Sunday, May 13, 2007

Lesvos trip report - 22 - 29 April 2004

Lesbos trip report

22 – 29 April 2004

A Speyside Wildlife holiday with Steve Dudley and Mark Newall

Guests: Valerie, Lynn & Ray, Mary, Alan, Dorothy, Lesley, Brian

Sorry no photos - see here

Trip lists at end

Day 1. Steve and Mark meet the group at Mytilini airport at 2030h and drive them across the island to the hotel where we have dinner and settle in to our rooms and prepare for the week ahead.

Day 2. Most of the group meet up at 0730h for a pre-breakfast walk down to the Kalloni Pools. We are greeted by a singing Cetti’s Warbler, a male Black-headed (Yellow) Wagtail and a bevy of Black-winged Stilts. Over the fields opposite the pools are a squadron of hirundines –House Martin, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow and a handful of Red-rumped Swallow. Eyes are firmly fixed on the Red-rumps as Mark and Steve explain the differences with Barn Swallow. Common Swifts appear above us and these are checked carefully for Pallid – but no joy. Mark then spies a couple of Garganey lurking in the reed edge behind the forest of stilt legs. The male of course takes centre stage, the dull brown female barely gets a look. Three Squacco Herons jump up, turning from buff to white, and land in view. Scopes are soon trained on to these cracking little herons. Sedge Warblers zip around when eight Glossy Ibis rise from the pools and immediately alight again. We creep along the road and come across the ibises feeding. ‘Golly!’ exclaims Ray as he scopes the iridescent green and coppery over-sized Curlews. A Cetti’s Warbler explodes into song right by us. Looking up it’s sat right out in the open. ‘Fantastic!’ remarks Brian. It continues to sing in the bright warming sun and Ray and Steve reach for their cameras. ‘Ruddy Shelduck!’ shouts Mark. A lone bird is flying distantly over the sea, but its white wing patches are easy to see even at a distance. On the other side of the road a handful of Whinchat are found adorning a rusty fence line. A Hooded Crow lands on a fence post right in front of us – ‘what a view’ comments Dorothy.

We reach the beach and soon pick out a pair of Great Crested Grebes. Yellow-legged Gulls wheel around in every direction and a handful of Common Terns bounce around in front of us. ‘Brekky!’ remarks Steve, and with that we head back to the hotel stopping to enjoy the ibis and Squacco’s briefly.

After breakfast we gather in the car park, but the birding is relentless. Two White Storks are on the rooftop nest visible from the hotel when a Long-legged Buzzard appears above us. Within minutes a Short-toed Eagle appears low over the car park receiving a hammering from one of the local Hoodies.

We jump in the vans and head off along the edge of West River. We pull over and are immediately watching a pair of Kentish Plovers running around the marsh. ‘White-winged Black Tern!’ shouts Mark, and out among the Common Terns is a lone adult White-winged, its deep black body and underwings contrasting with its flashing white upperwings. Two Whiskered Terns appear, their sooty unders separated from their black caps by brilliant white moustaches. A Marsh Harrier floats around over the far end of the marsh which holds both Little and Great White Egrets. A female Montagu’s Harrier speeds past low over the marsh, its barred tail and clear white rump easy to see. As we pull away, a White Stork appears high in the sky.

Arriving at the Inland Lake, Alan is first to spot the roosting Night Herons in the bushes opposite us. Scopes are soon on them when Lynn finds the first of at least five Little Bitterns! Little Grebe, Moorhen and Coot are all too familiar to get close scrutiny. We continue to enjoy the two herons before adding Common Sandpiper to the list. The margins of the lake are covered with Stripe-necked Terrapins while Marsh Frogs make their usual racket. Searching the margins Brian spies a crake. After five long minutes, Steve eventually relocates it – a female Little – and we are soon enjoying out-in-the-open scope views of this cracking little bird which is dwarfed by the Moorhens. A handful of Spanish Sparrows feed in the field nearby and a Short-toed Eagle appears over the hill opposite. As we prepare to leave we can hear the distinctive sound of Bee-eaters. A quick search locates around eight birds in the distance. We watch for a while before jumping in the vans to get closer. Arriving at the spot we are frustrated to find they have moved off and are still somewhat distant on a telephone wire, but easily viewable with scopes. An Olivaceous Warbler breaks in to song and we get good views as it sings and feeds in a small bush.

We head east and are stopped in our tracks in ‘Derbyshire’ when a pair of Red-footed Falcons are spotted by the side of the road. We get brilliant views of the pair as they hop from post to post. A Woodchat further delays our arrival at Achladeri. We head straight in to the wood and are soon watching a male Krüper’s Nuthatch excavating a nest hole. It’s calling constantly and takes time out now and then to go up to an open branch from where it delivers its simple song. It’s display includes wing fluttering and loudly tapping on a dead branch. We spend a good while watching the nuthatch when a Short-toed Treecreeper is found on a nearby tree. A female Pied Flycatcher is glimpsed just as we ready ourselves to retreat for lunch.

During lunch we are serenaded by a distant Hoopoe when Brian finds an Orphean Warbler by the roadside. We gather and watch this large warbler collecting nesting material. All the swifts are checked carefully but still nothing other than Common are found.

After lunch we head back in to the wood where the Krüper’s Nuthatch is still calling continuously. We soon locate another Short-toed Treecreeper for those who missed the earlier bird, and follow it back to a nest crevice where it delivers a beakful of food. Blue and Great Tits are also seen before a Jay is found. Everyone gets great views of this black-capped form. We walk on further in to the wood and see several butterflies including Green-underside Blue and Small Heath before Steve finds a Balkan Wall Lizard at the foot of a tree. We all get great views of this fabulous lime-green striped lizard – all eight inches, half of which is it’s tail!

