Lake Kerkini, in northern Greece, is one of the most important wintering areas for birds in Europe. The largest national park in Greece and a designated RAMSAR site (wetland of international importance), there are few places in Eastern Europe where birds overwinter in such large numbers. When hard frosts and snow arrive in Northern Europe and drive birds south, Kerkini assumes even greater importance - for it then becomes one of the chief wintering waters of the east, offering a relatively mild refuge, where hungry birds can still find plenty of food.
During the winter months, Kerkini’s open waters are the most important site in Europe for the globally threatened Dalmatian Pelican - the undisputed stars of the show on our winter birding tour to Greece! By taking a boat out on to the lake, we can expect to enjoy incredible close encounters with these magnificent birds - don't forget to bring your camera! Late January is the best time to visit, when many will also be sporting their full breeding regalia.
But there are lots of other great birds to watch for, too: Kerkini also holds significant numbers of Pygmy Cormorants and Greater Flamingos in winter, the latter a spectacular sight with their rose-red forewings and goose-like honking.
Wildfowl can be abundant on the lake, especially in January, when the huge rafts of Pochard can harbour scarcer species such as Red-crested Pochard, Ferruginous Duck or Smew. Small numbers of White-fronted Geese winter around the lake and the declining Lesser White-fronted Goose is a rare but regular visitor, too - pausing on its migration through here in January. Although the latter are not always present, our last two groups were lucky, finding a flock of 40 of these most attractive small geese.
Attracted by the throngs of ducks, geese and waders, Kerkini is also an excellent spot for birds of prey in winter. A key speciality is the very rare Greater Spotted Eagle and participants on all our previous winter tours have enjoyed excellent views. Four or more birds regularly winter here and are often to be seen hunting over the lakeshore; with their characteristic white-spotted, chocolate-brown plumage, juvenile birds are particularly attractive. White-tailed and Golden Eagles, Goshawk and Peregrine are among a range of other raptor possibilities to watch for - and the elusive Eagle Owl also showed well for two of our groups!
The setting is superb, with the snow-capped Belles Mountains soaring to more than 2000m beyond the northern shore of the lake and providing a dramatic backcloth as they sit astride the border with Bulgaria. The lakeside villages, fields, copses and wooded foothills add variety to our wetland birding and we shall devote some time to seeking other of Kerkini’s special birds during our stay. Spoonbill, Slender-billed Gull, Whiskered Tern, up to 7 species of woodpecker - including Grey-headed, Syrian and Middle Spotted - Great Grey Shrike, Sombre Tit, Rock Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Water Pipit, Hawfinch, and Rock and Cirl Buntings are among a host of exciting finds on recent tours.
Situated just 60 miles north of Thessaloniki, and with relatively short drives from our comfortable hotel to all the key birding spots, Kerkini makes a superb destination for a single-centre winter birding break. January is the best month to visit, when the number and variety of birds at the lake usually reach a peak. And with the advantage of nonstop flights from London Gatwick direct to Thessaloniki, getting there is easy, too.
Our January 2020 tour will be guide Gary Elton's fourth trip to Lake Kerkini in winter. Wrap up warmly and join us for the thrill of birding at one of Europe’s most exciting winter wetlands!