Friday, October 19, 2018

San Sebastian Spain ESP meeting 2018

Ecosystems Services Partnership, Sept. 15th to 19th 2018
San Sebastian, Spain

Greek colleagues and myself descended on the Euro-culinary hotspot known as San Sebastian (or Donostia in Basque) - just 20 or so Kms from the French frontier in Spain's Basque Country.

Sharing some photos here so you get the feel for a fairly large meeting of scientists and practitioners in one of the top-notch groups doing globally important Ecosystems Services work, the ESP.

More about the conference

Muchas Gracias!

World-renowned marine biologist, Angel Borja, one of the local hosts of the meeting.
The taxonomic composition of the conference, by Prof. Rudolf de Groot. Many Spanish, Germans, French, Portuguese, Italians, British, Dutch. Over 50 countries. And we met our first Makedonians too. (Sadly very few Turkish delegates).

Excellent performance by Keynote Prof. Benjamin Burkhardt. Benjamin, a remarkable German geographer does a really great job and is an inspiration. 
Top-notch keynote speach by Prof. Vallia Drakou. 
The amazing KURSAAL conference building on San Sebastian's foreshore. Architect: Moneo (look it up).

With Ecuadorian colleague, Jose Caseres-Andrade, at his poster.
Vasso with Colombian colleague, Myriam Sanchez Mejia, at her poster.
Ioannis Kokkoris with ES mapping poster on the Lake Stymphalia case-study.

Vasso's talk on Cultural Ecosystem Services in Greece's protected areas.

The amazing beach of Zuriolla.
Cliffs and breakers beyond Zuriolla.

Field trip to Pagoeta Natural Park.

Field trip to Pagoeta Natural Park.

Field trip to Pagoeta Natural Park.
Pre-industrial monument: water mill: Vasso is talking with our friend Suili Xiao.

Field trip to Pagoeta Natural Park, Robin. Generally the wet secondary forests and abandonment around the hills produced very few birds. 

Field trip to Pagoeta Natural Park: the old restored farm house.

Field trip to Gaintza winery. The local wine is a white called Txakoli. It is terrible but drinkable when really cold.
Getaria village, near the winery. Known as home of Juan Sebastian Elcan, a seaman in Magellen's trip - first man to circumnavigate the Earth.
Txakoli wine was sour, fizzy and went down easy. Dizzy dizzy. 

With ESP friends Martine, Bart and Stephanos. Martine van Weelden organizes such ESP meetings with great success!

Dr. Sjerp de Vries, one of the very few psychologists doing work on Ecosystem Services. Wonderful session at this meeting.

The much awaited book on the biodiversity-health relations - soon to be free on-line in early '19. (Look for it at:

One of the PhD student's slides- excellent work.
Vasso, Yours, Panayotis, Ioannis P. Kokkoris: Dream team!
Some kind of traditional bask rowing or whaling sport in the Atlantic waves.
The fantastic waters of the Basque coast. This on a sea-wall walk around San Sebastian.

On San Sebastian's sea-wall walk: the young man on the right is physicist Charis a new PhD student of Vallia Drakou. 
Mediterranean Yellow-legged Gull, I think. (Mixted up taxonomy for many gulls and this area could be a hybrid zone).

Prof Panayotis Dimopoulos who heads the most productive Greek ES team.
The Arundo donax reed canes on the slope above our hotel. Note that here the invasion is totally outside of riparian zones, quite fascinating for us Easterners.
Our hotel: Recommended due to location - on the beach, next to the hill and sea cliffs.

Typical surf city scene. 
Thanks to the Basque Country!

Monday, August 27, 2018

Athens International Airport layover trip for Naturalists

Visiting two wetlands close to Athens Airport

Say some really good friends of yours have landed at Athens International Airport, their lay-over is only 3 hours long - can you take them for a nature-culture trip real fast?

Sure, I did this last when Volker and Dilek landed in Athens on their way to Vancouver from Izmir (early May 2016). I'm finally posting some of Volker's photos here. And I'm describing the experience for anyone to consider.

The trip from the Airport to Rafina (via Loutsa and the Artemis Lagoon) is about 16 Km. This experience can be strictly birding oriented (there are many other ideas from the airport as well). The most improtant thing is to realize that you can exit the airport from the Spata-Loutsa(Artemis) road just on the north side of the airport (so in no way should you take the Attiki Odos highway out of the Airport if you want to go to the east coast of Attika).