Heading back west we stop at Derbyshire where the pools holds both Great White and Little Egrets, three Greenshank and a couple of Kentish Plovers and a Grey Heron is on the nearby marsh. At one point, a strange fascination in a patch of marsh with no birds, just a few lumps of earth, grips some of the group! ‘Turfbirds!’ exclaims Mark. Steve then works on a hunch, and on spying a patch of whitewash on the rocks, spots a Little Owl sat just above it. We jump back in the vans, but are immediately stopped by the same two Red-footed Falcons seen earlier. They are sat up in a small bush in perfect light. From the vans we get breathtaking views as they stare back at us. The red cere and feet of the male stand out against his blue plumage. He then takes flight and the blue on the upperwings reflects silver, flashing with every wingbeat.

We pull onto the track that takes us up the west side of the upper East River. The bridge area is crawling with Little Egrets, Wood Sandpipers and Ruff. Steve spots a single Marsh Sandpiper among the other waders. It stands out with its greyer tones, elegant shape and long, needle-like bill. We work slowly along the river birding from the vans. Loads more Wood Sands, Ruff, Greenshank and another two Marsh Sands. A group of Spanish Sparrows are watched dust bathing. One of the males gets excited and starts to display to the females – it’s strongly streaked chest all puffed out and wings shivering.

We park the vans and while readying ourselves a Short-toed Eagle and Peregrine appear over the hill opposite. Mark picks up a male black-throated Black-eared Wheatear on the rocks when Brian finds a male Red-backed Shrike in the bushes right in front of us. The shrike performs brilliantly as it sings its scratchy tune from a bush. Showing us first his front with is bandit mask and salmony belly, then the back, with his richly coloured rusty mantle and blue-grey head.

A little further on no one falls for Mark and Steve’s Rock Nuthatch nest site (‘and just how big is this bird again’ says Mary dismissively, so Mark puts his scope on to a real nest. ‘There’s last years nest’ says Mark. As line up other scopes on the nest, a Rock Nuthatch appears on the rock above and then drops in to the nest hole with a beakful of food! ‘Make that this years nest’ adds Mark. A Cuckoo belts over our heads from one side of the valley to the other. A male Peregrine appears over the valley with prey in its talons. It sweeps around before landing on a rock on the open hillside opposite. Scopes swing round and we watch as it devours what appears to be a Sand Martin. A Cretzschmar’s Bunting begins singing from a bush and superb views of this gorgeous bunting are soon enjoyed. Every detail of its plumage can be seen, including the fine eyering set against its blue-grey and orangey head. Two Common Buzzards appear overhead, then a Sparrowhawk and a second Peregrine. The male Peregrine is up and begins to harass the second bird – a huge female. The size difference is immense, the female dwarfing the dive-bombing male.

Time has run out, and with heads spinning from all the top birds seen from the day, we make our way back to the hotel. Some still have energy for a stroll down to the Kalloni Pools before dinner and enjoy good close views of a roosting Whiskered Tern. After dinner and the first checklist of the week, Mark and Steve run through what else is in store in the week ahead.

Day 3. We wake to a bright, warm morning. We head west and just outside Kalloni come across several Stonechats including a splendid male Siberian male. We make our way to the Grand Canyon. It’s relatively quiet as we empty out of the vans. A Nightingale serenades us from the valley bottom and Mark picks up a Short-toed Eagle over the opposite hillside. A Jay flies across the valley and is immediately mobbed by a pair of Masked Shrikes. The Jay lands in a tree in view, but is quick to move off and away from the dive-bombing shrikes. The pair of Masked Shrikes settle in the top of the same tree once the Jay has departed, and sit out allowing us great views and a direct comparison of the two sexes. A handful of Red-rumped Swallows wheel around the valley providing us great views from below and occasionally appearing below us to show off their upperparts. A male Black-eared Wheatear sings from a craggy perch up above us and three Long-legged Buzzards circle over the opposite hill. A Sparrowhawk does a nice fly past – flap, flap, glide – and Steve explains why even at a distance it can be clearly told from Goshawk by its fast wing action and square shaped tail.

We continue west and just beyond Ipsilou Steve spots a couple of Lesser Kestrels ahead of us feeding over a hillside. We pull up and Steve jumps out. ‘Eleanora’s Falcons!’ Steve yells. Everybody dives out of the vans to enjoy the aerial spectacle of up to four Eleanora’s Falcons, a female Red-footed Falcon, a Hobby and two Lesser Kestrels wheeling around us. ‘Wow!’ exclaims Lynn – to which fantastic, sensational, super, brilliant can all be added! The Eleanora’s comprise three dark birds and a single pale bird. They easily take up most of our attention and Mark and Steve explain the differences in shape and plumage of the four different falcon species we are watching. The birds begin to disperse so its back in the vans only for us to bump in to another Eleanora’s and Lesser Kestrel over another hill.

We arrive at Sigri and stop off by an orchard being grazed by sheep. The orchard is alive with Yellow Wagtails. Both vans have soon picked out Black-headed, Blue-headed and Grey-headed Wagtails. We jump out and Alan immediately shouts ‘bright yellow bird flying across the orchard!’. A single male Golden Oriole is then glimpsed diving in to the cover of a large tree. A second bird follows it. After a few seconds, both birds take flight, fly across our view and in to a smaller bush. We are able to briefly scope them before they take flight again. They flit from bush to bush, are then joined by a second pair and eventually start feeding out in the open on fennel plants. Everyone gets great views and are more than a little happy! ‘Black-headed Bunting!’ cries Mark. Most manage to get on to a fine male sat up in a small tree before it takes flight. We continue to search the area in front of us and soon locate a couple of female Pied Flycatchers, Wood and Willow Warblers. By the roadside we find a rough field corner with at least six Stonechats flitting around, including two more handsome male Siberian birds, and a single Northern Wheatear in the next field. A little further up the track Mark finds a female Common Redstart and we all get good views when she eventually decides to come out of the cover of the tree was hiding in.

