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WEATHER: cloudy with a chilly start, sunny and warm later.

Lake Kerkini at 6:30am in May is a photographer’s paradise, flat calm water, exquisite morning light, a cacophony of bird sounds and so much movement it is hard to keep up with it. You really do have to pinch yourself when you experience the Kerkini Birding Experience from a boat.

Lake Kerkini early this morning

a view from the Mandraki Jetty

the group on board our boat with some dip-stick playing the fool - taken by Hilary Stokes

Squadron after squadron of cormorants, herons, egrets, terns and pelicans dash by whilst flotillas of grebes, cormorants and pelicans were seen, dotted all over the surface of the water. Dancho was listing our findings for the World Big Birding Day, we got up to 30 species in about 20 minutes.

Pelicans at dawn - taken by Hilary Stokes

We drifted close to islands of tamarisk trees where every conceivable nook and cranny was occupied by a nest of some description. Often you would see Spoonbills, Little Egrets, Cormorants, Night & Squacco Herons all nesting in the same tree. A veritable condominium, with multi-layers of nests and perches.

Spoonbills and ygmy Cormorants at their nests

The man-made pelican islands looked fully booked, covered in White Pelicans and some Dalmatian too. Unusual sightings were made of some wintering ducks which should have left by now, we saw Shoveler, Eurasian Teal and Pintail, also a couple of Mute Swans. Out in the middle of the lake we caught up with a pair of Black-necked Grebes but none of the ‘marsh’ terns could be seen.

Lesser Spotted Eagle taken by Mike Taylor

another picture from Mike Taylor - Black-necked Grebes

Eventually our time ran out and we had to head for the jetty, on the way back we watched the most spectacular feeding-frenzy you are ever likely to see. A huge raft of Cormorants, pelicans, Grebes and some gulls were searching for breakfast. It was a mass of thousands of birds all trying to get to the front of the raft, a constant movement from the back to the front. It was truly spectacular and quite astonishing to watch, my group were totally blown away by it.

 a Cormorant-draped Tamarisk 

The mass of birds flew off towards the centre of the lake, leaving us speechless! Before we docked we watched a flock of some 40 Whiskered Terns, some Common Terns and a lot of Night Herons.

The rest of the day, we thought, was going to be so anti-climatic after the boat trip, but surprisingly it wasn’t. We went in search of the White-backed Woodpecker high up in the forests above Ano Poroia. It was superb up there in the alpine meadows and pine and beech forests. Of course, we never saw a White-backed Woodpecker, but we had a great time trying to find one.

a view of Lake Kerkini from the mountain track

The best bird by far was a very showy Black Woodpecker, we saw it perched, in flight, drumming and calling, what a show, a Firecrest did a similar show without the drumming. We added Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush to the list along with Short-toed Treecreeper, Robin, Common Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Spotted Flycatcher and another Semi-collared Flycatcher went onto the heard list. The alpine meadows had dozens of beautiful flowering plants, including the Wild Panzy.

Black Woodpecker, record shot, it was distant.

Back down at ground zero we stopped off to watch a trough, hoping some birds would come down to drink, but none came so we got out of the vehicles and photographed a few butterflies instead. The Nettle Tree Butterfly was everyone’s favourite along with Lesser Spotted Fritillary and White Admiral.

Nettle Tree Butterfly taken by Mike Taylor

Late afternoon birds of prey sightings included; Lesser Spotted Eagle, Honey Buzzard, Common Buzzard, Levant Sparrowhawk, Short-toed Eagle and a Red-footed Falcon.

a Field Cricket - have ever seen one of these?

Back at the hotel for 6pm and dinner was taken at the usual time of 7:30pm. Tomorrow will be our last day of birding, we are going high up in the Vondrous Mountains to look for Rock Partridge.