Sunday, May 13, 2007

Lesvos trip report - 14 - 21 April 2005

Lesbos trip report

14 - 21 April 2005

A Speyside Wildlife holiday with Steve Dudley and Duncan MacDonald

Sorry no photos - see here

Trip lists at end

Day 1. We all meet at the airport and jet off to Athens on time. We grab a meal in Athens before the short hop over to Mytilini, Lesbos. Arriving we fly in to low cloud and distant lightning is clear to see, lighting up the underside of the cloudbase as we come in to land. Leaving the aircraft it feels close and humid. A storm is brewing. We collect our bags and hire vehicles and head west across the island. We haven’t long left Mytilini behind when the heavens open – with marble-sized hailstones! The lightning increases and the rain just keeps coming down and what should be a 45 minute drive lasts well over an hour as the roads are becoming treacherous, lots of surface water and the road drains bubbling up alongside us! We eventually arrive at the hotel and thankfully the rain has ceased. The hotel has already experienced a power cut so we are taken to our rooms and left with candles – just in case!

Day 2. Amazingly, we wake to a bright morning, with blue skies and a warming sun. We all met up for breakfast and after yesterday’s long travel, it’s no surprise that everyone (bar Duncan and Steve of course!) opt for a lay in. After breakfast we head for the Kalloni pools. From the hotel entrance we scope the White Stork nest on the nearby rooftop. A single bird sits atop the huge, square nest which is busy with sparrows nesting in this avian high-rise. Black-winged Stilts chase each other around the pool whilst four small ducks take flight – two Teal and two Garganey! Moorhen, Coot and Little Grebe are all picked up on the pools while Common Swifts, Barn Swallows and House Martins whiz around overhead. A Cetti’s Warbler shouts his short burst of song at us from deep within a tamarisk bush. ‘Little Crake!’ shouts Steve. We’re looking in to the sun, but trotting along the tops of the floating vegetation is a female Little Crake, spinning in phalarope fashion as she picks at the surface. At the beach the southerly wind has got up but we are soon watching Common Terns, several Black-necked Grebes and a single Great Crested Grebe. A Sandwich Tern fizzes by uttering its harsh call and Yellow-legged Gulls patrol the coastline.

We cut across the edge of the marsh and down the east side of West River. Corn Bunting and Crested Larks serenade us whilst House Martins collect mud from the puddles and take it up to their new constructions in the lamp housing of the nearby streetlights! A splendid male Black-headed (Yellow) Wagtail pops up in front of us before a Swallowtail butterfly lands near us and attracts all our attention. It’s so fresh, in pristine condition as it suns itself in the warm sun. A flock of a dozen or so yellow wagtails landing front of us and amazingly it holds at least four different subspecies - Black-headed, Blue-headed, Grey-headed and Italian (Yellow) Wagtails! We scan the saltmarsh picking out Little Egret, Kentish Plover, a couple of Greenshanks, and tucked up distantly, a pair of Ruddy Shelducks. A party of Little Stints zip around the marsh, feeding frantically when they land, before lifting and relocating to resume feeding immediately on touchdown. ‘Zeeeeep, zeeeeep’. ‘Red-throated Pipit!’ shouts Steve. We try and track the thin calls before eventually it swoops out of the sky and lands out of view among the yellow wagtail flock. It pops up on top of small bush showing off its brick-red front before dropping out of view again.

Our walk back to the hotel is a little quicker than our walk out, but we still manage to pick up Little Ringed Plover, cracking views of a Cetti’s Warbler and more views of the Teal and Gargeney before boarding the vans and heading away from the coast. Our journey is halted when Duncan, John and Mary see a female Red-footed Falcon over Kalloni but it disappears as quickly as it arrived. We are interrupted again when Steve spots a Short-toed Eagle wind-hovering over a hillside above the road. We pull over and it’s all out to enjoy not one, up to three eagles! And what views! Two of them begin displaying, exaggerating their shapes with outstretched necks, flattened stretched wings and dangling legs. Then they talon-grapple! Wow! ‘Olivaceous Warbler’ proclaims Steve. In the bush behind us the pallid and somewhat featureless warbler delivers its scratchy song. But the eagles soon regain our attention – well they would wouldn’t they!