We move on to our lunch stop at Faneromeni Ford. Pulling up, both vans pick up different Little Bitterns, and Steve is quick to call a Collared Flycatcher. Hunger is put aside while we get stuck in to the mass of birds flitting about just downstream of us – Wood, Green and Common Sandpipers in the same scope view. Collared, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers sharing the same tree. Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and Cetti’s Warbler in the reeds. Up to three Little Bitterns boldly fishing out in the open and a single Squacco Heron is seen briefly. Three Tree Pipits, including a leucistic bird, sat out on the overhead wires for us to study, and one bird comes down to the river to feed allowing even closer scrutiny.

After lunch we move on up the track from the ford where we can’t help but flush more flycatchers and warblers from the dense cover along the trackside. A Nightingale delivers its song from a tree right by the track, but although nearly deafening us, we can’t pick him out in the dense foliage. In the fields behind the Nightingale tree we find several Blackcaps, a Wood Warbler and a male Red-backed Shrike. Further up the track we find a field teaming with birds including a huge flock of Spanish Sparrows, large numbers of Yellow Wagtails and a couple of Whitethroats. A Wood Warbler feeds around the base of a tree when Val spots a bird sat up on a fennel plant in the middle of the field. Mark and Steve swing their scopes on to the bird ‘Ortolan!’ they both proclaim. The bird sits out long enough for everyone to get a good look, noting its greeny and yellow head and yellow eye ring.

We head back to the vans, and after one last look at all the birds on the river, head off towards the beach. Progress is slow with Masked Shrike and a Little Owl spotted by Ray both getting a good looking at. At the beach we park the vans and first scope the sea. Distantly lines of Yelkouan Shearwaters are moving south, and a single Shag feeds just offshore. Brian calls another Shag ‘close in’. Those of us with half an interest discover Brian’s ‘close in’ is not quite our ‘close in’ when we find his bird flying by in the middle distance! We wander down to the beach where Wood Sandpipers, Ruff and half a dozen Little Stints are immediately obvious. ‘Citrine Wagtail!’ shouts Steve and directs everyone to a well marked female feeding along the river. The Citrine Wag goes down well. ‘What a lovely bird’ comments Dorothy – and no one would disagree with that! Steve wanders out to the beach to check the rivermouth. ‘I’ve got another Citrine Wag!’ he bellows back to the group. ‘It’s the same one. We haven’t got one anymore’ responds Mark. ‘No it ain’t!’ shouts Steve, ‘this is a jam spangler of a male’ he adds. Most join Steve on the beach to enjoy this second and even brighter Citrine Wagtail. Nearby there is also are also White and Black-headed Yellow Wagtails for comparison. Those on the beach then pick up a male Little Crake in the reedfringe opposite. Meanwhile Mark finds a Temminck’s Stint and we all reassemble to look at this diminutive wader. ‘You’re not gonna believe this’ says Steve. ‘But I’ve got a third Citrine Wagtail!’. And sure enough, there is a second female, and third bird in total! ‘This is getting silly’ comments Mark. Attention turns back to the Temminck’s Stint and studying the river further upstream for anything new. ‘Raptor!’ shouts Val. Looking up we find a smashing female Montagu’s Harrier circling over the river. ‘Lovely’ comments Lesley. Attention back on the river when everything takes flight. Looking around Steve picks up the offender. ‘Eleanora’s Falcon’ Steve announces pointing to the sky. A lone pale bird leisurely laps across the sky towards the sea – our sixth of the day. With that we return to the vans to find a fine Lesser Whitethroat feeding out on the scrubby beach bushes and get superb views and a couple of Northern Wheatears are also found in the adjacent dunes.

With time getting on we don’t have time to stop off on the way back, but most don’t mind. Many have succumbed to heavy eyelids and are already dreaming of the many fantastic sights of the day.

Day 4. Another warm, sunny morning as we leave the hotel. We abort our first stop due to far too many other birdwatchers at the site, and make our way out to the eastern end of the Kalloni Saltpans. As we pull up, Val remarks ‘I can see a flamingo’. Err … just the one is it Val? We point out the hundreds gather together in gaggles! The gaggles (well – they do sound like geese!) look stunning with the sunlight on them, most of them still sleeping stood on one leg. As they awake the noise increases and some begin to wing-flash, showing off their brilliant crimson and black underwings. Even Mark can’t fail to be impressed!

The moat is relatively quiet. Two Redshanks and a couple of Black-headed Gulls are new for the week, and there are also Wood Sandpipers, Ruff and Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers. A single Marsh Sandpiper picks along the edge before a Curlew Sandpiper appears in front of us. Brian picks up a male Red-backed Shrike which is soon the centre of attention. Common and Little Terns flit up and down the moat while a handful of Little Egrets are roosting on the bank. The numbers of hirundines and swifts are well down, with only a handful of each Barn Swallow, Sand Martin and Common Swift.

We move round to the west side and our first stop brings a flock of Little Stint. In the centre of the first pan there is an island. Eggs litter the island. Last week the Avocets had laid and just began incubation when the heavy rains flooded the pan and the island and the nest scrapes were covered. Some birds appear to be sitting again now the water levels have receded. ‘Black-headed Bunting!’ calls Steve. All eyes are directed to the top of a nearby fig tree where a corking male is sat, his black executioners hood contrasting with his bright yellow underparts. Brian then picks out his, and our, second male Red-backed Shrike of the morning. ‘Brian thinks he’s hit on a sure way of getting a mention in the trip report - find as many male Red-backed Shrikes as he can’ comments Steve. And see – it works! Next up is Common Shelduck sat up on a bank only feet away from a couple of Stone-curlews.

