Gialova Lagoon, near Pylos, Greece

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT


Author: Andrea Bonetti (e-mail me at or visit me website)

Gialova lagoon, overlooked by Thanos village, is a real bird paradise: more than 270 species of birds have been counted there by the Hellenic Ornithological Society – the Greek partner of Birdlife International.

Thousands of birds flying to Africa in autumn stop at the lagoon to rest and “refuel” for the last time before the long journey of 3000 km over the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara desert. In spring they find there the southern-most European wetland to rest and feed again. Furthermore, many species over winter at the lagoon.

We recommend visiting the lagoon in the early morning hours. There are three birdwatching hides, and entrance is free.

The importance of the Gialova lagoon for birds has been discovered only recently, and this is the reason why it is not famous (yet!). But this small wetland has a great advantage over the large wetlands of Northern Greece: its smaller size allows birdwatchers to spot most of the birds present there. A couple of hours in the watch-tower of the lagoon are enough to observe most of its inhabitants, from the impressive eagles to the elusive bitterns, etc.

The best period to observe birds at the lagoon is from September to May. Ruffs, Garganeys, Grey Herons, Little Egrets, Squacco Herons, Glossy Ibises, Curlews, Golden Plovers, Black-winged Stilts and Kingfishers are observed from August but it is not until the beginning of September that the king of the lagoon can be observed: the Osprey. Purple Herons, Marsh and Pallid Harriers, most species of terns, most waders, including Common and Marsh Sandpipers, Dotterels, Spotted Redshanks, Avocets and many more also arrive in September. The lagoon becomes a real paradise teeming with bird life!
In winter there are about 20,000 birds in the lagoon. Ducks and Coots are the most numerous birds, but there are other interesting species too. Over 500 herons - Great White Egrets, Little Egrets and Grey Herons - overwinter at the lagoon. These birds have learned to exploit the skills of the Cormorants to catch fish. Cormorants fish in a large flock in the canals of the wetland moving along a kind of front line. The birds in the back of the flock fly over the front ones and immediately plunge to chase and catch the fish, while other birds will fly over them to continue this “fishing roll”. Generally this is done first along the edges of the lagoon and then continued in the canals of the marsh, where by far they catch most of the fish. In this feast the herons just have to stand on the edges of the canals waiting to catch the frightened fishes that manage to escape the Cormorants. This incredible show goes on all morning, and can’t be missed by visitors!

In winter there can be three species of eagles: Imperial Eagle, Spotted Eagle and Osprey. Many Marsh and Hen Harriers join them. Flamingos are present in the wetland all year long, About 10 Bitterns are there in winter, and can be seen flying above the reed-bed especially just before dusk.

Spring migration begins already by the end of February. Especially in March and April, thousands of waders, herons, harriers, terns but also swallows, wagtails and many other passerines stop at the lagoon. Waders mainly arrive at night, except for Curlews, which arrive during the day in March. Marsh and Broad-billed Sandpipers are just two of the most interesting species of waders to be seen. Among others, Spotted Redshanks and Greenshanks arrive in April. Ruffs and Wood Sandpipers are the commonest waders of the lagoon, of which more than 10,000 individuals each pass during the whole spring. The latest waders to arrive are Turnstones and Curlew Sandpipers, which are there mainly in May. Among larger birds, Grey Herons and Marsh Harriers have a particular way to reach the lagoon between March and mid April as they are seen literally falling down one after the other from somewhere very high in the sky. Finally, more than 1,800 Glossy Ibises can pass through the lagoon during the whole spring!

Lastly, breeding birds include Eagle Owls and Peregrine Falcons, which breed on the nearby cliffs, and Kestrels, most owls, and many Black-winged Stilts.

Already by the end of January the olive groves that surround us are all covered by flowers, and in February-March-April nature blooms in all its beautiful colours. Dozens of rare species of flowers grow in our area, including many orchids, crocuses, lilies, etc.

Copyright 2005 Andrea Bonetti

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