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Contained by the natural barriers of theKerkini Mountains to the north andthe Mavrovouni Mountains to thesouth, Lake Kerkini lies close to theBulgarian border in northern Greece and isrenowned as one of the finest wetland sitesin Europe. Historically the wild marshlandsalong the floodplain of the Strymon Riverwere regarded as virtually uninhabitable andlargely abandoned to nature but, in the early20th century, a sustained campaign overmany years witnessed a conversion ofthousands of hectares of marsh into arableland, a process assisted by the creation of ahuge irrigation reservoir which, together witha network of canals and ditches, helped tocontrol the flow of water. The river was,however, reluctant to relinquish its influenceon the landscape, and alluvial depositswashed down from the mountains continuedto limit the effectiveness of the new reservoirfor over 50 years until a new, higher, damwas constructed in 1982 which defined theshape of present-day Lake Kerkini.In spring, the lake and surroundingcountryside offer all the ingredients for asuperlative birdwatching holiday asevidenced by the experiences of previousNaturetrek groups during this season;however, for this very special tour we havechosen to visit Kerkini at the beginning ofwinter in search of a regular, but extremelyrare, avian visitor to the shores of the lake.Each year, in early November, smallnumbers of endangered Lesser White-fronted Geese pause to feed and rest atLake Kerkini for a few weeks beforecompleting their epic journey from theSiberian taiga to their Mediterraneanwintering grounds. These dainty little geesewill be our principal target during this tour,but we will also encounter a fantastic varietyof other birdlife on and around the lake.Our holiday begins with a flight to the city ofThessalonika and from here it is a 90-minute drive to Kerkini where we'll stay forfour nights at a comfortable hotel. Althoughthe shortening daylight hours of winter willprobably reduce the birdwatchingopportunities on our arrival day, thefollowing three days will be devoted to athorough exploration of the district, visitingnot only a range of wetland habitats butalso venturing into the nearby mountainswhere hopefully some of the summerdenizens of the high elevations will befrequenting the lower slopes as winterapproaches.Between a dozen and 50 Lesser White-fronts have been seen in early Novemberduring recent years; however, actuallyfinding these rare geese is still no easytask, although their association with moreconspicuous 'Greater White-fronts' will helpus to pin-point the grazing Lessers. It maytake some time to locate the flock, and itcould involve a fair amount of walking, butthere will be plenty of other birdlife tooccupy us while we search for our quarry.Lake Kerkini is renowned for its populationof Dalmatian Pelicans and up to 500 ofthese impressive birds may be congregatedon the open water together with perhaps afew White Pelicans. Thousands ofcormorants, including a small number ofPygmy Cormorants, will also typically beexploiting the abundant fish shoals, whileGreat Egrets and Grey Herons stalk theirshare in the shallows. An estimated 40,000wildfowl overwinter on Lake Kerkini, withgreat rafts of Common Pochard comprisinghalf this total. By means of careful scanningwe may also locate some of the scarcervisitors, which include Ferruginous Duck,Red-crested Pochard, Smew, Goosanderand White-headed Duck. Around theshoreline up to 1,000 Greater Flamingoesform a spectacular pink mass, andoccasional wintering Common Cranes andSpoonbills may also be found. An excitingdiversity of raptors occurs here and ofparticular interest are the White-tailed andSpotted Eagles which create regular scenesof panic among the waterfowl. GoldenEagles may also be observed gliding overthe hills and Eagle Owls are a spectacularresident in some of the local quarries.Moving away from the lake to investigatethe hills and woodlands we will hope to find,among other species, Grey-headed, Syrianand Black Woodpeckers, Goshawk, SombreTit and Hawfinch, while mountain slopesaccessible by road might add AlpineAccentor, Shorelark and maybe even theelusive Wallcreeper to our list.A November visit to Lake Kerkini is certainto provide spectacular numbers of wildfowl,together with a wide variety of bird specieswhich will more than likely include one ortwo surprises in this relatively under-watched area of Greece. Add to theseattractions the chance of encountering oneof the local Wildcats or Beech Martens, andyou have the perfect break to defer theonset of winter blues. Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Thessalonika anddrive Lake Kerkini.Day 2/4Lake Kerkini.Day 5Return Thessalonikaand fly London. AccommodationTourist hotel near Lake Kerkini, allrooms with private facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingGrade A. Easy paced birdwatchingwalks.FocusBirds, especially waterfowl andraptors.LeaderPhil Thompson.Single room supplement £80.Web quick search: GRC0874Call now or visit your free Trip ItineraryNorthern Greece's Lake Kerkini in AutumnA 5-day tour searching for Lesser White-fronted Geese and other special birds of northern Greece's Lake Kerkini. Monday 5th November - Friday 9th November 2012 Cost: £895Monday 4th November - Friday 8th November 2013 Cost: £895MACEDONIA BULGARIA LITHOTOPOSKERKINI MOUNTAINS MAVROVOUNI MOUNTAINS THESSALONIKA LAKE KERKINI White Pelicans on Lake KerkiniPygmy CormorantLesser White-fronted Goose