We stop briefly at Derbyshire where Maggie spies a Purple Heron just before if takes flight providing flight views. Great views are enjoyed of both Black Stork and Great White Egrets before we relocate to Achladeri for lunch. On arrival Maggie spies a Masked Shrike singing from the top of a nearby bush. Scopes are soon up and we get fabulous views of this attractive shrike. ‘Alpine Swift!’ exclaims Duncan. Above a nearby ridge two larger swifts with white underparts zoom around among the Common Swifts. We complete lunch and head up in to the wood. A Serin song flights from a pine tree and Chaffinches sing from all around us. We wander around the wood in search of Krüper’s Nuthatch to no avail. An hour and a half go by with no reward. A Woodlark sings distantly. Just as we decide to give up, Steve hears a call and spies a movement. ‘Short-toed Treecreeper’. We all get good views of a single bird collecting food and attempt to follow it back to its net but it soon disappears in to the trees. Steve follows. ‘Kreeeez-kreeeez’. Both Duncan and Steve are on to it instantly. ‘Krüper’s’ indicates Steve. ‘There it is’ points Duncan, ‘on the dead branch’. We are all on to it and get good views as one bird turns in to two, both feeding actively. We even manage to retrieve a scope and some of us enjoy even better views of this great looking tit-like nuthatch. A male Pied Flycatcher tries to get in on the action and when the nuthatches are out of sight attention is switched to the stunning Pied Fly.

We board the vans and head up Upper East River which is decidedly quiet. There are very few Wood Sandpipers which normally number in their dozens. A couple of Little Ringed Plovers add interest before a stunning male black-throated Black-eared Wheatear is found. Whilst we are watching the wheatear a male Cirl Bunting begins to rattle out his song from the same rock! Mary then asks what the two birds in the bush are. ‘Cretzschmar’s Buntings!’ yells Duncan and Steve in unison. Wow! What a trio! We move on a little way up the track and we are immediately watching a pair of Rock Nuthatches visiting a nest hole. Each parent is taking tiny prey items in to the nest so they are obviously feeding very small young. A couple of Lesser Whitethroats are added to our tally before we head down Lower East River and find our first party of Spanish Sparrows, the males looking resplendent with their dark, streaky chests and vivid, Great Tit-like cheeks.

We arrive back at the hotel with a couple of hours to relax before our first Lesbos dinner together and our first day’s checklist. What a week t his is going to be!

Day 3. Most enjoy a good night and are out early around the pools and West River for some pre-breakfast birding. After breakfast we make our way to the Inland Lake. The water level is very high which doesn’t bode well for fringe feeding species such as crakes and Little Bitterns. Reed and Sedge Warblers keep us entertained for a short time, as do the Stripe-necked and European Pond Terrapins. We scrutinise the edges of the lake for anything, but all we turn up is Moorhen after Moorhen. A Marsh Harrier appears over the lake, a melanistic male. Fantastic. It goes straight through and it doesn’t take long before it’s climbing the thermal of a nearby hillside. Duncan picks up a small falcon crossing the valley. It’s a Hobby and it shoots through and heads off at speed as if it’s spotted a group of hirundines to harass. High above one of the nearby hills a Short-toed Eagle is wind-hovering when Duncan picks up another raptor over another hill. ‘Long-legged Buzzard’ is his verdict and we all train our scopes on to this eagle-like buzzard. It’s a rufous-phase bird, very Red Kite-like in colour on the uppers. It swoops down and lands in the top of a tree where its pale head and long legs are easy to see. Another Marsh Harrier, this time an adult female with its pale cream crown and shoulders, wings through.

We cut through the narrow streets (everyone breath in!) of Kalloni and out to the saltpans. Our first stop looks over a pan full of Avocets in every direction. It’s a job to see anything else, but eventually we find a handful of Teal and Maggie picks up a party of Pintail. We move on down picking up a few Ruff, Little and Common Terns when Duncan and Steve notice large numbers of terns on the east side of the pans. We transfer to the north-east corner and follow the track down towards the sea. A Common Sandpiper greets us with its wittering call. We sift through the terns but all appear Common. There’s more birds sat up on mounds in the next pan. A first-summer Little Gull is sat small island among the Little Terns, but our interest soon switches to a couple of Whiskered Terns on one of the mounds. Fantastic! We are all enjoy these beautiful terns with their sooty under-bellies, white cheeks and stout, deep-red bills. They sit with Common and Little when suddenly Steve notices a tern preening in the group – it’s an Artic Tern - in Lesbos! Wow! The last tern for our tally is Gull-billed, but they prove very elusive and few get on to them before they disappear.

As we arrive back, Duncan spies a small raptor high in the sky. Sparrowhawk. John P. then finds a male Woodchat Shrike in the roadside bushes. We reposition and all enjoy great views of this first-summer bird as it feeds from a fenceline, swooping down to the ground to collect beetles and other prey.

As lunch is approaching we head up Napi Valley and pick up a superb White Stork circling over Agios Paraskevi. Our first stop delivers our second Long-legged Buzzard of the day, and second pair of displaying Short-toed Eagles for the trip. Superb! We move further north to our lunch stop and the birds keep on coming. More Short-toed Eagles, a male Peregrine with a damaged wing, a Raven and our first Montagu’s Harrier of the week – a fine female drifts lazily down the valley.