We head along the road and soon pick up a pair of Shoveler and a Garganey in the next pan. More Little Stints, Ruff, Black-winged Stilts and Avocets are dotted around the pan edges. A lone Greenshank calls mournfully before heading off. A single White-winged Black Tern appears on the pan in front of us. The liquid ‘prüp’ of Bee-eaters can be heard and two birds swoop right by us. ‘Wow!’ and a few other superlatives are uttered by everyone. Brian then spies a Whiskered Tern coming in with another White-winged Black Tern. The Whiskered eventually makes its way within a few meters of us for us all to enjoy. A Goldfinch and Greenfinch are sat up on nearby wires. We begin to move off when Steve spies a raptor over the pans. ‘Male Marsh Harrier!’ he cries. Seconds later he’s shouting again. ‘Collared Pratincole!’. The Marsh Harrier is instantly ditched in favour of this gorgeous aerial-feeding wader. Everyone gets good views, but it isn’t long before we are enjoying more, when another half dozen come over the moat and start hawking over the adjacent field. Steve then finds a couple of Tawny Pipits close to in the field. We get cracking views of this large, pale, upright pipit. The two birds run around the shorter grass areas between the asphodels. Mark then locates a single Collared Pratincole sat up on an island of the nearby pan and this holds everyone’s attention, at least when we’ve sorted the bird out from a pale rock!

Moving on further we find a Swallowtail butterfly by the saltworks entrance, while the pools opposite are alive Wood Sandpipers and Little Stints. As Mark and Steve take the vans on ahead, the group pick out their fifth Citrine Wagtail in two days on the pools! They are soon hastened towards Mark and Steve when two Bee-eaters are seen by the salt pile. Mark, Steve and Dorothy have been watching them sat up and taking it in turns to excavate a nest hole in a bank. The image of two Bee-eaters sat on a dead twig with a spree of bright red poppies behind them is pretty amazing.

After lunch we cover the Sheep Fields on foot. No sooner have we entered then we locate our third Tawny Pipit of the day followed immediately by a flock of 29 Short-toed Larks. The larks bounce around calling noisily before settling in a short grassy area and we get a good chance to study these small buffy birds. A couple are really bright and gingery coloured. Brian locates a Ringed Plover among the Kentish Plovers on a nearby pool, and Mark points out two more Stone-curlews before they take flight, flashing their black and white wing markings as they head off to the saltpans. We follow the fence line round and see an adult Black Stork, its bright red bill and legs gleaming in the sun. Scanning the tussock areas we find lots of Yellow Wagtails, a couple more Short-toed Larks and a Tawny Pipit. We spot a group of Ruddy Shelduck on a pool long enough to get a look at them before these nervous birds take flight. The nine we can see turn in to a flying line of 25 birds which land by the six Common Shelducks on the nearest of the saltpans. We continue further checking all the damp areas and pools carefully, flushing two Common Snipe but nothing else. We put up another flock of around 20 Short-toed Larks before Brian spots our first Red-throated Pipit, a nice bright bird. Not everyone gets on to it before it flies off. ‘It’s not often you find yourself a life bird. Is it?’ comments Brian very cheerfully. We sweep the far end of the fields when a Curlew flies by. We begin our return walk when two Red-throated Pipits fly past calling ‘speee’. The birds land and are soon located. One is a rather dull wintery-plumaged bird, but the other has got quite a good rosy glow about the face and neck. They take flight and we continue back towards the vans when a large flock of mixed wagtails and pipits lands among the sheep in front of us. We begin picking our way through them picking out at least 11 Red-throated Pipits, including a couple of ‘jam spanglers’ as Steve puts it, two Tawny Pipits and at least one Short-toed Lark. We spend some time enjoying the pipits before continuing, picking up two male Pintail and a couple more Red-throated Pipits before getting back to the vans.

We begin to pick our way back along the saltpans road managing to get stuck behind the same herd of sheep that we got stuck behind coming! Linnet is added to the trip list before we see a tight flock of terns lift from one of the pans and begin wheeling round - 64 Whiskered Terns and two White-winged Black Terns.

Our last stop of the day is a return to the site we withdrew from first thing in the morning. Mark and Steve ask the group to be quiet as the site is best worked as quietly as possible. Following the tree line Steve sets up his scope and asks everyone to take it in turns to view. ‘Scops Owl’ mouths Val, beaming as she takes her eye from the scope. We all take it in turns to view one of the two roosting owls in the scope then three at a time we walk a little closer to view with bins and for a few photos. We are all exceptionally quiet, talking only in hushed voices and being extremely light-footed as not to disturb the birds. ‘Aren’t they cute’ comments Lynn. Everyone is really chuffed with the day’s finale, and it’s a group of happy birders returning to the hotel for dinner.

Day 5. It has rained heavily overnight (‘dogs and cats’ as hotel manager Bill says) and we wake to an overcast sky and cool day. After breakfast we make our way north but at the petrol stop in Kalloni (where they run out of petrol!) Val realises she has left her binoculars behind. Steve’s van puts it to the vote whether to return for them or not! Mark continues north while Steve nips back to Skala Kalloni and the two vans meet up at Tracey Island near Petra. As Steve’s van pulls up the others are already watching a singing male Rüppell’s Warbler. Over the next30 minutes, 2-3 males vie for our attention, taking it in turns to sing from their prominent song posts. A pair of Blue Rock Thrushes are seen on the crag below us. Whinchat are dotted around the slopes and Tree Pipits are continuously going over. An Orphean Warbler is seen but is far from obliging, unlike the male Subalpine Warbler which gives superb views. Mark then picks up a flock of Yelkouan Shearwaters which we all get to see – much closer than the other day’s distant birds. Mark then picks up a Crag Martin, and although we all get on to it, it blasts right through and offers little chance of getting any detail on it. We continue to watch the Rüppell’s when Steve spots a Turtle Dove on the hill side above. ‘Crag Martin!’ shouts Mark from down the road. ‘Coming towards you!’ he adds. The bird doesn’t materialise and by his gestures it looks as if its about turned in the opposite direction. ‘No here it comes!’ shouts Steve. ‘Flying up the road’. The Crag Martin comes straight up the road and almost through the group before heading of flow across the headland in front of us. We get good views but the bird fails to open its tail so we can’t see its tail spots. The pair of Blue Rock Thrushes put in another appearance, this time a little closer while Black-eared Wheater, Cirl and Cretzschmar’s Bunting and a couple of perched Tree Pipits are also seen.

