Edited by Paulina Björk Kapsalis
Gialova Lagoon, Greece’s southernmost major wetland, supports a mosaic of habitats and provides shelter to as many as 275 of the 442 recorded bird species in the country. As the area is home to a number of endangered animals, visitors need to tread carefully, but the reward is always exceptional; you’ll easily spot at least a few of the lagoon’s permanent residents, and if you time your visit well, several impressive migratory birds. Biologist and wildlife photographer Andrea Bonetti spent months waiting for those rare perfect moments in order to capture the wetland’s denizens in all their glory. His images of thriving fauna (some of which you see here), including threatened species, are proof that the wildlife conservation activities supported by TEMES to shield protected animals in the area are paying off.
If you visit the Gialova Lagoon, you might be lucky enough to see a purple heron (Ardea purpurea) on a hike around the lagoon. After wintering in Africa, it returns to Greece to nest and raise its young in the wetland’s reedbeds, where its coloration helps it to go unnoticed. Meanwhile, the resident greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) is easier to spot, thanks to its pink coloration, which it gets from its diet of plankton. Equally stunning is the great egret (Ardea alba). It’s not hard to understand why this majestic tall bird used to be hunted for its long white feathers, which were used to adorn elegant hats for ladies. Today, it’s a protected species, and finds a safe refuge at the lagoon.
Smaller birds make great sights as well. During the winter, common starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) can gather in their hundreds of thousands before they go to sleep, creating wonderful murmurations in the sky, and the common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), which is also a common sight in Greece during winter, is considered one of the most beautiful birds of Europe and is so diminutive in size, it can only catch the smallest of fish.
High above in the sky you might spot a circling Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo), which hunts the water birds at Gialova. But the birds often get lucky, as its absolute favorite food seems to be hedgehogs. On quiet winter nights, the male eagles can be heard hooting around the lagoon. Other master hunters, the long-eared owls (Asio otus), are great at catching mice. The parents of a small family of two or three young can bring back more than 10 mice a night to the nest.
But hedgehogs and mice are far from the only non-feathered dwellers of this sand-dune ecosystem. Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) lay their eggs on the beach, and while most of the newborns die within the first days of hatching, some of them are bound to return 25 years later, to start nesting on the same beach where they were born.
Snakes, known to feed on the sea turtle’s eggs, also live in the wetland. There are five species of venomous viper in Greece, the commonest of which is the sand viper (Vipera ammodytes), distinguished by the horn on its snout. Other reptiles include the African chameleon (Chamaeleo africanus) which, when it hatches and emerges from its underground nest after 11 months of incubation, takes on the beige coloration of its surroundings in order to hide from predators, as they’ve been doing for thousands of years. It’s believed that the Romans introduced their ancestors to Europe, where today they’re found only in Gialova.
Photo Credits Andrea Bonetti
[Edited version of an article published in Costa Navarino Stories, Issue 05]