Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Lesvos - Jewel of the Aegean

29th April - 6th May 2010

Trip Report by Richard Palmer

April 29th :- We all met up, with each other and Steve, at Mytilini airport. It had been a long day (some of us travelling halfway around the world!) and we were pleased to be greeted by late afternoon sunshine. Steve ushered us a little south down the coast to where a returning fishing boat was attracting a cloud of Yellow legged Gulls and over 100 Scopoli’s Shearwaters – a superb first bird for the trip. There were sightings of Black Storks and Black winged Stilts as we drove across the island to our base at the Hotel Pasiphae at Skala Kallonis. Over a fine dinner (the first of many!) at the nearby Taverna Dionysos we all introduced ourselves and ate and drank well before retiring.

April 30th :- We rose to a beautiful morning before heading down to the pinewoods at Achladeri for our first
real Lesvos birding. A short walk took us to a Krüper’s Nuthatch nest site in a pine stump. After a welcome from a fine Masked Shrike, the nuthatches appeared to order and we had great views of both
male and female and, later, a second pair. Further into the wood we saw Short toed Treecreeper, Cirl
Bunting
and two hunting Long legged Buzzards. Driving on to Dimitrios and a site Steve had found for breeding Middle spotted Woodpecker. The nesting birds regularly appeared with food brought to a hole high in a dead poplar. Agi found a Grey Wagtail and we notched new site records for Wren and a rare European dragonfly, the Odalisque. Lunch was enjoyed in a beachside taverna looking over the Gulf of Kalloni before mogving on to Mesa wetlands and Kalami Marsh. Notable sightings here included 20 Ruddy Shelduck, 50+ Whiskered Terns, several Black Storks, at least 9 Squacco Herons, 2 Purple Herons and a superb male Black eared Wheatear. A short drive to vast Kalloni Saltpans and, again, heaps of birds! – including our first Greater Flamingos, Avocets, Kentish Plovers, Ruff and Wood Sandpipers. Chris found a bunting sitting in an isolated patch of juncus and, surprisingly, it turned out to be a male Ortolan! Not exactly typical habitat. At the flood opposite the saltworks entrance we were rewarded with close views of Glossy Ibis, Garganey, Gull-billed Terns and an incoming migrant flock of 65 magnificent White winged Black Terns. At the Alykes Wetlands we walked over dried out seasonal flooded fields which gave us the photo opportunity of the day as a Black Stork circled low right above us. Around the grasslands we found at least 3 Red throated Pipits, 20+ Short toed Larks, Black headed Wagtails and a Lesser Grey Shrike. Our short return journey to the hotel featured a Lesser Kestrel, Red footed Falcon and a perched Long legged Buzzard. What a superb days birding!!

May 1st :- After breakfast, we set off for the rugged, barren west side of the island and, after a brief stop for
a Chukar, we reached the Lardia Valley with Crag Martins and Rock Sparrows and our first Cretzschmar’s Bunting – a new bird for most of the group. On the mountain road at Vigla we stopped for brilliant views of 9 Red footed Falcons on power lines. Wheatear species then came thick and fast with Black eareds, Northerns and, best of all, the very pale (and localised breeder) Isabelline. As we approached the renowned Ipsilou Monastery, in superb warm sunshine, reptiles were much in evidence - Balkan Green Lizard, the charismatic Agama Lizard and a delightful baby Spur thighed Tortoise found by Jane at the roadside. Back to birds and we glimpsed Western Rock Nuthatch and Woodchat Shrike before Steve found our main target, a singing male Cinereous Bunting – a bird restricted in Europe to only three Greek islands, and Lesvos holding around 95% of them! Nearer the monastery Black headed Bunting and Sombre Tit were added to the list together with plentiful migrants – Red rumped Swallow, Wood Warbler, Hoopoe, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers. Near the summit, Chris spotted two Golden Orioles and we also added Little Owl. Lunch was taken in the popular resort of Skala Eresou accompanied by (very distant!) Yelkouan Shearwaters and fishing Shags. At the nearby Vergias River a Penduline Tit eventually appeared from its incredible hanging nest – this species is still a vagrant on Lesvos and this is only the second time the species has nested. We also added Stripe necked Terrapins to the reptile list. We returned to the monastery for a late afternoon watch and, amongst more migrants, tantalisingly brief views of a female Collared Flycatcher. We returned to base weary, suntanned but very satisfied and ready for yet more hearty Greek fayre at the Taverna Dionysos!

