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Old Tuesday 24th March 2009, 19:12   #1
Andrew
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Lesbos, the Avian Jewel in the Aegean Sea. April 2008.

Friday 18th April 2008
Skala Kalloni. Lesbos.

The contrast between the busy Gatwick airport and the rudimentary Mytillini airport on Lesbos was endearing and greatly impressed me as an indicator of how enjoyable this holiday should be without the mass tourism of other resorts. There was just one runway and a small terminal building which the plane pulled up to as close as it could. You could kid yourself into thinking the staff were surprised a plane had even turned up. The best I witnessed during the coach transfer to Skala Kalloni was a couple of Blue Rock Thrushes. There was a two hour shift forward between Lesbos and back home but it did not take too long to get used to it.

After a decent breakfast this morning, we popped into Skala Kalloni to get a few things then I lazed on the balcony of our apartment in the Pasiphae Hotel. A few Spanish Sparrows were in some trees close to the balcony with some Hooded Crows a bit further out. Hooded Crow is the common corvid. Not a single Carrion Crow was seen during the next two weeks. Many Swallows, House Martins and Common Swifts were in the air and a flock of Squacco or Night Herons drifted past. This was the stuff, decent birds whilst lounging on the balcony in the sunshine.

In the afternoon I had a look at the River Christou also frequently termed by birders as the West River simply due to lying west of Skala Kalloni. Just outside the Pasiphae Hotel, there was a marshy pool with a large amount of reed and small trees known as Kalloni Pool. Some excellent birds were on it such as Wood Sandpipers, a Little Ringed Plover, smart black headed male feldegg Yellow Wagtails, a Squacco Heron, a drake Garganey and a Sedge Warbler. There were a couple of small colourful lizards with bright green stripes on their backs. My best guess is they were Balkan Wall Lizards. There were also several Stripe-necked Terrapins of various sizes and we were to see loads of these wherever there was water.

Yellow-legged Gulls, a Great Crested Grebe and some Common Terns were noted in the vast Kalloni Bay before turning west along the beach towards the river. A stray dog took pity on me and provided company all the way. Wherever I stopped to check some birds, it would stop and wait for me to start off again. I called him David for no particular reason. I went off the dog as soon as it stopped to wolf down some maggot ridden excrement. Understandably, I actively discouraged the dog from following me.

Birds seen on the river and saltmarsh were eight Wood Sandpipers, two Kentish Plovers, plenty of Crested Larks, several Corn Buntings, a Black Stork, a Great White Egret, four Ruff, a male Marsh Harrier and a Glossy Ibis. There was also a ringtail harrier species that was too far off on the other bank with a strong heat haze in between. It would probably have been a Montagu‘s Harrier but both Pallid and Hen Harriers can not be dismissed.

On the way back to the hotel, I got lost but it allowed me to enjoy watching a White Stork flying over. In the evening, we walked into Skala Kalloni again and negotiated a hire car for ten days from Sunday. It was a good first day with plenty of quality birds of which some posed really well for photographs. A few butterflies were also noted including Swallowtails, Clouded Yellows and some white species that were too mobile to identify.
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Old Tuesday 24th March 2009, 19:14   #2
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Saturday 19th April 2008
Skala Kalloni. Lesbos.

After breakfast, we walked out to the River Tsiknias east of Skala Kalloni. Kalloni Pool had some Squacco Herons and Wood Sandpipers. The river and surrounding arable fields were an avian goldmine. There was a wonderful lemon headed male Citrine Wagtail at the ford. A few birders came round to admire it. It was showing well enough to get some half decent pictures. Other birds seen were a female Marsh Harrier, a Black Stork, two Little Ringed Plovers, a female Sparrowhawk, two Whitethroats and three Eastern Olivaceous Warblers. There were plenty of butterflies too such as Scarce Swallowtail, Swallowtail, Eastern Bath White and a probable Spotted Fritillary.

An afternoon visit to the River Christou yielded two Great White Egrets, loads of Wood Sandpipers, four Little Stints, a Ruddy Shelduck, Black-winged Stilt, feldegg Yellow Wagtails and a Little Ringed Plover having a minor altercation with a Kentish Plover.

I had managed a few photographs today with the light being adequate and many birds confiding enough. At the end of the day, I spoke to a birder back at the hotel who had a good haul today courtesy of having the valuable mobility of a car. Many of what he saw would be new to me so I look forward to getting the car tomorrow.
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Old Tuesday 24th March 2009, 19:14   #3
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Sunday 20th April 2008
Ahladeri, Messa & Kalloni Saltpans. Lesbos.

We collected our car from Dimitris in Skala Kalloni straight after breakfast. It was a Daewoo Matiz at two hundred Euros for ten days. Not cheap but a lot less than the major car hire firms. It was not pristine but looked decent enough to get around. We would not worry about this car as much as we would with a brand new car from someone else.