Stop #1 Artemis Lagoon and beach with a visit to the shrine of Agios Spridon. The view from here is incredible in early morning, even in summer. The Artemis Lagoon is best visited in Spring or Autumn (but winter is great too). In summer it must be early morning, since the beach is crowded and the beach bar music begins at about 9:00.

The small lagoon is great for birders but even non-birders will like the scene. Access to the lagoon is not straightforward (holes in fence) so a guide would help.

Stop #2. Bakery in Rafina. Take some Thessaloniki Rolls, maybe something else. Easy.

Stop #3. Rafina River Mouth. Spectacular at sunrise and even a few hours after that. Bird mostly in Spring and Autumn; winter usually has many gulls with a lull in early and mid summer.

Stop #4. Rafina Harbour. A ferry boat harbour and "almost" fishing harbour with small Cafes for enjoying a real Greek Coffee. Gulls and terns, sometimes cormorants and shag are present in harbour. Shearwaters seen on windy days. The fish monger sell all kinds of fishes, interesting to check this out (ask to take photos). Bustling place in summer, best off-season.

Then its back to the airport same way.

Emblematic at Rafina River mouth is the Little Egret - well one of the largest birds there (Photo Volker Bodegom).

Little-Ringed Plover, they nest at Rafina River. (Photo Volker Bodegom).

Volker got this amazing pic of a dog near a small flock of migrant stilts. At the Rafina River Mouth.(Photo Volker Bodegom).
Stilts at Rafina River Mouth, they are very rare visitors here. More common at Artemis Lagoon where they have nested in the past. (Photo Volker Bodegom).

These are peeps (American birder term). They called Little Stints (Calidris minuta) and are always a thrill to look at. (Photo Volker Bodegom).

Among the Little Stints was this Dunlin. (Photo Volker Bodegom).

At the bakery I am giving my friends a Greek food lesson. (Photo Volker Bodegom).
Yours and Volker at the little church of Agios Spiridon, the City of Artemida in the background. Note the clarity of the seas in this late spring wind-still day.
Fish mongers stall at Rafina Harbour.

Our Greek Coffee break at the harbour of Rafina. 

* A detail about my friend Volker Bodegom: We first met and became good friends in the late '80s in Vancouver (Greenpeace, Western Canada Wilderness Committee). These were times of incredible activism on the West Coast, we where so fortunate to live in these energetic dreamy times - passive resistance seminars, rallies, nature trips, conferences etc etc.. Volker is author of Bicycling Vancouver ( and has edited many works with Lone Pine Publishing... Here in Greece, so far away, we miss him and his lovely wife Dilek.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Sanibel Island, and Southern Florida USA

Early March 2018

Spent a few wonderful days in SW Florida at our uncle's place on Sanibel Island. Just so I don't forget any of this, I am posting here. 

Of course, Florida is a mecca for naturalists and any trip there is educational, inspirational. Since I was raised in Canada, for me a trip to North America is somewhat of a pilgrimage also. For us Mediterraneans there is a lot to be jealous of : its a place with functioning "protected areas" that are basically bustling with compassionate visitors- an ecotourism wonderland, and a real natural history awareness in the air. 

Natural history is practiced in all kind of ways in this State: lots of outsy-doorsy types all around: catch-and-release fishing, family reserve-visiting vacations, shelling (shell hunting), beach combing, sea-watching, hunting, birding - all together! 

Osprey on Sanibel Island (looking on to the coastline of mainland Florida in the distance). I read there are more then 100 nests of Osprey on Sanibel. They were everywhere!
Sanderlings were chasing these tiny mole-crabs (I think). Always shorebird company on the beach! 

The Ruddy Turnstone is said to have one of the most varied diets of any shorebird species. Besides the 'normal' foods taken on beaches, a considerable variety of 'unusual' foods has also been published in the scientific literature. Items eaten include: soap, gull excrement, dog food, potato peels, cheese, and the flesh of dead animals, including birds, a sheep, a wolf, a cat, and a human corpse (read  Mercer 1966, about the corpse!). However on Sanibel, I discovered they have an interest in coconuts and pizza too. (I recalled Mercer from my days at University).
They eat Pizza too.
American White Pelicans Ding Darling NWR

Willet, White Ibis with unidentified fish in lagoon at Ding Darling NWR.

