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Monday, May 20, 2002

Bird Ringing in Greece

            During the first two weeks of May 2002 (30th April-14th May), Trevor Squire from Rye Bay Ringing Group, Icklesham, Andy Welch from the Stour Ringing Group, Clairie Papazoglou from the Hellenic Ornithological Society (H.O.S.) and I travelled to the island of Antikythira in Greece to continue with the ringing studies that started in spring of 1998. Danae Portolou (H.O.S.) joined us on the 08th May.

            The island is approximately 20 sq kilometres and is situated 38 kilometres southeast of Kythira; the most remote island in the Aegean Sea. The island became famous when sponge divers, during the 1900’s, found an ancient ship at a depth of 55 metres. One of the later discoveries was the famous Mechanism of Antikythira. Historians say the mechanism appears to be a device for calculating the motions of the stars and planets and is aged at about 2000 years old. It is now on display in the Athens National Museum.
Antikythira port
            We arrived at Athens airport on the 28th April and were picked up by Costas Papaconstantinou. Costas worked for the Environmental Education Authority and was on the board of directors for H.O.S. After a short drive Costas dropped us off at Clairie’s flat where we spent the first two nights.
            We had a free day before travelling to Antikythira; it was decided to visit a wildlife rehabilitation centre on a nearby island. The Hellenic Wildlife Hospital is based on the island of Aegina, just a forty-minute ride from the Port of Pireas by boat. The centre has been running since 1989 in different locations and on Aegina. In September 2001 moved to its new location on the island. The new facility has large spacious aviaries for the birds to exercise, an intensive care treatment room and an education centre. Maria Ganoti, who jointly runs the centre, showed us around and graciously allowed us to handle some of the birds including Lesser Kestrel, Pallid Harrier, Short-toed Eagle, Raven and Bittern. The majority of all the birds brought in are victims of illegal shooting; up to 8o%. During hunting season this number can easily rise to 90%.
Short-toed Eagle
The following morning, we travelled by bus from Kifissos down to Gytheio (4 hours) in southern Greece to catch a boat to Antikythira. Costas Tenekentzis, the Project Co-ordinator of the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece, met us. All of our luggage and provisions were placed on the boat, and with an hour to spare we went to see the Information and Scientific Station at Skala. The station is in Lakonikos Bay in the town of Peloponnesos; one of the main breeding areas for the Sea Turtle in the region.
            The journey from Gytheio to Antikythira took about four hours with a stop at  Kythira. This time was spent relaxing and doing a little bird watching; this produced good views of Cory’s Shearwater and Yellow-legged Gulls. We arrived on Antikythira Island at about 9:30 p.m. and after a bite to eat were taken to the old school house, which would be our home for the next two weeks.
The old school house
            The old school house had three main rooms: the classroom, which can easily house four to five people; a smaller room with double bed, and a kitchen. The toilets are in a separate block, and have a sink and running water. There was also a tap outside the kitchen; perfect for doing dishes and washing your hands. In the kitchen, there is a double burner for cooking, a fridge, a sink and pots, pans, cutlery, plates etc. The facilities were very basic, but perfectly adequate and comfortable for a short stay. During the whole of our visit, we were very lucky to have the help of a local man named Giorgos. He provided us with constant drinking water and drove us back and forth each evening to the town port for meals; about 10 minutes by car from the school house.
            The first morning was spent clearing net rides and putting up nets; these were located about a ten minute walk from the old school house, so the ringing station was set up close by in an olive grove. There were five main netting areas: A. 7 x 40 ft. 1 x 30 ft. nets, and these ran through a small valley and across a small bridge. B. 2 x 60 ft. 3 x 40 ft. 2x 30 ft. nets, these covered an open area mixed with bushes. C. 2 x 60 ft. 2 panel nets put across a field of wild flowers. D. 3 x 40 ft. 1 x 60 ft. nets set up within the olive grove. E. 2 x 60 ft. 2 x 40 ft. 1 x 30 ft. nets placed around a small copse of olive trees and through a small field.Though most of the morning was spent putting up nets, we managed to catch 88 birds of 19 different species including Pallid Harrier, Golden Oriole, Bee-eater, Icterine Warbler and Collared Flycatcher. Not a bad start!!!
Bee-eater

Pallid Harrier

Golden Oriole
            Over the next five days the nets were opened at a variety of times through the days, ranging from 6:30 a.m. to 9:20 p.m. The use of spring traps also proved successful, with many a Woodchat Shrike being caught.
            Monday evening the weather changed and we had two days of force 7 northeasterly winds; consequently the nets were not opened. After a well-deserved rest Tuesday morning, we set out for a walk to the southern point of the island, to the lighthouse. After a couple of hours, we arrived at one of the breeding cliffs for the Eleanora’s Falcon. There are approximately 400 pairs of Eleanora’s Falcon nesting on the island in several colonies. At this time of year, they are setting up territory and pair bonding. The falcons breed late into the summer so that the young can be fed on the autumn passage of passerines. Greece holds about 80% of the world population of Eleanora’s Falcon. Instead of wintering like many other species in Africa, as far as we know, they exclusively winter in Madagascar.
Eleanora’s Falcon breeding cliffs

Andy Welch, Rich Mooney and Trevor Squire
            After spending some time watching the amazing aerial aerobatics of these birds, we headed further south for another hour until we reached the lighthouse. From this point we had an amazing view across the sea to Crete and could even see the snow capped White Mountains in the background. We rested for a short time and then made our way back, en-route we had good views of; Red-footed Falcon, Roller, Pallid Harrier and Booted Eagle.
            Wednesday was spent cleaning, resting and generally socializing. Danae Portolou arrived late morning and soon got settled in. Danae had been out to the island twice before, so she was familiar with the set-up. Thursday morning the wind was starting to ease up and by late afternoon we were able to open the nets. 84 birds of 22 species were caught that afternoon and evening including Nightjar, Great Reed Warbler, Olivaceous Warbler, and Wryneck, and with the use of an audio tape lure, a Scops Owl.
Scops Owl
            Friday the 10th and Saturday the 11th were very busy. Friday because Clairie had to leave at midday to catch a boat to Kythira, and Saturday because of the abundance of birds moving. There were 525 new birds caught Saturday, the majority caught before 4:00 p.m.  This was the last day of ringing and all of the nets were taken down, and sorted out by 6:30 p.m., so that Giorgos could help us take all of the equipment back to the old schoolhouse.
            Sunday morning brought good weather and our boat! There are stories of people being stuck on the island for two weeks past the leaving date; so we counted ourselves extremely lucky that it came on time. Also, we got good views of Blue Rock Thrush at the port. The journey back was far more enjoyable, as we decided to catch the Flying Dolphin, a fast boat, from Kythira direct to Pireas, instead of having to do the long bus trip. That evening we celebrated our successful trip with a nice Greek meal. There was one day left before we had to return to the U.K. so we seized the opportunity to spend the day taking in the ancient ruins around the Acropolis.
Andy, Clairie, Trevor and Rich
            Antikythira is very remote and the logistics to get there and back require some preperation; it is well worth effort. Antikythira has history, culture, wilderness, beauty and of course, lots of birds. The island is a critically important stop over for trans-african migrants, which are probably coming directly off the northeast coast of Africa or stopping over on the island of Crete first.
            The atmosphere on the island was incredible, the scenery breathtaking and the local people very warm and welcoming. With the new observatory nearly completed, I am sure it will become one of the most sought after observatories for volunteers in years to come.

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