Monday, April 10, 2006

Deja vous

Sudan Golden Sparrow with Blackbird

As far as I know, an escape previously unrecorded in Cambs, and I get not one, but two Sudan Golden Sparrows within 18 months of each other. This is a record shot of a male in the garden this morning. Click here for the bird seen in my garden in September 2004

Image | Panasonic Lumix FZ-30 | © Steve Dudley

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Lesvos, 20th – 27th April 2006

A Speyside Wildlfie holiday with Steve Dudley and Duncan Macdonald

Day 1, 20 Apr
Steve and Duncan meet the group at Heathrow Airport, and we embark on our late-night flight to Athens.

Day 2, 21 Apr
After an early-hours transfer in Athens, we arrive at Mytilini at 0620h and quickly transfer to the buses and are on the road to Skala Kallonis. On arrival we take breakfast and then adjourn to our rooms to rest up after our overnight journey. Some decide to investigate the local area instead and bird the local pools by the hotel which, although heavily silted, have a decent amount of water on and actually hold some birds.

We meet up at 1300h and drive over to Achlederi. We park in the shade of the pines and lunch under a brilliant blue sky, warm with a fresh southerly wind. Over lunch we enjoy good views of several Common Buzzards and a pair of Short-toed Eagles soaring over the wooded hillside opposite. Two Alpine Swifts streak through the blue sky. ‘Now we’re in to real birds’ comments Steve. But they disappear as quickly as they appeared. In response to a question about looking for Krüper’s Nuthatch, Steve replies that he has never seen them around the car park. Within seconds, Dave asks what the two birds are in the pine above the vans. ‘Krüper’s!’ exclaim Duncan and Steve in unison. One promptly disappears but the male gives us fantastic views as it flits around from pine to pine around were we are having lunch! How’s that for a start! Eventually he moves off and we resume our search of the sky and car park area. Steve picks up a couple of Black Storks circling over the hillside opposite and Duncan finds a cracking male black-throated Black-eared Wheatear. A couple of Scarce Swallowtails are the first of lots of butterflies we find on the wing in the warm sunshine. We find one of the Krüper’s again and with a beak full of food it makes off through the trees. A male Cirl Bunting is singing ahead of us and we eventually pick him up, but we fail to find the Serin singing from the nearby treetops.

Birds just keep jumping out in front of us. Familiar species such as Corn Bunting, Chaffinch, Greenfinch (with white cheeks!), Goldfinch and Blackbird are all singing along with less familiar birds such as Crested Lark and Serin. The wood is filled with constant song and chatter. Dave finds a pair of Short-toed Treecreepers and we all get good views when two Short-toed Eagles drift over. Further up the track we find another pair of treecreepers which have a nest in one of the messy growths hanging from the pines. What a strange place for a treecreeper to nest as they usually nest in crevices in trunks or behind peeling bark.

Along the forest track we encounter many butterflies including familiar species such as Common Blue, Small Copper and Clouded Yellow, and Eastern Mediterranean species such as Spotted Fritillary.

Arriving back at the vans Steve spots a female Montagu’s Harrier flying low over the trees heading north. Dave then points out a bird by the road. ‘Masked Shrike’ proclaims Duncan. Scopes are swung in to action and we are all soon enjoying this cracking bird. It is joined briefly by the male Black-eared Wheatear which is still bombing around the car park. Two Ravens appear over the car park and Duncan picks up three Turtle Doves sitting on wires by the road.

We move on to Derbyshire where the large expanse of water is pretty devoid of birds apart from the odd Little Egret. The dry areas are more productive with at least nine Ruddy Shelduck dotted around among the goats. At our second stop we wander down a track overlooking a marsh area with two Short-toed Eagles displaying overhead. A male Black-headed Wagtail sits out in the marsh looking like a small flower in the sea of green grass. Terry then finds the first of two male Whinchat as Duncan finds a tennis ball, sorry, Woodchat, sat in a bush. A male Peregrine swoops low over us as we walk back enjoying the many ‘tongue’ orchids in the marsh meadow.

Driving by the saltpans Steve spies a group of terns over the moat. We pull in along the western road to find a single Whiskered Tern among a group of Common Terns. Great stuff. We get excellent views of this marsh tern as it picks items delicately off the water’s surface.
The near corner of the moat is chock with waders – Ruff, Wood Sands,two Marsh Sands and a lone Common Sand. The nearby pan holds loads of Avocets, many Greenshank and two dusky Spotted Redshanks. A Black Stork is picked up circling distantly heading north up Napi Valley. Little Terns bomb around everywhere with several sitting on the Avocet island. There are 11 Grey Herons on one of the bunds, and closer inspection also finds a couple of Stone Curlews and a Kentish Plover on the same bank. A Squacco Heron is seen in flight over the pool over the road.

