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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Birdwatching in North West Greece - May 1998,
These notes were compiled from observations taken during my family holiday, based in Parga, Epirus, from 20 May to 03 June 1998. We stayed in the Nikitas apartments, in Valtos, which is half an hours walk from Parga. We hired a car for one week and I was able to use these for early morning birding trips, as well as a couple of afternoon excursions and one full day.
Car hire remains fairly expensive in Greece but is probably essential for anyone intending to get any serious birding done. We drove from Parga and stayed for a night in Meteora, famous for its monasteries, location for a James Bond film (for Your Eyes Only, I think) and brilliant for Egyptian Vultures. We had a 1300cc Seat Ibiza, which was adequate for this trip, which reaches nearly 6000' above sea level at the Katara Pass, but I don't think I'd fancy it in a smaller car. There is very little traffic about, even on the major roads. Ioannina was the only area which seemed at all busy. Road signs are often non-existent, or hidden, at quite important junctions away from the main road.
All banks in tourist areas have cash machines which accept major credit cards. This is a fast alternative to travellers cheques. Not all petrol stations also take plastic - check with them first.
Weather conditions were mostly good, although the day that we drove to Meteora was showery, and our trip to Lefkas was a total washout. Temperatures were cool in the early mornings and most evenings, but often hot by 1000 a.m.
There were less biting insects/mosquitoes etc. in Parga/Valtos than any other Mediterranean area I have ever visited.
Date Places visited/mode of transport
20/05/98 Preveza airport to Valtos (coach)
21/05/96 Morning walk from Valtos across stream and along track uphill
22/05/96 Morning walk from Valtos to Anthoussa and beyond - roads
23/05/96 Boat to Paxos
24/05/96 First day of car hire. morning trip to hills above Agia, Visit to Necromanteion, afternoon at Morfi Marsh.
25/05/96 Early morning, Morfi Marsh, afternoon Acheron Gorge
26/05/96 Parga to Meteora
27/05/96 Meteora to Parga
28/05/98 Full days birding - Ammoudia, Souli villages road, Acheron gorge, Amvracian Gulf.
30/05/98 Morning, Ammoudia, afternoon Igoumenitsa
31/05/96 Morning walk on track to Anthoussa and beyond.
01/06/98 - Around Parga/Valtos
Preveza to Parga.
This road crosses the mouth of the Amvracian Gulf by ferry at Aktio (Aktion - see Julius Caesar) but the ferry will soon be replaced by a tunnel, which is a shame from a bird watching point of view. I saw a few distant terns on the crossing, but there is some potential here. From the coach I noted a fair number of Crested Larks, Woodchat Shrikes and several raptors including a large falcon which was certainly not a Peregrine.
Parga sits on a roughly south facing section of the Epirus coastline, surrounded by hills up to approx. 900 metres. It has a pretty bay with several rocky islets and a headland with an attractive ruined Venetian fortress. Valtos is west of the headland, and a healthy walk over a steep path. It is far more rural than Parga, with lots of trees, productive fields etc. Following the only road through Valtos west you will eventually come to a small stream, where the road more or less finishes. Just BEFORE this stream is a path heading inland (signed Dallas Studios) past greenhouses. This path follows the stream to the pleasant hillside village of Ammoudia, which has a good bakery, a couple of friendly tavernas and is probably the best birding area within easy walking distance. Following the road right through the village takes you on to the excellent Agia road, and the start of a more Mediterranean style scrubby habitat than that around Valtos. Agia itself is less touristy than Anthoussa, and higher up, and gives good access to the hills. I would have spent more time around here if I'd had the car for a few more days.
From the west end of Valtos beach a path leads over the
headland and along the cliff tops for some considerable distance. Apart from
a couple of Subalpine Warblers and various common species, I didn't find too
many birds here, although there looked to be some potential. However I did see
my first ever Two-tailed Pasha butterfly, about half a mile from the beach.