Suitably fed and watered, we head back to the saltpans. A male Montagu’s Harrier performs brilliantly for us and takes priority over a female Lesser Kestrel who is less obliging. We head on in to the sheepfields and walk straight on to a flock of around 30 Short-toed Larks. They scuttle around in front of us allowing us great views before most of them take flight and hop over our heads chuttering as they go. Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers run around the short grass around the pools. A mixed flock of Spanish and House Sparrows feed noisily and flying up to the saltpans boundary fence when spooked giving fantastic views in brilliant light. More Short-toed Larks fly in when Maggie spots several Ruddy Shelduck amongst the gulls. We then notice another 30 or so birds flying around in the background and we are treated to an aerial spectacle from these dazzling ducks-cum-geese, their brilliant white wing patches and pale heads standing out against their chestnut bodies. We walk back through the fields picking off a few more Wood Sands and Ruff on the pools. Steve picks out a large dark bird flying low towards us. ‘Purple Heron!’ Duncan and Steve shout in unison as the bird flops down in to reeds on a small pool. It looks shattered. As it came in its flight was laboured and is legs were near-dangling. Duncan and Steve both expected it to belly flop to the ground, but it stood erect, its snake-like neck sticking up over the reeds to view the scene. It crouches then launches its back in to the air and flies right by us, the brilliant light showing up every detail of the adult plumage. Stunning! Not so stunning was the dead tortoise we find which has been scavenged and is crawling with a troop of ‘recycling bugs’ as Duncan put it. John C. then spots three Whinchat feeding from the tops of Asphodels.

We arrive back at the vans when Jean picks up a flock of birds flying in over the sea. Ducks, but which ones? ‘Teal or Garganey’ says Steve. But the light is atrocious. Thankfully they are flying towards us and eventually Duncan and Steve pick up the wing pattern and confirm them as Garganey – all 30 of then! They fly by us and land on the sea! ‘I’ve never seen Garganey on the sea before’ comments Steve.

We haven’t gone far when Mary shouts ‘Hoopoe!’. And what a star! It’s a pristine bird and it sits tight behind some tussock grass. It looks tired as if it’s only just come in off the sea but still thrills us at one point by raising its crest and flying a short distance. Even Penny is enthralled by it (we’ll make a birdwatcher of you yet Penny!). Moving on we come across two more stunning male Montagu’s Harriers quartering the roadside fields. Two Marsh Sandpipers fly overhead providing far from satisfactory views, and a group of yellow wagtails feeding among sheep are scrutinised and separated out as Black-headed, Syke’s (new for the trip) and Blue-headed.

We make a brief stop along East River where we enjoy good views of a singing Nightingale before hot-footing it to our last site of the day (with the rear van picking up a fly-by Glossy Ibis on route). Duncan and Steve ask the group to be as quiet as possible as they search the trees along a track. It’s not looking good until bingo! Duncan and Steve setup their scopes and invite everyone to feast their eyes on two Scops Owls! The whole group is spell-bound by these two little gems. One bird is upright, thin with its ear tufts erect while the other is more relaxed and dumpy. ‘What a fantastic way to end the day’ comments Maggie. And who can disagree!

Day 4. We wake to a dull, but warm morning. It’s been raining overnight and there are still a few spots of rain in the air. We enjoy a nearly breakfast in order to get away by 0815h to head up towards the north coast. We stop just north of Kalloni at the ‘band stand’ hoping that the duller conditions may have extended the early morning activity. And we aren’t disappointed. The first bird we see is a singing male Blue Rock Thrush, followed by Cretzschmar’s Bunting and several Lesser Whitethroats. A Sylvia warbler is in sub-song and Duncan and Steve are trying to locate it. ‘Rϋppell’s Warbler!’ yells Steve making a mad dash for his scope. We are soon all enjoying a stunning male Rupe singing from the top of an olive tree. What a bonus! The Rupe behaves brilliantly and we all have our fill before it eventually disappears and we move on to Petra. Within minutes of arriving we are watching another male Rϋppell’s Warbler bouncing around the lower slopes of ‘Tracey Island’. Several flocks of Spanish Sparrows bounce past us, almost certainly migrants leaving the island heading off to nearby Turkey – only five miles around. Tree Pipit is next sat up on the overhead wire before two Red-rumped Swallows appear above us. A large dark warbler flies by us in to a bush and begins a little sub-song. Orphean or Barred? It reappears briefly on the side before darting in to another bush. Barred! John C. then picks up a male Peregrine out over the sea wheeling around in front of Petra Island.

We move on to Eftalou where we scan the straights between Lesbos and Turkey we find lines of distant Yelkouan Shearwaters. We hit the coastal track but the first valley is dead. We move eastwards and find a sheltered spot from the strengthening wind. A Common Whitethroat is found whilst we search for a singing Cretzschmar’s Bunt. A male Black-eared Wheatear fits from bush to bush. Back in the vans we stop briefly to look at a dead Montpellier Snake on the track. At three foot long it’s pretty impressive. We stop overlooking a spruced up villa. It’s sheltered and there is quite a bit of activity. ‘Sombre Tit!’ announces John P. We all converge on him and directions are spot on and bingo! Sombre Tit all on our lists! It gives us the run around as it flits from tree to tree before eventually being joined by another and they settle down and we get cracking views of this grey, ‘sombre’ looking tit. By the vans, the roadside daisies are covered in crickets and beetles which bring out the cameras.