We head across the fields towards Eats River. Crested Larks and Corn Buntings are everywhere. ‘Collared Prat!’ shouts Duncan down the radio to Steve. He’s picked up in a lone bird flying over us high, calling, but it doesn’t hang around and all we really see is its rear end disappearing in to the distance. Driving through the fields adds Cetti’s and Olivaceous Warblers and a lone male Whitethroat. Approaching East River three Little Ringed Plovers are chasing one another over a rough sandy area. One bird eventually goes down and settles down on what appears to be a nest scrape. We cross the ford which is host to White Wagtail and Wood Sand and along the west bank with glimpses of a couple of singing Nightingales before stopping watch to a group of House Martins collecting mud from the edges of a pool.

We arrive back at the hotel and enjoy a rest and a freshen up before meeting up for dinner and regaling the days excitement and for many, the delight of the new birds seen.

Day 3, 22 Apr
After breakfast we head north, with a Long-legged Buzzard and a couple of Red-rumped Swallows later, we are at ‘Tracey Island’ near Petra. No sooner has Steve got out of his van and he picks up the first of four singing male Rüppell’s Warblers we are to enjoy over the next hour or so. These stunning scrub warblers sing from their various bush song-posts and perform their delightful aerial song-flights before parachuting back down to a nearby bush – just like a Whitethroat! We also get our first decent views of a male Cretzschmar’s Bunting singing from an overhead wire. This is a smart bunting with its grey-blue head and orangey underparts. Both black-faced and black-eared Black-eared Wheatears are bouncing around the rocks below us when a couple of Red-rumped Swallows appear above us. There are several butterflies around us, Painted Lady, Wall and our first of many False Apollos. A flock of Spanish Sparrows bounce through. Passage migrants? ‘Orphean Warbler!’ yells Steve. Everyone assembles around him and eventually it’s relocated on top of a bush. Fantastic! It disappears and appears within seconds chasing a female. A Blue Rock Thrush is next up, shining blue as it bounces around the pale rocks.

After an hour or so we head off and out towards the Molivos reservoir. A singing male Subalpine Warbler and a couple of Red-rumped Swallows perched on a wire stop us along the track. Soon out of the vans we also pick up Marsh Harrier and Peregrine overhead. The male Peregrine comes low over us providing stunning views. The reservoir is pretty disappointing with only a handful of Black-winged Stilts and Wood Sands, but interest is soon provided in the form of a singing Cirl Bunting and a Crag Martin in among the Red-rumped Swallows overhead.

We stop at Eftalou and look out across the sea to Turkey. It’s amazing to think that we are so far from the Greek mainland yet only a handful of miles from Turkey yet we are on a Greek island. Within a few minutes Steve finds us Yelkouan Shearwater. We see several winging past before Duncan finds one sitting on the sea and Dave then finds some more a bit closer.

We head up along the rough north coast track. We stop in the first of the little valleys where we find several Subalpine Warblers and Whitethroats bouncing around the low bushes below us. A Lesser Whitethroat appears briefly in a small bush and a couple of Sombre Tits are glimpsed. We move on, but within a few minutes we are brought to a halt. Norman has spotted a suicidal Tortoise walking along the concrete wall of a drainage channel with a sheer drop (alright, all five feet of it) on one side. The Tortoise freezes as we approach, but keeps head and feet out – obviously for a quick getaway! It doesn’t seem too bothered and soon resumes its walk along the wall and then its four-by-four-like scramble down the scree. That’s some grip it’s got there! A Masked Shrike grabs our attention (“rightly so” says Duncan kicking off the now annual Masked vs. Woodchat shrikes debate!) and we get our best views yet of this stunning shrike. Steve then picks up a male Goshawk low over the hill above us. It’s pursued by a Hooded Crow – and the crow is smaller! It pays little attention to the crow, powering through the air. It disappears behind the trees. It looks like it has landed as the crow us going mad dive-bombing one area. A Cuckoo then comes hurtling out of the trees and a few seconds later the male Gos is following. Wow! We get great views of this powerful hawk before it finally heads off over the hill and out of sight – cuckoo-less!

We continue along the track and get our second taste of Long-legged Buzzard. Steve picks up what he thinks is a Lesser Kestrel, but it’s up, up and away before we really see enough of it. A bird singing by the vans causes a minor conundrum before Steve works out it’s not a Nightingale, or an Orphean Warbler – it’s a Sprosser! Sorry, Thrush Nightingale. The bird chunters on endlessly as we search the area around it for Sombreros. Dave finds a Hawfinch which we all see briefly as it flies off, and Duncan and Steve P. get brief views of a couple of Tree Sparrows in amongst a flock of House Sparrows. Unfortunately no Sombreros.

We have lunch in one of the valleys with a Red-rumped Swallow for company. The odd Wall Lizard provides additional entertainment until a German birdwatcher tells us that he has seen a Red-breasted Flycatcher back along the track. Steve goes for a quick recce whilst others finish their lunch. He is soon back after the merest of views of it and we all head back but, but despite a lengthy wait, it fails to materialise.

