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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Thassos Greece 5th- 19th September 2004,
This was intended as a 2-week break with plenty of site seeing and birding. We also had a 2-day trip to the mainland on the 13th and 14th to check out the Nestos Delta and Porto Lagos areas.
We booked a package trip with Thomsons, which included all accommodation and travel. We flew from Gatwick to Kavala and then bussed and ferried our way to the Hotel Socrates in Skala Prinou on Thassos for a 2-week stay.
Booked through http://www.pangosmio.gr/index.asp
I have used this company booking via Internet before and can recommend them - they will quote the true "bottom line" that covers FDW as well as CDW insurance. The cars I have used were actually provided by other rental companies Avis etc. I paid 23.5 Euros per day for a 10-day hire. This also included permission to drive on the mainland.
Thassos in General
Thassos is a round island, mountainous in the centre and surrounded by a good coastal road that circumnavigates the island in about 95 Kilometres. Smaller roads, usually winding through Olive groves and farmland lead up to typical hillside villages and many of these have rough tracks (brown roads on the map) that lead further into the mountains. Some of these can be negotiated with a hire car (with care) but you can never be sure whether the road is going to get better or worse - it's usually worse - a 4-wheel drive will take you just about anywhere.
You then have to return down to the coastal road and to the "Skala" or harbour named version of the hill village - hence Sotiras and Skala Sotira etc.
So you get the picture - round island, hilly in the middle, drive up to the villages, rough track begins, risk tyres and underside of car, or drive back down to the main road and go on to the next one. Except on the east side of the island where it is so hilly that the coastal road from Panagia and Potamia is pretty much all there is. Apart that is from some truly stunning views and great beaches
We stayed in Skala Prinou a village and ferry port serving ferries to and from Kavala on the mainland. Skala Prinou is very quiet at this time of year,
Most of the Tavernas (The Nest & Zorbas got the best reviews) were open plus a couple of reasonable Supermarkets and the port periptero (kiosk) that suddenly reopened during our second week, like the owner inside had nodded off then suddenly realised that the season wasn't quite over!
The main holiday season in Thassos and the Kavala /Thrace prefectures of the nearby mainland is July and August when the Greeks take their summer holidays. It is much quieter after that, particularly on the mainland. The UK holiday companies keep Thassos going until later on in the season typically the end of September or early October.
There is plenty of good quality accommodation to be had for independent travellers from 25th August onwards in all locations.
The first week was rather cool with high winds and temperatures struggling into the 20's - we were wearing fleece jackets during the day - particularly in the hills and blankets were needed on the bed at night. The ferries were cancelled on one day due to the bad weather. The second week was an improvement with temperatures up to 25 degrees with light or no winds and several perfect days. There was no rain in the whole fortnight.
The birding in Thassos was no great shakes just the average birds you would expect to see in this area at about this time of year - but the mainland is quite a different story. The wetlands near Agiasma (near Keramoti) and the Porto Lagos area are well worth a visit.
We hired a car for 10 days, which left a few days that we used for walking and birding the "local patch". This consisted of a 2-mile coastline centred on Skala Prinou and the East, West and South Olive groves that surround it.
The West olive groves stretched beyond the Hotel Ileo Mare to Prinou (Kalives) village, the South olive groves up the valley between the Kontaris and Valanida hills to the Aghio Paraskevi (Saint Friday) church, and the East side as far as Taverna Vicky and the Fish Farm area.
In this general area we saw just about all the species listed. The remainder were seen on higher rockier slopes in nearby villages. There are many good viewing points around the coastal road particularly south of Paradise beach to the Monastery Archangelou and further on towards Potos.
You could probably repeat our bird list in just about any similar location on the Island, so we couldn't really recommend any particular resort. Thassos is a great holiday destination but the mainland is the place for birders!
We took the ferry to Keramoti from Thassos town on the 13th September planning a 2-day birding trip to the mainland. The cost for 2 passengers and a small car was 12.30 Euros and is a 40-minute crossing.
