Norfolk Birders

Norfolk Birdwatching and beyond!


                                                                                                    Trip Report to Northern Greece and Bulgaria                                         by Sue Bryan

Dec 24th – Dec28th 2017


Sue Bryan

John Geeson


This holiday was a short break to enjoy Christmas in a setting that John and I both enjoy...that is birdwatching in a foreign land. John had been to Lake Kerkini, in Northern Greece before and I was keen to visit my hundredth country that was just a short drive away crossing the border into Bulgaria. We were lucky to find some winter sun to enjoy the birds that were amassing around the lake.


24th December Stansted – Thessaloniki – Lake Kerkini – Kato Poroia

25th December Lake Kerkini

26th December Promachonas , Greece Kulata - Rohzen, Bulgaria

27th December Lake Kerkini


International Flights from Stansted with Ryanair to Thessaloniki cost £249 each


We both took a small amount of Euros with us but in fact didn’t use any as we used credit cards for petrol and for paying the hotel bill. As it was Christmas most shops and restaurants were closed anyway.


In December the Mediterranean climate weather was sunny but cold with the temperature hovering around 10 degrees for the larger part of the day. We had ice on the car window first thing in the morning.


There was a good range of habitats in the small area that we decided to cover. The water levels were low in Lake Kerkini, exposing a huge expanse of mud and grassy areas. The water was also suitable for a huge variety of birds, as well as being surrounded by small patches of woodland and arable fields. Had we had more time we may have explored the nearby mountains.


The 4 star Hotel Refanidis was a family run hotel a few miles north of the lake in Kato Poroia. We were extremely well looked after and paid a total of £390 for 4 nights that included; evening dinner with wine, bed and breakfast with enough food to make a picnic lunch as well!

Daily Log

24th Dec

John drove through the early hours to reach Stansted airport which was just as well as I had gone down with the ‘lurgy’ sweeping the UK a few days earlier. I was not at my best but was still looking forward to a few days birding in the sun. Our 0645hrs flight landed at Thessaloniki at noon and we were shuttled by a minibus to pick up our small 4x4 Suzuki Jimny.

         Pygmy Cormorant and Great Cormorant

                                            Dalmatian Pelican

John drove to Lake Kerkini where in the early afternoon we were soon watching Pygmy Cormorants that looked so small up against Great Cormorants underneath the dam wall of the lake which is a man-made lake used to store water to provide energy. On the lake Dalmatian Pelicans were in good numbers as we watched a Common Buzzard and a Hen Harrier glide over the lake.

Hooded Crow

We enjoyed the sun as we watched Hooded Crow, flocks of Corn Bunting, Grey Heron, Yellow-legged Gull, Great Crested Grebe, Siskin and Jay before getting back in the car to see Greater Flamingo a little further along the lakeside along with Pintail, Blue Tit and Teal.

We continued along the western side of the lake driving north towards the village of Kato Poroia and the Hotel Refanidis sitting up on the hillside.

                            Lake Kerkini

                               Hotel Refanidis

We were greeted by the family and taken to our room before being invited to the Christmas evening meal at 9pm along with all the other guests. By the time we had had a meal along with a few glasses of wine we were exhausted. It had been a very long day!

25th December

A knock on the door at 7am revealed Anna, our host bearing a beautiful breakfast tray full of goodies. It was a feast for a king and queen and after devouring as much as we could, we had enough left to make a picnic lunch, which was just as well as all outlets in the local villages were unsurprisingly closed!

After John had de-iced the car he drove to the Lake Kerkini. I spotted a Great Grey Shrike sitting on top of a hedgeline so we stopped to look at it amongst more flocks of Corn Bunting, Goldfinch and Linnet.

