Sunday, May 13, 2007

Lesvos trip report - 25 April - 1 May 2003

Lesbos trip report

25 April – 1 May 2003

A Speyside Wildlife holiday with Steve Dudley and Mark Newall

Sorry no photos - see here

Trip lists at end

Day 1 – Friday 25 April

The first morning saw a few early risers watching the Kalloni Pools before breakfast. After breakfast we gather at the front of the hotel where we watched the White Stork nest on a nearby building. The huge nest looked like a big chimney and Steve explained how it was like a huge wildlife apartment block, hosting breeding sparrows and numerous insects.

It was now that the only bird rule of the week was explained – the Brown Rule. If it’s brown and near water, it’s a Wood Sandpiper or Ruff; if it’s brown and on the ground, it’s a Crested Lark; and if it’s brown on and a wire, it’s a Corn Bunting. After Sunday, Mark and Steve would refuse to identify any of the above!

We then take a leisurely stroll along the pools road. The first field holds a couple of Hooded Crows and the first patch of water holds the expected Wood Sands and Ruff in the company of the lanky Black-winged Stilts on their bubblegum-pink legs. The fenceline behind us holds a single male Whinchat and a splendid Red-rumped Swallow which would later show off all its pink bits with a bit of aerial showing off.
Back on the pool, a couple of male Garganey look all elegant and a male Pochard feeds nearby. An explosive burst of song behind us reveals a Cetti’s Warbler right out in the open of a dead tangle of branches and just besides it a smaller, paler warbler – Olivaceous. Both show off brilliantly in the open before Mark beckons the group to star in to the bottom of a nearby tamarisk bush. There, a male Little Crake is preening and although viewing is slightly limited, it provides a chance for everyone to good close views of a stationery Little Crake which are normally viewed weaving in and out of marginal vegetation.

Out on the pool, a couple of Glossy Ibis are feeding, looking all resplendent in their green and coppery colours and three Squacco Herons float in on ghostly white wings. Attention then turns to the aerial soup of hirundines over the pool – Barn and Red-rumped Swallows and both Sand and House Martins. Sand Martins easily outnumber all the other three and many frequently perch up on the reedstems where they probably spent the night.

Common Swifts then join in the frenzy in the sky when Steve picks out a couple of Alpine Swifts – their large size, chocolate-brown uppers and white bellies clear to see. Whilst watching the swifts, several large birds are picked up over the hills – the first is identified as a circling Black Stork, the second a nearer Long-legged Buzzard, and then our first of several Short-toed Eagles. A last look at the pool before we head off adds a lone male Mallard and several Sedge Warblers which are flitting from one grassy tussock to another.

Arriving at the beach, we are greeted by the usual Yellow-legged Gulls and Common Terns over the sea. A quick scan of the water locates at least four Black-necked Grebes, one of which is reasonably close and quite obliging showing off his golden ear tufts.

Scrutinising the gathering of birds on the spit reveals Black-headed Gull and Sandwich Tern, while two immature Mediterranean Gulls wheel around over the sea. We walk on towards the marsh when Mark disappears headfirst in to the base of a tamarisk bush and emerges clutching a bundle of brown feathers: a recently deceased Crested Lark which had almost certainly been struck by a car.
It’s always wondrous to see birds this close and Ann can’t believe how light it is when she asks to hold it. Before its placed back for the local scavengers to enjoy, Mark opens the wings to reveal the buffish underwing – one of the key identifiers to help separate Crested from the very similar Thekla Lark.

At the marsh we find a female Kentish Plover settled on her nest whilst several males chase each other around like clockwork toys. Scanning the marsh, several Little Egrets are soon found with a couple of Grey Herons. The first of three Great White Egrets is found and allows us to compare the differences; Great White looks more like a white Grey Heron with a yellow-orange bill. A Long-legged Buzzard is spied circling over West River and above it a Short-toed Eagle. Two Red-footed Falcons whizz through, not allowing us chance to enjoy them. We head back to the hotel when a Golden Oriole is seen flying high over, its undulating, woodpecker-like flight very noticeable.

Walking back along the pools road, there are even more hirundines swirling around. From some distance, three White-winged Black Terns are seen on the far side of the pools and careful study also reveals a single Black Tern which is almost lost in the mass of hirundines.

We spend some time watching the marsh terns when three Marsh Sandpipers are found among the Wood Sands and Ruffs near the back of the pool. Scopes are soon on to them and Mark and Steve explain the differences between these three brown waders. There are a few puzzled faces and some declare their loath of waders because they all look the same!

‘Little Bittern!’ Shouts Steve and everyone looks up to see a male do a full fly-by before dropping into the reeds. ‘Temminck’s Stint!’ proclaims Mark and he quickly gives directions, but the bird has vanished. A slight shuffle up the road soon has the viewing angle sorted and we all enjoy good views as it feeds alongside a Little Ringed Plover. A Common Sandpiper is also feeding nearby and the resemblance with the Temminck’s Stint is noted.