We head away and after a wind-down drink and ice cream in the picturesque harbour village of Skala Sikaminias, we head out towards the top of Napi valley. We find a suitable vantage point to spend our last hour in the field, and getting out of the vans Steve and Duncan are immediately shouting and pointing towards two Sombreros (Sombre Tits) bouncing around some dead bushes by the road. They perform brilliantly and we get cracking views in perfect light. ‘The Collins Guide don’t do ‘em justice’ mutters Steve P. who is then quick to pick up a Wood Nuthatch in a tree on the opposite side of the road. The first of three or more Hoopoes begins to call from up the valley. Duncan then shows why he has earned his spotters badge by pointing out a Little Owl sitting in the window of a small hillside building way up the valley – well, nearly in Turkey actually! A Middle Spotted Woodpecker calls from behind us. Steve takes a stone and taps on a tree. It gets the attention of what turns out to be a pair of woodpeckers, but only briefly, and after the merest of glimpses they disappear and are once again silent. We turn our attention to the skies and find Short-toed Eagle and Common and Long-legged Buzzards before the woodpeckers call again. We get more brief views before they disappear once again.

Time has pressed on so we head straight back to the hotel, freshen up and after a delicious dinner of lamb meat balls, we recount the days highlights over the checklist and coffee and then retire to our beds to dream about what wonders lie in store as we head west tomorrow.

Day 4, 23 Apr
We take a slightly early breakfast and are on the road by 0820h heading west. We make a brief stop at Liminos Monastery where Dave finds a singing Rüppell's Warbler. Nice one Dave. On route west we come across a Long-legged Buzzard right by the road which gives fantastic views as it makes off, and hear a Wren in full song as we pass through Vatousa. A second singing Wren is heard as we enter the Grand Canyon and just before Steve finds the first shrike of what will turn out to be a shrike-filled day. This male Red-backed Shrike performs brilliantly for us as we view from the vans. The Grand Canyon though is pretty quiet with only the expected breeders and no passage migrants. The bird song is fabulous though– Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Nightingales, Cirl Bunting, Black-eared Wheaters and Subalpine Warblers, Turtle Dove to name just some of the songsters. A couple of Crag Martins and Red-rumped Swallows wheel around and we manage to get great views of the martins, as they show off their tail spots.

We reach the Junction area where we stop briefly to watch a singing Woodlark before moving on to the Isabelline Wheatear site. We are stuck in to Issy Wheats immediately, with at least two pairs active, the males look totally different to the buffy-coloured females it’s hard to believe they are the same species! We relocate where we can see more of the Night Heron
roost and eventually pull ten out of the bushes. Heading back to the vans we find several more crakes creeping around the lake edge. We head back to the hotel for a much-needed breakfast.

We head back out and crossing East River we find a smart Temminck’s Stint by the ford. We head straight out to the flooded sheep field by the entrance to saltworks. There are waders everywhere. Mostly Riff and Wood Sands, but we pick straight away on a group of Curlew Sandpipers preening. Some are acquiring summer plumage and one in particular is fantastically deep, rich, velvety brackish-red in tone. We are still enjoying them when they suddenly lift, rise and head purposely off to the north. Migration in action!

We continue looking through the plethora of birds dotted across the marsh. Little Stints creep between the taller waders. We count up to at least 18 Garganey and 11 Glossy Ibis. A Marsh Harrier plays havoc with the feeding birds, causing them to panic each time it appears, sending clouds of birds in to the air. A single Whiskered Tern appears, gliding back and forth dropping gracefully down to delicately pick at the water’s surface.

We head out on to the sheep fields and are greeted by a singing Short-toed Lark above us in the blue sky. The bright sun and sky mask the fact that it’s a much cooler day due to the fresh northerly wind. The lark doesn’t seem to care though, as it hovers above us banging out its little ditty. We head across the field to a group of yellow wagtails. Even from a distance we can see that there are several Red-throated Pipits among them, so we edge closer and eventually get great views of these gorgeous rosy-fronted pipits. Among the Black-headed Wags are two Blue-headed and one female which has a near black head and long white supercilium, making it either a ‘dombrowski’ (Romanian) or ‘supercilius’ (Russian). The little pools hold a handful of Little Stints, a Dunlin and a Kentish Plover and the usual Ruff and Wood Sand. A group of Glossy Ibis drop in briefly.

We head along the edge of the saltpans where a Caspian Tern put on a great show for us, showing off its huge red conk! We then find several each of Black-headed and Slender-billed Gulls – all first summers. Several Ruddy Shelducks are flying around giving their goose-like honks. We head back to the vans picking up several more Short-toed Larks and Red-throated Pipits and a real Lesbos rarity – Common Starling!

We move back to the flooded fields where on arrival Terry immediately finds a male Citrine Wagtail – what a boy! Unfortunately it doesn’t stick around and flies off with several yellow wagtails. Suddenly the sky above pool is full of birds. Collared Pratincoles! They are swooping all around us. Some are alighting on one of the small islands in the pool where some start to bathe. Thirty pratincoles turns in to 50, then in to 70. Wow! This is amazing. Terry then goes and finds his second major bird of the day – Great Snipe! It’s feeding near some Ruff in the taller grass, but its large size and heavily barred underparts are very clear. A handful of Whiskered Terns then appear in front of us, dipping at the surface. Gull-billed Terns!’ shouts Duncan pointing at a line 11 large terns flying straight past us! All these terns have also obviously just come in. This is fantastic – migration in full swing.

