Saturday, June 24, 2017

EBBA2 - GBBA1, again!

As last year, this June we spent a week looking for breeding birds and evidences for the European Breeding Birds Atlas 2 (EBBA2), in collaboration with the Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS) and the Catalan Ornithological Institute (ICO). This year's expedition team was composed by Martí Franch, David Funosas and me, and we surveyed the NE part of Greece, through Rhodope mountains following (more or less) the border with Bulgaria, and to Thrace region right before the border with Turkey. Thank you for these days! And special thanks to Danae Portolou too, who was behind the organisation of the squares and logistics of the trip.

We started in the mountains, through Fir forests, mixed with Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) and several decidious trees species, including extensive Beech (Fagus sylvatica) forests.

So we started with the usual set of species for this kind of forests, including several Goldcrests (Regulus regulus) and also Firecrests (Regulus ignicapilla), several Coal Tits (Periparus ater), Nuthatches (Sitta europaea)...

The amount of Woodpeckers is remarcable in the whole country, with all European species present. White-backed (Dendrocopos leucotos) and Three-toed (Picoides tridactylus) are present in the Rhodope mountains, but sadly we didn't manage to see them. Nonetheless, we succeded with the rest: Lesser Spotted, Middle Spotted, Great Spotted, Syrian, Green, Grey-headed and Black. Indeed, no Wrynecks were detected.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major), right after
feeding the chicks.
Grey-headed Woodpecker (Picus canus). We only detected a
couple, with the female in the pictures.
This year we visited an area with a much lower density of Brown Bears (Ursus arctos), that was one of the highlights of last year's trip. We weren't pleased to see any, but the signs at the rubbish bins were informing:

We did see two other joys from the forest: Hazel Grouse (Bonasa bonasia) and Spotted Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes).

Open rocky areas, where the forest ends, provided an interesting set of species, such as Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella), European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) and Barred Warbler (Sylvia nisoria)!

Barred Warbler (Sylvia nisoria), female
Red-rumped Swallows (Cecropis daurica) and Red-backed Shrikes (Lanius collurio) are also very common in this habitat, but indeed, they are found in several kind of habitats and altitudes.

Going down in the mountains, soon the forest is dominated by Hungarian Oaks (Quercus frainetto), Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera ssp. calliprinos) and other mediterranean species. There, different species may occur depending on the habitat structure, based on vegetation coverage, related to slopes orientation, soil composition, grazing activities, and several other factors.

Ortolan Buntings (Emberiza hortulana), Middle Spotted Woodpeckers (Dendrocopos medius), Eastern Black-eared Wheatears (Oenanthe (hispanica) melanoleuca), Eastern Subalpine Warblers (Sylvia cantillans albistriata), Sombre Tits (Poecile lugubris), Eastern Orphean Warblers (Sylvia crassirostris), Blue Rock Thrushes (Monticola solitarius)... are some of the present species in these habitats.

Male Eastern Black-eared Wheatear (melanoleuca). Black
in the lores reaches the upper base of the bill. Also, the black
'ears' are connected to the wing through a faint black line.
This latter feature is very variable, but seems to not occur
on the western hispanica populations.
Female Eastern Black-eared Wheatear (melanoleuca).
A juvenile Sombre Tit (Poecile lugubris) wanted to join
in the picture!
It was very interesting to check several Eastern Subalpine Warblers (Sylvia cantillans albistriata). At this time of the year they are more worn, and they seem to have lost most or all the white tips in the throat feathers. Check these pictures from ringed birds this spring in Western Mediterranean for more detail information.
Breast deeply coloured in the throat. R5 shows a lot of white
in the tip. Primary projection also gives a longer impression.
Another individual showing the characteristic tail pattern.
Eastern Orphean Warbler (Sylvia crassirostris).
Black Storks (Ciconia nigra) are also quite regular in the
region, becoming more common as we were heading to the
Spur-tighed Tortoises (Testudo graeca) can turn up anywhere!
Some very nice flowers can be found commonly, such as the
Dragon Arum (Dracunculus vulgaris).
Or this Lizard Orchid (Himantoglossum caprinum).
Leaving the Mediterranean forests, the lowlands landscape is covered by agricultural land. Interestingly, most of fields are small and surrounded by trees and bushes, the denominated bocage agricultral landscape, which is far from the extensive agricultural practises. Probably this is one of the factors that allow the great numbers of insects everywhere. For instance, the amount of grasshoppers was surpsising in several spots, or the clouds of moths at night around the lights on the streets. And all of this is food for the birds, that can reach much higher densities in this landscape than in the extensive agriculture.