We move along to Eftalou where we get even closer views of Yelkouan Shearwaters but it is otherwise very quiet and we continue eastwards along the north coastal track. The first valley we stop in seems very quiet as we get out of the vans. A female Masked Shrike is the first to put in an appearance, sitting out in the open on a bush on the opposite slope. Another Black-eared Wheater and a Whinchat are above us when an Orphean Warbler begins to sing its rather Nightingale-like song from the deep cover the higher slope. Tree Pipits continue to buzz overhead but none land. A male Cirl Bunting puts in a brief appearance, as does the Orphean Warbler. ‘Black-headed Bunting’ calls Mark and we all manage to get on to it before it takes flight – typical! ‘Blue Tit’ calls Mark for Brian’s benefit who has missed them the last three days. But he dips again. ‘No, here it is’ says Steve. Brian arrives at Steve’s side and eventually sees the bird as it flies from the tree. The male Cirl Bunting returns and this time puts on a great performance, singing right out in the open from a nearby tree. As we are getting ready to leave, a local pulls up alongside us and ask if we are looking for birds. ‘Good’ he says. ‘I have something to show you’ he adds. He reaches in to his pickup and pulls out the corpse of a dead Common Buzzard. Its fresh as rigor mortis has only just begun to set in. As Steve holds the corpse up, wings spread for all to see, Ray asks ‘is it injured?’. ‘It’s dead!’ comes a unified response! With that we hit the track and head on east.

We haven’t gone far when the lead van slows to take in a pair of Masked Shrikes and an Orphean Warbler. We are all enjoying terrific views of the shrikes when Ray spots a bird to the right of the track. ‘Ortolan’ radios Mark and gives directions. We see the bird fly down into a hollow, but it doesn’t reappear. We get out of the vans and eventually find the bird dust bathing in the hollow. The bird flies up in to tree but remains on view. A second bird then appears in the hollow dust bathing. ‘That’s lovely’ comments Lynn. ‘Golden Oriole’ is shouted and scopes are soon trained on to a bright male at the top of the hillside. Over the next 15 minutes or so, 2-3 are seen in flight and a male is again pinned down in a tree. A rather hoarse Cuckoo calls in the distance. Steve, suffering with a stinking cold feels just how the Cuckoo sounds – rough. Tree Pipits continue to pile over in little flocks and a couple are seen in the trees.

We make our way to our lunch stop, a sheltered valley with a mix scrub and good hillsides. A Common Kestrel hovers over one slope and a Long-legged Buzzard hangs over another. A Turtle Dove calls from above the sheep pens, occasionally being drowned out by the cacophony of sheep bells. A male Cirl Bunting performs well, but the Orphean and Subalpine are less obliging.

We continue along the north coast track which now runs along the coastline. We stop every now and then to check lone gulls, but we can’t turn any in to prized Audouin’s. We make a brief, but welcome stop in the picturesque village of Skala Sikaminias for ice creams and drinks. Brian gets too close to the resident Scarlet Makaw, not once, but twice, and is lucky not to lose his ice cream and his collar!

We are soon in the Napi valley and within minutes of stopping, Val asks what the brown Marsh Tit-like bird she is looking at is. ‘Sombre Tit!’ yells Mark, summoning everyone to the spot. The bird flits around a small oak and most of us get good views before it disappears in to the olive trees. A male Red-footed Falcon glides over. Steve then picks up a Rock Nuthatch carrying food. It’s sat out on a rock looking very nervous. A second bird appears nearby and both are carrying prey (a cricket and a caterpillar) and make their way down to a nest site at the top a small cave. We move further down the valley and over the next hour we get views of a Middle-spotted Woodpecker visiting a nest. Unfortunately the hole is out of view on the other side of a dead tree, and the bird has a habit of flying straight to the hole and then exiting into either a dense foliaged tree or a large oak. Perched views are brief and usually of a partially hidden bird, but the flight views are fantastic, with its bright red crown and black and white patterning very easy to see.

‘Hoopoe!’ shouts Mark as a bird flies overhead and down the valley. It lands on a dead branch at the top of a tree and we are soon enjoying scope views. It too is carrying a large prey item. It sits out in the open for a long time before eventually swallowing its prey and then dropping out of the tree and out of view.

A male Subalpine Warbler performs brilliantly during the hour, often sitting right out in the open so we can all enjoy prolonged views of this cracking little Sylvia warbler. Cirl Bunting, Black-eared Wheatear and Blue Rock Thrush all add to an excellent hour.

We wind our way back to the hotel. Driving past the saltpans flamingos, Avocets and Little Tern are noted for the day list. We arrive back at the hotel. Some view the White Storks nest, some head for the pools while others head for their rooms to rest before dinner.