A single Red-rumped Swallow soon distracts us as it flies up and down in front of us. An Olivaceous is next up as it hops around a nearby tamarisk, while a Cetti’s Warbler belts out its short but energetic song. The marsh is alive with ‘yellow wagtails’, mainly Black-headed, but a single male Blue-headed soon attracts our attention. Paul picks up a Woodchat Shrike but it soon disappears and we head for the vans.

We transfer to Achladeri for lunch. On arrival, the Chaffinches and Greenfinches around the car park are soon forgotten when a Masked Shrike is found and begins to give us the run-around before finally succumbing to our objections and perches out in the open on a wire.

A Black Stork is circling over the nearby hill and both Long-legged Buzzard and Short-toed Eagle are thermalling and a Hobby zooms over. ‘Black Kite!’ There above us was the kite circling. Some are still watching the Masked Shrike but Mark and Steve exclaim that they are unlikely to see another Black Kite during the week and Masked Shrike ‘It’s even a Lesbos tick for me’ comments Mark.

We head off into the wood. Another group are watching the Krüper’s Nuthatch nest site, but Mark and Steve are friends with the other tour leaders so we are invited to join them and view activities. Scopes are set up on the nest hole and in seconds an adult bird arrives with a beak-load of food. Into the hole it pops and before you know it, its head is back at the hole, checks all is clear and then hurriedly exits. Second later the second bird arrives with another beakful of food. And so it continues!

To our left, a pair of Short-toed Treecreepers are found undertaking the same routine with their fluffy brood of chicks which are in a tree trunk crevice. We spend quite some time being entertained by the activities of the two families when the liquid calls of Bee-eaters are heard above us. Through the canopy we can make out the shapes of 30-40 birds high over the wood.

A little further up the track we come across a couple of Wood Warblers, busily feeding in the outer branches of two different pines. Paul then calls a Collared Flycatcher. ‘There he is!’ Gone. ‘Up now!’ Disappeared! The bird began to lead us a merry dance until eventually it was tracked to the edge of a track where we all managed at last to get good scope views as it swooped for insects over the track.

Walking back to the vans, a Cuckoo was calling when Steve spied movement on the forest floor. ‘Tree Pipits!’ blurted Steve. We stopped and stared. And stared but nothing. They appeared to have walked off. A couple of Spotted Flycatcher, a single Pied Flycatcher and a calling Hoopoe provided some interest until the pipits returned and wandered around for a few minutes before wandering off again.

Day 2 – Saturday 26 April

A gloriously sunny day but the cool north wind keeps the temperature down as we venture down to the Kalloni Saltpans. Turning on to the saltpans road, we pull up and immediately get stuck in to the hosts of waders on the nearby pans. Ruff everywhere we look and mixed in are the larger white forms of feeding Avocets and dark forms of Black-tailed Godwits.

In the middle of the nearest pan Mark and Steve pick out a group of Curlew Sandpipers feeding among the Ruff – their long necks and bills and deliberate feeding action very obvious even at range. A group of 20 Little Stints are seen running around the forest of long legs of the other waders. Flamingos aren’t too difficult to spot, but as most are asleep the spectacle of five birds flying across the pans is made even more spectacular.

In the channel in front of us a handful of diminutive Little Terns are feeding – all ultra-fast hovers and lightning-fast plunges. Behind us, two Gull-billed terns hawk over the grassy fields. These large terns swoop down to pick insects off the ground in stead of competing with the other terns for fish. Whilst we are watching the Gull-billed Terns, a female Blackcap is seen flitting along the roadside shrubs. Steve then picks up a Isabelline Wheatear in a nearby field, but it soon disappears from view before everyone manages to get on to this pale beauty.

Above us in the gathering numbers of hirundines appears a female Red-footed Falcon, circling effortlessly on the increasing thermals rising up from the warming ground. The fields are suddenly alive with flocks of Gull-billed Terns. Groups of eight birds at a time are quartering the fields. It’s brilliant to watch these birds lazily work their way across a field then on reaching the end, effortlessly glide back to the start and do it all again – just like the other terns would do over a lake or pond.
We move along and check the other pans for new species. More Ruff and Avocets then give way to a Greenshank whilst a single Whiskered Tern is picked up amidst the Gull-billeds over the fields.

‘Collared Pratincoles!’ yells Mark, pointing to up to the sky. And there above us are two birds, their unique shape easily identifies them as pratincoles and the light is great and the chestnut underwing and white trailing edges to the wings are easy to see. The nearest group of Flamingos wake up and several start wing-stretching, flashing their brilliant scarlet patches – fantastic!

A walk along the perimeter road adds only a singing male Whitethroat when a huge bird appears in the sky above us. ‘Dalmatian Pelican!’ shouts Mark. No need to point, as this thing is nearly big enough to cause a solar eclipse! The pelican wheels around, gaining height before heading off to the left, putting everything up off the pans, before gliding steadily down on to a distant pan.

