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Mytilini/Lesvos in winter : 06-13.01.2003,
Being just on time to escape a sharp winter in Belgium, I went for preparing a coming birding tour and do some accidental birding to Mytilini/Lesvos. [Vreemde Kontinenten April-May 2003]
Brussels-airport about noon, Athens around 5pm. and Mytilini capital about 7pm. The difference : no rain, no cold and smiling people. Picking a very good car at Auto Moto Lesvos , contact Mr. Spanelis Dimitris at < email@example.com >. Very friendly people and a good deal.
I choose Vatera, [in casu the Madonna studios] at the south coast of Lesvos as base-camp and they proved to be an ideal place. Vatera is a charming place, 8km. of clean beach, different possibilities of staying overnight, total quietness (about 1.15h. driving from the capital) and for sure good birding. For info on Vatera and the Madonna Studios, contact Mrs. Dimitra Balkizas at < firstname.lastname@example.org> or check < www.the-vatera-specialists.com >
The first evening fresh fish in the restaurant of Maria, a good sleep and the next morning a walk towards the nearby Almiropotamos-river. Along the beach and river several White Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and Crested Larks. Two of the last ones were from the nigricans race. On the river Little Grebe, Moorhen and already 6 singing posts of Cetti's Warbler. It's the 7th of January!! In the gardens several Hooded Crows, regular a Sardinian warbler and everywhere Black Redstart, some Whinchats and 1 or 2 Stonechats. Over the sea regular Sandwich Tern and of course Yellow-legged Gulls. This area sure can hold more birds and -species during April-May. A evening out close to the Madonna Studios produced a couple of very active Little Owls.
Also a good birding area is the Kalloni Bay, starting from Polichnitos (with his White Stork on a chimney) and Skala Polichnitou (with two Black-necked Grebes in the harbour). Further a first singing Nightingale at the 8th of January. There is no more logic for a simple Belgian birder. At the saltpans of Polichnitos were some 30 Greater Flamingos, only one adult bird, the rest juveniles. Continuing towards Skamnioudi, you'll see the Alikoudi pool. Most astonishing were apart from the Greater Flamingos, some 12 Mute Swans and 9 Whooper Swans ... a sign that somewhere else it was winter ?? Continuing along the Bay the first Grey Herons, Great White Egrets and Little Egrets appeared. Together with Shag and Cormorant a nice view. Between Ancient Pyrra and the Kofinas forest is a very nice corner with some overnight stay for the egrets. Most amazing to see these Great whites standing in green trees and this in full winter. Close to the road , near Ancient Pyrra and Achladeri, the first observation of the Kruper's Nuthatch : 3 birds together. A little stream with fresh water and seeds of pine trees is a need to find the species.
Nearby, a very good area is Mikri Limni, just on the crossroads Vassilika - Agiossos/Mytiline - Achladeri. Apart from again several Kruper's also a Water Rail and 11 Woodlarks This area on an early morning in April must be whoww.
A little bit further from Vatera, but still within a 45min. drive along the road towards Kalloni is the flatland of Derbyshire which produced 30 wintering Great White Egret, 8 Ruddy Shelduck and also some Mute Swans. Another day the 9 Whoopers came to visit this beautiful area also.
Both sides of the road towards Kalloni are worth a check and sure a walk. Don't stay in your car, do some birding on foor.
A little bit further you can find the Salt Pans of Kalloni. The area can be reached from different roads, a nice one to walk is the one coming from direction Mytilini and just before the salt pan channel. A very nice walk on which I spotted 2 wintering Black Storks, up tot 750 Greater Flamingos, 5 Little Gulls, Greater and Little White Egret also the 9 Whoopers, several waders like Ruff and Dunlin, ...
On the road to Kalloni you can find the well known Lower and Higher East en West River and the area aroung Skala Kalloni and the Inland Lake. The area must be great during spring, a walk along these smelly rivers must produce a lot. Apart from several Kingfishers, a few Little Egrets an few Common Buzards near the rocks on the Higher East River, several Sparrowhawks, flock of Shovelers and a Pintail near Skala Kalloni this area is beautiful but not that bird-rich in full winter. Probably the salt pans attracts everything.