Immediately, we drove eastwards round Kalloni Bay to Ahladeri with a target of seeing one of the islands lucrative specialities, a Krüper’s Nuthatch. After parking up in the shade, we set off for an exploratory walk around the pine wood. There were plenty of wonderful birds such as a Masked Shrike, four Short-toed Treecreepers, three Black-eared Wheatears, two Cirl Buntings, a Hobby, a Common Buzzard and a probable Lesser Kestrel.

All this was quite enjoyable but I was growing frustrated not having connected with the bird I came to see. After three or four hours of searching, there was one track left to search but I was thinking of heading away in defeat. I decided to have a look anyway and thankfully, at the top of the ascending track, there was a pair of Krüper’s Nuthatches bringing food to a nest in a pine tree stump of about five or six foot tall. I was so elated with this discovery. The birds were quite tolerant of me. I was able to get some reasonable photographs without causing any undue disturbance to the feeding process.

From here we returned towards Kalloni with a stop at Messa to scan a salt marsh also known as ‘Derbyshire’ simply because a granite outcrop reminds some birders of the Peak District. Birds noted were a Subalpine Warbler, Red-rumped Swallows, Ruddy Shelducks and Shelducks. There was a linear procession of hundreds of goats making their own way along the road then on to the salt marsh exposed by the falling tide for a feed. It was an amazing sight and went on for ages.

A brief visit to Kalloni Saltpans on the way back produced Yellow Wagtails, Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Greenshanks, three Whiskered Terns, a large flock of Flamingo and some Avocets.

An evening stroll down to Kalloni Pool was good for seeing a Great Reed Warbler. It was a satisfactory day today and with any luck tomorrow will be just as good as we will try to see a Cinereous Bunting.
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Old Tuesday 24th March 2009, 19:15   #4
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Monday 21st April 2008
Agias Ioannis, Parakila Marsh, Potamia Valley & Kalloni Saltpans. Lesbos.

The first venue of the day was Agias Ioannis near Parakila known for Cinereous Bunting. You need to park at the side of the road then climb up some steps to a picturesque little chapel. The easy ascent was illuminated by Cirl Buntings and Subalpine Warblers. We shared the cool shade of the chapel and it’s adjacent ‘cypress’ trees with two Canadian birders doing a two month tour of the Greek Isles.

A male Cretzschmar’s Bunting was singing close by from a fence. A Short-toed Eagle flew close overhead. A scan of the trees on the hillside to the left brought reward with a Western Rock Nuthatch preening in one of them. That was one of the target birds for this holiday. Whinchats, Black-eared Wheatears, Red-rumped Swallows and a female Sparrowhawk punctuated the patient search over close to two hours but we left without seeing any Cinereous Buntings.

A bit further west was Parakila Marsh which was a couple of lagoons with several small trees and bushes in them. There was an unfinished hide that offered a high vantage point over the lagoons. Birds noted were a Great Reed Warbler, some Reed Warblers, a Mute Swan, a few Mallards, a pair of Stonechats and a Cetti’s Warbler.

A pair of Black-winged Stilts went through an intricate and fascinating mating ritual. There was a lot of performance and fuss put into it but as soon as the deed was done they both carried on feeding as if nothing had happened.

Back towards Skala Kalloni, I stopped at the road bridge over the Potamia River for a stroll upriver. A Woodchat Shrike was the only obliging bird as the rest were frustratingly sulking little brown jobs in the riverside vegetation.

Next was the Potamia Valley. The road was a bit rough so I left the car in the shade and continued on foot. A pair of Sombre Tits were close to the track in some olive groves feeding some recently fledged youngsters. I tried my best for some pictures but they were too mobile. That was the second lifer of the day. Three Woodchat Shrikes, a Red-backed Shrike, two Masked Shrikes, a Little Ringed Plover, three Red-rumped Swallows and a Common Buzzard were also observed during the walkabout here before returning to the apartment for an afternoon siesta.

At four in the afternoon, we were out again to have a look at Kalloni Saltpans which was a fantastic place and outstandingly brimming with birds. This site is a large set of saltpans bordered by a quality tarmac track running alongside a wide moat like ditch around the western edge. The ditch was full of waders affording close examination and photography if you stayed in your car. At the end of the track, there are some seasonally flooded fields that birders call ‘The Sheepfields’. All around the saltpans are arable fields teeming with birds. At the entrance to this track is a small seasonal pool with some more decent waders. At the eastern side of the saltpans is another track, albeit very rough, with pretty much the same kind of birding. At the beginning of the eastern track is a small car park serving a tall wooden hide that overlooks the saltpans.