Two Stone-curlews are then found on one of the banks between two of the pans giving excellent views as they simply stand there like statues. Another Greenshank is found, this time much closer and providing much better views. The Flamingos begin to make a real racket, calling goose-like to one another as they vie for space and the odd scuffle breaks out between two neighbours.

As we continue on our walk, the fields turn from grass to flower-filled meadows – an array of colour swaying around in the breeze. Butterflies can be seen flitting across the flower meadows, mostly Small Whites and some form of blue, but two Black-veined Whites are seen and several Painted Ladies. As we enjoy a non-avian moment, a couple of Olivaceous Warblers are found in some nearby bushes providing excellent views of this rather featureless ‘hippo’.

On the nearest saltpan, four Curlew Sandpipers fly in and land in among a group of close Ruff and provide much better views than the distant birds we saw earlier. Now we can really see their shapes and their brick-red plumage – stunning. Another Stone-curlew is found right in front of us, giving superbly close views, right down to its brilliant yellow eye, before taking flight across the corner of the pan and transforming from sandy-brown statue to striking black and white flying bird.
Behind us a Kingfisher is seen perched up on a fence post. The post is obviously next to a small pool or ditch, as the Kingfisher takes off a couple of times, hovers, dives and returns empty-billed. Behind it a male Woodchat Shrike is then found, its bright chestnut crown and black and white plumage looking brilliant in the bright sunlight. Above us we are treated by a single Hobby, a rather high Red-footed Falcon and a Kestrel – what a trio! Four full-plumage Little Egrets are then picked up on one of the banks, looking quite scruffy as their plumes and aigrettes blowing about in the wind.

Back in the vans we pull up to look at a couple of Collared Pratincoles when Chas shouts ‘pelican!’. Looking round the view is almost obliterated as the Dalmatian Pelican comes within a hundred feet of us and plonks down on a nearby pan out of sight.

We walk down a rough track to look for the vanishing pratincoles and eventually come across a group sat in a sheep field. They are running around collecting insects off the ground in typical wader fashion and occasionally taking to the sky and hawking around taking insects on the wing. We have at least eight birds, when another flock joins them – its no 14! Wow! The views are stunning as several birds hawk within 40 feet of us.

The liquid ‘prrrrrt’ calls of Bee-eaters are heard above us. Two birds suddenly swoop through the pratincoles and begin to catch insects over the field. They whirl around for 30 seconds or so before exiting left. One bird settles on the fence and scopes are quickly trained on to it – phwoar! What a corker! They call them Rainbow Birds for good reason. The second bird joins it and they both begin to feed from the fenceline, launching themselves at passing insects before returning to the fence.
The pratincole action intensifies when another group swoop in. A quick count reveals at least 21 birds hawking around us! Unbelievable! They are swirling around us like fighter jets in full throttle before pulling out of a dive and elegantly wheeling round before taking another run low over the field. Fantastic! Some then land right in front of us on the other sand of the fence. This just gets better! It’s almost exhausting watching such breathtaking views of both pratincoles and Bee-eaters.
Pratincoled-out, we begin to drift back to the vans. A pair of Red-footed Falcons appear above those bring up the rear. We stop to watch when Steve picks up two larger raptors, quite low and close. ‘Honey Buzzards!’ he shouts. One bird is a male, showing off its grey upperparts with delicate barring. We get cracking scope views as they quickly thermal and gain height and are lost to view.

We have lunch at the entrance to the ‘sheep fields’. Some of us don’t stop birding though, and Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes are soon picked up on the sea nearby. Those more keen on food than birds can’t fail to be enthralled by two Red-rumped Swallows skimming a puddle to take a drink.

Lunch over, we head into the fields and straight away, two Short-toed Larks fly over our heads and land on a nearby sandy area. Scopes are soon onto them and these all to easily dismissed larks are transformed into a rich mix of sandy-brown and ginger – wonderful.

Venturing in to the fields we soon locate a group of about seven Red-throated Pipits, all with full brick-red throats. There are also several Short-toed Larks among them. The pool they are feeding around holds 11 Little Stints and a couple of Kentish Plovers. Tony then picks up a Temminck’s Stint feeding in the longer vegetation. Scopes are swung on to it and we get excellent views of this tiny wader with Little Stints not to far away for easy comparison. Its difficult to know where to look with Red-throated Pipits and Short-toed Larks all around us.

Two White Storks are picked up circling over a distant hillside. We continue around the fields and come across a large flock of yellow wagtails. In amongst the Black-headed Wagtails, we eventually pick up a couple of cracking male Blue-headed and a single Grey-headed. Behind us, a flock of 15 Ruddy Shelduck are flapping around before gliding down on to a distant pan. Amidst all the birds various butterflies are also seen including Clouded Yellow, Swallowtail and Small Copper.

