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Lake Kerkini in Spring
15 - 22 May 2018

This two centre tour offers some of the most diverse wildlife in Eastern Europe and while primarily focusing on birds, it will also provide an excellent array of wild flowers, reptiles, butterflies and other interesting insects. Lake Kerkini ranks as one of the best inland waters for birds in Northern Greece, if not of the whole region and is truly a birders' paradise. Although an artificial reservoir, the shallow waters and large flooded forests attract many breeding birds, including an impressive selection of herons, egrets, spoonbills, cormorants and pelicans. Additionally, impressive mountains rise to the north of the lake and provide not only a stunning backdrop, but also several interesting passerines and raptors. We then finish the tour with a 3 night visit to Southern Macedonia, a beautiful and mountainous country where time still goes at a much slower pace. It is a tiny country and one which most people are not familiar with, but as a home for wildlife it is hard to find a greater richness in Europe. Indeed the fine mix of habitats will ensure a fascinating and memorable stay, while the abundance of wildlife means our days will be packed full of interest, despite the gentle pace of the tour.

Day 1
We begin with a direct flight to Thessaloniki in Northern Greece, where immediately after leaving the airport we will visit the nearby Axios River Delta. Here a mix of marshes, lagoons and wet pastures provide a home to several species that rarely occur at Kerkini, most notably Gull-billed Tern and Collared Pratincole, while others include Greater Flamingo, Mediterranean and Slender-billed Gulls, Marsh Sandpiper, Kentish Plover and Black-winged Stilt. Later in the afternoon we will transfer to Kerkini, where we are located between the lake's northern shore and the foot of the Belles Mountain.

Days 2 - 4
Renowned as one of the finest wetland sites in Europe, Lake Kerkini is a birdwatchers' paradise and attracts thousands of water birds throughout the year. Spring arguably sees this place at its best, as all the returning migrants are back, including a host of herons, egrets and marsh terns, all further complementing the many resident species. Several interesting birds are rather common at Kerkini. Sedentary Little Owls can be found on many of the buildings, Syrian Woodpecker is common in the gardens, White Storks nest in the village, while further afield Turtle Dove and Red-backed Shrike are numerous and Bee-eaters can be found almost everywhere.

One day we will start early in order to take a boat trip along the northern shore, passing close to the heronries and a large Cormorant colony. This place literally teems with thousands of birds, White Pelicans use the river mouth to rest, while Grey, Squacco and Night Herons, as well as Great Egret and Spoonbill feed in the shallow water. Additionally, Glossy Ibis breed nearby and can often be seen flying over. Hundreds of Great Crested Grebes are present and migrating Black, Whiskered and White-winged Terns stop to feed in good numbers, while Common Tern breed on artificial platforms. The importance of the lake for birds is ever growing, and Dalmatian Pelican have started to breed here recently, the first new colony for the species in Europe for many years. The cruise will no doubt provide an excellent photo opportunity.

The western shore of the lake, bordering the Kroutsia Mountains is heavily forested, but there are a few places in foothills where we can look for some hard-to-see birds, especially Olive-tree Warbler and Masked Shrike. Both prefer well vegetated areas. Although both are rather skulky, the high breeding density here will give us a good chance to see them. The Kroutsias are also excellent for raptors, with good numbers of breeding Black Kite and Honey Buzzard as well as White-tailed, Lesser Spotted and Booted Eagles. Another much sought-after raptor is Levant Sparrowhawk and the villages along the western shore are a frequent hunting ground for up to ten breeding pairs. Black Stork meanwhile breed deeper into the hills, but are sometimes seen flying past. Hawfinch is common.

The northern shore, bordered by the Belles Mountains (over 2000m), is a great place for close-up views of Squacco Heron and Pygmy Cormorant. It also supports perhaps the most notable reedbeds, home to Purple Heron, Great Reed Warbler, Water Rail and Penduline Tit, while higher up in the wooded valleys Crested Tit, Firecrest and Sombre Tit are possible.

Away from the lake we will visit the riverine forest located right at the Bulgarian border, where old poplars, willows and ashes provide a haven for up to 7 species of woodpeckers, most notably Middle Spotted, Grey-headed and Black Woodpecker. Short-toed Treecreeper is also present. Nearby we will explore a belt of grazed grassland where Red-footed Falcons like to stop on migration and Great Spotted Cuckoo can sometimes be found. A disused quarry north east of the lake often proves rewarding and Rock Bunting, Red-backed Shrike, Golden Oriole, Red-rumped Swallow and Eastern Orphean Warbler are some of the many birds found there. Eagle Owl often breeds in the quarry, while Golden Eagle can frequently be observed overhead. Nearby, another quarry close to the town of Sidirokastro holds breeding Roller and Bee-eater, in addition to which Rock Sparrow have recently began to breed.

