Thursday, April 16, 2020

Amvrakikos Gulf Wetlands Greece 1999-2003



Amazing photo of the unique lagoon-within-lagoon system fo the Koronissia islets in the center of the Amvrakikos Gulf (photo from: https://www.driverstories.gr/en)


Amvrakikos Wetlands, Northwest Greece

I am privileged and honoured to be a small part of the history of conservation in the Amvrakikos Gulf (one of the largest wetlands and top wildlife sites in Greece). Through this short blast to the past, I just want to recall some momments...from some rather randomly found-and-scanned shots I found.

My first birding visits were in 1984 (I have cousins in Preveza...), then in early 1985 with the Hellenic Ornithological Society begun a wonderful time for many young Greek naturalists - the Dalmatian Pelican wardening programme (I'll try to discuss that time in another post...and to find those old photos...). I was a very young birder -but totally obsessed and so were so many others in the hay-day of the Environmental Movement of the mid '80s (analogous to the West's early '70s, definately a pivotal cultural movment period in Greece...).

After such semi-voluteering projects and many visits, even guiding the first Canadian ecotourists there, and assisting in the branding for ecotourism at Amvrakikos (and doing various studies), we landed an amazing extra-ambitious LIFE -Nature Project (1999-2003). We did a lot at that time; among other things trying to create the boundaries for the "protected area" and a new National Park. 

Most of the photos below are from this period (1999-2003).

The National Park was enacted on March 21st 2008 - it is far from a perfect delination and who knows what zonation will finally take place now that the new Special Environmental Studies are being completed for the area (unfortunately I am no longer personally involved in the area...). There are critical issues associated with land-use changes, hunting and disturbance around the periphery of the park (the so-called "shadow-effect" that the high-profile core of the area casts on important hotspots in the sourroundings). 

Our most recent paper, refers to the conservation area "shadow-effect" through some data on the status of lesser spotted eagles; see it here:


Also a summary overview of on of the LIFE Nature restoration works at Amvrakikos, recently show-cased here:


Just a quick flashback - cheers! 

The Salaora research station, was a refurbished former Ottoman costum's house. Through EU monies it was re-created in the late 1990s and this time into the Salaora Research Station. We have spent many nights here in luxury. And from this building we spotted the wonderful Aetomylaeus bovinus rays feeding in the shallows below (one of my first marine papers published)... This aerial photo I took during two spectaclar "documentation flights" with hyperlight planes over the Amvrakikos in 2002 (see below).
Kostas Manikas (at the oars) was the most knowledgeable warden and keen expert fisherman of the lagoons, helping ornithologists here since the 1980s. Here with my friend Dimitris Papandropoulos with the binos  - at the islet of the fishermen's lookout, on Logarou Lagoon. (In the box is a young pelican we confiscated from a tavern and we're returning it to the colony...what an ordeal that was...).
Yiannis Kazoglou (with the Swarovski scope) and Dimitris Papandropoulos in an expedition near Lake Voulkaria. During our Life project we did a lot of exploratory work in amazing places all around the Gulf - even in the south. In March of 2008 the area became a huge National Park. I guess we did have a role to play in this - but we were not happy with the structure and final boundaries, too little, too late we thought...
I went all the way to Kerkini to learn about domesticated water buffalos in this project with the expert direction of Yannis Kazoglou- these are our first buffalos in the Rhodia Swamp. An outstanding time and big-step re-introduction for us (the species was extirpated in the late 60s from the Amvrakikos). After this, other re-introductions followed (i.e. Sperchios Delta) and the numbers of this beast increased in a few of Greece's large wetlands. During the project (I guess in 2002, we helped two MSc students work on studying the effects of the newly introduced water buffalos -this was an excellent gift of voluteer science for the area. 

One of my most trusted comrads-in-arms is zoologist Haralambos Alivizatos; here at the very begining of the Life Nature project in 1999 (I'm on the scope, a Nikon). This is a rainy day probably in 1999 - I seriously don't recall where in the Amvrakikos it is. 
The artificial canals we created to re-wet the vast Rhodia Swamp with waters from the Louros river. In this winter photo (2002) we can see Dimitris Papandropoulos, Vassiliki Vlami (wearing black) and Dimitris Zogaris  (at about five years old...playing in the mud). This project was the largest most ambitious and most unusual wetland biodiversity restoration initiative ever done in Greece at the time. (Of course larger and more expernsive efforts took place aftewards, e.g. Karla).  
The is Father Agathagellos of the Profitis Ilias Monestery of Preveza. He and his monastery were firm supporters of the conservation cause and helped me personally on many occasions.