They seemed quite numerous here, but did not appear to be active early in the
Daily ferries leave Parga for the hours crossing to Paxos. We had a day there, walking south from Gaios, the main village, on the coastal road to a delightful spot called Mongonissi (not Mogonissi, as per some guidebooks). This area is a small sandy beach on a bay, with a single taverna. It may be many peoples idea of the perfect Greek idyll. I was lazy here and after checking out the cliffs west of the causeway (spectacular) just chilled out on the beach and in the taverna. There don't seem to be all that many birds on Paxos, although I did see my only Wood Lark there. The road leading on from the taverna looked as though it might be worthy of further investigation.
This is the closest wetland type environment near Parga. It is situated at the junction of the Parga side road with the main Igoumenitsa to Preveza road, and extends for 3-4 kilometres northwards. I stopped at several places on my two visits. Warning - the section for a couple of kilometres after the Glyki turn off has no obvious stopping places. I decided to walk this stretch. In the middle of it is a small settlement. Whilst passing one of the farmhouses I was attacked by a very large and ferocious dog. I am six feet tall and generally reckon that I can cope with most eventualities, but this beast had me really worried, and I was not confident that I would be able to defend myself, even with my fairly hefty Cullman tripod. Try to avoid walking along this short stretch.
Acheron Gorge/Souli villages road
These two area are reached from Glyki. The standard tourist maps for the area are wrong about the road to Glyki from the main coast road. The village is reached by turning left when coming from Parga, then turning right at Morfi. At the wide junction in the village (storks nest on the church), take the option which passes to the right of the church and then turn left after several kilometres at the signpost for Acheron Piges (Piges = springs) and follow the signs for Gliki - good luck! For the gorge, follow the road on the opposite bank of the river from Gliki, (signposted Skala Tsamenaidas) and park somewhere near the small chapel. The walk to the bottom of the gorge is enjoyable and should take less than an hour. In places, with the Blackbirds, Chaffinches and Tits calling and the dense and familiar undergrowth, you could be on a path on Wenlock Edge, but the electric blue damselflies and occasional glimpses of vultures or other large raptors soon correct this impression.
The Souli villages road is on the opposite side of Gliki
to the gorge. It rises steeply from the main road and is in good condition.
There are some precipitous drops but it is generally easier to drive than the
Burway across Shropshire's Long Mynd. There are a number of tempting looking
places to stop, but the best areas I found were near the first major junction,
where a road leads down and right (to Souli, I think). I stopped here to look
at a Cretzschmar's Bunting and suddenly the sky was filled with raptors. Two
Egyptian Vultures appeared as if from nowhere, and then two Long-legged Buzzards
drifted out of the trees, to be mobbed by a small falcon. To top it all there
were both Woodchat and Red-backed Shrikes present. On my return along this road
I stopped in the same place and scanned the mountainsides opposite. I found
a flock of about 11 vultures soaring around an obvious sandy coloured area across
the valley and upstream. I needed my telescope to identify one Black, two Griffon
and 8 or more Egyptian Vultures here. Better views of the area, which looked
like the top of a rock gully might be obtained from further up the road.
Parga to Meteora
We drove to Meteora via Paramithia and Ioannina. To get to Paramithia, follow the road to Morfi and then take the leftmost road at the large junction (there is a well hidden sign). There are numerous storks nesting along this road. From Paramithia the road crosses some hills to Ioannina. I noted an Egyptian Vulture just outside Vrosina, which looked like a pleasant place to stop for breakfast (assuming an early start from Parga!). If you are not ready for a stop at Vrosina, than Ioannina is a good place to break your journey. Just north of the city is the Perama cave. At the point where the minor road leaves the main road for the cave, there is a small car park by the side of the lake. From here I was able to identify Pygmy Cormorant, Whiskered Tern and Great Reed Warbler, along with commoner water birds. Penduline Tits were calling but I couldn't see them. I only had a few minutes here because my family wanted to eat and then visit the cave (well worth seeing). Continuing around the north side of the lake I noticed some decent looking reedbeds which would probably repay investigation.
