Highlights: Athens sightseeing – The Evros Delta – Dadia – To Fanari – Porto Lagos – Lake Kerkini – Vergina and Mount Olympus – Delphi –Mount Parnassos – Osios Loukas
15 days / 14 nights
Arrival in Athens and transfer to our hotel. Night in Athens.
Athens, afternoon flight to Alexandroupolis
Today, we’ll have a grand tour of ancient Athens, including a fully guided tour of the famous Acropolis and Parthenon—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—and the fabulous new Parthenon museum. Bring your binoculars, as the ruins are home to a surprising variety of birds. After lunch flight east to Alexandroupolis and drive to our next hotel, in the area of the vast Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli National Park. Night in Soufli.
The Evros Delta
We’ll spend all of today on the Evros Delta, a huge wetland reserve that forms part of Greece’s border with Turkey. Despite a long history of habitat degradation, this site attracts a host of birds ranging from raptors and warblers to herons, waterfowl, and shorebirds. We’ll start the day in an area of arable fields and work our way from freshwater reed beds and riverbanks through increasingly saline wetlands to the coast. Along the way, we’ll enjoy a picnic lunch in the field. Night in Soufli.
Dadia Raptor Research Center and forest surroundings
This morning, we’ll visit the famous Dadia Raptor Research Center, which is nestled within a wonderfully scenic pine forest. After a visit to a blind overlooking the center’s raptor feeding station—which offers us our best chance for Cinereous and Egyptian vultures, and Eurasian Griffon—we’ll explore the woodlands around the site, home to Eastern Bonelli’s Warblers, which should be on territory by now. Then we’ll move down into the surrounding countryside, visiting a mixture of arable fields, scrub-covered hillsides, and forested slopes in a search for a multitude of species; we’ll enjoy a picnic lunch en route. Night in Soufli.
This morning, we’ll explore the rolling hinterland just north of the coastal plain, where such treats as Isabel line and Black-eared wheatears, Masked Shrike, Olive-tree Warbler, and Long-legged Buzzard are all possible. After a picnic lunch, we’ll start our journey to Fanari, our base for the next two nights. If time permits, we’ll get our first taste of the Fanari wetlands, where a variety of migrant shorebirds may await us. Night in Fanari.
Fanari and Porto Lagos
A pre-breakfast walk near our hotel should reveal whether any overnight migrants have dropped in. While we’re likely to be a bit late for any major movement, we still have a chance of locating a few stragglers, including Spotted Flycatcher, Willow and Wood warblers, and Whinchat. After breakfast, we’ll spend most of our day visiting wetland habitats around Fanari and Porto Lagos, taking a picnic lunch with us. Night in Fanari.
To Lake Kerkini via Iasmos Gorge
After some early birding around Porto Lagos, we’ll head north to Iasmos Gorge, for a look at a still-standing Byzantine bridge—and our first chance for Blue Rock-Thrush, Rock Nuthatch, Eurasian Crag-Martin, Gray Wagtail, Eastern Orphean Warbler, and more. After a picnic lunch we’ll head west towards Lake Kerkini, stopping along the way to search for Yelkouan Shearwaters. The landscape will be quite varied, but the drive takes us mostly through arable country and provides some wonderful panoramas. Alpine Swifts nest in rocky outcrops here, and Woodchat Shrikes can be seen atop roadside bushes. Further on, we’ll keep a keen eye out for Montagu’s Harriers, which occasionally pass this way on their northward spring migration, as well as European Roller and Red-footed Falcon, which are distinctly possible on roadside wires. Night in Lithotopos.
Although it was created artificially when the Strimonas River was dammed, Lake Kerkini has a very natural feel to it, particularly at the shallower northern end where we’ll spend much of our day. At this time of year, flocks of herons, egrets, ibis, and cormorants feed before moving north to breed, mostly on the Danube Delta and along the Black Sea coast. Our journey around the lake takes us through scenic rolling countryside backed with the higher hills that form the border with neighboring Bulgaria. We’ll finish today’s activities with dinner at a delightful village taverna where Water Buffalo sausages are a particular specialty! Night in Lithotopos.
To Vergina and on to Mount Olympus
Although today will be mainly a travel day, we’ll make several birding stops and will have plenty of time to enjoy one of Greece’s more spectacular archeological sites. We’ll head southwest to Thessaloniki, then down the western side of the Thermaikos Gulf, making for Vergina, the first capital of ancient Macedonia. Of principal interest at this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a series of royal chamber tombs discovered in the late 1970s—with all of their treasures still intact. The tombs have been converted into an impressive in situ museum, and we’ll spend some of the hottest hours of the day in its cool interior before continuing our way south. Toward the end of our journey, the scenery will change dramatically as we get our first views (weather permitting!) of the impressive Mount Olympus which, at 9570 feet, is Greece’s highest peak—once believed to be the home of ancient Greece’s many gods. Our hotel is in a bustling little tourist village nestled at the foot of the mountain. Night in Litochoro.
Mount Olympus to Delphi
This morning, we’ll do some birding on the approach road to Mount Olympus, yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site. After a morning in the beautiful forest, we’ll journey south again making for the modern town of Delphi, which is located just beside the famed ancient city. As we approach through the rugged foothills of Mount Parnassos, we’ll soon find ourselves in a world vastly different from the lush green forests of Mount Olympus. Around Delphi, hot winds blow from the south and the hills are covered with low Mediterranean scrub, here known as Phrygana. The town sits atop a high sheer cliff providing spectacular panoramic views of other craggy hills and hundreds of acres of olive groves stretching as far as the Gulf of Corinth. Night in Delphi.
Another day, another UNESCO World Heritage site! But first, we’ll spend part of the morning birding in an area of rock and scrub just west of town. Two special birds—Rueppell’s Warbler and Cretzschmar’s Bunting— will be our prime targets, though we’ll also keep an eye out for Rock Petronia, Subalpine Warbler, Eurasian Stonechat, Sombre Tit, and various raptors. After a taverna lunch in town, we’ll head to the archeological site. In ancient times, Delphi—home to a renowned oracle, a famous spring, and temples to Apollo and Athena—was considered to be the center of the world, and rulers from many countries made pilgrimages to consult the Delphic oracle. We’ll start with a guided walk, after which we’ll be on our own, with time to explore the huge, ruins-studded hillside—and the excellent, recently-upgraded museum, which houses some of the many treasures found on the site. Night in Delphi.
Taking a picnic with us, we’ll spend most of today on Mount Parnassos, where we hope to find several new species. Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush, Tawny Pipit, Wood Lark, and Northern Wheatear inhabit the rocky slopes, while much of the mountain’s middle elevation is clothed in endemic Grecian Fir forest, making it a haven for the powerful Black Woodpecker. The forests are home as well to Firecrest, Eurasian Wren, Northern Goshawk, and Mistle Thrush, while rocky outcrops are favored by the colorful Rock Bunting. The presence of several ski stations allows us easy access to areas above the tree line where we’ll search for Black Redstart, Ortolan Bunting and parties of Yellow-billed (Alpine) Chough. Night in Delphi.
After a final morning’s birding around Delphi, we’ll make the final leg of our journey today, completing our circle around the country as we head back to Athens. On the way, we’ll visit the remarkable monastery of Osios Loukas, with contains a 14th-century Byzantine chapel that’s justly famous for its spectacular gilded mosaics; we birders will also enjoy its peaceful courtyards and resident Sombre Tits! A new highway system built for the 2004 Olympics should allow us an easy drive around the capital to our airport hotel. Night in Athens.
After breakfast transfer to the airport and departure.