May 2nd :- Off at 6.30am for a pre-breakfast visit to Metochi Lake. We were not the first there and the bank of the lake looked like a scene from the Isles of Scilly in October! Positioning ourselves with a good view of the opposite reedbeds we quickly notched up Little Bitterns (first of at least eight). Pulses started to race as Steve found first a female, and then a male Little Crake, both feeding quite unperturbed at the edge of the reeds. Then a cry of “Baillon’s Crake!” and a fine adult was watched well for about ten minutes. Great Reed, Eurasian Reed, Sedge and Cettis Warblers, Whiskered Terns and Squacco Herons made up the supporting cast. What a place! Most of the group had enjoyed at least a couple of life ticks before breakfast! After breakfest we headed off to the Kalloni Saltpans and, after a little wait at a stake out, we got nice views of a Rufous Bush Robin of the paler eastern race. At to the Kalloni Raptor Watchpoint, we saw Long legged Buzzard, Red footed Falcon, single Eleonora’s Falcon and a surprise ‘fly by’ flock of 11 Spoonbills! Steve then had a surprise in store for us . We stopped by a mini football pitch and some shut-down tavernas where ‘scoping a poplar tree and – hey presto! – a superb roosting Scop's Owl enjoyed (and of course photographed!) by everybody. A leisurely drive through the scenic Potamia Valley followed lunch with views of Black headed Bunting, Long legged Buzzard (good spot Michael!), Blue Rock Thrush and a pair of Sombre Tits. A slightly earlier return to the hotel was much appreciated and there was even time for a swim and the odd glass of beer in the warm evening sunshine before heading down to the village for dinner.

May 3rd :- Starting off once again in brilliant warm sunny weather, we took the short journey to Kalloni Saltpans. The usual waders (Ruff and Wood Sandpipers) had been supplemented with both Temminck’s and Little Stints. We had more fantastic views of Red footed Falcons, again perched on power lines and amazingly close views of Glossy Ibises to delight the photographers. A mountain drive through to Kavaki in the north of the island and we arrived in beautiful coastal habitat to begin our warbler vigil. Blue Rock Thrushes were quite easy, singing Black headed Buntings showed well and, after a while, we had fine views of Subalpine Warblers. Our main target, Rüppell’s Warbler, kept us waiting until a male and then a pair suddenly popped up on the bushes; another great bird! We called in at a small reservoir at nearby Perasma and were surprised to find a White winged Black Tern. A few Alpine Swifts, Raven and a Short toed Eagle appeared overhead and a nesting Subalpine Warbler allowed close views. After a good lunch in the very picturesque harbour town of Molivos, we enjoyed a ‘rally driving’ experience across the beautiful north coastal track before briefly stopping at Mandamados to view an occupied White Stork nest on the chimney of a disused olive mill. Back at the saltpans for the evening watch and we added a breeding plumage Curlew Sandpiper and Sanderling to the list. As we returned to Skala Kallonis, Wendy spotted a male Little Bittern in the ford side reeds – a fine end to yet another fine day.

May 4th :- Westwards again, this time to the migrant hotspot of Sigri on the far west coast. Arriving at a large coastal bay we found a Purple Heron and 2 Greenshanks. A nearby riverbed and yet another skulking Little Bittern – there certainly seemed to have been a significant influx of these long distance migrants. In recent days We walked up lane between the olive groves, when there was suddenly a rush of overhead migrants – a Collared Pratincole, Bee-eater and an Alpine Swift. At a garden puddle our photographers feasted on bathing Red rumped Swallows and House Martins. Having received a ‘hot tip’ of a Spur winged Plover, Agi found the bird feeding in a field by some manure heaps – another excellent ‘first’ for most of the party. Lunch in Sigri was followed by an interesting trip to the fabulous Petrified Forest Museum with exhibits from the nearby petrified forest and other geological artefacts from around the island and from other petrified forest parks from around the world. In the afternoon we progressed through the beautiful Maladia Valley finding at least 4 Collared and a single Pied Flycatcher, Wood Warblers, more Little Bitterns and a Sombre Tit. Our lengthy return journey included a stop for a soaring Black Stork interacting with a couple of local breeding Long legged Buzzards.

May 5th :- Our final full day again dawned with unbroken bright sunshine – what a week of weather! We got down to the saltpans area before breakfast and were rewarded with great views of the Rufous Bush Robin singing from a lamp post. Again, there were lots of birds at the flooded fields – Glossy Ibis, Ruddy Shelduck, Garganey, Little Stints, Curlew Sandpiper with new additions of Black tailed Godwit and Ringed Plover. A return to Metochi Lake after breakfast and good views of a couple of female Little Crakes, Little Bittern, Hoopoe and lots of terrapins. A return to check the Scop's Owl (gone!) and then we bumped and rocked our way down the Platania track. Here the attractive mix of olive groves and gnarled old oaks produces perfect breeding habitat for the highly localised Olive tree Warbler. Steve soon got on to the strange croaking song (at least three birds singing) and eventually we got brief sightings of flying and singing birds. During our wait we notched up Red footed Falcon, Short toed Eagle, Middle Spotted Woodpecker and Masked Shrike. Further down the valley some of us secured the trip’s only Eastern Orphean Warbler. A very pleasant last lunch at Skala Kallonis and then we were back on duty at the Kalloni Raptor Watchpoint in time for a Hobby, Lesser Kestrel and 2 Short toed Eagles. A pair of Rock Nuthatches showed well on boulders above us and were well received as most had missed them earlier in the week. Finally returning via the Tsiknias River, we were fortunate to get point blank views of a party of ‘peeps’ and to pick out the identification points on Sanderling, Temminck’s and Little Stint.

