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Birds and Butterflies Itinerary

Day 1

You will arrive at Thessaloniki airport in Greece and after meeting our guide, we will drive across the border to Macedonia.  The journey to our hotel should take about three hours.  If time allows, we might stop along the way to stretch and look out for our first birds.  Bee-eaters, Turtle Doves or Red-backed Shrikes should be most evident birds, but some raptors are also possibile. 


Days 1-2

Being based in the heart of the beautiful Vardar and Raec river valleys and with easy access to the vast Vitachevo plateau, we will have a mosaic of habitats to explore, ranging from dry limestone hills, rough pastures and broadleaf woodlands to flower-rich grassland.  In the flat river valleys, the abundance of Rollers and Golden Orioles is astonishing and we should also see Black-headed Bunting, Spanish Sparrow, and Olivaceous and Orphean Warblers.  Rock Partridge is often flushed from the ground too.   On the eastern bank of the Vardar river, we will look for Lesser Grey Shrike and other farmland birds while also paying special visit to one of the largest colonies of Lesser Kestrels in the Balkans. Over 100 pairs still breed here and, and we will time our visit to see the birds returning to their nest sites in late afternoon, after foraging in the neighbouring fields.  We might be able to see Black Stork, Booted Eagle and Lesser Spotted Eagle soaring high in the sky or Levant Sparrowhawk making  a quick appearance.

A special trip to a breeding site of the Imperial Eagle in the north should reward us with good views of this raptor.  Rosy Starlings, are regular but unpredictable, and gather in good numbers in the steppe around the country.  Early June is not a bad month to look out for them.  We will also make a special visit to a site where Egyptian and Griffon Vultures regularly visit.  Here, passerines such as Woodchat Shrike, Hoopoe and Ortolan Bunting should put on a good show for us too.  At a higher elevation, we will have a good chance to encounter other raptors such as Golden Eagle, Short-toed Eagle and Long-legged Buzzard.  Scops Owls occupy town parks and one night we might follow their calls to get a glimpse of these birds.   At this time of the year, the river valleys and gently sloping hills should be covered in blooming plants, a perfect magnet for insects and butterflies.  Possible species in the Vardar river floodplain might include Southern Small White, Little Tiger, Osiris and Zephyr Blues, White Banded Grayling, Large Grizzled and Hungarian, Mallow and Oriental Marbled Skippers, whereas in the Raec river valley we will search for Turquoise and Adonis Blues, Marbled and High Brown Fritillaries and Camberwell Beauty.  Specialities include Krueper´s Small White and Freyer´s Fritillary.  On the mountains slopes, the Russian Heath and Niobe Fritillary are rather common.

Considering that we are based in the heart of Macedonia’s wine country, we will visit a local winery one evening to taste the local wine and indulge in traditional Macedonian cuisine. 


Day 4

Today, we will head for Greece, but en route we will make several interesting stops.   The arid Varda river valley is a good area to encounter European Bee-eater, Woodchat and Lesser Grey Shrikes and Black-eared Wheatear without great difficulty, but Olive-tree and Sardinian Warblers will require a more thorough search.  The valley is also home to numerous butterflies, and we could add to our list species such as Yellow-banded Skipper, Lesser Fiery Copper, Southern White Admiral and Delattin’s Grayling. 

In the towering cliffs of the Demir Kapija Gorge we will search for rock-breeding birds such as Egyptian Vulture, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Nuthatch, Crag Martin and Alpine Swift.  On our mile-long walk here, we should see some additional species such as Griffon Vulture, Booted Eagle, Subalpine Warbler, Hawfinch and even one of Macedonia’s east European specialities, the Masked Shrike, if we are lucky.   Butterflies will be difficult to ignore and we might add to our list Lang’s Short-tailed Blue, Ilex Hairstreak, Balkan Marbled White and Large Tortoiseshell, as well as dragonflies, including Sombre Goldenring and Eastern Spectre. 

Before crossing the border with Greece, we will stop briefly at Lake Dojran, which is right on the border between the two countries.  Little Bittern is sometimes seen flying over the reeds here and Dalmatian Pelicans and Pygmy Cormorants are in good numbers.  Even dragonflies and butterflies, including Persian Skipper, Bladetail, Black Pennant and Southern Skimmer might put on a show for us.

We should reach our hotel in late afternoon, where we will stay for the next four nights.   The location of the hotel is ideal for the daily trips to Kerkini lake and the nearby mountains.


