Saturday 18th June 2016
After overnighting at a hotel our taxi picked us up at 4:15am for the short hop to Gatwick South terminal for our 6:40am flight to Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesvos.
After a pleasant flight, three hours later we were landing in the cauldron of Mytilene. It was 44 degrees and sweltering.
We had decided to take the coach transfer to our hotel, the Imerti, in Skala Kalloni. This turned out to be a great decision as it avoided us having to master Mytilene’s one way system which not even the locals seemed to understand.
I started to compile a holiday list which started with half a dozen common species plus Yellow-legged Gull. As we drove past Kalloni Saltpans the rep pointed out the 500+ Greater Flamingos which were spread across the saltpans like a pink cloud.
Our hotel was to be the third stop and driving around the town of Skala I saw a few Hooded Crows and a Hoopoe in one of the hotel gardens.
We were warmly greeted at the Imerti and were quickly installed in our apartment. We unpacked and Bridgette decided she would rest but I thought I would take a turn around the resort to see what I could see.
It was incredibly hot and took some getting used to. As I stepped outside a White Stork soared above our apartment, I had seen one at home yesterday at Slimbridge!
A lot of chacking coming from bushes on the edge of a harvested field eventually led me to an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, which turned out to be the commonest warbler here. Of the more unusual birds seen five Crested Larks were notable. Other wildlife provided me with my only lifers of the day. In a smelly drainage channel, I had 6+ BALKAN or STRIPE-NECKED TERRAPINS, 2+ BEDRIAGA’S MARSH FROGS and an EGYPTIAN LOCUST, as well as a host of butterflies but nothing I hadn’t seen before.
In the evening when Bridgette and I were walking back from a restaurant we saw a Eurasian Jay, of the Black-capped race atricapillus, a first for me.
Sunday 19th June 2016
I was up and out before 6am to explore the surrounding countryside and to avoid the worst heat of the day. Not sure where to go first I headed towards the beach and then towards the Tsiknias river mouth. The first new bird was a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, only my second although this was the eastern race, around a small beach side pond. Also here were two Eastern Olivaceous Warblers and a Black Stork flew over heading towards town. Arriving at the river mouth there was little to see, just two Curlews and two Little Ringed Plovers. However following the river north inland the birding improved with a Bee-eater, a male Black-headed Bunting sat on wires, also only my second, a Great Reed Warbler showed eventually after churning away in the reeds unseen at first and a Long-legged Buzzard perched on telegraph, another second for me.
I went back and met Bridgette for breakfast and then we went for a stroll around. As we left a large BALKAN GREEN LIZARD was on the driveway. We walked towards Kerami where a pair of White Storks were nesting on the church roof, we could only see two juveniles but later in the week I was able to confirm there were three. On the way back I found a PERSIAN SQUIRREL loafing in a tree near to a small playground. We returned to the Imerti and it became apparent we would need a car, with air-con, to get around especially in this extreme heat. We asked the manager, Stratos to get us one and he arranged it within a couple of hours, which we didn’t expect on a Sunday.
Balkan Green Lizard
With our new found freedom we headed out for Achladeri Forest, stopping at Kalloni saltpans to photograph Black Storks and to have a better look at the Flamingos. Arriving at Achladeri it was still fiercely hot but we parked in the shade and with the help of Steve Dudley’s book went off in search of Krüper’s Nuthatch. The forest was very quiet at this time of day and the only new bird was a Woodchat Shrike. Never mind, we decided to move on and try again later in the week.
We stopped briefly at Achladeri Bridge 60+ Balkan Terrapins were gathered in the water below the bridge.
We returned to the saltpans and stopped by the hide on the main road. New birds were added to the holiday list very quickly the best being two Red-rumped Swallows and 6+ Black-winged Stilts. Better still I found three DALMATIAN PELICANS along the back edge of the reserve sat with a flock of 18 Great Cormorants and a few Flamingos. They were a life tick and made my mind up about not rushing to see the long-staying bird of unknown origin in Cornwall. As we returned to the car I found a Turtle Dove in an orchard opposite the hide, a bird now very scarce at home.
In the evening returning home from dining out we heard a Scops Owl calling at 10:30pm.
Monday 20th June 2016
MAKING FRIENDS & GOING CUCKOO
As ever I was up at about 5am and headed out for some cooler birding along the Tsiknias River. I saw all the usual suspects that I was getting used to seeing as common birds now – Hooded Crows, Crested Larks, Eastern Olivaceous Warblers and Yellow-legged Gulls. Less common was a Hoopoe, but always seen flying away throughout the week, and the Long-legged Buzzard showing better than before. Also I saw my first EASTERN BATH WHITE and a Swallowtail showed well.
Eastern Bath White Swallowtail
After breakfast we headed out towards Kavaki where I was hoping to see Rüppell’s Warbler. I knew it would probably be more difficult than in the spring but I was ever hopeful. Arriving on site we started to explore the inland scrubby area, which was the wrong thing to do. A Turtle Dove called from wires by the car and the only Alpine Swift of the week flew overhead. It was a struggle but Bridgette found an obliging Eastern Subalpine Warbler, which was only my second of this race. I managed just one record shot, it’s almost a flight shot.
