Catalan ornithologists mapping for EBBA2 in Greece

The amazing Greek landscape (photo by Albert Burgas)

The amazing landscape of Grammos area, close to Albanian border (photo by Albert Burgas)

In May and June 2016 two training workshops were held in Greece with four members of the Catalan Ornithological Institute participating along with 20 local participants. The first one was held in mid-May in the mount Taygetos, and the second one in early June in Kastoria. Both workshops focused on explaining the purposes and methodology of the European Breeding Bird Atlas 2, allowing for discussion to solve any doubts. A practical part included fieldwork, which followed the already defined methodology of the ongoing Greek Breeding Bird Atlas.



Greek Atlas Methodology and workshop

It consists of a 1.5 hour timed walk in a 2×2 km square, where quantity and maximum atlas code is recorded, visiting as many habitats as possible to get the longest list of species in the square. Three or four 2×2 km squares were selected in each 10×10 km square. The field training was performed in a single 50×50 km square in each workshop, covering three 10×10 km squares in the first one, and four in the second one. In total, 25 2×2 km squares were covered during the two workshops. The surveyed landscape in Taygetos included lowland olive plantations and riparian forests, different shrublands and forests and high mountain grasslands, from 100 to 1.800 m.a.s.l., while in Kastoria the lake was surveyed, as well as surrounding agricultural lands and different shrublands and forests, like riparian and oak forest, in an altitudinal range from 600 to 1.700 m.a.s.l.


All groups of participants went to the field with at least one expert ornithologist, who shared his knowledge with less experienced participants. Most participants didn’t have much experience with surveying, with the presence of some wildlife photographers –non ornithologists – willing to take part in the atlas. Major difficulties concerned bird identification, especially by sound. Participants learnt methodological aspects and didn’t show much difficulties on performing bird surveys, including the use of atlas codes and field surveying. Therefore, species identification remains as the major problem for some participants.


Biodiversity highlights from the workshop fieldwork
During the fieldwork in the mount Taygetos, we managed to survey subalpine forest and alpine grassland areas. Highlights included Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), Rock Partridge (Alectoris graeca) and the Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius), scarce in the region. Other non-avian species could also be observed, such as European Pine Marten (Martes martes), Thomas’s Pine Vole (Microtus thomasi) and Peloponnese Wall Lizard (Podarcis peloponnesiaca), an endemic reptile of the peninsula.

Albert Burgas Alectoris graeca

The Rock Partridge, European endemic partridge, can still be found regularly in Greek mountains (photo by Albert Burgas)


Atlas fieldwork beyond the workshop


After the first workshop, the members of the Catalan Ornithological Institute surveyed different remote areas. We spent  three more days in the south collecting data from completely different habitats, mainly low shrublands and olive plantations, where 66 different bird species were found, including Chukar Partridge (Alectoris chukar), Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus), Cretzschmar’s Bunting (Emberiza caesia), good numbers of Olive-tree Warbler (Hippolais olivetorum) and Western Rock Nuthatches (Sitta neumayer) and high densities of Eastern Black-eared Wheatears (Oenanthe melanoleuca), Black-headed Buntings (Emberiza melanocephala) and Rüppell’s Warblers (Sylvia rueppelli), as well as migrants such as Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus) and Red-breasted Flycatcher (Ficedula parva).


Alpine meadows surveyed during the Atlas fieldwork in northern Greece (photo by Albert Burgas)


The second workshop in Kastoria


In the northern part of the country, mostly near the borders with Albania and Macedonia, we managed to cover four 10×10 km squares. Two of those 10×10 km squares were surrounding Lake north-west of Kastoria lake, close to the Albanian border, where the landscape is dominated by high mountains with subalpine meadows and extensive pine, fir and oak forests. Good patches of these forests are pretty well preserved and hold good populations of woodpeckers, mainly Black (Dryocopus martius), Great Spotted (Dendrocopos major) and Syrian Woodpeckers (Dendrocopos syriacus). Birds such as Red-rumped Swallows (Cecropis daurica) and Red-backed Shrikes (Lanius collurio) are very common in open areas, and especially the latter is found in all kind of suitable places. We were surprised to find Pallid Swifts (Apus pallidus) breeding in mountain villages, usually together with Common Swift (Apus apus). Indeed, the whole area has a very interesting diversity probably because of the diverse habitats that can be found within close range. Also Rock Partridges (Alectoris graeca) were seen in several occasions, and a brief Levant Sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes). Interesting amphibians such as Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata) or Alpine Newt (Triturus alpestris) were found, too. For sure the most memorable were the six Brown Bears (Ursus arctos) seen in a single day close to the Albanian border.

