Trip Report: Northern Greece, September 20-28, 1998

Glenn Vermeersch, Belgium;

This is a report on a birding trip in northern Greece from 20-28/09 '98. Weather was great, except for the first two days when we had a few thunderstorms coming over. Normally, temperatures were between 20-28°C.

We went there hoping to have a good mixture of migrants and residents. We were fully awarded! In total, we saw 181 species.

Getting there


Brussels-Athens, international flight with Olympic Airways, followed by a national flight between Athens and Alexandroupolis. This latter city has many hostels, hotels and pensions, usually very cheap.

At Alexandroupolis we rented a car for 7 days, for which we paid appr. 300 US$, insurance and unlimited mileage. We arrived at the hotel around 22.00 and discussed our itinerary for the next day. We would try the Alexandroupolis harbour for Gull-billed Tern, Cory's and Mediterranean Shearwater.


We brought Gosney's Finding birds in Greece, Birds of Greece by Handrinos and Lars Jonsson's Birds of Europe... These three were sufficient for this trip.


We were ready to start our observations! After a welcome breakfast, we went to the harbour where we saw almost immediately 3 Gull-billed Terns, a few Shags and lots of Mediterranean Gulls. Seewatching for about an hour produced 2 certain Cory's Shearwaters and about 150 Mediterranean Shearwaters. Thunderstorms came closer so we decided to stop for lunch. Food is very cheap in Greece; roasted fish can be found on every street-corner and tastes delicious! The rain disappeared, and we went to the Evros-delta, following route A described by Gosney.

As I parked our car, a little warbler took off from the nearby bushes, and I was immediately interested as I could not come up with a name in the first place. Luckily for us, it went down again, so we could have a closer look. It was a Bonelli's Warbler, the first of many surprises of the trip. What a great way to start a walk! We walked further along an almost completely dry channel, and underway we encountered Long-legged Buzzard, a late Olivaceous Warbler, a Lanner Falcon (perched on electricity wires), two Great Reed Warblers and a few Woodchat Shrikes, all these along with lots of other, more common birds.

After about an hour, we entered the real delta, where we had a very good selection of waders and terns, including Marsh Sandpiper (which proved to be fairly common here), Caspian Tern, Gull-billed Tern and, to my great surprise, one Terek Sandpiper, feeding in a shallow lagoon along with some little stints.

Further on, we encountered the pelicans for the first time. Both Dalmatian and White Pelican were present in good numbers.

The bird which I wanted to see very much, Glossy Ibis, was seen there in good numbers by local fishermen the day before. Finally, we were able to spot just one of them on a little sandy island in the middle of the lagoon, close to the pelicans.

Climbing up a shelter, we scared a couple of Little Owls, a very charming encounter! As darkness came, the air above the lagoon was filled with thousands of Swallows, including about 100 Red-rumped as well.

We drove to the little village of Dadia, as we had planned a visit to the Dadia forest reserve, the next morning. We went to a local bar for a few well deserved beers! There we found proof of the famous Greek hospitality as a few people offered us a room for the night, when we told them that all the hotels (2 hotels, actually) were full. Finally, we chose a room in a house just 50 meters from the entrance of the reserve. That night, a Scops Owl (also a late one, I suppose) was still calling in the back yard.


The next morning started with a lot of rain coming down. This was not good as we wanted to see all the raptors in the reserve! We decided to try it anyway and went up to the shelter. This walk takes up to one hour, but you are fully rewarded by the stunning landscape. Black Vultures (the site's specialty) didn't seem to bother about the rain, and we saw several of them on our way up.

We arrived at the shelter and yes, the sun broke through! It would prove to be a great day again!

On the nearby hills at the feeding site, 13 Egyptian, 5 Black and 45 Griffon Vultures were perched in the trees. A local birdwatcher told us that the only female Lammergeier of the reserve was spotted the day before.

After a while, when the hill slopes were warmed up by the sun, the raptors began to fly around. With the help of the friendly Greek next to us, we were able to see Northern Goshawk, Levant Sparrowhawk (a flock of five migrating southwards), Lesser Spotted and Spotted Eagle as well as a few Golden Eagles. The Great Dip was the Imperial eagle! Kestrel and a rare (for this region) Eleonora's Falcon along with a Peregrine Falcon completed this great morning!

After lunch we went back to the Evros-delta as we wanted to try to find the Isabelline Wheatears, described by Gosney. The Greek also told us that there were still a few Rufous Bush Robins present in the area. Underway we saw to our surprise a flock of more than 100 Red-footed Falcons. At the Evros delta, we found one Pygmy Cormorant at the same spot where we found the Glossy Ibis the day before! Close to the military post, we found a couple of Isabelline Wheatears and indeed, one Rufous Bush Robin, along with Cetti's Warbler (very common), Hoopoe, Short-toed Eagle, a flock of Spanish Sparrows and lots of Corn Buntings. Also, a Steppe Buzzard flew by. Finally a flock of about 500 Flamingo's allowed us to make great photographs.


