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WEATHER: sunshine all day, very light breeze. Top temp 28C

When I first visited Mandraki Jetty many years ago I was completely blown away by the beauty and serenity of Lake Kerkini. The cacophony of bird song, the exquisite light and the movement of thousands of birds in every directions fill your senses to the full.

the Lake from the Jetty at Mandraki

Today was exactly the same, it was another terrific experience and I loved watching my group trying to take it all in, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

some of the group on the Jetty

I can’t list all the birds present, but what impressed me most was the light shining on a flat calm lake, a photographers dream, the colours were pastel and subtle. Pelicans floating by, herons of many species flew past, with egrets, cormorants and Spoonbills. Grebes and terns, including hundreds of Black Terns, were dancing on (grebes) and above (terns) the flat-calm surface of the water. In the reed beds the racket of the Great Reed Warbler drowned out the Cetti’s Warblers. Golden Orioles fluted, Turtle Doves turred, Hoopoes ‘hooped’, and Common Cuckoos did what it says on the tin.

a Squacco Heron

We saw a couple of Dice Snakes, a few butterflies and several dragonflies, a Kingfisher whizzed by unseen by most of us. Our time there passed by, quick as a flash, before we knew it we were back on the buses and heading for our breakfast.

The rest of the day, we thought, was going to be anti-climatic but it turned just dandy. Our first area we visited was an old quarry up on the side of the Belles Mountain-ridge above the village of Vironia. Our birding encounter was with a pair of Levant Sparrowhawks, they were displaying above the wooded area and showed some aerial skills I never thought possible.

Black-eared Wheatear

Other than the sparrowhawks we saw very little else around the wood, a Common Whitethroat, Blue and Great Tits, we heard a Green Woodpecker calling and another species drumming. The sky provided the best entertainment, we saw Honey and Common Buzzards several times, Short-toed Eagles, Eurasian Sparrowhawk and a lot of Raven activity.

a Spoonbill with a Wood Sandpiper photo-bombing in the background

Our walk to the quarry was dominated by butterfly sightings, we saw Green and Ilex Hairstreaks, Small Copper, Meadow Browns, Knapweed and Lesser Spotted Fritillary, Painted Lady, Red Admiral and several whites and blues.

Lesser Spotted Fritillary

At the quarry we watched Ravens feeding almost fledged youngsters, Black-eared Wheatears, an Orphean Warbler singing and more buzzards. We searched for Blue Rock thrush but couldn’t find one. Back the buses we spent more time watching the Levant Sparrowhawks, this time they were perched but not in a good spot for photographs.

Golden Oriole

After a coffee stop in the village we bought picnic supplies and headed to the eastern embankment of the River Struma. We ate our picnic whilst Golden Orioles sang to us and a large number of Bee-eaters fed over the adjacent field.

a South American rodent, the Coypu, is now a resident in Greece

Our walk along the raised east-bank produced hundreds of sightings, we had large pools of water below us which were full of birds of all shapes and sizes. The invasive Coypu was also visible, and herds of non-native Water Buffalo grazed the water meadows.

We added more new birds at the end of the walk, such as Slender-billed Gull, Garganey, Glossy Ibis, Great Egret and to our great delight Dancho found a Great Spotted Cuckoo which showed very well, that was a wowza!!

The Great Spotted Cuckoo - two pics taken by Dancho

Penduline Tits called but eluded us as did Woodpeckers, we had glimpses of Olivaceous Warbler, a Common Nightingale sat out and sang for us, Reed and Great Reed Warblers showed now and then and we had views of Little Bitterns as they dashed across the pools from reedbed to reedbed.

At 4pm we returned to the hotel, everyone was fatigued in the afternoon heat, we took and hour off before driving to the village of Livadia and visited another embankment along the southern shore. It was very busy with local people celebrating May-Day but we saw a few species. Black Terns were much closer to the shore and Green Woodpeckers called from the trees. We saw a couple of Woodchat Shrikes but in general we never added any new species to the list.

a Grey Heron eating a large Dice Snake

We followed the track all the way to the village of Kerkini before setting off back to the hotel. On the way back Dancho spotted a Black Woodp[ecker in flight, we stopped the bus but only a couple of saw the bird which had flown off. It was 6:30pm when we returned to the hotel, dinner was taken at 7:30pm, our bird-log produced a list of 120 species seen during the first two days.