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|Monday 11th September 2006, 19:27||#1|
Join Date: Feb 2003
Lesvos, Greece 13th August - 1st September 2006
A flight departing just 2 days after the huge security alert in the UK would have been better avoided but we arrived in Lesvos early on the Sunday morning comparatively unfrazzled by the experience. The taxi journey from Mytilini to Skala Kalloni takes about 45 minutes and is pretty dull until about 10 minutes away from the village when you drive past the salt pans. Flamingos! Not just the odd one or two pink dots in the distance but hundreds of them, some quite close to the road. Even my determinedly non-birding wife and teenage children were impressed by the sight.
All my birding took place first thing in the morning and late afternoon and my first few trips were all done on foot. I soon tired of that and hired a bike for the rest of the trip which was perfect although obviously restricted to the few square miles around Skala Kalloni. It also had the unexpected result of making me very sore and therefore walk rather bow-legged for the entire stay. We did hire a car for a few days but I used this just once for a birding trip when I visited the Kruper’s Nuthatch site in Achladeri.
With the help of Richard Brooks’ book I established 3 routes which I would visit in turn:
1. west of the village which included the West River, the inland lake, the reservoir and the Potamia Valley
2. the Upper and Lower East River
3. the Salt Pans
Rather than do a day by day sightings diary I’ve split this report up into these 3 sections with a miscellaneous section for the rest.
1. The West River etc
It was the walk to and from the inland lake that finally made me rent a bike, possibly my best decision of the holiday as it allowed me to access all the interesting birding sites around Skala Kalloni without needing a car – and I hate birding by car!
The first point of interest on this route is the marsh at the mouth of the West River. I never actually ventured onto the marsh itself, just viewed it from the roadside. Up to 23 Stone Curlew were here for most of my visit, often surprisingly close to the road. On one occasion (18/8) a group of 7 White Storks circled high over here and eventually landed at the mouth of the river – my only record of White Stork during my stay. The west river landwards of the new road bridge was mostly quiet although Kingfisher and a surprise female Wigeon (29/8) were both found here.
A gentle pedal through about a mile of fields (a small flock of Spanish Sparrow at the beginning of the track) brings you to Kalloni inland lake – what a disappointment! Nothing but a mud puddle at this time of year the pool contained far more terrapins than it did birds. That said I did get fantastic views of a single Broad-billed Sandpiper here on one visit (25/8) and added several waders to my trip list – Black-winged Stilt, Wood Sandpiper, Little Stint. A flock of 9 Great White Egrets flying over (20/8) and Black Storks over on several occasions were the only other birds of note seen here.
The reservoir was a difficult site to visit early morning as with a low sun and reflection off the water the birds always seemed to be in silhouette. Grey Herons and Black Storks would patrol the water’s edge whilst many Little Grebe and Garganey were present throughout. The track around here was also a good site for Rock Nuthatch.
The track then heads through olive groves to the Potamia river. Goshawk, Sparrowhawk, Short-toed Eagle and Common Buzzard were all frequent around the rocky cliffs here and on one occasion Eleanora’s Falcon and Raven were seen. The river itself was dry up to the bridge but between here and the concrete wier ther were several freshwater pools which attracted a lot of smaller birds. Sombre Tit, Serin and Cirl Bunting were all regular visitors. I spent some time in this area searching for Masked Shrike and Olive-tree Warbler but was not lucky with either and can only conclude that they had left earlier in the month. Also common in the olive groves was Persian Squirrel and on one occasion I got fabulous views of an entirely unsuspecting Beech Martin.
On 20th I recorded perhaps the most unexpected bird of the trip here, a Tawny Owl calling mid-morning – presumably disturbed by the shooting that started today (Turtle Dove season, apparently).
2. The East River
The narrow spit of sand at the mouth of the river was the regular starting point for trips along the East river. Early morning it was usually occupied by Yellow-legged Gulls with the odd Grey Heron or Cormorant, but occasionally larger waders such as Avocet, Curlew and Greenshank were also present. Common Terns were also regular here but on one morning 4 Whiskered Terns perched on a dead tree branch and a few days later 3 Sandwich Terns flew past. Best bird though was a juvenile Slender-billed Gull which showed up during the final few minutes of my final trip on my final day! Near here, at the end of the main track where a lot of fly-tipping takes place, Rufous Bush Chat were regular (but only in the first week) and early one morning I disturbed 3 Short-toed Larks as I cycled by.
