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Birds and Memories of Lesbos '97,
John Jennings visited Lesbos Between the 24th August and 4th Sept '97.
Lesbos is the 2nd largest Greek island (after Crete) and is an island of vast contrasts. From the far west, around the Sigri area where it is like a moonscape (in fact there is one of the rare petrified forests there), to the south east where it is covered in forests of Oak and Pine & Horse Chestnut and many Olive Groves. Indeed, Lesbos is one of the richer parts of Greece and do not rely on tourism in the way many Greek islands do. There is an estimated 11,000,000+ Olive Grove trees on the island which accounts for approximately 25% of the whole of the Olive trees in Greece (including the mainland).
Based In Skalla Kalloni is the best possible place as you are right at the centre of the island and most of the best sites are within a few miles of you. Skalla Kalloni is at the head of a bay that is approximately 13 miles inland of the sea. to the east by approximately 2 miles is Kalloni salt pans. My impression is that this is a very productive area in the Spring but when we were there, late August early September it didn't produce as much as we hoped for. At the eastern edge of the pans is the East River and we had some good birds here. To the west of Skalla Kalloni At the edge of the town, is Kalloni 2 pool. This is named after a hotel at the edge of the town. There wasn't much water when we were there but we did see the odd good bird. Another area possibly better in the spring. A mile further west is the West River and we saw some excellent birds here culminating in 2 totally unexpected Dalmatian Pelicans the day before we were due to leave. To the north west, by about 5 miles is Kalloni inland lake. This was an excellent place and almost on every visit we saw something new there. Also, on nearly every visit, we saw a very accommodating Little Bittern that stayed in a reed bed near to where we parked our car. Another mile westwards was the new Kalloni reservoir but this wasn't too productive yet, possibly due to its newness.
We stayed in the Vicky Studios and if you look at the list ( I have put them all under 30/08/99) you will see that we had an impressive list just from where we sat in our garden. Vicky Studios was about 500 yards north of Skalla Kalloni and the highlight here was a Scops Owl on the roof of the studios next door to us.
Away from Skalla Kalloni Westwards you go towards Sigri furthest west of the island. You can go via the road that skirts Kalloni bay on the west side via Parakoila (which is roughly halfway along the bay) then Agra or via Filia and Andissa through the heart of the island. Possible star bird within this area is a Cinereous Bunting which is a bird that we did manage to get. Going via Parakoila you eventually go through some very barren land. This will become totally barren from Skalla Eressos to Sigri along the coast road. Be warned, if you use this latter road, for a few distressing scenes. The road is approximately 6 kilometers from Sk. Eressos to Sigri (and is not much more than a dirt track road) and after the first kilometre you will possibly come across the first of possibly 4 young dogs tied up ( one about every kilometre) via a thick metal chain, to oil drums that are anchored to the ground by cement. The water they drink from is usually fetid and I never saw any food. Consequently we went that way a few times to feed them and in the end we actually put a report into the Wildlife Sanctuary on the island. Unfortunately, whilst they were fully aware of the situation there was nothing they could do. Greeks, like many European communities, do not view dogs, or many other animals, the same way we British do. There are moves afoot to try and stop this practice but no one actually knew why these dogs were there. They couldn't guard anything as no one lived there, no cattle or sheep were there and very little in the way of plant life was there. the dogs had no shade, other than that oil drum, and Lesbos is a very hot island.
To the north west of the island isn't so productive but the beaches are good.
To the north is Petra & Molyvos and the road towards both can be very good for Raptors and the star bird to be found between Petra & Molyvos is Ruppels warbler. unfortunately I didn't find one. From Molyvos take the eastern coast road through Eftalou. There is a wooded area along the beach here that can be productive and if you do the whole of the coast road, roughly about 15 kilometres, (beware this is another road that is virtually nothing more than a dirt track road - or it was 2 years ago), you will come to an enchanting harbour village called Skalla Skimmer. The white Chapel here graces many a Greek brochure. There are a few small restaurants that front the harbour and a more tranquil setting you could not find. The road back using the middle of the island can be exhilarating both in views and birds.