We have lunch in what is normally a sheltered valley, but the wind has changed direction (again!) and is coming straight up the valley and blowing a gale. We lunch in the vans peering out at Cretzschmar’s Buntings picking around finding their own lunch. Amazingly, the wind drops and we are soon out of the vans enjoying singing Nightingales and two dazzling Subalpine Warblers. A Rock Nuthatch nest is admired, and by the sea we get our best views yet of Yelkouan Shearwaters. Non-avian interests come in the form of a Scarce Swallowtail butterfly and an amazing spangled millipede.

We head on round the coast to the hot springs, but as we approach, John C. spots movement tour right. ‘Chukar’ he bellows. Fantastic. Two birds picking their way through the rocks only meters from the van. Everyone gets great views of these Red-legged Partridge ‘look-a-likes’ before they disappear in to the scrub. We reach the pools and only Steve braves the sea and a few dip their hands in the hot gravel. The scrubbed rock face above us is alive with butterflies including the stunning Cleopatra and similar looking Brimstone butterflies.

We move on to the lovely little fishing village of Skala Sikiaminias finding a Turtle Dove on route. We stop at the usual Speyside Wildlife taverna for coffees and ice creams and Steve’s longed-for wish of watching an Audouin’s Gull from the taverna whilst munching an ice cream comes true! Amazingly, whilst sat enjoying the view, Steve and Duncan spy the same gull. They follow it as it circles the harbour and drops towards us. ‘Audouin’s Gull!’ they scream as they leap to their feet to the astonishment and amusement of the many locals in the surrounding tavernas! Coffee and ice cream suddenly taste even sweeter!

We head back south down Napi Valley and stop off just north of Napi village. The hillside seems dead at first until Steve finds a Sombre Tit and we follow it back to its nesthole. ‘Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch’. A Starling-sized bird undulates past us. Middle Spotted Woodpecker but we fail to relocate it. A distant male Lesser Kestrel and Short-toed Eagle wind-hover over a distant wooded slope. A Long-legged Buzzard zips across the valley, and Hobby and Peregrine are both seen distantly. We see another flock of Spanish Sparrows heading north through the valley. Our last brief stops provides a couple more Subalpine Warblers and another view of a Nightingale before we have to make haste back to the hotel to freshen up before another hearty dinner.

Day 5. Yesterday’s strong winds increased overnight to near storm force and waking we find tree debris scattered around the hotel grounds and hear that the hotel lost three trees to the gales.

After breakfast we head west stopping off at Liminos Monastery briefly before arriving at the Grand Canyon. Subalpine Warblers duet our arrival and are chasing each other around the nearby bushes. Several Red-rumped Swallows wheel around above us and a Common Whitethroat and Blackcap share the same bush. A Long-legged Buzzard appears over the crag and we get great views of its rusty tones, pale head and tail in the brilliant sunlight. Just as we ready ourselves to move on a male Cirl Bunting begins to sing from the overhead wires.

We arrive at an extremely windy Ipsilou. We park at the bottom and make our way up the windswept northern side which at first glance appears birdless. Black-eared Wheatear, Cretzschmar’s Bunting and Rock Bunting (sunning itself) are soon found, but Cinereous Bunting is beginning to get difficult, and frustrating. A male begins to sing below us but we can’t find him. ‘There he is!’ shouts Steve. The others gather around him and most get on to him before he exits stage right. Damn! We search further and still nothing. A couple of Short-toed Eagles drift down the valley against the strong wind and a single Marsh Harrier heads north with the wind behind it. Mary finds us a Pied Flycatcher when a male Cinereous Bunt starts to sing from above us. We find him briefly sat in a small tree on this more sheltered slope but he flies off. Mary beckons us to her as she has him sat in a tree right in front of her. No sooner have we made it to her than it flies and drops back down on to the windswept lower slope. Steve though has tracked it and soon has it in his scope and we all get god views as it hops around the rocks before departing once more. We head on up the slope admiring the amazing blankets and banks of flowers. We reach Steve M. and Pat who have already walked on ahead (and missing out on the Cinereous Bunt). They’ve been watching two raptors in the valley but lost them to view in the trees below. ‘Peregrine!’ yells Duncan, and a superb adult hurtles over our heads. ‘Cinereous Bunting!’ exclaims Steve. ‘Sat in the top of the big oak’. Scopes are soon on him and everyone, including Steve M. and Pat get good views of this lemon-headed bunting.