We decide to relocate to the eastern end of the pans. On arrival we find up to 40 Gull-bulled Terns sitting on an island in one of the pools. The same island also holds Whiskered, Common and Little Terns. What a comparison! Steve then picks up a lone adult Black Tern feeding nearby. ‘This is actually the rarest of the marsh terns on Lesbos’ comments Steve.

We head up Napi valley and lunch amidst the olive groves. We are serenaded by an Orphean Warbler behind us and Blackbirds all around. Our lunch-time excitement comes in the form of a Hobby which appears over us and spends the next 10 - 15 minutes flashing up and down the valley hawking for insects. On the drive out of the valley we get brief views of a Middle-spotted Woodpecker.

We head on up the valley and thanks to a wrong turn run in to a bit of luck. First in the form of a pair of Goshawks circling over a wooded hillside, and the second in the form of a huge Glass Lizard – a large, snake-like legless lizard. Steve almost runs the lizard over which shoots back in to the verge. We are out of the vans in no time and soon find it against a wall. Out first thought of Monpellier Snake – a very dangerous venomous snake, doesn’t stop a fool-hardy Duncan from grabbing it by the tail to stop it form disappearing in to the stone wall! It’s a real whopper – well over a meter in length. It’s the same as two dead ones seen yesterday out west. It isn’t however until we return back to the hotel that we discover that it is not a snake at all, but Europe’s largest legless lizard!

A walk along the valley below Napi village is quiet. Several Long-legged Buzzards and Short-toed Eagles circle overhead and Dave finds an Eastern Festoon and we see a brilliant male Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly.

The wind is picking up again so we head back to the coast. A brief stop at a roadside pool for a Temminck’s Stint and then at East River provides excellent views of Olivaceous Warbler before heading back to the flooded fields at the saltpans. At the fields we find at least six Common Snipe with the waders. Fresh in? Or just crept out of the long grass?! Duncan then finds our second Citrine Wag of the day, this time a bright first-summer male, and a couple of White-winged Black Terns drop in, again new arrivals.
What a day! Visible migration at its best and a host of new species for the trip. Roll on tomorrow.

Day 5, 24 Apr
We breakfast early and head straight over to Sigri. On arrival we find an adult Mediterranean Gull in the bay and a gang of Jackdaws over the town. Lesser Kestrels soon appear hunting all around us and we see some excellent views of one male in particular. We can hear a Black-headed Bunting singing and manage brief views before it disappears in to a thicket of thistles to feed with sparrows and Goldfinches. ‘Golden Oriole!’ is shouted. A spanking male sat out on a fence post! It soon realises its mistake and that we can see it, and is soon bouncing around the lower branches of a nearby fig tree. Four more Lesser Kestrels go over as we find a Chiffchaff and male Red-backed Shrike. The Golden Oriole reappears and we find a female Red-backed Shrike in the same field as the male. A cream-crown Marsh Harrier drifts by, battling hard against the cool northerly wind. The first of several Woodchat Shrikes is found as parties of hirundines start to pass through to the north. We then find a pair of Maskes Shrikes in an olive grove where Steve and Duncan also see a Tree Pipit which seems to melt in to the olive it flitted up to. A male Black-eared Wheatear flits around the rocky outcrop by the field. We head back out to the track where there is a Great Reed Warbler chuntering away from the bushes by the little bridge. The bird is hidden deep in the bush and whilst searching for it Steve finds a Tree Frog in the bush and Robin a second. The Great Reed eventually shows itself, but far from satisfactory, before it flies off to a nearby stand of bamboo where it dives deep in to cover.

We park at the ford where a quick scan along the river reveals only a Common Sandpiper. Steve P. then rescans and pulls out a female Citrine Wagtail! Our third in two days! We wander up the track and look over the fields. The northerly wind is still blowing strong but doesn’t seem to be putting off some birds from moving north. A Long-legged Buzzard appears among the countless Yellow-legged Gulls just before Steve spots three White Storks drifting by high up the valley. How come they can fly straight in to the wind without flapping? They move slowly northwards until suddenly they begin to lift and circle. They’ve found an updraft from one of the nearby hillsides and are soon circling upwards and northwards and are lost to view. A female Common Kestrel circles over and we find a Pied Flycatcher in a fig tree. Just as we are leaving Steve spots a falcon coming in. It’s just a silhouette. It gets closer, and closer. Unmarked underparts. Gingery buff body…and head. ‘Female Red-footed Falcon’ shouts Steve. It keeps coming towards us, battling against the wind. It’s almost over our heads. It lands. Wow! Its just feet away! It looks down and sees us and panics, and hurtles off away out of view.