Brown Bear (photo by Albert Burgas)

Greece still holds a considerable population of Brown Bears (photo by Albert Burgas)

Travelling more towards the east


We managed to survey another two 10×10 km squares located about 60 km to the east, including the villages of Aminteo, Kella and Skopos. The habitat in the area is mainly drylands with scattered bushes and trees, where we found species like Black-headed Bunting (Emberiza melanocephala), Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla), Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris) and Ortolan Bunting (Emberiza hortulana). Close to the border with the Republic of Macedonia, we found good densities of Middle Spotted (Dendrocopos medius) and Lesser Spotter Woodpeckers (Dendrocopos minor)  in extensive Oak forests.


In the region there are also several lakes, and Petron Lake was in one of the surveyed squares. While exploring its shores, we recorded several breeding species such as Spanish Sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis), Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (Iduna pallida) and Lesser Grey Shrike (Lanius minor). The reedbeds were very extensive and full of life, with a high density of Great Reed Warblers (Acrocephalus arundinaceus), several Little Bitterns (Ixobrychus minutus), Sedge Warblers (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus) and Bearded Reedlings (Panurus biarmicus) among many other species; and Pygmy Cormorants (Microcarbo pygmaeus) sunbathing on the trees nearby. In the open water, several families of Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca), Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) and other aquatic species were found breeding, and Dalmatian (Pelecanus crispus) and White Pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus) were also seen while fishing.


Dalmatian and White pelicans can be seen easily in several lakes of north Greece, like this individuals from Kastoria Lake (photo by Albert Burgas)


After the second workshop one of the members of the Catalan team stayed for one extra week travelling to different places in Greece by his own. During this time he planned the route having in consideration the presence of some squares that needed to be covered, suggested by the HOS coordination staff. Thus, he covered two extra 10×10 squares and two additional 2×2 squares, also collecting breeding casual observations along his way. The visited areas during this last week included a wide variety of landscapes along Central Greece, from small islets in the Evvoian Sea to the highest summit of the country, the mythical mount Olympus. Many interesting breeding evidences were found, among them: chicks of Shore Lark (Eremophila alpestris) in mount Ossa, chicks of Spur-winged Lapwing (Vanellus spinosus) in Axios Delta or a White-backed Woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos) breeding pair and plenty of Alpine Accentors (Prunella collaris) in the mount Olympus. Amongst other animals spotted one must be noted: the Monk Seal (Monachus monachus), one of the stars of the Greek mammals.


The ‘balcanica’ subspecies of Shore Lark, a typical high altitude specialist in the region (photo by Albert Burgas)


The members of the Catalan team was enchanted by the country, leaving Greece with such nice memories of the overall experience. Apart from its diverse bird species, Greece also offers spectacular landscapes and excellent gastronomy and, of course, a huge relevance for its ancient culture remains. In the central and northern part of the country, large areas are still well preserved and landscapes are surprisingly different of the typical image many people have of Greece, with his extensive forests and stunning mountains.

Stunning Greek mountains (photo by Albert Burgas)

Early morning fieldwork with stunning views to Mount Olympus peak, the summit of Greece (photo by Albert Burgas)


Overall, we would like to encourage any ornithologist or birdwatcher to visit the country and contribute to the Greek and the European Breeding Bird Atlas 2 surveying any of its less covered areas. A big thanks goes to Danae Portolou, EBBA2 coordinator in Greece, who organised the two workshops. Also thank you to all the participants who joined the workshops.

Marc Anton, Albert Burgas, David Funosas and Marc Illa

27 March 2017


In the case you wish to make your own atlas fieldwork adventure and hep us fill the gaps, and gain the opportunity to win one of three Meopta binoculars, do not hesitate to apply for our new challenge!