We head back down the road in the vans when we again come across the Dalmatian Pelican feeding in the perimeter dyke. We pull up and watch it feeding by sweeping its huge bill and pouch from side to side (I doubt the water is deep enough for it to head-plunge or dive!) before it takes to the air, turning the sky dark as it wings off!
We drive past the Collared Pratincole area where at least half a dozen birds are still wheeling around. We pull up when we come across a female Red-footed Falcon which gives brilliant views from the van. Turning on to the East River we soon hit a flock of 20-30 Bee-eaters whirling around over the river and track – it’s absolutely stunning! The noise is fantastic too.

Birds are everywhere – perched up in trees along the riverbed and the air is full of flying rainbows. The river itself looks and sounds alive! Against the backdrop of calling Marsh Frogs, dozens of Clouded Yellow and various white butterflies flit along the river banks, and a Temminck’s Stint is found on one of the islands. Two Linnets fly over chattering away and Crested Larks and Corn Buntings add to the orchestra. It’s absolutely bristling with birds and their various sounds – fantastic!

We head off and approaching the main road, and as we slow down a movement attracts Steve’s attention. ‘Ortolan!’ he yells. He quickly gets his van onto the stunning male that is bathing in the river below us, then radios the directions to Mark’s van. We are soon all out with scopes trained on this cracking bunting. ‘Stormin!’ beams Steve. We enjoy the little stunner for a good 10 minutes before it gives itself a quick shake and flies off over our heads calling and disappears into the nearby olive grove.

Turning back to the river, someone shouts ‘terns!’. Looking up, there’s a large flock of white birds winging their way inland. But they ain’t terns, they’re Mediterranean Gulls, about 50 of them, all first- and second-summers - no adults - but they pass through without stopping.

We park up and start to walk up the upper East River. On the hill opposite is a fantastic Short-toed Eagle ‘wind-hovering’. The light is brilliant and it’s joined by two more, and they slowly drift off right over us. Fantastic!

Walking along the track we find a Lesser Whitethroat, a Willow Warbler and at least four Wood Warblers. The latter are glowing yellow! We stop by a rocky slope where a male Black-eared Wheatear is in full song launching itself off the rocks song-flighting. Mark then spies a Rock Nuthatch. We follow it beyond the ‘crow tree’ and to the nest where we get superb views of a pair bring food to a nest hole. We also have another Ortolan briefly and a Wood Warbler is in sub-song in the ‘crow tree’.
A male ‘black-throated’ Black-eared Wheatear appears on the rocks in front of us. A female Marsh Harrier then appears low over the river below us – the chocolate brown and creamy head and shoulders look brilliant in the sun.

Whilst enjoying the Rock Nuthatch action, we pick up single male Blackcap, Spotted Flycatcher and a lone Agama Lizard head-bobbing on a rock. We walk down to the ford where we find a female Blackcap and Lesser Whitethroat, when Steve picks up a male Collared Flycatcher feeding off the river edge. We soon have our scopes on it and get brilliant views of it as it flits from branch to branch over the riverbed.

Day 3 – Greek Easter Sunday – 27 April

The weather is again cool and after breakfast we head off west. Our first stop is a brief one at Liminos Monastery, where a male Subalpine Warbler is song-flighting. With not a lot else other than a few ‘exotics’ running around the monastery grounds, we head off to the Grand Canyon.

It’s quiet on arrival, but after a few minutes a few things start to emerge. A Subalpine Warbler gives brilliant views as it feeds and sings in nearby treetops. A couple of Turtle Doves could be heard up the valley, and are eventually pinned down the overhead wires some way off. Up above us a Cirl Bunting singing his head off, but despite extensive searching we just can’t find him until he decides to move bush, and once seen, we manage to train the scopes on him and get superb views.
A Long-legged Buzzard appears above us, and in this good light, we get brilliant views of this eagle-like raptor. It stoops down and lands on a rock above us – wow! What fantastic views. The far hillside wasn’t too be outdone with Hobby, Sparrowhawk and Peregrine all being picked up. A Wren was then found and following it, it took us straight to its nest where it and its mate made regular visits with beakfuls of food for hungry mouths.

We continued westwards, and just west of Ipsilou Monastery, we come across a flock of 11 Lesser Kestrels working the hillside by the road. We pull up and enjoy the spectacle of these colourful falcons hovering and hawking over the grass hillside. We continue and rounding the next corner we come across another six kestrels and a Raven flew across the road right in front of the vans – terrific!

As we zig-zag down into Sigri, a cream-crown Marsh Harrier appears below us and as we enter Sigri there are a number of Jackdaws around the pig pens. We take the coast road and there are lots of birds along the roadside fences – Masked Shrike, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers and Whinchat as well as more Long-legged Buzzards and Short-toed Eagles overhead.

