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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 31 - Spring 2021

Despite ongoing restrictions for humans, birds continue to go about their lives feeding and breeding, with many migrating distances we have only been able to dream of. The Birdwing nest-boxes are alive with breeding Kestrels and Rollers, the pelican platform at Kerkini is finally full of Dalmatian Pelicans, after a late and disrupted start and Common Terns have returned to take up residence on rafts, such as the newly repaired one at the Evros Delta (see below).

Unprecedented win for the Galapagos of the Mediterranean!

There has recently been an unprecedented win for environmentalists and biodiversity in Greece, with a rejection of constructors’ plans to turn the “Galapagos of the Mediterranean” into an enormous windfarm.The Greek Ministry of Environment and Energy has, with this decision, finally closed the door to the hugely destructive plans that involved turning the protected islets of the South Aegean Sea into platforms for hundreds of wind turbines, right at the “heart” of one of the last refuges of biodiversity in Europe.

The fight for the protection of these precious ecosystems, known as the “Galapagos of the Mediterranean”, lasted for two years and the opposition to the plans was almost absolute. Early on, the Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS), having dedicated more than 25 years to the study and conservation of these areas, set the protection of the islets as a top priority, taking the lead along with numerous scientific and environmental bodies in the public consultation, and voicing opposition directly to the government. Both Management Bodies of the Protected Areas of Cyclades and Dodecanese rejected the project, documenting - beyond any doubt -  how irreversibly it would damage the protected areas under their jurisdiction.

The detailed documentation prepared by the HOS deconstructed the narrative set forth by the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project on its “weak” impacts on seabirds and the Eleonora’s Falcon. The EIA also included many scientifically unfounded facts. One that can easily be contested and thus attests to the EIA’s poor quality, is the 300 m. buffer distance, which was arbitrarily proposed as a safe enough distance to build a wind turbine in the vicinity of Eleonora’s Falcons’ colonies! This buffer distance was presented as a mitigation measure of wind farms’ impacts onto the Aegean’s emblematic falcon, even though it is widely accepted that these birds cover long distances in search of food on a daily basis.

The case of the islets of the South Aegean serves as one more proof of the systematic weaknesses and, consequently, the inability of the environmental licensing procedure in Greece to serve its crucial role as the defender of the natural environment and biodiversity.

Without any further delay, the Greek State must harmonize its national law with EU legislation, by incorporating as mandatory the “screening” of projects and plans at the very preliminary stages of the licensing process. It is quite obvious that projects as destructive as this one would have been rejected early on, saving all interested parties (from investors, and all the administrative, environmental and scientific bodies involved, down to the society of citizens) a lot of time, effort and resources.

Thanks to Roula Trigou from the HOS

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Raft repairs

The staff at the Evros Delta made repairs to the damaged tern raft funded by Birdwing to ensure it was ready for the return of the Common Terns.   The repairs involved inverting the raft to refit the floating barrels, putting on a new layer of shingle and ensuring the outer wire fence was positioned to prevent larger birds from flying and landing on the platform. Finally, a boat dragged the raft to its position in Drana Lagoon. At the end of April, the Common Terns returned from Africa to the Evros Delta and around 20 pairs settled on the raft to breed, no doubt grateful for somewhere safe to reproduce.

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One hundred years young!

One of Birdwing’s most well-known supporters, Meriel Wilmot-Wright, reached a momentous birthday this week – becoming 100 years old!

Lady Wilmot-Wright, as she is officially known, has been supporting Birdwing for almost 10 years and we would like to take this opportunity to thank her and to wish her many happy returns.

Meriel was born in Berwick, Victoria, Australia in 1921, the only child of Mitford Moore Winchester and Beatrice Charlotte Wilmot, née King. After her years of education, she held the position of Department Secretary in the Department of Physiology at the University of Melbourne, before coming to London where she worked as Research Officer, for the Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust, from 1953 to 1955. As she recalls “In those days we could get a visa for only two years. I went back to Melbourne in floods of tears -- I wasn't going home, I was leaving home...I had fallen totally in love with England.”

