Thursday, May 29, 2008
In the end, the resident male Pheasant drove them off - paranoid git!
Saturday, May 10, 2008
1 May 08
Metochi Lake - Eleanora's Falcon 2, Spotted Crake 1, Little Bittern 3, Middle Spotted Woodpecker.
2 May 08
Kalloni Saltpans - Ruddy Shelduck 16, Red-throated Pipit 6, Collared Pratincole 1.
Tsiknias River - Temminck's Stint 3.
Kalloni Mini Soccer Pitch - Scops Owl 1.
Kalloni Bandstand Raptor Watchpoint - Honey-buzzard 1 (m), Levant Sparrowhawk 1 (f), Goshawk (imm m), Long-legged Buzzard 4+, Short-toed Eagle 4+, Black Stork 1.
Petra Reservoir area - River Warbler 1, Temminck's Stint 4, Red-backed Shrike 6+.
Hotel Pasiphae - Long-eared Owl 1.
3 May 08
Lardia Valley - Eastern Bonelli's Warbler on territory, Eleanora's Falcon.
Voulgaris River - Ruddy Shelduck pr with 10 young, Bee-eater 50+.
Ruddy Shelduck with 9 (of 10) young on Voulgaris River
Lagkada Valley - Levant Sparrowhawk (m), Masked Shrike 2, Red-backed 4+.
nr Sigri - Levant Sparrowhawk (f), Red-footed Falcon (f).
Sigri Old Sanitorium - Red-backed Shrike 6, Masked Shrike 1, Lesser Kestrel 1, Peregrine 1.
Meladia River Ford - Blue-cheeked Bee-eater flock of 7 in off sea and over to north at 6.45pm, Hoopoe 1, Spotted Flycatcher 80+, Black-headed Bunting 40+, Whinchat 30+, Bee-eater 30+.
4 May 08
Platania - Thrush Nightingale 1, Honey-buzzard fem, Ortolan Bunting 4, Red-footed Falcon 8+, Black Stork 5+, Long-legged Buzzard 6+, Short-toed Eagle 4+, Woodlark 4+, Rock Nuthatch 4+, Orphean Warbler 4+, Hoopoe 4+, Masked Shrike 9+, Red-backed Shrike 6+, Raven 11+.
View from Platania looking south down the Napi Valley
Tsiknias River - Black Stork caught and ate a snake! Black Stork with snake
Kalloni Saltpans - Osprey 1, White-winged Black Tern 11, Whiskered Tern 1, Red-footed Falcon 5m, Temminck's Stint 2, Spotted Redshank 2, Ruff 465+, Little Stint 50+, Curlew Sandpiper 18+, Raven 1, Marsh Harrier 1.
Tsiknias River mouth - Mediterranean Gull 2 ads, White-winged Black Tern 2.
5 May 08
Meladia River Ford - Pallid Swift 110+ in one hour, Olive Tree Warbler 1, Red-breasted Flycatcher 2, Lesser Grey Shrike 1, Red-backed Shrike 18+, Tawny Pipit 2, Black Stork 2, Ruddy Shelduck 2.
Sigri Old Sanitorium - Rufous Bush Chat 1.
Ipsilou - Imperial Eagle 1, Honey-buzzard 1, Collared Flycatcher male, Marsh Warbler 6+, Red-breasted Flycatcher 1, Thrush Nightingale - lots of Blackcaps, Lesser Whitethroats, Willow Warblersm Pied Flys, etc.
Skala Eresou - Eleanora's Falcon 1, Garganey 5 in off sea.
6 May 08
Kalloni Saltpans - White-winged Black Tern 11, Whiskered Tern 3, Curlew Sandpiper 3.
Achladeri - Kruper's Nuthatch, young just hatched by activity.
Platania - Olive Tree Warbler 6+.
Olive Tree Warbler at Platania
Kalloni Saltpans - Spur-winged Plover 2. Dipped on Broad-billed Sandpiper!
7 May 08
Alykes Wetlands - Citrine Wagtail 1 (m), Collared Praticole 5, Grey Plover 5, Spotted Redshank 1.
Messa Wetlands - Purple Heron 1.
Skamnioudi Pool - Temminck's Stint 1, Wood Sandpiper 70+, Ruff 36, Little Stint 24, Goshawk 1.
Polichnitos Saltpans - Eleanora's Falcon 1, Curlew Sandpiper 52, Little Stint 110+, Grey Plover , Black Stork 2.
Almiropodamos River (little ford north of bridge) - Ortolan Bunting 1, Little Bittern 1, Serin 1.
Trip particpants: Peter, Jenny, Rosemary & Charlie, Chris & Richard, Annie & David.
Day 1, Thurs 24 April
Mark meets up with the group at Gatwick and board the First Choice flight direct to very sunny and hot Mytilini, Lesvos. Four hours later they are met by Steve and we are all soon in the vans and on our way to Skala Kallonis in the centre of this Aegean island.
We check in to the Pasiphae Hotel but are soon out and walking around the Skala Kallonis Pool just a few minutes from our rooms. Six Squacco Herons greet us and straight away it feels like a whole different place and that we are on holiday. Several of the Squacco Herons take flight, turning from rich buff to gleaming white in an instant. We walk on down to the Christou River marsh where we find a variety of waders including Wood Sandpiper, Ruff, Little and Temminck’s Stint and a distant Stone-curlew.
It might have only been an hour but it’s given us an immediate flavour of being in the eastern Med and whetted our appetite not only for more, but for our taverna dinner!
Washed and brushed up we meet again an hour later in the bar and transfer to the Taverna Dionysos for the first of the week’s sumptuous Greek fare.
Day 2, Fri 25 April
After many years leading groups on Lesvos, we soon find Steve likes to do things a little differently to other groups. Not only are we the only group to eat out of the hotels at one of the fantastic tavernas each evening, but we also breakfast at a different time to the others too! Whilst the others are dragged from their beds at 6.00am for a pre-breakfast trip, we have a 7.00am breakfast and depart for the day as the others return for their breakfast. This means we are at least an hour ahead of all the other groups and have many of the sites to ourselves.
First stop this morning is the small lake at Metochi. The reeds are alive with Reed and Sedge Warblers and the guttural chunter of a Great Reed Warbler can be heard even if he can’t be seen. A Cetti’s Warbler belts out his familiar song but we manage to get good views. The air is thick with hirundines above us. We soon find not one but several of our main quarry, Little Crake and enjoy great views of two females and a great blue-grey male skulking under the tangle of branches.
We move on to the Kalloni Saltpans for a brief stop where we see plenty if Little Egrets, several distant Great White Egrets, Wood Sandpipers, several Kentish Plovers and three Sanderling.
We move on to Achladeri but are halted in our tracks when Mark spots a Roller on roadside wires. We are all out of the vans and soon getting fantastic views of this brilliantly coloured bird. The bird is feeding so we are treated to its vibrant colourful wings each time it takes flight in pursuit of prey. Nearby we also get great views of an adult Lesser Grey Shrike with its black forehead and peachy underparts.
At Achladeri Steve has us staring up at a lump in a large pine. He sets his scope up and there is the distinct shape of the head of an adult Long-eared Owl, ear-tufts erect as it is sat on its nest. Fab! We walk through the woodland seeing Masked Shrike and Cuckoo before Steve points out the nest hole of one of the island’s main attractions, Krüper’s Nuthatch. In no time the adult male appears with food in his bill. He comes down to the nest stump and pops in to the hole. He’s soon off followed by the female. The two feed excitedly in a nearby pine giving great views. The female returns to the nest hole and after more views of the male we move on through the woodland where we find several dragonflies in a dry river bed including a female Broad-bodied Chaser and a Lesser Emperor.
