So what to do when you find yourself with a free weekend on a business trip to Europe? Not the most productive continent for potential life birds for me but it gave me a chance to go somewhere interesting, and if I could add a few life birds while I was there, so much the better. After considering several possible countries - Spain? Portugal? Tunisia? - I settled on Greece, and flew down to Athens for two days of birding with Lefteris Stavrakas a local hot-shot birder who'd arranged a quick hit trip for me focussing on a handful of possible life birds.
Friday, September 22 - Sounio, Messolonghi and Kleisoura Gorge
We started the trip at dawn on day one birding near the Temple of Poseidon on rocky slope overlooking the Agean Sea .... how perfect a start to a Greek birding trip was that? Our target here wasn't very exciting, but we soon managed to find a family group of Chukars (Life bird number 4,030) and duly added it to my life list. Chukar is a widely introduced game bird (for shooting) and can be found across Europe and the American West ... I'd just never managed to bump into one. These Chukars were introduced too, but common and established breeders (they occur in their native range on the near-by Greek islands and were introduced to the mainland when the native Rock Partridges got scarce due to hunting pressure) but I had to count one for the list at some point so I chose to take these for my life birds. I felt a little dirty, but got over it and moved on fairly quickly, after all, I'll never have to life list Chukar again..
Next stop, after a longish drive, was the lagoon complex at Messolonghi which was simply stuffed with birds. Shorebird migration was in full swing and we saw 22 species of shorebirds, including Broad-billed Sandpiper, and a wide range of waterbirds of various sorts. My target bird here was Dalmatian Pelican (4,031) and we quickly saw four of these giant waterbirds along with a lot of ducks, terns, gulls, flamingos and a good scattering of migrant passerines. A very birdy spot indeed.
|Dalmatian Pelican (above) and Greater Flamingo|
I also got my third life bird of the trip here when we tracked down some Western Rock Nuthatches (4,032) near the fascinating mud nest they'd presumably used this year. This species was common and very vocal here, indeed we saw or heard a lot over the weekend, but seeing them around their amazing mud nest was a great way to add a species. A very cool bird.
|Western Rock Nuthatch and Western Rock Nuthatch nest|
Saturday, September 23 - Nafpaktos, Kopaida, Athens
After spending the night in the grandly named, but rather basic, Hotel Aphrodite in Nafpaktos (not that I cared, I could have slept anywhere at that point I was so tired), we got up early and headed East along the coast road hoping for two more of my target birds. We stopped at a small village and started birding the rocky cliffs and olive groves around it hoping for one target but quickly lucked out with another one when a very vocal Sombre Tit (4,033) popped up in an olive tree.
|Bad record shot of a Sombre Tit|
|Can you see the Rock Partridge in this photo?|
|Red-footed Falcon at the Plain of Kopaida|