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FlocksFlocks of pelicans, grebes and ducks cluster in pockets and bob on Kerkini Lake in Central Macedonia in northern Greece. In the shallows around the lake, flamingos and storks step carefully, lifting their thin legs while they fish interrupted only by the occasional great white egret. With birds as far as the eye can see, Kerkini Lake is a bird watcher's paradise.
Kerkini Lake, or Limni Kerkinis as it is known to the locals, is a man-made reservoir. In the early 1920's approximately 85,000 Greek and Armenian refugees fled Turkey and settled around the area near Kerkini Lake. Two lakes, Kerkini and Achinos, and an extensive wetland covered the region which was prone to flooding. The flooding made agriculture impossible, and the swampy wetlands bred malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Within a few years of settling there, 20 percent of the refugees were dead, and the Greek government had to change the situation. An embankment was constructed to redirect the Strymon River into the original Kerkini Lake which was dammed to create a holding and irrigation reservoir. Lake Achinos and some of the surrounding wetlands were drained. As a result, Limni Kerkinis was made much larger and was able to absorb the river's fluctuations.
Over the next 50 years the size of Kerkini Lake was altered several times. The embankments were raised and the lake's surface area increased. In 1982 a new dam and embankment were constructed at Lithotopos, bringing Limni Kerkini up to its present size. Water levels on the lake still fluctuate significantly over the course of the year, ranging from 12,726 surface acres to 18,385 surface acres. The lake begins to fill up in late winter, continuing until early summer when the water is drawn down to use for irrigation. Although conditions in the area improved significantly for the human inhabitants, fluctuations in depth of up to 14 feet present a challenge for the birds, wildlife and plants that live near the lake.
Kerkini Lake is one of Greece's most important bird habitats with over 300 species of birds documented around the lake. The lake sits on the migratory flyway for birds traveling to the Aegean Sea, Balkans, Black Sea and the Hungarian Steppes. It is also the over-wintering site for the pygmy cormorant and the internationally threatened Dalmatian pelican. Limni Kerkinis and the surrounding area are part of a National Nature Reserve and are recognized as a Wetland of International Importance by the RAMSAR Convention - one of only ten sites in Greece. Paths ring the lake providing access for bird watching, and it is considered by some to be the best all around birding site in Greece with tens of thousands of birds on and around the lake year round.
Kerkini Lake's irregular shape is about ten and a half miles long and a little over three miles wide. It is in the Prefecture (province) of Serres in Central Macedonia in northern Greece, just 29 miles from Bulgaria. There are a few small villages nearby, including Kerkini which is the home of the Kerkini Wetland Information Center. The Lake Kerkini Center for Ecotourism is in Lithotopos. A particularly scenic road connects the villages of Kerkini and Lithotopos and runs along the shore of Lake Kerkini. It is possible to hire boats at some of the villages, and kayaks and sailboats are a great way to explore Limni Kerkinis. Guest houses, hotels, holiday villas and vacation rentals are all available in the area. Local fishermen compete with the birds for the lake's fish which include carp, roach, European chub, asp, bleak, Macedonian vimba, Wels catfish, and European perch. Local taverns serve the fish along with the area's buffalo and buffalo milk cheese dishes.
Limni Kerkinis is a good example of the interconnectedness of humans and nature. A lake that was created to facilitate agriculture has ultimately become much more important as a resource for birds and the tourists that flock after them. Careful balance and attention to both has built an environment that is recognized for its value internationally and by the locals who depend on it.
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