We continue up the track and find a sheltered spot for lunch. A nearby fig tree is suddenly the centre of our attention when Steve finds a couple of Wood Warblers then a Collared Flycatcher. Great stuff! The male Collared Fly isn’t too co-operative, but those of us not too worried about filling our faces all get decent views before it disappears. One of the Wood Warblers is a little more obliging. Overhead there is a strong passage of Red-rumped Swallows and above them we pick out a couple of Alpine Swifts.

We take the track from Sigri to Eressos. We don’t hang around this time as we want to concentrate on the ford area, but the Little Owl from the other day is on the same rock on his roof, so we stop for a brief look. With no sign or sound of Chukar we are soon at the ford. The usual raptor suspects are around – a vocal pair of Peregrines and several each of Long-legged Buzzard and Short-toed Eagle. A pair of Stonechat are flitting around and a Woodlark perches on a dead bush. Red-backed and Woodchat Shrikes are seen, as too is a Black-headed Bunting very briefly. A female Cirl Bunting poses with a huge caterpillar in her beak and a male Cretzschmar’s Bunting performs brilliantly for us.

We head down to the ford at Skala Eressau. They’ve completed the bridge after only six years and the vegetation is now growing back up. Still, there was nothing at all present, a factor of the northerly wind rather than anything else. We head to the beach and after only a few minutes we are watching parties of Yelkouan Shearwaters streaming past to the north. Right out at sea the occasional Cory’s Shearwater can be seen wheeling against the horizon.

We begin the drive back to Skala Kallonis. The pool near Eressos holds a corking male Little Bittern and a couple of Greenshank. We have time for a short stop at Inland Lake and aren’t disappointed. Some of us see our first Little Crake from the van. A Little Bittern is out on the reed edge opposite along with at least seven Night Herons. Two more Little Crakes are found, including a stunning male out in the open on a dead log. A Great Reed Warbler starts up from the bushes by us. After some searching, Robin eventually picks it up and we are treated to great views as this over-sized warbler clumsily bounces around the bush. Turning back to the vans we find the sky full of Night Herons! They’ve all just come out from roost and circle the lake before alighting along the edge of the reeds and in the bushes opposite. We can see them looking down expectantly at the water below, metaphorically licking their bills in anticipation of their night-time foraging. Time is pressing on so we pull away only to be stopped on our way out byan obliging Squacco Heron feeding under a small bridge. Another great way to end another great day.

After dinner some of us were treated to a couple of dueting Scops Owls to fall asleep to.

Day 6, 25 Apr
After breakfast we head up the beautiful Potamia valley. The sky is blue and the sun warm, but that strong northerly is still blowing, cooling both the temperature and our enthusiasm. At the reservoir we find two trip ticks – Mute Swan and Pochard! Nothing like adding a couple of familiar ‘back home’ species to the trip list! We walk up one of the side valleys. It’s partially sheltered from the northerly wind and as the sun gets higher it helps to pick the temperature up. There are large numbers of hirundines and Common Swifts moving north overhead. A Long-legged Buzzard flies off a crag above us and we get awesome views as it soars right over us. Duncan then picks up movement on the same crag. ‘Chukar!’ he pronounces. Bingo! At last we have Chukar in the scope. It sits on top of the crag for some time allowing us to absorb it. It then begins to call – chu-kar, chu-kar, chu-kar. A dragonfly is next to take our eye – bright yellow and black. We eventually get good views and Steve is able to ID as female skimmer, but without reference he couldn’t say for certain. (Identified back home as Black-tailed Skimmer). A male Cirl Bunting with food is sitting in a dead bush calling and a male Woodchat pops up in front of us. Something is scolding in the scrub near the Woodchat. We can’t work out what it is, but eventually a male Orphean Warbler materialises. A male Subalpine Warbler is in full song and song-flighting from a nearby olive. We continue up the track and find several skipper butterflies. Steve gets some excellent photos which enable us to ID them as Tufted Marbled Skipper. A pair of Masked Shrikes are seen briefly taking food to a bushy area before we see two Ruddy Shelduck flying over. A blue butterfly flashes by us. It is dazzling – almost metallic looking. Again Steve manages a photo which helps us to ID it as an Iolas Blue.

We head out of the valley and up the Dead Goat Pit Track! No dead goats to look at, but a spanking male Woodchat singing its little head off with all its might. Steve finds a Tortoise (our forth of the week).

We head on down to the saltpans. The north-west corner is full of the usual wader suspects – Ruff, Wood Sands, Little Stint, Black-winged Stilts. We make our way down to the flooded field by the saltwork entrance. Four Gull-billed Terns fly through and the place is buzzing with Ruff, Garganey and Glossy Ibis. A single Whiskered Tern bounces around right in front of us and not forgetting to look up, several Alpine Swifts head over. A Lesser Emperor dragonfly skirts the edge of the pool and a Tree Pipit appears on the wire above the pool. Five Collared Pratincoles zip through, paying very little attention to the pool and a lone Great White Egret drops in from high. The water’s edge right below us is alive with movement.
What look like tails of something are breaking the surface as a frenzy of wriggling goes on. Duncan is straight in there and before we know it he is holding the largest tadpole we have ever seen! It’s huge, filling his hand.

