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BirdWING (Birdwatching in Northern Greece) has been set up to raise awareness of birds in Greece and to raise money for the conservation and restoration of bird habitat in the region. Birdwing has supporters from all over the world.

 
 

Newsletter 25 - Spring/Summer 2018

Apologies, thanks and congratulations…

  • We’re sorry that we haven’t been sending out much news via email or social media lately. Due to personal circumstances this year, our focus has been on our family and loved ones and so we apologise for the delay in sending out this newsletter. Despite difficult times for us, we’re still working together with National Park Management Bodies to instigate actions to help birds in Greece.
  • We’ve been delighted to see how many of you wish to continue to hear from us (following our recent GDPR email) and also with the number of generous donations that have recently been made. Thank you for your support – it means a lot to us. Don’t forget, if you have yet to opt-in to receive our emails, please do so! Subscribe at www.birdwing.eu or Update your preferences via the link in our email. 
  • Congratulations to all those involved in ‘The Return of the Neophron’ project to help save Egyptian Vultures! The project has won the Cross-border cooperation and Networking Award category prize at Natura 2000 award 2018 and was a finalist for the overall Best Life Project! Read more below.

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Looking for Golden Eagles in a North Greek Mountain

Notes from the field by Lavrentis Sidiropoulos

After three days of driving all around (under the loud protests of my battered car) and discovering only old and decrepit eyries, I finally arrive in yet another gorge, of imposing limestone rocky outcrops that look as if they have been copied and pasted from Crete. The surrounding landscape is mostly grassland, interspersed with some patches of wood and scrub, reminiscent more of a hilly steppe than a high mountain.  I can’t spot an eyrie scanning the cliffs but the formations are way too complex with many fissures and walls that I cannot see, so I decide to settle in such a favourable landscape. It is sunny but crisp so I sit down hopefully, the telescope set up at the ready, and commence scanning the ridge tops with binoculars.

In less than an hour, in the far left edge of my field of view, I finally spot what I‘m longing for. An adult golden eagle, circling low, from updraft to updraft, until it settles down on some loose rocks. A second bird soon appears and I lock on the pair for what will be one of the most memorable encounters of more than 10 years of eagle observations. Both birds are adult, an indication of a healthy territory, as an immature bird would mean there was a recent loss. The birds seem to be looking for food, quartering low over the contours, and they momentarily disappear, stooping behind a rounded peak. They reemerge, locked on a buzzard that barely escapes. The pair gains height circling and glides over another ridge, one kilometre to the East and resumes a contour flight.

Soon the female takes a fast glide to the south and disappears in the gorge, after something I cannot see. I follow the male for a while, until she reemerges and slowly gains height to the upper ridgeline, a little less than 3km away from me to the South East. Soon enough, she looks interested again and stoops in a shrub covered gully. I keep following her mesmerized, thinking I will probably never know what she is after at that distance. What emerges from the gully makes me hold my breath; a full sized roe deer, alarmed to the aerial danger. The next minute is spent looking at the unfolding drama, as the deer and eagle face off. The deer will not run for cover, it trots wearily down the slope turning to lunge at the female eagle as she approaches. She breaks in the air just before impact, wings and tail spread, turning to try and pounce again. This happens five times, and the deer has managed to descend the 200m down the slope to the edge of a beech copse.

At that moment, the male eagle arrives, stooping furiously twice at it but it’s too late, the deer plunges under the trees, and the birds start gaining height again, until they disappear behind the far ridges, to look elsewhere.

I have seen eagles after prey several times by now but it is usually the typical hapless tortoise or a snake. I never had such an observation of what is the maximum of the eagle’s predatory capacity, though such cases should be very exceptional. I read that with large ungulate prey, eagles aim at the back of the quarry and they may then cling on to it until it collapses of shock and blood loss. The deer defended  by turning and lunging at the eagle as she approached, I’m not sure if I could distinguish antlers from this distance but I think it was a buck and the eagle avoided an impact that could seriously harm, or even kill her. I cannot help wondering what would be the outcome if the male eagle had arrived earlier and the deer had to cope with two eagles at the same time. As it stands, there is a live roe deer that will perhaps think twice before it strays too far from cover again...

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Poison baits - Three Griffon Vultures poisoned

At the end of May, the Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS)/BirdLife Greece was informed by the Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna that one of their Griffon vultures fitted with a GPS transmitter had remained in the same location in southwest mainland Greece, at the Agrafa Mountains, for a several days, a highly abnormal behaviour for this species, usually linked to the death of the individual.

Immediately the HOS’s Anti-poison Dog Unit (to whom many Birdwing supporters donated funds) together with a warden from the Tzoumerka National Park conducted an on-site investigation of the incident. During the survey, apart from the transmitter-fitted vulture, two more dead Griffon vultures with obvious signs of poisoning were discovered. A dead calf is highly likely to be the poison bait in this incident, as it was found very close to the two dead vultures, as well as to a plastic bottle with a white powder residue and a strong smell of pesticide.