After lunching in the shade of the trees, we head off south towards the Polichnitos Saltpans. The coastal route delivers a flock of 22 Bee-eaters, brief views of Middle Spotted Woodpecker, singing Olivaceous Warblers and a hunting female Marsh Harrier. The Saltpans, as Steve predicted, are fairly quiet (for some reason they are always better in the autumn) with a small flock of Little Stints, 12 Curlew Sandpipers, some now in their brick red summer dress, a Spotted Redshank and several Kentish Plovers. At the far end of the pans Mark spots a close Black Stork and we get great views, the sun showing off its iridescent green neck.
We move on further south to Vatera. We find the ford of the River Almiropodamos is overgrown so we quickly move on and head up the Ambeliko Valley. We park the vans and go for a lovely long walk. The wind is a little cool, but the sun is warm. We find several singing male Subalpine and Sardinian Warblers (the latter a new site for the species on the island). A Serin belts out his tinkling song from below us but we can’t get a view of the tree he is in for other trees. Damn! Short-toed and Long-legged Buzzards appear in the sky and we get good views of both, the eagle with its pale underparts and dark hood, the buzzard with its long, plain, reddish tail. A Middle Spotted Woodpecker taunts us constantly with its chattering call from the valley below. We arrive back at the vans when a female Blue Rock Thrush appears in wires nearby. Annie then spots a gleaming yellow male Golden Oriole which gives all too brief views.
We drive the rest of the Ambeliko Valley with some stunning views, through the picture-postcard village of Ambeliko itself, clinging tightly to the steep hillside. We arrive back at the Kalloni Saltpans in time to spend a productive hour watching Gull-billed Terns, super-close views of a Marsh Sandpiper and a Peregrine causing mayhem with the waders
As we drive across the rough cross track to the hotel, Steve spots a different white shape amongst the many Yellow-legged Gulls feeding in a field. ‘Cattle Egret!’ he yells to his van and down to radio to Mark. We get good views form the vans and Steve gets a couple of record shots with the camera. He explains that it’s a rare bird on Lesvos and only about the eight record in recent times.
Out last port of call is the mouth of the River Tsiknias and Steve spots a couple of adult Slender-billed Gulls feeding. Even at some distance their distinctive long necks and long head and bills are very clear to see.
We retreat to the hotel for an hour or so rest and freshen up before nipping down to Skala for yet enough stunning Greek dinner and highly entertaining evening.
Day 3, Sat 26 Apr
We head north today and on the way out of Kalloni we stop at the mini soccer pitch and get great views of a roosting Scops Owl. It’s chosen a little hidey place tight against the trunk of a tree with an overhanging piece of bark forming a little roof. Perfect!
We arrive on the coast north of Petra and are soon stuck in to the birds. Two singing Black-headed Buntings greet us. There are a couple of Lesser Whitethroats flitting about the scrub and a male Cirl Bunting joins in the bunting chorus. The rocky outcrops around us are dotted with Black-eared Wheatears and a single Blue Rock Thrush is seen. ‘Eagle!’ yells Steve pointing to a huge raptor coming low over us form the north. It sweeps past us and down the slope towards Petra. ‘Steppe Eagle’ proclaims Steve who then yells ‘Black Kite!’ as a smaller raptor comes in following the same line being chased by a Hooded Crow. Wow! What a few minutes! The eagle is an island tick for Steve (and only about the eighth record for the island) and the kite only his fourth showing how rare these two raptors are here.
Eventually Rüppell’s Warblers appear. Two males and a female are seen well. At one point, a pair of Rüppell’s, a Subalpine and an Orphean Warbler are actively mobbing something in a section of rocks. Almost certainly a snake says Steve. The males continue to perform showing off their black hoods and white moustaches.
We move on to Efthalou where a quick look at the sea produces the required Yelkouan Shearwaters. We head up on to the rough north coast track. It’s windy and the first of the gullies is a little too open. We park the vans a walk. We find a few sheltered nooks and crannies and soon see Woodchat and Masked Shrikes, Cirl and Cretzschmar’s Bunting and a cracking family party of Sombre Tits. We get some great views of the birds here, most flitting from rock to rock between little ‘chicken wire’ bushes. Whilst we are enjoying the smaller birds Steve points out an Audouin’s Gull as it glides by showing off its blood-red bill and paler wings than the surrounding Yellow-legged Gulls.
We stop for lunch in a sheltered valley during which Steve spots another eagle coming over. Mark and Steve scrutinise the bird carefully before agreeing it is an adult Golden Eagle. We get good views as a Long-legged Buzzard comes in to mob it! The eagle climbs higher and higher over the next ten minutes or so until it is a dot to the naked eye and it turns to make the flight across the short crossing to Turkey.
The picturesque harbour village of Skala Sikaminias is our next stop where we enjoy a coffee in the warm sun sheltering from the cool northerly breeze – bliss!
Refreshed we make our way through the little villages and towns on route to Napi Valley stopping for Crag Martins and a White Stork on its lofty chimney at Mandamados.
At the top of Napi Valley we turn east along the Platania track and park up. We walk along the track and are interrupted by a couple of feeding Rock Nuthatches. We watch them actively collecting food and follow them to their mud nest on the side of a large rock. A Black-eared Wheatear flits around the rocks above them as the birds too and fro delivering food and taking away faecal sacks. A little further along the track we find a Woodlark sat in a small tree which gives brilliant close views. The pale supercillium joining in a V at the back of the nape is very clear.
We walk down in to an area of scattered olive and oak trees. Immediately we hear the chuntering song of an Olive Tree Warbler. It’s intermittent and at times difficult to hear amidst the many singing Masked Shrikes around us. Eventually we all manage good views of the large, pale grey warbler, with its large bill and wing panel.
We head back south and arrive on the Kalloni Saltpans. The ‘moat’ around the pans is alive with waders, Black-winged Stilts, Ruff and Wood Sandpipers. The first pan has a large number of Avocets, some swimming as they feed. There are more Flamingos around now, with pinks dots scattered across the pans. A small party of Little Stints land on a muddy fringe. We scan the banks between the pans and find several Grey Herons, Little and Great White Egrets and a couple of Stone-curlew. We eventually drag ourselves away and head back to the hotel to freshen up before yet another delightful taverna dinner and checklist.
Day 4, Sun 27 April
We leave promptly at 8am and head west. The morning is cool and overcast, northerly winds with a faint sniff of rain. Steve and Mark are optimistic that these are good conditions for migrant hunting out west. We make a brief stop in the Lardia Valley for a song spectacular. Everything is in song – Nightingale, Wren, Blackcap, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Subalpine Warbler, Black-eared Wheatear, Turtle Dove and the odd fluty call of a Golden Oriole. It’s magical!
We move on and the landscape suddenly changes. Gone are the wooded hillsides and groves. The whole place is barren and rocky. We stop at the top of a gorge which has a few trees leading down to the tree-lined valley bottom. The wind is blowing a bit and it’s decidedly cool – not what we expected! Within seconds we forget about the cold as we are soon watching the first of many Isabelline Wheatears. The males are singing from prominent rocks and short bushes. There song is whacky and reminiscent of something out of Star Wars! Steve spies a couple of Rock Sparrows on the slope above us and most get on to this stripy sparrows before they take flight. A male Golden Oriole is singing below us when Mark locates the singing male Cinereous Bunting we had been struggling to find. Scopes are trained on the bird and we get great views of its lemon yellow head contrasting with its grey body. There are also several Cretzschmar’s Bunting kicking around the rocks at the top of the gorge and several Woodchat Shrikes on the bushes below us.
As we climb back in the vans, Steve points out the cloud-covered mountain to our west. The cloud is hiding the mountain top monastery of Ipsilou, our next destination. It doesn’t look warm!
