Protecting the Sani Wetlands
The Sani company has undertaken an important environmental initiative – studying and protecting the birdlife of the Sani wetlands. The Sani wetlands is a large expanse of land, 110 hectares, that is located next to the Sani luxury hotels in Greece, home to over 200 species of birds, many of them rare and endangered. The man in charge of this project, which lasted for over a year and was funded by the company, is environmentalist and forestry expert Lefteris Kakalis, who brings great expertise and enthusiasm to the task of protecting this remarkable habitat. The objective was to plan and implement a monitoring programme for the birds and their habitats in the area’s wetlands, which involves producing a systematic inventory of wild bird populations, setting up a database of birds and determining the priority species (protected and rare species). The aim was also to describe the threats to the most important bird species and decide on the necessary protective measures. The project and Mr. Kakalis’s work is overseen by Mr. Akriotis, professor at the University of the Aegean, who is the leading ornithologist in Greece. Mr. Kakalis has recorded the progress of his study, month by month, in the blog below. The first phase of the study has now been concluded. The results confirmed the high biodiversity found in the area, and its great value and importance in this respect. The total number of species recorded was 214. From these, the species that are included in the most recent Red List of Threatened Species of Greece are 67 or 31% of the total number recorded in the Sani wetlands. Out of these, four are characterised as critically endangered: the glossy ibis, graylag goose, corn bunting and the montagu’s harrier. Seven are characterised as endangered, and those are the bittern, purple heron, black stork, greater spotted eagle, Mediterranean gull, whiskered tern and the black tern. Lastly, in the category of the vulnerable, twenty three species are included, or 11% of the total species. In total, 34 species, or 16% of species recorded in the Sani Wetlands are included in the three most important categories of the Red List. At the same time, 93 species fall into the three most important protection categories on a European level (SPEC), as defined by Birdlife International. With the help of the experts, our company will further invest in ensuring programmes are carried out in order to protect this invaluable biodiversity and ensure we can admire it for years to come. On your next visit to luxury Sani resort in Greece, you can ask for detailed maps with suggested walks in the wetlands, so that you too, like our experts, can admire the birds. Indigenous populations, passerines, migrating birds, sea birds, raptors – the wetland is full of an amazing wealth of birdlife, that will be sure to take your breath away.
About Lefteris Kakalis
Lefteris Kakalis is a doctoral candidate in environmental and ecological studies at the University of the Aegean, who has already completed postgraduate studies in environmental policy and management. He has worked in a number of European programmes, as well as national research programmes involving the protection of birds in Greece. He specializes in ornithological studies, in the planning and implementation of monitoring schemes and the ecology of bird populations. He is a member of the Greek Ornithological Society and the Greek Centre for Bird Ringing. Overseeing his work is Mr. Akriotis, professor at the University of the Aegean and founding member of the Greek Ornithological Society (the Greek partner of Birdlife International).
In July, 83 species were recorded in the area, among them two new, increasing the total number of bird species recorded to 208.
The warm summer season usually leads to the drying up of water reserves in the coastal Mediterranean wetlands. This year was an exception, with the Sani wetlands remaining overflowing and several species of water birds being observed. There was a significant gathering of mallards, coots, shelducks and of rare species, such as pochard and the globally threatened ferruginous duck.
The presence of all eight species of heron that have been recorded in our country, (except bittern) was very impressive. The most populous of these were the little egrets, with at least 128 of them being observed feeding in the overflowed parts of the wetlands. We were particularly glad to observe young purple herons, evidence of the successful reproduction of those that nested in the reedbeds of the wetlands earlier in the year. The observation of a cattle heron, a kind of heron which has been spreading from the western to eastern Mediterranean in the last decade, was also considered important.
Even though it is quite early, several species of water birds were observed beginning their autumn migration. The bigger flocks consisted of little stilts, black-winged stilts and wood sandpipes, the first two of these in large flocks of more than 100 birds. The presence of greenshank, redshank, spotted redshank, black-tailed godwit, common sandpiper, curlew sandpiper and snipe was further proof of the striking diversity of water birds in the Sani wetlands in July. Among the migratory species that were observed, we should point out the presence of a flock of 36 glossy ibis and 3 spoonbills.
A total of six species of diurnal raptors were observed. A peregrine was spotted hunting little birds near the reedbeds, while hobbies were seen hunting swallows along the water surface.
The variety of passerine birds was also great. Most of these, such as the nightingale, Spanish sparrow, black headed bunting, fan-tailed warbler had reproduced close to the Sani wetlands. Finally, we observed the first gathering of migratory species, such as the yellow wagtail.
June marks the end of the incubation period for almost all the waterbird species that nest in the Sani wetlands. As a result, all the focus of the adult individuals was on raising their young and avoiding predators. During this period, it is relatively easy to observe families from several water bird species. The congregations of shelduck chicks in the Gerani wetland was impressive, with over 70 chicks observed. Families of coot, little crebe and moorhen were easily observed in both wetland lakes.
