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Natural history tour in Bulgaria: day 8

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Route: Melnik – Kerkini lake, Greece

Weather: hot, 30+ degrees.

Another hot day found us further south across the Greek border. We started with an early breakfast at 6.30. We wanted to avoid the crowds at the border and started really early. And yes, we did manage to cross the border rather easily. It took us less than 5 min. How nice was that? Customs are still checking passports as we are not in Shengen.

This early start gave us enough time to visit one of my favourite places fairly early in the morning. We arrived at Vironia quarry shortly after 8 am. And yes, you could feel the heat wave coming in even at this early hour. Shortly upon arrival, we started listing our first species: a beautiful young Short-toed Eagle circled right over our heads. Then an adult bird appeared and started calling. This was another memorable experience! Birds were not really showing very well and I could only identify them by their calls. Thus we had a Common Whitethroat, more Black-headed Buntings, Green Woodpecker, Cirl Bunting, Lesser spotted Woodpecker and Sombre Tit.

A few minutes later we got a call from our herpetologists who had found a Glass Lizzard. What a great catch! Half an hour later after the million pictures we took, we continued along the paths towards a disused quarry.

Glass lizzard (Ophisaurus apodus),

Glass lizzard (Ophisaurus apodus), image: Iordan Hristov

Along the path we had a Little tiger blue butterfly (Tarucus balkanicus) and Southern White Admiral (Limenitis reducta). One in the quarry, we saw a family of Black-eared Wheatears which were feeding chicks. We also had many Cirl Buntings and a Levant Sparrowhawk. We spent at least 3 hours in this fantastic spot and people were getting quite hot already.

Levant Sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipers)

Levant Sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipers), image: Iordan Hristov

Saga natoliae, image: Iordan Hristov

Saga natoliae, image: Iordan Hristov

Saga natoliae, image: Iordan Hristov

Saga natoliae, image: Iordan Hristov

Eastern Black-yeared Wheatear (juv)

Eastern Black-yeared Wheatear (juv), image: Iordan Hristov

Eastern Black-yeared Wheatear (juv)

Eastern Black-yeared Wheatear (juv), image: Iordan Hristov

Small Princetail (Onychogomphus forcipatus),

Small Princetail (Onychogomphus forcipatus), image: Iordan Hristov

On the way to the next place, we stopped for a coffee in the nearby village. It was very welcome and everybody enjoyed it.

The next place I had planned was a track along the village where I often see dragonflies and butterflies. At the very beginning, Anton found a nice Grass Snake and spent the needed time documenting it. There were indeed several dragonflies and damselflies including a pair of Lesser spotted Woodpecker. The highlight for me would be a great view of Levant Sparrowhawk together with a dark Eleonora’s Falcon in the same picture! How about that? I love it when it plays like this.

Eleonora's falcon (Falco eleonorae)

Eleonora’s falcon (Falco eleonorae), image: Iordan Hristov

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix), image: Iordan Hristov

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix), image: Iordan Hristov

Broad Scarlet (Crocothemis erythraea)

Broad Scarlet (Crocothemis erythraea), image: Iordan Hristov

Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum)

Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum), image: Iordan Hristov

There wasn’t much more to add at this spot so we headed for lunch to a favourite picnic spot right on the bank of the lake. I couldn’t get everybody around to get the sandwiches as the were excited by the great number of birds around: Tens of Bee-eaters were hunting not far from us. Several White Storks and our first Glossy Ibis also caught our attention.

Our basic picnic lunch was enjoyed by everybody and after it we headed out under the sun. It was really baking hot with temperatures exceeding 30 degrees. Some people from the group decided to stay around the bus and I don’t blame them. The rest continued along the embankment noting our first waterbirds: White and Dalmatian Pelican, Spoonbill, Night and Squacco Heron, Little and Great crested Grebe. What a great place this is!

The butterfly and dragonfly people had great excitement with the observation of a Black Pennant! What a great find! Unfortunately, I couldn’t take pictures but spent some time photographing other damselflies like Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas), Southern Emerald (Lestes barbarous), Keeled skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) and others.

Southern Skimmer (Orthetrum bruneum)

Southern Skimmer (Orthetrum bruneum), image: Iordan Hristov

Migrant spreadwing (Lestes barbatus)

Migrant spreadwing (Lestes barbatus), image: Iordan Hristov

Black pennant (Selysiothemis nigra), image: Iordan Hristov

It was 4 pm and still very hot so we called it a day. We spent the rest of the afternoon on the balconies of our hotel enjoying the great view over the lake.

Time for a rest and a great dinner in a local taverna! We had a bottle of Ouzo for a welcome drink, which went down really well, a fantastic selection of Greek salads, and superb buffalo meat in tomato sauce with pilaf and potatoes. The complement of the restaurant was a fantastic baked apple with cinnamon and ice-cream! I will say no more!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s story.

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