We arrive at Ipsilou and park at the bottom. The wind is blowing hard from the north and the mountain is shrouded in cloud, and it is cool. We begin walking up the south-facing side of the mountain which is sheltered from the northerly wind. There is no sign of birds to start with, but approaching the tree line Steve spots a warbler. ‘Wood Warbler!’ shouts Mark. It soon becomes apparent we are surrounded by birds. Now we’re cooking! Blackcaps and Lesser Whitethroats cover nearly every tree and bush we look at. There are hundreds of them. The excitement and expectation increases with new tree work our way through. More common species are popping out – Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and more Wood Warblers. An Isabelline Wheatear and a couple of Cinereous Buntings are singing to remind us where we are! We then find the first of four Red-breasted Flycatchers which includes a lovely red-throated male. A Cuckoo joins in the fray and there are Golden Orioles appearing briefly here and there, the males singing. A Jay appears to which Mark remarks ‘black cap on a Jay’ to much hilarity as we all envisage a Blackcap sat on a Jay steering it through the trees! It’s not something he is going to be allowed to forget too quickly! We continue to work our way through the endless Blackcaps and Lesser Whitethroats and begin to pick out more and more goodies. Steve finds a bright yellow Icterine Warbler which we all get good views of. A male Barred Warbler appears and disappears. Mark and several of the group are deliberating on a female flycatcher down the slope. Steve and the others don’t get on to it but from what Mark has seen it’s definitely a female Semi-collared Flycatcher. Great find! A female Golden Oriole sits out in the open for us all to see when Mark finds a stunning male Collared Flycatcher for us to enjoy. The first of several Eastern Bonelli’s Warblers begins to sing and we see one bird briefly. Another Cuckoo is seen just as we find a Thrush Nightingale sat out in the open. We get great views as it hops from branch to branch and even better views of a singing male Cinereous Bunting at the top of a nearby oak tree.
We lunch at the top of the mountain at the monastery. It’s an eerie atmosphere as the mountain top is shrouded in cloud and as we sit there we can see the cloud swirling around below us and a slither of light between the distant mountain tops and the dark sky. There are few birds up here in the swirling mist, so once we have refuelled we jump in the vans and head off in search of more migrants.
On our way to the Maladia River Ford we find a flock of seven Lesser Kestrels hunting a roadside hillside. They hang effortlessly in the wind before swooping to the ground to collect a beetle or other insect. The rough track down to the river ford provides little evidence of migrants. A Little Owl on top of a stone building looking just like a little rock! We spy the odd Red-backed Shrike, Cretzschmar’s Bunting and the unavoidable Crested Larks (now christened custard tarts!). We arrive at the ford chapel and find a single, super-bright, Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat and Red-backed Shrike. Still no real feeling of the fall witnessed earlier at Ipsilou. We head down to the ford and that feeling soon changes as the place is hoochin’ with migrants including 10+ Lesser Grey Shrikes, 40+ Red-backed Shrikes, 20+ Black-headed Buntings! Wow! The ford holds a female Little Bittern and singing Cetti’s and Great Reed Warblers – but no flycatchers or migrant warblers. We venture down to the fig grove where we find some Whinchat, a few Pied Flycatchers but little else. Richard spots a cracking male Redstart by a little building and whilst watching it Steve spies a Thrush Nightingale sat on top of a large rusty oil drum! Its right out in the open and seemingly in no rush to move off. Scopes are on to it and we all get great views of this little seen bird. At one point a Common Nightingale appears in the vine branch a few inches above it and they both eye each other quizzically! What great views! We spend every available minute at here enjoying the shrikes and Black-headed Buntings in particular and grilling every inch of the area in search of migrants before the hour-long drive back to Skala Kallonis to freshen up before a one-off dinner at the hotel (the tavernas are closed or fully booked for Greek Easter Sunday celebrations) which proves to be a shadow of what we are used to at the Dionysos taverna (and that’s being polite!).
Day 5, Mon 28 Apr
We wake the following morning with our heads buzzing of yesterday’s migrant bonanza. It would have been easy to head back west to try for another day of migrant bunting, but Steve and Mark opt for a quieter local day for us to catch our breath!
After breakfast we head down to the lake at Metochi. Eleven Whiskered Terns fly gracefully to and fro with occasional swoop to the water to pick off a morsel from the surface. A Jay (complete with black cap!) bounces around the trees behind us and a couple of Turtle Doves flit from tree to tree. A female Little Crake provides great excitement. It doesn’t matter how many times you see these diminutive crake they always get the pulse racing. At the far end of the lake we are told of a couple of Baillon’s Crakes and after some waiting manage great views as they fight on another for supremacy of a tiny stretch of reed-fringe! Whilst watching them a female Little Bittern nearly takes our heads off as it flies right over us! A party of Red-rumped Swallows appear over the lake amongst the Whiskered Terns and a Peregrine soars overhead.
After an hour or so we move off northwards. We spend half an hour at the Kalloni Bandstand raptor watch point but see little, so we move on to Petra. We stop at the entrance to the Old Monastery of Alexandros where we set up our scopes to watch a dead popular tree peppered with woodpecker holes. Within minutes an adult Middle Spotted Woodpecker appear at one of the holes delivering a food parcel for the inhabitants. Great stuff! We watch the nest for half an hour before hunger pangs get the better of us and we head off to find a lunch spot.
We head east to Kremastes where we lunch by a small stream bridge. We are surrounded by the sound of purring Turtle Doves and song-flighting Subalpine Warblers and Annie wins Mark’s ‘spot the frog’ contest!
We head in the Napi Valley and take a walk just below the town of Napi. The ever-present song of the Common Nightingale drifts up from the densely vegetated gorge below us. A pair of Common Buzzards circle together in the afternoon sun and a Cirl Bunting sings from atop a large bush. We reach the old horse bridge where Steve finds a Tree Frog sat out on a rock. Aftre we have all had good views from the bridge, Steve goes for a closer looks as he thinks it doesn’t look too healthy. His suspicions are confirmed when he finds it has a bad leg so he places it in the shade of a small bank-side bush.
We wend our way south and arrive at the Kalloni Saltpans. The north-west corner of the moat holds plenty of Ruff and a fresh arrival of Curlew Sandpipers, some of them in their purple-red finery of summer breeding colours. A couple Stone-curlews are seen on the near bund when a Black Stork flies right over our heads. Awesome! Mark spots a group of terns distantly. We scope to find a couple of Whiskered Terns and a single White-winged Black Tern at the far side of the pans. They are coming this way so we stay put and within a couple of minutes the three marsh terns are lazily flapping by. We move around to the Saltworks entrance where we find five Red-throated Pipits by the fast-evaporating seasonal pool. Half a dozen Ruddy Shelducks sit in the field behind the pool and three Short-toed Larks are flitting around. Chris then spots a bright coloured wagtail and asks what it is. ‘That’s the Citrine Wagtail!’ exclaims Steve! The wagtail feeds among the pipits and lone female yellow wagtail which provides good comparison. Chris’s claim the other evening that she never gets a mention in a trip report has just come to an end!
We wander in to the Alykes Wetlands where we find a group of Short-toed Larks feeding in short grass. A small pool holds a Spotted Redshank, Green Sandpiper and a couple of Common Snipe. Annie then spots our main quarry – Collared Pratincole – sat right behind us! We scope this unusual wader for some time before it flies providing us with great views and its tern-cum-swallow-like flight.
We call in on the Tsiknias River on the way back to the hotel and are treated with a lovely female Red-footed Falcon hunting from a wire and a Black Stork feeding in the river.
Day 6, Tues 29 Apr
Today we head off back west. We do a different route to the other day, heading straight out to the fields north of Sigri. Despite things being slower than two days ago, we aren’t disappointed. We walk the track down to Faneromeni Ford and continually pick things up as we walk along. One trees holds 10 Black-headed Buntings! Spotted and Pied Flycatchers (or Flied Piecatchers according to Rosemary), great views of Lesser kestrels, loads of Bee-eaters passing overhead, a couple of Peregrines and a Masked Shrike. A come across a crop field with single Whiskered and White-winged Black Terns flying up and down it feeding off insects from the top of the crops as if they were feeding over water. We get staggering views as they drift backwards and forwards right in front of us. ‘You wont get better views anywhere’ says Mark. We move on to find a cracking male Collared Flycatcher in a nearby olive grove. Its difficult viewing but eventually we all get great views of this smart flycatcher, summed up succinctly by Peter, ‘grand!’.