This evening, there were two Spotted Redshanks in their resplendent black summer plumage as well as several Black-winged Stilts in the entrance pool. From the western track, a scan of the saltpans revealed twelve Night Herons, four Little Terns amongst many other birds including a large Flamingo flock. With the sun behind us in the west, I was able to obtain some decent pictures of Black-winged Stilts using the car as a hide. The birds were only about fifteen metres away in the ditch and sometimes too close to frame wholly. Four stunning Red-throated Pipits were noted at the Sheepfields as well as thirteen Ruddy Shelducks. There was an influx of Yellow Wagtails as we had at least fifty birds of various races all around the car. A few more Red-throated Pipits, Crested Larks and Corn Buntings were also mingling with the flock.

Another birder advised us the dirt track cutting across the fields and River Tsiknias back to Skala Kalloni was okay but we found it too deeply rutted and rough. It was a relief to finally get out the other end intact. It was a waste of time too as I had to pay so much attention to the driving that I saw no birds.

A cold can of Mythos beer in the evening rounded the day off whilst I thought of seeing Rüppell’s Warblers tomorrow.
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Old Tuesday 24th March 2009, 19:15   #5
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Tuesday 22nd April 2008
Kalloni, Petra, Ahladeri, Messa & Kalloni Saltpans. Lesbos.

Today’s drive north to Petra today offered the very stimulating prospect of Rüppell’s Warbler. The first stop during the journey was a site just north of Kalloni known as ‘Scops Copse’ that held roosting Scops Owls. It was a small open area just off the road with what looks like a dilapidated sports court as well as a tavern and a small chapel. The Scops Owls regularly roost in a line of eucalyptus trees here but it took some time before I found one. The bird’s camouflage was phenomenal and it is astonishing how tiny they actually are. A tour group turned up and quickly found a second bird!

We moved on north into the high hills. I suppose they might technically be mountains but I would rather not exaggerate, the Alps they are not! High up, we stopped at a bandstand which is known for being a good raptor viewpoint with stunning views of Kalloni below us as well as Kalloni Saltpans. Our rewards here were a Common Buzzard, a Sparrowhawk, a Red-footed Falcon and a Kestrel species.

As we neared Petra, we found a Sunbird tour group parked up on a hairpin bend at Lafionas keenly studying something. Upon enquiry to the tour leader, Killian Mullarney, I was delighted to see it was a pair of Middle Spotted Woodpeckers excavating a nest hole in a very tall dead tree stump. I only saw it once but with too many people present for my liking we left with an intention of returning here on the way home. The artist Ian Lewington was also leading the Sunbird tour so the group members luckily had two ornithological luminaries at their disposal!

All the tarmac in Petra was being redone making for a very slow and bumpy ride on excavated roads of abruptly varying levels. It was comical and we thanked the possession of an old banger from Dimitris rather than a brand new car from one of the big hire firms. Taking the Molivos road brought us to a large lay-by overlooking some coastal scrub below where many other birders were also present hoping to see some Rüppell’s Warblers.

It was awfully windy so I did not think my too much of my chances. One or two had been seen in short flights as well as perched for mere seconds by a few birders over a very long period so it seemed to me that all I had to do was be quite patient. The vigil was highlighted by a terrific bonus. A male and a female Eastern Orphean Warbler obliged with the male perching on a wire fence below for a few minutes. That was an effortless tick in the bag. This is a wonderful island! Two Blue Rock Thrushes also performed for the small crowd.

The Sunbird group had also been here for some time but as soon as they made a tactical decision to move on, a male Rüppell’s Warbler made a few elusive appearances before perching on top of a bush giving splendid views for about twenty seconds. About four or five of us were whooping with delight. Killian looked to me and got my thumbs up gesture before raising his arms to his clients to declare “c’est la vie” before bidding farewell.

I was on a real high with delight now and left without remembering to check out some Subalpine Warblers above the lay-by. We returned to Lafionas to enjoy watching the Middle Spotted Woodpeckers before carrying on back to Kalloni. The woodpeckers had a fabulous head of shocking red spiky hair on a par with Jonathan Ross’s wife, Jane Goldman.

Back at Kalloni, we had much of the day left and revisited Ahladeri so I could get some better photographs of the Krüper’s Nuthatches but the young had fledged already. All was not lost as there was another well watched nest back at the car park. The camera’s battery died on me when I had the female perched on the nest entrance begging to have a photograph taken with the evening sun shining on her. There were loads of interesting flowers in Ahladeri pine woods providing an appreciable distraction. It didn’t matter that we did not know what they were. The variety of shapes and colours they came in was ample.