She returned to Australia where she held several important positions, including being the first full-time research officer appointed by an Australian foundation. She transformed the Foundation and the nature and administration of philanthropy in Australia. Most notable was the introduction of the concept of seed funding, providing an initial grant and persuading others to continue support for particular projects, such as the Aborigines in Australian Society Project. She had always been very internationally-minded and, in 1971, in China with Sir Roy Douglas Wright, whom she had married in 1964, as guests of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Meriel opened negotiations for a programme of student exchanges between the two countries. In 1980 her husband was knighted and became Chancellor of the University of Melbourne. 

As Juliet Flesch reports in the Encyclopaedia of Women and Leadership in 20th Century Australia:

“As well as providing leadership in philanthropic administration and direction, Wilmot-Wright was a notable mentor to women such as Jill Reichstein of the Reichstein Foundation, whose own motto of 'Change Not Charity' echoes the practice and philosophy of Wilmot-Wright, and Jane Sandilands who, after being advised and supported by Wilmot-Wright in undertaking university studies, was set on her own professional path by being appointed as founding editor of Philanthropy the journal of what is now Philanthropy Australia.

Wilmot-Wright's highly effective leadership depended in part on a pretence that she was not leading at all, which, in dealing with the men of her time was perhaps the only way!”

After the death of her husband in 1990 Meriel described how she packed up and “came back home” to live in England, living initially on the edge of Hampstead Heath in London before moving to Chichester where she has lived now for almost thirty years. She has cousins in London and in Devon and plans to celebrate her 100th birthday with them. Their celebrations will begin with a bottle of champagne sent by a friend from Victoria, Australia, who has his own vineyard, followed by a meal at her favourite pub. Later in the day she will attend the formal re-opening of the Oxmarket Gallery following refurbishment.

Many happy returns, Meriel! Χρόνια Πολλά!

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Balkan Wildlife Poisoning Map

A depressing but very valuable resource, that of the Balkan Wildlife Poisoning online database & Map wildlifepoisoning.lifeneophron.eu, seeks to highlight the illegal use of poisoned baits, the main cause of the population decline of the Egyptian Vulture in Balkans. This practice, although banned for decades in all Balkan countries, continues to be widespread in the countryside and one of the main causes of non-natural death, not just for the Egyptian Vulture but for many other protected carnivore species as well. Although poisoned baits are usually used by a small minority of individuals commonly targeting other species of carnivores such as wolves, bears, foxes or dogs, their effect on vultures is catastrophic, as it is a non-selective method of killing, and has led to their extinction from various regions and countries in the Balkans.

In order to have a systematic recording of poisoning incidents, HOS/BirdLife Greece, as part of the LIFE Project "Egyptian Vulture New LIFE" created an online database/map of the latest poisoning incidents that have been recorded the last decades in Greece, Bulgaria, Albania and the Republic of Northern Macedonia. Only incidents that take place in the countryside are recorded in the database. The systematic recording of incidents aims to highlight the extent of the use of poisoned baits in the countryside at national and Balkan level. The database will also work as a tool to identify areas where there is an increased frequency of incidents, the so-called hot-spots. It is crucial to bring this problem into the spotlight to press the government to take action against this illegal practice.

In addition, identifying areas that have many incidents will contribute to better and more targeted use of the limited resources available to combat and manage poisoning incidents, such as the anti-poison dog-units supported by Birdwing. Finally, the general public and locals will be able to check the map to avoid areas where recent poisoning incidents have been recorded. This feature can be especially useful for various land users, mainly stockbreeders and hunters, but also for nature lovers, walkers, etc.

For more information go to: lifeneophron.eu/#a-balkan-wildlife-poisoning-online-database-map

Further actions being taking to prevent poisonings in Greece can be found here: ifeneophron.eu/#a-testing-pilot-actions-against-wildlife-poisoning-in-greece-summary-of-initial-results

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Bird news

A difficult start for Dalmatian Pelicans

In the early part of the year Dalmatian Pelicans in Greece met with some significant difficulties. Initially the birds breeding on Kerkini’s platform and islands twice abandoned their colony due to disturbance by fishermen. Then, from the beginning of February to the end of March, birds across the country contracted bird flu, which resulted in about 55 dead Dalmatians at Kerkini. There were similar outbreaks of bird flu in Prespa, Kastoria and Cheimaditis lakes where further dead birds were found and it is presumed the flu spread to other areas in Greece also.