Black-headed Buntings (Emberiza melanocephala) are one of the commonest passerines in this habitat. Males are bright yellow and sing very exposed, usually from the top of a bush, but females are much more secretive.

Black-headed Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla flava feldegg) are also very common in this habitat.

Spanish Sparrows (Passer hispaniolensis) are usually seen in flocks through the agricultural landscape, but most of nests that we found were on riparian forests (especially on plantations) and in White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) nests, where they breed together.

Probably thanks to the high numbers of insects and to the trees and bushes to perch, hunt and nest, Shrikes are represented in the area with a good number of species. Red-backed Shrikes (Lanius collurio) can be found also in some areas with agricultural landscape, and also Lesser Grey Shrikes (Lanius minor), Eastern Woodchat Shrikes (Lanius senator niloticus) and Masked Shrikes (Lanius nubicus) appear.
Lesser Grey Shrike (Lanius minor).
Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator niloticus).
Masked Shrike (Lanius nubicus), male. We found them in
bushes close to the rivers across the drylands... 
... and also nesting in riparian forests, dominated by Populus
and Populus alba.
Eastern Olivaceous Warblers (Iduna pallida elaeica) are among the commonest passerines too. They are almost present anywhere with bushes! And are usually quite active, not allowing long observations.

 Olive-tree Warblers (Hippolais olivetorum) are also present, in mature Oak tree forests or even in isolated Trees, surrounded by bushes between the fields. They are surprisingly elusive, singing from the inside of the vegetation and allowing very brief observations. This picture below is the best I could get after quite a long time trying...

We could enjoy some Levant Sparrowhawks (Accipiter brevipes) too, like these two adult males, already moulting.
The latter was hunting some Eastern Oliv. Warblers in a extensive tamarisk area, with a very big reedbed besides Nestos Lake. There, we had good numbers of Reed (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) and also Marsh Warblers (Acrocephalus palustris), as well as Great Reed Warblers (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) and Little Bitterns (Ixobrychus minutus). Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus) and Collared Pratincoles (Glareola praticola) were present, probably breeding, such as Little Tern (Sternula albifrons), Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) and even Black Tern (Chlidonias niger). We also had two adult White-winged Terns (Chlidonias leucopterus), that could be still late migrants. At dusk, while searching for night singers, we could enjoy at least 3 Golden Jackals (Canis aureus). The picture is just testimonial, since it was alredy quite late in the day!
A family of Penduline Tits (Remiz pendulinus) was the best
way to get the highest breeding evidence in this square.
On our way to Thrace, we had a visit to the Dadia Forest National Park. The amount of raptors in the area was quite nice to enjoy, especially thanks to the real show that this Lesser Spotted Eagle (Aquila pomarina) offered.

We also had very nice views of Black Vulture (Aegypius monachus) and Egyptian Vultures (Neophron percnopterus).

We visited a feeding place for vultures that you can acces from the Information Centre at the Dadia Forest National Park. It was nice to see the three vultures feeding there, but sadly no Lammergeiers are left in continental Greece. Nonetheless, I found very interesting to see an adult White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) eating among them! As we have the 4 vulture species in Catalunya feeding together, I wonder in how many places you can see three vultures and White-tailed Eagles...

The last stop we had was already on the way back to Thessaloniki, We stopped at Pangaion mountain, which was surprinsingly high: almost 2000 m right besides the Mediterranean Sea. There's even a Ski station up there, so you might be able to do it while watching the Mediterranean Sea in front of you... We had great views up there of some Balkan Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris balcanica). Nice way to farewell the country!