Mark and Steve leave the group at the ford whilst they cadge a left back to collect the vans left near Sigri. On arriving back they hear that a female Levant Sparrowhawk has been seen only by Jenny from our group when it was shouted by a group of other birders. Little Bittern and Squacco Heron have been enjoyed by everyone, as have a couple of Short-toed Eagles and a single Long-legged Buzzard.
After lunch we head off back across country to the Meladia River Ford. We head straight out to the ford where we find four Little Bitterns and several dragonflies including Red-veined Darter and Emperor. Several Crag Martins feed overhead showing off their white tail spots. In the fig grove we find only a handful of Pied Flycatchers and the male Redstart from the other day is still present by the little building. Rosemary finds a male Common Whitethroat and we get good views of a family part of Sombre Tits. A Cretzschmar’s Bunting is re-christened by Annie as ‘stretch-marks bunting’ – that’ll stick!
We take the track down to the river mouth. A female Marsh Harrier quarters the area when Rosemary spots a Purple Heron flapping across the river mouth. Along the river we get stunning views of four Bee-eaters as they feed from bushes on the opposite bank. Nearby two Great Reed Warblers perform brilliantly and give us our best views of these over-sized warblers.
We again eek out every minute here to ensure that we enjoy all the birds on offer before heading back to the hotel and then on to Dionysos for another evening of excellent food and exhilarating chat around the dining table!
Richard and Chris had opted for a day off around the hotel area and on our return discover Richard had found a stunning male Citrine Wagtail at the pool by the hotel!
Day 7, Weds 30 Apr
Some of us venture out for a pre-brekky trip to the Saltpans where we get great views of three Red-footed Falcons. The hoped for Spur-winged Plover seen yesterday doesn’t materialise so we head off up to the ‘dead goat pit track’ north of Kalloni to Madaros where we see Ruddy Shelduck, Hoopoe, Cirl Bunting and the newly-named ‘stretch-marks bunting’.
We meet up with the others for an 8am breakfast and are back out at 9am and calling in at the Metochi lake. We head round the back of the lake to search the creeks where we get great views of a Spotted Crake and a superb fly-by Great White Egret.
We head off to the Kalloni Bandstand raptor watchpoint where we are greeted with superb views of Cretzschmar’s Bunting and a pair of Subalpine Warlbers. A male Blue Rock Thrush bounces around and a couple of Rock Nuthatches are seen. A female Goshawk is seen circling distantly as well as several Short-toed Eagles and Long-legged buzzards, one of the latter being mobbed by a Peregrine.
We head up Napi for lunch where we find more Short-toed Eagles and Long-legged Buzzards and another Goshawk – this is getting good! A Raven gronks noisily around us and a male Red-footed Falcon hunts a nearby hill. Chris then finds a mini Spur-thighed Tortoise – one of last years offspring judging by its diminutive size – ensuring her second appearance in the same trip report!
We head up to the top of Napi Valley and head east along Platania for a long walk. Bee-eaters continually pass overhead, some flocks unseen but heard, but we do manage flocks of 11, 13 and 18. A group of four perform well from a dead tree where a single Sombre Tit is also seen. A Hummingbird Hawkmoth zips by us and we enjoy a small section of track which peppered with insects including Lesser Spotted Fritillaries, Mallow Skipper, a stunning male Broad-bodies chaser dragonfly and a bee fly.
We head back south to spend the evening at the Kalloni Saltpans. On arrival we are greeted by 21 White-winged Black Terns and a couple of Whiskered Terns. The nearest pan holds 53 Curlew Sandpipers and the Stone-curlews seen the other day are still in situ. Eleven Grey Herons is a good count, and proof that this species is a migrant in these parts, as these birds are on their way north to breed. A Squacco Heron flies past giving great views. By the saltworks entrance we find four Red-footed Falcons hunting from wires when a flock of 24 Grey Plover is seen flying in off the sea and go down in the nearest pan. The nearby fields are littered with Collared Pratincoles, 11 in total, when we stumble across the Spur-winged Plover we dipped in this morning! Great! It’s a splendid adult, unlike the two previous birds Steve has seen on Lesvos which have both been scruffy looking birds. We spend an hour or so here enjoying the plover, pratincoles and falcons in near-perfect light for birding.
We head back towards the hotel and call in at the Tsiknias River Mouth. The bar is covered in birds and scoping them soon reveals 27 Gull-billed Terns! We get great views of these large terns plus a single Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit – the latter with the longest bill Steve and Mark have ever seen on the species. Peter then spots a late Great Crested Grebe out on the sea. The species winters here but are usually gone by mid-April so this is a good find.
We enjoy our last evening at the Dionysos taverna in Skala Kallonis. The food here as been one of the bonuses of the holiday and the evenings have been fabulous entertainment.
Day 8, Thurs 1 May
We only have a an hour or so before we need to head off to the airport, so a trip up the ‘dead goat pit track’ to Madaros in search of Rufous Bush Chat is needed. Unfortunately no bush chats are forthcoming, and although the walk has an end of holiday feel, we manage some good views of Orphean Warbler, Rock Nuthatch and a lone Peregrine.
The holiday over we all choose our favourite bits of the week. Species of the week is Spur-winged Plover (chosen by Peter, David, Annie and Mark), with Rock Nuthatch (Jenny), Roller (Richard), Black-headed Bunting (Chris), Krüper’s Nuthatch (Charlie and Rosemary) and Wood Warbler (Steve) all getting a shout. The place of the week (other than the Dionysos taverna!) is the magical monastery mount of Ipsilou chosen by Peter, David, Steve and Mark. Platania (Jenny), the Saltpans (Richard and Chris), Ambeliko Valley (Charlie), Metochi Lake (Annie) and Meladia River Ford (Rosemary) all get a mention. Magic moments are either that one-off magical group event or very personal moments. Peter’s was seeing the cryptic Scops Owl, Jenny’s was a personal moment at Sigri surrounded by birds and the sound of goat bells, Richard’s was finding his own Citrine Wagtail by the hotel, Chris was finding the female Citrine Wagtail near the Saltpans ensuring her first ever mention in a trip report(!), Charlie’s moment was the first views of Squacco Herons on our first evening which immediately heralded that he was somewhere special, Rosemary’s was the synchronised flying of the Lesser Kestrel squadron, David enjoyed the Hooded Crow attack on the Long-legged Buzzard at Ipsilou, Annie was mesmerised by the flock of Whiskered Terns at Metochi Lake, the fall of migrants at Ipsilou provided Steve with one of his most memorable moments ever on Lesvos and Mark couldn’t see beyond seeing his first ever Red-throated Pipit – a bogey bird for many years!
At the airport we bid our farewells. The group say goodbye to Steve who is staying on for a third week and holiday with his wife Liz. The group wish they could stay with him!
Great Crested Grebe
Great White Egret
Little Ringed Plover
White-winged Black Tern
Middle Spotted Woodpecker
Barn (Common) Swallow
‘Blue-headed’ Yellow Wagtail
‘Grey-headed’ Yellow Wagtail
‘Black-headed’ Yellow Wagtail
‘Romanian’ Yellow Wagtail
Blue Rock Thrush
Mistle Thrush (heard)
Great Reed Warbler
Olive Tree Warbler
Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler
Lesser Grey Shrike
Amphibians and reptiles
Balkan Green Lizard
Balkan Wall Lizard
European Pond Terrapin
Beech Marten (deceased)
Eastern Dappled White
Take it away Neil . . .
Participants : David B and Mary, Dave C, Neil, Michael, Geoff, Ron, Peter, Simon, Frank, Alan and Marion, Dave N and Jackie.