Finally, however, the birds at Kerkini have started to breed on all the constructions – on the wooden platform funded by Birdwing, on the floating platform and finally on the artificial island. As in previous years White Pelicans are breeding on the island again this year. A rough estimation is 120-150 nests of Dalmatian Pelicans and about 5 of White Pelicans.

Rarities

As is the case every spring, several rarities arrived in Northern Greece having wandered from their usual destinations. This year was no exception.

The most noteworthy, and a first record for the country, was an Asian Desert Warbler (Sylvia nana) which thrilled birdwatchers as it stayed for several days in April near Thessaloniki, here photographed by Manos Vatzolas.Manos Vatzolas

Almost as rare was the Western Reef Egret (Egretta gularis) which made its sixth appearance in the country at Lake Kastoria in April, some 13 years after the last record. Thanks to Samaras Kurillos for this photo.Samaras Kurillos

Other notable sightings include a Pallas’ Gull (Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus) at Kerkini in January, three Greater Sand Plovers (Charadrius leschenaultii) and a Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus) at Messolonghi in February, two Ruppell’s Warblers (Curruca ruppeli) at Maroneia in April and the regular Tereks at Kalohori in May.

This year has been excellent for Rose-coloured Starling (Pastor roseus) sightings. This is an irruptive species which heads west from its Asian breeding grounds to feast on the mass emergence of grasshoppers and other insects. As such the number visiting Greece each spring varies enormously, from very sparse years with few sightings to those years where flocks can be thousands strong. This is one of the latter years with several thousand birds moving across Northern Greece in late May. They also have a passion for mulberries and any such trees laden with ripe berries can cause a flock to linger for days as they gorge themselves. At such times the eastern embankment at Kerkini is often the place to be.

Other news from Kerkini

This spring includes two Spur-winged Plovers which were in the region for a time. This is becoming an increasingly common occurrence and it is hoped they will begin to breed. Unusually shallow waters for this time of year meant there were more waders than usual for May, including at least 20 Black-winged Stilts and about 20 Lapwings. An Osprey spent time here in early May. It would be wonderful if, in the future, these birds could breed again in Greece. 

On a less positive note the rapid decline of the riparian forest is of growing concern. Whilst the Cormorants continue to do well many other species have had problems trying to find places to nest because the number of trees is reducing every year. As a result birds that would have normally nested in the security of the drowned forest are increasingly using the reeds around the lake and are also joining the Grey Herons in Limnochori where this year more than 100 pairs of Spoonbill are breeding alongside some Pygmy Cormorants, Night Herons and for the first time few Little Egrets.

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Nest-box news

At the Evros Delta, recent monitoring by the staff of the Management Body of the National Park has shown that the Birdwing nest-boxes, made and put up to help Kestrels and Rollers, have had another good uptake this year. The monitoring results showed that:

73% of the boxes were being used:

16 pairs of Kestrels and

12 pairs of Rollers.

This data is for the boxes in the Evros Delta area as shown on the map here. We also have nest-boxes in the Ismarida region but do not have information on their uptake this year as we have been unable to get to Greece to monitor them ourselves.

We also have more boxes that have been constructed and which will be put up later this year to expand into new areas.

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New record for Spur-winged Lapwings

The staff of the Management Body of Evros Delta & Samothraki Protected Areas carried out their annual count of one of the noisiest birds at this time of year, the Spur–winged Lapwing.

The Spur–winged Lapwing (Vanellus spinosus) is also known as the Spur-winged Plover. It is an impressive bird with black and white plumage and sandy brown back, long black legs and red eyes, which comes to Greece every spring. This migratory bird whose European range spreads only as far as North-eastern Greece and Turkey breeds in the coastal wetlands of Thrace.

It prefers to live on open ground and swamps, especially in salty ones. It builds its nest on the ground and usually lays three to four spotted eggs that are incubated by both parents. In recent years there has been an increase in the numbers and active pairs of the species in the Evros Delta.