On our way back to Skala Kalloni we stopped at Messa where the tide was coming in but our best was a single Marsh Harrier. Kalloni Saltpans were much better with an elegant Marsh Sandpiper and two summer plumaged Spotted Redshanks on the entrance pool. A Short-toed Lark was new from the Sheepfields. The salt pans held the usual birds such as Whiskered Terns, Little Terns, Black-winged Stilts, Flamingos, Great White Egrets, Avocets, etc.

It was an absolutely delightful day’s birding. The only blemish was seeing John Arne Riise heading in a bizarre own goal at the end of the match against Chelsea at Anfield during the European Cup semi final first leg match. That levelled the score at one each and give us it all to do at Stamford Bridge next week! The company of a Brummie bloke in the lounge getting sloshed on Ouzo whilst watching the match was amusing though. I stuck to the Mythos lager but it was just as awful as the Ouzo! Like Greek Stella Artois, ghastly but does the job when cold enough not to taste it.
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Old Tuesday 24th March 2009, 19:15   #6
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Wednesday 23rd April 2008
Kalloni Saltpans, Napi Valley & Skala Kalloni. Lesbos.

During breakfast, I learned that some Slender-billed Gulls were at Kalloni Saltpans early this morning from the Eastern hide. This was a target species for me so we wasted little time getting ready and going straight there. Fortunately, three of them were still present. They were way out in the middle of the large saltpans but discernable enough to enjoy. That was a tick in the bag already with a whole day ahead of us. Other notables seen here were a Black Tern, four Black Storks, a Stone Curlew and a Short-toed Eagle.

The destination of the day was the Napi Valley and it was a really delightful place that provided a relaxingly slow paced drive with several stops to explore and laze about in the sun. It was as pleasant as the Diarizos Valley in Cyprus. We enjoyed lunch in the shade of an olive grove. The appealing birds noted were two Rock Nuthatches coming to a distant nest viewed with the scope, two Middle Spotted Woodpeckers together, Subalpine Warblers, Black-eared Wheatears, Cirl Buntings and Whinchats. Butterflies were rather elusive with most refusing to settle long enough for identification. I did manage an Eastern Festoon but it was very worn and transparent with hardly any colour scales left on it.

On the way back, we paused in the village of Agia Paraskevi to enjoy an ice cream. This is a nice village to stop for a bit in as the concept of time is not so strictly applied here and everyone seems pretty laid back and friendly.

Early in the evening, a Nightingale was singing in the trees opposite the balcony and showed really well when you managed to locate it amidst all the foliage. It continued to sing there each evening for the rest of the holiday and was possibly joined by another bird now and then.

A Red-throated Pipit was by the River Christou and almost gave itself up for a good photograph. A Great White Egret, some Wood Sandpipers and Crested larks also obliged.

After some advice from the ever so supportive Steve Dudley, we decided to visit Ipsilou Monastery and the west of the island with the promise of lifers galore tomorrow.
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Old Tuesday 24th March 2009, 19:15   #7
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Thursday 24th April 2008
Ipsilou, Faneromeni & Sigri. Lesbos.

Two Nightingales were showing well this morning before our drive up into the hills and eastwards to Ipsilou Monastery and on to Sigri. A couple of random roadside stops produced Turtle Doves, Cirl Buntings and a Hoopoe.

After Andissa we stopped at the road junction for Eresos and Sigri just before the road climbs up to the monastery. This is a reliable spot for Isabelline Wheatears and we effortlessly saw at least four. That was the first tick of the day. Quite a few bird tour groups were here so we moved on to stay ahead of the pack intending to look at the Isabelline Wheatears again on the way back.

Up at Ipsilou Monastery, I parked at the bottom and walked up the right hand track. I only had to go about three or four hundred yards and connected with the two main target birds. These were the Cinereous Buntings and the Rock Sparrows, five of the former and four of the latter. There was a good backing cast of Cretzschmar’s Buntings, Black-eared Wheatears, Crag Martins, Pied Flycatchers, Blue Rock Thrushes, Blackcaps and one or two Northern Wheatears.

With the tour groups catching up, we moved on again towards Sigri. On Lesbos, the birding is so good that it attracts a large number of birders and it can get rather crowded now and then. There is the advantage of more bird news being passed around but it is difficult to find a spot to yourself.

We paused in the coastal village of Sigri for a snooze and an ice cream. It was a charming place with rows of Octopi hung outside the restaurants to dry.

Just north of the village is a productive spot called Faneromeni Ford known for Rufous Bush Robins but it is a bit early for them unfortunately. There were several fields, a near dried up water course and a small bay to explore here.

By wandering into the cereal fields, I was lucky enough to bag another lifer, three Long-legged Buzzards cruised right overhead. After being unsure whether I had seen one or not a few times during this holiday and in Cyprus, these birds showed they are really distinctive after all. Rather long winged.

