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A Report from

Lesvos, 28th April - 5th May 2012,

Chris Hall

Off come the fleeces as we swap a cold wet grey English sky for a cloudless blue one on the sunny Greek island of Lesvos.

A short drive from the hotel, the ‘inland lake’ near Metochi is awash with sunbathing Stripe-necked Terrapins, and along the margins we enjoy fabulous scope views of a female Little Crake and a male Little Bittern. A Cetti’s Warbler and several handsome Masked Shrikes pose for us, a noisy flock of Bee-eaters passes over, and a Long-legged Buzzard lands on the rocky skyline. Strolling on, we enjoy close views of Great Reed Warbler, Rock Nuthatch, ‘ugly head-bobbing rock lizards’, Red-backed and Woodchat Shrikes, and a sing song by a very obliging Olivaceous Warbler. Crested Larks, Nightingales and Corn Buntings are also singing all around and back at the cars, a superb male Black-headed Bunting sings just twenty yards away from us! What a wonderful start.

Moving on into the Potamia valley, we finally nail a Nightingale after lunch beside a shaded fuente, and from the same vantage point, a pair of Ruddy Shelduck flies by and an all black Eleonora’s Falcon glides over the distant ridge. Apart from Orange Tip and Swallowtail butterflies, a frog chorus, and a Cirl Bunting singing on a wire, there is little more to report from this lovely peaceful valley. On the way back, a quick stop by the ‘West River’ produces Great White Egret and the black-headed feldegg race of Yellow Wagtail. After a tea break back at the hotel, a stroll along the beach produces Squacco Heron on Kalloni Pool and Spanish Sparrows in the village. Further on, the mouth of the ‘East River’ is very productive with Mediterranean and Yellow-legged Gulls, Little and Common Terns, Wood Sandpipers, Kentish Plovers, and a Little Ringed Plover sitting on a clutch of five eggs, close enough for its head to fill the scope view like a scene from  a Springwatch ‘nest cam’! Meanwhile a Black Stork fishing up stream decides to fly down stream, land in the river mouth and chase and swallow fish right in front of us! With the sun behind us, the stork’s ‘black’ neck is a perfect picture of iridescent purple and green. All this in just one day!

It’s the last day of April, and cruising the ‘East River’ is a drake Ferruginous Duck, a rarity for Lesvos, unlike the many Wood Sandpipers alongside Little Stints and then a Temminck’s Stint. Meanwhile, a Nightingale on the far bank is singing his heart out, and with the scope we can virtually see his tonsils! Next sighting is a neatly patterned Turtle Dove perched close to the track. The nearby salt pans are full of Flamingoes and Avocets along with thirteen Ruddy Shelduck and at one point we even have Ruddy Shelduck and Stone Curlew in the same scope view! Also present is an assortment of Terns; Gull-billed, Sandwich, Common and Little, but best of all on this stroll is a couple of smart Citrine Wagtails.

After a picnic in the shade of the pines near Achladeri, we focus on a pair of Krüper’s Nuthatches dashing in and out of their nest hole and then spot a Short-toed Treecreeper. We celebrate the nuthatch result at a nearby beachside taverna, and then retrace our route through the intensely red poppy fields of ‘Derbyshire’ seeing our first Red-rumped Swallows and a second Black Stork. Back at the Kalloni salt pans, we find another Stone Curlew, this time in the same view as White-winged Terns! A little further on, Little Terns are diving into the channel like miniature Gannets, while a magical mix of Bee-eaters and Collared Pratincoles is hawking for insects over the same clump of trees. The evening sun behind us is perfect for admiring the iridescent sheen of a Glossy Ibis and as we cross the river back to base, a pair of Red-footed Falcons is snatching and eating Dragonflies single handed in mid air. What a wonderful finale to another fabulous day.

The first target today is the tiny Scops Owl, and by 8.40am it’s ‘in the bag’, roosting motionless, with cryptic grey plumage for perfect camouflage against the trunk of a Eucalyptus tree. Next target is Rüppell’s Warbler, which seems to favour a small stretch of headland on the north coast of this island, where we locate several stunning males singing in full view, along with Orphean Warbler, Blue Rock Thrush, Black-eared Wheatear and Whinchat, while four Ravens and a couple of Crag Martins fly by. Further east along the north coast a mobile text bleeps “Welcome to Turkey”, which is just five miles across the calm blue sea, ideal for watching a large raft of Yelkouan Shearwaters containing at least one larger browner Cory’s Shearwater. By mid afternoon, the temperature is up to 30 degrees and so we retire to a seaside taverna and relax in the hammocks, with John and Terry sharing a double! Once things cool down we spot singing Cretzschmar’s Buntings on the drive back to base.