Yes we did fly over a small flock of Greater Flamingos...in Logarou lagoon.

Getting ready to do some flying!!!  ...for aereal photography in 2002 (no drones back then..). Last before Left (the tall one) is my good friend Dan Brown; one of the best naturalists who has ever worked with me at Amvrakikos. Dan came over from Bangor University (where I did my MSc degree) and spent much time helping us out.


Well this is an important air-photo I took of our four artificial islents in Avleri (Tsoukalio Lagoon). We built them to protect the Dalmatian Pelican colony. An important time for us - and new know-how developed.

We tried a lot at Amvrakikos and had amazing ideas to do new things - especially with the help of Thomas Arapis from Oikos Ltd. Here we are building the enclosure for the water buffalos and also doing some water works re-flooding outside the village of Stroghilli. 

Ornithology was responsible for a lot of our conservation initiatives at Amvrakikos. Here is pioneering ornithologist Kostas Papaconstantinou (siting), his wife ornithologist Niki Kardakari (in red) and my wife, ecotourism expert Vassiliki Vlami (at Left). We're on the Vouvalos islets in the middle of the Gulf surveying birds. Photo from 2000.
We did a lot of bird explorations at the time throughout the Gulf -even the tiny islets. On left is the Ornithological Society's "Captain C. Papakonstantinou" with video camera. Vassiliki Vlami  (bottom R). With the Hellenic Ornithological Society bird exploration. Photo from 2000.
A BIG problem concerns landscape change and incremental changes happening with new roads, new citrus plantaions, rock quarries. This scene is next to the village of Louros, within the peripheral area of the National Park. Photo from 2002.

Critically important are some nearby hills and woods; where raptors such as the lesser spotted eagle nest. This is the Quercus frainetto forest of Mount Valaoritis. The site is outside the Natura 2000 boundary (but within the peripheral zone of the park); and unfortunately a smal rock-quarry and road construction displaced the nesting eagle in 2000.  Photo from 2001.



The Louros river is the life-blood of the western part of the wetland; here at the Petra Bridge. Valaoritis mountain in the background. 
With my mentor Alcibiades N. Economou and the famed ichthyologist Professor Peter Miller we did the first gill-netting research in Rhodia Swamp in 2001. This is on the Louros embankment. Note the "protected area" logos - the first ones we designed with OMEPE and OIKOS Ltd for the LIFE Nature project (this is before the National Park was enacted). 
The semi-abandoned fish-farm basins of the Psathotopi-Fidokastro area: here we discovered a new population of breeding bitterns and much much more...
Typical wintry scene at Logarou with the city of Arta in the background. Along with the Dalmatian Pelican recovery we say a remarkable inclrease in herons and egrets in the last three decades. This photo we took with my friend Aris Vidalis on one of our winter visits.



My last visit was about 10 years ago with the film crew of Vaggelis Efthymiou. We drove with jeeps up to Mavrovouni for the sunset over the vast Rhodia Swamp. 








Friday, January 17, 2020

Pylos in winter



Pylos Greece
January 2020

Voidokilia Cove - in the Gialova Lagoon Natura 2000 site - definitely one of the most beautiful beaches in Greece. And the walk above the beach on the limestone crags is probably one of the most enchanting nature hikes in the country as well. The other aspect here is the climate - its warm in winter...I mean a good 17 C on the mid-January visit we made; and one of us even had a swim in the sea!

It's one of those places where there is a lot of new tourism development happening on the coast - building has begun recently you can sense this; however much is still so idyllic. An evolving Mediterranean community that needs close observation and a helping hand in conservation.

Well...Hi and Happy New Year to everyone!!! - This is our first work-related trip this year ...the lovely town of Pylos. We wish all our friends to keep travelling, naturing, loving life in 2020!  


On the limestone hill the spectacular old Navarino castle - first build by the Franks in the 13th Century. Beyond this the hills and cliffs of Sfakteria Island, Navarino Bay. 

