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Lesvos Tour Report, 29th April to 6th May 2004

Day 1: Thursday, 29th April

The group met up at Gatwick airport and after an uneventful three hour flight we arrived in Lesvos to bright sunshine.  Having collected our luggage and located our transport we were soon on our way to the Hotel Pasaphae at Skala Kalloni.  As we drove across the island we were seeing birds and as we passed the Kalloni Salt Pans, we managed our first glimpses of the graceful Greater Flamingos.  Moving on to the heart of Kalloni Town, we located a White Stork’s nest, which also housed a colony of Spanish Sparrows.
We arrived at the hotel at around 4.00pm and after checking in and dropping our bags in our rooms, all headed off for a pre-dinner walk around the nearby Kalloni Pool.  Although it was noted that the vegetation around the pool was a little overgrown, which impaired our views, we still managed to find many of the expected species. 

Amongst the highlights were Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, 20 Black-winged Stilts, two Little Bitterns, Crested Larks and a lovely group of nine Glossy Ibises.  We had a real treat in the shape of a superb female Red-footed Falcon, which flew over, and the sight of 20+ Whiskered Terns followed this as they came in from the sea.

Photo: Little Bittern - Ray Tipper

Little Bittern

Day 2: Friday, 30th April

Our day started with a pre-breakfast walk around the Kalloni Pool.  Black Stork was a good find and we also enjoyed good views of Little Bitterns and White Storks.
After breakfast we headed off in search of a Eurasian Scops Owl.  We visited two likely sites and much to the delight of the group, were lucky at both, rewarded at one location by very close views.  The rest of the day was taken with a roughly circular drive which although covering no more than ten miles seemed, due to its winding path and frequent birding stops, much longer.  Our first stop was at the Kalloni Salt Pans where we walked the nearby sheepfields. 
Then we slowly drove the maze of rough tracks that criss-cross the western end of the salt pans to the East River, then following the river southwards back to Skala Kalloni.  By the end of the day we had seen many of the more common birds of the island including numerous European Bee-eaters and our list had greatly increased.  Notable sightings for the day included - three Purple Herons, two Black Storks, a flock of 27 Gull-billed Terns, 225+ White-winged & more Whiskered Terns, a 2nd year Slender-billed Gull, 15+ Red-throated Pipits, seven Ruddy Shelducks, 20 plus Collared Pratincoles, three Marsh Sandpipers, two Lesser Grey Shrikes, two Tawny Pipits and 15 Greater Short-toed Larks.  We also spent some time sorting out the 30+ Yellow Wagtails that we saw and concluded that we had seen four races – Sykes’s, Black-headed, Grey-headed and Blue-headed in differing numbers. 

Day 3: Saturday, 1st May

Our day started shortly after dawn with a trip to the inland lake, where we arrived as it began to get light.  Amongst the first birds seen as the light increased were Little Bittern and nine Black-crowned Night Herons followed by our first Great Reed Warbler and Black-headed Bunting

Photo: Black-headed Bunting - S.C.Brown

Black-headed Bunting

A female Little Crake showed well, as did a Common Nightingale and we all enjoyed the sight of three Masked Shrikes.  By this time the day had begun to warm up and we returned to the hotel for a very welcome breakfast.  As we were eating, the news broke that a Spur-winged Lapwing had been found down on the West River and we hurriedly finished our meal and headed off to its reported location.  We scanned the area for about fifteen minutes and then there it was.  Although a little distant, the bird gave prolonged views and almost all our group recorded either a  'lifer' or a European 'tick'.  The day was proving to be a good one as we were treated to views of Little Owl, just a few meters away on the roadside followed by our first Lesser Kestrel
We moved on to Parakila and Devil’s Bridge where we were to see almost all of our expected species recording Long-legged Buzzard, Sombre Tit, Western Rock Nuthatch, both Cretzschmar’s and Cirl Buntings, Icterine and Orphean Warblers and Red-rumped Swallows.  The heat was increasing and we decided to break for lunch and a cool drink in a nearby taverna.  Feeling much cooler, we headed for our afternoon destination, Derbyshire, on the way seeing a cracking European Roller, which was hawking for insects from the wires.
As we walked in and about the woods we found Red-backed, Woodchat and Lesser Grey Shrikes and noted many Whinchats, concluding that they were part of the obvious passage, which had been ongoing for two days.  As a small party of Alpine Swifts whirled overhead, we located another of our hoped for species - Krüper’s Nuthatch.  As we drove back to the hotel for a well-earned shower and cool drink we counted four Great White Egrets to add to the ten seen on the previous day.

Day 4: Sunday, 2nd May

An early breakfast today and we were soon on the road to Sigri, which is at the western end of the island.  It was a fine and sunny day and en route to Sigri we stopped at several places including the Grand Canyon near Vatousa and the monastery at Ipsilou.  These were both lovely places and afforded us breathtaking views.  At one point we were at eye level with a female Eurasian Honey Buzzard and then a few minutes later an Eleonora’s Falcon took her place.  At the canyon we counted ten Eurasian Crag Martins, a male Cinereous Bunting and had a brief view of Rock Sparrow.  Western Rock Nuthatch, Blue Rock Thrush, many Black-eared Wheatears were notable and all the time we were aware of European Bee-eaters and hirundines passing through the canyon.  As we continued on our way we saw four Long-legged Buzzards, Eurasian Golden Orioles and managed to count more than 50 Red-backed Shrikes
The birding at Sigri proved equally good and we were soon seeing more Eurasian Golden Orioles, all four species of shrike, Spotted and Pied Flycatchers and Eastern Olivaceous Warblers.  As we walked on the beach four Curlew Sandpipers were seen and when we moved an old boot that was lying on the sand we disturbed two scorpions that had been sheltering beneath.