After Ioannina the road climbs steadily for many miles. Every gully with a bridge seems to have a pair of Red-rumped Swallows and I saw several Lesser Kestrels and a Levant Falcon (surprisingly easy to identify, given reasonable views). We stopped briefly at Metsovo, which had few birds, and at the Katara pass, which I had hoped might produce some interesting species, given its altitude, but which seemed to have nothing but Chiffchaffs. Anyone planning to do this route and make a stop might be better advised to try one of the Alpine pastures between Metsovo and the pass, as it was apparent to me that there were more birds around in these areas, including Northern Wheatears and what may have been a Twite. Given the scenery and the quietness of the roads, these would make delightful areas for picnics etc.
This is a place that I have long wanted to visit, and I was not disappointed. We stayed in the Aeolis Star hotel in Kalambaka, which was OK, had a family room and was prepared to throw breakfasts in with the price of the room, after a little negotiation. I think that it would be more enjoyable to stay in the nearby village of Kastraki. We visited 2 monasteries, St. Nicholas Anapafsas, which had a few Crag Martins, and Agias Trias (Holy Trinity) which had Western Rock Nuthatch. If you only have time for a few monasteries, try to include the latter, as it is spectacularly positioned. If you go, seek out the (very) short sighted Father John (Ioannis) and give him a present (not Loukoumi!).
These marshes have been being 'reclaimed' since the 1950s. They must have been brilliant once but can still be quite good today. The main Preveza-Igoumenitsa road crosses the flood plain a few miles south of Parga (about 30 minutes drive from Parga) There appeared to be plenty of scope for exploration here. Views over the marshes can be obtained from the road on the Parga side. I didn't get much from here but did record my only Orphean Warbler of the trip. To get to better habitat, I followed the side road down to Ammoudia, which it a good possibility for birders with families, as it has a pleasant, quiet sandy beach and a few tavernas, and good habitat within walking distance.
At the small roundabout I went right, then right again,
which took me along the edge of the village and produced one of the surprises
of the trip. By the storks nest, amongst the sparrows was a superb breeding
plumage Rosy Starling - my first ever, and presumably a straggler from an over
wintering population. After the storks nest I turned left, then right and parked
near the last villa. I then took a track leading off to the right and followed
this into the flood plain. there were plenty of small areas of reeds, and these
held quite large numbers of birds, including loads of Penduline Tits. After
an enjoyable hour or so in this area I drove down to the beach and crossed the
grassy area near the camp site where I found a Short-toed Lark. I walked to
the right, along the beach and then followed paths inland along the course of
the river. There were several Kingfishers in this area, and I heard what I thought
were Spanish Sparrows and Bee-eaters, although I was unable to locate either
species. Definitely an area worthy of further attention.
A few days later I brought my family to the beach and after a brief walk (same species as before) joined them on the beach. Whilst there I saw a large eagle (much bigger than a Buzzard, and apparently rather sandy coloured) carrying off a Hooded Crow, and pursued by others of that species, which flew over the headland across the river, where it was mobbed by a couple of small (Kestrel sp.) falcons. It had probably flown directly over where we were lying, but I only saw the rear view as it flew away.
This large area of sea water, almost surrounded by land lies to the east and north of Preveza. The main Preveza - Arta road follows the shore for a short distance. I visited the area in the late afternoon, and was able to get reasonable views of some lagoons and muddy areas from just opposite the entrance to the Augustus Monument (part of the Nikopolis complex), where I saw a Purple Heron, and lots of Little Egrets, and about 2 km further down the road, where I found the bird of the trip, a White Pelican which took flight shortly after I found it and flew in a wide arc out onto the gulf.
This area lies between the port of Igoumenitsa and the Albanian border. It is an easy 50 minute drive from Parga. To find the birds, turn left just after the BP station at the far (north?) end of the road which runs alongside the harbour in Igoumenitsa, which is signposted for the beach. Carry on along the beach road until it finally turns inland, near some kind of electricity sub-station, and becomes a track, which is driveable. I took a right turn at every T-junction, which eventually got me to some excellent birding habitat, but the road kept on deteriorating and there were a large number of alarming, but passable potholes. I had a nasty moment on my way back (I just carried straight on, as there were few places to turn round) when I came to a rather rickety wooden bridge, with what looked like a large locked gate. Fortunately the bridge held, and the lock was being used merely to hold the gate up - it was only attached on one side, and the track that it led to was the one which led back to the beach. If I returned to the area, I might consider parking by the gate (it is near the obvious low, wooded hill) and walking along the path over the bridge to get to the lagoons, although this would mean that the car could not be used as a hide. Alternatively, you could risk the bridge, as this is certainly the quickest way to the birds.
