Birding tour at Messolonghi National Park: September 11th 2022

Trip report of our birding tour at Messolonghi & Etoliko National Park, a major birdwatching destination in Central Greece

September is an excellent period to watch fall migration, so we organized a full day trip for a couple of British birders. David and Sarah were sailing for several weeks in Greece and wanted to enjoy waders, raptors and the unspoiled nature of western Greece.
The complex of wetlands and Lagoons at Messolonghi and Etoliko areas is one of the best birdwatching areas of Greece. Combined with Kleisoremata Gorge, a full day birding in the region can be trully unforgettable.

Traditional fishermen house at Messolongi lagoon

A typical fishermen's house at Messolongi Lagoon

We started with an early pick up from the Messolongi marina, where their sailing boat, named "Shearwater" is now kept for the whole winter time. Right away, we had Slender-billed Gulls at the small harbor. This species of gull can be found in big numbers in most areas of the park. 

Flamingos flying over Messolonghi wetlands
Flamingos flying over the wetlands

We continued towards the traditional village of Tourlida, with the characteristic fishermen houses that seem like floating over water. The first Pygmy Cormorants of the day were perching on small boats, while Great White Egrets, Little Egrets, Grey Heron and Great Cormorants were fishing in the shallow waters. Hundeds of Flamingos were just beside the main road and could be easily photographed even with the mobile phone. 

Flamingo searching for food
Flamingo searching for food

We took the gravel road that goes along the beach, and at the first stop we had the first highlights of the day: a Bar-tailed Godwit, 2 Red Knots, a Marsh Sandpiper and most surprisingly, 2 Great Sand Plovers! Several species of waders could be seen in short distance such as Little Stint, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Greenshank, Sanderling, Eurasian Curlew. Apart from waders, the area was full of terns: Little  Terns, Common Terns, Sandwich Terns, as well as more than 10 impressive Caspian Terns

Sailing boat
David and Sarah's Sailing Boat: The Shearwater!

Enjoying views of Dalmatian Pelicans
Enjoying views of Dalmatian Pelicans

Dalmatian Pelican
Dalmatian Pelicans

After 2 hours of shorebird paronama, we decided to take a break at a traditional bakery in city of Messolongi, enjoying a typical greek on-the-way breakfast: home made spinach pies, chees pies and espresso freddo coffee. The birding day has just started!

Our next area of exploration was the eastern part of the national park, name Kleisova. The impressibe Dalmatian Pelicans were all over the place, a huge bird that succesfully breeds in western Greece (mostly in Amvrakikos Golf and Messolongi-Etoliko National Park) and of course in Northern Greece (Lake Kerkini and major wetlands in Macedonia and Thrace). 
Crested Larks were numerous along the gravel roads. A small group of Penduline Tits was very active between the reeds. A female Marsh Harrier was soaring over the lagoon, looking for prey. Two male Golden Orioles added a colorful tone in our visit.

Pied Avocet, a beautiful black & white wader
Pied Avocet

The next location was Kleisoremata Gorge, lying west of Messolonghi, along the old national road to Agrinio. Home of bird raptors and vultures, this is an excellent spot for any birdwatcher that wants to observe these unique animals. Indeed, we saw 2 Griffon Vultures that were flying over the top of the surrounding rock formation. The colony hold 10-15 couples, but unfortunately we could not see more due to the unfavored conditions (warm and humid day with no wind). These birds are best seen early in the morning when they stay close to their nest and later on they fly away scavenging the next food opportunity.

Griffon Vultures at Kleisoremeta gorgeScanning the rocky slopes at Kleisoremeta gorge

Apart from Griffon Vulture we saw two more breeding species of interest: Rock Nuthatch and Blue Rock Thrush, typical birds of rocky mediterrean habitat. Temperatures have risen up to 35 degrees celcius, so it was time for beer and street food at the pittoresque town of Etoliko. David had his favorite Alpha Beer, while we were all having tasteful souvlaki with tzatziki in pita bread. We need to recharge our batteries, since a vast part of the western part of the national park remained unexplored.

Griffon Vulture flying low next to the rocky slopes

While driving through the first cultivated fields, the sound of Bee-eaters was more than prominent. However it took us a few hours to be able to actually see a flock of birds. These are the last fall migrants, headed south to Africa. A great number of new species for that day was achived in Louros area. Various migratory species, like Woodchat Shrike, Lesser Grey Shrikes, Red-backed Shrikes, Whinchat, Northern Wheatear, Sand Martin. Hundreds of Little Egrets, along with Grey Herons, Purple Herons, Black-winged Stilt, Common Snipes. A few mud ponds provided ideal food opportunities for Temminck's Stint, Glossy Ibis, breeding Kingfisher, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Ruff, Yellow Wagtail. 

Slender-billed Gull
Slender-billed Gull

Marsh Harrier
Marsh Harrier

We ended the day by late afternoon, exhausted but satisfied with an amazing full day of birdwatching. David and Sarah were happy to see so many species of birds, a lot of lifers and definately numerous species that they do not easily see back home in England. An unforgettable birding experience!

Sunrise at Messolonghi Lagoons
Sunrise at Messolonghi Lagoons

The full list for Messolongi & Etoliko LagoonsSeptember 11th, 2022

Dalmatial Pelican
Great Cormorant
Pygmy Cormorant
Greater Flamingo
Grey Heron
Great White Egret
Purple Heron
Cattle Egret
Glossy Ibis

Pied Avocet
Grey Plover
Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Great Sand Plover
Common Snipe
Eurasian Curlew
Eurasian Stone-Curlew
Little Stint
Red Knot
Temminck's Stint
Common Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper
Broad-billed Sandpiper
Marsh Sandpiper
Bar-tailed Godwit

Griffon Vulture
Marsh Harrier
Common Buzzard
Common Kestrel
Yellow-legged Gull
Black-headed Gull
Slender-billed Gull
Common Tern
Little Tern
Sandwich Tern
Caspian Tern
Collared Dove
Hooded Crow
Feral Pigeon
Sand Martin
House Martin
Barn Swallow
Crested Lark
Spotted Flycatcher
Penduline Tit
Great Tit
Golden Oriole
Blue Rock Thrush
Rock Nuthatch
Cetti's Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Zitting Cisticola
Willow Warbler
House Sparrow
Corn Bunting