Skip to main content

Bird race in Athens

April 2011: 6th annual Bird race in Athens

By Stam Zogaris

In Greece bird racing is slowly but surely becoming a tradition among resident birders. Athens celebrated its 6th bird race this April 9th 2011. 15 teams of birders participated – this is a typical number in Athens, a city with a remarkably low number of naturalists. The rally to search and identify as many species of birds in a day covered the entire area of Attika (about 3 800 - the prefecture around the city of Athens, including several islands. Most teams rose early and consisted of two to five members rallying in a car or 4X4 across the countryside and in the city, seeking out the best combination of habitat sites in order to tally the most species possible. The race is an athletic expression of birdwatching, and is won by the team that finds the most species and the rarest species. Each team is headed by a leader who guarantees that the birds are positively identified and seen by at least two team members in order to “count”. There are prizes for second and third place with respect to the day’s team bird count.

The rarest species had already been decided on this race – it was spotted several days ago at the Kaisariani Monastery (Mt Hymettus) - a tiny Pallas Leaf Warbler! This was a new species for Greece….and the bird was still at its wooded patch on the morning of the race.

The results

Two groups surpassed the 100 mark of birds per day- and that is a remarkable feat in a heavily built-up peninsula in southern Greece. The combined sum achieved for the day was 169 species, tallied at a total of 25 different top-birding sites (a.k.a. “biotopes” or important areas for local birdlife). This is the largest species number ever recorded at any bird race in Attika. In other such bird races the top summed count was at most 151 species.

The best sightings –rarest birds of the day- included the following:

  • Pallas leaf warbler (winner for rarest bird)
  • Great Snipe
  • Citrine Wagtail
  • Ruddy Shelduck
  • Pallid Harrier
  • Lesser Kestrel
  • Bonelli’s Warbler
  • Jack Snipe
  • Greater Spotted Cuckoo
  • Caspian Tern

Other spectacular treats included:

  • 140+ Glossy Ibises and two Greater Flamingos at Loutros Wetland next to Athens International Airport
  • Wonderful spring flowers on Mount Hymettus, including orchids and alpines.
  • Some really huge grey mullets (“Kefaloi” in Greek) at an undisclosed wetland site (*of special interest for anglers…).
  • Remarkably high water-levels at most wetlands and streams!

As participants, we want to thank the Hellenic Ornithological Society for organizing and supporting the Race and all the volunteers who build-up this unique specialized event. Lastly, special thanks must go to Mr. Nikos Probonas who has worked very hard to keep up the spirit of this great day, since the beginning of bird racing in Athens.

Photo from previous Bird Race where several rallying groups met together
Young birders at Alyki Loutsa Lagoon.
One of the young birders keeps notes
Re-flooded temporary wetland of Loutros, next to Athens International Airport.
Most of us called this one pictured here a Long-legged Buzzard.
A female Ferruginous Duck at Schinias-Marathon National Park.
Yellow-legged Gulls at Loutros, next to Athens international Airport.
Flock of Glossy Ibis at Schinias-Marathon National Park.
Black-tailed Godwit, a rare sight in Attika; at Loutros, near the Airport.
Mr. Nikos Probonas tallies the bird lists submitted by team leaders
Group shot of the the 6th Attika Bird Race, at Tritsis Park, Athens