We lunch at the top by the monastery and Jean finds us a Little Owl and a Blue Rock Thrush song flights from the rocks. Several of the monastery cats join us for lunch and eat everything that’s thrown to them!

We walk down the sheltered side of the mount and immediately find more birds. An Isabelline Wheatear is singing but we can’t locate it. A Sombre Tit bobs up and shows well and there are several Pied Flys flitting about the oaks. An Orphean Warbler belts out its fluty song but before we can find it, it moves way down the slope and little chance of locating it. A Cinereous Bunting starts singing. We find it sat on top of an oak tree in the sun. Fantastic! These are the best views yet as the male sits in the full open, the sun illuminating his lemon yellow head. We arrive at the bottom and John C. finds a couple of Isabelline Wheaters for us all to enjoy and another Short-toed Eagle appears over us, the brilliant light allows us to see every feather of the underside. Awesome!

Time is pressing and with the southerly wind getting stronger, we abandon the idea of heading south to Skala Eressou in favour of the more sheltered Grand Canyon. On route we stop off by the bridge at Pavoroli monastery. On arrival Steve glimpses a Goshawk flying up the river but it disappears. Loads of Common Swifts and hirundines appear overhead, and all the swifts are checked for Pallid. No luck. Duncan then finds a Wood Warbler along the river and Penny gets a lucky view of the returning Goshawk whilst the rest of us are watching the warbler!

We arrive in the Grand Canyon for our second visit of the day. All seems very quiet. A male Subalpine Warbler song flights and shows well and a handful of Red-rumped Swallows are skimming around. Duncan then finds two Crag Martins and a procession of Short-toed and Long-legged Buzzards appear and disappear over the crags. But the star performers aren’t birds – but a lizard. Steve spies an 18-incher on a small mound by the vans but it takes cover. We soon encircle it and with a little encouragement, we are soon all enjoying some pretty amazing views of this green and pale-blue mini-monster! Fantastic!

The journey back is not without incident, with Weasel, a live Montpellier Snake and Persian Squirrel all seen along the road from the vans!

Pre-dinner activities are interrupted by news of a Spur-winged Plover. Duncan was out enjoying a few minutes to himself when he was stopped and told of the bird. He races back to the hotel and gathers all those he can find and transports us to West River where we find the plover huddled behind some beach debris sheltering from the wind. It looks tired and miserable and clearly fresh in from Africa. We are mighty pleased that one of the finders had remained with the bird to point it out, as it might have tested Duncan and Steve’s bird-finding skills it was so hunkered down!

Day 6. We have an earlyish breakfast and first check West River for yesterday’s Spur-winged Plover, but no joy. A Black Stork provides great interest though as it feeds with several egrets. We then head west and stop above the Eressos junction before Ipsilou for Issabeline Wheatear which we get even before we leave the vans! A Long-legged Buzzard wheels overhead ‘showing off’ as Maggie puts it. Steve M. then appears holding a small snake. It’s freshly dead and we soon identify it as a young (probably a young of this year) Large Whip Snake. Although the adults can measure up to 3m in length, this baby only just reaches 18 inches in length. A little further up the road we find a Little Owl sat on top of a small roof. It cowers behind the apex of the roof so all we can see is its eyebrows!

We stop briefly above Sigri to take in the view. The offshore islands sit amidst a deep turquoise-blue sea topped with white peaked waves. It is simply stunning.

We arrive at Sigri fields and immediately get stuck in to good numbers of Lesser Kestrels including a flock of seven working the slope before the mast. The Lessers out number the only Common Kestrel see by about 20:1! Steve then spies four large dark birds over the offshore islands. He gets them in his scope. ‘Purple Herons’ he proclaims, and most get on to them as they make their way north at a fair pace. Pat’s in stitches and explains that Steve lined up his scope announcing ‘they’re in my scope if anyone wants them’ and then promptly picked up his scope and walk off! ‘It had to be seen to be believed’ says Pat. Next up is a female Marsh Harrier and another Long-legged Buzzard. Whilst searching for a singing Masked Shrike we find a single Pied Flycatcher (but no shrike). A Red-throated Pipit is seen on a fence before we reach an olive and fig grove which holds a pair of Masked Shrikes. We get stunning views as they collect nesting material and return to the outer branch of one of the fig trees. The next field is alive with yellow wagtails which are al assigned to Black-headed and Blue-headed. A White Stork appears just in front of us and circles before making its way off along the nearby river valley.

We arrive at Faneromeni Ford to find only a trickle of water heaving with tadpoles. The trickle seems to hold no birds but closer inspection finds many yellow wagtails and Steve picks out a Green Sandpiper under the overhanging branches. A couple of Pied Flycatchers are busy flitting and out of the giant ‘bamboo’ reeds. The White Stork reappears over us – circling with a Montagu’s Harrier! The light is fantastic and we can clearly see the barring on both the under- and upper-sides.

