Wednesday 26 April 2023

The Gulf of Corinth - Part 1

In late January I went to Greece for the weekend on one of my stupid trips. Objectives: none really, just get away, January is a torrid time. Having consulted the oracle that is eBird I realised that I could circumnavigate the Gulf Of Corinth and take in four Greek regions - Attica, Peloponnese, Western and Central Greece. Excellent, I just love filling in eBird maps.

I flew to Athens after work on a Friday, arriving at some ungodly hour. The car rental place is open all night so I picked up some kind of Citroen and headed out into the night. I had stupidly decided that it was pointless to get a hotel for such a short amount of time as I would want to be birding from first light (I don't what I am playing at, I am nearly 50 and way past this, but there you have it). Anyway, I drove to the pleasingly named town of Megara and attempted a few hours sleep in the car. I had underestimated how cold it would be, but on the plus side it did mean I woke up early and could start birding immediately at Vourkari Bay.

I managed a smattering of species here in just under an hour before coffee began to call. Highlights including Slender-billed Gulls, Crested Larks, Sardinian Warblers and Great White Egrets, clearly I was no longer in Canary Wharf. I picked up some breakdast in Megara and then drove the short distance to the Corinth Canal, something I had been keen to see. This was completed in 1893 (though allegedly the Emperor Nero had attempted it in the first Century AD) and it created a sea route from the Gulf of Corinth into the Ionian Sea. As most modern ships are now bigger than it is, today the 700 mile saving is barely used other than for tourist traffic. In fact it might even be closed, I am not sure, certainly there was nothing in it when I visited but it is nonetheless an amazing sight. 

Corinth isn't just about the canal, it is one of sites of antiquity and was once one of the biggest city-states in Greece - ie thousands of years old. There is not much left of it, the Romans pillaged it and earthquakes flattened the rest, but I did take a slight detour to have a quick look. My eBird list says that there were 8 Magpie, lots of House Sparrow, 3 Goldfinch and 1 Temple.

Ancient Corinth

My actual destination was Missolonghi in Western Greece, so I transited the top of the Peloponnese quite quickly, crossed the crazily long suspension bridge near Patras, and headed west. The lagoons here had finished off Byron in 1824 - he contracted a fever and died whilst romantically fighting against the Ottomans - but these days they are known for their bird life and this is why I was here rather than anything more poetic. There are various roadways between some of these vast lagoons, and once I had negotiated a tricky section at the start (backed the car up and launched myself through a swamp at speed, trusting on momentum to see me through) I was in prime birding territory with almost nobody else there. There were birds everywhere - Flamingos, Dalmatian Pelicans, almost every wader you could think of, Egrets, Marsh Harriers, a male Hen Harrier, thousands of Coot, Caspian Terns, gazillions of Ducks....I had brought my scope rather than my camera so I have no photos of any of them but trust me when I say it was quality birding. You can see the full list of birds and sites here.

I spent the rest of the day around here, moving between various different bits of the lagoons both north and south of the town, interspersed with a restorative lunch by the shore. It was exhilarating to be birding under blue skies far away from home, and something similar will be sorted out for next January as well, it was the perfect tonic. It was after sunset when I finally made my way east and back to the Gulf of Corinth, stopping in a small town called Nafpaktos on the northern shore just a short way from the bridge. Suffice it to say I slept very well.

Part 2 tomorrow - with more bonus culture!

Sunday 23 April 2023

Hotting up

 Another decent slog on the patch this morning, and with some decent reward as well. I was out just after 6am, the promised rain holding off. I scored a Yellowhammer almost immediately, a flyover heading northwest calling strongly. I've just been and checked my historic records, and of my (now) six spring birds here, four have been in April, and two in March. My last spring bird was a couple of years ago on April 18th, so this is perfectly in the zone I think. They are almost always flyovers that never return; it is worth learning the distinctive flight call.

I joined Marco at the large Skylark enclosure. He had just found the patch's first Whinchat of the year - spring birds are much rarer than autumn ones and I was pleased to see it. There were also six Wheatears, but at the time of writing this there are now 15 within the fencing - an incredible count. Somehow the birds on the ground must be drawing others in - it is a grim day here, grey, damp, drizzle with harder squalls, perfect for bringing in migrants. I was hoping for a wader, but the best we could manage was a Great White Egret that flopped over to the west just after 8am. This is not the rarity it once was, but Little Egret is still far more common and would be the default so this was a bit of a surprise. A little later I threw away a probable Rook - this is the trouble with birds, they fly past giving you little time to gather your thoughts. By the time you remember what you need to look for it is too late. You are probably thinking "What is he on about? Rooks are easy-peasy!", but lighting conditions and distance play a part and it can be quite awkward, as it was this morning. 

The bird below is a not a Rook. It is a Laysan Albatross, my new favourite bird, and was not in Wanstead. I've been on a small and very fun jaunt.....

Saturday 22 April 2023

A trickle

I've been away for a few days, nervously keeping an eye on the local Whatsapp Group. I need not have worried as spring has barely occurred around these parts. There have been good numbers of Wheatear, double figures on some days, and in fact before I left I managed 11 birds which is up there with my best counts ever. There has been a feeling of the flood gates needing to open, equally with migrants pitching up much further north, feelings of having been bypassed. After a couple of intense days at work today could not come round soon enough. Large falls at coastal watchpoints in the preceding days, early mist, a light breeze from the south east....surely today was the day?