Some large and vibrant Balkan Green Lizards were sunbathing on rocks. Other birds worth a mention from here were Bee-eaters, two Masked Shrikes, Little Ringed Plover, Spanish Sparrows, Red-rumped Swallows, Rock Doves and a Golden Oriole. One of the Masked Shrikes was quite tolerant of me and I was able to get quite close and for some nice pictures.

After a invigoratingly cold paddle in the sea we returned to Sigri to watch Lesser Kestrels over the village. I had seen a few ‘Kestrels’ so far but not well enough to tick Lesser Kestrels so these birds were really appreciated.

On the long winding drive back to Skala Kalloni, we paused at the Sigri Eresos junction and had the place to ourselves to enjoy the Isabelline Wheatears again. There was a Cretzschmar’s Bunting posing for photographs quite close to the car here. Another Cretzschmar’s Bunting was perched on a fence a foot away from the car window on the way back. It took off before I could get my camera switched on though.

It had been an amazing day with the Isabelline Wheatears, Cinereous Buntings, Rock Sparrows, Long-legged Buzzards and Lesser Kestrels all being new for me. Today was a hard day to beat and left me satisfyingly tired.
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Old Tuesday 24th March 2009, 19:16   #8
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Friday 25th April 2008
Metochi Lake, Kalloni Saltpans & Ahladeri. Lesbos.

I slept fitfully and was up at quarter past four this morning so I nipped out to check Kalloni Pool at dawn. The best bird on offer was a Water Rail. I thought being up so early meant I would have the place to myself but it was crawling with birders clad top to toe in de rigueur khaki. There is no escaping them on this island!

After breakfast we started with a look at the River Christou. The Red-throated Pipit was still present and I almost got a good picture of one of a male feldegg Yellow Wagtail. Two Wood Sandpipers were on a small flood pool and, with care, I was able to creep close enough to get some nice pictures.

Next was Metochi Lake (Kalloni Inland Lake). The track from the main road to the lake was surprisingly of a good nature. The lake itself was also good for birding with many Reed Warblers, a Spotted Flycatcher, a Great Reed Warbler and an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. Both European Pond Terrapins and Stripe-necked Terrapins were also present in good numbers. Yesterday’s long journey meant the water had disappeared from the car and the engine overheated. Shamefully on Dimitris, there was no coolant in the water at all. I got enough water together in some half empty bottles at the back of the car to fill it up as soon as it was safe to remove the radiator cap.

The afternoon was spent back at the apartment having a siesta and reading prior to venturing out to Kalloni Saltpans. The two Spotted Redshanks were still on the entrance pool with two Marsh Sandpipers and three Temminck’s Stints. There were loads of Ruff in the channel around the saltpans with at least thirty nine in all. Many of them were very close to the car affording some decent photographs. Three Little Stint and several Wood Sandpipers also obliged. A Green Sandpiper flew up the channel and was the only one seen during the holiday. From the hide overlooking the eastern end of the saltpans we could see eight White-winged Black Terns and a huge flock of thirty three Curlew Sandpipers of varying plumage stages.

After this we visited the pine woods at Ahladeri where there was a Long-eared Owl close to a nest with two visible youngsters in it. There were loads of tour groups here to see these owls so we left to bird another track close by. We had the place to ourselves except a few army trucks passing now and then. An Osprey flew over, a Serin was a surprising sight, a pair of Black-eared Wheatear offered themselves for photographs and a probable Southern Grayling species was basking on the stony track.

We returned to the picnic car park hoping to see the Long-eared Owls again with most other birders having gone back for their evening meals. The adult was no longer present. The Krüper’s Nuthatch showed infrequently in the nest tree within the car park. Two Masked Shrikes were on wires also in the car park.

On the way home we cruised along the saltpans channel again with the sun coming from behind us and lighting up the Ruff, a Marsh Sandpiper and a Wood Sandpiper impeccably for photographs until my camera battery died. We walked out to Skala Kalloni’s village square hoping to see a Barn Owl at dusk but came away empty handed.
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Old Tuesday 24th March 2009, 19:16   #9
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Saturday 26th April 2008
Platania & Kalloni Saltpans. Lesbos.

An Olive-tree Warbler had been showing for a few days in an olive grove on a ridge high above the Napi Valley. This ridge appears to be named by some birders as Platania but that name does not show on my map. I got some very helpful and specific directions to this bird from Steve during breakfast and we headed straight there.

I was warned the track was ‘rough’ but that I should manage it. It certainly was rough enough to be part of an off road driving adventure course but the draw of a quality tick such as Olive-tree Warbler was too much for me to refuse and I took on the challenge of the track. After two or three kilometres of slowly inching along the ridge track, the car overheated again. The water was bubbling furiously in the engine. We parked up as best as we could to let it cool and walked on to the site.

