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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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.
Spring is here, some flowers have already bloomed and birds have already started their migratory trip. The White-tailed Eagles are noticeable around or in their nests. The Golden Eagles are carrying sticks to the same breeding nests they have used for years now. The Peregrines are flying near the nest they had used for years before the crows stole it last year. Maybe they are trying to take it back. The Dalmatian Pelicans with their bright colored beaks have already occupied two of the man-made breeding platforms while the third one that was constructed by the Kerkini Lake Management Authority, has already been adopted by several pairs. The Cormorants and first Grey Herons are sitting in their nests in the riparian forest. The first Little Egrets are here as well as a few Spoonbills, and the first House Martin. We noticed one White Stork on 21st Feb., 22 Ruffs on 25th Feb., and on 28th Feb., the first Lesser Grey Shrike. The Cranes increased to 29 on the 24th Feb. when a new group of 13 birds joined the initial flock. On 17th Feb., 57 Lesser White-fronted Geese arrived from Evros Delta and are getting ready for their big return journey to the Northern European countries. The White-fronted Geese are moving constantly looking for food. A pair of Long-legged Buzzard seem to have decided to stay in the region of Belles mountain for the time being at least. More than 10 Spotted Eagles along with 6-7 Marsh Harriers are looking for food near the riparian forest. The Great-crested Grebes have already begun their love games while the presence of three Oriental Turtle Doves has been the surprise of the region lately. Last but not least the Otters appear more often mainly in the North-eastern part of the lake while at the lower parts of Krousia mountain various mammals start appearing more regularly like roe deer, wild boar and wildcats.
During this February the Lake Kerkini Management authority made a total count of the birds in the broader area .These are some our results:
The Great crested Grebes are more than 900, around 4850 Cormorants, almost 500 Pygmy Cormorants, more than 500 Dalmatian Pelicans and 5 White Pelicans, one Cattle Egret, 42 Spoonbills, around 2000 Flamingo, 330 Swans were counted in total from the three species, around 800 White-fronted Geese, 57 Lesser White-fronted Geese and 45 Greylags. The Shelducks are more than 1400 and the Wigeon are more than 1000, the Teals and the Mallards are reduced but are still some thousands while the Pintails are at least 450. The Shovelers are almost 4500 while the Pochards are reduced to 3000 (among them a White-headed Duck). There are also more than 80 Goldeneye and 1200 Avocets. Large groups of small waders (>4500) and Black-headed Gulls (almost 8000)can be seen all around the lake.
Thanks to Kostas and the Management Authority for this data.
Around 5,500 Cormorants form large groups and look for their food in various parts of the lake but mainly in the mouth of the river.
The 3,000 White Pelicnas comprise the greatest number we have ever written down for the last years ( possibly the greatest number that has ever been recorded in Greece) .
The Dalmatian Pelicans have been more than 500 the same period of time.
There have also been two absent minded Squacco Herons , two young Purple Herons and three Night Herons who are a bit late for their migration.
We could also spot the last Glossy Ibis (14) at the Mandraki region and almost 500 Spoonbills in the shallow waters of the east and west part of the lake.
A White Stork and six Black Storks wander around the old riverbed of Strimonas river and the riverside forest and ten Mute Swans at the Trigono area.
The number of Greylag Geese remains 27 while there are ducks of every kind that someone can notice this time of season.
As prey birds are concerned the White-tailed Eagles, the last Lesser Spotted Eagles, Short-toed Eagles and Booted Eagles as well as Marsh Harriers, Peregrines and other smaller prey birds (Sparrowhawks, Goshawks, Kestrel etc) look for their food around the lake and mainly in the north part of the lake while in the forest there are more than fifteen Crows.
There are more than 4000 Coots , almost 800 Avocets , some hundreds of Lapwings and very many riverside birds in the east and west part of the mouth of Strimonas river. There are also more than 500 Yellow-legged Gulls, more than 6,000 Black-headed Gulls and 2500 Flamingos.
Two Cranes continue to stay in the same region up till now and along go three Egyptian Geese (they probably escaped from a park).
The first six Spotted Eagles presented themselves at the National park on 6 October .The same day we had the arrival of the first group of 29 Lesser White-fronted Geese –lwfg-(among them a family with 5 young birds) on the northeastern part of the lake. This date has been the earliest arrival of this species for the last few years in the region.
The White Pelicans gather in large groups and try to find rising currents to migrate.
On 8 October another group of 5 lwfg was added to the existing population that has now reached the number of 34.
In the middle of October we noticed an adult pair of White-tailed Eagle and a second pair with an adult and subadult individual.
The Spotted Eagles have been already more than ten maybe twelve individuals while the Marsh Harriers have been of a similar number.
A group of around 22 lwfg arrived at the region and is added to the existing group. The number of the species has reached 56 up till now.
After the middle of October we observed the presence of various smaller prey birds like Hen Harriers, Merlin and one or two passing by Hobby.
The presence of Rock Partridges, Woodcocks and a few Thrushes has been noticed on Belles mountain.
Around the end of October the first pair of Red-crested Pochards appeared at the region Trigono and one young delayed but very friendly Cattle Egret presented itself and has remained in the region near a herd of cows daily.
Everyday around 3000 Flamingos feed themselves in the east embankment.
Twelve Glossy Ibis remain in the region and on 28 October we noticed for the first time a group of around 110 White-fronted Geese and the first 6 Bewick’s Swans swimming in the waters of our lake.
The first Lesser White-fronted Geese arrived on 5th, with a group of 10, and these increased to 56 on 20th.
Thanks to the Lake Kerkini Management Authority for this report.