Today we head west via the poky streets of Filia, relying on the arm waving ladies of the village, positioned on street corners like human road signs, to direct us towards Skalachori. The green landscape of open woodland with old grey stone walls is again reminiscent of Derbyshire. Much of the rich birdsong is also familiar, with a hint of spice thanks to Nightingale, Woodlark, Whinchat and Cirl Bunting, but there are also Masked Shrikes, Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, orange and grey Persian Squirrels and a close encounter with a sizeable Spur-thighed Tortoise to remind us of our exotic location. Further west in the rocky Lardia valley, we find more Red-rumped Swallows, Black-eared Wheatears and Cretzschmar’s Buntings plus Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Sparrow. Even further west towards the Ipsilou Monastery, the Black-eared Wheatears are joined by longer legged more upright Isabelline Wheatears. Once at the imposing monastery perched on a rocky hill top, a stake out produces Northern Wheatear, Hoopoe, Raven, Ortolan Bunting and eventually close views of a singing Cinereous Bunting, making six different Buntings seen on this one island. In a lone tree on the otherwise open rocky slope we also spot a magnificent richly yellow male Golden Oriole and watch in full view in the scope as he systematically clears the tree of juicy caterpillars. Meanwhile, a Sombre Tit flies past the tree but without stopping and so we resume the ‘oriole watch’.

With so much to see in the ‘wild west’ of the island, a second day is required to do it justice, this time via the south coast route which winds its way through a dry rocky landscape, buzzing with Black-eared Wheatears and Cretzschmar’s Buntings, but no Chukars. On the track to Makara, we bump into a Long-legged Buzzard standing proud on a rock beside the track, with a pale head and breast, and further down the track a low flying Short-toed Eagle drifts by. Back on the main road to Eresos, we listen to the lovely tropical song of the Golden Oriole at a pleasant shaded fuente, seeing Middle Spotted Woodpecker and then two male Golden Orioles in the same scope view, but no Sombre Tit, which is fast becoming a ‘bogey bird’. Nearer to Eresos in the Langada valley, we find a Rock Nuthatch going in and out of its bottle neck mud nest stuck onto a rock face, and watch ‘fruity frogs’ in the river below the bridge. Beyond Eresos the road to Sigri is just a dirt track where we find the only Roller of the trip, a spectacular bird with reddish brown back and bright blue head and wings. In the Meladia valley south of Sigri, recent arrivals include Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, Whinchat, Wood Warbler and a fall of Red-backed Shrikes. We also find our first Little Owl of the trip and briefly glimpse a frustrating Sombre Tit.

It’s our last day in the field and news of a newly arrived Rufous Bush Robin is too good to resist. On the way to the location, we find a Black-crowned Night Heron in a bush overhanging the ‘East River’, roosting with half open eye lids as if suffering from a ‘heavy’ night out. Beside the Kalloni salt pans, the flooded meadows are packed with dozens and dozens of Ruff, plus Wood and Curlew Sandpipers, Spotted Redshank, Black-winged Stilt, Little and Great White Egrets, Squacco Heron, White Stork, Common, Whiskered, White-winged and Gull-billed Terns, Little Gull and a fabulous drake Garganey. With so much to see it’s 10.45am before we arrive at the Bush Robin site to hear that “we should have been here 45 minutes ago”. Undaunted, we explore the Tamarisks and soon find this ‘top drawer’ bird low down in a bush, but then it emerges to sing out on a bare twig showing off it’s rich rufous rump and tail. Further on, it’s a case of “never mind all those colourful Bee-eaters, here’s a rare Black-headed Gull!” and the same area also produces more Stone Curlews plus fabulous views of Short-toed Lark and Red-throated Pipit.

After a picnic and a paddle on the beach, we head up the Napi valley for ‘Operation Sombre Tit’! We bump into one on the first stroll but as on previous days it is a frustratingly brief encounter. Further up the valley, we find a couple of Great Spotted Cuckoos and enjoy stunning views of Orphean and Supalpine Warblers, but no sign of an Olive Tree.

After a whole week of brilliant birding with solid blue skies and sunshine, it’s time to return to the airport, and I wonder why on earth I packed those waterproofs, and what on earth I have done with the car keys!


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