The area between Cape Araxos and Kyllini, now known as "National Wetland Park Strofylia - Kotychi" is probably the best destination for birdwatchers across the Peloponnese.
The beauty and variety of the landscape, is the first reason why visitors are attracted to the region. The second is its location right on the so-called "West runway" of migratory birds.
Three main lagoons, a marsh, coastal dunes, limestone hills and the largest coastal pine forest of the country, combine harmoniously and give shelter to an endless variety of birds, locals and passers-by.
More than two hundred and seventy species have been recorded in the area so far. Season-specific species coincide with permanent ones. Thus, the observer will never leave unsatisfied.
However, the spring and autumn, with large passages of migratory birds, are perhaps the best times to visit.
Let us hypothetically wander in the region in early April, crossing it from north to south. In the lagoon of Araxos or Pappa we will catch the last grebes (Podicipedidae) wintering here (P. nigricollis, P. cristatus). In the shallow part of the lagoon, an egrets (Ardea alba) flock will be preparing to leave. Right about then ruffs (Philomachus pugnax), black-tailed godwits (Limosa limosa) and the first stilts (Himantopus himantopus) will have arrived from Africa. The first two species will continue their journey to regions north of Greece, while the latter will stay to nest in the area.
On the road next to Prokopos lagoon, we pass by the archaeological site of Dymaion Wall and continue to the foot of the limestone Black Mountains. On our left we will see wetland birds such as western marsh harriers (Circus aeruginosus) and coots (Fulica atra), whose presence here is permanent. On the rocks to the right, common buzzards (Buteo buteo) or common kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) might appear if we are lucky; a peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) or a short-toed snake eagle (Circaetus gallicus) may fly above us while, if very observant, we could notice western rock nuthatches (Sitta neumayer) and blue rock thrushes (Monticola solitarius) that also are permanent residents.
Standing on the western banks of Prokopos, right on the edge of Strofilia forest, we will see little egrets (Egretta garzetta), grey herons (Ardea cinerea), and common terns (Sterna hirundo), while at a safety distance we might spot a herd of passer-by garganeys (Anas querquedula) or even their rare relatives ferruginous ducks (Aythya nyroca).
We will listen to birds of the forest such as the common chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) and the common blackbird (Turdus merula), less common species such as the short-toed tree creeper (Certhia brachydactyla) and the long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus), while even the rare great spotted cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) might appear. The path through the forest, with Kounoupeli as the final destination, passes through the marsh of Lamia.
We will cross paths with common moorhens (Gallinula chloropus) running to hide in the vast reed, and if very lucky, we may hear the strange voice of the rare eurasian bittern (Botaurus stellaris).
Above the reed, large herds of newcomer swallows will be hunting insects, being threatened however themselves by a hungry Eurasian hobby (Falco subbuteo).
The magnificent view from the hill of Kounoupeli shows among others the way to the next destination, Kotychi lagoon, several kilometers to the south. Looking to the west, towards Ionian Sea, we will see, flying low, passing by sandwich terns (Thalasseus sandvicensis).
Reaching Kotychi, one can observe kentish plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus), water pipits (Anthus spinoletta) and perhaps the rare sanderling (Calidris alba) on the coastal dunes. Inside the lagoon, that is the largest in Peloponnese, black formations of great cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) or pink flocks of flamingos (Phoenicopterus species) strike the eye.
With a little more effort, northern shovelers (Anas clypeata), eurasian widgeons (Anas penelope) and common teals (Anas crecca) who wintered here will be seen. It is also possible that the first glossy ibises (Plegadis falcinellus) have arrived.
Our ornithological tour may conclude in the southernmost tip of this protected area at the abandoned Lechaina salt works where one expects to see flocks of western yellow wagtails (Motacilla flava) and waders such as common greenshanks (Tringa nebularia), green sandpipers (Tringa ochropus) and little ringed plovers (Charadrius dubius).
A few days later, the little tern (Sterna albifrons) and the rare common pratincole (Glareola pratincola) will begin their nesting here, coming from Africa. In the town of Lechaina lesser kestrels (Falco naumanni) will have come to nest in old houses.
For nature lovers with wider interests, this time of the year might have in store, among others, meetings with the rich herpetofauna of the region: turtles, water snakes, vipers, european legless lizards, tree frogs, lowland tritons, eastern spadefoots and more.
Insects such as butterflies and dragonflies are among the eye catching flying creatures. This beautiful picture is completed by April’s florescence with its iris, gladiolus and orchid species, to only mention the most striking.
