Lake Kerkini and Macedonia – Balkan birds and spring wildlife
Breeding birds, butterflies, wild flowers and abundant wildlife in this little-known and unspoiled corner of the Balkans.
Macedonia is a small country, the same size as Belgium, in the heart of the Balkans. Its varied landscapes and position at the crossroads of the Balkans combine with traditional rural life to create the right ingredients for abundant and diverse wildlife. Almost one third of the country is still covered with traditionally sheep grazed steppe. The landscapes themselves are reason enough to visit, but we will also enjoy any and everything that moves or blooms! The country boasts over 200 species of butterflies, a staggering diversity for a country of this size.
Nearby Lake Kerkini, in Northern Greece ranks among one of the finest wetlands in the Balkans. Although an artificial reservoir there are shallow waters in the north where a large temporarily flooded riverine forest attracts many herons, egrets, spoonbills and cormorants. Both European species of pelican occur in good numbers in spring. Dalmatians breed and White just stay using this fish-rich habitat. Impressive mountains rise to the north of the lake and their foots are covered by fantastic habitats good for passerines like shrikes, buntings, warblers and tits. Raptors breed all around Kerkini with best numbers in the Kroutsia Mountains to the west of the lake. The fine mixture of habitats ensures that you will have a rewarding and easy going holiday: whichever direction we go there should be a new species for us to see.
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Please note that holidays change, although sometimes only slightly, from year to year and previous trip reports may not reflect the planned itinerary, or other holiday details, for the current trip. Please ask us if you would like to know of any significant differences.
23 – 30 May 2019
Mike Symes with local guide Martin Hrouzek
Single Room Supplement – £110
Return flight from UK to Thessaloniki. Local transport as specified in itinerary. Seven nights’ accommodation, full board.
Refreshments. Entrance fees for optional sightseeing. Gratuities. Travel insurance.
Day 1 Our flights take us to Thessaloniki, and we then transfer north across the border into Macedonia (c2.5 hours) to the small town of Demir Kapija.
Day 2 We start today walking along the nearby Babuna river, where Roller and Golden Oriole breed in poplars fringing the river shores. On the east bank of the Vardar River we will find an area of low hills, intersected with flat stream valleys. This is the driest area of Macedonia and has a real Mediterranean character. The butterfly season should be well advanced here, with Cardinal, Little Tiger Blue and Southern White Admiral all likely.
Day 3 An early start takes us to a plateau where we walk to a viewpoint overlooking a ‘vulture restaurant’. The vultures of the Balkans are in serious decline, and these feeding sites help to support dwindling populations: our visit will contribute much needed funds to the protection of the country’s threatened vultures. We will try to find butterfly specialities such as Russian Heath, Krueper’s Small White and Freyer’s Fritillary. We will also stop in a village to observe a colony of Lesser Kestrels, said to be one of the last large colonies in the Balkans
Day 4 A walk in the Demir Kapija gorge should reveal interesting butterflies, including Great Banded Grayling, Ilex Hairstreak and Balkan Marbled White. Amongst the scattered scrub we will look for Olive-tree Warbler and Masked Shrike, two Balkan specialities that make their home in these sunny hillsides. Heading east, we will make a brief stop at Dojran Lake, a large shallow wetland shared between Macedonia and Greece. After crossing the border back into Greece, we will transfer to the village of Akritochori, set near the eastern embankment of Lake Kerkini, this gives us a great position to explore the lake surroundings and the nearby mountain ranges.
Days 5-7 Renowned as one of the finest wetland sites in Europe, Lake Kerkini attracts thousands of water birds throughout the year. Springs sees the breeding migrants back and we can explore not only the lake itself but also the diverse habitats found in proximity of the lake. One morning we will have an early start to take a boat trip along the northern shore. The boat will go past the river delta edge where the heronries and a large colony of Cormorants are, an area teeming with thousands of birds: various herons and egrets, Spoonbills and Glossy Ibis. We will explore the warm hillsides in search of wildflowers, including Eastern Lizard Orchid Himantoglossum caprinum and the Dragon Lily Dracunculus vulgari, while Nettle-tree Butterflies sometimes number in their thousands. To the west of the lake, the Kroutsia Mountains hold exceptional numbers of breeding raptors: Lesser Spotted Eagle, Levant Sparrowhawk and Honey Buzzard will be amongst our targets, along with Black Stork.
Day 8 After one last morning walk through the lanes near our hotel, in search of Syrian Woodpecker, Red-backed Shrike and Little Owl, we will head towards the coast. Amongst the lagoons of the Axios River delta, we will look for Slender-billed and Mediterranean Gulls, Little and Gull-billed Tern, Avocet and Black-winged Stilt. Sometimes a few Greater Flamingos summer here, and passage waders could include Marsh Sandpiper. Unfortunately our time will soon be up, and we return to Thessaloniki for our flight home.
Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders.
We will be staying at two, good, local hotels, both with en-suite accommodation. The holiday is full board, meals being a mixture of Balkan and International dishes, with an emphasis on local cuisine.
Evening meals will be at the hotels. We will have picnic lunches on most days. Requests for special diets can be accommodated.
We will travel by small coach or minibus.
The group flights are with Easyjet from London Gatwick.
23 May depart London Gatwick 08.40, arrive Thessaloniki 14.00
30 May depart Thessaloniki 14.40, arrive London Gatwick 16.10
It is also possible to fly from Manchester with Jet2 as follows:
23 May depart Manchester 07.00, arrive Thessaloniki 12.40
30 May depart Thessaloniki 13.40, arrive Manchester 15.25
NB you may need a private transfer to the airport on 30.
Macedonia is one hour ahead of UK time: Greece is two hours ahead.
Macedonia is not in the European Union. You must have a passport for this trip, valid for at least 90 days from your arrival date. Visas are not required by holders of British Passports. Holders of other passports should check with the relevant embassies or consulates and obtain the necessary documents prior to travel.
The weather is likely to be sunny and warm.
On most days, we are out and about for much of the day, albeit walking a relatively slow pace. It is necessary to walk on rougher ground and up some slopes, although none of the walking is strenuous. The pace will generally be relaxed with time to enjoy the surroundings and take photos as well as watching the wildlife we find. Our visit to Kerkini includes a boat trip: you should be steady enough on your feet to get on and off the boat. There may be steps at our hotels, as well as up/down into the bus and boat.