the 20th, it seemed like every mulberry tree was alive with their movement and chatter. Many of the males were in full song between berry-gorging sessions. Plenty of Cuckoos and all four shrikes were in evidence, including good numbers of Masked.
The heavy spring rains have brought the lake to full capacity very quickly, causing the nesting attempts of the Great Crested Grebes to be twice washed out. Third time lucky hopefully. Of better news, over 200 Dalmatian Pelican chicks have hatched on the platforms and several pairs of both Glossy Ibis and Cattle Egret have bred in the drowned forest.
Of concern is the seemingly low numbers of large raptors, particularly Lesser Spotted, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, a phenomenon that seems not to be restricted to Kerkini.