Nestos Delta - 13th September
Our first stop was the Nestos Riparian Forest visitor centre run by the Forest office of Kavala, which is a government-sponsored body. It is "fairly" easy to find - take the road towards Nea Karya from Keramoti and about 2 Kms the turning is signed on the right. This takes you along a dusty rough track for 4.5 Kms through rich farmland - but it feels much longer and just when you think you will never find it and are about to give up and turn back - there it is! Do not take any side turnings just keep going there are no other signs - they blew down in bad weather.
We were met by the manager,Vaso Lagopati and she was kind enough to give us a guided tour of the centre and a 30 minute audio visual talk on the Nestos delta and the aims of the forest office.
Conservation is catching on in Greece and this whole area is now protected - there are even plans to re-flood the old Nestos river bed (it was diverted to its present course some years ago) and create a whole new wetland. There is plenty of birdlife in this area. The staff here are primarily experts on the forest but had some knowledge of birds. The centre is open from 0900-1630 all year round except Christmas and Easter.
We did not have time to explore the river (its another 2 Kms further on down even narrower tracks). We drove on for about another Km or so but a pack of 8 wild dogs persuaded us that it might not be a great idea to get out of the car and walk. However, in this area saw at least 6 Lesser Spotted Eagles - one about 20 feet away on the top of a small outbuilding. We also saw Marsh Harriers, Sparrowhawks, Kestrel and a Middle Spotted Woodpecker. The area looks very promising and is on our list for another trip.
We then drove on to Porto Lagos, first stop was the Monastery Aghios Nicholaos which is situated in the middle of a marsh and reached by a wooden walkway. Dress restrictions apply if you wish to enter the Monastery itself but you can walk around the outside if in shorts and T-shirts. The Monastery is closed from 1300-1700. Good views can be had from here. We saw good numbers of:
Great Crested Grebes
After lunch at the Port we took a walk around the Campsite wood - the café in there looks permanently closed. We saw:
Yellow Legged Gulls
Black Headed Gulls
Little Ringed Plovers
Next stop near the turning to Fanari - there are several good viewing spots along this road.
Marsh Harrier (4)
Great Crested Grebes
Not quite the glut of birds we were expecting to see in this area - so on to Fanari through extensive farmland with corn and cotton fields. We stopped many times along the road.
Long Legged Buzzards
House Sparrows 1000s!
Willow Warblers 100s
Red Backed Shrikes
On entering Fanari we took a left turn and parked just past the Hotel Fanari where there are good view of the lake.
Dalmation Pelican (1)
Mute Swans (4)
Grey Heron (17)
Little Egret (6)
Sand Martin (10+)
Juv Swallows (10+)
Yellow "flava" Wagtail (30+)
We continued along this road through Arogi and stopped the far end by a seemingly endless car park. There were good views of the lake all along this road.
We carried on towards Mesai village and turned right to Mesai beach on the right is lake Aroga but it was not visible from the car but there were good cycle paths and footpaths to the lake. Past Mesai beach is lake Aliki and this produced another 1000 or so Flamingos but nothing else!
We returned to Fanari and rented a self catering apartment near the beach for the night. The village was very quiet I think we may have been the only tourists in town. At the Limena (Port) Taverna where we had our evening meal the waitress had to phone the chef to come in to cook us something!
If you like "quiet" then Fanari in September is definitely for you.
15th September Fanari - Porto Lagos - Keramoti
In the morning a quick look along the beach produced:
Shag Juvs (2)
On the Porto Lagos road about 1 Km from Fanari there is a small lake on the left there were 15 Redshanks in there but nothing else.
We continued on to Porto Lagos and took another look at Lake Vistonida from a viewpoint near the Fanari road junction. This time we saw:
Ferruginous Duck (2)
Little Grebe (50+)
Great Crested Grebe (12)
Marsh Harrier (1)
Crested Lark (4)
On the opposite side of the road was another lake with:
Grey Heron (6)
Great Crested Grebe (10)
Little Grebe (12)
We drove from here to the "West Woods."