The increased level of water this year favoured the duck species which reproduce in the wetlands, the most important of which is the ferruginous duck, a globally endangered species. The observation of at least one family gave us much hope for the future presence of this species in the Sani wetlands.
Also, in June, the reproduction of the great crested grebe was recorded for first time. The species of herons presented us with much variety as 7 different species were observed. The observation of adult purple herons transporting material for the building of their nest in a central reed thicket of wetland was considered important, as it confirmed the suspicion we had in May, that at least two couples were reproducing in the wetlands. The second species of heron for which well-founded clues exist with regards to their reproduction in the wetlands is the little bittern.
Also, the presence of three spoonbill individuals was surprising as these birds are normally observed during this period in bigger wetlands of Northern Greece where they also reproduce. The individuals that were observed possibly abandoned their reproduction and their presence in the wetlands of is due to the species disseminating prior to making their autumn migration.
The lack of suitable islets for nesting due to the high level of waters in the wetlands constitutes the main reason for the reproduction only of a small population of waders. For example, the population of black-winged stilts this year was only 2 to 4 pairs, much lower than would be expected.
Five raptor species were observed; the more important observation was the confirmation of the reproduction of the hobby in the pinewoods that border the wetlands, as adult individuals were observed transporting food to nesting locations. Buzzard, kestrel and marsh harrier were also observed.
Many of the passerine species complete their reproductive circle in June. So in June, we observed families or small flocks of various species, such as starling, spanish sparrow, goldfinch and greenfinch. Nevertheless the song of migratory species, such as the nightingale, the black-headed bunting, the olivaceous warbler, the hoopoe and great reed warbler, continued unabated in morning and afternoon hours of the day, confirming the presence of pairs that are reproducing in the region.
During the month of May, a total of 82 species of birds were sighted and inventoried, three of which for the first time, raising the total species count from 203 to 206.
During the end of May, a lot of water bird species are completing their first birth. So, as would be expected, during this month’s survey many families were observed, such as those of mallards, coots and moorhens. Some species – specifically shelduck, pochard and the ferruginous duck – started their nesting season late this year and so we expect to observe their first families in the beginning of June. What was also of great interest was the spotting of a young swan, which is rare in shallow-water wetlands and those close to the sea at this time of year.
In total, 7 species of herons were observed this month in the Sani wetlands, in significant quantities (such as the little egret and night heron). Our suspicions of the nesting of the purple heron in the Sani wetlands was confirmed by the spotting of at least 2 couples reproducing. An addition to the heron species in the wetlands this month is the little bittern.
We observed great variety in terms of wader species and their populations. The sightings of species such as ruff, greenshank, wood sandpiper and little stilt, as well as the two ringed plovers, are considered especially significant. Kentish plovers, little ringed plovers and avocets, as well as black-winged stilts started their nesting in small populations, due to the high level of water in the wetlands observed this year. In the highlights of the month, the spotting of two collared pratincoles certainly deserves a mention.
From the observations conducted at sea, the most important was that of the cory’s shearwater, a large group of which spent a long while hunting along the coast, a beautiful sight.
In total, seven species of raptors were observed. The most of important of these were 7 hobbies, which were hunting in the agricultural land that borders the wetlands. From the night species, we confirmed the presence of the long-eared and scops owls.
In terms of passerines, nightingales, black-headed buntings and the olivaceous warbler were spotted, as well as big groups of starlings. In the pine forest edges, those bordering with agricultural land, the red-backed shrike was often sighted, as well as the woodchat shrike and the lesser grey shrike. In the highlights of the month, the roller and the bea-eater should also be mentioned.
During the month of April a total of 90 species of birds were inventoried, three of them for the first time, raising the total species count to 203.
April is the breeding season for water birds and we were able to confirm breeding by the mallard, the coot and moorhen. We also saw signs of nesting by the pochard and the rare ferruginous duck – sightings we hope to confirm in the next sample-takings.
A total of five heron species were sighted with significant populations (e.g. little egret and squacco heron. There was also a significant presence of purple herons, and it is likely these birds are nesting in the reeds. The presence of the glossy ibis confirmed the importance of the water meadows in the Sani wetlands.
This was a month of particular variety for wader species (14) and populations. There was a significant presence of large populations of ruffs, greenshanks, wood sandpipers and little ringed plovers. Also frequently sighted were the green sandpiper, common sandpiper, march sandpiper, Kentish plover, little stilt and curlew sandpiper. Among the month’s highlights was the sighting of a spur-winged plover.
A total of 8 species of raptors were observed, including most notably a male Montagu’s harrier, two hobbies, a long-legged buzzard and a short-toed eagle.
Among the passerines the presence of migratory species was significant, including a nightingale, a lesser whitethroat, a whitethroat and many flocks of whinchats, yellow wagtails and wood warblers. Along the edges of the pine forest where it borders cultivated land we made frequent sightings of the red-backed shrike, the woodchat shrike and the lesser grey shrike.
A total of 84 species were sighted in March, 2 for the first time, raising the total count from 198 to 200.