                                    Great Grey Shrike

Corn Bunting

We continued to Mandraki where on the stone jetty on the north shore disaster loomed. I got out my tripod and scope only to discover that I had a leg section missing from my tripod. I had not used it since my return from Uganda a few weeks earlier. Being a good Girl Guide I soon fashioned a temporary leg from a bush and although a bit unstable it did the job of supporting my scope. John meanwhile had located a Greater Spotted Eagle sitting on some dead trees in the lake. Greylag Geese, Common Starling, Skylark, Reed Bunting and Bewick’s Swans were all noted before were heard Common Cranes that flew in and landed within scope distance. After adding Northern Lapwing and Shelduck we moved on to a small piece of woodland down an access road to the lake. Here we had a magical five minutes as a Grey-headed Woodpecker, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Syrian Woodpecker and Greater Spotted Woodpecker all arrived with a Nuthatch, Robin, Wren, Dunnock and a small family party of Long-tailed Tits.

Because of weight restrictions imposed by our Ryanair flight I had only taken my small bridge camera which does not lend itself for quick action shots when birds are being difficult in lots of vegetation! So I only managed a photo of the Grey-headed Woodpecker before they all flew off.

John drove to the track-way that leads alongside the River Strimon after noting about a dozen Crested Larks feeding in some hay and straw put out for some cattle.

                              Grey-headed Woodpecker

                              Crested Lark

                    Our Suzuki Jimny by the River Strimon

In some track-wayside bushes we stopped to admire some Tree Sparrows before stopping again to admire the view of the mountains in the sunlight. I spotted some distant raptors overhead and after watching a Marsh Harrier one of the birds flew closer and turned into a Black Stork! At the end of the track a Buffalo farm was a surprise as were the very unfriendly dogs!

We extricated ourselves from the dogs and drove up onto the East Embankment of the lake. Here some isolated pools held a Great White Egret, Greater Flamingo, Mute Swan, Pochard, Spoonbill, Gadwall and Moorhen.

                                 Black Stork

                                    Greater Flamingo

In lakeside bushes after seeing a Great Tit we realised we were looking at a larger finch which revealed itself as a Hawfinch. We were to see several more before we stopped for lunch sitting in glorious sunlight watching some wonderful birds.

Sue sitting at the side of Lake Kerkini for Christmas lunch


Greater Flamingoes from the East Embankment of Lake Kerkini

John was keen to see some geese and after driving for a bit further admiring more Hawfinch we turned around and found 54 Lesser White-fronted Geese as well as a big flock of Eurasian White-fronted Geese. On our return drive we also noted a Green Sandpiper and a Crossbill.

It had certainly been a Christmas day with a difference and we had both enjoyed birding in the sun, finishing the day with a good evening meal and some delicious wine in our warm comfortable hotel waited on by our very attentive hosts.

26th December

I was looking forward to this day as one of my life’s dreams was about to be fulfilled. Once again we delighted in a massive breakfast and had more than enough for another picnic lunch too.

John drove to Promachomas via Virona and north along the A25/E79 before turning off east along a minor road, where a small former quarry provided the site for seeing a Black Redstart and Spanish Sparrow as well as more Hawfinch. Further down the road a woodland provided Short-toed Treecreeper, Marsh Tit, Bullfinch and yet more Hawfinch. After consulting our maps we realised that we were going to have to return to the E79 upgraded road (of motorway standard) that wasn’t on our maps giving us little opportunity to stop before arriving at the border with Bulgaria. At Kulata I arrived at my one hundredth country that I have visited as we drove the car through the border controls after being asked to show our passports. I felt a certain amount of emotion as we crossed the border.


                  The Bulgarian mountains.

                                   Local transport

We didn’t drive far before taking a side road westwards towards Petric and stopping where we could climb a hillside with some vegetation in search of birds. We noted a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Starling, Jay, Chaffinch, White Wagtail, Magpie, Grey Heron and a flyover Raven. I heard a call that I was not familiar with and soon realised that two birds were involved. After a search in the bushes a Rock Bunting revealed itself before a Green Woodpecker flew away from me. We reached top of the hill and admired the views.