The river up to the ford was full of sea water but rarely any interesting birds. Green and Common Sandpipers were regular and one morning 2 immature Black Storks stopped for a short while. During the final week two fields of clover alongside the river were mown and this attracted huge numbers of birds, particularly Yellow Wagtail (feldegg, flava and flavissima) of which at least 200 were present one morning. Presumably attracted by insects and larvae revealed by the mowing all three Shrikes, Hoopoes (12 in one field on one occasion), an immature Cuckoo, Northern and Black-eared Wheatear and dozens of Whinchat were all present. Just beyond the lower ford were two tiny pools which, as they seemed to attract a lot of birds, were presumably freshwater. Cretzschmar’s Bunting were regular here and on one occasion 6+ Ortolans joined them. A Common Nightingale was frequent here in the first week and showed well. Inland from the ford the river bed was bone dry with shrubs crowding either bank – warblers were fond of this area but it was almost impossible to get good views of them. Common and Lesser Whitethroat were common in the first week, Willow Warblers in the final week and Olivaceous and Cetti’s throughout. A Great Reed Warbler showed well on two occasions and a Reed Warbler announced its presence once with a short burst of song. Another bird found here by song was a nightingale that still has me agonising over the ID. It showed well several times (17 & 21/8) – dull grey/brown mantle and wings with a rufous tail and a greyish breast band make me think it was probably Thrush Nightingale but I’m not confident enough to claim it. The song was brief and rather half-hearted, sounding a bit like a bored Blackcap.
Further up the river a group of 3 tall poplars provide an obvious landmark and a family group of Golden Orioles (adult male and female, and juvenile male) showed well there on 14th. Middle Spotted Woodpeckers were more often heard than seen but appeared to be common amongst the olive groves.
Beyond the road bridge at Arisvi things tended to be less exciting although a leaking tap a mile or so upriver provided a major point of interest for Cirl Buntings, Sombre Tit, Serin and Goldfinches, amongst others. This was also a ‘hotspot’ for Subalpine Warblers and Rock Nuthatches were common, their calls coming from all around. Blue Rock Thrush also put in appearance here with a fantastic male on my first visit and a female on my last.
3. The Salt Pans
This turned out to be my favourite bike trip and towards the end of my stay I was making the journey nearly every day. The most obvious residents are the Greater Flamingos which can be seen distantly from the main road but are best viewed early morning from the track at the eastern edge. Viewing the pans is actually quite frustrating as anything close is obscured by the banks and what can be seen is invariably distant. Many waders remained unidentified by me as they were simply too far away, even with a scope, to be seen sufficiently well.
After the flamingos (of which I calculated there were well over 500 present) Avocet were the most numerous with at least 200 birds. The most rewarding sighting however was of a White Pelican which was present throughout the final week of my stay and removed the dilemma of whether or not I could tick the tame pelican in Skala Kalloni!
The salt pans bird was extremely wary and favoured the far eastern corner of the pans which often made it difficult to find, despite its size. Little and Great White Egrets were common and Black Storks also favoured the eastern corner. Disappointingly I found no Purple or Squacco Herons, nor Glossy Ibis. On my final day 4 Spoonbill flew in from the south and settled amongst the flamingos. A single Ruddy Shelduck was present throughout and whilst easily spooked occasionally gave excellent views in the neighbouring fields. Small groups of Little and Common Tern were occasionally seen fishing, but I found no marsh terns here.
The track leading to the salt pans was rich with shrikes, warblers and wagtails. Corn Buntings were present in huge numbers and on several occasions I disturbed Tawny Pipit from the track. An Orphean Warbler on my very first visit didn’t reappear, neither did the Roller that a fellow English birder told me about – my only true dip of the holiday. Two ring-tailed Montagu’s Harriers were present for a few days over fields to the south of the salt pans from 25th.
