Birdwatching @ Lake Kerkini and More

  Lake Kerkini was a destination I meant to visit for the longest time. The combination of water, nature and wildlife have always fascinated me. Greece is renowned as a sea and sun destination, but its mainland is where she keeps her valuables! Instead of seeing flocks of tourists I prefer to take a boat ride and admire more than 300 species of birds; view buffalo herds grazing the fields; take walks or horseback rides around the lake and then savour some delicious local recipes! I stayed at the Oikoperiigitis Hotel in Kerkini Village which is located only 1km from the lake. Practically the closest one to the waterfront. I was informed of the activities I could enjoy around the lake such as canoeing, hiking, cycling and more. Since I had limited time at my disposal I wanted to see the birds so I thought I shouldn’t miss out on a boat ride. Since I arrived late in the day, I booked one for the next morning.   I started my day that morning with a jog on a 7km dirt road embankment, which gave me the opportunity to see some ducks, pelicans and other wild birds, not to mention that I ran into a buffalo farm! I then headed for my boat ride. Our boatman Vassilis (a good guide with smart tips on what to see and do) told us all about the lake and how in 1932 the Greek government built a dam to secure water from Strimonas River to irrigate the plains of Serres for agricultural purposes. I guess no one could have imagined that the lake would become one of the most significant wetlands in Europe, part of the Natura 2000 network of protected sites, where birds migrate from Northern Europe to Africa or the Middle East. He also mentioned that the lake is known as an artificial one, due to the construction of the dam, but that is not the case. It goes way back to antiquity when the river’s deposits made the lake shallower forming two smaller lakes; Kerkinitida and Prassiada. It is believed that Lake Kerkini is today in the same place where lake Prassiada used to be. Strimonas River offers the lake sediments that are deposited in lake Kerkini making it shallow and ideal for birds like flamingos to lay their eggs in the mud. The food pyramid is quite interesting too. The lake is home to lots of insects that are part of fish diet who in their turn are part of bird diet, so nothing goes to waste!     The boat ride was fun and informative, unluckily it was windy so we weren’t able to approach a flock of flamingos up close, but we saw them through our binoculars and we were visited by a pelican who begged our guide for fish. It is customary to get visits from pelicans on the boats because these birds have become familiar with people as boatmen carry fish to feed them. Our guide Vassili suggested taking a jeep ride on the gravel roads that go along the lake to experience more extraordinary views of the lake’s wildlife. Following his tip, later that day, I explored another dirt road from Megalochori Village that runs along the river’s delta. What a charming view! At a distance I could see buffaloes running free; white pelicans, cormorants and herons standing still enjoying the sunshine. I was mesmerised! I then realised why birdwatchers are so attached to their activity.     For a bird's-eye view of lake Kerkini, I went up to Akritochori where I paid a visit to the Monastery of Timiou Prodromou Serron. The Monastery and the view down to the lake are astonishing. I then went to Makrynitsa Village to eat at Evora restaurant and savour some buffalo, which was delicious. I also tasted the Pontian perek cheese pie. Perek is a flour dough cooked on a pan placed on charcoal. It makes a mean feta cheese, so if you plan a visit definitely taste it. My trip to Kerkini was short but much appreciated. This is a great place to spend at least three days, to get the chance to see the fauna and flora and meet its hospitable people. I will definitely return to see and experience more! Sylia Mourelatou