We made our way back down and noted several Hawfinch sitting in bushes as well as a Hooded Crow. We drove further along the valley and stopped for lunch between Blagoevgrad and Petric watching some of the local transport going by.



During the proceedings I noted a raptor soaring up high soon joined by another. I thought it was a buzzard but was concerned at the wing length. John thought it was worth getting a scope out and had soon identified a Long-legged Buzzard. The other bird was a Common Buzzard. It was nice to have the two birds together for comparison. A Sparrowhawk and a Kestrel flew through as we finished our lunch.


We consulted the map and decided to cross back over the E79 and drive up into the foothills of the snow-covered mountains. We wound our way up the road in the sun and admired the scenery. We drove through mountain villages and encountered some ice on shaded sections of road. We stopped to take a few photos of the village of Karlanovo where a car seemed to have failed to stop at the end of the road! We continued to climb the mountain road and stopped to search a woodland that was absolutely bird-less. We were staggered since the weather was so good.

I was keen to get to the end of the road where we found a small cafe where we sat outside to enjoy the weather and a drink. The waiter took a photo of us that was photo-bombed by a small puppy that rested its paws on our shoulders!

Photo-bombed by a puppy in Karlanovo

After a relaxing time we drove back down the mountain. We stopped to admire more Syrian Woodpeckers, Hawfinches and Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

                         Syrian Woodpecker

         Sue at Kulata, Bulgaria    My hundredth country!

We stopped at the border between Greece and Bulgaria so that I could celebrate my hundredth country. There was a glass of wine or two at the evening meal that evening in our hotel to celebrate!

27th December

After another hearty breakfast we drove to Mandraki pier where we added a few new species to our trip list of Christmas day. Curlew, Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Snipe and a Kingfisher were all added as well as admiring a Greater Spotted Eagle perched on a stump near the edge of the water, before we drove to our ‘woodpecker’ spot once again. Here we spotted a Goshawk flying over the trees.

                           Greater Spotted Eagle


We continued along the East Embankment of Lake Kerkini and I had wandered along the track. John was calling me back and as I turned I noticed a Wildcat. I ran back but was too far away to take a photo and the cat too quick before it slunk off into the bushes. However after a short walk admiring more Hawfinch another Wildcat came out of the bushes and at first started walking towards me before it saw me and disappeared once again into the bushes. This time I was facing the right way and managed a few quick photos of it.

Driving along the embankment we stopped to watch the geese again when I noticed a Red-breasted Goose amongst the Eurasian White-fronted Geese and Lesser White-fronted Geese.

Lesser White-fronted Geese

We continued on round the lake and noted a few Black-necked Grebes as we drove along. A Tree containing 50+ Hawfinches was a surprise. We stopped near the dam wall at Lithotopos watching the Dalmatian Pelicans as we ate our lunch.

Lesser White-fronted Geese.

Red-breasted Goose

Driving across the dam wall and heading back northwards up the western side of the lake we stopped at a small track 4kms north of the dam wall. After walking up the track into the Marovouini Hills adding Goldcrest to our trip list and nearly back down to the road again I heard a call similar to a Great Tit. However I knew it was the bird that we were looking for as a Sombre Tit faced scolding me in the bush. I called to John who joined me as quickly as he could. The inevitable happened and the bird flew just before he got there. Luckily I relocated it and we both got glimpses of it before it disappeared once again. Sadly it was too quick for a photo.

We continued to the North-western corner of the lake onto the embankment where over 100+ Hawfinch were feeding on the ground and flying up into nearby trees. Later we walked along a farm track where a Black Redstart was sitting on a compound fencepost.

Black Redstart

We admired the sunset over the mountains as we drove back to our hotel for the night.

