I wanted a wetland which was easy to reach and which was accessible at short notice so Lake Shkoder was recommended.
If I have any regrets about my tour of Albania it is that I didn't visit Divjake National Park. It contains a wetland and it is half the distance from Tirana than Shkoder. However it is not near a town and would have been tricky to reach. I say why I regret not going there later.
Getting to Shkoder
There are regular buses and minibuses to Shkoder throughout the day from Tirana even though they depart from a different place to those for Durres. Remember Tirana doesn't have bus station. Instead it has five or six locations where buses depart from the side of the road. Each location serves a different region of the country.
The buses for Shkoder actually depart from a location which is barely 5 minutes walk from the place where others depart for Durres but you won't find it without a guide first time. Derek actually walked me there from the hotel!
The bus leaves on the hour and I took the 9am bus. As predicted it arrived in Shkoder after an uneventful journey just under two hours later.
The bus arrives in the town centre. You don't need a taxi to get to the lake. You ask for the "old bridge", get directions and walk across it. After 10 minutes you are at the lake.
It's massive and two thirds of it is in Montenegro rather than Albania. I was restricted of course to the part near the town but it served my purpose.
view of the part of the lake I birded
The opposite side from the walk is the wilder side and must contain hundreds of birds but it is not easily accessible (or at all). The walking side however does have sufficient cover for much bird activity and you can see plenty of the far side using binoculars.
The only hassle for me was a herd of cows which shared the centre of my neighbourhood.
view as the lake widens as it heads north towards Montenegro
One of the most obvious birds you see straight away is pygmy cormorant. They occupied both sides of the water while I was there so afforded good views. they were in full breeding plumage. Some guides say they have a baby face but I think they look quiet sour.
pygmy cormorant at Shkoder
Two other large water birds frequented my side of the water while I was there. One was a squacco heron. It first tried to hide from me but then slowly walked away in the undergrowth.
squacco heron hiding in the long grass
I have a small amount of video footage of the same bird.
short clip of same squacco heron
There were a few little egret on my side too. Most were in breeding plumage. They even had the narrow purple surround to the eye which they retain for only a short time.
little egret in breeding plumage
In the water all the time I was there were varying numbers of great crested grebe.
great crested grebe
Patrolling up and down the side of the lake endlessly were several whiskered tern. they look so different in summer than the birds I saw wintering in Libya.
one of several whiskered tern
On the far side viewable by the naked eye but better with binoculars was clearly plenty of action. A scope would have been useful here. At one moment a little bittern flew out and returned at another moment a bittern did the same thing. With all my endeavours I couldn't trace where the bittern had re-landed even though I tracked him going back into the edge of the reeds.
coot and pygmy cormorant
There were many coot clustered around the far bank too as well as grey heron. Unfortunately there was no sign of dalmatian pelican which are known to visit here. I don't have information as to whether they breed here too.
And this is where my regret about not having visited Divjake National Park comes in. There is a large breeding colony there.
local great reed warbler
We shouldn't forget the smaller birds present at Shkoder. This great reed warbler has improvised on its perch. Yellow wagtail are plentiful around the water's edge and several times goldfinch flew over me brighting up my day.
As I rushed back to catch the 3pm bus I mused that two more days and I would then have started to do justice to Albania's bird life - one extra day at Divjake National Park and one day in the deep south to see more birds of drier country. Perhaps one day I'll be back.