This year a record number of 125 birds have been recorded at the Delta proving that it is indeed one of the most important areas for this species in Greece.

Thanks to Eleni Makrigianni from Management Body of Evros Delta and Samothraki Protected Areas

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Other news

Video of Agios Mama Lagoon

In one of our last newsletters we brought you the important news of Flamingos breeding for the first time ever in Greece. This took place in Agios Mama Lagoon, in Halkidiki, northeast of the Kassandra peninsula, near the village of Agios Mama. It is a small but important wetland consisting of stagnant brackish and salty waters, stagnant freshwater, dry silica meadows, salt marshes, wet meadows, mesophilic meadows, cultivated land, tidal river and enclosed streams.

It is an area that is periodically flooded with shallow water. During the summer season the water evaporates completely. It is characterized as a Place of Special Natural Beauty and as a Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately this year Flamingos have not been observed with nests or young. 

The video here shows the lagoon and more can be found about the region and other sites close to Thessaloniki on the website for the Thermaikos Gulf Protected Areas Management Authority, (formerly Axios-Loudias-Aliakmon Delta National Park).

https://axiosdelta.gr/                                          https://youtu.be/Apwlfl0NAWg

Public plea to enforce Turtle Dove laws

Another year of slaughter for the Turtle Doves in the Ionian Islands?

As Turtle Doves’ return to the Ionian Islands, HOS/BirdLife Greece made one more public plea to the state and local authorities to take appropriate measures to end the slaughter of this vulnerable bird species and prevent acts of illegal killing during spring migration in the area.

Considered as an illegal activity in Greece since 1985, the so-called, Spring Hunting’ is nothing more than a vicious crime committed against thousands of exhausted Turtle Doves that are passing over the Ionian archipelago on their way to their breeding grounds. Zante, Corfu but also Paxoi and Othonoi Islands host most of the poachers’ hotspots and it is within these same communities that the illegal activity is more openly defended as a "tradition" to be cherished. Despite the fact spring hunting was outlawed more than 25 years ago, poachers continue with their illegal acts every spring, with the same intensity and unbothered for days, sometimes even weeks. As these lines are being written, and although movement restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic are still in force in all Greek territories, witnesses from those areas are reporting to HOS that Turtle Doves are again welcomed with shots. Under the "LIFE Against Bird Crime" Project, HOS has made repeatedly and emphatically called on the government and state authorities to take urgent action and make use of all available measures to control and eventually put an end to "Spring Hunting".

In 2020, under the auspices of the Hellenic Ministry of Environment and Energy, HOS lead an initiative aiming at the development of anti-poaching Local Action Plans, with a special focus on Zante, Paxoi, Antipaxoi, Corfu and Diapontia Islands. The response from competent bodies and local authorities to this initiative did create hope that steps forward were being made for the prevention of spring poaching; unfortunately, one year later, none of the Local Action Plans has been enacted by any state or local authority.

This lack of action in view of a crime that is repeatedly and openly committed against wild birds, sends a message that such a crime is tolerated however damaging its outcome may be for a globally threatened species and the reputation of the Ionian Islands as a world-class tourist destination. HOS continues to stress the need for taking action and raising awareness about the devastating effects of spring poaching. If we want Greece to be a safe haven for Turtle Doves and other migratory bird species and not a black spot or a death trap as it is considered today, these blatant and repeated crimes must be stopped and the perpetrators penalized. Unless this catastrophic and illegal activity becomes extinct, the Turtle Dove may soon run out of time.

Many thanks...

to Roula Trigou (HOS/Birdlife Greece) for her help in producing this newsletter and to all our contributors and staff from the Management Bodies of the Protected Areas, including Lia Papadranga, Makrigianni and Theodoros Naziridis. Our thanks as always go to those who have donated to our work, including our regular supporters David Parker and Meriel Wilmot-Wright.

If you would like to donate to help our work please click www.birdwing.eu/howtodonate

To contact us email info@birdwing.eu or go to www.birdwing.eu

Best wishes to you all and thanks for your support!

 

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