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.
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!