Tour Leader : Steve Dudley Lesvosbirding.com/Athene
The annual escape of some North West Surrey RSPB Memberss Group to foreign parts this year took us to the Greek island of Lesvos (or Lesbos). The island is in the north east of the Aegean Sea some five miles from the coast of Turkey, which wraps itself around the east and north of Lesvos. I will try to convey an impression of the island, its geography, environment and people as I go but this is (at this time of year at least) a green and rather mountainous site characterised by a mix olive groves, woodland and particularly in the west, a more barren, rocky appearance. It covers about 630 square miles which is, for example, around four times the size of the Isle of Wight.
Lesvos has been attracting birders for some years now, none more so than our tour leader, Steve Dudley, who has been leading bird trips here since 2000. I seriously doubt that any other birder knows this island as well as Steve and if you really want to know more about this beautiful place and its birds, I strongly suggest you visit Steve’s website http://www.lesvosbirding.com/.
Day 1, Thurs 17 April
Twelve group members were joined this time by Dave and Jackie Nurney, who of course became honorary members for the week. Dave in any case is from our part of Surrey originally and certainly seemed to know Papercourt better than I do! Dave is also the illustrator of the field guide that I always carry in the UK (A Pocket Guide to the Birds of Britain and North West Europe) so I was very interested to see what Dave was like.
We caused the usual chaos at the check in but all was handled by a smiling, patient check in assistant who was unfortunate enough to catch us again at the boarding gate. However, having checked in and loaded our cases onto a grilled trolley (conveyor belts not working), met Steve, Dave and Jackie in the departures lounge and walked across the tarmac to the aircraft (tunnel thing to the aircraft not working) we took off for the three and a half hour flight (aircraft working perfectly).
Landing at Mytilini (the capitol of Lesvos) was followed by the usual scrum at baggage collection, collecting the two hired nine seat minibuses and heading west towards our base for the week, Skala Kollonis. However, to get the group in the mood, we stopped at a small estuary overlooking Geras Bay called Dipi Larisos. Highlights here included two Kingfishers, a fairly rare sight at this time of year, Whinchat and a Black-headed (Yellow) Wagtail. It was also here that the ‘brown rule’ was explained by Steve; if it’s brown and on a wire, it’s a Corn Bunting, it it’s brown on the ground is a Crested Lark and if it’s brown and sticking its head in mud it’s a Wood Sandpiper. I’m not sure if that is exactly the right quote but the sentiment was conclusively demonstrated over the next week!
The road to Skala Kallonis was punctuated by a typically sharp birders emergency stop as Ron called ‘Chukar!’ Two birds in fairly untypical habitat made for my first ‘lifer’ of the trip with everyone in the first bus getting good views of this very similar relative of our Redlegged Partridge, not replicated by the second bus.
Check in at the excellent Hotel Pasiphae was followed by dinner at the equally excellent Taverna Dionysos where we were to have our evening meals during the week. In the end we forgot the name Dionysos and simply called it Georgio’s after its brilliant host.
And that was that for day one; a day of travelling and a day of getting to know our two honorary members and tour leader, ended by a good dinner and going to sleep to the sound of the endlessly singing Nightingales right outside our rooms!
Day 2, Fri 18 April
A number of the group rose early for a pre-breakfast stroll to the Skala Kallonis Pool, an area of muddy pools and reed some 100 metres or so from the hotel. Some even got up so early that it was pre-daylight! I emerged at a more leisurely 6.15 for the trips first Purple Heron, Squacco Heron and Garganey. Steve emerged at an even more sensible 6.55 and immediately issued a red card (for serious misdemeanours) to the entire group for missing the Red-footed Falcon that he saw and we didn’t. However, the bird put in a repeat performance and we retired to breakfast.
Post-breakfast saw bus no 1 (Steve, Dave N, Jackie, Ron, Dave C, Geoff and me) heading for Metochi Lake with bus 2 in leisurely pursuit, “come on Mary (who was driving), “keep up” was an oft repeated sentence throughout the week! Metochi Lake is a small, reed and scrub fringed lake west of Kalloni and today held one of my target species for the week in the shape of a female Little Crake. We managed to get nice views of this secretive crake as it stepped carefully through the edge of the reeds before disappearing entirely from view. The lake also held a number of a Stripe-necked Terrapins and it was a bit strange just to see the heads swimming along whilst I was intently studying the reed edges looking for crakes. Now here’s a cry you won’t here often; “Ruddy Shelducks mobbing Short-toed Eagle!” Ruddy Shelducks apparently nest on rocky hillsides and they clearly weren’t impressed by the close attentions of the eagle. We also had the week’s first Night-heron at the lake before heading back to the hotel to pick up the packed lunches.
The plan then was to head off for Achladeri, boosted by the amazing sight of 35 Night-herons and a Black Stork flying over the hotel before we left! Achladeri proved to be a wooded site close to the coast on the east side of the Gulf of Kalloni. If anything, it reminded me of the beautiful Caledonian forest of Scotland with pine trees and brighter clearings a feature. We were here to find Krüper’s Nuthatch, a small, fabulously beautiful nuthatch with a rusty-red breast patch and a seriously obvious pale supercilium. We were just as likely to pick it up hanging from branches in tit-like fashion as in the more familiar bark hugging pose of ‘our’ nuthatches. Steve picked up the call first and we were soon enjoying good views of perhaps three birds. Moving up to the top of the hill above the Krüper’s site, we also had some practice at picking out Alpine Swifts from their Common cousins, not just because of the white undersides but they also have a steadier, almost falcon-like flight. Other birds to note included Black-eared Wheatear, Cirl Bunting, Short-toed Treecreeper and the trips first of many Masked Shrikes.
We then took a track towards the River Glaros, our planned lunch stop, picking up Woodchat and Red-backed Shrikes along the way (a hat-trick of shrikes in about half an hour!). Lunch was taken looking down the river at a Black Stork, but the best part was watching migrating hirundines; Barn and Red-rumped Swallows looking fabulous against the red-and-yellow of a Lucerne field and with of the Gulf of Kalloni as the ultimate backdrop. I may not have captured Steve’s request at this point; “I hope you’re capturing the ambience of the moment Neil!” but it was something of a show stopping vision (the swallows not Steve).
Polichnitos Saltpans held little except for a lone Green Sandpiper and a large group of ‘yellow wagtails’ featuring three of the different races; Black-headed (feldegg), Blue-headed (flava) and our very own race, flavissima. with the green/yellow head . Vatera, on the south coast, held five Bee-eaters, defying Steve’s “they’re a week early” and we moved up into the Ambeliko valley. We parked and walked slowly up a twisting track in what felt like the very Mediterranean surroundings of low walls, olives and hillside vegetation. This path produced our first Cretzschmar’s Bunting; a neat grey head marked with orange throat and sub moustachial stripe and deep orange underparts. This is a really attractive bunting, and I spent some time looking at this bird and indeed listening (it sounds very like a Yellowhammer). As it turned out, Cretzchmar’s are quite common on the island and we saw several most days. This walk also gave us very good views of the normally skulking Subalpine Warbler with a singing male perched on top of a bush displaying a rich red throat and white moustache. I also got myself told off by a local for, I think, not keeping to the track. At any rate, I heard the word ‘ashpheltos’ (?) and successfully (and genuinely) played ignorant! Two Golden Orioles, a Blue Rock Thrush, and Sardinian and Eastern Orphean Warbler completed the best birds from a very enjoyable stroll.
We drove back towards the Kalloni Saltpans for our first good look at this very large complex marked by a huge heap of salt that could be seen for miles. Picking up Great White Egret on the way at Mesa (or Derbyshire as some unthinking Brit birdwatcher has dubbed it), we arrived at the Pans at around 6.30 for a quite stunning finish to our first full day.