Middle Spotted Woodpecker
The shoreline on the other side of the west wood provided some waders:
Grey Plover (2)
Curlew Sandpiper (20+)
Common Tern (2)
Little Tern (2)
Ringed Plover (2)
Little Ringed Plover (10+)
There is now an information centre just past the "West Woods" in Porto Lagos but unfortunately we had not heard of it and missed it on the way past the day before. I would recommend this as a first stop as there is nothing like up-to-date local knowledge. No slight on Dave Gosney's guide book but it was written over 10 years ago - and is still pretty accurate - (but there were definitely no Pelicans in his "Pelican Pool"!)
We drove back to Keramoti and went to the Nestos Delta information centre (behind the Gymnasio or Secondary School), but it was closed and looked like it was permanently closed - garden overgrown etc. However we had heard from the Forestry information office that the best site was near Agiasmo so we decided to give it a try.
This site is easy to find from Keramoti, take the airport road, and go through the village of Piges, the next village is Agiasmo. In Agiasmo at the traffic lights take the left turn by the Aghios Nicholaos church. This is an exceptionally wide road for a Greek village - this suddenly narrows into the standard dusty unmade road - just keep going - do not take any turns - it feels like forever, but is actually only 3 Kms or so- then you are suddenly by a wetland with the sea to your left.
About a minute after we arrived here a Dutch birder en-route to Turkey in a camper van arrived. It was good to have a second opinion on wader identification - birds just kept coming in all the time - it looked like a wader convention!
Just when we thought we had it all listed, a Pygmy Cormorant and a Great Egret appeared - and just when we thought it really couldn't get any better - a While-Tailed eagle flew over! Quite a good list in couple of hours.
White-tailed Eagle (1)
Black Kite (1)
Marsh Harrier (6+)
Spur Winged Plover (20+)
Pygmy Cormorant (1)
Kentish Plover (6)
Little Ringed Plover (10+)
Ringed Plover (1)
Grey Plover (6)
Curlew Sandpiper (1)
Broad Billed Sandpiper (1)
Wood Sandpiper (2)
Green Sandpiper (1)
Temminks Stint (4)
Little Stint (20+)
Common Snipe (6)
Great Egret (1)
Little Egret (50+)
Black Tailed Godwit (2)
Grey Heron (10+)
Little Grebe (20+)
Black-necked Grebe (4)
Common Tern (2)
Black Tern (10+)
Whiskered Tern (2)
Crested Lark (10+)
Willow Warbler (10+)
Yellow "flava" Wagtail (10+)
Black Headed Gull
Yellow Legged Gull
Also had a brief look at what I thought was a Marsh Sandpiper but I was the only one who saw it and it would be a lifer so I decided to leave that one for another day.
As this was the best days birding we have had for a long time it was difficult to drag ourselves away from Agiasmo pool but there was another place we wanted to see before catching the ferry back to Thassos. This is a site mentioned in Dave Gosney's guide. This is a fish farm beside the sea not far from Keramoti - about 1.5 Kms outside Keramoti on the Piges/Agiasmo/Airport road are some industrial buildings (might be something to do with the Ouzo industry) and near them is yet another dusty track which winds its way through some "low cost ethnic housing" and eventually ends by a locked gate by a small house at the side of fish farm.
No comparison to Agiasmo but then an Osprey gave us a flypast at about 50 feet!
Marsh Harrier (3)
From the beach we saw:
Dalmation Pelican (3)
Black Headed Gull (lots)
Mediterrean Gull (2)
Yellow Legged Gull (lots)
Plus all the usual small birds.
We then drove back to Keramoti and caught the 1815 ferry to Thassos town.
For birders the mainland in this area is an absolute must, we saw just about every bird that we saw on Thassos here plus the list of waders and others. There were lots of places around Keramoti and the Nestos Delta River areas that we did not have time to check out also we did no early starts or late evenings. A really dedicated birding trip in this area would undoubtedly produce a pretty impressive list.
Other Sites and Trips
The area known as the "narrows of Nestos" is supposed to be a very good for birding. On the E90 road toward Xanthi take the turning to the village of Galani, and according to the information centre at the Nestos river this is a really good place for raptors.
