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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Bee Eaters and Black Headed Buntings in Samos,
Instead of our usual Spring guided bird tour we decided on a walking holiday in Samos this year with Inntravel (www.inntravel.co.uk). However, as it is just south of Lesvos, we decided to take the binoculars to see what birds we could find on the way on this under-birded island.
The earliest direct flight organised by Inntravel was May 5th from Gatwick, though you can go earlier if you go via Athens which might prove better for birding. Travel arrangements went smoothly with a charter from Gatwick and taxi transfer to find a warm welcome at the excellent Hotel Iro (00 30 22730 94013) in Platanakia, just next to Ayios Konstantinos on the north coast. Looking out from our balcony, we could already see several Red Rumped Swallows darting about the field opposite as well as Swifts, Barn Swallows and House Martins.
After the first of many Greek salads at a taverna we set off on the first of the walks for which Inntravel gave instructions. This short stroll of 5km wound up through the old village of Ano Ayios Konstantinos to a chapel on a hillside above the village and back. On the way up we were getting our ears tuned in to the warblers, but not identifying many at this stage, and noting some common birds such as Blue and Great Tits, Chaffinches, Jays and Hooded Crows which we then saw nearly every day. As we climbed up, several raptors were wheeling around the hills above. We were fairly complacent about this, thinking it was normal - whereas in fact we were never to see as many at once again for the rest of the week. They included about a dozen Eleanora's Falcons, a Short-toed Eagle, a Bonelli's Eagle and a couple of Peregrines.
Returning down, admiring several Swallowtail Butterflies and wild flowers on the way, we reached a stream near the village and spotted a somewhat bedraggled Sombre Tit in a nearby tree. We sauntered back along the line of tavernas towards the hotel, stopping for a beer in one and admiring an Audouin's Gull and a Yellow Legged Gull over the sea as we sat there. We briefly explored another stream at the back of the hotel and found a Common Sandpiper. The field to the front now also contained a couple of Yellow Wagtails (Feldegg Race).
Day 2 dawned bright and sunny and we set off on the recommended 11km walk entitled "The Valley of the Nightingales", though with a warning that they were few and far between. As we walked up a minor road next to a stream we heard a quick burst from a Cetti's Warbler as well as various other as yet unseen warblers. Reaching a vineyard en route to Manolates we finally came on a warbler which, after some patience, we were pleased to see was a Subalpine. A little later we also caught our first actual sight of the more common Sardinian Warbler which we heard regularly thereafter. The walk continued through Manalotes and across the Valley of the Nightingales (with none heard) to Vourliotes with the only real bird interest being a Common Buzzard. We walked down from here to the coast near Kampos. As we approached the coast we spotted an Ortolan Bunting and then heard but didn't manage to see an Olivaceous Warbler in dense Tamarisk behind the beach as we walked back to the Hotel.
Day 3's walk covered 9.5km and involved walking up above the village of Stavrinides reaching 650m, before returning via the small village of Ambelos. On the way up we heard our first Nightingale, of which we heard several in the week but never caught sight of one, and also saw a Long-legged Buzzard overhead. Once reaching the top we dropped down a little to a bend on a track near a stream and the area seemed rich in bird song. One melodic voice stood out from the rest and we finally spotted its origin - an Orphean Warbler singing out at the top of a favourite perch. We spent some time here admiring the view out to sea and watching the Swifts and Swallows when we noted that two of the swifts were Alpine Swifts. The walk returned down through Ano Ayios Konstantinos where we saw a Whinchat on top of a tree in the small square. Walking back along the promenade we saw a Shag flying over the sea as well as the Audouin's Gull again.
On the evening of Day 3 some heavy rain had fallen. However, we woke on Day 4 to sunshine but some remaining heavy cloud over the hills. This was the day we were to move on to the Hotel Astir (00 30 22730 33150 www.astirofsamos.com ) in Karlovassi, the 2nd largest town on the island, and we had booked the taxi for 8.30am. Looking through the window at breakfast we were delighted to see what was either a Golden or Imperial Eagle over the hills in the distance, but couldn't make out which, proving you should even take your binoculars to breakfast! Returning to our room to finish packing we were delighted to see a wave of 20 or 30 Bee-eaters pass over from the balcony. However, we had to drag ourselves away as our taxi had arrived.
By 9.30 we had received a warm welcome at the Hotel Astir and been allowed to check into our rooms before setting off on the 13.5km walk option that day. The walk directed us quickly through the streets to a river bridge where we spotted a Wood Sandpiper on a rock below. We left the town behind as we walked away from the river on a track through some vineyards. Glancing at some telegraph wires we spotted two Red Footed Falcons on them - a good start to the walk. Bee-eaters continued to be present in some numbers - perhaps having just arrived or a consequence of the bad overnight weather. As we walked up to the village of Lekka we passed a spot which contained at least six Spotted Flycatchers and a Red-backed Shrike. A Golden Oriole made a fleeting appearance and a Serin was heard and seen. After Lekka, the path headed through a beautiful area down towards a stream. A pair of Golden Orioles gave better views and we found a Woodchat Shrike. We had to wade across the stream before climbing up through woods to a track where we had our lunch with views out over the wooded hills. As we sat we were able to watch first two Common Buzzards and then a Griffon Vulture in the sky. We made our way on up to the tiny village of Nikoloudes, through areas devastated by fire a few years ago but quickly recovering. From here a path led back down to the coast in the afternoon heat, hearing a few Turtle Doves on the way, and bringing us out at the Bay of Potami, just west of Karlovassi. Just as we came to a road we noted a Blue Rock Thrush on a rock just off shore.