We walk on up the track which turns in to a stream after the recent rains. A Cirl Bunting flies off ahead of us. We walk along a short track between two lush green fields lined with fig trees. ‘Golden Orioles!’ exclaims Steve. Scopes are soon trained on a fig tree and we struggle to see the yellow and black birds in the green foliage. It moves and eventually gives itself up by feeding from an overhanging bamboo stem. It’s a full adult male and is dazzling. It feeds by hopping down to the floor rummaging about before hopping up back to the bamboo stem. A second male also appears and the two feed alongside a Woodchat Shrike. The orioles take flight and two birds turn into three! Where was the third bird lurking?

Before were retrace our steps, Duncan and Steve check out an old building for Beech Marten. No animals, but clear signs of occupancy with three sleeping indentations formed in the bed of hay which is lying in one corner.

We move on a little further up the track and look over a lush field of r the barley which is also covered in flowers. No intensive agriculture here! Hirundines are sweeping low over the field. Wave after wave of birds pass by, mostly Red-rumped Swallows. Duncan and Steve are in conversation when Steve pauses. Lifting his bins he sees a pale-faced swift flying towards us. ‘Pallid Swift!’ he yells. Everyone follows his instructions and within seconds we are all enjoying fabulous views of this south European swift. It wheels around low over our heads and we are able to see every single diagnostic feature to separate it from Common Swift. For a start it’s brown, not black. Then there’s the face. Great big pale patch extending above the bill and right across the throat. The blunt wings have dark leading edge, paler flight feathers contrasting with the dark coverts of the inner wing. It provides stunning views before four more appear. Fantastic!

Our walk back along the track provides brilliant views of a Green-underside Blue butterfly. We arrive back at the vans for lunch and the passage of Red-rumped Swallows continues apace, with lesser numbers of Barn Swallow, Sand and House Martins. A lone Common Swift flies over before four more Pallid Swifts appear over us.

We arrive at the beach with the sun beating down on and we are thankful for the cool offshore breeze which cools us a little. There isn’t a single cloud in the rich blue sky. As we approach the river mouth, a Tawny Pipit flies down on to the beach area in front of us and gives great views. The river mouth has been dammed by the beach and now forms a shallow lake. A lone Glossy Ibis feeds in the shallows upriver. Wood Sands trot around in all directions and John C. finds a Black-tailed Godwit before three Little Stints and a Knot drop in. A single Ruff also appears. More yellow wags indicate an increase in passage. Two Little Ringed Plovers do what all species need to do in order to survive – have sex right there in front of us. Shocking!

We make a dash to Skala Erossou but the river is dead. Only a handful of yellow wagtails and a few warblers, including our first Chiffchaff of the week, are found. A handful of Jackdaws flyover. From the beach we search for shearwaters. There’s plenty of Yelkouans moving north, but not a sniff of a Cory’s.

Leaving Eresson, we drive slowly past some roadside gravel pits. Steve is in the middle of explaining to his van that he has never seen a single bird on the pits when he glances and left, hits the brakes and points to a Squacco Heron sat on the edge of one of the pools! He burbles in to the radio to Duncan. HE then scans the rest of the pools and picks up Little Grebe, Coot and Moorhen. He picks up the radio and asks Duncan if he’s got everything. Nothing. The radio isn’t switched on bozo! He turns on and apologises to Duncan for his stupidity. Duncan confirms he’s seen Little Grebe, Coot and Moorhen. ‘And the Squashy Heron?’ asks Steve. ‘What Squashy Heron!’ replies Duncan. Oops! Steve provides directions and Duncan’s van is soon enjoying it too!

Our run back to hotel is broken up only by the best views of Short-toed Eagle of the week. It’s hunting a valley by the road, and is only just a little higher than us. It uses the wind to hold itself still in the air before stooping to the ground. The light is great and the views are simply breathtaking!

Day 7. We wake to an overcast sky and a cool breeze, a stark contrast to recent scorching days. After our usual hearty breakfast we head out to East River. At the mouth a lone Great White Egret stands sentry, but otherwise it’s dead. By the ford we find Greenshank, Common and Wood Sandpipers, which at last are starting to come in good numbers. We take a walk along the east bank with the sun behind us. The river itself is pretty dead, but we manage to find a showy Olivaceous Warbler which sits out on top of a dead bush singing his little heart out. The fenceline behind us holds a couple of Whinchat and a Tree Pipit. A Corn Bunting appears with a beak full of dry grasses which looks like a huge bushy moustache like you expect to find on some army major, and it is soon christened ‘General Melchett’s Bunting’ (see Blackadder Goes Fourth!).