Day 5
Today we will cross the border into Macedonia and drive to our first base in Kavadarci, stopping first at Dojran, where a large shallow lake is shared between Macedonia and Greece. Here a tiny quarry on the Macedonian side is a great place for butterflies and dragonflies, while birds will no doubt feature more Dalmatian Pelicans and Pygmy Cormorants, while Little Bittern is sometimes seen flying over the reeds. We will also visit the Demir Kapija Gorge via the arid valleys that are associated with the area. These valleys are excellent for many species of bird and butterfly, as well as other large insects and reptiles. Targets include Masked Shrike and Olive-tree Warbler, along with European Bee-eater, Black-eared Wheatear and Lesser Grey Shrike, while Yellow-banded Skipper, Lesser Fiery Copper and Delattin´s Grayling are just a few of the butterflies we hope to see. Once at the gorge, a gentle walk should easily reward us with several typical rock-breeding species such as Egyptian Vulture, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Nuthatch, Crag Martin, Alpine Swift and Peregrine, while butterflies such as Lang´s Short-tailed Blue, Ilex Hairstreak, Balkan Marbled White, Great Banded Grayling and Large Tortoiseshell are all possible.

Later we should arrive at the hotel in good time for a rest, or for those who prefer, a short stroll before dinner. Birds here may include Subalpine and Sardinian Warblers, Turtle Dove, Calandra Lark, Tawny Pipit and Black-headed Bunting. Dinner will be taken at the hotel restaurant to a backdrop of calling Scops Owl and Nightjar.

Days 6 & 7
Wildlife is everywhere in Macedonia and we have two full days to explore some of the key sites. The country seems to be one huge, continuous nature habitat and even the most casual stop by the roadside rarely fails to provide a good variety of birds, insects and plants. We will visit the Babuna River Valley, where a gentle walk should prove very productive, with several pairs of Roller and Golden Oriole breeding in poplars fringing the river, while Rock Partridge is often flushed from the ground as we walk. Booted Eagle and Levant Sparrowhawk can often be seen overhead and are occasionally joined by Black Stork. Late May is also the best season for the rather unpredictable Rosy Starling, which is regularly found in good numbers in the surrounding steppe. Butterflies vary with the season, but Mountain and Southern Small White, Little Tiger Blue and White Banded Grayling are all possible, along with Hungarian, Mallow and Oriental Marbled Skippers.

Only 15 miles from our hotel is the Vardar River, where together with the surrounding hills we will search for the highly prized Imperial Eagle, while other typical birds of the area include Olivaceous and Orphean Warblers, Short-toed Eagle, European Bee-eater, Woodchat Shrike and Spanish Sparrow. Nearby we will also visit a large Lesser Kestrel colony - one of the last in the Balkans, where over 130 pairs nest in the old rooftops.

Wildflowers are a feature here and Pale Bugloss, Pyramidal Orchid, Lizard Orchid, Hairy Flax and Corn Cockle should be in bloom, while interesting insects may include the strange armour-plated Bronze Glandular Bush-cricket and Horned Praying Mantis. The butterfly season should be more advanced here, with Osiris and Zephyr Blues likely, along with Southern White Admiral. Amongst the reptiles Nose-horned Viper, Dahl´s Whipsnake and Balkan Green Lizard are all possible.

One day we will start early and drive to a plateau where we walk to vulture feeding site. Egyptian and Griffon Vultures regularly come to feed here and are sometimes joined by eagles, while Long-legged Buzzard and Lanner can also be seen in the area. Passerines are well represented and we should manage to find Hoopoe, Ortolan Bunting and Barred Warbler. At a height of 2500ft the butterfly season will be delayed somewhat, but specialities such as Russian Heath, Freyer´s Fritillary and Eastern Festoon are possible, along with Turquoise and Adonis Blues, Marbled and High Brown Fritillaries and Camberwell Beauty. In fact Macedonia boasts over 200 species of butterflies and considering its size, it is possibly the best destinations in Europe for the butterfly enthusiast.

Day 8
After breakfast we depart from Kavadarci and return to Thessaloniki, where if time permits we may again visit the nearby Axios River Delta for a few hours birding before our flight back to the UK.





More Details


Total Cost £1235
Deposit £250
Single room supplement £100

Price breakdown
Air Price £200
Ground Price £1035


Whats Included
All Flights, All ground transport once in Greece / Macedonia, 7 nights accommodation, All Meals, Reserve entrance fees and Guiding services throughout.

Not Included
Alcoholic drinks, Insurance and Items of a personal nature.

Group Size
Maximum of 11, plus leaders Dave Read & Martin Hrouzak.

This tour will be run at a moderate pace, with a comfortable amount of walking over easy terrain. The climate at this time of year is likely to be good, with average highs of 26ºC and nightly lows of 14 ºC. Some rain is possible. Accommodation will be in a good quality hotels with private facilities. Transport will be by air conditioned minibus. There are no special health requirements and a visa is not required.




Financial Protection
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Black-headed Bunting

Red-backed Shrike

Dalmatian Pelican

Pygmy Cormorant

Masked Shrike

Rosy Starling

Southern White Admiral

Egyptian Vulture

Camberwell Beauty

Grey-headed Woodpecker

Purple Heron

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