Firstly, we counted (actually Frank counted) 143 Black-winged Stilts and no fewer than 337 Avocets. A lone Stonecurlew, two Ruff, two Greenshank and 36 magnificent Greater Flamingos weren’t exactly shabby! To this, we could add six Whiskered Terns, 23 Gull-billed Terns and a Lesser Kestrel. However, it was the appearance of a flock of 32 Night-herons (perhaps from our flock this morning?) that started the real fun. Moments later, a flock of Purple Herons (yes a flock!) totalling 53 birds took to the air from behind us and astoundingly joined the Night-herons in flight (along with two Curlew and four Whimbrel). I have never seen a flock of Purple Herons, or indeed any herons, let alone a mixed flock of Purple and Night herons totalling some 85 birds. It appeared Steve hadn’t either; “this is better than sex!” said our somewhat excited guide. The short drive back to the hotel produced our second Little Owl of the day having also been one of our first birds on the drive to Metochi Lake. A truly wonderful finish to a fantastic day.
Day 3, Sat 19 April
After breakfast we briefly stopped again at Metochi Lake for a Little Crake re-run, together with a beefy Great Reed Warbler and a Woodchat Shrike standing out beautifully against the green background of the hills. A drive up the Potomia valley followed (Black- eared Wheatear and Raven) before reaching a spot known, for obvious reasons, as the ‘Scops Copse’. Apparently, this is also one of the few places on the island where the local constabulary set speed traps and it is then known as Cops Scops Copse!
The roadside spot has very few trees but enough to make finding a roosting Scops Owl very tricky. Unless that is you are the local with a vague interest in birds and no binoculars who pointed the bird out to us! Perhaps 20 feet up in a sheltered nook in the tree, the owl did not seem disturbed at all the attention coming its way and many of the group obtained good photographs both conventionally and through scopes.
10.15 found us at the Kalloni ‘bandstand’. Overlooking Kalloni, and placed on a high hairpin bend, the bandstand has a reputation for producing migrating raptors as they head north through the centre of the island. However, migrating raptors were not to prove a feature of the week and we had to settle (?) for Rock Nuthatch, Subalpine Warbler, Cretzchmars Bunting, Black-eared Wheatear, Orphean Warbler and a single White Stork.
We continued on towards the town of Petra on the north coast, where we stopped for a ‘proper’ toilet break (the first in eight years at this stop according to our leader). The stop proved worthwhile both for the obvious reasons but also giving good views of displaying Long-legged Buzzards. However, we were on our way to a known Rüppell’s Warbler site. This bird is a lot like Subalpine but instead of the white moustache cutting through a red ’hood’, the same marking cuts through a jet black throat and face. A really attractive warbler and one I was very keen indeed to see. The site is on a scrubby slope overlooking the sea to the east of Petra and is itself overlooked by a odd building known as ‘Tracey Island’. Fans of Thunderbirds must remember the launch-pad on a remote island and all I can say is that this house is dead ringer for the original. Dave N kept the myth going by yelling “Thunderbird 4!” (small yellow car parked at the Rüppell’s site). But did we see the bird? Of course we did, just as described, although it did give us a bit of a run around before giving good views. That face pattern really is outstanding; if you don’t know what a Rüppell’s looks like, check your field guide right now. Other good birds here included crag martin, cirl bunting and a migration of Spanish Sparrows (or spuggies as Steve and eventually all of us came to call them).
Lunch was taken in a taverna in the town of Molivos and what a lunch; a seemingly endless supply of different dishes provided by the ever helpful Stratos who used to work at our hotel, and therefore well known to Steve. We perhaps spent more time here than originally intended and we certainly ate more than we originally intended!
Suitably refreshed, we headed east along the north coast track. Clearly in need of a decent walk, we left the buses behind and strolled for a mile or so along the track overlooking steep, wooded slopes and of course the Aegean sea towards Turkey. We had more excellent views of Subalpine and Orphean Warblers together with brief views of Turtle Dove and Sombre Tit (aka sombreros as Steve calls them). We also had nice views of another Little Owl in a ramshackle farm building, an area which also included a fence post with a curiously still Persian Squirrel. I did express the opinion that it might be stuffed and perhaps even nailed to the gatepost but it did eventually move. Persians are the only squirrel on the island being something of a cross between our red and grey versions. A little further down the track, Dave B found a dead raptor of some sort and decided to investigate. On picking up the raptor, a snake shot out from underneath and Dave shot back almost as quickly. Lesvos does have a poisonous snake or two and I guess Dave didn’t hang around long enough to find out if this was it!
Distant views of Yelkouan Shearwatera rounded off this part of the day and we returned to the buses. We added one more stop on the north coast which allowed Steve to catch a Glass Snake (a legless lizard rather than a true snake) and show it to those of us wanting a closer view (and avoided completely by a couple of the group) and then headed back south to the Kalloni Saltpans.
As is the habit with the pans, they afforded something different from the previous visit. We stopped at a seasonal pool at the southern end and immediately found some Red-throated Pipits. These are well-named birds, imagine a Meadow Pipit with a vivid brick-red throat and upper breast (although the extent of the red does vary). We could also hear Quail from this spot, a bird I have never actually seen and in truth, don’t expect to, so secretive are they.
Looking out onto the pans proper, with flamingos in the background, we added a few Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Kentish Plover and Sanderling to our trip list. We also had closer views of two Stone-curlew and of course, Avocet and Black-winged Stilt. Driving back to the hotel over the Tsiknias River Ford found us another Squacco Heron and that ended another amazing day birding.
The evening meal was as ever taken at Georgio’s, following which we headed back to the hotel, spotting the resident White Pelican on the harbour side. Apparently some local had taken exception to this bird and driven into it, breaking its leg. The Lesvos Wildlife Hospital had taken it in and nursed it back to health although with drastic consequences for the leg, prompting the question from Steve, “Can you see its amputated leg”! (think about it!).
Day 4, Sun 20 April
Today we were to head west to look for migrants, Isabelline Wheatear and Cinereous Bunting. Before that, we had an abortive attempt to find a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (only the fifth record for the island) before breakfast. Now, clearly the creative juices of Steve and Dave N were flowing this morning because at different points on the way west, we were treated to Monty Pythonesque sketches and a birders version of the Fast Show. The top part of the morning however was the production of a short song suitable for the day. To the melody of “Go West” by the Village People (or the Pet Shop Boys if your music tastes run to eighties covers):
Go WEST - for ci-n-e-r-eous
Go west – for some izz-ie wheats
Go West – for some mi-ga-rants
Go west – for a ta-ver-na lunch
Bus 1 sang this at full volume to the occupants of bus 2 whilst standing on the side of a road overlooking a monastery! I hope the monks were impressed.
Talking of monasteries, the next stop was at Ipsilou Monastery, sitting atop a reasonably high, steep-sided mountain and visible from some way off. Here we were anticipating the Cinereous Bunting. What we did not anticipate was a howling wind which eventually pushed us into the shelter of the hill on which the monastery stands. Of migrants, there was little sign. However, we did get good views of the desired bunting, an essentially grey bunting but with a lovely lemon-green head and the typical bunting paler sub moustachial stripe. The song of these birds is a bit like Reed Bunting without being quite so monotone. Isabelline Wheatears (paler versions of an immature female northern wheatear), Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Sparrows and a passing female Montagu’s Harrier made this a very worthwhile stop. Moving on, we drove along a dirt road (many of the island’s roads are still unsurfaced), known as the ‘cattle track’, stopping at various points along the way. The track didn’t add much in truth and we arrived at the Meladia River Ford around 11.30 in need of another walk. The ford area, a small area of scrub, a couple of pools and an olive grove, was again largely devoid of migrants, but did contain a Sombre Tit nest, allowing us all excellent views of this understated, but still smart member of the tit family. The nest itself lay in a small, rusting metal gatepost, not quite what I had envisaged as a typical nesting site for any bird.