It did not take too long to reach a cattle grid where we were told to walk down into an olive grove on the left towards a patch of grass flattened by a few birders in the previous days. At least four Masked Shrikes and fifteen Golden Orioles had entertained me during the half an hour I spent searching for the exact spot. After approximately quarter of an hour I hit the jackpot. The Olive-tree Warbler did a circuit of the trees around me. It was a quality bird to see and a relief to know the trouble getting here was not in vain.

We returned to the car to find it was still hot. All we could do was rest to allow it to cool before filling it up with some more water. A scan of the skies from here produced six Short-toed Eagles and two Long-legged Buzzards. Due to our elevated position up on the ridge the birds were excitingly close. We cautiously paused half way back along the ridge to the main road to avoid overheating the car again. This afforded me another little exploration which yielded a Sombre Tit, a Hoopoe and a Woodchat Shrike. Once at the main road, I returned to the Rock Nuthatch nest site found last time but never saw the bird.

Kalloni Saltpans rounded the day off. A Marsh Sandpiper, a smart summer plumaged Wood Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilts and Temminck’s Stints were on the entrance pool. More waders posed for the camera in the perimeter channel including lots of Ruff and some Wood Sandpipers.

At the sheep fields, there was a very obliging Black Stork close to the track with many birders taking photographs but the star birds were some Collared Pratincoles out on the fields. This was a tick for me. They were distant but showed well for quite a few birders before a passing falcon panicked them. This allowed us to see there were seven of them as they flew over towards the saltpans. For me they looked much better in flight than on the deck although they do look good either way. On the drive back to the main road, we had a Montagu’s Harrier quartering the fields to the west of the saltpans.
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Old Tuesday 24th March 2009, 19:16   #10
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Sunday 27th April 2008
Metochi Lake, Apothikes, Agra & Parakila. Lesbos.

We started the day at Metochi Lake ahead of a drive westwards along the coast with the intention of visiting the Taviri ford. A ditch running by the lake had two Little Bitterns and a few warblers. At least ten Whiskered Terns were flying around the lake and often coming very close which was a real delight. There were a lot of birders present which encouraged us to move on. I hoped to look at Parakila Marsh and Devil’s Bridge next but these too were occupied by more birders which was very frustrating.

We pulled off the main road and took a metalled track cutting through a rocky lunar landscape to the coastal village of Apothikes. A Long-legged Buzzard was seen during a brief stop at a lay-by as was a Red-backed Shrike. The village itself was uninteresting with a Spotted Flycatcher in a garden being the best I could find.

The rocky hills directly above Apothikes were fantastic though with a family party of at least seven Rock Nuthatches. They led me a merry dance as I followed them all over trying to gain some photographs. Thankfully, I did manage some.

Other interesting birds here were Black-eared Wheatears, Cretzschmar’s Buntings and Alpine Swifts. There were also many fascinating spiders of various sizes. One large species in particular drew my attention but I didn’t dare do any more than just taking pictures of them!

Carrying onwards, we came to Agra and were faced with a dauntingly steep climb. We thought it was best stop here with the fragility of the car in mind. Sky-watching from here yielded four Short-toed Eagles and a Long-legged Buzzard. Whilst exploring an olive grove I flushed a snake in the long grass. It gave me a bit of a fright at first despite knowing that snakes are afraid of us. The human subconscious fear of snakes leads our instinctive reaction and overpowers common sense.

On our way back to Kalloni a female Red-footed Falcon was hunting for insects from a wire close to the road. Just past the Apothikes junction there was a Roller perched very close to the car.

We stopped at Parakila for a walk alongside a river running into the sea. This produced two Short-toed Eagles and a Turtle Dove. A Whiskered Tern and two Squacco Herons were at Parakila Marsh and a bit further on towards the Potamia River, a male Black-headed Bunting was added to the trip list.

Expecting Metochi Lake to be less busy now, we had another look. There were still lots of birders and they were looking at the same spot as this morning. I was now greatly intrigued. Upon enquiry, I was excited to find they were all watching a Baillon’s Crake! It had been there all day and I almost missed out on it. It showed really well as it fed on the reedy edges of the lake but my camera battery had died.

We left for our tea and to recharge the battery then returned in the evening but there was no sign of it at all. A Little Crake made up for the disappointment a bit though. On the way back to the main road, we had two more Rollers on wires close to the track but slamming my foot on the brakes and the ensuring cloud of dust and crunching gravel flushed them off. The Baillon‘s was yet another tick.

The good birding continues unabated.
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Old Tuesday 24th March 2009, 19:16   #11
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Monday 28th April 2008
Kalloni Saltpans, Messa & Skala Polohnitos. Lesbos.

