Thursday, January 30, 2014

New Brighton Park, Vancouver: Ducks need a pond (Part II)

East Vancouver, January 18th

Naturalists have contributed to park and urban greenspace design in North America and this is a really important cultural development. 

But there is always room for improvement and often conflict does take place. New Brighton park on the south shore of Vancouver is a spot of beautiful greenspace. Its great for dog-running, dog walking, landscape viewing. But how good is it at providing habitat for wildlife?

I have seen the place evolve during the last three decades. It was a big lawn-like meadow since the early '80s, but back then much of the south shore also had a lot of vacant lots and infilled shoreline areas that were of use to wildlife (killdeer and geese nesting by the tracks etc). A lot of that vacant lot space, such as a large in-fill immediately west of the New Brighton park proper, has now been developed. So the "wider space" is not as green today. 

Also the park is not a modern wildlife-scaped greenspace - its a little anachronistic for Vancouver (of course as I mentioned before, there are plans in place for a creek-side restoration thingy). 

I post some shots of the waterbirds at the Park's pool (swiming pool!!!). The Pool functions as a "pond" in winter. Mallard, American Wigeon, Lesser Scaup, Teal visit and find protected shelter from dog-walkers and dogs in general. 

I believe the "openness" (i.e. untreed) of this greenspace is very important for wildlife - this open wet-meadow feeling of the lawn attracts lots of birds. Wildfowl and birds of pray really need it open like this. And there are so few wetlands left on Burrard Inlet - so this openness structurally compensates. Of course some big trees or thickets are important for the birdscape as well. But these need to be planned really carefully. (See that humongous tree stump next to the railway tracks...). 

I include shots of three fantastic Peregrines seen flying above the park: Attracted to the great density of Rock Pigeons at the wheat-pool next to the park and loading docks. 

On this 40 minute late afternoon walk a manged to tally 23 species of birds. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Urban Nature: New Brighton Park, Vancouver Canada

Mid January 2014

Its been three years since I visited family here in Vancouver BC. I was born and raised here; this place is dear to me - so no culture shock really.

Of course, I am one of the few to be surprised to see Vancouver on top of the charts as *The most beautiful city in the world* or *the best place on Earth*. I think that is advertising hype really. Well, the Vancouver I grew up in plainly is not. I mean Vancouver's East Side, Skid Row, end-of-the-railroad, industrial harbour.... the southern shore of Burrard Inlet. But wait..the inlet. Its a fjord in the middle of a city, and yes there is nature here.

So, I share some shots here from my first mini evening walk down to the Inlet from my sister's house, to a park: New Brighton Park. An ambitious attempt is being made to restore a creek running through.  It was an exceptional day, the sun was out and it was amazingly warm (8 C). In a short 30 minutes I spotted 15 species of birds.

Of the birds, some notes:

It is amazing, in terms of a European context, as to how many birds are around: Over 150 Pelagic Cormorants on the Second Narrows Bridge, hundreds of NW Crows and G-W Gulls, C. Geese, and great rafts of Scaup and Scoter on the Inlet waters. A couple of Bald Eagles flew past. But the most beautiful bird for a European at this time here is the American Robin. ...Wawwoww...a tropical thrush in Northern Pacific! I was happy to see a Song Sparrow as well (for European minds it is a funny looking slightly cryptic bunting!!). Of course many alien Starlings, H. Sparrows; I was surprised to see Eurasian Collard Doves! (new arrivals, not here 3 years ago...).

Nice to be back in the harbour-side industrial part of town.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Ecotourism in Cyprus in Winter

January 10,11,12 2014

We spent three days in Southeast Cyprus in mid-January. At around this time, the famous "Alkyon Days" take place: a true lull in winter with spring-like conditions. On the 12/1 the temp reached 20 C at Oroklini (a coastal resort area 7 kms east of Larnaka). What a getaway from icy Europe....

Although most of our time was spent at Oroklini - I would like to take this opportunity to discus ecotourism in the region, with Larnaka as a base. Ecotourism development is surely a difficult concept in an area as notoriously over-build as southeast Cyprus. I mean, everyone knows Agia Napa etc; who can conceive that this area still has a chance to save itself from overdevelopment?