We returned to the hotel for a shower and a rest. While sitting on our balcony overlooking a vineyard we heard a persistent warbler in the bushes below and finally confirmed that it was an Olivaceous Warbler. As we sat there we also watched wave after wave of Bee-eaters pass over in batches of maybe 30 or so. Some congregated on wires to our left giving good views and hundreds of Swallows were also swooping over a field of corn. We decided to take a stroll in that direction before dinner and discovered that the tracks in that direction led to the river we had seen earlier. Seeing some other birds on the wires we took a closer look to find they were Black-headed Buntings. As we looked more closely we could see the bushes and vines underneath were covered with them - about 60-70 in all - real migration in action! On the wire too we noted a few Spanish Sparrows. Returning to the hotel we had a look at the swimming pool area and were delighted to both hear and see a Great Reed Warbler in the garden of the house next door. With this we went happily to an excellent dinner in the hotel.
On Day 5 we took a pre breakfast walk towards the river, but only seeing the same as the evening before. At breakfast the hotel owner had seen that we were interested in birds and let us see the Naturetrek itinery and bird list as they use his hotel as a base in Samos. They cover more habitats than we could and so had an extensive list of possible species. After breakfast, we set off on the 9km option from Karlovassi. This time we took a different route up to Lekka hearing Nightingales and Sardinian Warblers and seeing yet more Bee-eaters and a Red Backed Shrike on the way. At Lekka we had a beer in a taverna with a panoramic view back to Karlovassi. As we sat there we were fortunate to see a Honey Buzzard and then a Booted Eagle fly over. Things went quiet again in the afternoon as we headed back to the Hotel. We took an evening stroll again towards the river and added a Squacco Heron and a Lesser Gray Shrike to our list.
It was day 6 and time to move on again. This time we were to walk the 11km along the coast around the western tip of the island to Drakei, through an unpopulated area with no roads, while our luggage would be transported to our next hotel, the Hotel Kerkis Bay at Ormos Marthokambou on the south coast. At Drakei a taxi would be waiting at 4pm to take us to the hotel. We set off early at 8.30am. Things went well initially and as we walked back to the end of the road at the Bay of Potami we had found the Blue Rock Thrush again as well as a Northern Wheatear and Pied Flycatcher. However, at this point we had a slight navigational problem which took our minds off the birds for a while. The walk, however, was delightful, passing through the two remote beaches of Mikro and Megalo Seitani before climbing up in somewhat hot conditions to Drakei. Birds seemed few and far between however, until we were rewarded with our first sighting of a Ruppell's Warbler as we made the climb. At the top, Eleanora's Falcons were again visible. As we waited for the taxi in a convenient taverna with a good view at Drakei we watched a Short-toed Eagle go past.
The south coast of the Island is more touristy than the north, but the village of Ormos Marathokambou is a delightful fishing harbour. Inntravel suggested a walk for day 7, our last full day but left it optional as some might want to relax by the sea here. We decided to do the walk which required us to pay for our own taxi this time to the nearby village of Votsalakia. The driver took us to the end of the tarmac section at the start of the walk up Mount Vigla - the highest peak on the mountain at 1437m. However, Inntravel strongly recommend against going all the way up and suggest only going as far as the Convent of Evangelistria at 700m. At the beginning of the walk you see a sheer cliff face ahead and I might have hesitated if I had realised where the Convent was! We climbed up largely on a track seeing a Peregrine, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle and more Eleanora's Falcons on the way. After a considerable time in the increasing heat, the track ends and a path begins which seems to go up for ever until you finally reach the Convent now inhabited by only two remaining elderly nuns. The water from their spring was very welcome as were the little biscuits and dried fruit they offered to their visitors. We headed back down somewhat cooler than we went up and noted Spotted Flycatchers, a Long Legged Buzzard, another Ruppell's Warbler, an Olivaceous Warbler and a Goldcrest as well as the ever present Sardinian Warblers, common Tits and Chaffinches which went all the way up to the Convent.
The next day it was time to leave giving only time for a short stroll along the coast finding another Great Reed Warbler, Woodchat Shrike and Blue Rock Thrush as we went.
The total species seen was only 61 and no new species for us this time. However, this wasn't meant to be a birding holiday and I'm sure there is much more to see on this island if it is explored fully with your own transport. However, the best bird memories for me were the sheer numbers of Bee-eaters and Black Headed Buntings at Karlovassi