We head up the Dead Goat Pit Track and find more Whinchat, loads of Black-eared Wheatears, a fine singing Cretzschmar’s Bunting atop a juniper bush and several Rock Nuthatch. A Hoopoe is calling distantly when Duncan then finds a Sombre Tit singing his head off from a small dead tree. Jean then spies a Woodchat and Pat does likewise with a second. A Short-toed Eagle demands our attention and satisfies Duncan and Steve’s daily fix. Duncan sees an Agama Lizard disappear in to rocks. John P., Steve and Duncan follow it and find it nestled in a crevice. Steve M. joins us and immediately spots a Tortoise. It’s promptly gathered and taken to the group where it is popped on a grassy patch for photos before being taken back to where we found him.

We drive across to the Inland Lake, and on our approach, Steve spies something in the bushes as we cross a tiny stream. He reverses and scanning upstream he finds a female Little Bittern alert and aware of our presence. We move further on and park up and walk back as quietly as possible. The Little Bittern is spooked, but only to the extent of trying to hide in the bare bush rather than walking or worse, flying off. We watch quietly and she eventually resumes feeding and we get good scope views. An adult Purple Heron flies over whilst we are watching the Little Bittern. We make our way to the lake which is incredibly quiet and we leave with only a Marsh Harrier for our efforts.

We drive up Potamia Valley and lunch by the dam whilst being serenaded by Nightingale. White-legged Damselfly and Broad-bodied Chaser are added to the insect list and we get some great views of ‘singing’ Marsh Frogs, inflating their throat pouches in to little bubbles either side of their face. Steve wanders along the dam and flushes a Grass Snake and finds a Stripe-sided Terrapin stuck head down in the debris mesh of the dam! Thinking it is dead Steve pulls it out and amazingly it is still alive, and appears to have not been their long. He releases it back to the river, not without noting that it stinks. ‘Terrapins always smell’ says Duncan. How does he know these things?! A quick scan of the hillsides reveal a Short-toed Eagle, Common and Long-legged Buzzards and a couple of high Lesser Kestrels. A check of the reservoir finds a single Coot with the many Yellow-legged Gulls and Steve M. finds a Woodchat as we drive back down the track.

We arrive in Napi Valley to increasing winds from the south, but still a lovely warm sun high in the sky. Soon after arriving Duncan picks up a Middle-spotted Woodpecker flying across the hillside which a handful of us get on to. Unfortunately it goes to ground, but other birds are soon popping up all over the place. Two Hoopoes are seen briefly’ and a male Masked Shrike is singing right below us. The Hoopoes reappear in tree just coming in to leaf and bounce around after each other and appear to be nest prospecting. Another tree is leaping with stuff and two Sombre Tits appear at its base. Hold on. There’s now A Great Tit with the Sombres. And now there’s a Subalpine in the same view! Fantastic! A Woodchat Shrike is found and the Masked Shrike continues to vie for our attention. Two Ravens cronk as they cross the valley and a male Cirl Bunting appears in a tree right bus and gives great views. As usual the banter returns to the comedy theme of the week – the Churchil Insurance adverts! ‘Oh yes’. ‘Oh no no no no no’. And, ‘Steady now’. But this time the surreal twist is combining the Churchill wording with Fast Show sketches! Duncan is reduced to tears, and not for the first time!

We retreat to the Saltpans and whilst watching a group of Dunlin (trip tick) we hear that there is a young male Pallid Harrier kicking about. We begin searching and soon find a harrier sat in a roadside field. It lifts and turns in to a first-summer male Pallid Harrier. Wow! It’s a delicately marked with a diffused orangey underside and a smoky turquoise-grey upperparts, and retaining the face pattern of a juvenile with a full collar. We watch it quarter the barley fields when another bird crosses it. ‘It’s another Pallid!’ shouts Duncan. Now we have two first-summer male Pallid Harriers! This is awesome and you can taste the group’s excitement

We spend our last half an hour checking the mouth of the East River for reported Slender-billed Gulls but no joy. We head over to West River to check the loafing gulls and are amazed to find nine Squacco Herons! A little more searching and Steve locates a single Stone-curlew at the back of the marsh. Fantastic!

It’s back to the hotel to freshen up and start packing before dinner and our final checklist of the week. We end with our usual end of trip votes. Scops Owl sweeps the boards for species of the week, whilst it’s a tie for place of the week – Sigri area, Ipsilou and Skala Sikaminias all collecting the same number of votes. Magic moments are usually much more personal and often diverse. Steve M. plumps for the displaying Short-toed Eagles; Maggie and Duncan the fab views of Rüppell’s Warbler; Pat delights, with tears nearly rolling down his face (steady now!), in recounting the incident when Steve shouted the Purple Herons over the islands off Sigri and having proclaimed that they are in his scope for someone to enjoy, he grabs his scope and walks off; Jean’s magic moment was the trio of Golden Orioles above Faneromeni Ford; the chapel at Ipsilou monastery did it for Penny; John C.’s moment is another ‘Steveism’, this time when driving past the gravel pits near Eressos and Steve saying he’d never seen a single bird on them just as he spots a Squacco Heron slap in the middle!; the self-found Hoopoe floats Mary’s boat (the bird she most-wanted to see and she found it too!); whilst Steve’s was all too easy to guess (well he went on long enough about it!) – finding an Audouin’s Gull whilst enjoying an ice cream at the taverna in Skala Sikaminias.