The track eventually runs out in fairly barren fields to the south east where even the ubiquitous Crested Lark was hard to find. Northern and Black-eared Wheatear were occasionally disturbed and after I’d pretty well given up hope of finding one an Isabelline Wheatear turned up here on 30th. A rather lonely looking Stone Curlew was also here for a few days in my final week.
4. Other sites
Petrified Forest (22/8) – the vague hope of a late Cinereous Bunting here were momentarily boosted by the distant sight of a bunting in flight as I arrived at this unbelievable place. Unfortunately it didn’t reappear so I’ll have to try again sometime. Eleanora’s Falcon was seen twice on the drive up to the petrified forest and a group of 6 Chukar were flushed by some tourists at the bottom of the site.
Achladeri (23/8) – I wasn’t particularly hopeful of connecting with Kruper’s Nuthatch as I’d heard they could be hard to find outside the breeding season. I drove to the main site detailed in Richard Brooks’ book and walked up the main track. After about half an hour and a couple of false alarms caused by Short-toed Treecreepers I heard an unfamiliar, harsh call and headed through the trees towards it. The call continued and finally caught site of a small bird as it flew to the top of a dead pine a few yards from me. Unfortunately I was looking directly into the sun so had to spend several minutes edging around the tree constantly worrying that the bird would fly off. Eventually I was in a better position and sure enough, I’d found the island’s ‘star bird’. It posed perfectly, preening and still calling until flying off further into the woods. I made my way back to the car and heard birds calling from several locations and estimate that at least 3 birds were present.
Lesvos – Ayvaluk, Turkey (24/8) – a little over an hour by ferry from Mytilini is the Turkish town of Ayvaluk where a much vaunted ‘Bazaar’ is regularly held – be warned, bazaar in this case actually means ‘world’s largest car-boot sale’ so is well worth avoiding. I did manage to buy what I’m assured is a genuine Rolex Oyster for just E10 so perhaps it is worth the trip. From the ferry a small group of Yelkouan Shearwater and a single Cory’s provided a couple of ticks but I missed the group of Dolphin seen on the return journey.
Ayvaluk – Pergamon, Turkey (24/8) – escaping from the bazaar we took an hour long taxi trip to the ruins at Pergamon. Well worth the trip from an archaeological point of view ( a fantastic Acropolis without the busloads of Japanese tourists) but disappointing as far as birds were concerned. A series of salt pans did contain c100 Greater Flamingo and a Little Egret, however.
The final list for the 3 week trip stands at 123 species, listed below. I was hugely surprised that during my time in Lesvos I met just one other birder. In April/May time I was told by several locals (in terms of utter bewilderment, it has to be said) English birdwatchers are everywhere. August is certainly not the prime time to go birding here but as a family holiday with some birdwatching thrown in where possible I can’t think of anywhere I’ve been to beat this. My final morning was spent along the upper East River and by the dripping tap in the same binocular view I watched a Rock Nuthatch, a Cirl Bunting, a superb summer plumage Black-eared Wheatear and an Ortolan Bunting wait for their turn at the tap. A moment later a Short-toed Eagle flew low over ahead and then a female Blue Rock Thrush landed briefly before spotting me and fleeing. If I could take just one memory back from Lesvos with me, that would be it.