Starting the day at the Kalloni Saltpans ‘sheep fields’ was good for some nice pictures of a confiding Red-throated Pipit as well as eight Short-toed Larks, a Gull-billed Tern, two Marsh Harriers, a Short-toed Eagle, a Fan-tailed Warbler, two Black Storks, at least six Kentish Plovers, a Bee-eater and a female Citrine Wagtail. Two Marsh Sandpipers and two Spotted Redshanks were still on the entrance pool.

A scan of the saltmarsh at Messa was only good for two Ruddy Shelducks. From here we travelled eastwards round Kalloni Bay to the saltpans at Skala Polohnitos. There was little water in the saltpans but some Temminck’s Stints were close to the perimeter track. Using the car as a hide, I got some nice pictures. This place provided a fair few decent birds such as Little Ringed Plovers, Kentish Plovers, a Whiskered tern, a Black Stork, two Purple Herons and three feldegg Yellow Wagtails.

On the way home we briefly called into Kalloni Saltpans. Two Little Stints were in the channel, three Gull-billed Terns and a Tawny Pipit were at the ‘sheep fields’.
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Old Tuesday 24th March 2009, 19:16   #12
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Tuesday 29th April 2008
Ipsilou, Faneromeni & Meladia Ford. Lesbos.

Today’s plan was Ipsilou Monastery and Sigri with a return along the coastal dirt track to visit Meladia Ford. The hope was some of the recent bounty of migrants remaining. On the drive to Ipsilou, a few stops got us a Sombre Tit, a Long-legged Buzzard, a Cirl Bunting, Red-rumped Swallows as well as the Isabelline Wheatears just before Ipsilou.

It was very windy up at the monastery so I concentrated on the sheltered side with Thrush Nightingale and Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler in mind. Unfortunately, I only managed a slim possibility of a Bonelli’s Warbler but there were loads of decent migrants to see anyway. I also got some pictures of the same Cinereous Bunting as last time. The highlights were an Eastern Orphean Warbler, Rock Sparrows, Blue Rock Thrushes, four Cinereous Buntings, Crag Martins, Wood Warblers, Blackcaps, Black-eared Wheatears, a Red-backed Shrike and a male Black-headed Bunting.

From here we drove straight to Faneromeni Ford as a Great Snipe had been there a few days now. There were several birders at the ford with none of them appearing to have seen the bird as well as two coming down the partly dried up river bed. I just felt that all the birders present had not put any decent effort looking for the bird so I had a look upriver myself despite many saying they had ‘covered’ it.

A woman was coming down the river with a flock of sheep. Unintentionally, I made the sheep turn and return upriver. About three hundred yards up from the ford, the sheep flushed a snipe species with a very obvious white tail. My heart raced, it was the Great Snipe!

I had a rough idea of the exact spot in the margins where it landed. Despite looking up and down the bank inch by inch, I couldn’t see it again. All the birders at the ford had left but I waved two Yorkshire birders up. Collectively, we still could not relocate it.

I volunteered to flush it with their agreement. I rolled my trousers up and walked the shallow pool at the margins whilst tapping the growth lightly with a thin branch. Instead of flushing the bird I actually came across it looking at me from the margins. It was crouching and ready to fly up. I froze and beckoned the birders closer. We all had stunning views of it.

My scope and camera was further downriver and I did not want to risk flushing it by moving. It was only ten feet away and staring at me. Eventually, it did fly up to show off it’s white tail again. Thankfully, one of the Yorkshire birders got a photograph and promised to post me a copy. That was another tick in the bag. Other interesting birds seen here were three Bee-eaters, at least three Little Bitterns, a White-winged Black Tern on the way back to Sigri where there were two Lesser Kestrels.

After an ice cream we took the dirt track along the coast to Meladia Ford where there had been a Thrush Nightingale for a few days now. Halfway there, a Little Owl was on a small farm building. Meladia Ford was a small green oasis in the middle of a barren landscape which is why it pulls in the migrants.

A birder told me where the Thrush Nightingale had been showing, a couple of solitary trees about fifty yards apart. I studied them in vain for a couple of hours and saw no sign of one. It had moved on. Good birding was still available though. An exploration of this area saw two more Bee-eaters, at least four Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, a male and a female Barred Warbler, four Black-headed Buntings, two Lesser Kestrels, a Purple Heron, a Long-legged Buzzard, two Sombre Tits and a Red-backed Shrike.

I had not been paying much attention to butterflies this holiday as the birding has been too busy but I think I may have seen an Oberthür's Grizzled Skipper here. The rest of the drive to the main road at Eresos was slow and hairy. Once at Eresos, we took a wrong turn and ended up going the long way round back to Skala Kalloni via Vatoussa and Skalohori. It was a highly rewarding day with the Great Snipe being an exciting bird to relocate. Sadly, we had to return the car to Dimitris this evening.
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Old Tuesday 24th March 2009, 19:16   #13
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Wednesday 30th April 2008
Skala Kalloni. Lesbos.