We decided to stay in the region for one more day and went up the hills and the Avas gorge. Sombre Tit and Rock Nuthatch could not be found, although Gosney describes them to be present in the area. Best birds were a couple of Golden Eagles, Syrian Woodpecker, another couple of Isabelline Wheatear, a few Crag Martins and a male Rock Bunting.

That evening we left for Porto Lagos where we would stay for three days. In Porto Lagos, we stayed in the Pelican taberna, very cheap and, indeed, with great views over a tidal marsh.


We started at Lake Vistonas where, in winter, White-headed Duck is very numerous in recent years. We were too early for that species, but we had good views of Red-necked Grebe, Black-necked Grebe and lots of Marsh Harriers. Gull-billed and Caspian Tern were also present as were lots of Kingfishers.

'Church marshes' produced Dalmatian Pelicans, Spoonbills, Pygmy Cormorants, a few Black-winged Stilts and Black-crowned Night-Herons.

Suddenly an Osprey flew over and gave away a great show on how to catch fish efficiently!

We drove further along the main road, and we had one Roller still hanging around in the area. We climbed up the shelter overlooking the 'wader lagoon'. We had been told that this was a great place for vagrant waders and plovers. And man, were they right! Very close to the shelter was a flock of 11 Broad-billed Sandpipers, along with lots of other waders as Ruff, Little Stint, Dunlin etc.... My friend Dirk suddenly turned towards me and said : "Mmmmh, there are a few strange looking plovers over there, they might be Sociable Plovers!" They might...they were indeed, two adult Sociable Plovers! Perhaps the most interesting observation for that week (but not the most spectacular, see further!). We were able to take a few pictures, and they will be sent to Handrinos. A Glossy Ibis came down from the sky allowing us to make really great photographs! The first Great White Egret of the trip was also spotted.

We were in a very good mood and drove further towards the beach. There are a lot of bushes here, allowing for good observations of migrant warblers etc... A few quails took off a I started to find my way through the scrub. The search didn't seem very rewarding until finally a rarity appeared: an Aquatic Warbler! Along the coastline we spotted another good bird: a Slender-billed Gull.

Extremely satisfied, we went back to our car, not knowing that the most spectacular observation (for us!) was yet to come. I wanted to step in the car as I suddenly heard a noise in the nearby high grass. I walked towards it and suddenly I found myself staring at a Corn Crake, a rare bird on migration in Greece. The bird did see me, but he waited one very long minute before finally taking off, showing his great upperwings.

That evening we were having a few beers (as always in the evening) on the balcony overlooking the marsh, and we had another great observation of two Little Crakes coming out of the reedbeds. That night, I had a very good sleep!


We decided to go back to the area near the coast and look further for any rarities. We didn't succeed in finding other spectacular species, but there were lots of the more common Sylviidae such as Blackcap, Whitethroat etc....

In the afternoon we went to Lake Ismarida (Lake Mitrikou) where we had our first White-tailed Eagle (a juvenile), Ferruginous Duck and lots of Pygmy Cormorants. In the surrounding fields we finally found one first winter male Black-eared Wheatear and a few Calandra Larks along with about 100 Greater Short-toed Larks. I never saw as many Gadwalls as at Lake Mitrikou. The lake also had lots of pelicans (both species), a good selection of herons (including one Squacco Heron) and lots of ducks. It's really worth a visit if you have the time.

That evening we stayed in Porto Lagos for one more night.


After an early start, we drove to the Nestos-delta, looking for the Spur-Winged Plovers as described by Gosney. Bee-eaters were still present there. The site of the Spur-winged Plovers was almost completely dry, and it looked dirty overall. Lots of plastic waste all over the place! But after a long search (discussing whether we would be too late in the season or not!) we finally found two adult birds perched along a small pool! Short-toed Larks and another Roller were also present, as well as lots of 'normal' Wheatears.

That afternoon we decided to take it easy, and we took the boat towards the island of Thassos where we had a few superb views of Eleonora's Falcon feeding on these poor migrant birds! Lots of Sardinian Warblers here and, finally, a Sombre Tit! This bird is very hard to find, indeed. We also had our second Lanner Falcon of the trip.


Our last day was spent at the Evros-delta again, but we were very tired and a little bit sick (olive oil, you know!), so we didn't really try very hard. A few Black Storks (the only 2 of the whole trip) were kind enough to fly over us, as we were trying to get some sleep in the nearby fields! A great end to a great week!

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