The entrance to Voidokilia bay. Tooth-sharp limestone crags. 

Part of Gialova Lagooon, a famous wetland. Rich in birds; we easily spotted 25 species in less than an hour. 
Over Gialova Lagoon; a wonderful long-legged buzzard (Buteo rufinus), mobbed by crows and gulls (composite of two photos).

Known since pre-classical times as Sandy Pylos. The dunes here are spectacular. 

This is Costa Navarino https://www.costanavarino.com/- a huge hotel complex that is the creator of the local long-term ecosystem observatory partner organization here- the Navarino Environmental Observatory (https://www.navarinoneo.se/). The ballance between nature and tourism development is not easy; they seem to be trying hard to harmonize things here.
Two seasoned travellers take a winter's walk on the beach: Voidokilia - alone. Don't come here in summer!
The water was crisp, gin-clear. 

This is part of the Long-Term Ecosystem Research (LTER)- Greece team above the lagoon of Gialova. Thanks to the local partner - Navarino Environmental Observatory (NEO) for the hospitality and guidance during the meeting (https://www.navarinoneo.se/). 


Monday, January 6, 2020

Lake Ohrid basin fishes






Lake Ohrid 
Late July 2019

The summer light on Ohrid's surface: the "light of Zeus" - its ancient name Lychnidion.

The lake has 30+ m. visibility and spectacular "coastlines" - some similar to the Ionian island coasts.
Gin-clear spring trout waters in a southern Balkan lake.

Then the ichthyofauna (about 20+ native species) - legendary for its endemics, especially the unique and unresolved taxonomy of the local lake trouts, the interesting enigmas still persisting and so much still unknown....

This is Ohrid. 
There's nothing like it, nowhere else on Earth.

And the lake is shared by North Macedonia and Albania, between the prestigious historic town of Ohrid (UNESCO sitec) and the less-populated and still somewhat "underdeveloped" Albanian coastline.

Vasso and I went in late July - when all of Skopje is relaxing by the Lake; but it was a work-trip so we just did a lot of that. It was my first formal collaboration with North Macedonia. We worked closely with the local scientists, enjoyed the wildlife and hope to return. Of course, our warmest thanks to our close friends in North Macedonia!

Some of our snap-shotes shared here.


The amazing karstic springs at Saint Naum, southern part of the Lake. 
A dice snake (Natrix tesselata) among many fishes on the eastern shores of the Lake. 



This is my most sentimental "Lake Ohrid Shot": a typically amazing concentration of fishes in gin-clear waters within a Phragmites reed bed. I had time for just two snorkel surveys on this trip -need to go back...
Alburnoides ohridanus and Pachychilon pictum feedin on inverts on a rock I overturned. 



One of the headwaters streams that enter the Lake; here up in the mountains its just a cold-water trout creek -  with huge Coltsfoot Petasites leaves. 
Sampling during our international effort. Researchers from Greece and North Macedonia working on fishes together....


We studied three streams and sampled nine sites over a period of about a week in North Macedonia. Wish we could have stayed more. Wonderful friends made. 
The range-restricted endemic Barbel of the Ohrid -Drin system (Barbus sp.). This beautiful specimen caught in the river-mouth of the Sateska river, north shore of the Lake.



We visited a fish-farm with trout that are from the lake - presumably Salmo letnica - and we were assured by researchers of the Hydrobiological Institute that these are all of this species. 
Salmo letnica (Karaman, 1924), Ohrid trout. This species has been introduced from Lake Ohrid to the transboundary Prespa Lakes (Crivelli et al., 1997) in the 1950s,where it may possibly also hybridise with the local endemic trout Salmo peristericus. The degree of establishment of this introduced taxon and its current status within Greek territory is unknown. Many thanks to our colleagues in Ohrid for getting us this close to trout at the trout farm.

The Belvica Salmo ohridanus (3 on R) and the Ohrid Trout Salmo letnica (big one on L). At Saint Naum taverna.
Amazing visibility in the NE part of the lake. These are Dreissena zebra mussel patches on rocks below lake shore cliffs. 
Large shools of Alburnus skadarensis swim by as if they are large marine clupeids. 


Fishing with policemen friends I made on the NE side of the lake.
The western - Albanian - side of the Lake.
The village of Lin in Albania, western side of the Lake.

The southeastern shores of the lake.