Lunch was again taken in a taverna, this time called Australia, in the town of Sigri. Lunch was deliberately lighter than previously although still very enjoyable. A quick wander around the Museum of the Petrified Forest revealed, via a series of maps showing seismic activity in the region, just how many ‘fault’ lines there are in the region. This brought home that this is still a much more unstable area than anything we are familiar with at home. We decided to forget passerine migrants for the day (because we had so fsar failed to find any) and head back to the saltpans, via an unrewarding stop at a large reservoir called Pithariou. A few more Cretzschmars Buntings (“a Cretzschmar’s a day helps you work rest and play” D. Nurney) along the way and we found ourselves driving down the Tsiknias River track, west of the saltpans. This gave us our first really good views of Bee-eater, a dozen or so perched on an isolated tree making occasional sorties to harass the local insect population. Once we had had our fill of these spectacular birds, we drove on towards the saltpans, adding a lone but very elegant Mmarsh Sandpiper to the list along the way.
This time, we merely glanced over the seasonal pool and walked out onto a grassland area, between the pans and the sea, known as the ‘sheepfields’ or the Alykes Wetlands. More Red-throated Pipits (up to a dozen this time) but also a Short-toed Lark provided ample confirmation of the grassland nature of the site. The Short-toed Lark has the typical dumpy lark structure but is very pale, unstreaked below and sparsely so above with a clear, wide supercilium. Out over the pans, we could see Little and Common Terns fishing and of course, the ever present flamingos providing a marvellous backdrop. Back to the grassland and Ron (I think) found a Collared Pratincole. This is a truly stunning wader, a pale sandy coloured throat bordered by a clean black line and obvious red patch at the base of the bill. In flight, pratincoles look like big but equally agile House Martins and in this case, displaying the red-brown underwing which confirms our bird as a Collared Pratincole rather than its cousin, the Black-winged Pratincole.
Another quality bird, found by Dave N this time, was a Temmincks Stint, a duller but still nicely marked version of the more familiar little stint. More views of Great White Egret, Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover and Ruddy Shelduck completed the day and we headed back, well satisfied, to the hotel.
Day 5, Mon 21 April
Today, we started on the eastern side of the Tsiknias River, towards the river mouth. Star bird here was the Bee-eater, 18 of them to be precise. We had of course seen these birds before but today, they gave us brilliantly close views, landing in a field in front of us. However, this spot had its own version of NW Surrey comedy drama to serve up.
Imagine if you will bus 1 moving swiftly back up the dusty track away from the Bee-eater site; Steve looks in the mirror and not for the first time wonders audibly where the other bus has got to. At this point, the walkie talkie (did I mention we have a pair of those Woolworths walkie talkies to keep the two vans in touch?) crackles into life and Mary says “no mud on our windows.” “Why?” replies Steve. “Because we’ve got it everywhere else!” replies Mary, echoed by everyone in our bus; they were stuck. Frank had apparently noted the somewhat bumpy exit of our bus and decided on an alternative route.
As happens at moments like this, cool, experienced heads now take over. Answers on a postcard please from anyone who spots the error in the following plan. Alan suggests that they “place sticks under the wheel, put the bus into second and reverse out”. A slightly different version of this plan did succeed in extricating the bus however and they soon joined up with hardly any micky taking from the rest of us.
Drama over, the two minibuses head around to the east side of the saltpans to allow the morning sunlight to cascade over our shoulders. The light was indeed perfect, bringing out pink patches of the flamingos. This side of the pans also produced one Spotted Redshank, 25 Greenshank, the usual Black-winged Stilts and Avocets, Black Stork, marvellously close views of a female Marsh Harrier, a more distant Montagu’s Harrier and our second Green Sandpiper.
At around 11.00, we head up the Napi Valley which runs from the saltpans, right through the centre of the island to the north coast. A good migrant funnel therefore although migrants, be they raptors or passerines, were still not a big feature. However, we managed our first Wood Nuthatch (same species as we have) in the lower part of the valley, at a nest site, along with an Egyptian Grasshopper, so big that I actually thought it was a small bird when I first saw it flying.
At the head of the valley, an area known as Platania, we parked up and strolled for a mile or so to our lunch spot in a lightly wooded, scrubby area known later in the year for Olive Tree Warblers. Before we got that far, we had a Hoopoe from the vans, stood by the side of the track apparently being stalked, if that’s the right word, by a Glass Snake. The snake had no luck and we enjoyed good views of this amazing bird, familiar enough to Mediterranean travellers but always an exotic sight for the Brits (the last one I had seen had been in a housing estate in Gosport; not the same thing really). On the walk, we picked up more Golden Oriole, another Rock Nuthatch at a nest, Woodchat and Masked Shrikes and a distant Goshawk.
After a more than pleasant lunch serenaded by Masked Shrike, we headed back towards the saltpans, via a slightly frustrating stop for Middle Spotted Woodpecker (where we got glimpses, but no good views of Lesvos’ only woodpecker) and also a welcome ice cream stop. Goodness knows what the locals thought of a dozen strange looking people festooned with optical gear descending on their village and loitering about the street eating ice creams, but it was a good break for us.
The pans, specifically the sheepfields, did, as so often on this trip, produce something new for us. The by now ‘normal’ Red-throated Pipits, Short-toed Larks and Kentish Plover were joined by a single Tawny Pipit. These are paler, certainly planer pipits than the Meadow and Tree Pipits we are used to.
Having a little time on our hands, we decided to make a return visit to the Scops Copse for a repeat viewing. Our bird was in the same spot of the same tree as before. This time, we pretty much had the owl to ourselves with no other birders or bird groups in attendance.
Day 6, Tues 22 April
Day six began with a journey straight to Ipsilou monastery. No stops by the road for singing songs this time (bus 2 never did come up with a rival tune) but non stop for the monastery. Amazingly, it was even windier than last time and I felt like I was going to be knocked over as I climbed out of the bus.
However, Ipsilou gave us a couple of genuine migrants. First up, a female Pied Flycatcher, not very active by flycatcher standards (or at least that’s my excuse for taking an age to catch up with this bird). I did however catch on very quickly to a Wood Warbler, something of a favourite of mine, with the lovely yellow throat contrasting with white undersides. These birds have a good habit of singing from the same spot for a long time, allowing even a moderately skilful birder such as myself to track them down at Hindhead for example. At least, Ipsilou was revealing some migrants. It also revealed exceptionally close views of Rock Sparrow with the big supercilium and central crown stripe almost shouting at us from just a few yards away.
This time, we headed to the top of the hill on which the monastery sits with an intention on Steve’s part to see if we wanted to view the monastery building itself. A distinct lack of interest nearly caused us to move off without even exiting the bus but someone did get out and immediately shouted ‘falcon!’. Our falcon was using that tremendous wind to hold station as it hunted. This was a big bird by falcon standards and we considered peregrine but the bird was not really bulky enough. What we had was an Eleonora’s Falcon. These are specialists of Mediterranean islands with very long, very pointed wings which, when swung backwards, reached to the tip of the tail. A magnificent sight.
Heading back towards the coastal village of Sigri, we turned of onto a road bordering Sigri fields. The fields and an associated area of trees produced spotted flycatchers with a good number of lesser kestrels giving excellent views. Slightly more surreal was a largish lorry, full of chickens, blasting out a bit of local music by way of a loud speaker on the cab roof. The lorry moved slowly passed us, turned around and disappeared back towards town, still blasting out the music. We went the other way and almost immediately latched on to a slim harrier. To my inexperienced eyes, our bird resembled a female Montagu’s Harrier. The experts in the bus (Steve and Dave N) however labelled the bird an immature (I think 2nd calendar year) male but were still undecided as to which species. But with salient features noted, a check back at the hotel in the Macmillan Birders Guide to European and Middle Eastern Birds confirmed this to be a 2nd year Pallid Harrier. The clincher, as I remember it, was this bird’s plain underwing as opposed to a barred underwing of a similarly aged Montie’s. By way of light relief, we disturbed a Marsh Harrier from its lunch of a Yellow-legged Gull just after losing sight of the mystery harrier.