Days 5-7

We will spend three full days exploring this facinating area. The northern shores of Lake Kerkini are excellent for waterbirds and from the pier in Mandraki we will be able to get close views of Squacco Herons and Pygmy Cormorants.  Great Reed Warblers, Purple Heron, Water Rail and Penduline Tit could also be great additions here.   From the bridge over the Strymonas River, we might get good view of foraging Spoonbills and Olivaceous and Cetti´s Warblers breed in the more vegetated sites.  The most rewarding though would probably be our early morning boat trip which will take us to heronries and a large colony of Cormorants.  Grey, Squacco and Night Herons, Great and Little Egrets, Spoonbills, White Pelicans and Glossy Ibises should all be seen here, either foraging in the shallow waters or flying by. Great Crested Grebes fish on the lake in great numbers and Common Terns breed on artificial platforms.

The Northern part of the lake is particulalrly picturesque because it nestles on a floodplain at the foot of the Belles Mountains which reach height of 2031m and provide beautiful scenery and excellent birding.  On the slopes covered with bushes and small trees, Cirl, Black-headed and Rock Buntings, Woodchat and Red-backed Shrikes, Red-rumped Swallow, Subalpine, Eastern Orphean and Sardinian Warblers are some of the many birds that we will encounter here.  The Syrian Woodpecker and Hawfinch frequent old trees, whereas Eagle Owl and Black-eared Wheatear breed in the small quarry north-east of the lake.  We will keep a close eye on the high rocky mountains where Rock Nuthatch, Golden Eagle and Peregrine have their realm.  In the foothills of the Belle Mountains, we will search for Sombre and Long-tailed Tits.

To the west, the lake is sheltered by the much lower Kroutsia Mountains, which we will also explore one day.   The mountains are heavily forested, but in some open patches of the foothills, we will search for Olive-tree Warbler and Masked Shrike, which breed here in resonably high numbers and will be difficult to miss.  The Hawfinch is also common and other birds which we are likely to see here include Black-eared Wheatear and Woodchat Shrike.  The Krousia mountains are also home to exceptionally good numbers of breeding raptors, such as Black Kites, Honey Buzzards, White-tailed, and Lesser Spotted and Booted Eagles.  We will watch out for them from at least two vantage points, where they are likely to be seen hunting.   Black Storks breed deeper in the hills and can sometimes be seen flying past the hillsides.  At the village of Himarros, we will visit a colony of Sand Martins and Bee-eaters, whereas in the village of Kerkini we will search for the resident Syrian Woodpecker, Crested Lark and Little Owl which often perches on electrical poles or a building.   A high number of breeding White Storks can also be found here. 

A visit to the eastern shore of Lake Kerkini will provide us with a slightly different birding experince. An early morning scan over the quarry in Paleokastro should reward us with views of Rollers, Bee-eaters, Kestrels, and possibly Rock Sparrow, which has lately bred here too. Calandra Larks, Hoopoe and Spanish Sparrows are found in the adjacent fields.  At a limestone rock at the edge of Sidirokastro town, we will search for Rock Nuthatch that breeds on the cliff, with Short-toed Eagle and Long-legged Buzzard being possible encounters too.  Conifers on the slopes hosts Crested Tit, Firecrest, Goldcrest and Sombre Tit.  Along the road to Akhladakhori,  we will make several stops not only to admire the beautiful scenery, but also to scan limestone cliffs and eroded clay slopes, where Blue Rock Thrush and Eastern Black-eared Wheatear breed in good numbers, and where the Long-legged Buzzard, Levant Sparrowhawk and Golden Eagle are always possible overhead. Sardinian and Eastern Orphean Warblers could also be encountered, whilst the more numerous Subalpine Warbler shares the hillsides here with Ortolan Bunting.  As we continue driving along the eastern embankment, Cetti’s and Marsh Warblers are likely to be seen, along with the Red-backed Shrike and three species of bunting: Cirl, Corn and Black-headed.  Nightingales are common here and their melodious trills will be heard throughout the day. 

We will also visit the riverine forest along the border with Bulgaria, which is home to seven species of woodpecker.  During our walk under a canopy of poplars, willows and ashes we will look especially for Middle Spotted and Grey-headed Woodpecker as well as Short-toed Treecreeper. Black and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers are also likely.  Exploring the bank of the Strimonas river could be rewarding, because Little Ringed Plovers, Tawny Pipits, Lesser Grey Shrikes and Calandra Larks all breed here and the adjacent reedbeds are also home to the Little Bittern and Penduline Tit. 

To make a complete change of scenery, we will also visit the shores of the Aegean Sea and the Axios river delta, where a mosaic of habitats, such as marshes, lagoons and pastures provide home for many species that are absent from the Lake Kerkini. Collared Pratincoles will be our target species here and we should also be able to top up our list with species such as Kentish Plover, Stone Curlew, Black-winged Stilt, Little Tern, and Mediterranean and Slender-billed Gull.


Day 8

It will take us only just over an hour to drive to Thessaloniki airport to catch our flight home.  If time allows, we might do some birding along the way.

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Sorry, pictures will be available after our first tour in June 2017