Day 6. Most of us gather at 0645h for a pre-breakfast sojourn down to the East River. It is bright and calm as we arrive at the rivermouth we immediately pick up a first-summer Mediterranean Gull on the bar. The whole area is busy with hirundines. Bee-eaters wheel around the ford and just beyond the overhead wires are lined with hirundines – Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, Sand and House Martins. Mark spots the first of two Lesser Grey Shrikes which pose beautifully on the wires. The Bee-eaters are stunning, decorating the trees all around us, the sun bringing their rainbow colours to life. Most are sat in pairs, shoulder to shoulder, and a couple of pairs are excavating nest holes. The first of several Black-headed Buntings are found and further along, our third Lesser Grey Shrike and a male Red-backed Shrike are seen sharing the same fence line. The river is full of the usual of the usual waders, wagtails and herons as we reach the main road and head back to the hotel.

By the time we finish breakfast, a strong, cool northerly wind has picked up as we head off westwards. We make a brief stop at Perivolis Monastery where we see a several Golden Orioles and a couple of Pied Flycatchers. The usual lay-by below Ipsilou is occupied by another group, so we head up the road a little and are soon watching an Isabelline Wheatear. The bird is feeding in between the rocks and shows well before heading off up the slope to resume singing. ‘Rock Sparrow!’ Mark and Steve shout simultaneously. They train their scopes on to this stripy sparrow and begin to get people on to it, but the spadger drops off the rock and down the slope.

We see the other group pass us, so we head back down to the main lay-by. An Isabelline Wheatear is singing on the slope above us. Mark casually lines his scope up and he suggests we to look down it while he lines some other scopes up. ‘Roller!’ blurts Val. Excitement grips the group as directions are given and followed. ‘Got it. By Jove, what a beauty’ says Ray. Although the wind by now has really picked up and has forced out fleeces, windproofs and gloves, we all feverishly watch the Roller as it remains sat in its lofty tree top position in the valley below us. Then a collective ‘wow!’ when it takes flight, swoops down and flies up in to another tree. Male and female Red-backed Shrikes, a single Woodchat are seen and a Linnet flies over when it begins to rain and we retreat to the vans and head for Ipsilou.

At Ipsilou, Mark and Steve drop the group at the bottom while they run the vans up to the top, leaving the lunches at the monastery before coming down in one of the vans and joining the group. The group have already begun their walk up the south side. Two Golden Orioles are just a starter. Pied Flycatchers are swooping from many trees on the slope above. A Cinereous Bunting begins singing and is soon located and scopes are soon staring down at it. A second bird is found, singing from the top of a tree above us. The light is fantastic on this bird, the lemon yellow head gleaming in the sun, and the its neat little wing bars set against its drab grey plumage. We continue up the slope and soon come across an area bustling with birds. ‘Wood Warbler’ Steve points out in a nearby oak. ‘No there’s two in there’ he adds. The oak is alive with insects and the two Wood Warblers are in a near frenzy feasting on the bugs. They work their way along the tiny twigs and on reaching the end, swoop out and hover to pick the insects off the outermost leaves. They are absolutely dazzling with their lemon faces and throats and soft white bellies. Pied and Spotted Flycatchers are seemingly everywhere. ‘Three Blackcaps in this little bush’ says Steve. But on closer inspection there is actually seven! A Willow Warbler is next up, first heard singing but eventually found in this profusion of insectivorous birds. Its just as busy in the air as well. Huge numbers of Swallows and House Martins are zipping around everywhere we look, peppered with the off Red-rumped Swallow and Sand Martin. But no swifts. The rest of the walk up to the monastery is more of the same – flycatchers, warblers and hirundines.

We collect our lunches and head up to the sheltered southern side of the monastery. The wind is ripping through this isolated hill top refuge from the north-west, but the southern side, sheltered by the monastery building, is peaceful and calm. We walk straight on to a Little Owl sat out on a rock below our lunching spot, but it objects to the noisy intrusion and makes a hasty exit. It is however, surprisingly quiet. The large numbers of small birds seen on the way up isn’t mirrored here, with only a Pied Fly and a Wood Warbler for company. The sky is empty. A noisy Rock Sparrow is therefore a timely and welcome introduction, as it sings from just outside its nest hole, it’s tiny yellow throat spot clearly visible. The sky begins to fill up with swallows and martins again. Mark particularly enjoys a couple of Red-rumped Swallows wheeling around below us, their pinkie rumps glowing and their glossy uppers gleaming. Its great to watch all the hirundines from above for a change.

Val, Lesley, Dorothy and Mary are all studying and discussing a bird and are overheard by Mark and Steve. They hear snippets. ‘No wing bar’. ‘Very plain’. ‘Not a Chiffchaff’. Their curiosity aroused, they ask for directions and hit on the bird. They look at each other and both mouth ‘Bonelli’s’. They grab their scopes and both instantly proclaim ‘Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler!’ The rest of the group (and a few bystanders) are put on to the bird when it flies to a nearer tree. It flits around the near tree which it shares with a Wood Warbler and a Chiffchaff for comparison. It is a soft, pale grey around the head and mantle, with a gleaming bright olive green rump between its long wings. The face is very plain with an indistinct supercillium (eyebrow) and an almost spectacled look thanks to a broad paler crescent below the eye which give the face a very open look. ‘This is amazing’ adds Steve to the running commentary he is providing to everyone to keep up with the birds movements. We all get brilliant views of this most unexpected find, which is not only a Lesbos tick for Mark and Steve, but a lifer for them both too!