Little Grebe – 14 at New Reservoir throughout
Cory’s Shearwater – 1 from Mytilini – Ayvaluk ferry 24/8
Yelkouan Shearwater – 18 from Mytilini – Ayvaluk ferry 24/8
White Pelican – 1 on salt pans from 27/8 – 1/9 at least; ‘tame’ bird at Skala Kalloni harbour throughout
Cormorant – common at salt pans
Little Egret – 15+ at salt pans
Great White Egret – 8+ at salt pans; 9 over inland lake 20/8
Grey Heron – common at salt pans; 2-3 at reservoir regularly
White Stork – 2 over inland lake 18/8 then 7 landed at mouth of West River
Black Stork – up to 9 at salt pans; 2-3 regularly in flight over East River and inland lake
Spoonbill – 4 flew in to salt pans 1/9
Greater Flamingo – 500+ at salt pans throughout; small numbers occasionally in flight over Skala Kalloni, West River etc
Ruddy Shelduck – 1 at salt pans from 25/8
Mallard – 2 females at New Reservoir 18/8
Wigeon – 1 female on West River 29/8
Teal – 1 female at New Resrvoir with Garganey throghout
Garganey – c18 at New Reservoir throughout
Pochard – 2 at New Reservoir 18/8 and 29/8
Short-toed Eagle – 2-3 regularly over Skala Kalloni
Marsh Harrier – 1 female over Skala Kalloni 19/8
Montagu’s Harrier – adult male over Molivos 19/8; up to 2 ringtails over saltpan fields from 25/8
Common Buzzard – occasionally over Potamia valley
Goshawk – large female(s) on 3 occasions at East River and Potamia valley
Sparrowhawk – 1 male in Potamia valley 29/8
Kestrel – 1 female/immature chased by Peregrine 17/8
Eleanora’s Falcon – 2 on approach to Petrified Forest 22/8; 1 over Potamia valley 29/8
Peregrine – regular along East River
Chukar – 6 at Petrified Forest 22/8
Moorhen – c9 at inland lake throughout
Coot – 3 at inland lake throughout
Oystercatcher – 1 on salt pans 30/8
Avocet – 200+ at salt pans throughout; occasional singles at East river spit
Black-winged Stilt – 14 at inland lake to to 27/8; common on salt pans
Stone Curlew – c23 at West River salt marsh throughout; 1 at salt pan fields from 28/8
Little Ringed Plover – common on salt pans and at inland lake
Ringed Plover – 1 on salt pans 30/8
Kentish Plover – 2 on West River salt marsh 29/8
Dunlin – small numbers at salt pans throughout
Broad-billed Sandpiper – 1 at inland lake 25/8
Little Stint – 8 at inland lake 27/8; c30 at saltpans 28/8
Wood Sandpiper – 2-4 at inland lake throughout
Green Sandpiper – 4+ at inland lake throughout; 2-3 regularly at mouth of East River
Common Sandpiper – 2+ at inland lake throughout
Redshank – common at salt pans
Spotted Redshank – 1 at salt pans 15/8
Greenshank – 2-3 regularly at salt pans; 1-2 regularly on East River spit
Curlew – 2-3 on salt pans throughout
Common Snipe – 1 over salt pans 28/8
Ruff – 1 female at inland lake 18/8
Black-headed Gull - common
Slender-billed Gull – 1 juvenile with Black-headed Gulls at East River spit 1/9
Mediterranean Gull – 2 on sea off Skala Kalloni with Black-headed Gulls 15/8
Yellow-legged Gull - common
Little Tern – up to 6 fishing at salt pans 30/8
Sandwich Tern – 3 flew past East River spit
Common Tern – regular at East River spit and on salt pans
Whiskered Tern – 4 on East River spit 16/8
Collared Dove - common
Turtle Dove – regularly in Potamia valley
Common Cuckoo – immature in East River fields from 25/8
Tawny Owl – 1 calling mid-morning 20/8 above Potamia valley
Common Swift – 1 over Skala Kalloni 21/8 with Bee-eaters; 1 over SK 1/9
Alpine Swift – 1 high over Skala Kalloni 21/8
Hoopoe – regular in East River fields (12 on 31/8) and Potamia valley
Kingfisher – 1 along Skala Kalloni beach 14/8; 1 at West River 29/8
Bee-eater – frequent along East River (c70 on 17/8)
Middle Spotted Woodpecker – frequent in East River olive groves and Potamia valley
Crested Lark – everywhere!