Hungary is a scenic land of woodedhills and endless steppe, dottedwith reed-fringed lakes andbisected by one of Europe's great rivers,the mighty Danube. With such a variety oflandscapes and habitats on offer it ishardly surprising that Hungary is also oneof Europe's very best wildlife destinations.Its birdlife, especially, is both abundantand varied, and in early May it is at itsbest! At this time of year resident speciesare joined by migrating waders, warblersand raptors on their way further north andthe country's many woods are alive withbirdsong. To enjoy it all, we will journeythrough of some the country's mostpicturesque 'Magyar' landscapes on thistour, from the forested Zemplen Hills in thenorth-east, to the lowland steppe,grassland and farmlands of the Kiskunságand Hortobágy National Parks. Aside fromits avifauna, Hungary also has much tooffer in terms of butterflies and otherwildlife, and in cultural terms it is both richin folklore and famed for its full-bodiedwines and hearty food. Indeed, throughoutthe tour we will sample only authenticHungarian cuisine! Having flown to Budapest - the capital ofHungary, split in two by the Danube - ourfirst destination is the Kiskunság NationalPark, just an hour's drive away. Thistranquil lowland region of steppe, sandydunes, farmland and wooded copses isone of Hungary's most important areas forthe Great Bustard, which we'll hope to seedisplaying! Collared Pratincoles also breedhere, whilst ponds and gravel pits attractall three marsh terns, plus Red-crested Pochard and Ferruginous Duck. Fringingreedbeds are home to Moustached, Savi'sand Great Reed Warblers, and overheadMontagu's Harrier, Saker Falcon and Red-footed Falcon may be seen hunting.Rollers and Lesser Grey Shrikes adorn theroadside wires and on an evening walk wewill look for Scops Owl, Long-eared Owland Nightjar. For our next three nights we head north-east to the Zemplen Hills. This region ischaracterised by dense broad-leavedforests, traditionally farmed fields,flowering meadows and vineyards. This isthe best area in the country for Ural andEagle Owls and no less than nine speciesof woodpecker, including the rare White-backed Woodpecker. It is also rich in birdsof prey, with Goshawk, Eastern Imperial,Short-toed and Lesser Spotted Eagles allbreeding here. The scratchy 'crex-crex' ofthe Corncrake may be all we record of thiselusive species, but there will be manymore obvious birds to enjoy such asWoodlark, Red-backed Shrike, BlackRedstart, Barred Warbler and GoldenOriole, to name but a few. We will then travel to the famousHortobágy National Park, the foremostwildlife region of Hungary and one ofEurope's most valuable ecological areas,for our final two nights. This is a flat landof distant horizons, dotted with smallwoodlands and reed-fringed fish ponds,but dominated by the lowland semi-steppeand grassland known as the 'puszta'.Abundant small mammals and insects livein the grasslands here, making it anexcellent area for raptors, amongst themLong-legged Buzzards, Imperial Eagles,Red-footed Falcons, Montagu's Harriersand Saker Falcons - the curious, gopher-like Souslik (a small ground-squirrel) beinga favoured prey of the larger raptorspecies. The pusztaof the Hortobágy willalso offer us anotheropportunity to enjoy sightingsof the massive Great Bustard, along withStone Curlews, Collared Pratincoles andhawking White-winged Terns. But it is theWhite Storks nesting on the roofs ofcottages, the shepherds with their scruffy'puli' dogs, and flocks of gaggling whitegeese that most of all add to theatmosphere of the puszta, which is notsurprisingly steeped in folklore and myth.A series of huge complexes of fish pondsthat lie scattered over the Hortobágy areanother magnet for birds - both breedingmarshland species and migrating wadersand passerines. At this time of year thereedbeds resound to a cacophony ofsong, from the loud, harsh notes of GreatReed Warblers, to the sweeter, mellowsongs of Marsh and Moustached Warblersand the reeling of Savi's Warblers. Theadjacent sedge beds are home to thebeautiful 'tiger-striped' Aquatic Warbler;although this rare bird is sadly declining inHungary and becoming increasingly moredifficult to see. By early May the heronsand egrets will be nesting in large raucouscolonies. Spoonbill, Great Egret, PurpleHeron and Glossy Ibis all occur here, asdoes the secretive Bittern which can oftenbe heard booming from the surroundingreedbeds. Other interesting speciesinclude Whiskered Tern, Black-neckedGrebe and Pygmy Cormorant, whilst ahost of migrating waders and wildfowlfurther augment the variety.With our holiday at an end we will return toBudapest. From here you can eithercomplete your journey home or perhapsconsider extending your stay with a coupleof nights in Hungary's attractive andvibrant capital. Hungary in SpringAn 8-day birdwatching tour exploring the hills, plains and wetlands of Hungary.Saturday 4th May - Saturday 11th May Cost: £1,395Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationSLOVAKIAAUSTRIACROATIATATAROMANIAESZTERGOMBUDA HILLSBUDAPESTRIVER DANUBELAKETISZAZEMPLENHILLSTISZAFÜREDHORTOBÁGYNATIONAL PARKDEBRECENRIVER TISZALAKE VELENCELAKE BALATONHUNGARYKISKUNSÁGNATIONALPARKDANUBE BENDOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Budapest andtransfer to KiskunságNational Park.Day 2Kiskunság NationalPark.Day 3/5 Zemplen Hills.Day 6/7Hortobágy NationalPark. Day 8Fly London.AccommodationComfortable hotels throughout, allwith private facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA/B. Day walks only.FocusBirds.LeaderPeter Dunn, plus local guide.Single room supplement £160.ExtensionsArranged on request. Extra nightsin Budapest recommended andworthwhile.Web quick search: HUN0375Puszta shepherd and pulidogGreat BustardRed-footed Falcon