Prespa and Kerkini: 16-24 September 2018
A customised tour for a group of four who asked for a relaxed mix of birding, strolls, good food and wine-tasting, with four days in Prespa and four in Kerkini.
Yiannis Theodoropoulos, Giorgos Spiridakis, Christopher Mounsey.
Day One - Sunday, 16 September
Thessaloniki to Prespa
Yiannis and Chris were at the airport to meet the group's lunchtime flight and we set off immediately for Prespa. From the minibus, PM spotted little egrets along the Axios river, which were then seen by all. Hooded crows and house sparrows were spotted at various stages too.
Driving along the motorway, Yiannis explained about the large fences along the side and their effects first on preventing collisions with northern Greece’s bear population, then the issues these fences can cause by fragmenting a bear’s favourite haunts. As the road started to ascend to Prespa, he pointed out how the roadside warning signs added silhouettes of wolves alongside those of bears.
Just before sunset we arrived at the gateway to Prespa and stopped for a quick photo, before carrying on along the eastern side of the lake and another viewpoint stop. From here, Yiannis pointed out the two islands in Lake Lesser Prespa.
A few minutes later we were climbing up to the village of Ayios Yermanos, our base for the next four nights, and at 1,050m a.s.l. (3,445ft), just a touch higher than Scafell Pike, England's highest peak. We quickly checked into our guesthouse, before walking down to the square for dinner in a local tavern. Here we had a selection of meze, including moussaka, our first (of many) grilled aubergine and garlic dishes, Florinella (a local cheese from Florina, similar to halloumi) and a mixed salad. Washed down with local red table wine and a few Alpha beers.
Day Two - Monday, 17 September
Thessaloniki to Prespa
An early start took us birding on the shores of Lake Great Prespa. We arrived as the sun was rising and the birds began singing. Long-tailed tits, blackbirds, robins and great tits were fluttering around the trees. As the light improved willow warbler were seen in nearby bushes, and a whinchat was ticked off whilst looking out at hooded crows on the power lines.
Standing out prominently were half a dozen spurge hawk moth caterpillars (Hyles euphorbiae).
As we walked back, a common buzzard left the skyline and went over the forest. We followed its direction toward the lakeshore, which was a real bonanza for birds. The delights started with a hobby flying overhead, and some saw a kingfisher zoom past the reeds that hosted spotted flycatcher, sedge and reed warbler, while out on the sandbanks were a mix of white and yellow wagtails, including a single grey wagtail, and one solitary wood sandpiper. As we moved around two or three pygmy cormorants came to the lakeshore, amongst black-headed and yellow-legged gulls, with grey heron on the far shore.
A real pleasure was the sight of a good number of bearded reedlings, who put on a great show in nearby reeds.
Walking back to the minibus along the river shore we added blackcap and stopped awhile to see a penduline tit nest and discuss their mating exploits. Just before getting into the bus, we saw a lesser whitethroat and we heard a few woodpeckers calling, eventually clocking a great spotted woodpecker.
As we drove back for breakfast, we had a quick look at starlings and barn swallows on the power lines and spotted a few red-rumped swallows flying around. Another whinchat was sat on a post, a collared dove was noted, PM saw a jay and as we turned the van onto the road a group of tree sparrows were flickering around the tarmac and brambles.
Our host is famous for her breakfasts, which today included trachanas (sort of a porridge made with flour rather than oats), French toast, boiled eggs and filo pastry with feta and leek. And before breakfast, Paul added house martin.
We started out south of the lake, but before getting there we stopped by the roadside to watch some 25+ Dalmatian pelican circling in the thermals, no doubt gathering height to leave Prespa for fishing somewhere other than Lake Lesser Prespa. Back in the minibus, we continued south, parked the minibus and started a trail along the southern shores of Lesser Prespa, walking toward the border with Albania.
Straight out of the car, AM and VP spotted some extremely blue blues as well as an unknown fritillary, whilst out on the lake were coots and our first great white pelican, albeit at some distance. The first stop on the trail brought us a good, long sighting of a green woodpecker against the grey rock. We continued around the lake, seeing a number of green lizards, Erhard's wall lizards and swallowtail butterflies fluttering by.