Short-toed Lark – 3 by East River track 26/8
Sand Martin – occasionally along East River and Potamia valley
Crag Martin – occasionally in Potamia valley
House Martin – large numbers in Potamia valley
Swallow - common
Red-rumped Swallow – small numbers particularly in Potamia valley
Tawny Pipit – 5 over salt pans fields calling 15/8; 1-2 here from 27/8
Black-headed Wagtail (feldegg) – frequent all around Skala Kalloni
Blue-headed Wagtail (flava) - small numbers in East River fields from 25/8
Yellow Wagtail (flavissima) - small numbers in East River fields from 25/8
Nightingale – 1-2 regularly along East River
(Thrush Nightingale – possible along East River 17 and 21/8)
Rufous Bush Chat – 2-3 along East River track to 17/8
Northern Wheatear – common all around Skala Kalloni
Isabelline Wheatear – 1 on salt pans fields 30/8
Black-eared Wheatear – regular at Upper East River and Potamia valley
Whinchat – common all around Skala Kalloni
Stonechat – 1 near Kruper’s Nuthach site, Achladeri 23/8
Blue Rock Thrush – 1 male Upper East river 21/8; 1 female same site 1/9
Mistle Thrush – 1 heard at Kruper’s Nuthatch site, Achladeri 23/8
Blackbird - common
Blackcap – 1 female at East river 16/8
Orphean Warbler – 1 along track to salt pans 15/8
Lesser Whitethroat – frequent along East river to 17/8
Common Whitethroat – 2-3 along East river to 17/8
Subalpine Warbler – regular at Upper East river
Cetti’s Warbler – common along East river and at inland lake
Reed Warbler – 1 heard calling briefly along East river 15/8
Great Reed Warbler – 1-2 seen along East river 14 & 26/8
Olivaceous Warbler - common
Willow Warbler – increasingly common, particularly along salt pans track
Spotted Flycatcher – frequent at East river and Potamia valley
Great Tit – common in olive groves
Blue Tit – common in olive groves
Sombre Tit – regular at Potamia valley and Upper East river
Kruper’s Nuthatch – 1 at site in Achladeri 23/8
Rock Nuthatch – common at Upper East river and near new reservoir
Short-toed Treecreeper – 1 at Kruper’s |Nuthatch site, Achladeri 23/8
Red-backed Shrike – common all around Skala Kalloni
Woodchat Shrike – frequent along Potamia valley
Lesser Grey Shrike – common along East river
Jay – frequent in olive groves
Jackdaw – occasional flocks along East river ie c30 26/8
Hooded Crow - common
Raven – 1 over Potamia valley 25/8
Golden Oriole – 3 along East River 14/8
House Sparrow - common
Spanish Sparrow – c20 at start of track to inland lake 27/8
Chaffinch – common in olive groves
Linnet – 2 at East River 13/8; 2 Upper East river 1/9
Goldfinch - common
Greenfinch - common
Serin – 3-4 regularly at Potamia valley and Upper East river
Ortolan Bunting – up to 8 regularly along East river; 8 near inland lake 27/8
Cretzschmar’s Bunting – 2-3 regularly along East river
Cirl Bunting – frequent at Potamia valley, inland reservoir and Upper East river
Corn Bunting – large numbers along salt pans track throughout
|Tuesday 12th September 2006, 08:41||#3|
Join Date: Aug 2002
Location: Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, UK
Good report David. I must admit that I'd never considered Lesbos for a summer trip.
How hot & crowded was it?
|Tuesday 12th September 2006, 18:01||#4|
Join Date: Feb 2003
How hot & crowded was it?[/quote]
It did get a bit hot at times, particularly in the first week when it got into the 40s, but I restricted my birding to early morning and late afternoon to avoid the hottest times. By the final week things had cooled down considerably, mid to high 20s.
As for crowds, well, there weren't any. As far as birding was concerned I literally had the place to myself, running into another birder on just two occasions - completely different to spring, I gather. I did have a convoy of 4x4s sweep past me in a cloud of dust a couple of times which were apparently wildlife safaris - what a peculiarly grim way to look at nature! There were still quite a few tourists about, most seemed to be Dutch for some reason, but even the beach was half empty most of the time. Lovely place, fantastic birds - I'll be back!
|Tuesday 12th September 2006, 19:03||#5|
Join Date: May 2004
hardly any birders there in june either
compared to your list managed to see more of the breeding specialities like olive-tree and ruppell's warbler, masked shrike, cinereous bunting, but there were no migrants AT ALL....so quite jealous of stuff like lesser grey shrike, broad-billed sandpiper, golden oriole....