Well maybe....just maybe the nature attractions can spawn the alternative to an increasing mass tourism monopoly. The key in my mind is saving "nature-places" and stringent planning for landscape conservation. And saving nature-places will keep this tourist region interesting, dynamic and alive in a tourism development sense as well. Oroklini is a fine example of a kind of "nature attraction rejuvenation" in a heavily built-up coast near Larnaka (see However Oroklini is a specific site-scale project for birds and habitats - perhaps tourism can also be an incentive to save and re-create, or plan for biodiversity conservation on a broader scale. The Oroklini Life Project is a pioneering first step; it has done amazing things here and I think these are definately a real boost for the tourism image of the wider area (Oroklini/Pyla coast - Larnaka). Tourism must come into play as a partner for conservation.

More practically now:
There are in fact many attractions for nature travelers in the south-east of Cyprus in winter - and if we desire an "alternative tourism development pathway" we do need several attractions. We need to build accessible nature into tourism.

Let me just give you a sense of what we experienced, focusing on the "nature attractions":

1) We stayed at a hotel next to Dikelia Sovereign Base Area near Pyla. Beautiful long sand beach, crystal clear water (much warmer than the Saronic Gulf in Athens). Beautiful for beach runs and walks in the morning. Very close to the top local birding spot: Oroklini Lake.

2) Oroklini Lake is a mini-paradise for birding. It can be birded by just two car-stops and/or walked (explored in-depth easily). You see nearly all the bird species present easily since it is a "small wetland site".  Fortunately it is now fenced so disturbance will be limited. It is beautiful. Easy to see over 30 species of birds at one visit, quickly in mid-winter. (We worked on fish sampling here...for three days: But boy was it hard to keep the binocs off birds).

3) Achna Lake is a natural-looking water-scape, an artificial reservoir in rolling plains. Full of birds - really birdy always. We had great views of over 30 Spur-winged Lapwings, wintering waterfowl, a Booted Eagle (amazingly rare to see this species in mid winter on Cyprus!!!).

4) Potamos Liopetri. Really great area for photography and beach-walking. Authentic attraction.

5) Paralimni Lake. Although I did not visit this time (I heard water levels were low) - it is an easy skip from Agia Napa, Liopetri or Cavo Greko. The "Sotira Pools" perrenial ponds are always full life and interest. An easy stroll from the road-side in a wetland oasis.

6) Kavo Greko. Stupendous view at the rocky hill-top of cape Kavos. Wild narcissus in full flower on the rocks - what an exotic thing to see and smell!

7) Larnaka Salt Lakes. Amazing sunset, the ancient Hala Sultan mosque a unique landmark. All this just minutes before flying off from the adjacent airport.

I should mention that this ecotouring 'survey' is obviously incomplete. My wife, Vasso and I were in Cyprus for work (BirdLife Cyprus). We met up with friends Melpo Apostolidou from BirdLife, Iakovos Tzortzis, Athina Papatheodoulou and Lefkios Stergiou. We thank our friends for taking us around during side-trips.

Some snap-shots from the trip follow. Most of these photos are from Oroklini, obviously. And you can see we were "working" in the mud (dragging fry-nets and wearing chest-waders). But the landscapes and weather conditions were sensational - and trips from Oroklini to nearby wildlife spots area very easy. The photos of the Spur-winged Lapwings (among dead Tilapia) and the Booted Eagle with hooded crows are from Nearby Lake Achna (the Village church is also from Achna, in occupied territory, a vivid reminder that we are in...Cyprus).

Monday, January 6, 2014

Ornithological Report: Tourkovounia Mountain in Athens in Winter

Photos taken in mid November 2013 and show the slopes on the south/ south-east side of Tourkovounia with panoramic views over the Athens Basin. 


Tourkovounia (a.k.a. Attikon Alsos; Anchesmos in antiguity) is a very low limestone mountain in the center of the Athens basin, within the city limits of Athens Municipality. Its located at:  38° 0'6.23"North,  23°45'24.52" East. The site is considered one of Athens 7 most important sites for birds in the city of Athens (Kominos et al. 2004). However, this designation is primarily set because the site is rather well birded. My brother-in-law and I have been birding here for many years and have built up a good list (many breeding species, some threatened/protected species etc). So it is basically a distinguished site mainly because it is "better known" than many other parts of the city. In fact, our home is located immediately near the trail-head on the southeast side of this small "mountain-island". Sadly although we have a lot of data from our walks, we have not published much, so I initiate an initial report here. 

I have been influenced by the "birding minimum daily requirement idea" promoted by American ornithologist Rob Furgus who recommends frequent birding as a form of therapy. By MDR one strives to see a minimum number of bird species per walk or per day - say 20 species as an MDR (see refrences). So I have started taking detailed notes of birds on informal city walks striving to see as many species as possible on casual walks. Its a simple "look-see method"; and here I provide results for the first 15 walks this winter at my "local patch".


