As flight of cormorants swooped in to land and a sparrowhawk chased a hooded crow, dozens of binoculars turned to follow the action, accompanied by several oohs and aahs. The excursion organized by the Hellenic Ornithological Society to the Kotychi-Strofilia wetland and lagoon, which sit on border between the regional units of Achaia and Ilia in the western Peloponnese, was full of surprises for the 74 participants – a diverse bunch of families, students, couples, loners and of course this Kathimerini journalist, all connected by a love of nature or fascination with birds.
“We are right in the middle of the migratory season, so we can expect a rich display,” said Spyros Psychas, a leading member of the HOS and one of the leaders of the field trip, along with Akis Gaitanakis and Nikos Tsopelos.
The large fields that flank the main road to the wetland host a plethora of predatory birds such as western marsh harriers, sparrowhawks, kestrels and buzzards, while recently there have been sightings of white storks, the team leader told their groups as they set up telescopes at the excursion’s first stop, Metochi.
“This is the biggest mud flat in the area. It is very important to birds who feed on the invertebrates that live here,” Tsopelos told the group. “We get large concentrations of sandpipers, snipes and other waders, while in the summer, when it is completely dried out, we get collared pratincoles, little terns and ringed plovers that come here to nest.”
The next stop was the Prokopou Lagoon, a stunning location, where the water is deeper, providing the perfect haven for ducks, diving birds and harriers. In the background we saw the Mavra Vouna (Black Mountains), the realm of birds of prey such as falcons, kestrels, buzzards and short-toed eagles. Ahead of us lay the Strofylia Forest, a beautiful expanse of umbrella pines.
A deluge of information on the area and its ecosystem provided at the start of the excursion by Vassiliki Orfanou, a biologist who works for the wetland’s management organization, allowed the group to set out with a more scientific appreciation than we might otherwise have had.
Aphrodite is a chemical engineer who became interested in the work of the Ornithological Society about a year ago.
“I started with bird watching in Stymfalia and attended seminars at the Tritsis Park [in Athens]. I am already able to identify quite a few bird species but I still have a lot to learn,” she told me. “On the excursions, the guides talk about mythology, history, everything. You also get to see all these beautiful parts of Greece.”
Nadia is a 24-year-old environmental studies graduate.
“I’m a recent initiate,” she said. “I volunteered for two weeks in September on a bird-tagging project on Antikythera.” She had brought a notebook along with her, in which she wrote frequent notes. “I write down the trivia I find interesting, such as how some birds pretend they’re injured when a predator approaches their young, as a diversion.”
You certainly don’t need to have any expert knowledge about birds to join the Ornithological Society’s tours. According to Evangelia, a pharmacist who has been a member of 15 years, “all you need is to enjoy it.”
“I have never studied the subject of birds systematically; I only know the basics. But these have always been the best trips we have been on as a family,” she told me. “We’ve been to Pindus, Dervenohoria, Valia Kalda, Crete, Lesvos and even the Bosporus. My daughters, now aged 22 and 24, learned from a young age to respect and love the environment – nature is so good for children.”
To find out more about the Hellenic Ornithological Society, log on to www.ornithologiki.gr.