The Griffon vulture is one of the four species of vultures that occur in Greece and is a strictly protected species. In Greece, the population of Griffon vulture, which was formerly in abundance, collapsed after the 1990s on the mainland, and is thus classified as "Critically Endangered" in the Red Book of Endangered Animals of Greece. The use of poison baits, although banned since 1993, is still a widespread and extremely damaging practice in the Greek countryside. In less than three decades, the populations of vultures, mainly in mainland Greece, collapsed due to the illegal use of poison baits, while in some areas they disappeared completely.

Agrafa is one of the most important Griffon vulture’s foraging areas in central Greece. Data from satellite transmitters as well as regular observations, show that a significant number of vultures, including birds from neighboring countries, visit the Agrafa Mountains. Maintaining the quality of the habitat and continuing the extensive livestock grazing traditionally practised in the region is a decisive factor for the survival of the remaining populations of Griffon vultures in mainland Greece.

However, apart from the illegal use of poison baits, the birds of prey have to face another oncoming threat in this area: the construction of windfarms on the - until now - untouched peaks of the  Agrafa Mountains, that will irreparably damage one of the most important shelters for birds of prey in Greece.  

                                                              

Education is obviously an important factor in protecting vultures from poisoned baits together with continued funding for the anti-poison Dog Unit. If you would like to make a donation towards this vital work, please click here. An appeal has been submitted to the Council of States (Supreme court of Justice) to try to prevent the windfarms in this valuable wildlife reserve.

Photos by Dimitris Vavylis

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Groups and guiding

Despite us (Steve and Hilary) not being able to be in Greece this spring, other Birdwing supporters have been running trips and raising money for Birdwing in the region. 

Birdwing advocate Alex Wirth guided a group of German ecotourists for 10 days in northern Greece for the German travel agency DUMA, who specialise in ecotourism and especially botany.

The group went birding and observing flowers and butterflies from Ismarida, Vistonida to the Nestos gorge and delta as well as the lagoons. They visited Thasos, went up Mount Falakro and stayed for two days at Lake Kerkini at the Hotel Limneo with Nikos Gallios. Other activities included a kayak trip with Riverland, hiking on Thasos with “Visit North Greece” and a boat trip with Itavros (Nikos Gallios) on Lake Kerkini.

The travel agency DUMA will donate €350 to Birdwing as a result of the trip! The trip also evoked some attention and was featured in a newspaper article in Greece:

www.kavalapost.gr/201374/ki-omos-sti-thaso-erchontai-toyristes-mono-gia-ta-loyloydia-tis-fotografies-vinteo/

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Greenwings Wildlife holidays ran a Birds and Butterflies trip to Lake Kerkini, together with a photography trip, run by macro specialist and Birdwing supporter Matt Doogue (see Matt’s Macro). Both trips were very successful and many creatures, large and small, were seen by the guests. 

Greenwings (www.greenwings.co) support conservation projects as part of all of their tours and so a proportion of their profits for these trips will be donated to Birdwing, as they have generously done for many years. 

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Stefan Schlick brought a group of guests from America to experience the birds of Greece. He reported that they saw 185 species including: “Marsh Sandpiper and Temminck’s Stint at multiple sites. 45 fully black Spotted Redshanks at the 4th Thracian Lagoon. Arctic Skua off the Alexandroupolis breakwater. Quail, Nightjar and 2 Scops Owls at the Petrinos Lofos (hosts are awesome! Dinner is fabulous!). We took a boat trip with Nikos Gallios at Kerkini which was a hit with everybody!” Stefan, on his return, made a generous donation to Birdwing for which we are very grateful.

Keep your eyes open for trip reports on our website at www.birdwing.eu/resources 

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Natura 2000 Award

The LIFE Project “The Return of the Neophron” won the Cross-border Cooperation and Networking Award at the Natura 2000 Awards Ceremony in Brussels on the 17th of May 2018. Representatives from the HOS/BirdLife Greece and the Bulgarian Society of the Protection of Birds/BirdLife Bulgaria, had the great pleasure of receiving the Natura 2000 Award for 2018 from the Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Mr. Karmenu Vella and Mr. Roby Biwer, reporter of the Committee of the Regions, in recognition for the work implemented in Natura 2000 sites and beyond, along three continents, for the survival of the endangered Egyptian Vulture.

In 2011, four partners – BSPB from Bulgaria, HOS and WWF from Greece and RSPB from the UK – joined forces to halt the decline of the Egyptian vulture population in the Balkans. Recognizing the specific requirements of this long-distance migrant, the partners also took steps to broaden their cross-border approach to other countries along the species’ flyway.