The afternoon saw us heading back down the ‘cattle track’ to the Meladia River Ford. Some of the group had an Ortolan Bunting and certainly all of us managed really good views of another Wood Warbler. Rather harder to spot, indeed I didn’t, was an Icterine Warbler picked up first by Frank. These birds, together with Spotted Flycatcher, Pallid Swift, and Tree Pipit, did suggest some movement was in progress. However, the site was marked by another identification poser that turned into a fascinating and instructive discussion. The bird in question was originally, and tentatively called as a female Spectacled Warbler, had it stayed as such, this would have been a rare sighting for Lesvos never mind the group members. Steve seemed very troubled by this. However, following very good views and a consultation with the Collins Bird Guide later and Steve finally settled on a less exciting female Sardinian warbler. Look in your field guides and you will see the similarities between the two ‘sylvia’ warblers but with one big difference: spectacled has a definite rufous colouration to the secondaries and wing coverts (in common with the male) with the ‘sard’ much duller. After a brief stop in Skalla Eresou, we headed back towards our Skala Kallonis base but this time via a headland/beach area of Makara which forms the western headland of the Gulf of Kalloni. Having received instructions from Steve to look for ‘mobile boulders’, otherwise known as Chukar, we duly saw one and then were bizarrely passed by a car out of which sprang a young man clearly intent on catching the Chukar. This he failed to do (he had no chance in truth) and we moved on down the track (via yet another Little Owl) to the beach. Star bird this time was Black-headed Bunting. Bright yellow with a black ‘executioner’s hood’, this bird gave everyone really good views and was certainly worth lingering over. A tethered donkey also seemed to take a bit of a shine to Ron who, as is Ron’s way, was talking to the animal and just generally being nice to it. The donkey clearly missed Ron as we moved away as it continued a series of loud, disappointed calls long after we were out of sight.
If all this wasn’t enough, Alan called us all together, announced that it was he and Marion’s 36th wedding anniversary and as they also had 36 life birds for the week at that point, he would buy the first round in the bar that evening! Quite a day one way or another.
Day 7, Weds 23 April
Back at the Tsiknias River for the start of our last full day on the island, we began with a flypast of Mediterranean Gulls. Yet more Bee-eaters were almost ignored (seen a few of those this week). A Long-legged Buzzard sitting on a telegraph pole presented an opportunity for the digiscopers among us but also gave excellent views for the rest.
Still sticking to the river bank, but a little further inland, we left the bus behind and strolled for a while. The river bed revealed the inevitable Wood Sandpipers (remember the brown rule) but also gave us another marsh sandpiper, two more Temmincks Stints and at least one Little Ringed Plover. However, we spent most time tracking down another Ortolan Bunting amongst the Spanish Sparrows in an adjacent dusty field. Really, really attractive buntings these, complimented by two equally attractive Whinchat, inevitably sitting on a fence.
It’s 10.00 and time to head back to Metochi Lake, the site of our Little Crakes from earlier in the week. A mere ten minute journey which mysteriously takes us half an hour. A rare wrong turning by Steve leads to a tour of the back streets of Kalloni (probably) but we do make it to Metochi. We were greeted by our second skinned goat of the day and it dawns on us that the Greek Easter celebrations are due Sunday which explains the proliferation of goats either skinned or being skinned. Turning away from such delights, the terrapins in the lake have been joined by another species, European Pond Terrapin, and our female Little Crake has turned into a male, creeping in and out of the reed edges and around the terrapins.
Time now to drive, with occasional stops, up the Potamia Valley. I can’t say that we had anything new through the valley but you can’t help simply liking the place. Initially quite open, the valley seemed to me to narrow until we reached our idyllic lunch stop. This found me perched on a rock by the side of a river (does this make me sound like a frog?) being serenaded by a number of other frogs. Frank decided to be Indiana Jones (or even Steve Dudley) and try to catch a snake with its head in the water. I wasn’t witness to the attempt but I believe the snake slipped away before Frank got close enough.
Eventually leaving the lunch stop behind, we woke up another village with another (noisy!) ice cream stop (an essential feature of any NW Surrey foreign trip) and headed back to the salt pans.
The pans again gave us good views of all the waders we had seen over previous days including another marsh sandpiper and a testing task for the groups arch counter, Frank. Steve called Frank over; “you see that spit over their? Well it’s not a spit” ‘It’ proved to be some 400 Ruff packed close together in shallow water. Moving out onto the sheepfields again, Steve started talking about the lack of snipe and wondering aloud about the possibility of great snipe. Immediately (and I do mean immediately) after this comment, we saw our first snipe of the week! Close examination proved it to be a Common Snipe but is was a good attempt to conjure up a genuine rarity. Best of all, the flamingos took to the air. A stunning sight that was too; I can only imagine what it is like to see thousands of these birds in the air on some remote African lake.
A bit of information received sent is back to the Tsiknias River Ford where we enjoyed good views of a Little Bittern, a bird seen by some of the group earlier in the week on the Skala Kallonis Pool but only now by most us.
Day 8, Thurs 24 April – the last day!
What were the odds on a quiet last day? No chance. The flight wasn’t due to leave until early evening so we had a good half days birding still to enjoy.
Steve had a report of Olive Tree Warbler (a week early) at Platania and truthfully, there was no decision, we had to try to see this. Olive Tree Warbler has long been on my wish list and although many of the group had seen one in Bulgaria the previous year, it would be a life bird for many. The song is a lot like Masked Shrike (indeed as the year progresses, they mimic each other) but Steve was confident he could hear one and soon we were all enjoying terrific views. We even managed to see the bird through scopes, a really rare occurrence for a bird that either skulks or moves around a lot (or both). This is a big warbler, the size of a Great Reed Warbler although not, as Steve pointed out, quite as bulky.
Driving away, we added another Hoopoe and amazingly, a Roller. Now this is another bird that shouts for attention, a bright blue crow sized thing with a red/brown back; quite a sight.
Now, it was back to the Krüper’s Nuthatch site at Achladeri, in part for another view of this small but brilliant nuthatch, but also because we now had reports of Long-eared Owl. Following a quick conversation between Steve and a photographer already at the site and we were soon viewing a Long-eared Owl and two well grown chicks, obviously out of the nest and rather calmly viewing us as we viewed them. Moving only a few yards had the group loosely grouped, at a reasonable distance, from a thin tree stump with telescopes lined up on a hole towards the top, at say head height. The Krüper’s, a male, duly arrived and fed the female who was presumably sitting on eggs. The area looked liked it was being set up for some sort of Easter celebration so I guess the birds were in for a disturbed Sunday. They are however still being reported as I write this more than a week after my return.
However, it was time to move back to the saltpans, this time on the west side. We soon piled out for White-winged Black Tern. In anyone’s language, these are cracking birds, black bodies with persil-white contrasting wings. We had 30 or so of these brilliantly attractive marsh terns, all against the continuing backdrop of the flamingos, stilts and Avocets that have illuminated the salt pans for us all week.
One last lunch stop followed, back at the Kalloni bandstand, enough to give us our closest views of Short-toed Eagle and end the holiday on a high. Honourable mention should be made of Jackie at this point, who had been set the task (by Steve) of finding her own Nightingale with no assistance by the rest of the group, notably Dave. This she achieved on this very last day of the trip, neatly tying up a running theme for the week.
In all, the group saw just over 150 species of bird during the week, not to mention a good few species of butterfly, insects and the odd mammal. Outside of the mere number, the quality was exceptional.
I had been looking forward to this break for quite some time. Some of the group had been to the island before and I believe all of us will want to go back at some point. It was a week filled with the usual NW Surrey mix of brilliant birds, brilliant company and not a little brilliant food. Steve’s passion for the island and enjoyment in showing ‘his’ island to other people shone through loud and clear. Thank you Steve.
NW Surrey RSPB Members' Group