May 6th :- Most of us took a pre-breakfast walk at Skala Kallonis and the final hour of birding was very enjoyable with Great Egret, Little Bittern, ‘fly by’ Greater Flamingos and a large Spanish Sparrow colony in a village palm tree. We bid our goodbyes to Dee, Jeanette and Susanne (fondly known as the ‘Alabama Gals’) plus Agi and Graham, and of course Steve, all of who were all staying longer in Lesvos (lucky them!) and the rest of us endured a rather tortuous drive to the airport due to the main road being blocked due to protests against the Greek government!
Many thanks to all of the party for making this such a memorably successful and friendly trip.

Birds
Little Grebe
Yelkouan Shearwater
Scopoli’s Shearwater
Shag
Little Bittern
Squacco Heron
Little Egret
Great White Egret
Grey Heron
Purple Heron
Black Stork
White Stork
Glossy Ibis
Spoonbill
Greater Flamingo
Ruddy Shelduck
Common Shelduck
Garganey
Mallard
Honey-buzzard
Short toed Eagle
Marsh Harrier
Common Buzzard
Long legged Buzzard
Common Kestrel
Lesser Kestrel
Red footed Falcon
Hobby
Eleonora’s Falcon
Peregrine
Chukar
Little Crake
Baillon’s Crake
Moorhen
Coot
Black winged Stilt
Avocet
Collared Pratincole
Little Ringed Plover
Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Grey Plover
Spur winged Plover
Little Stint
Temminck’s Stint
Curlew Sandpiper
Sanderling
Ruff
Black tailed Godwit
Common Redshank
Greenshank
Wood Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Little Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Yellow legged Gull
Gull billed Tern
Common Tern
Little Tern
Whiskered Tern
White-winged Black Tern
Rock Dove
Collared Dove
Turtle Dove
Common Cuckoo
Scops Owl
Little Owl
Common Swift
Alpine Swift
Bee-eater
Hoopoe
Middle Spotted Woodpecker
Short toed Lark
Crested Lark
Woodlark
Sand Martin
Crag Martin
Barn (Common) Swallow
Red rumped Swallow
House Martin
Red throated Pipit
Yellow (flava) Wagtail
Black headed Wagtail
Citrine Wagtail
White Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Common Nightingale
Rufous Bush Robin
Whinchat
Stonechat
Northern Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear
Black-eared Wheatear
Blue Rock Thrush
Blackbird
Cetti’s Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
Olivaceous Warbler
Olive tree Warbler
Subalpine Warbler
Rüppell’s Warbler
Orphean Warbler
Lesser Whitethroat
Common Whitethroat
Blackcap
Wood Warbler
Spotted Flycatcher
Collared Flycatcher
Pied Flycatcher
Sombre Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Penduline Tit
Krüper’s Nuthatch
Western Rock Nuthatch
Golden Oriole
Red backed Shrike
Lesser Grey Shrike
Woodchat Shrike
Masked Shrike
Jay
Jackdaw
Hooded Crow
Raven
House Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow
Rock Sparrow
Chaffinch
Serin
Greenfinch
Goldfinch
Linnet
Cirl Bunting
Cinereous Bunting
Ortolan Bunting
Cretzschmar’s Bunting
Black headed Bunting
Corn Bunting

Amphibians and Reptiles
Common Tree Frog
Marsh Frog
Balkan Green Lizard
Balkan Wall Lizard
Agama Lizard
Turkish Gecko
Glass Snake (RIP)
Whip Snake sp.
Stripe necked Terrapin
European Pond Terrapin
Spur thighed Tortoise

Mammals
Persian Squirrel
Beech Marten (deceased)

Butterflies & Moths
Scarce Swallowtail
Swallowtail
Small White
Large White
Wall Brown
Small Heath
Orange Tip
Clouded Yellow
Painted Lady
False Apollo
Red Admiral
Small Copper
Painted Lady
Southern Gatekeeper
Turkish Meadow Brown
Southern Speckled Wood
Brown Argus
Common Blue
Orbed Red underwing Skipper
Hummingbird Hawkmoth

Dragonflies
Emperor Dragonfly
Lesser Emperor Dragonfly
Red-veined Darter
Scarlet Darter
Black-tailed Skimmer
Keeled Skimmer
Small Skimmer
Odalisque
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly

Insects
Egyptian Grasshopper
Dung Beetle
Scorpion Spider

 

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trip reports

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