We bid each other good night as the group heads off to pack for their early morning departure, and the end of a fantastic week. Or is it?

Day 8. We are all up at 04.30h, grab a quick bite and then off to the airport for Steve and Duncan to say goodbye to the group before greeting the incoming second group later in the evening. We are soon encamped in the departure lounge when we are delivered some stunning news. There is a ground staff strike at Athens. No one is going anyway, in or out, for 24 hours! So after alerting the Speyside office (and its still only 05.00h in the UK!) we head off back to the hotel. We all grab a second, much fuller, breakfast, check back in to our rooms, and take the morning off to relax after the early start.

We all meet up for lunch in the hotel which is a nice change to the packed lunches. After lunch we head back out and head for Steve’s favourite valley on the island - up Potami. We leave Penny at the vans sketching the stunning craggy landscape we head off up the valley in full sun and what is fast becoming blistering heat. The heat is obviously having an effect on the birds as its pretty quiet. Masked and Woodchat Shrike are soon picked up, but our main quarry, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, is obvious only by its absence. We’ve had glimpses elsewhere on the island, but it’s amazing just how quiet they’ve been this year. Long-legged Buzzard and Short-toed Eagle are back on the menu and arriving back at the vans, Duncan picks up a couple of Hobbies and a Lanner high in the blue, cloudless sky. Unfortunately, no one else is able to connect with the Lanner before it dives behind the opposite hillside.

We have a quick drive up to Parikila Marsh which is devoid of birds but a do find a couple of Red-veined Darters by the track.

Out final stop off is the trust old West River where we savour our last views of egrets and Squacco Heron before reaching the hotel, and our second final night of the trip!

Day 9. Another early start, but this time with the expected outcome – goodbye hugs and handshakes and bon voyage! Adios gang - hope to see you all again!

Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Black-necked Grebe
Yelkouan Shearwater
Little Bittern
Squacco Heron
Little Egret
Great White Egret
Grey Heron
Purple Heron
Black Stork
White Stork
Glossy Ibis
Greater Flamingo
Ruddy Shelduck
Common Shelduck
Short-toed Eagle
Marsh Harrier
Pallid Harrier
Montagu’s Harrier
Common Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Lesser Kestrel
Common Kestrel
Red-footed Falcon
Water Rail
Spotted Crake
Little Crake
Black-winged Stilt
Little Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Ringed Plover
Spur-winged Plover
Little Stint
Common Snipe
Black-tailed Godwit
Green Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Mediterranean Gull
Audouin’s Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Little Gull
Gull-billed Tern
Sandwich Tern
Common Tern
Arctic Tern
Little Tern
Whiskered Tern
Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon
Collared Dove
Turtle Dove
Scops Owl
Little Owl
Common Swift
Alpine Swift
Pallid 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
Grey-headed Yellow Wagtail
Black-headed Yellow Wagtail
Italian Yellow Wagtail
Syke’s Yellow Wagtail
Isabelline Wheatear
Black-eared Wheatear
Blue Rock Thrush
Cetti’s Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
Olivaceous Warbler
Subalpine Warbler
Rüppell’s Warbler
Orphean Warbler
Barred Warbler
Lesser Whitethroat
Common Whitethroat
Wood Warbler
Pied Flycatcher
Long-tailed Tit
Sombre Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Krüper’s Nuthatch
Rock Nuthatch
Short-toed Treecreeper
Golden Oriole
Woodchat Shrike
Masked Shrike
Hooded Crow
House Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow
Cirl Bunting
Cinereous Bunting
Ortolan Bunting
Cretzschmar’s Bunting
Black-headed Bunting
Corn Bunting

(140 species)

Amphibians, lizards and snakes
Marsh Frog
Green Toad
Stripe-necked Terrapin
European Pond Terrapin
Grass Snake
Large Whip Snake (RIP)
Montpellier Snake
Turkish Gheko
Agama Lizard
Balkan Wall Lizard
Balkan Green Lizard
Snake-eyed Skink

Persian Squirrel

Butterflies and moths
Scarce Swallowtail
Small White
Large White
Wall Brown
Small Heath
Orange Tip
Clouded Yellow
Painted Lady
Green-underside Blue
Small Copper
Red Admiral
Black-veined White
Bath White
False Apollo
Green-underside Blue
Green-veined White

Humming-bird Hawk-moth
Silver Y
Cream-spotted Tiger

Broad-bodied Chaser
White-legged Damselfly

Other insects
Dung Beetle
Carpenter Bee
Yellow-and-black Flat-backed Millipeed
St Mark’s Fly
Common Green Bush Cricket
‘Red-winged’ Grasshopper


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