Phalacrocorax carbo stands for cormorant
Driving up the slight incline, past the livestock unit on one side and the barrack on the other side, the small Zifias lake comes into view. Surrounded by olive trees arranged in terraces, pine trees and wild vegetation, this reservoir came into being after a dam was created back in the nineties to collect stream water. Although one can feel the chill in the air and the wind blowing, warm morning light cuts through the clouds, presenting the hillsides with a whole new perspective. High up on top of the mountain, a glimmering Agios Georgios village overlooks the area.
I meet Sofia, Marianna and Yiorgos; over the past few days, volunteers all over Europe have been registering birds detected in wetlands for the mid-winter waterfowl measurements program run by the Hellenic Ornithological Society. Our little group is satisfied with the large amount of water the lake has accumulated, which allows for spotting various different species. Sneaking a peek at the notebook Marianna is holding reveals nine cormorants, two herring gulls, two dabchicks… We slowly and silently walk along the lake’s edge. Hovering either just over the surface or higher, the soaring cormorants have a preference for flying in formation as well as diving into the water in groups.
A police SUV moves slowly on the road encircling the dam before pulling over for quite some time. A pick-up truck carrying dogs on its bed overtakes us and drives off into the valley. Fireside marks, logs, ashes, and a good amount of trash and plastic bottles of water can be seen where accessing the water is easy for those wanting to fish or take a swim. Refugees from the nearby VIAL approach the area to fish carps, the only species swimming in the lake, despite the signs all around forbidding it. Amongst bushes and thorns, hanging on a tree, a young seagull is trapped on a hook. Thick eucalyptus trunks are carved with hearts, initials and Arabic words resembling makeshift tattoos, echoing little muffled screams.
Every now and then, the team spots a new bird; a minute ago, Yiorgos got to see a kingfisher. A short distance up the dam, an excavator is leveling a plot, while a big white metal construction in the adjacent one forms a kind of a multilateral cylinder akin to a postmodern landmark, totally heterogenous to the landscape’s subtle beauty. A full circle later, we’re back; Sofia manages to pick out the kingfisher that stands still for a while amidst the reeds and the rocks, and Yiorgos takes a close photo of it. Once again, I glance at Marianna’s notebook and the list has grown: great tits, chaffinches, blackbirds, thrushes, blue jays… Our group is content with this year’s findings.
As time ticks by, I tune in to my surroundings, I let my eyes see and my ears hear, I follow silence and sounds. Despite being unable to tell between the majority of the birds –since I’m unaware of their names or characteristics–, I can feel the beauty and balance around this little wetland. The more I observe, the more I’m left wondering about where they nest, the amount of trouble they have to go through to get food, how they reproduce, how they utilize their freedom. Our human-centered universe is just a bubble; yet, everything is around us, next to us; apart from people’s universe, there is the world of birds too.
The sun has come up, light has become flat, though it still feels frigid out here. Birds, showing no apparent interest in our feelings, continue to fly around, swoop into the lake, disappear into the reeds.
Mid-winter Waterfowl Measurements
Birds spotted this year around the Zifias dam: Cormorant-Phalacrocorax carbo, European Robin-Erithacus rubecula, Υellow-legged Gull-Larus michahellis, White Wagtail-Motacilla alba, Eurasian Jay-Garrulus glandarius atricapillus, Little Grebe-Tachybaptus ruficollis, Great Tit-Parus major, Eurasian Blackcap-Sylvia atricapilla, Common Chaffinch-Fringilla coelebs, Common kingfisher-Alcedo atthis, Eurasian Wigeon-Anas penelope, Common Blackbird-Turdus merula, Song Thrush-Turdus philomelos, Eurasian Wren-Troglodytes troglodytes.