Sunset near Kerkini village

28th December

After packing our bags and thanking our hosts we drove along the western side of Lake Kerkini stopping at our site for Sombre Tit. We soon located them before they flew up the hillside. John drove back to Thessaloniki where we left the car at the car depot before being shuttled back to the airport for our flight home.

Species List



  1. Red-breasted Goose Branta ruficollis 27/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  2. Greylag Goose Anser anser 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  3. Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  4. Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  5. Mute Swan Cygnus olor 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  6. Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  7. Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  8. Gadwall Anas strepera 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  9. Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  10. Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  11. Northern Pintail Anas acuta 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  12. Eurasian Teal Anas crecca 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  13. Common Pochard Aythya ferina 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  14. Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  15. Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis 27/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  16. Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  17. Black Stork Ciconia nigra 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  18. Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  19. Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  20. Great Egret Ardea alba 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  21. Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  22. Pygmy Cormorant Microcarbo pygmeus 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  23. Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  24. Greater Spotted Eagle Clanga clanga 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  25. Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis 27/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  26. Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  27. Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  28. Common Buzzard Buteo buteo 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  29. Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  30. Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  31. Common Crane Grus grus 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  32. Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  33. Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  34. Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 27/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  35. Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata 27/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  36. Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis 27/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  37. Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 27/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  38. Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  39. Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  40. Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  41. Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  42. Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 27/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  43. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dryobates minor 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  44. Syrian Woodpecker Dendrocopos syriacus 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  45. Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  46. Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  47. Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  48. Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  49. Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  50. Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 24/12/2017 Thessaloniki
  51. Western Jackdaw Coloeus monedula 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  52. Hooded Crow Corvus cornix 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  53. Sombre Tit Poecile lugubris 27/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  54. Marsh Tit Poecile palustris 26/12/2017 Promachomas
  55. Eurasian Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  56. Great Tit Parus major 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  57. Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  58. Crested Lark Galerida cristata 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  59. Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  60. Goldcrest Regulus regulus 27/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  61. Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  62. Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  63. Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla 26/12/2017 Promachomas
  64. Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  65. Common Blackbird Turdus merula 24/12/2017 Thessaloniki
  66. European Robin Erithacus rubecula 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  67. Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros 26/12/2017 Promachomas
  68. House Sparrow Passer domesticus 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  69. Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis 26/12/2017 Promachomas
  70. Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  71. Dunnock Prunella modularis 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  72. Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  73. Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  74. Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula 26/12/2017 Promachomas
  75. European Greenfinch Chloris chloris 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  76. Common Linnet Linaria cannabina 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  77. Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  78. European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  79. Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  80. Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra 24/12/2017 Lake Kerkini
  81. Common Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus 25/12/2017 Lake Kerkini


  1. Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 26/12/2017 Kulata
  2. Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus 26/12/2017 Petric
  3. Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus 26/12/2017 Petric
  4. Common Buzzard Buteo buteo 26/12/2017 Petric
  5. Syrian Woodpecker (Dendrocopos syriacus) 26/12/2017 Lozensita
  6. Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major 26/12/2017 Kulata
  7. European Green Woodpecker Picus viridis 26/12/2017 Kulata
  8. Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 26/12/2017 Petric
  9. Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius 26/12/2017 Kulata
  10. Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 26/12/2017 Kulata
  11. Hooded Crow Corvus cornix 26/12/2017 Kulata
  12. Northern Raven Corvus corax 26/12/2017 Kulata
  13. Eurasian Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus 26/12/2017 Kulata
  14. Great Tit Parus major 26/12/2017 Kulata
  15. Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris 26/12/2017 Kulata
  16. House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 26/12/2017 Lozensita
  17. White Wagtail Motacilla alba 26/12/2017 Kulata
  18. Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs 26/12/2017 Kulata
  19. Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes 26/12/2017 Kulata
  20. European Greenfinch Chloris chloris 26/12/2017 Kulata
  21. Rock Bunting Emberiza cia 26/12/2017 Kulata


  1. Wildcat Felis silvestris 27/12/17 Lake Kerkini (Eastern Embankment)