Greece

Lake Kerkini in Winter

A 5-day, single-centre, small group birdwatching tour to Greece

Limosa’s birdwatching tour to northern Greece focuses on the abundant birdlife found around wonderful Lake Kerkini - the most important wintering site in Europe for the globally threatened Dalmatian Pelican and rare Greater Spotted Eagle, and with increasing numbers of Lesser White-fronted Geese, too. November is an excellent month to visit, when both the number and variety of birds present at the lake reach a peak. Participants on our last two tours enjoyed stunning close encounters with the pelicans and superb views of Spotted Eagle, along with 40 Lesser White-fronts - not to mention a fine supporting cast of Pygmy Cormorant, Greater Flamingo, White-tailed Eagle, Syrian Woodpecker, Sombre Tit, Western Rock Nuthatch and more!

Tour Dates & Prices

Mon 15th November 2021

Fri 19th November 2021

  • Booking Closed

Tour Cost: 5 Days from £1295* inc return flights from London

Deposit: £300Single Supp: £95*Land Only: £1195*Group Size: 10Leaders:  Gary Elton & local guides
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* 2020 costs shown. Please note costs for our 2021 tour TBA (available summer 2020)

What's Included?

  • Limosa Tour Leader
  • Expert English-speaking local bird guide
  • Return flights - London Gatwick to Thessaloniki, nonstop with Easyjet
  • 4 nights accommodation in Greece
  • All main meals - and drinking water provided
  • Minibus transport
  • Boat trip on Lake Kerkini
  • All excursions, local guides, entry fees, permits
  • All tour-based tips (guides, boats, hotel etc) & taxes
  • Map & Limosa Checklist of birds

Cost Excludes

Insurance, drinks, airport/in-flight meals and snacks & other items of a personal nature.

View or Download Tour Info Pack

Notes

The Land Only cost is the price you will pay if you choose to arrange your own flights

Tour Highlights

  • Exceptional winter birding around the shores of bird-rich Lake Kerkini
  • November is an excellent time to visit the lake
  • Boat trip on Lake Kerkini - for incredible close encounters with Dalmatian Pelican!
  • Pygmy Cormorant, White-fronted & Lesser White-fronted Geese, Greater Spotted & White-tailed Eagles
  • Middle Spotted & Syrian Woodpeckers, Penduline & Sombre Tits, Western Rock Nuthatch, Hawfinch
  • Tried and tested itinerary - Limosa's 5th visit to the lake in winter
  • Small group tour - maximum of 10 participants
  • Expertly led by Limosa’s Gary Elton and a specialist English-speaking Lake Kerkini bird guide

Outline Itinerary

  • Fly London Gatwick-Thessaloniki. Transfer to hotel via the Kalochori coastal wetlands. Night Lake Kerkini

  • Birdwatching around Lake Kerkini - including a boat trip on the lake for close encounters with the pelicans! Three further nights Lake Kerkini

  • Fly Thessaloniki-London Gatwick

Overview
Itinerary
Trip Info
Trip Reports
White-tailed & Greater Spotted Eagles Greece 0114 Gordon Small B11P4479  ck card 3.jpg
Two for the price of one!... Immature White-tailed Eagle and (right) Greater Spotted Eagle soaring over Lake Kerkini © tour participant Gordon Small, wildlifeimagesgs.com

Lake Kerkini, in northern Greece, is the country’s largest national park and a designated RAMSAR site (wetland of international importance). Thanks largely to its sheltered, south-facing position, giving rise to a relatively mild winter climate, there are few places in Eastern Europe where birds overwinter in such large numbers.

During the winter months, Kerkini’s ice-free open waters are the most important site in Europe for the globally threatened Dalmatian Pelican - the undisputed stars of the show on our winter 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!

But there are lots of other great birds to watch for: 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 in winter, when rafts of Common Pochard often harbour scarcer species such as Red-crested Pochard, Ferruginous Duck or Smew. Small numbers of Russian White-fronted Geese winter around the lakeshore, where, in recent years, the rare Lesser White-fronted Goose has become a regular and slowly increasing visitor, too.

Attracted by the throngs of wintering waterfowl and waders, Kerkini is also an outstanding spot for birds of prey. A key speciality here is the rare Greater Spotted Eagle and participants on all our previous winter visits to the lake have enjoyed superb views of this declining species. Several individuals regularly overwinter and are often to be seen hunting over the lakeshore; with their characteristic white-spotted, chocolate-brown plumage, the juvenile birds are particularly attractive. White-tailed Eagle, 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 alone is superb, with the snow-capped Belles Mountains soaring to more than 2000m (6500ft) 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, Western Rock Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Water Pipit, Hawfinch, and Rock and Cirl Buntings are among a long list of exciting finds on our previous tours here.

Situated just 60 miles north of Thessaloniki airport, 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. November is a great time to visit, when the number and variety of birds present around the lake reaches a peak. And with the advantage of nonstop flights from London Gatwick direct to Thessaloniki, getting there is easy, too.