I wasn't out quite as early I had hoped, a smidge of jet lag perhaps, but I was still striding through the Brick Pits well before 7am and hearing my first Whitethroat of 2023 shortly afterwards. A Lesser Whitethroat gave it's typical song, one of three in the vicinity of Long Wood - another year tick. Whitethroats were everywhere, there had been just one before I left last Wednesday. A trickle of Swallows came through, an invisible Yellow Wagtail called, there was a single Wheatear in the Skylark area and a trio of House Martins were over their breeding spot but overall it still seemed quiet. Louder perhaps, but a flood? Definitely not. A late afternoon male Ring Ouzel found by Nick was a bonus and the best bird of the day, and whilst twitching it a Buzzard flew over which surprised me by also being a year tick.

I gave it nearly six hours and five miles, a long patch visit by my standards, notching up 53 species which is pretty good for here. Six new birds but I have only surpassed 80 for the year which is frankly pathetic. I have a spreadsheet (no, really) that tells me that in 2021 I had reached 100 by this point in the year. Partly it is apathy, but actually there have just not been as many birds - the combined patch list total for the year is still under 100 at this point. But tomorrow is another day - there is rain about, and that may help things along. Let us see.

Monday 10 April 2023


The weekend has not exactly lived up to expectations here in Wanstead. The highlight of three hours on the patch on Friday was a single Swallow. Other than building numbers of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, this was the sole migrant seen. Poor.

Saturday was no better. I found a lone non-singing Willow Warbler soon after getting out, and for the rest of the three hours saw no other migrants at all. Silent Willow Warblers are pretty pointless in my opinion, they are not why I go birding. 

So to Sunday then. Another couple of hours produced......wait for it...... Nothing. Nada. Zip. Really? Correct, not a single migrant managed to distract me from what was otherwise a very pleasant stroll around the patch. We are a third of the way through April, it should not be like this.

And today? Well today it is raining so I have been indoors. Frankly indoors has approximately the same number of migrants as outdoors at the moment, so it is not as if I am missing out. Nick is out there somewhere getting soaked and has managed a single Wheatear. Tempting? No, I am quite happy where I am.

So that was my weekend. Full of promise, extremely short on delivery. It is all very well saying I should live somewhere that is good for birding, or that I should go to the coast more often. The fact is I live here and I cannot currently change that. That being the case I could spend four hours in the car, spend £50 on fuel, and head to the coast, but it is just a massive hassle and I am not in the mood. I would rather moan about how poor urban birding is instead. A shame that a block of four days has gone to waste in the birding sense but there you have it.

Massive stinking piles of chickpeas and rotting vegetables are just fine however, go right ahead. And people wonder why we have a rat probem. Pffff.

Thursday 6 April 2023


A four day weekend is nearly upon us, and during 'prime time' too. I am not working, I am not travelling, I am here and I am looking forward to it. I will likely stay here, in Wanstead, and see very little. As usual. A day of seeing nothing though might see me looking further afield, the draw of the coast.... perhaps I will consult online birding weather sages as to where to go? Hopefully the North-east is not their answer. You will no doubt have noticed, as I have, that Norfolk's star seems to have waned. Once upon a time it seemed to be the only place you needed to go. Start at Holme, finish at Sheringham, a full day birding top sites west to east, mopping up a cornucopia of juicy arrivals. Nowadays everything seems to touch down at Hartlepool.

Wanstead has had minimal juice - a Great White Egret flew over a fews days ago but I was not here to see it. I was not too bothered, happy where I was. I have seen several over the patch, but for me the real prize is now the house list and one day I hope to see it from here. This list is marooned on 98, and perhaps one or other of the southern Egrets will feature as 99 or 100? We were having this conversation just the other day, that surely Cattle Egret will fall soon. Flocks of hundreds in the South-west, a regular feature as close as Rainham, and southern wetlands drying up at an alarming rate. My focus tomorrow and onwards will be on humbler fare though. Sand Martins, Swallows, maybe a Willow Warbler. Most migrants have been in excrutiatingly short supply locally, but there is a puff of wind from the south east on Sunday and maybe that will be the catalyst for movement.

Even if there had been gazillions of fresh arrivals here I would not have seen them. Poor health continues to plague me. A tough cold in mid February was followed by food poisoning in mid March which took a week to subside. No sooner had I rid myself of that when Covid struck me down, my second visitation from this vile plague. That took a week to get rid of, though I am still coughing today, and just as I felt better from that I had an attack of diverticulitis, an unpleasant occasional consequence of a short section of my lower intestines being a bit shot (I will spare you the grisly details). This went on for over a week, prolonged you would have to say by my own stubborn stupidity, and only earlier this week did I start to feel I had turned the corner after a short spell of sunshine and rest (clue: I wasn't here). So a torrid run and I have been feeling a bit sorry for myself. My parents, bless them, are still here to lecture me, and so this is all my fault for repeatedly burning the candle at both ends and thinking I am still 30 and not nearly 50. They may have a point, but of course I could never admit that.

Perhaps more of this and less running around like an idiot?

Anyway, a relaxing four days of birding is mere hours away and I am very much looking forward to it. The trouble with birding though is that it requires early starts...