The drive south to Skala Erossou is a happy one. We’ve already seen a hat load of goodies already, and Skala Erossou being a south facing river mouth promises more gems. On arrival things seem quiet. A few Wood Sands, Ruff, Little Stints, Little Ringed Plovers, Common Sand. No wagtails, no more unusual waders. A Little Bittern adds interest, as does a couple of Lesser Grey Shrikes – making it five for the day. A Whinchat is seen bathing in a still part of the river. The air though is an aerial soup of hirundines and swifts. House Martins in particularly are everywhere. Steve picks up a swift with a white rump in the distance. He gives directions but is unable to get anyone else on to it, and it disappears north as fast as it arrived. Steve confirms that with its small size and square tail it was a Little Swift (first for Lesbos) and is frustrated he was unable to get anyone else to see it. During the search for it, frustration is compounded when the Alpine Swifts Steve points out can’t be seen by the others either! We move along the river when Mark radios that he has got a Citrine Wagtail. All out of the vans and there is not one, but three Citrines! Of the 12 seen on the island in the last week, Mark and Steve have now found nine of them! There is a male and two females (one bright, one dull). The male is by far the best we’ve seen, with his clean black collar and bright yellow head. While we are enjoying them, Steve picks up some Alpine Swifts. Everyone eventually gets on to them, but although significantly closer than the previous birds, they still aren’t close. Some watch the wagtails, some the swifts when Steve points out three Alpines right over our heads. ‘Now that’s more like it’ comments Alan.

Everything on the river suddenly jumps up. ‘Snake!’ yells Mark. Its obvious where it is, as the Wood Sands and the three Citrine Wagtails are mobbing a Grass Snake as it crosses the river. The Citrine Wags show how bold small birds can be, with all three hovering over the snake, landing right next to it calling and flapping their wings furiously. The snake slides into the grass and after a few seconds the danger passes. The birds don’t stand down from high alert though for a couple of minutes – with most birds sat on prominent rocks, looking round and giving he occasional call before eventually deciding the danger has truly passed and they resume feeding.

With time pressing we head for the ford which is very quiet. We walk down to the beach and looking at the sea, the first thing we notice is the huge number of hirundines coming in off the sea. Over the sea Yelkouan Shearwaters can be seen in all directions and at all distances. ‘Cory’s Shearwater close in going right!’ yells Mark. We all fix on a point over a dead tree trunk and sure enough, a fine Cory’s Shearwater ‘shears’ in to view, wheeling high and sweeping low over the sea, banking from side to side so we can all see the key features. The sea is alive and we are all alive with anticipation. A few more Cory’s are shouted, but all a rather distant until a couple more a bit neared come through, including one which flies west, does a huge sweeping arc then returns east. Fantastic!

Time flies and before we know it we are running late, so we have to drive straight back to the hotel skipping the last stop (Devil’s Bridge), but no one minds. We have had a fantastic day of land and pelagic migration and at dinner and after the checklist, we discuss plans for what we hope will be a repeat performance tomorrow.

Day 7. Our last day, so we all meet up at 0645h for another pre-breakfast visit to the lower East River. It is a glorious morning – bright, warm and perfectly still. At the rivermouth, yesterday’s first-summer Mediterranean Gull has been replaced with two fine second-summer birds with full, black hoods. In the bushes along the beach there is both Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes. Although distant, they are lit up by the morning sun brilliantly. We head to the ford which is even more alive with birds than yesterday. The meter of air above the water is like a swarming mass as hundreds of swallows and martins feed in a frenzy of activity. In the bright sun and over the still river it is mesmerising to watch them. The wires are lined with birds fresh from battle, enjoying the warm sun and repairing feathers with good preen before resuming the attack on the flies. Yesterday’s two Lesser Grey Shrikes are still present and a female Little Bittern skulks in the reeds. The increase in hirundines is mirrored by the increase in Black-Headed Buntings. They seem to be dotted around everywhere, with five in one bush, another four on wires nearby, and more behind us. Stunning! It’s immediately obvious that Temminck’s Stints are also up, with seven by the ford, and in the drive along the river, we pick out over 20 birds! Ten Squacco Herons is also our biggest number for any day. The Bee-eaters are even more stunning than yesterday. There is more of them and they are hanging from every tree, bush and wire like rainbow decorations. A couple more Red-backed Shrikes, Great Reed and Olivaceous Warblers, Nightingale and several Curlew Sandpipers complete a cracking early morning.

After breakfast we head to Parakila Marsh, but it doesn’t take us long to see that it is dead with only a couple of Moorhens and Black-winged Stilts in residence. Devil’s Bridge is also quiet on arrival. A Golden Oriole is heard singing from above us and is eventually pinned down. On the walk up to the chapel, a male Cirl Bunting carrying food is perched in a dead bush. At the chapel we scan the slopes and bushes for anything, but apart from a displaying Greenfinch and a pair of Blue Tits, nothing. The sky begins to get busy with a steady flow of hirundines and Common Swifts. Steve points out the first of a dozen or so Alpine Swifts to pass over. All the Common Swifts are checked carefully, but still no joy at turning one of them into a Pallid! Single Eleanor’s Falcon, Hobby and Long-legged Buzzard at least provide us with some raptor activity briefly. ‘Sombre Tit!’ shouts Mark pointing to a small bird flying across the slope. It flies straight across us and lands nearby and for a couple of minutes performs brilliantly and we all get good views, including Dorothy and Lynn who missed the bird earlier in the week.

We head up the Potamia Valley. The sky is darkening and the temperature dropping. Potamia is very quiet and after the excitement of the East River and the Sombre Tit, is disappointing. On the reservoir there is a pair of Little Grebes, and there is a steady stream of hirundines moving upstream, but the olive groves are largely deserted with only a handful of birds to show for our efforts – Masked, Woodchat and Red-backed Shrikes and a single Spotted Flycatcher. Raptor-wise we see only a Peregrine and a Long-legged Buzzard. We return to the vans for lunch for half-hour or so by a largely bird-free dam. Woodchat and Masked Shrikes, frogs and damselflies keep us amused.