The south east turned out to be incredible. Driving eastwards, towards the airport, the road eventually comes a right turn that goes towards Achladeri. This is where Kalloni bay starts to go back towards the sea on the eastern side of the bay. Within a mile, down this right hand turn, is an area known as Derbyshire. This would definitely be more productive in the Spring as there was hardly any water at the time year we were there. It looks a place with excellent prospects. Further along the road is Achladeri and if you take the dirt track, to the right, that follows the coast you could be in for a treat. At one point we were looking at some Terns fishing when Barbara pointed to a telephone wire. On a wire, between two posts, we saw 4 different Shrikes. Red backed, Lesser Grey, Great Grey and Woodchat. How many times to you come across a sight like that in your life. Taking into account that we had just seen Masked Shrike earlier along the road and we had a nap hand of Shrikes in a relatively short area. Further along you will find Polichnitos salt pans although we didn't go to there on this day. We went there 6 days later and I found this place to be incredible. When we arrived we had 52 Greater Flamingoes giving us a flying display as well as Audouins, Yellow-legged, Black-headed gulls, Common & Whiskered Tern plus plenty of waders and a couple of Great white Egrets on the pans. Star bird here was about a mile away from the pans. Whilst watching a Cuckoo what I at first thought was a Sparrowhawk dropped onto a branch about 50 yards away. It took off and I immediately noticed how light it was underneath then it landed again and I noticed the lack of yellow in its eye. I watched it for over 15 minutes and was totally confident in my ID of a Levant Sparrowhawk.
Further east of here is the highest part of the island with mount Olympus. Star bird here is the Kruper's Nuthatch but this is another bird I didn't get to see. There is a largish village on this mountain with some superb views of the valleys. It is Agiassos and here we saw Golden Oriole, Raven & Firecrest. South of here was Vatara and along the coast here looks good as well. There are tree-lined valleys that drift away from the coast and there looks great possibilities here.
Some birding and none birding memories that will stay with me forever are :-
Faneromi beach (a nudist beach next to Skalla Eressos). The memories are not the obvious one (skinny dipping etc <gg>) but of what happened when I went swimming. The beach here drops quite quickly and within a couple of yards you are in quite deep water. I was doing some snorkeling and you could see for a long way in the very clear water. Without realising it I was joined, from behind, by 5 fish that were as big as me. They swam all around me and came within a couple of feet of me, going wherever I went as if curious as to what I was all about. They stayed with me for about 15 minutes before departing. Another memory was by the side of a small stream about 500 yards away. We were watching quite a few various forms of Yellow Wagtails and then Spanish Sparrow and Cretzschmar's Bunting when we became aware of quite a bit of movement in the water. Dozens of Turtles then fish were surfacing. We threw some bread in and the water erupted. After about 5 minutes we were feeding Turtles and fish from the hand.
One last memory was of the Alpine Swifts on Kalloni inland lake. They are an incredible sight when they dive for water. Nothing like the elegant Swallow they just dive with open beak and scrape the water with jets of water splaying either side of their beaks. When you have about 50 of these birds doing their dive on a piece of water that is about 100 yards long by about 20 yards wide you can start to realise just how impressive this would look. This was all going on within 10 to 20 feet of me.
Other animals seen on the island were the beautiful Persian Squirrel. It looked a mixture of our Red & Grey Squirrel. Beach Martin and also we had what looked like some form of Shrew in our Garden.
After visiting this island once both Barbara and I have said that if we ever won the lottery there would be a more than even chance that we would look for somewhere to buy on this lovely island.
One island to put at the top of your were to visit next list.
Bird lists for all of the key sites:
Recommended books for Lesbos and Greece:
Collins Bird Guide Europe's best Field guide?
The Birds of Greece George Handrinos, T. Akriotis
Finding Birds in Greece Dave Gosney
reading. for birdwatching