Acheloos and Evinos, the two great rivers, have created with their alluvia the wetland complex of Messolonghi, one of the largest in the Mediterranean.
The abundance of food (especially fish) and the region's position on the "West runway" of migratory birds create ideal conditions for the emergence of a significant variety of birds.
The landscape is dominated by the large lagoons of Messolonghi, Etoliko, Klissova and Tholi, the two rivers’ delta that surround them, the scattered limestone hills of Koutsilaris, Katsa and Trikardo, as well as the vast salt marshes and fields among them. The area is bordered to the east by the steep Varassova and to the north by the woodsy Arakynthos.
Compared with the wetland complex Strofylia - Kotychi on the opposite coast of the Gulf of Patras, here, some elements of the landscape are almost absent (forest, reed) while others are on the rise (lagoons, salt marshes). This explains the exceptional character of the avifauna of the region, e.g. the huge number of wintering aquatic birds.
Each season has a lot to offer to the visitor coming here to bird-watch, as around three hundred species have been documented to date. During the spring and autumn many migratory species are definitely passing through the region, though a very good suggestion would be to visit during the winter. A putative crossing of the area, from east to west, could take place in early January.
So we begin from Kryoneri, at the foot of Varassova. To the cliffs, common raptors such as common buzzards (Buteo buteo) and common kestrels (Falco tinnunculus), or even golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) and griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) fly above us. Also, small characteristic birds such as redstarts (Phoenicurus species) and western rock nuthatches (Sitta neumayer), as well as the very rare wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria).
Simultaneously, through the flooded soils, we might listen to common moorhens (Gallinula chloropus), Cetti's warbler (Cettia cetti) and european penduline tits (Remiz pendulinus). Towards the Gulf of Patras perhaps we’ll see Caspian gulls (Larus cachinnans), black-headed gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) and maybe a lonely common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) flying along the coast.
Leaving the buildings of TEI of Messolonghi, we can drive around the lagoon of Klissova from the west to the east. In the fields there, we will observe hen harriers (Circus cyaneus) and sparrowhawks (Accipiter nisus), but also eurasian skylarks (Alauda arvensis), which they hunt. The lagoon is home to numerous ducks -mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), northern pintails (Anas acuta) etc- as well as eurasian coots (Fulica atra) and herons -great egrets (Ardea alba) and grey herons (Ardea cinerea).
Our eyes will, however, be attracted to the bigger birds like mute swans (Cygnus olor) and Dalmatian pelicans (Pelecanus crispus). The latter may swim or just sit on the islet of Klissova, where they began nesting over the last few years.
As we move towards Tourlida Beach it is the turn of pied avocets (Recurvirostra avosetta), kentish plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus) and birds that give their name to the region to appear, while the chances to see the impressive tern named Karatzas are great.
Moving around the city of Missolonghi, towards Etoliko, we can enjoy the sight of many slender-billed gulls (Chroicocephalus genei), within walking distance.
Our next stop is the salt works of Messolonghi, where large flocks of flamingos are endemic. Among them, we can see common shelducks (Tadorna tadorna), common redshanks (Tringa totanus), dunlins (Calidris alpina), or even the very rare saker falcon (Falco cherrug).
Crossing the eastern bridge of Etoliko, to the north, we can look for a herd of common pochards (Aythya ferina) wintering there, while off the lagoon we can see many scattered great crested grebes (Podiceps cristatus).
One kilometre to the left, past the western bridge and literally in front of the houses, a flock of several thousand common teals (Anas crecca) and other wild ducks winter at the northern accesses of the central lagoon of Messolonghi.
Continuing towards Neochori, we can head to Louros beach. Before we see again the Gulf of Patras, the road passes between two lagoons.
Let us focus on Tholi. Large populations of almost all the aforementioned aquatic species await us here, especially many eurasian widgeons (Anas Penelope). The western marsh harriers (Circus aeruginosus) will be around and, if lucky, we may observe a greater spotted eagle (Clanga clanga), one of the few who winter here coming from Russia.
In the nearby salt marshes we can observe small or larger flocks of lapwings (Vanellus species) and with little effort one can see the rarer plovers (Pluvialis species).
Our tour may end to the new estuary of river Acheloos via Katochi. On the way, rare raptors such as merlins (Falco columbarius) and black kites (Milvus migrans) can be observed. Long rows of great cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) flying to roost in Echinades will bear the sunset at the Ionian Sea.
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