We move on down to the eastern end of the Kalloni Saltpans where a White Wagtail greets us. The first of what builds up to be a flock of 29 White-winged Black Terns is over the nearest pan, and Mark picks up nine Gull-billed Terns which do a splendid fly-past within meters of us.

We head on round to the western side of the pans where there are large numbers of Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints and a single Marsh Sandpiper. At the southern end of the pans we pull up to one of those ‘wow!’ moments. On the overhead wires running away from us are 16 Red-footed Falcons! All together now ‘Wow!’. There is a mix of slate blue adult males, rusty females and a couple of first-summer males – a few brown feathers showing in their blue coat. The birds are strung out along the wires, each surveying the ground below and nearby airspace for prey. There is a constant procession of birds launching themselves off the wires to either dive straight to the ground or to sweep elegantly over the field, either hovering before a plunge to the floor, or catching insects on the wing, before returning to the wires. If the Red-foots weren’t enough, half a dozen Collared Pratincoles begin hawking around the same field. Their hunting approach starts from the ground, with birds lifting, hawking low over the ground, twisting and turning to catch their prey on the wing, or occasionally running around plover style after insects. The sight of these two aerial feeders together is superb and occupies us for quite some time. Even a couple of Bee-eaters can’t detract us from the show. Short-toed Lark, Marsh Harrier and Spanish Sparrow are also seen. A Lesser Grey Shrike eventually gets a look in, and Mark pulls Purple Heron out of the bag when he spies one flapping along the shore towards east river. All but Ray, who was still busy photographing the Red-foots, get on to it before it drops into the marsh out of view.

We eventually continue down to the saltworks where we check the field pools and the pans. All the waders are checked just in case something is lurking, but nothing new is found. A Swallowtail butterfly gives very good views.

We head towards the East River when a ring-tail harrier stops us in our tracks. With seemingly mixed features we debate whether it is a Montagu’s or a Pallid, but in the end Mark and Steve pronounce it as a Monties. Schucks! At the East River we are treated to another aerial frenzy of feeding swallows and martins over the ford. Wood, Green and Common Sandpipers feed together. There is no sign of all the Temminck’s Stint from the morning – an obvious sign of birds arriving overnight/early morning and moving off during the day.

At the rivermouth we pick up the Monties again circling high above us. Val notices another bird circling with it. Its very high but eventually scopes are trained to the near vertical to identify it as a female Sparrowhawk. Both birds gain height and drift north – more migration in action. The hoped for relocation of the Purple Heron doesn’t happen but four Squacco Herons feed from the floating mats of weed in the middle of the river.

Offered an early return for packing or more birding the response from everyone is unanimous! We jump in the vans and make our way to north of Kalloni. We’ve been here before, and the group’s excitement about returning is very obvious. We quietly make our way along the track and are soon looking up into an eucalyptus tree at the two Scops Owls we made friends with earlier in the week. They seem relaxed. One bird is all plumped up, while the other is more sleek and upright, with ear tufts raised, and a slight kink of the neck – doing a very convincing impersonation of a broken stump. The ‘stump’ bird looks fast asleep, but the plump one has one eye just open – we are being watched!

‘What a fitting end to a superb week’ says Lesley as we retreat to the vans and make a subdued return to the hotel for packing, dinner and the last checklist of the week.

Over dinner we are soon recounting some of the weeks many highlights. After the checklist Bee-eater (and what views we had) is voted species of the trip. East River (with its clouds of hirundines and numerous migrants) takes place of the trip and the two Scops Owls sweep the magic moment title.

Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Cory’s Shearwater
Yelkouan Mediterranean Shearwater
Little Bittern
Night Heron
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
Montagu's Harrier
Common Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Lesser Kestrel
Common Kestrel
Red-footed Falcon
Eleanora’s Falcon
Water Rail
Little Crake
Black-winged Stilt
Collared Pratincole
Little Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Ringed Plover
Little Stint
Temminck's Stint
Curlew Sandpiper
Common Snipe
Common Redshank
Marsh Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Mediterranean Gull
Black-headed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Sandwich Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Common Tern
Little Tern
Whiskered Tern
White-winged Black Tern
Rock Dove
Collared Dove
Turtle Dove
Scops Owl
Little Owl
Common Swift
Alpine Swift
European Bee-eater
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
Citrine Wagtail
White Wagtail
Common Redstart
Isabelline Wheatear
Northern Wheatear
Black-eared Wheatear
Blue Rock Thrush
Mistle Thrush
Cetti's Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
Olivaceous Warbler
Subalpine Warbler
Rüppell's Warbler
Orphean Warbler
Lesser Whitethroat
Common Whitethroat
Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler
Wood Warbler
Willow Warbler
Spotted Flycatcher
Collared Flycatcher
Pied Flycatcher
Sombre Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Krüper's Nuthatch
Rock Nuthatch
Short-toed Treecreeper
Golden Oriole
Red-backed Shrike
Lesser Grey Shrike
Woodchat Shrike
Masked Shrike
Hooded Crow
House Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow
Rock Sparrow
Cirl Bunting
Cinereous Bunting
Ortolan Bunting
Cretzschmar's Bunting
Black-headed Bunting
Corn Bunting

Marsh Frog
Balkan Wall Lizard
Stripe-necked Terrapin
Grass Snake
Glass Snake
Agama Lizard
Snake-eyed Skink

Persian Squirrel
Eastern Hedgehog (deceased)
Beech Marten (deceased)

Dung Beetle
Carpenter Bee
Cardinal Beetle

Lesser Emperor
Caliaeschna microstigma
White-legged Damselfly

Scarce Swallowtail
Small White
Large White
Wall Brown
Large Wall Brown
Small Heath
Orange Tip
Eastern Festoon
Clouded Yellow
Painted Lady
Green-underside Blue
Small Copper
Red Admiral
Painted Lady
Brown Argus

Humming-bird Hawk-moth


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