This was our last full day and we took it very easy and lazily. A few Squacco Herons were on Kalloni Pool as were some Wood Sandpipers. A fat naked elderly man was on the beach exercising enthusiastically, the star jumps were hilarious.

Two or three hours were spent on the River Christou mainly taking photographs and lazing about in the sun. I still managed a new bird for the trip, a Common Sandpiper was at the bridge between the upper and lower river sections. I also obtained some impressive video footage of a Marsh Harrier rising out of the grassy marsh as well as photographs of a Little Ringed Plover and a confiding Wood Sandpiper. Birds noted around the river were an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, a nesting Kentish Plover, feldegg Yellow Wagtails, two Alpine Swifts, a Black Stork, a Gull-billed Tern, a Whiskered Tern and a Red-throated Pipit.

On the way back to the apartment, I had another look at Kalloni Pool and there was a Ferruginous Duck which was another new bird for the trip. Even without a car on the last day, I still managed a new bird each day which demonstrates how wonderful the birding is on Lesbos.

We slept and read most of the afternoon away before rounding off the holiday with an evening meal in the village. Unfortunately, the day ended on a sour note late in the evening as I watched Liverpool crash out of the European Cup semi final against Chelsea.

We head home tomorrow morning and it is depressing to have to do so. This has without a doubt been one of the best birding holidays I have ever been on. Lesbos has furnished me with no less than sixteen new birds. A hundred and thirty two species were recorded in the two weeks without once ever thinking of actively chasing a big list but instead concentrating on seeing birds that were new to myself.

Lesbos gets a solid ten out of ten!
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Old Tuesday 24th March 2009, 21:59   #14
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Fantastic trip report Andrew, and some great photos as well!

My Dad and I go out to Lesvos on 23rd April, and can't wait - the list of what you saw has just served to confirm what a great birding destination the island is...
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Old Wednesday 25th March 2009, 10:11   #15
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Nice one Andrew. Shows just how difficult it can be to separate Black-headed Bunting and feldegg Yellow Wagtail (see pics in post 11).
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Old Wednesday 25th March 2009, 21:25   #16
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"fat naked elderly man was on the beach exercising enthusiastically"

I didn't think anybody was watching!

Great report and pics very much a great place. We followed you in on the first of May 2008 and it has been interesting seeing the birds about just before we arrived

Thanks for the effort of the report.
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Old Thursday 26th March 2009, 07:11   #17
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Excellent report Andrew, brought back memories of our visits.

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Old Thursday 26th March 2009, 12:12   #18
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Hi Andrew

A great report mate and as someone there on the island at the time mself, you have captured the feel of the place last spring really well. I've added it to my reports page on www.lesvosbirding.com.

You show what you can pull out of an area if you stay put for a good while (e.g. your two Barred Warblers at Meladia on 29/4) rather than a quick scan and off like most birders do.

Did you get a photo of your Oberthür's Grizzled Skipper? Not recorded on the island (or any of the Aegean islands) to the best of my knowledge but its supposed to occur in nearby Turkey.

Be good to see you back out there again Andrew.
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Old Thursday 26th March 2009, 19:06   #19
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Thanks everyone for the kind words.

Steve, sadly no pics of the butterfly. This trip was so good bird wise that against my habits I neglected the butterflies which are one of my favourite bits of a trip abroad. Oberthur's was a casual assumption based on it being printed in some literature. What is the nearest looking species you think it would probably have been?

I would one day love to return but there are so many places to do. It is Coto Donana this spring for me. I have a soft spot for the southern Iberian coast now but the Greek islands still are a draw. I actually think the best thing about the Greek Islands is the seriously hot afternoons that force you to retreat to the cool shade of a wood and take a nice relaxing siesta before getting back into birding on the way home.
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Old Thursday 26th March 2009, 19:25   #20
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I prefer the surrounds of a one of my favourite tavernas, a constant stream of seafood dishes then maybe a wee snooze before hitting the field again late afternoon.

The skipper - no grizzled skippers occur on the island (at least I've never seen any or seen them listed on any sources I trust). The most likely is the 'grizzled-type' Orbed Red-underwing Skipper which I have seen across the island.
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Old Thursday 26th March 2009, 19:30   #21
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Amazing trip there Andrew, I'd say a lot of luck, but the reality is you did the work, you got the results, brilliant.
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Old Thursday 26th March 2009, 19:34   #22
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The only luck Andrew had was that he chose the best spring in many years to come to Lesvos. Other than that, Lesvos really is that good!
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