After lunch we head north through Napi valley to the north coast. We make a couple of stops which provide more Long-legged and Common Buzzards and another Goshawk (what a week it’s been for Gos!). One stop is great for butterflies. A couple of areas of thistles are alive with butterflies– False Apollos, Painted Ladies, Scarce Swallowtail.

We enjoy a relaxing break in our usual taverna in Skala Sikaminias before heading slowly back through Napi valley. We stop at one of our favoured areas to view for raptors and local breeding birds. We find two active pairs of Rock Nuthatch, one pair still making their mud nest. A Woodchat is singing from a tall tree. Steve wanders off for a call of nature and is heard shouting from his hide-away. ‘Duncan! Snake!’ Most of the others can’t see Steve or a snake. Norman gets a distant view of the snake and Duncan legs it down to where Steve is. Steve meanwhile is watching a huge meter-plus fat-bodied, boldly marked snake right out in the open only 15 feet from where he is standing. It is looking right at Steve, head raised off the ground and its tongue tasting the air. Tasting Steve! It suddenly turns and in a quick wriggle it has taken cover. Duncan now joins Steve. They both search the area where it has disappeared and Duncan spots it heading down a bank. They both watch it as it quickly disappears down a hole. Wow! It’s only back at the hotel that they are able to confirm the ID as Ottoman Viper – one of the region’s most dangerous snakes!

We resume birding and a Hoopoe wings its way past us. It lands in an oak tree but before we are able to get the scopes on to it, it is heading back towards us. Within a few minutes it flies back to the tree only too quickly about turn and fly back past us. A third time Steve manages to see that it is doing nothing more perching in the back of the tree by the main trunk before flying back across the valley. Perhaps it’s a prospecting bird? Duncan then finds a Jay high in a tree before we have to call it a day and head back. Just as we are pulling away, Steve spots a large bird down the valley. ‘Black Stork!’ he shouts down the radio to Duncan. They quickly reposition and it’s all out to enjoy this migrant bird, fresh in from the south in search of a roosting spot for the night.

We head back to the hotel. It’s been a slow day for migrants, but it’s been another very enjoyable day on this jewel of Aegean island.

Day 7, 26 Apr
We had planned on going west again as far as Ipsilou, but the strong northly wind had rendered the great monastery on the mount migrant-less all week for all groups. So, we make a bold move and aim to head south for the day.

We cut across to East River and chance on a Black Stork. Although we initially flush it, it lands up ahead of us and we are able to park up out of sight and manoeuvre ourselves into a great viewing position by the ford. We get fantastic views as it stands in the river edge drinking. Wow! A walker eventually flushes it and it rises and circles over the river, rapidly gaining height whilst drifting slowly northwards. We head across to the saltpans flood and are treated with the usual tapestry of marshland birdlife – flocks of Garganey, loads of waders, Glossy Ibis, Little Egrets, terns. One of our few Great Egrets of the week wings in to the sea and pitches down. Another great example of visible migration.

We head out to through Derbyshire where we collect another four Black Storks - obviously an arrival the previous evening and birds now waiting for the air to warm so they can continue their migration north. Twenty-six Ruddy Shelducks are dotted around the wetland area and another couple of Great White Egrets are found.

We arrive at a very quiet Achladeri. We wander through the woodland until Steve locates a tree with many holes. And bingo! A Krüper’s Nuthatch appears at one of the holes. We spend the next hour getting fantastic views of the pair of adults to-ing and fro-ing from the nest hole, bring in food and taking away faecal sacks. A pair of Serin briefly get our attention when they start feeding on the ground right by us, but for the most part, the hour is spent enthralled by these great little nuthatches.

We move on taking the beach road from Achladeri south and wandering through the olive groves towards the islands second lot of saltpans at Skala Polihnitos. The drive throws up a whole host of goodies – many Black-headed Buntings and Woodchats, yellow wagtails, White Wagtail, Little Bittern – it’s a great drive and a totally different habitat to be birding in.

We arrive at the Polihnitos saltpans. First scan is very disappointing. The pans are empty. And we haven’t shaken off that raging northerly! We continue down the track when Steve spots a bird on the wires ahead of us. ‘Red-footed Falcon’ announces Steve down the radio to Duncan, so it’s all out in to that wind! But it’s well worth it when we get stunning views of a male Red-footed Falcon hunting from the wire, sweeping down low over the field below, flashing his silvery wings. Whilst we are out of the vans an immature male Marsh Harrier drifts past and a Collared Pratincole wings through without stopping. So there is definitely still some migration taking place. Duncan then picks up on a distance falcon. Steve decides to get his scope on it. ‘Eleanora’s Falcon!’ he shouts. The bird is not close as it scoots along the nearby ridge, ducking below the treetops on occasion, and lost. Boy that was quick!

We drive round all the viewable pans and leave very disappointed with only a handful of Little Stints and Kentish Plovers.

We drive down towards Vetera. On route, Duncan spies a raptor ahead of us being mobbed by a crow. We manage to find a spot to pull over and find ourselves underneath an immature female Honey Buzzard circling with a Long-legged Buzzard. Great stuff!

