Balkan postcards 7: Pastoral Prespa.

Balkans, farming, Wildlife

Today was a day of birdsong: of nightingales without end, of golden orioles and hoopoes. It was a day to watch bee-eaters, pelicans, grey herons, night herons flying over the lake. It was a day to watch sows idling away the morning under a shady tree, or goats commandeering the hillside. Or to see a wild tortoise lumbering across the path.

Birdsong in the woods

Balkan Postcards 6: Postcards from Prespa

Balkans, Wildlife

Today, we journeyed to Lake Prespa, Grecian section. To Little Prespa to be exact. We are staying on an island where we were promised a cacophony of frogs – all night – and a plethora of pelicans. The frogs are delivering: but the pelicans, up to perhaps 80% of them, have been decimated by avian flu. They were not there to greet us as we hoped. But aided by powerful lenses, we finally saw them. Trust me, they’re there, and there in abundance, roughly in the middle of the first shot.

Little Prespa and its pelicans, behind a carpet of asphodels.

I’ll send just one more postcard this evening, taken just as the sun set.

Balkan Postcards 5: Separating the Sheep from the Goats

Balkans, farming

I’m still in rural life mode, still observing an everyday story of country folk.

Today, we were at Little Prespa, wildlife haven for birds, lizards, butterflies and above all frogs. Yet again, we saw shepherds spending their day guiding their flocks, meandering along mountain paths. What we noticed was that goats and sheep prefer not to talk to one another. Goats in front, surging ahead to find the lushest bits of grass, sheep dawdling behind.

And later, as we ate our own picnics, we saw the sheep sheltering from the hot mid-day sun, huddling up close together, so that as little as possible of their bodies was exposed. Goodness knows where the goats and shepherd were at this point.

And here is a workhorse, carrying a load of wood  for his owner.

Balkan postcards 4

Balkans, farming

Off to the hills around Albanian Lake Prespa today, we got to see something of the tough life of a farmer here. Though the sight this morning of a shepherd with his small flock – fewer than 40 animals – of sheep and goats and three sheepdogs wandering slowly along as they grazed seemed idyllic, I’m sure the reality of this subsistence-level existence is rather different. We spotted several other such flocks throughout the day. Do take the time to look and listen to the grazing sheep with their melodious bells in the video I link to below. It all seems to be from a very different world.

A shepherd, his sheep and his goats

Throughout the day, we saw solitary elderly women working alone in their narrow fields, weeding and wielding heavy mattocks. We spotted distant farmers working with ancient tractors. The thin rectangular fields set in regular grid formation in the picture below are a throw-back to communist days, but have been retained because they work.

A grid of fields, shared fairly between local farmers.

Balkan postcards 3

Lake Prespa

You might notice we’re no longer in North Macedonia, but have moved to Albania. This is not in the spirit of ‘If it’s Tuesday, we must be in …’, but rather that our adventure is to get to know Lake Prespa, which laps the shores of these two countries, as well as Greece. An area largely unspoilt by tourism or any form of agribusiness, we’re here to discover its birds, bees, flowers, insects, as well as its chequered history.

Balkan postcards 1

Balkans, Travelling in Europe
Monastery of Saint Paul, Lake Ohrid
Sunset over Lake Ohrid

The first of a series of Balkan vignettes: full story later – postcards aren’t for long stories. Here we are beside Lake Ohrid in North Macedonia, staying in a former monastery. In a modern take on Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, this working monastery, dedicated to Saint Naum, was seized during the communist era, and transformed into a hotel. Yugoslavia and the Communist period are long gone, but the hotel remains. God’s loss is Mammon’s gain.