Our November 2021 tour will be guide Gary Elton's fifth trip to Lake Kerkini in winter. Wrap up warmly and join him for the thrill of birding one of Eastern Europe’s most rewarding winter wetlands!

DALMATIAN PELICAN Gordon Small 1 tabbed.jpg
Heading onto the lake by boat, we should enjoy intimate close encounters with the rare Dalmatian Pelican! © tour participant Gordon Small, wildlifeimagesgs.com

Day 1
TO THESSALONIKI: KALOCHORI WETLANDS & LAKE KERKINI

Our winter birdwatching tour to Greece begins with a morning flight from London Gatwick to Thessaloniki, where our English-speaking local guide will be waiting. Lake Kerkini itself lies some 60 miles north of Thessaloniki (about an hour's drive over good roads), but - depending on flight times - we may well detour along the way to explore the coastal wetlands at Kalochori.

Throughout the winter months, this large expanse of coastal lagoons close to Thessaloniki is home to thousands of wildfowl, waders and gulls. Shorebirds can be numerous along with Yellow-legged Gulls and small numbers of Mediterranean and Slender-billed Gulls. Other species to watch for here in winter include Red-breasted Merganser, Black-necked Grebe, Greater Flamingo, Spoonbill, Merlin, Marsh and Hen Harriers, Sandwich and Whiskered Terns, Kingfisher, Water Pipit and Penduline Tit.

We travel on to our comfortable hotel close to Lake Kerkini, which will be our base for all four nights of the holiday. Night Lake Kerkini

Days 2 - 4
LAKE KERKINI & BELLES MOUNTAINS

Lake Kerkini is renowned as one of the finest wetland sites in all Europe. Thousands of waterfowl come here every winter to take advantage of this sheltered, south-facing, fish-rich lake. A designated RAMSAR site (wetland of international importance), the setting is superb: Kerkini nestles on a flood plain at the foot of the forested Belles Mountains, which straddle the border between Greece and neighbouring Bulgaria - just five miles away, to the north. Rising steeply to more than 2000m (6500ft), the tops of these mountains are likely to be snow-capped in winter and make for a dramatic backcloth to our stay.

You may be surprised to discover that the lake itself is manmade, having been created in 1932 following the damming of the Strymonas River that flows in from the mountains to the north. Its main purpose then was to collect and hold the spring meltwaters so as to prevent flooding of the surrounding area, and for irrigation of local crops in spring. Almost 90 years on, Lake Kerkini now lies at the heart of Greece’s largest national park and is both the most important wetland in the country for wintering birds and a vital stopover for autumn migrants - including those displaced by the onset of severe weather further north in the Balkans, Eastern Europe and Russia.

Come November, thousands of Greater Flamingos and ‘Continental’ Great Cormorants may be present at the lake. Elegant Great Egrets stalk the shallower margins and several hundred Pygmy Cormorants also winter here, while late or tardy 'summer' migrants can include Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill, Night Heron and Black Stork.

Best of all, Lake Kerkini is the most important wintering site in all Europe for the globally threatened Dalmatian Pelican - special not only because of their great rarity and the fact such significant numbers attend the lake (as many as 1000 birds may be present in winter), but also that they are so extraordinarily tame! In fact, these impressive but seemingly “lazy” birds have grown accustomed to following the local fishermen and flocks of feeding cormorants for an easy meal - with the result that one can approach the pelicans to within just a few feet allowing for superb photo opportunities!

We'll be able to appreciate the true beauty of their steel-tinted plumage with diagnostic curly crests, pale eyes and amazing red 'crocheted' pouches beneath their bills! We usually find the odd White Pelican in amongst them too - quite a contrast with their distinctly rosy-pink plumage.

Upwards of 50,000 duck gather to winter on the lake, which holds internationally important concentrations of Mallard, Teal and especially Pochard. Lesser numbers of Great Crested Grebe, Shoveler, Wigeon, Pintail and Shelduck should also be present and careful scrutiny of the commoner species usually reveals one or two scarcities such as Bewick's Swan, Red-crested Pochard, Ferruginous Duck and Smew.

With luck, small flocks of wintering White-fronted Geese (up to 1000 or so occur) around the lake's shores may conceal a few Lesser White-fronted Geese, a globally endangered species that has been declining for decades. Although not always present, numbers in recent winters have typically varied between 15 and 70 birds. While the Lessers are highly mobile and can be difficult to track down in the fields around the lake, their more rapid feeding action often helps to pick them out amidst their larger cousins.

The lake is attractive to a wide range of waders and, in winter, we may find Avocet and Spotted Redshank along with Dunlin, Ruff and Green Sandpiper. Whooper Swans and Common Cranes also winter in small numbers around Kerkini's shore and other wetland species we could see or hear at this season include Kingfisher, Cetti’s Warbler and Water Pipit.