There are herons, terns, waders, passerines and a few raptors here. In one field I saw one each of Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Little Egret and Great White Egret, with the only other bird being a single Yellow-legged Gull. There were several terns in the distance that were probably Common, but I didn't get close enough to ID them.
1. Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollus Common, Morfi marshes and Ioannina
2. Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus Common Ioannina
3. Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus 2 Ioannina
4. White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus 1 Amvracian Gulf
5. Grey Heron Ardea cinerea Igoumenitsa, Morfi Marsh and Ammoudia.
6. Purple Heron Ardea purpurea As above - more abundant
7. Great White Egret Egretta alba Igoumenitsa
8. Little Egret Egretta garzetta 11 at sea between Parga and Paxos. Ammoudia. Lots Amvracian Gulf and Igoumenitsa
9. White Stork Nycticorax nycticorax Quite common around fresh water
10. Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus 3 Igoumenitsa
11. Mute Swan Cygnus olor Breeding pair with six cygnets, Morfi Marsh were unexpected.
12. Mallard Anas platyrhincos Several pairs, Morfi Marsh
13. Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus Apparently common, Meteora. One near Vrosina and at least 8, Souli Road
14. Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus 2 Souli road, with Egyptian Vultures
15. Black Vulture Aegypius monachus 1 as above
16. Northern Goshawk Accipter gentilis 1 Aheron Gorge and singles several times above Valtos
17. European Sparrowhawk Accipter nisus Only one definitely identified, at the Necromanteion of Nephyra, but quite a few accipters not assigned to any species.
18. Levant Sparrowhawk Accipter brevipes One seen in Pindos range, west of Metsovo
19. Common Buzzard Buteo buteo Present, Valtos
20. Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus More common and widespread than above
21. Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos 1 seen from Souli road, a few minutes out of Glyki
22. Kestrel Falco tinnunculus Present, Valtos
23. Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni Not common, but several seen
24. Peregrine Falco peregrinus 1 near Morfi village
25. Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 1 Igoumenitsa
26. Coot Fulica atra A few, Morfi Marsh
27. Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula 1 at Igoumenitsa was unexpected
28. Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius Fairly common in suitable habitat
29. Little Stint Calidris minuta Exactly 50 in one muddy field, Igoumenitsa
30. Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea 11 as above
31. Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 1 Igoumenitsa
32. Yellow-legged Gull Larus cachinnans The only gull positively identified. Seen daily.
33. Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica Several, Igoumenitsa
34. Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus Several, Ioannina
35. Rock Dove Columbia livia 1 Parga Kastro looked authentic.
36. Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto Very common around habitation.
37. Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur A few heard around Agia and Ammoudia.
38. Cuckoo Cuculus canorus Heard Morfi Marsh and Acheron Gorge.
39. Little Owl Athene noctua Several seen in various localities.
40. Common Swift Apus apus Common and widespread.
41. Alpine Swift Apus melba Seen daily around Parga.
42. Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis Present Ammoudia - possibly in good numbers.
43. Hoopoe Upupa epops 1 Valtos and also near Ioannina airport.
44. Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla 1 Ammoudia
45. Crested Lark Galerida cristata Common in suitable habitat but absent around Parga.
46. Wood Lark Lullula arborea 1 Mongonissi (Paxos)
47. Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava feldegg Present at various wetland sites
48. Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea Acheron gorge
49. White Wagtail Motacilla a. alba Usually seen near water
50. Crag Martin Hirundo rupestris Present Meteora and Acheron Gorge (near tunnel)
51. Swallow Hirundo rustica Common
52. Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica Common
53. House Martin Delichon urbica Common
54. Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio Common along Souli road but not seen elsewhere.
55. Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator Widespread but not really common
56. Nightingale Luscinia megarhyncos Valtos birds did not sing at night! Quite common and widespread.
57. Rufous Bush Chat Cercotrichas g. galactotes Only one heard on Valtos - Anthoussa path.
58. Stonechat Saxicola torquata Only one, Souli road.
59. Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica Quite common in hilly areas.
60. Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe Several in Pindos range.
61. Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius Quite common Parga (Kastro) and around Anthoussa
62. Blackbird Turdus merula Common in rural wooded areas.
63. Cetti`s Warbler Cettia cetti Common and widespread.
64. Fan-tailed Warbler Cisticola juncidis Ammoudia, Igoumenitsa and Preveza airport.
65. Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus Ammoudia only.
66. Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus Most areas with reeds.
67. Olivaceous Warbler Hippolais pallida Common
68. Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans A few on Anthoussa-Agia road and on cliff path, Valtos.
69. Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala Common in scrubby areas.
70. Orphean Warbler Sylvia hortensis 1 near Acheron marshes.
71. Common Whitethroat. Sylvia communis 1 near Agias Trias monastery, Meteora.
72. Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita Several at Katara Pass.
73. Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata Present Valtos
74. Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus Surprisingly common and widespread. Morfi, Ammoudia, Igoumenitsa, Ioannina etc.
75. Blue Tit Parus caeruleus Present Valtos but not very common. Also Acheron Gorge.
76. Great Tit Parus major Possibly the commonest bird around Valtos
77. Coal Tit Parus ater Present at altitude.
78. Western Rock Nuthatch Sitta neumeyer Breeding just outside Anthoussa, opposite taverna with sailing ship sign, on Agia road. Also in Meteora.
79. Short-toed Treecreeper Certhja brachydactyla A few, Valtos - Anthoussa path.
80. Magpie Pica pica Occasional
81. Jay Garrulus glandarius Similar to UK - present in small numbers in most woods
82. Jackdaw Corvus monedula Fairly common but not in towns.
83. Hooded Crow Corvus c. cornix Quite widespread. Not as common as in UK.
84. Rosy Starling Sturnus roseus One at Ammoudia was a real surprise.
85. House Sparrow Passer d. domesticus Very common
86. Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra A few seen in various localities.
87. Black-headed Bunting Emberiza melanocephala As above
88. Cretzschmar`s Bunting Emberiza caesia Only one, Souli road
89. Serin Serinus serinus Seen occasionally in hilly areas
90. Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis Common and widespread
91. Greenfinch Carduelis chloris Fairly common
92. Linnet Acanthis cannabina Quite common in hilly areas
93. Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs Common in wooded areas
Appendix 1 - other wildlife:
Insects - Butterflies identified included Two-tailed Pasha, Swallowtail, Scarce Swallowtail, White Admiral, Marbled White, Southern Comma, Cleopatra and Clouded Yellow. In the first few days of our stay there were hundreds of fireflies around Valtos, with spectacular displays in some of the small fields between the various villas and apartments. There were far fewer by the start of June. We also saw one other bioluminescent insect, which I would term a Glowworm. This had two luminous patches and did not flash, like the fireflies, and appeared flightless. There were a few small Praying Mantids in the grass behind Ammoudia beach.
Reptiles and amphibians - 2 different Tortoise species were seen and there were terrapins in Morfi Marsh. Dalmatian, Wall and Common Lizards were noted as were several snakes. There were more frogs in the river at the north end of Ammoudia beach than I have seen anywhere else.
Mammals - Two different Otters were seen at Morfi Marsh, and Dolphins were observed from the boat to Paxi (not, sadly by me!).
Appendix 2 - conclusion:
After two holidays in Dalyan (Turkey), Parga was my wife's choice. I had fairly low expectations when we booked the holiday, so 93 species seems quite a good total, especially given the absence of a fair number of common Mediterranean species. Car hire is essential if a big list is required, as there are a number of species absent from the Parga/Valtos area which are common nearby, although it would be possible to build up a decent list on public transport and from paid excursions. I was very pleased with my 7 new species (the three vultures, Pygmy Cormorant, White Pelican, Subalpine Warbler and Rosy Starling).
SY3 6DP 01743 355476 June 1998