A very informal look-see method was applied and no particular structure (but walks did not include the landscaped and wooded "Attikon Alsos" park, but mostly the southern and eastern slopes. Each visit-walk was between 20 minutes to 60 minutes of dog-walking birding experience. Some day's effort was more than others - and I believe the effort really defined what was recorded.  Notes were kept in the field; daily list and numbers of each species seen were carefully logged.

Nearly all of these look-see walks were with "Teemo" our small terrier; sometimes alone, sometimes with friends and family. Most are really very short walks (2 Km or so only). Elevation gain max: 100 m. Maximum elevation 350 m. or so at upper ridge of Tourkovounia. Usually birding was at about 250 m. or 280 m a.s.l or so. This study was completed during just over a fortnight period (21.12/2013 to 6.1/2014).  The weather was very good with some days peaking at 12 or so C and most days were nearly windless.


9,8 species was the average species-list tallied per outing; with a standard deviation of 4.1 (Table 1). After these 15 trials the total list of species recorded in mid-winter is 26 (Table 2). The relative abundance of each speceis is also given in Table 2. Figure 1 shows these results more graphically. The Long-tailed Tit is the only new species that was added to the Tourkovounia site list (which is at roughly 95 spp. as recorded in Kominos et al 2004). Another notable species is the Rock Bunting (about 6 or 8 birds, seen only on three occasions), but this bird is regular each year. Generally, some birds that one would expect are absent (finches, thrushes); several species are unusually rare/scarce (thrushes, finches, tits). The most abundant species in terms of numbers is probably the Chaffinch. A roost of magpies was also discovered (numbering perhaps 100 individuals). 


The idea of going out and "working" to see as many birds as possible in the neighbourhood green spaces of a major metropolis is immediately attractive. This may act as an incentive to promote the sport of birding, natural history citizen science, creative recreation, and greater ecosystem understanding for biodiversity conservation in the city (i.e promoting birdscaping etc). More casual bird recording such as this may help promote the "minimum daily requirement" number for Athens (20 species per day is promoted in North America by Rob Furgus).  So I recommend more birders and naturalists keep lists in Athens and even this casual, semi-quantitative, and unstructured approach can be very informative.

  • Kominos, Th., Teneketzis, K., Proponas, N., Stavrakas, L, Vlachos, Chr., Vlamis, A,. Zogaris, S. (2004). Athens for the Birds. Educational pamphlet. Hellenic Ornithological Soceity.
  • For Geography see:
  • More on the 20 Birds Per Day, Daily Requirement :

Tables and Figures

Table 1. Details of the 15 look-see bird surveys (21.12/2013 to 6.1/2014). Surveys done during the morning (am) and afternoon (pm) are distinguished behind the date.

Visit #...Species...Date
1... 10... 21.12 am
2... 10... 22.12 am
3... 12... 25.12 am
4... 17... 26.12 am
5... 9... 26.12 pm
6... 6... 28.12 am
7... 14... 29.12 am
8... 17... 29.12 pm
9... 5... 1.1 am
10... 5... 2.1. am
11... 8... 3.1 am
12... 9... 3.1 pm
13... 11... 4.1 pm
14... 4... 4.1 pm
15... 10... 6.1 pm

Table 2. Total species list recorded between 21.12/2013 and 6.1/2014 during the 15 look-see bird surveys. The modern Greek names are given in brackets and the status of frequency of occurrence generalized specifically for the study-period is in parentheses.

1. Common Chaffinch [Σπίνος] (Common)
2. Blackcap Warbler [Μαυροσκούφης](Common)
3. Chiff-chaff [Δεντροφυλλοσκόπος](Common)
4. Eurasian Magpie [Καρακάξα] (Common)
5. Sardinian Warbler [Μαυροτσιροβάκος](Common)
6. European Robin [Κοκκινολαίμης](Common)
7. Song Thrush (aka Thrush sp.) [Κοινή Τσίχλα ή είδος Τσίχλας](Scarce, difficult to observe)
8. Eurasian Blackbird [Κότσυφας] (Fairly Common)
9. Black Redstart [Καρβουνιάρης](Fairly Common)
10. Rock Dove (feral) [Περιστέρι](Fairly Common)
11. Great Tit [Καλόγερος](Scarce)
12. Grey Wagtail [Σταχτοσουσουράδα] (Scarce, localized)
13. Eurasian Collared Dove [Δεκοχτούρα] (Common)
14. House Sparrow [Σπιτοσπουργίτης](Local, Fairly Common)
15. Dunnock [Θαμοψάλτης](Scarce)
16. Rock Bunting [Βουνοτσίχλονο](Rare, two observations)
17. European Sparrowhawk [Ξεφτερι](Scarce)
18. Common Starling [Ψαρόνι](Local, Fairly Common)
19. Common Kestrel [Βραχοκιρκίνεζο](Local, Fairly Common)
20. Yellow-legged Gull [Μεσογειακός Ασημόγλαρος](Scarce)
21. European Goldfinch [Καρδερίνα] (Rare, single observation)
22. Long-tailed Tit [Αιγίθαλος](Rare, single observation)
23. Greenfinch [Φλώρος](Rare, single observation)
24. Little Owl [Κουκουβάγια](Rare, single observation- one heard)
25. Winter Wren [Τρυποφράχτης](Scarce, three observations)
26. Common Buzzard [Γερακίνα](Rare, single observation)