Lured by the abundance of wintering waterfowl around the lake, Kerkini is a superb spot for birds of prey. White-tailed Eagles are present year-round, and Golden Eagles frequently descend from the nearby mountains to hunt on the plain. Best of all, the lake is a noted haunt of the rare Greater Spotted Eagle! With several individuals regularly present around the lakeshore in recent years, they are one of the major highlights of a winter birding visit here. Eastern Imperial Eagle, Goshawk and Peregrine are sometimes about, and we have twice been lucky enough to enjoy wonderful views of Eagle Owl.

Away from the lake itself, Syrian Woodpecker is common in villages and winter visitors from the north can include Hen Harrier, Merlin and the solitary Great Grey Shrike. The sedentary Little Owl likes to perch openly on a pole or building, especially on warmer, sunnier days, and we’ll check some old quarries and cliff faces around the northern side of the lake for Western Rock Nuthatch and Rock Bunting. Grey-headed, Green and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, Crested Lark, Short-toed Treecreeper, Spanish Sparrow, and Corn and Cirl Buntings also find a home around the lakeshore.

On one day we plan to drive up into the foothills of the Belles Mountains, to investigate the well-preserved forests of beech and maple. In winter, most woodland species tend rove widely through the extensive forests looking for food, but we have good chances to encounter some of the region’s more attractive residents such as Black and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, and Sombre Tit. On previous visits, remarkably Hawfinch has been a contender for commonest bird of the trip! Nights Lake Kerkini

Day 5
THESSALONIKI, FLY LONDON

Depending on flight schedules, there may be time for a quick look for birds around the village and lakeshore at Kerkini this morning before we must travel back to Thessaloniki.

Bidding a reluctant farewell to our local guide here, we catch Easyjet's afternoon flight back to London Gatwick, where our winter birdwatching tour to Greece concludes.

CIRL BUNTING Gordon Small tabbed.jpg
The attractive Cirl Bunting is not an uncommon bird in the hills and farmland surrounding the lake © Gordon Small, wildlifeimagesgs.com

WHAT TO EXPECT

This 5-day birdwatching tour to northern Greece focuses on the abundant birdlife to be found around wonderful Lake Kerkini - in winter, the most important site in Europe for the globally threatened Dalmatian Pelican and rare Greater Spotted Eagle, and with increasing numbers of Lesser White-fronted Geese.

Participants on our last two tours enjoyed stunning close encounters with the pelicans and superb views of Spotted Eagle, along with 40 Lesser White-fronts - not to mention a supporting cast of Pygmy Cormorant, Greater Flamingo, White-tailed Eagle, Syrian Woodpecker, Sombre Tit, Western Rock Nuthatch and more!

Kerkini is surely the best place in the world to see and photograph Dalmatian Pelican - don't forget your camera!

In November, the sunrises at Kerkini around 07.15hrs and sets again about 17.10hrs, giving approx. 10 hours of daylight. We shall naturally want to make the most of our time on this relatively short break as well as enjoying the peak of early morning bird activity, so will be taking an early breakfast each day.

Greece has a Mediterranean climate. Lake Kerkini itself is south-facing and protected somewhat by the Belles Mountains, which lie immediately to the north. In November, daily temperatures are typically in the range of 7-14C (45-57F), averaging 11C (51F) with up to 10 hours of sunshine. As in the UK, some rainfall is likely here in November, but frost and snow are only infrequently recorded (though not impossible).

BIRDS

100-130 species

MAMMALS

Up to 5 species. Not a huge number, but we have seen Wildcat, Otter and Red Squirrel more than once on this tour!

ACCOMMODATION

Four nights accommodation in Greece, staying at a comfortable medium-grade hotel close to the Lake - and ideally placed for birdwatching visits to the south, east and west of the lake as well as up into the mountains that form such a splendid backdrop immediately to the north. All rooms are en suite.

MEALS

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with lunch on Day 1 and concluding with breakfast on Day 5.

Breakfasts will be taken at the hotel. Lunches will usually be packed lunches from the hotel. Evening meals will either be taken in the hotel or at a nearby taverna. Greek food is delicious, with much of it locally sourced.

WALKING

Easy, short walks. Wear sturdy, comfortable waterproof walking shoes or lightweight boots with stout corrugated soles for grip. (Wellington boots are not normally necessary for this tour)

TRAVEL

Return flights from London Gatwick direct to Thessaloniki with Easyjet (currently the only operator offering direct flights on this route in winter).

Ground Transport By minibus. The lake is only 60 miles (100km) from Thessaloniki Airport and distances around the lake are relatively short, so we will not have to travel very far each day.

BOAT TRIPS

Our tour price includes a boat trip on to Lake Kerkini in traditional open fishing boats. The trip lasts about an hour and should reward us with truly memorable close encounters with Dalmatian Pelican!

SOMBRE TIT Gordon Small tabbed.jpg
Sombre Tit has quite a sparsely populated distribution, which can make it a particularly tricky bird to find © Gordon Small, wildlifeimagesgs.com

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