The middle of May is a time when many water birds migrate, with species that have wintered in the wetlands setting off for their breeding grounds in northern Europe and the first migrants from Africa arriving on their journey north. So in March we saw a number of species (12) with lower populations than in January, and also made the first sightings of the garganey. It is also worth noting that we sighted six members of the ferruginous duck species.
Large populations of Mediterranean gulls and little gulls were seen on their way to their breeding grounds in northern Europe. The highest concentrations were seen in Gerani, where at least 940 and 700 individual birds of these species, respectively, were seen on 19th March.
As for waders, we had the first arrivals of migratory species such as the black-winged stilt, the little ringed plover and the ruff. Another important sighting was of the little crake, in the wetland reeds.
In the sea there were frequent sightings of small flocks of black-throated divers and great crested grebes.
There was a rich variety of passerines, including the first migratory species such as the swallow, house martin, hoopoe and subalpine warbler. One of the highlights of the period was the sighting of two adult great spotted cuckoos.
During observations in the month of January we sighted a total of 81 bird species, three of these for the first time, raising the total species count from 195 to 198.
The presence of water birds remains constant over the winter months (October to January), suggesting that most of the species are committed to these specific wetlands, which obviously meet their everyday needs over a period of time. The population sizes are also significant, bearing in mind the relatively limited area of the wetlands: we sighted around 5,400 individual birds of 11 species (e.g. 2,950 coots, 755 teals, 690 wigeons, 285 shovelers, 170 gadwalls, etc.
It is worth noting the presence of two species threatened with global extinction, the Dalmatian pelican and pygmy cormorant, as well as the mute and whooper swans and two white-fronted geese. The presence of the Mediterranean gull is also deemed significant, since this species is usually sighted during migration.
In the sea it was relatively easy to sight small flocks of black-throated divers, red-breasted mergansers, Mediterranean shearwaters and Cory’s shearwaters.
The bad weather in January brought a number of species of passerines to lower altitudes than usual: among the species seen were the redwing, mistle thrush, calandra lark and siskin.
Observation in December yielded a large variety (12 species) of water birds. The most numerous were the coots and wigeons, with 2,152 and 512 observed respectively. There was also a significant presence of two species of swan, the mute and the whooper.
The most notable observations of water birds involved a ferruginous duck and two pygmy cormorants, both species threatened with global extinction.
The four species of heron seen in October were also here in December, indicating the suitability of the Sani wetlands for this particular type of bird. It was significant that the bittern was relatively easily seen, despite its retiring nature.
Nine different species of raptor were observed. Most of them were fairly easily found and could be observed from close up. The most important sightings were of an eagle owl, the largest nocturnal raptor, in the pine forest, and an adult long-legged buzzard.
It was among sea birds that perhaps the fewest species and smallest populations were observed. Nevertheless, sightings of the black-throated diver were quite frequent, in the sea and at a short distance from the shore.
A significant variety of passerines was observed.
The rich mosaic of habitats to be found in the wetland (pine forest alternating with areas of water and marsh or reeds, land planted with grain, olive trees) provides suitable conditions for a significant number of different species. For example, in the reeds we often find the moustached warbler and the reed bunting; among the pine trees flocks of blue tits and coal tits, as well as firecrests, and in the cultivated areas corn buntings and a flock of stock doves.
From the very first day of sampling it became clear that the wetland was in a much better condition than I had expected. The main habitats (pine forest, reeds, sand dunes, wetland and other plant life) were also in excellent condition, although some of them only cover a small area. There is little interference from human activities, if we except some hunting in the Gerani wetland. The most important thing is that in just a few days I was able to spot 73 species of bird. This is a number to satisfy the most demanding of birdwatchers. October is not the best month for observation, because most of the migrating birds have completed their autumn migration and those that winter here have not yet arrived. More specifically, of the 73 species observed, 8 were seen for the first time, bringing the total list of species from 180 to 188. As for water birds, nine different species of ducks were recorded. Bearing in mind the size of the Sani wetlands, this is quite a high number, comparable to that seen in the much larger wetlands of northern Greece.
Four different species of herons were observed, and in significant numbers for this time of year. But the most important observation was of two black storks, very rare in western Europe. Here in Greece they breed mainly in Thrace and eastern Macedonia; they are very uncommon in western Macedonia and Epirus.
Among raptors I observed seven different species. Although these are not rare birds (common buzzard, goshawk, march harrier, peregrine falcon) and can be seen in many Greek wetlands, here at Sani luxury resort in Greece I had the opportunity to see them all from one point within a space of just twenty minutes!
There was only a limited variety of waders and sea birds, for different reasons. In the case of the latter October is a little early to see them, while disturbance from hunters at the Gerani wetland is the main reason why only four kinds of wader were seen, and only in small numbers. The snipe was the one found in the largest numbers, and was relatively easy to observe and photograph.
Finally, a large range of species of passerines were to be observed, in various habitats. There were significant concentrations of European starlings, which we can expect to increase in number as winter approaches, and large flocks, too, of goldfinches, greenfinches, willow warblers, stonechats, song thrushes, etc.