still, had a great time
if you're not bothered about the size of your trip list (mine was less than 100) lesvos 'out of season' is a really nice place to go birding
|Wednesday 13th September 2006, 09:36||#6|
Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: FIFE, SCOTLAND
I was there on family holiday in mid-august 2003 & early july 2004. Hot during the day but no great tourist crowds. I was amazed at the difference 5 weeks made in terms of range of birds -in early july managed Black-headed, Cretzschmar's & Cinereous Bunting, Masked Shrike & Olive-tree Warbler but few waders; in august got various waders (Temminck's & Little Stint, Wood, Green, Curlew & Broad-billed Sands) & all 3 marsh terns as well as a single Caspian tern though the buntings & Masked Shrikes had gone. I found it a great place for photographing birds but I only bumped into one other birder when there.
If you have to do a summer family holiday then Lesvos is the place.
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|Wednesday 13th September 2006, 10:15||#7|
Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: Epping Forest, NE London
Excellent trip report - Lesvos remains pretty high up my list of future birding destinations!
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|Wednesday 13th September 2006, 15:12||#8|
Join Date: Jun 2005
Certainly a good list of birds for August .I think more birders are doing Lesbos in the autumn now .I dont know if autumn is good as spring for migrants passing threw.But Speyside Wildlife do Spring and Autumn tours to Lesbos.I think Lesbos has taken over from Cyprus as a migration hot spot.The only trouble with Lesbos you might have about 5 or 6 Different bird holiday companies doing it at the same time in the Spring migration period .
|Wednesday 13th September 2006, 15:52||#9|
Join Date: Aug 2002
Location: Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, UK
Yep. I've been at Easter and besides it being blooming cold to begin with there was an amazing influx of birders in the second week. Talk about spring migrants!
Birding was great and the island lovely even in rotten weather so a jaunt in summer or autumn might be on the agenda.
|Thursday 14th September 2006, 19:04||#11|
Join Date: Mar 2004
Anyone considering a family trip in August should consider staying at Moilivos, we found SK deadly dull as david says it's very dry. Petra reservoir near Molivos always had water and there were a few other spots nearby I used to check regularly and Molivos is a truely beautiful village with excellent restaurants.
There's no doubt that this is not a particuarly good time to visit birdwise, but it is a fantastic family holiday destination, not at all over crowded and very relaxed and you can see some good birds.
Like all such places there's obviously a big difference between years for example I probably saw well over a 100 Cretzschmar’s.
|Friday 15th September 2006, 13:02||#12|
Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: West Yorkshire
Enjoyed reading your report David. We've made about 8 visits to Lesvos both in Spring & Autumn. We prefer Spring when there's more water about - and we really enjoy the company of other birders from whom we get good info on sites etc. But your bird list was excellent - well done. We always have a car from day 2 until we leave for the airport.
Did you walk up the river bank (East River?). When we were there in May this year a big heap of gravel had been dumped in the middle of the track as if work was going to start near where part of the bank had collapsed. I just wondered if you had noticed anything there David? Or will we have to find another way round the town next May? We like this route as it brings you out on the main road without going through Skala itself.
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|Friday 15th September 2006, 17:41||#14|
Join Date: Feb 2003
As James said the track along East River is now clear but there was some pretty serious looking earth moving machinery by the main road bridge. It wasn't in use whilst I was there so perhaps it was just a convenient parking place!
|Thursday 21st September 2006, 19:58||#15|
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Staffordshire Moorlands
Great report David
Have tried Lesvos in September myself (11th Sept 2001 of all times ).
I can guarantee you that you can add a substantial number of species
to that list by going first two weeks of May.
The influx of Birders just adds to the buzz - more eyes and ears!
This year there were additional rare migrants in the form of White Throated Robin, Issabelline Shrike and Spur Winged Plover, during the first two weeks of May.
Give it a try if you can.
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|Thursday 21st September 2006, 20:37||#16|
Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: West Yorkshire
Bet we ran into you at some point during that fortnight Mick although we missed w/t robin. We were at that site 2 or 3 times and had golden oriole in good numbers there. Spur winged plover showed itself just to me and nobody else on the field at the sea-end of the saltpans. Wasn't on my own for long once I beckoned others to see.
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