Day 5: Monday, 3rd May

A 6.20 am start today began with a trip along the track by the grain silos.  The light was great and gave us just the right conditions to view Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin and a male Rüppell’s Warbler.  Here at last we managed a sighting of a Eurasian Hoopoe, a bird that had eluded us until now.
After breakfast we set off for the Napi Valley in the hope of seeing raptors and warblers.  Happily we were not to be disappointed.  A group of some 40+ Red-footed Falcons with one Eleonora’s was hunting insects along the ridgeline and our attention was drawn to a huge eagle that had just flown into view.  It was a Lesser Spotted Eagle, a bird we had hoped for but were doubtful off getting and quite good views too.  Moving on we found the first of two Northern Goshawks seen today.  Passerines were not to be outdone and we were treated to exceptional views of Olive-tree, Subalpine and Orphean Warblers plus seven Sombre Tits including three fledglings. 
As we left the Napi Valley we worked our way west along the north coast to Petra where we again saw Rüppell’s Warbler, another Subalpine Warbler, this time singing, and a pair of Blue Rock Thrushes.  By this time the heat was beginning to be a problem and so as evening approached we headed back to the hotel for a cooling drink.

Day 6: Tuesday, 4th May

An early morning visit to the East River produced a good tally of waders including 30 Ruff, six Wood Sandpipers, 15 Little Stints and a Temminck’s Stint plus nine Squacco and a Purple Heron.
After breakfast we again visited the Salt Pans where some movement was apparent.  A flock of 29+ White-winged Black and one Black Tern, four Rufous-tailed Scrub Robins and a huge flock of 400+ Greater Flamingos were all present along with Corn and Black-headed Buntings, two Common Greenshank and 20+ Kentish Plovers.  A European Land Tortoise was also noted.  At around mid-day we headed for a local taverna for lunch and a welcome cooling drink.  Then much refreshed we headed back north to Stipsi and Molivos with the hope of seeing more raptors.  En route we took in one of the Eurasian Scops Owls again and three Short-toed Eagles and a Red-footed Falcon were recorded.  At Molivos we checked out a site for Middle Spotted Woodpecker and were rewarded within five minutes with excellent views of a bird as it came to a nest hole.  We watched for a short time as the bird flew off and then returned several times, but then we left so as not to disturb it.  At the harbour we increased our seabird tally seeing Cory's and 20+ Yelkouan Shearwaters plus a nice adult Audouin's Gull

Day 7: Wednesday, 5th May

The weather had changed significantly overnight, the warm sunny weather making way for a storm front which closed in from the south west bringing some low cloud, rain and windy conditions.  Many of the migrants seen previously had obviously sensed the incoming storm and had moved away ahead of the weather system.  We made our way to Sigri to hunt for migrants and to begin with we saw very little of note with only a couple of Spotted Flycatchers to brighten the day and by late morning we were feeling a little despondent.  We took a break at the local taverna and decided where to try next.  After our coffee break we tried along a rough road which ran south along the coast to Eressos and our fortunes changed.  As we bumped our way southward we began to see Yellow Wagtails which had obviously come in off the sea.  We were all searching the fields as we drove along when a shout went up - CHUKAR!  We immediately stopped and sure enough there it sat.  As we checked the area another bird was found and it soon became obvious that this was a breeding pair with a nest nearby, so we happily moved off so as not to disturb them.  A little further on we entered a wide bay and decided to stop for lunch.  As we ate lunch we had the find of the day when a European Nightjar was inadvertently flushed from a stone wall.  Tracking the bird proved easy and we all got excellent views, as the bird proved very confiding.  Luckily whilst trying to relocate the Nightjar we also flushed a Common Quail.
It seems Ray became so excited by this that he pushed Steve into a nearby bush, which Steve claimed was the thorniest on the island and from which, he allegedly, still bears the scars.

Shearwaters were coming in closer here due to the strong wind and we had a number of Cory's mixed in with the seemingly continuous stream of Yelkouans.  Further along the ridge we watched three Eleonora’s Falcons hunting for migrant passerines.  Over a small pool close by a number of hirundines were feeding including Eurasian Crag, House and Sand Martins, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows.  This gave us an excellent opportunity to study and compare these species.  From here we re-traced our steps and visited Ipsilou where the star bird proved to be a female Collared Flycatcher, which we watched as she was fed in the lee of the hill well out of the raging gale.

Day 8: Thursday, 6th May

Our last day in Lesvos started early with a visit to Potamia Valley and this proved a good choice of venue as we saw only our second European Roller of the week perched on a telegraph pole.  The bird gave good, if somewhat, brief views before it vanished and could not be found again, although we spent time trying to relocate it.  As time was short we ventured further up the valley seeing Eurasian Golden Oriole, Western Rock Nuthatch and a lovely male Blue Rock Thrush before heading back to the hotel for breakfast, where we heard that a Thrush Nightingale had been seen at the Inland Lake.  Unfortunately we had no time to go looking for it as we were due at the airport for our homeward flight.

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