We continue down to Vatera and on to the Almiropodamos River where we find a White-winged Black Tern, at least four Squacco Herons and Little Egrets. Overhead a handful of Alpine Swifts sweep around above the increasing number of Common Swifts, and a Black-headed Bunting sings from a nearby bush.

We head on down to Agios Fokas for lunch. This is a south-facing headland right in the middle of the island and just south of the mouth of the Gulf of Kalloni. We manage to find a spot sheltered from the wind and facing straight in to the sun. Fantastic! We tuck in to lunch and enjoy the array of ‘Scopoli’s’ Cory’s Shearwaters and Yelkouan Shearwaters off the headland. The Yelks are close in, but the Cory’s are a little further out and appear to be making for a passing trawler behind which there is a huge gathering of wheeling shearwaters and gulls. Over lunch we see a Little Stint and a Whimbrel fly in off the sea, with countless hirundines and swifts. The main attraction however appears to be a huge monster bee (Scolia flavifrons) with four distinctive yellow spots.

We leave our sunny hollow and head back to the river but are stopped in our tracks going back through the olive groves by the sight of a couple of Middle Spotted Woodpeckers. We park up and quietly watch the grove from an adjacent grove. The ground is covered in sparrows, finches and buntings, a couple of Northern Wheatears are seen. We eventually track the peckers down to their nest hole by the track, and manage to watch from the shade of some olive trees on the other side of the track. After a few glimpses of peckers flitting around the grove, one eventually comes to the hole. Great stuff.

We move on back down to the river. The Squacco count goes up to seven and Steve finds a Green Sandpiper which is new for the week. Steve then picks up on a small raptor coming off the sea towards the ridge. ‘Levants!’ he pronounces as it dives into the tree on the ridge. Damn! Hold on. Dave has picked up on two birds the other side of the ridge. ‘Two Levants!’ shouts Steve. Wow! We get great views of a pair of Levants circling together, drifting over the river valley towards us, before correcting
their course and heading off northwards. The shape, with their small, pinched, pointed hands, and the colour of the male are easy to see. Fantastic views! And what a bonus.

On our way back north we stop for photos by a field of vivid poppies near Achladeri before reaching the Kalloni saltpans. There are clearly more flamingos in, and we find a flock of marsh terns – six Whiskered and a single White-winged Black Tern. Our last action of the day is a drive along East River where we manage a couple of Red-backed Shrikes and a singing Olivaceous Warbler before heading back to the hotel for a relax, and for some a swim, at the hotel before dinner.

Day 9, 27 Apr
Our last morning. We take a leisurely and relaxed breakfast and take our time packing the vans. We say farewell to the hotel staff and head off to Inland Lake. Hold on one mo though. Duncan radios Steve to say he will catch him up as he has left his binoculars behind!

At Inland Lake we are greeted by a lone White-winged Black Tern dancing through the air, dipping over the water to pick insects from the surface. Night Herons are immediately obvious and we get a new week peak count of 15 birds roosting around the lake. Several Little Crakes are picked up and a female Common Teal drops in (trip tick for many of us). Duncan picks up the first of three Black Storks moving through the valley. Duncan then finds us a new amphibian for the trip – Pond Terrapin. Squacco Heron and Woodchat complete our haul for here as we head off along the back road to Dafia.

We head on up Napi Valley. Approaching Agias Paraskevi three White Storks are in the air. We pull up and find one bird has alighted on its nest on top of the large factory chimney. The two others birds, an adult and sub-adult are circling together low over us. We move on up to the wooded slopes north of Napi. Duncan and Steve go on walkabout. The group find a pair of Hoopoes to watch, one of which is very obliging and puts on a real show, erectile crest and all! Steve comes running back down the hill with news that he and Duncan have found their quarry – Olive Tree Warbler. The group relocate up the hill and we are soon watching the hillside where the bird had been heard and seen. It’s some hillside as well. A Cirl Bunting is in full song right in front of us, as too are both Masked and Woodchat Shrikes, Subalpine and Orphean Warblers, and two distantly calling Hoopoes. A few raptors begin to hit the thermals and Long-legged and Common Buzzard and Short-toed Eagles are picked up over the various hilltops. ‘Falcon!’ shouts Steve. It’s the first of three or four male Red-foots that go through during the next hour.

But still no further sign of the Olive Tree Warbler, although a very brief snatch of song is heard amidst the cacophony of birdsong. It’s already time for lunch, and instead of spending time in the vans and searching for another location, it’s decided that this is pretty good as it is – plenty of birds – so we stay put. It’s our warmest day of the week as the cool northerly wind that has dominated the weeks proceedings has abated and the sun is allowed to warm us unhindered.