Fishing permitted: Snowy Egret and Dimitri spinning for Snook at Ding Darling NWR. 

Ding Darling NWR

This is a large anole, I think it is the Cuban one that has been introduced.
One of at least 3 turtle species at Ding Darling NWR, this one at Baily Tract. (We also spotted a soft-shelled turtle Trionyx on the mainland).

Willet at roost on high tide, Ding Darling NWR.

Green Heron, Ding Darling NWR.
Tri-coloured Heron in the Mangrove feeding on mollies at Ding Darling NWR..
Water snake in the Mangroves at Ding Darling NWR (they are common and easy to see at one location with a board-walk).
An evening-time Green Heron, looking more greenish, Ding Darling NWR..
I did not catch this wonderful Red Drum. At the lagoon in Ding Darling NWR.
Dimitri with Snook at the Blind Pass. One of many caught with Rich's expert guidance and patience....
My first ever Sheepshead, Blind Pass.
A common sparid, Blind Pass.
Whiteling, Blind Pass.

Catfish, Blind Pass.

Mangrove Snapper, Lagoon, Ding Darling NWR.

Rich, our expert guide and best friend with GBH.
This is another of those subtropical sea-basses, the Spotted Sea Trout.

Mating Horseshow Crabs, Lagoon, Ding Darling NWR. We saw them only twice - a lifer... and major "EVENT" for me...
A young Racer. On Sanibel I spotted them on two occasions; this one at Ding Darling NWR where Vasso got bitten by the nasty fire ants.... 
Cayo Costa Island. Our cousin Michael and friend landing us on beach.

Natural vegetation at Cayo Costa. 

Wonderful pine and palmetto savanna and woods at Babcock-Webb (1.5 hrs from Sanibel). 
We had singing Loggerhead Shrikes at  Babcock-Webb, this one is from a stop near Fort Meyers Airport. 
Boat-tailed Grackles are common throughout the region, here on a pine in the Savannas of  Babcock-Webb.
Although we were looking for Red-cockated, these wonderful male Downy Woodpeckers were a treat for me at  Babcock-Webb.

We could here Sandhill Cranes singing and Eastern Meadowlarks,  Babcock-Webb.
Mockingbird,  Babcock-Webb.

White-tailed deer at Babcock-Webb.
Young alligators, very common in all waters at Babcock-Webb.

Black-and-white warbler, Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center.

The majestic Cyprus forests of Corkscrew Audubon Reserve (1.5 hrs from Sanibel).

Corkscrew Audubon Reserve: these are volunteer wardens, with Jim and Dimitri.
Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) one of the best birds Jim showed us on the walk at Corkscrew.

Northern Parula, Corkscrew Audubon Reserve.
Red-shouldered Hawk, Corkscrew.

Huge cichlid-like fishes at Corkscrew.

The notorious Water Moccasin (!!!) at Corkscrew.

Best bird of the day: Painted Bunting (Corkscrew feeder).
Another great bird of the day: Indigo Bunting (Corkscrew feeder).
Palm warbler, very common at Corkscrew.

Common Grackle. At stop near Fort Meyers Airport.

Blue-winged Teal at Bailey Tract, Sanibel.

Roseate Spoonbill, there are not common, we had scattered sightings like this near the visitors center, Ding Darling NWR.

Anhingas are common. Bailey Tract, Sanibel. 

Pileated Woodpecker is a fairly common suburban bird on Sanibel Island. 

With the kindest uncle around, Deane Manolis.
Dimitri, Rich, Jim. 

Amy and Vasso, cousins and good friends. 

Manatee enjoying some freshwater from a garden hose.

Give water to a Manatee. 
This little easy holder-folder on the display panels gives the day's or week's birds at the reserve (Bailey Tract, Sanibel).
Simple photographic account, but effective.

My first Forester's Tern among Laughing Gulls. Sanibel Beach.

One of the beaches on Sanibel. 

This is a nice map of the islands focusing on the natural wonders. 
And this map shows how much a major barrier island this is - the inner "sound" is really a massive open coastal lagoon system - the largest I have ever seen.
Don't miss the sunset at Ding Darling...
Miami Beach at the end of our tour; we were so happy!!  The times with the Manolis family, a true family trip, the greatest family vacation we have ever had!