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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The Magic of Kerkini in Might


Might has lengthy been my favorite month of the 12 months. The times are longer and hotter, flowers fill the meadows, and the birds are again. True, most of our migrant breeding birds begin to return in April, however in Might even the late arrivals – Turtle Doves, Swifts, Noticed Flycatchers and Nightjars – lastly seem. Because the final 4 are amongst my favorite birds their reappearance is all the time one thing to sit up for. Sadly, although I’ve seen all 4 this 12 months, I haven’t managed to search out an English Noticed Flycatcher nor Turtle Dove. I haven’t seen a Nightjar, both, however I’ve heard a number of.

A Kerkini Turtle Dove. They’ve virtually disappeared as breeding birds from England

Each Turtle Doves and Noticed Flycatchers have been as soon as widespread summer season birds right here in Suffolk, however have suffered extreme declines, a lot in order that they’ve turn into very scarce and troublesome to search out. There haven’t been any reviews of Turtle Doves domestically this 12 months, which isn’t actually shocking as this species has declined by a staggering 97% within the final 20 years, and it’s eventual loss as a breeding species within the UK is a definite chance. 

I used to be lucky sufficient to spend the primary 10 days of this month in Northern Greece, staying within the pleasant village of Ano Poroia, overlooking Lake Kerkini. Since my first go to to this nook of Greece in 2008 I’ve been a daily customer, drawn again by the abundance and number of birds. This 12 months didn’t disappoint: the climate was good, the birds as good as ever. Early Might is migration time, and one morning, after in a single day rain, the lake was alive with Black Terns, and a sprinkling of Little Gulls, whereas overhead the sky was crammed with hundreds of Swallows and Home Martins. 

There was a notable passage of waders, too, the identical day. Maybe most spectacular of all have been two wonderful Gray Plovers in full breeding finery, residing as much as their American title of Black-bellied Plover. Although I see these birds typically within the winter, their plumage is as gray as their title suggests. However after they purchase their breeding plumage they’re, like so many waders, birds remodeled, with the black stomach contrasting with the silver-spangled again. Alas, they have been too distant to {photograph}. These good-looking plovers nest on the excessive Arctic tundra, so nonetheless had a few thousand miles to fly earlier than reaching their breeding grounds. 

The plovers have been accompanied by two or three Turnstones, trying gorgeous of their sharp black-white-and-orange breeding plumage. Just like the Gray Plover, these are acquainted birds within the UK in winter, when their plumage affords them wonderful camouflage, however in summer season plumage they’re birds remodeled. Feeding with the Plovers and Turnstones have been an assortment of different waders, all heading north, together with Ruffs, Wooden Sandpipers, Ringed Plovers, Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints. Not one of the Ruffs have been but displaying the ruffs from which they take their title, however the Curlew Sandpipers had already acquired their good-looking brick-red summer season plumage.

Spot the doves. There have been 14 Turtle Doves on this tree

It was troublesome to understand how lots of the Turtle Doves I noticed have been migrants: they could have all been birds that have been going to spend the summer season across the lake. My finest rely was 14 in a single tree, however there have been many particular person encounters, too. Bee-eaters (under) have been quite a few, a lot in order that I suspected that many have been migrants, pausing to refuel on their means north.

Scarce Swallowtail butterfly: good-looking however widespread

Northern Greece abounds with fascinating bugs. This putting lacewing doesn’t have an English title, however is scientifically Nemoptera sinulata

The abundance of insect round Kerkini is most putting, particularly in comparison with my dwelling in England, and the grasshoppers and crickets, beetles and butterflies present wealthy feeding for the various insectivorous birds. There aren’t many locations in Europe the place you possibly can see 4 species of shrikes in at some point, however that is one in every of them. Pink-backed Shrikes semed notably widespread this 12 months, and we did see Woodchats, Lesser Greys and Masked Shrikes.

Cock Woodchat Shrike: an eye-catchingly handsome fowl

A feminine Pink-backed Shrike, a well-recognized breeding fowl at Kerkini, and (under) a cock

Frustratingly, I did not discover a singing Olive-tree Warbler, an area particular, however Jap Olivaceous Warblers have been widespread, whereas I had a splendid view of an Jap Orphean Warbler whereas watching a singing Ortolan Bunting. The previous got here out to preen straight under the bunting, which I used to be watching by my scope. Jap Subalpine Warblers are widespread within the hills right here.  Taxonomically, Subalpine, Orphean and Olivaceous Warblers have all been cut up in recent times into Jap and Western types, and are thought to be full species, however the variations between japanese and western birds are refined. By the way, what we used to name Olivaceous Warbler in Spain has now turn into Isabelline Warbler. All very complicated.

A singing Jap Olivaceous Warbler, a current taxonomic cut up from the renamed Isabelline Warbler of Western Europe

I solely managed to search out the one Ortolan Bunting, which is rarely a standard fowl right here, however I delighted in quite a few encounters with the large and unmissable Black-headed Bunting, an actual Balkan particular. This Bunting’s easy, far-carrying name is likely one of the commonest sounds of a Kerkini spring morning, together with unseen Nightingales, one of the vital widespread breeding birds.

The delicate, repetitive track of the Black-headed Bunting is a well-recognized sound in Northern Greece in spring

Feminine Levant Sparrohawk. The densely barred underparts are attribute

A male Levant Sparrowhawk. Regardless of the title, they like lizards to sparrows

Levant Sparrowhawks are one other particular fowl of the realm, and are late to return. My first sighting, of a displaying pair, was on 6 Might, and I’m certain that that they had solely simply arrived. Intently associated to the Shikra, a standard hawk in each Africa and India, the Levant Sparrowhawk is misnamed, because it prefers to eat lizards and bugs somewhat than birds. Nevertheless, that doesn’t cease it being mobbed mercilessly by something from Swallows to Hooded Crows. 

After all, Lake Kerkini is actually finest recognized for its water birds – herons and pelicans, cormorants and grebes – which I’ll write about subsequent week.

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