Lunch over, and with no further sign of the OTW, we abandon our vigil as it’s time to make tracks for the airport. We take it easy, driving the Mantomodos to Mytillini road, new for Duncan and Steve, making a couple of stops to view likely areas, but we are all too soon on the outskirts of Mytillini. We pass the impressive remains of what once must have been an impressive castle looking out across to Turkey. Arriving at the airport, we all repack in order to pack away all our scopes and tripods, and then check in. With gifts bought, we find some seating for the final checklist of the holiday. A couple of new additions today give us a grand total of 161 species for the week and a host of other wildlife as well. We then run through the Speyside end-of-trip formalities before boarding for Athens. Place of the trip is a close run thing, with the ford between Sigri and Eressos just pipping Ipsilou (the usual winner!). Magic Moments can often be personal moments, but this week the hour or so by the Kalloni Saltpans flood area which coincided with a passage of around 70 Collared Pratincoles, marsh terns and Gull-billed Terns, and the finding of a Citrine Wagtail and a Great Snipe trumped it for many. Species of the trip was quite unexpected. Often one of the real rarities such as Krüper’s Nuthatch or Cinereous Bunting sweeps the boards, but Black-headed Bunting did it for most, with votes also for Cinereous Bunting, Lesser Grey Shrike, Citrine Wagtail and Spanish Sparrow.

Little Grebe
Cory’s Shearwater
Yelkouan Shearwater
Common Bittern
Little Bittern
Night Heron
Squacco Heron
Little Egret
Great White Egret
Grey Heron
Purple Heron
Black Stork
White Stork
Glossy Ibis
Greater Flamingo
Mute Swan
Ruddy Shelduck
Common Shelduck
Common Teal
Honey Buzzard
Short-toed Eagle
Marsh Harrier
Montagu’s Harrier
Levant Sparrowhawk
Common Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Lesser Kestrel
Common Kestrel
Red-footed Falcon
Eleanora’s Falcon
Water Rail
Little Crake
Black-winged Stilt
Collared Pratincole
Little Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Grey Plover
Little Stint
Temminck’s Stint
Curlew Sandpiper
Common Snipe
Great Snipe
Black-tailed Godwit
Common Redshank
Spotted Redshank
Marsh Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Mediterranean Gull
Black-headed Gull
Slender-billed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Gull-billed Tern
Caspian Tern
Common Tern
Little Tern
Whiskered Tern
Black Tern
White-winged Black Tern
Rock Dove
Collared Dove
Turtle Dove
Scops Owl (heard)
Little Owl
Common Swift
Alpine Swift
Middle Spotted Woodpecker
Short-toed Lark
Crested Lark
Sand Martin
Crag Martin
Barn Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
House Martin
Tawny Pipit
Tree Pipit
Red-throated Pipit
'Blue-headed' Yellow Wagtail
'Black-headed' Yellow Wagtail
Citrine Wagtail
White Wagtail
Wren (heard)
Common Nightingale
Thrush Nightingale (heard)
Isabelline Wheatear
Northern Wheatear
Black-eared Wheatear
Blue Rock Thrush
Mistle Thrush
Cetti’s Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
Olivaceous Warbler
Olive Tree Warbler
Subalpine Warbler
Rüppell's Warbler
Orphean Warbler
Lesser Whitethroat
Common Whitethroat
Wood Warbler
Spotted Flycatcher
Collared Flycatcher
Pied Flycatcher
Sombre Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Wood Nuthatch
Krüper’s Nuthatch
Rock Nuthatch
Short-toed Treecreeper
Golden Oriole
Red-backed Shrike
Lesser Grey Shrike
Woodchat Shrike
Masked Shrike
Common Starling
Hooded Crow
Tree Sparrow
House Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow
Rock Sparrow
Cirl Bunting
Cinereous Bunting
Cretzschmar’s Bunting
Black-headed Bunting
Corn Bunting

162 species

Marsh Frog
Tree Frog
Balkan Wall Lizard
Balkan Green Lizard
Agama Lizard
Glass Lizard
Ottoman Viper
Whip snake sp.
Stripe-necked Terrapin
European Pond Terrapin
Spur-thighed Tortoise

Persian Squirrel

Dung Beetle
Carpenter Bee
Cardinal Beetle

Lesser Emperor
Scarlet Darter
Broad-bodied Chaser
Black-tailed Skimmer
Southern Emerald Damselfly

Scarce Swallowtail
Clouded Yellow
Small White
Large White
Wall Brown
Orange Tip
Eastern Festoon
Painted Lady
Red Admiral
Painted Lady
Small Copper
Brown Argus
Iolas Blue
Tufted Marbled Skipper
Mallow Skipper
Spotted Fritillary
Common Blue
Meadow Brown
Small Heath

Cream-spotted Tiger
Processionary moth (caterpillar)

Egyptian Grasshopper Oedipoda germanica (red-winged grasshopper)
Carpenter Bee Scolia flavifrons

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

pü pü pü pü pü pü pü - garden tick 117!

Well, after finally nailing Siskin, an equally, and probably much more likely addition to the garden list was cracked today - Whimbrel. On spying a few raindrops on the window, a dash in to the garden to rescue drying clothes was interuppted first by the calls of a couple of Yellow Wags, then the distinctive seven note whistle of a Whimbrel. It called three times before I picked it up heading north-east over the fen.

Full garden list at