We spoke to 2 Greek students - Maria from Alexandroupolis and Yannis from Keramoti on the flight home and they recommended taking a train journey between the towns of Drama (Thrama) and Xanthi, as the best way to see the Nestos river - this is a well known slow and panoramic train ride along the riverbank.
A quick search on the web confirmed what they said. Take a look at the following link.
Alpine Swift - several by Ilio Mare Hotel S Prinou on most days
Barn Swallow - common mostly juvs
Bee eater - seen and heard on most days
Black Headed Gull - Keramoti Harbour, Thassos Harbour common
Black Redstart - 2 on track to Aghios Panteleimon Monastery.
Blackbird - not that common a few around the hill villages.
Blackcap - Common
Black-eared Wheatear - fairly common
Blue Rock Thrush - 3 in Kallarachi and 1 at Astris
Blue Tit - Common
Buzzard - 1 near Thymonia, Several at Sotiris track, 1 near Golden beach.
Chaffinch - Common
Chiffchaff - several in Skala Prinou and Megalo Prinou and in Olive Groves.
Coal Tit - only seen once in Pine trees on the road to Golden Beach
Collared Dove - Common
Cormorant - Common
Crag Martin several near Astris on 12th
Elenoras Falcon - 1 near Alyki and 1 overflew our hotel
Golden Oriole - 1 in poplar tree near Socrates Hotel Skala Prinou
Great Tit - Common
Greenfinch - scarce, only saw 2 in olive groves at Skala Prinou
Grey Heron - a couple at the fish farm at Skala Prinou
Hobby - 2 by viewpoint with cats near Thassos town 8th. 1 flew over S Prinou 10th
Hooded Crow - Common
Hoopoe - Common in olive groves 5th to 11th not seen after that.
House Martin - 6 at Skala Marion 5th several at S Prinou 5th
House Sparrow - Common
Kestrel - a few around, could crop up anywhere
Little Egret - several around Keramoti Harbour
Little Ringed Plover - 2 at Skala Marion 8th.
Lesser Grey Shrike - only saw 1 near Ileo Mare Hotel Skala Prinou
Lesser Whitethroat - Common
Long legged Buzzard - 1 seen near Alyki
Mediterrean Gull - 2 in Thassos town harbour
Nightingale - 1 on hillside track near Kalarahi
Pallid Swift - 6 near the building on the hill by Limenaria and over Potamia
Peregrin Falcon _ 1 by viewpoint with cats near Thassos town 8th.
Pied Wagtail - 1 on the road near Socrates Hotel S Prinou 12th
Raven - Common
Red Backed Shrike - Common
Red Rumped Swallow - a few around Skala Prinou
Redshank - 2 in reeds near boatyard Skala Prinou 7th
Redstart - Several in the Olive Groves and on hillside near Megalo Prinou.
Ringed Plover - 2 in a small pool just outside Skala Marion 8th
Rock Partridge - 6 on Sotiris track and 8 in South olive groves Skala Prinou
Sandwich Tern - 2 by the Hotel Socrates Skala Prinou 7th 8th 9th
Sardinian Warbler - only a few around, expected to see more
Serin - only saw 3 in olive groves Skala Prinou but heard lots
Short toed Treecreeper - 1 in west olive grove 11th 4 on 16th
Spanish Sparrow - several near Hotel Socrates Skala Prinou
Sparrowhawk - several at various locations possible Levants near Potami
Spotted Flycatcher - Common
Swallow - Common and lots of juveniles
Swift - Fairly common
Tawny Owl - one landed near the Socrates Hotel late after the weekly BBQ!
Tawny Pipit - 2 near fish farm Skala Prinou and 2 near Ileo Mare Hotel S Prinou
Tree Creeper - 6 in the olive groves near Vicky Taverna Skala Prinou
Wheatear - Common
Whinchat - several around Skala Prinou 6th/12th
Whitethroat - Common
Willow Warbler - Common
Yellow Legged Gull - Common
Yellow Wagtail - Common