A trip worth to do is going North-West, a total different Lesvos. With a visit of M. Limonos, a beautiful monastery on the road towards Skalochori and Vatousa. Between M. Perivolis and M. Ipsilou, an even more place, several Raven and a Peregrine Falcon and also a lot of Kestrels, which are quite absent on the rest of the island. Visiting the Petrefied Forest, near Sigri, again 2 Raven and the Kestrels. At Sigri a great meal with fresh fish at a resto in the harbour with view on Black-necked Grebe and Cormorant and a visit of the Archeological Museum is worth. Birding in Lesvos is great !!!
The return by the coastal road Sigri-Eresos-Skala Eresou produced apart from fantastic views also a couple of Long-legged Buzzard and in the 'center of Sappho' a flock of Jackdaws, the only ones I saw on the island. Along the coast, very visible, after a fall a lot of birds can be seen. I saw some hundreds of Meadow Pipits who just arrived.
From Kalloni you can also visit the north-area of Molivos, a very nice coastal town with a nice harbour. Close to it, along the beach, lies Eftahlou with his small Thermal Spa. A great walk along the coast with birds like Shag and Blue Rock Trush ... a temperature about 16°C , a warm-up of your feet at the Spa, Turkey in view ... life is great and what will this show in April ? In the road take a walk in Petra, apart from his calm center also some Mediterranean Gulls on the beach, unfortunately no colour-rings. Also the walk, the ecological track, starting from the village of Lafionas produced some nice birds like Sardinian Warbler.
The great advantage of staying at Vatera is that your are in the south-middle of the island : you have the possibility within an hour to visit also the other areas like Megali Limni, on the road towards Mytilini or Agiassos. The small forest on the other side of Megali Limni, with here six Kruper's Nuthach together was a little bit too much of the good things !! To be visited for sure is Agiossos. This can be done from Vatera by a great road along the coast [with a good marshy area, which produced a Little Egret] along the village of Kato Stavros and Ambeliko. Along this gravel road several Common Buzards, really some 100 Robins, a lot of Common Chaffinch feeding on the olives, several warblers like Whinchat and Stonechat. Along this road you can regular leave your cat and walk for instance towards the small chapels ... birds for sure.
The village of Agiossos at about 600m. high has a calm center and for sure even nicer surroundings. Take a walk through the Sweet Chestnut and oak forests.... Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Persian Squirrel and great old paths will be your reward.
For those who want something extra drive down along Megolochori towards Plomari, with it's nice harbour and sure it's ouzo-distillery. Follow the coast towards Melinda and leave you car before the small (a few houses) village. Take a walk along the beach, into the gardens and back streets and apart from oranges and lemons, Hawfinch and Chiffchaff some 20°C accompanied me. Most excellent is to follow the old-olive tracks leading from Melinda towards, places like Kournela, Milos and Paleochori. Very regular a Sparrowhawk between the olive-groves hunting chiffchaff. During spring this small valley is sure underwatched and has sure a lot of birds, flycatchers for instance. The old olive trees are just to place to be. Return by the small village of Paleochori and have a coffee in the center : another example of the gentleness of Lesvos-people.
This was just a short report on my trip to Lesvos, January 2003.
Individual birders can also go to Lesvos. A good book to be used is Birding on the Greek Island of Lesvos by Richard Brooks. My personal opinion is that this book is focused a little bit too much on the Skala Kalloni / Kalloni area. Of course a great birding area, no doubt, but by targeting only this area the rest of Lesvos, especially the south, is missed and under estimated.
This is the reason why we stay at Vatera, much calmer and less tourists than the Kalloni-area, more centralized when you like to visit Agiossos and the south-coast and why not the capital Mytiline. For a walk in the magnificent forests [Kruper's Nuthatch] and sure a look for the orchids, Vatera is the best situated. Also Mikri Limni and the Polichnitos Saltworks with the nearby Skamnioudi-area is totally underwatched.
When you want to stay as individual birder in the area of Vatera, the best is to contact (can be in English) Mrs. Dimitra Balkizas at < email@example.com> or check < www.the-vatera-specialists.com >. The Madonna-studios are a great place with cooking facilities and a view on the sea and to be totally independent.
If you would like to have more info, just contact me. (From the trouble of the world , I turn to birds.)
Dirk Raes, Waterloo-stwg. 1, B-1640 St.Gen.Rode. (50°45'37''N - 04°23'10''E) Belgium.
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