Photo: Vangelis Kappas

Marvellous Mesolongi

These wetlands are a birdwatcher’s paradise

Marvellous nature of Mesolongi

Want to discover a historic town by the Mediterranean surrounded by stunning birdlife, strange aquatic life, rugged mountains and incomparable wetlands? The area of Mesolongi will transport you to a totally different world, from its idyllic town and castle to one of the most important wetlands and ecosystem in Southern Europe.

The pride and joy of the area is the Mesolongi lagoon spread over 11,200 hectares right in the middle of the wetland. But then there are many smaller marshlands, rivers and ponds creating an enchanting mosaic of life and nature. The area is a Wildlife Refuge and a Special Protection Area by law, as well as being designated an Important Bird Area.

Photo: Body Management of Messolonghi Lagoon

A lifetime experience for birders…

Indeed, Mesolongi is a birdwatcher’s paradise, with some 290 recorded species around the wetlands, many of which are rare or even endangered! In winter you may see up to 40,000 birds, including 10,000 waterfowl visiting the area. There are also thousands of aquatic birds as well as waterfowl dropping by for a few days to feed as they fly back and forth between Europe and Africa. Endangered species include glossy ibises, ruff, purple heron, whimbler, great white egret, whiskered tern, collared pratincole and black winged stilt.

Photo: Body Management of Messolonghi Lagoon

But it’s not all about migrating birds only. The lagoons have long been a favourite nesting place for many aquatic birds, waterfowl, songbirds and birds of prey. You’ll marvel at the oyster catcher, stone curlew, pied avocet, snowy plover and redshank, many gulls and little terns. If you’re new to birdwatching buy a European guide on birds and you’ll be amazed how many you can spot.

Some birdwatching groups have a long who’s-who list of target species to spy on, such as the Dalmationa Pelican, Squacco Heron, Greater Flamingo, Spotted Eagle, Bonelli’s Eagle, Red-rumped Swallow, Collared Flycatcher, Moustached Warbler, Zitting Cisticola and many others. Let’s just say if you appreciate birds, you’ll consider moving to this area permanently.

Photo: Body Management of Messolonghi Lagoon

Strange animals indeed…

The animal landscape changes radically as you leave the water, cross the plains and start climbing up the nearby slopes of the area. To begin with, endemic freshwater fish include Aristotle’s catfish, Drosina, Greek Rudd, Trichovelonitsa and Nanogovios. More familiar fish include the common carp, gudgeon, chub, butterfly goldfish, chirikova and rudd. You’ll also see plenty of eels, a lot of sea bream, mullet and European sole. Many schools of fish enter the lagoons from the sea to spend spring there and return sometime in June, although the fishermen take advantage of this phenomenon and catch them using traps around their strange-looking fishing shacks. Just beyond the water you’ll come across the wall lizard and marsh frogs in freshwaters, as well as Greek lake frogs that appear only in the Evinos River. Tree frogs, toads in damp fields and Dalmatian frogs are also to be spotted if you’re lucky.

Some 15 types of mammals grace the slopes and fields of the region, including the badger, marten, fox and weasel. Rarely seen but hiding nonetheless among the vegetation by the rivers is the otter, while on higher elevations you might spot a deer or two, some hares in the hills and even a wild boar.

Of oaks, chestnuts and rare plants

To the untrained eye from a distance, you wouldn’t notice how many varieties of trees there are in this region. Several kinds of oak trees as well as many forests of broad-leaved evergreen trees and pine trees dot the landscape at higher elevations, not to mention chestnut trees. The latter grow also on what’s known as the Echinades islands. What’s more, the wetlands are naturally home to hydrophilic (water-loving) and aquatic plants and flowers, such as white water lilies, water buttercups, rush and muskgrass, particularly around the Acheloos River, Evinos River and Valtiou Stream. The river banks, on the other hand, are home to willow trees, elms, ash trees and oleanders.

And back to town…

Mesolongi is a pretty town by any standards. It lies by the water, offers historical sites and captivates your imagination. Good seafood and lazy times at Tourlida beach are also part of the package. There’s a cultural component too, as the historic Town Hall features an art gallery and the town hosts a folklore museum. The monastery of St. Simeon from the 17th century is also worth a visit and played an important role in the troubling history of this now quiet hamlet. Stay in one of the traditional little hotels in town or in the villages above the town, deep in the forests. The choice is yours…

Photo: Body Management of Messolonghi Lagoon

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