Partners invested in efforts to stop the illegal trade of Egyptian vultures and eggs in the Balkans. A total of 178 Custom Officers were trained in Greece and Bulgaria, while international cooperation at the level of INTERPOL and international customs authorities was promoted. An extensive anti-poison network of local land users and stakeholders was created in Greece. Intense capacity building and networking in Bulgaria also helped 1,400 farmers to apply for agri-environment payments and thus nearly 100,000 ha of pastures within the Natura 2000 network are now being managed for the benefit of the Egyptian vulture and other wildlife. In addition, networking with public and private electricity transmission companies has resulted in the insulation of over 400 dangerous electricity pylons in both Greece and Bulgaria. www.lifeneophron.eu

The project has succeeded in achieving very fruitful cross-border collaboration. The clearest example is the successful development of the Flyway Action Plan for the Conservation of the Balkan and Central Asian Populations of Egyptian Vulture (EVFAP). This document is the culmination of over two years of work and collaboration of 26 countries along the flyway of the species and many experts and is seen as vital for the future of the species. Another successful example of cross-border cooperation with local institutions (SCF and APLORI) was the discovery of a yet unidentified threat to the Egyptian vulture. In some parts of Africa (Niger, Nigeria), vultures were being killed to use their body parts in traditional medicine. An even more impressive achievement was the decommissioning and replacement of a power line in Sudan, known to have electrocuted hundreds and perhaps thousands of individuals since its construction in the 1950s.

Best LIFE Project nomination

The Return of the Neophron is also among 28 Best LIFE-Nature/Information Projects for 2016 and 2017! A total of 62 best projects in three categories were selected among 400 others for this period. This is the second huge recognition for the BSPB/BirdLife Bulgaria, HOS/BirdLife Greece, WWF Greece and RSPB/BirdLife UK, after the project received the prestigious Natura 2000 Award.

On 23rd of May, during EU Green Week – Europe’s biggest environmental event – Commissioner Karmenu Vella announced the nine winners of the 2016 and 2017 LIFE Awards for the “Best of the best” LIFE projects. The nine winners included projects from Belgium, Greece, Spain, Italy, Austria, Poland and Slovakia. A special people's Choice Award, in line with this year's Green Week focus on sustainable cities, was given to a LIFE green city project, exploring solutions to reduce air pollution in cities.

The LIFE Awards recognise the most innovative, inspirational and effective LIFE projects in the fields of nature protection, environment and climate action. If applied widely, they can have a highly positive impact on the environment, boosting economic growth and providing significant benefits for European citizens.

Learn more about the results and achievements of the “The Return to the Neophron” LIFE Project in: lifeneophron.eu/en/materials-view/106.html

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Other news

Spring has brought a wonderful array of birds to Greece this year and, unlike last year when spring was very dry, seasonal wet places, like Anthia at the Evros Delta, have been full of water and thus full of birds. Kerkini has had many Rose-coloured Starlings dropping in and the number of birdwatchers in the region has been high. A Citrine Wagtail was seen in May by Roy Clarke in the Evros/Dadia area and the regular Terek Sandpipers were seen on passage at Kalohori.

Birdwing nest-boxes have been successfully used again this year across the region. Rollers were reported to be using boxes at the Evros Delta, together with a good take-up of Kestrel boxes.

Kerkini's Pelicans: This spring has seen very successful breeding of pelicans at Lake Kerkini with both Dalmatian and White Pelicans successfully rearing chicks on the platforms and islands. 2016 was the first year that White Pelicans bred at Lake Kerkini (in recent history) following the building of additional islands and platforms. The wooden platforms will be rebuilt soon – one is 9 years old and will not last for another year and a second requires work as it sometimes gets flooded after the pelicans have started to build nests. Birdwing is in discussion with the Management Body about funding this work.

Several of the Birdwing tern-rafts require repairs/ replacement and at Kerkini, after the pelican chicks have fledged, the plan is to move the floating platform to the west side of Mandraki harbour to provide a raft for the Common Terns to use next year. One of the previous two platforms had its wood stolen last year so this new concrete platform will hopefully be less desirable to thieves! The plan also is to build a new floating raft for terns and put it to the opposite site of Mandraki harbour, on the east side.

The video competition winners from our last newsletter were Paris Kambakis, Μichalis Κotsakis Leo Tukker and Ronan Felix. Each received a pack of Birdwing goodies. Congratulations to them.

If you have not yet updated your preferences with regard to opting-in to receive our newsletter you can click the ‘update your preferences’ link in one of our emails, or subscribe to our newsletter at www.birdwing.eu. We will always treat your information with respect and you can unsubscribe at any time. Our website now includes information on our privacy policy and, should any of you have queries on related data issues, please get in touch with Hilary at info@birdwing.eu.

Thanks to those who have made financial donations in recent weeks, including Meriel, Mark, Frances, Robert, Stefan and Richard and to the many who have supported us in other ways. We greatly appreciate this and thank those who have contributed to this newsletter including Roula Trigou, Lavrentis Sidiropoulos, Alex Wirth, Stefan Shlick and Roy Clarke. If you have any queries contact us at info@birdwing.eu or go to www.birdwing.eu and use our contact form.

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