We stop at the dried up stream where a female Little Bittern is found hiding under the bankside vegetation. A Hobby and Red-footed Falcon are next to appear when a first-summer male Collared Flycatcher is found in the nearby olive grove. The place is dripping with Spotted Flycatchers and Turtle Doves are zipping around in every direction and a Sombre Tit was seen very briefly by a few of us.

We walk down to the pool where a stunning male Collared Flycatcher is happily feeding from the single tree which it shares with a Spotted Flycatcher and a Lesser Emperor dragonfly zooms about the pool. Nearby, a huge flock of House and Spanish Sparrows feed noisily when a mixed flock of hirundines swoop over the pools and begin skimming the surface to drink, including a couple of stunning Red-rumped Swallows and nine Jackdaws go over.

Walking further along the track we come across a small disused building which is home to a couple of Persian Squirrels. The squirrels are busy jumping from tree to tree but once they become aware of us they scarper out of view around the far side of the building.

We arrive at the Faneromeni Ford and it’s very quiet. Several Spotted Flycatchers and Reed and Sedge Warblers try and keep us entertained. A Cetti’s Warbler hammers out his brief but explosive song from nearby, and a couple of Wood Sandpipers feed along the river along with White Wagtail and Little Egret.
We settle down to lunch around the ford and things begin to liven up a little. Mark is studying something intently and then calls Steve over for consultation. The two of them discuss in detail the characteristics of a flycatcher that Mark has found. It’s some way down the river, but eventually Mark and Steve are agreed, and Mark pronounces that we have a male Semi-Collared Flycatcher. It gives us the run-around at first, but eventually everyone gets to see it through the scopes.
A Middle Spotted Woodpecker proves no less difficult when it bathes briefly in the river, but only a handful of us see it. Trish then spots a female Little Bittern trying its best to creep by us through the tangle of bushes. It eventually thinks better of this hard route, and comes out on to the river edge and walks away from us in full view. A Great Reed Warbler also puts in a good performance in the nearby giant bamboo.

We head away form the ford to the beach. We pull up and Mark goes for a little wander in search of birds. He seems to be taking his time, when a rather attractive young Greek girl comes up to us and invites us to come and join their beach party. Looking towards their gathering and we can see Mark very much at home among the young beach birds! Mark drags himself away from the lovely ladies, sweetbread in hand, to the heckles of the group! Justly deserved too!

We eventually head off back towards Sigri and come across last year’s ‘shrike’ field. We have been told that a Lesser Grey Shrike has been seen in ‘the area’ earlier, and on arrival a couple of birdwatchers say they haven’t yet seen it. Steve then picks the shrike up sat amongst the upper branches of a tree. It eventually comes out and proceeds to act a little more shrike-like, feeding from fences and tops of bushes giving stunning views. At one point it perches on the same twig that Steve and Mark had one perch on last year!

The drive back is broken up with a brief stop at the bottom of Ipsilou Monastery. No sooner than we are out of the vans when a male Isabelline Wheatear bursts in to a frenzied song-flight, sounding like C3PO or something out of a Stars Wars film. It’s very close and we all get great views. A Short-toed Eagle appears above us with a snake in its bill, and two Black Storks are thermalling across the valley. A couple of Rock Sparrows put in a very brief appearance but not everyone manages to get on to them. The hillside to our right is leaping with Lesser Kestrels and Hobbies – perhaps this morning’s birds?

Day 4 – Monday 28 April

After breakfast, we headed north to Petra where we stopped off at ‘Tracey Island’ overlooking the coast. Within minutes of arriving, Mark had located our first Rüppell’s Warbler – a fantastic singing male – on the slope above us. It performs brilliantly, song-flighting again and again from the tops of the bushes.

A male Cretzschmar’s Bunting sings form the fenceline below us with several Black-eared Wheatears and Linnets dotted around the scrubby slope. Mark then picks up a male Blue Rock Thrush as it flies up the slope and lands on the fence. There’s a scramble for scopes as everyone tries to get on to it before it makes a hasty exit left! Grrrrr! A pair of Peregrines then appear swooping around the cliff below us before landing on the edge of the clifftop in full view – fantastic!

We move on along the north coast, taking in a few photos of Molivos as we go. We stop at Eftalou briefly and see a handful of Yelkouan Shearwaters over a glassy sea before heading on to the north coast track.

The first gully we stop at holds a couple of Wood Warblers, one in song, and a pair of Cirl Buntings visiting a nest area with beakfuls of food. A Sombre Tit appears right in front of us and we get cracking views of this… sombre brown and grey bird as it flits and feeds in the oaks.

Several Eastern Festoon butterflies are bombing around and one settles in front us so we can all enjoy this gorgeous butterfly and a young Balkan Wall Lizard is seen well along the roadside. Moving along the track Steve spies a movement at the foot of a bush and stop to see a pair of Cretzschmar’s Buntings mating. They then come out to feed right by the road and provide unbelievable views.

Whilst we are stopped, Steve picks up a Little Owl sat on post by a old building so we all jump out of the vans and scopes are soon all pointing up at it. A pair of Masked Shrikes in the gully below us provide extra action and it’s difficult to know which way to look!

