Back in January I spent two days in Northern Greece, close to the Bulgarian border, photographing the Dalmatian Pelican. Sadly, estimates put the remaining numbers of this almost prehistoric looking bird at less than 20,000 and as few as only 10,000, giving them vulnerable status on the IUCN Red List.
See more Dalmatian Pelican images on my blog post Light and Shade on Lake Kerkini.
This makes Greece’s Lake Kerkini one of the most important wintering sites in Europe for the species, where they have learned to thrive, living peacefully alongside the local fisherman. Furthermore, it also allows for beautiful close up views of these birds, especially in the winter when they are both more photogenic in their breeding plumage, and, show greater tolerance of people than later in the spring, when they are raising their young.
During our couple of days on the lake we experienced mixed weather, with spells of unseasonably hot conditions to bitterly cold fog to overcast light. I always prefer a mixture of weather, not least because it allows for a variety to your images but also because it’s nice to be challenged and have to react to what’s going on around you. The only disappointment was the lack of snow, which would have literally been the icing on the cake!
With opportunity to shoot from boat and shore, there are advantages and disadvantages to work with. By boat, you can more easily position yourselves, but on the shoreline you can get right to the waters edge allowing for ultra low level shooting, which I used to great effect on an overcast evening, picking out birds way off in the distance with my 600mm to create a very clean white look to the images. When shooting from the boat, I did use a wide angle a couple of times and leaned over the edge to hold it just off the waters surface, a tricky way to shoot as you can’t see through the viewfinder, and it was a technique that almost resulted in a camera dunking twice, when others on the boat all shifted to the side I was leaning out of! But with the sky looking quite cloudy, it was a perfect opportunity to underexpose the images to emphasis the mood, and use off camera flash to throw some much needed light back on the subjects.
The Pelicans themselves are hugely enjoyable to photograph and make for excellent subjects. With their muted white feathers broken by a flash of colour on the beak, their wild looking ‘hair styles’, and varying textures they really are incredibly photogenic making it difficult to not come away with good images. The real trouble, is that of potentially overshooting with so many subjects before you. Once I had bagged myself a few safe shots, I slowed my shooting down and as an end result, only shot 750 images across the duration of the trip. They were then whittled down to 189, of which another cull may follow later.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure what I’d make of my time at the lake. I really don’t enjoy being on boats, and given I find myself drawn to mammals more so than birds, I was worried I’d come away at the end feeling underwhelmed. The truth was anything but. It was a thoroughly enjoyable couple of days and that was in part with thanks to the team at NaturesLens, who I’ve had the pleasure of shooting with before on Skomer Island.
Spending time with the Dalmatian Pelican was a serine and calm experience. With the hope that they continue to thrive on the beautifully peaceful Lake Kerkini, it’s one that I hope can be experienced by others for many years to come.