Any naturalist staying on Thásos should take the opportunity of taking the ferry to Keramoti and visiting the outstanding habitats of the Nestos Delta on the adjacent mainland. The Nestos River begins on Mt. Rila in Bulgaria and travels 234kms through the Rhodope Mountains to reach the Aegean sea east of Keramoti. Within Greece, the 140kms, from the Central Rodopi Forests on the Bulgarian border, down through the Nestos Gorge to the vast expanse of lakes and marshes of the Delta, are of exceptional importance for wildlife. Most of the area is a proposed National Park, containing three separate Special Protection Areas for bird conservation, and the 125,000 acres of the Delta are designated as a Ramsar Wetland site.
The Delta itself consists of a mosaic of sand dunes, brackish lagoons and saltmarsh, with Kotza Orman Forest the largest expanse of riparian woodland (dominated by poplar Populus, willow Salix and plane Platanus) in the southern Balkans. The sand dunes extend for 50kms eastwards from Keramoti and are the largest example of this habitat in north-eastern Greece. They are largely undisturbed, low marram Ammophila arenaria dunes "dominated by an endemic plant association of Ephedra with Cyperus capitatus, sea daffodil Pancratium and sea holly Eryngium maritimum. At least at the Keramoti end this is a rather narrow zone, about 300 metres wide, but further east the dunes are reported to extend up to 1.5 kilometres inland. Dune tiger beetles Cicindela lunulata are abundant in the foredunes and the spur-thighed tortoise Testudo graeca is frequently seen. This is a very important habitat for the conservation of sand dune plants and animals in Greece and hopefully the encroaching development from Keramoti will have minimal impact on the fauna.
Behind the dunes are the extensive flats of saltpans, saltmarsh and sandy grassland, interspersed with brackish lagoons, Arundo donax reedbeds, tamarisk scrub and river channels. This is an exceptional area for birdlife and supports the most important population of spur-winged plovers Holopterus spinosus in Europe. Other breeding bird species include little bittern Ixobrychus minutus, night heron Nycticorax nycticorax, little egret Egretta garzetta, purple heron Ardea purpurea, white stork Ciconia , ruddy shelduck Tadorna ferruginea, marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus, Levant sparrowhawk Accipiter brevipes, lesser spotted eagle Aquila pomarina, black-winged stilt Himantopus himantopus, avocet Recurvirostra avosetta, stone curlew Burhinus oedicnemus, collared pratincole Glareola pratincola, little tern Sterna , roller Coracias garrulus, Calandra lark Melanocrypha calandra, rufous bush robin Cercotrichas galactotes, lesser grey shrike Lanius minor, and masked shrike Lanius nubicus. Wintering species include pygmy cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus, Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus, great white egret Egretta alba, white-tailed eagle Haliaeetus albicilla and spotted Eagle Aquila clanga (for further information on birdwatching in this area see http://www.eurobirding.co.uk/nestos_delta.htm and the splendid book by Steve Mills Birdwatching in Northern Greece)
The yellow jackal Canis aureus occurs here at one of its few sites in Europe and the European souslik Spermophilus cetellus and the wild cat Felis silvestris are also reported from the Delta, which supports the largest otter Lutra lutra population in Greece. Important assemblages of fish (17 species), reptiles and amphibians (22 species) have been recorded. The Delta as a whole, including the freshwater lakes of Aladjagola at Chryssoupolis, supports thirty-one dragonfly species and fifty-seven butterfly species, with populations of Alcon blue Maculinea alcon, large copper Lycaena dispar and the dragonfly Omphogomphus cecilia. In June the ascalaphid Libelloides macaronius (Neuroptera, Ascalaphidae) can be seen hunting over the sandy grasslands. Five species of these predatory insects, something of a cross between ant-lions and dragonflies, have been recorded from Greece and Popov (Popov, A. 2004. The Ascalaphidae (Neuroptera) of the Balkan Peninsula. Denisia, 13: 229-237.) maps two species (Deleproctophylla australis and Libelloides lacteus) as having been reported from Thásos.
The whole area has been under tremendous pressure from unregulated development but since 1996, when the Greek government finally determined the boundaries of the Ramsar site, much has been done to establish a suitable management plan and to work with adjoining communities to reduce harmful impacts and to conserve the biological richness of the Delta. The inclusion of Nestos in the EU LIFE 'Living Lakes' project has given further impetus to the conservation efforts. The Nestos Riparian Forest Visitor Centre is run by the Forestry Service of Kavala Prefecture. This is about 2kms out of Keramoti on the road to Chryssoupolis. The turning is signposted on the right - follow a rough track for 4.5 kms through farmland, continuing straight on and ignoring any turnings. Phone in advance if possible (Tel.: 2510-247042 / 2510-461803) to check that they will be open.