Dalmatian Pelicans (Pelecanus Crispus)

In February 2017 we packed our cameras, some lenses, a tripod and a bunch of memory cards and drove into Brussels South airport to hop on a plane to Thessaloniki, Greece. Our goal : photographing the Dalmatian pelicans (Pelecanus crispus) at Lake Kerkini.

From Thessaloniki to Lake Kerkini is only a 100km drive, so we decided to rent the smallest and cheapest car available. The worn out Fiat Punto barely coped with some of the steeper hills on our route, but we safely made it to the Limneo Guest House in Hrisohorafa.

Nikos, who runs the Limneo Guest House, anticipated our arrival and made sure we got a warm welcome. Together with a group of German photographers, he invited us to join him for dinner in one of the local restaurants. After a nice meal and tired from the long trip we went to bed early as the next morning we would be heading out to the lake, looking for the pelicans.

Even though these birds are the world’s largest freshwater birds and measure 160 to 183 cm in length, weigh 7.25 to 15 kg and can have a wingspan from 245 to 351 cm, a long tele lens is still required if you want to make close ups or portraits. Since we only had a 300mm lens available, we decided to leave the portrait work for when we would take a boot trip on the lake and use our first day to scout the location and to try and photograph the pelicans from the shore.

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The second day we met the same group of German photographers we had dinner with when we first arrived at Hrisohorafa.  They had chartered Nikos and his boat to go on the lake and get closer to the pelicans. At this time of the year, the pelicans are less shy and will come very close to whoever has to offer fresh fish. Before getting into the boat, the German photographers were already feeding the birds, giving us the opportunity to enjoy the spectacle as the pelicans literally stumble over each other trying to catch the fish. It also gave us a good chance to shoot some close ups.

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They say the early bird gets the worm, so on our third day we left the guest house at 6 o’clock in the morning to enjoy the sunrise over the lake. It was very windy and cold, but the morning light was beautiful.

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During the day, the number of photographers and tourists around and on the lake grew steadily. To us this was the perfect time to capture some flight shots of these enormous birds, as they flew from one feeding frenzy to the other.

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Later that afternoon, when most of the other photographers had left, we joined Nikos for a boat tour on the lake, where he would bring us close to the pelicans and give us a lot of background information on the lake and it’s ecosystem.

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On our last day, we decided to go to the lake very early again.  As there where no clouds, the morning light was completely different from the day before and was perfect for silhouette type of images.

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When the sun was up and the light was getting less and less interesting, we said goodbye to the birds, shook hands with Nikos and headed back to Thessaloniki airport.

 

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