Back in the vans, and Mark spots a male Red-backed Shrike on a fenceline in a nearby field. We stop for lunch by the sea, with a pair of Rock Nuthatches visiting a nest and a song-flighting Subalpine Warbler as the main attractions. Mid-lunch and Mark picks up an adult Audouin’s Gull flying right past us. We moved on to the hot springs where a few people had a paddle before we turned our attentions to the Red-veined Darters and Southern (blue) Skimmers on the spring pools.

Arriving in Skala Sikaminias and we barely got in to the village as cars were parked right along the coastal approach road. With only inches between a dry arrival and a wet one, we squeeze past the parked cars at the narrowest part with the sea only three inches to the left and four feet below! We eventually park up and head down in to the packed village harbour and enjoy ice cream and drinks amidst the local Easter Monday festivities.

We head south in to the Napi Valley and stop at a wooded glade where we view the hillside opposite and pick up Black Stork and Long-legged Buzzard. We hear Middle Spotted Woodpecker in the trees nearby and a few of us glimpse a 'pecker in flight. Mark then picks up a pair of Wood Nuthatches in some of the closer trees which perform really well as a Chukar calls from the valley below us. We then stop at the five-a-side pitch on the outskirts of Kalloni, but fail to find any Scops Owls. We do though find an old crow nest with a single, fluffy Long-eared Owl chick sat in the middle looking down at us!

Day 5 – Tuesday 29 April

A pre-breakfast outing was offered to those who wanted to take part. 10 pairs of bleary eyes met Mark and Steve in the car park at 6.30 am, and we drove up to the Upper East River to the ‘dead goat pit track’ (honest!).

On arrival, Mark picked up a Barred Warbler which we were all soon enjoying this monster Sylvia warbler. Around the nearby bushes, we pick up both Common and Lesser Whitethroat and a further three Barred Warblers. They all performed brilliantly bouncing around the ground in search of insects. An Orphean Warbler announces itself with its ‘giddyup, giddyup’ song from a nearby olive tree and shows briefly.
The air is alive with sounds – Nightingale, two calling Hoopoes, Cuckoo, warblers, and the ever-present Corn Bunting. A Black-headed Bunting is seen briefly. From a higher vantage point we can see downstream and at least four Ruddy Shelducks. Steve then spies a rock with both Ortolan and Cretzschmar’s Bunting sat on it. Wow!

After breakfast, we visit the playground of Ariana School where we enjoy superb views of a lone Scops Owl perched in a poplar tree. While we are enjoying this, Steve sees a Golden Oriole in a nearby tree. It flies, disappears into another tree and it seems lost. It then reappears and we all get brilliant views as it flies for insects and gives a few snatches of song. More views of Scops Owl are needed (you can never get enough!) before we depart.

Heading out west again we arrive at the Grand Canyon were we immediately pick up a Long-legged Buzzard perched on a nearby rock. Nightingales sing from the valley bottom and a Jay hops around the trees below us. A Black Stork is thermalling down the valley, when it suddenly drops downwards and lands out on a rocky outcrop. Scopes are soon trained on to the stork and we get excellent views of the this big, almost prehistoric bird.

Steve then picked up two Crag Martins swirling around under a distant crag. With two Red-rumped Swallows. As if called to order, the birds then begin to wander along the cliff face and come right overhead, the Crag Martin showing off its tail spots and large, chunky shape. Brilliant. Mark then picked up a Blue Rock Thrush on a distant crag, doing the usual ‘Blue Rock Thrush peering over the cliff edge’ routine.

We arrive at Ipsilou Monastery, where we park at the bottom of the access road and begin to slowly work our way up to the top. Isabelline Wheatear and Cinereous Buntings are soon found, the latter showing reasonably well on the rocks below.
The slopes above us were heaving with flycatchers. Nearly every movement you lifted your bins up for was a Spotted Flycatcher, but at least three excellent male Collared Flycatchers. Wood Warblers and Blackcap were also very evident, as where the Black-eared Wheatears which seemed to be leaping from every rocky outcrop.
A group of more than 20 Alpine Swifts could be seen swirling above the monastery above us, and searching the skies, up to three Pallid Swifts could be seen high up, looking very brown in this excellent light. A Hoopoe calls from the valley bottom, and we begin to wonder if we are ever going to see one. Two Chukars exploded from the slope above us and disappeared around the hill. Damn!

Arriving at the monastery, we find a Tree Pipit sat on the wires and a Honey Buzzard drifts overhead. Mark then picks up a Rock Sparrow on an outcrop where it sits in the open, giving us plenty of time to get the scopes on it, and all agree that it’s a very good view of a scruffy little bird! A Woodlark sings from the slope below us and several of the group scope it distantly as it sits on wires.