Fig. 1. Simple histogram of the number of birds recorded per day (from Table 1); generally the three days when larger numbers are recorded is mainly due to increased effort.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Be that 2014

Nature Wish for 2014

More nature in your lives!  

Plan it, study the options, organize it, do it! 
I dedicate this to the 'naturalists' here in the Mediterranean. 

My kindest gentle suggestions with all my love:

-Remember what history has taught us: "Naturalist cultures" start on the passion of a single naturalist. Be that naturalist. Lead through your service and examples. 

-Try to make "constant contact with nature", everyday. Walk the dog with binoculars or camera in hand. Look up at the sky. Take time to look at the sea. Focus on a flower, a rock slab, an insect. Read the landscape. Give yourself the gift of time with nature. 

- Learn to lead an eco-tour. Any kind of "volta" (outing, trip-about) will do - anywhere. Volunteer to lead a day-tour for your local NGO. Work, study plan-it out before. Lead it as theatrically and with all your personal all. Spread your love for nature. 

- Realize how totally stupid it is to constanlty talk about eco-catastrophe and attach negative vibes to the "plight of nature under man" (creating an ecophobia in kids and the public). Bring instead some positive upbeat messages about nature. Associate nature with 'great times'. The moments that last. 

- Don't be overly sensitive; nature is strong and resilient. All that is painfully missing is a deeper interest by society.  We are all partly to blame: all consumed in ridiculous day-to-day unrealities. The reality is out there....And it is a stinging, calming, brutally wild and harmonious nature-world. Go there to re-focus. 

- Nature is not only beauty or adrenlin-rush. To really come close, you need to study it, to understand it. To love it deeply. And to study nature you need to learn the skill. The skills of natural history are passed on by passionate people, naturalists. And in our part of the world these people are extremely scarce. 

- Find, and spend time with field naturalists. Scuba diving ichthyologists, Bug-maniacs, botanizing flower-watchiers, butterfly nerds, turtlers, twitching birders, lowly collecters of rocks, nature photographers, ecotour-leaders, mountain-climbers. 

-Find or create a naturalist group on FB. Find friends, make naturalist issues a social thing.

-Contribute to your "Natural History" NGOs (there are many ways to do this).

-If you are an environmental scientist of any sort - you must invest in developing your naturalist skills and you must give 10% of your time to affecting culture. "Affecting culture" means doing something real to bring out nature for the public. Think strategically, plan, assess the results.

- Focus on urban nature. Since most of us are city dwellers we must create space and manage for nature in the city. 

-Organize to better protect and promote one small wetland or urban green-space in 2014. If all of us birders in Athens did this strategically we would have at least 10 wetlands saved! Think about the opportunities in and near Athens: Breksiza, Legrena, Artemis Wetland, Upper Rafina River, Keratea Stream, Agios Stephanos Stream, Upper Kifissos, Rafina river-mouth, Psatha, Schinos, Megara stream, Vourkari, Tritsis Park Ponds, Loumbarda, 'Kalivia-Markopoulo Ponds', Beletsi......

-Order and read these two books for 2014:

  • Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder - Richard Louv (2008).
  • The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age - Richard Louv (2012).
These books give a sense of the right sort of strategy the "naturalist environmental movement" needs. They talk about our kids, our crisis, our real opportunities. 

(The photo is from Summer 2007 during our study of the Castanea woodlands of Mount Ochi, Eubeoa. Sakis Biniaris my friend and long-time collaborator looks at a 300 year old tree near the tree-line at 900 m elevation. An ancient tree, possibly a symbol for the naturalist environmental movement. Yes, a cultural movement is critically needed).