Lunch over, we head off and stop at a rocky area below the monastery where Steve picks up a Chukar sat up on a wall above us. The bird simply stands put for ages allowing us brilliant scope views (about time too!).

We head south and arrive at Skala Eressos and find the ford totally devastated. All the bushes have been ripped out and the whole area flattened. The river still meanders its way through though, and there are lots of ‘yellow’ wagtails flitting about, including a couple of Grey-headed Wagtails.

A Cetti’s Warbler belts out from a nearby bush and with little cover to hide in shows well and a Common Sandpiper bobs along the river. Jill then asks if she is seeing things, or is that a Little Bittern sat in the river. We follow her directions and sure enough, sat amidst a tiny tangle of dead branches is a female Little Bittern!
Once you can see her, she is more than obvious and she is probably wondering just where all the cover has gone! We watch her for some time when she makes a sudden movement and a very large frog appears in her beak.

‘Now this’ll be fun,’ comments Tony, as we all sit back and wait to see how she tackles this ambitious dinner item. It repeatedly dipped the frog in the water, until eventually it pointed skywards and proceeded to gulp the frog down in one. Neck still outstretched, the frog could be seen bulging in its throat, ever so slowly working its way down. After what seemed like an age, an further gulp and the bulge in the throat was no more and the Little Bittern took off and disappeared downstream.

We headed off again and motoring along the road, we come across a Chukar sat on the wall of a large road bridge. Spotted well in advance we manage to slow right down and get more good views before it flies.

We arrive at Devil’s Bridge and apart from music drifting up from the valley below, it seems very quiet. The sky suddenly fills with Red-rumped Swallows and they are swirling around everywhere. A Sombre Tit is then seen right out in the open on a fence and lands on a metal fence post, which it disappears down headfirst! It reappears and flies off.

Within a minute or so, it’s back, perched on the fence post with a beak full of food. It’s clearly been nesting in the post and it is now trying to entice the chicks out with food. Mark then picks up a pair of Cinereous Buntings above us. Proving difficult to see, we decide to walk up to the church where we get storming views of singing Cinereous Bunting a few metres in a small tree. Superb!

Day 6 – Wednesday 30 April

Our final morning was to be spent up the Potamia Valley. We arrived at the head of the valley and pulling up to look at a Woodchat Shrike, Steve notices a male Black-headed Bunting on the overhead wires. We still hadn’t seen the species well, so all eyes were soon watching this superb bird.

We gingerly left the vans and soon we had scopes trained it – fantastic! ‘There’s another one’ says Tony. ‘And another’ pointed Yvonne. Looking round Black-headed Buntings were crawling out of all nooks and crannies, and several began to since. What a performance! We wait all week for a good view of just one and we get a valley-full on our last morning!

The Short-toed Eagles and Long-legged Buzzards above get a mere glance as everyone enjoys the bunting bonanza. Mark then finds a small butterfly taking salt from a nearby puddle. It’s a Lang’s Short-tailed Blue – and what a little cracker! The crag behind us holds Black-eared Wheatear and Rock Nuthatch. There’s a movement at the top. ‘Blue Rock Thrush!’ shouts Mark.

Our attention back to the buntings, a mustelid appears along the nearby wall. With no dark tip to the tail it’s a Weasel, a big one as well! It works along the wall to the track and then along the track edge towards us. It gets our scent and darts in to the grassy edge. Two Bee-eaters swoop over our heads but attention is still fixed on the Weasel hoping for more views. But it appears to have gone. Male Cirl Bunting and Orphean Warblers are next up in this beautiful little spot followed by a Masked Shrike then the fantastic sight of six Purple Herons drifting over! Fantastic!

We drive a little further and park by the dam. Our walk up the valley from here is a stark contrast to the bounty of birds we have just left behind. Our search of the olive groves for Middle Spotted Woodpecker is fruitless. Raptors prove frustrating in the rising temperature with an unidentified harrier and the tail end of what looked like a Lesser Spotted Eagle – but both slip away. A Honey Buzzard provides some consolation.

We find a stretch of ditch with some very interesting frogs and toads, but it is at this point we discover the limitations of the field guide. It’s useless! Either we have a new species for Europe, they are some mutant hybrid or the book is plain wrong. Take your pick! We return from the open valley and its soaring temperature to the shade of the trees around the vans. We all flop down for lunch. David and Hazel plump for the riverside perch and are soon calling us over. ‘Bright green frog on a stick’ says Hazel. And sure enough there was. ‘Tree Frog’ says Mark. ‘A soon to be very well-photographed Tree Frog’ replies Steve, reaching for his camera.

After lunch, we head for the Inland Lake. On arrival, we are greeted by a field full of yellow wagtails. A Little Grebe is whinnying from the lake and there are still two Night Herons in the lakeside tamarisk Bushes and up to three Little Bitterns dotted around as a third Night Heron flies right over us. Our second Tree Frog of the day is found and becomes an even bigger draw to the camera touts than the first. As we are photographing the frog, Paul shouts ‘Purple Heron!’ as an adult lands on a dead tree directly opposite us.

Stunning! It stands nearly bolt upright , all thin and gangly ‘like a supermodel’ mocked Steve. Mark then fulfils a Lesbos ambition and finds a Pond Terrapin in amongst the hordes of Stripe-necked Terrapin, but only Peter manages to get on to it before it plops off its perch.

We take a drive along the lower east river which holds lots of Ruff and Wood Sandpipers. We locate at least three Little Stints and the whole river valley is heaving with Bee-eaters. You can see and hear them everywhere.

At the river mouth we find Sandwich Tern, Mute Swan and Mediterranean Gulls. We drive back up the river picking up Squacco Heron and Little Egret, and eventually find a group of trees Mark and Steve were looking for (with a combination of duff gen and a flash of brilliant memory recall by Mark).

No sooner have we pulled up when Steve radios to Mark ‘Middle Spot at the nest hole’. We disembark quietly and set up the scopes on the nest hole. Within a few minutes, we have both parents visiting the nest with food. Wonderful! With the odd glimpse and too many ‘heard only’ records during the week, it was great to catch up with this brilliant woodpecker. The 'peckers perform brilliantly and everyone is chuffed with the mega views we enjoy.

We move on to the saltpans and get stuck into waders – summer-plumaged Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stints, Ruff and a couple of Stone-curlews. What we had all mistaken to be an earth mound suddenly moved as it transformed into a soon to be airborne Dalmatian Pelican! It lifted off and everything within half a mile (OK, a few hundred metres) took flight in fright! What a fantastic sight!

A single adult Dunlin is found in amongst the Curlew Sandpiper flock when Mark fixes on to a lone godwit at the back. ‘Steve, I think I’ve got a Bar-tailed Godwit,’ says Mark. ‘What’s so special about that’ asks Hazel. ‘Well, it’s only the eighth ever record for the island!’ replies Mark.

And sure enough, there at the back is a Bar-tailed Godwit (well done that man!) with a couple of Greenshank and more Little Stints. To celebrate, Steve then nearly stands on a snake! All he sees is it uncoil at his feet and as it moves away it gives an almighty hiss – Montpellier Snake. What a way to end a holiday!

We retire to the hotel early to enjoy the evening. Some have a dip in the pool, others enjoy a slow drink by it. After dinner we regale some of the highlights of the week. The Collared Pratincole flock win birds of the week (just pipping Little Bittern). Ipsilou (quite rightly too) gets place of the week (beating off dead goat track!) and it’s unanimous – magic moment was the ‘Byee, Mark!’ girl at Faneromeni beach (Mark’s still blushing).

Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Black-necked Grebe
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
Dalmatian Pelican
Mute Swan
Ruddy Shelduck
Common Teal
Honey Buzzard
Short-toed Eagle
Marsh Harrier
Montagu's Harrier
Hen Harrier
Common Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Lesser Kestrel
Common Kestrel
Red-footed Falcon
Little Crake
Black-winged Stilt
Collared Pratincole
Little Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Little Stint
Temminck's Stint
Curlew Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Black-tailed Godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit
Mediterranean Gull
Black-headed Gull
Audouin's Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Sandwich Tern
Gull-billed Tern
Common Tern
Little Tern
Whiskered Tern
Black Tern
White-winged Black Tern
Rock Dove
Collared Dove
Turtle Dove
Scops Owl
Little Owl
Long-eared Owl
European Nightjar
Common Swift
Alpine Swift
Pallid Swift
Common Kingfisher
European Bee-eater
Middle Spotted Woodpecker
Short-toed Lark
Crested Lark
Sand Martin
Crag Martin
Red-rumped Swallow
House Martin
Tree Pipit
Red-throated Pipit
'Blue-headed' Yellow Wagtail
‘Grey-headed’ Yellow Wagtail
'Black-headed' Yellow Wagtail
White Wagtail
Common Redstart
Isabelline Wheatear
Northern Wheatear
Black-eared Wheatear
Blue Rock Thrush
Cetti's Warbler
Savi’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
Willow Warbler
Spotted Flycatcher
Collared Flycatcher
Semi-collared Flycatcher
Pied Flycatcher
Sombre Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Wood Nutchatch
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
Common Tree Frog
Balkan Green Lizard
Balkan Wall Lizard
Stripe-necked Terrapin
Pond terrapin
Montpelier Snake
Agama Lizard
Turkish Gecko

Persian Squirrel
Eastern Hedgehog (deceased)

Mole Cricket (in Squacco’s beak!)
Dung Beetle (with dung)

Red-veined Darter
Southern Skimmer
Lesser Emperor

Scarce Swallowtail
Black-veined White
Green-veined White
Small White
Large White
Wall Brown
Small Heath
Orange Tip
Eastern Festoon
Clouded Yellow
Painted Lady
False Apollo
Lang’s Short-tailed Blue

Humming-bird Hawk-moth


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