Eastern Subalpine Warbler
Returning to the layby we saw two other birders. We introduced ourselves; they were Martin and Charlotte Bro from Denmark. They told us that earlier in their holiday they had had Rüppell’s Warbler on the seaward side of the road. We started looking with them and the first thing to pop up was a ROCK NUTHATCH, which was an all too brief lifer for me. It didn’t reappear for anyone else. Then we had very brief views of a male RÜPPELL’S WARBLER, which dropped down as quickly as it showed. Then a female showed better and as I started to walk towards the car the male popped up again but just as quickly vanished. Nevertheless two lifers and a second in less than an hour was pretty good going.
Martin asked me if I knew about the Great Spotted Cuckoos that had been raised by Hooded Crows in Molyvos, the first recorded breeding record for Lesvos. I said that I didn’t and asked if they’d mind if we followed them, although we weren’t exactly clear where to look. He was fine with that so we set off for Molyvos and following what limited directions he had we parked by the football pitch, which was supposed to be one of the indicators that we were near Liokambi Village where the birds were.
Scanning our immediate surroundings we saw a couple of Red-rumped Swallows and checked each Hooded Crow for unusual young, especially one in a dead tree. However, unknowingly we were the wrong side of the hill but overall quite close to where we should’ve been. We walked a long way around the tracks here and saw another Turtle Dove, a Middle Spotted Woodpecker, a Woodchat Shrike, my first Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, having only seen Western before, and 6+ Bee-eaters. Eventually we returned to the car and drove back to the other side of town. The landlord at Taverna Alonia directed us down the track opposite the bar to Liokambi Village. As we neared the Village, which is a holiday complex, we could hear Great Spotted Cuckoos. Turning the corner we soon saw a juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoo perched on wires being fed by its Hooded Crow “parents”. What a good result! We decided to say our goodbyes and headed back to the Alonia for lunch and a drink.
Great Spotted Cuckoo & Hooded Crow
After lunch we decided to look at the castle, but unwittingly had arrived there on the only day of the week it was closed. Nevertheless we walked around the outer walls and enjoyed fabulous views of the island. There were also a few birds up there including a Little Owl, two juvenile Eastern Black-eared Wheatears and a pair of Kestrels with three juveniles. We also found a pretty cool STARRED AGAMA, which was amazingly camouflaged, and a lifer.
Tuesday 21st June 2016
ACHLADERI & BACK THE LONG WAY AROUND
Another day, another early start and this time I headed for the Christou River. A Black Stork flew over the town and along the seafront I had a Hoopoe and a Bee-eater to start the day with a splash of colour. Arriving at the edge of the river I could see a scattering of waders, there were 10+ Black-winged Stilts, a Little Ringed Plover, 4+ Kentish Plovers and a Redshank. Best birds though were two nice male Black-headed Wagtails.
After breakfast we headed out towards Achladeri Forest, first having to avoid a juvenile Little Owl in the middle of the road and then day-ticking the White Stork family on the church and passing 200+ Greater Flamingos on the salt pans.
Arriving at the forest we parked in the shade and headed off in search of Krüper’s Nuthatch again. There were more birds about but mainly common species, three Long-tailed Tits, two Spotted Flycatchers and two Short-toed Treecreepers were new for the holiday list. Bridgette headed back to the car as it was now fiercely hot again and I promised just ten more (birder’s) minutes. I spotted a raptor up over the ridge to the left of the car I felt sure it was Common Buzzard and on getting better views confirmed it. As I put my bins down, on the dead trees in front of me about 20 feet away was a no longer elusive KRUPЁR’S NUTHATCH. At last! I was torn between watching it, getting the camera out and calling Bridgette which would certainly scare it. I settled for watching it for a couple of minutes, then reached for the camera, naturally in its bag, and the nuthatch evaporated into thin air and I couldn’t relocate it. I returned to the car and Bridgette was pleased I’d seen it and relieved she wouldn’t have to return to this forest again.
Our next stop was Polichnitos Salt Pans which was fairly quiet and only hosted five species, 15+ Avocets including three small chicks, ten Black-winged Stilts, ten Kentish Plovers, two Crested Larks and two Little Terns. We drove on towards Skamioudi only adding two White Wagtails. When we arrived in an area of olive groves I got out and walked whilst Bridgette stayed in the air-conditioned car and drove slowly. It really was blisteringly hot and unsurprisingly few birds were showing the best was a fine male Cirl Bunting and an equally showy male Black-headed Bunting. We drove on for a bit and stopped at Vasilika where we saw a Short-toed Eagle and two Red-rumped Swallows. We headed back into another area of olive groves but didn’t see much more although a group of three Middle Spotted Woodpeckers was nice.
Then we went a bit wrong, my fail on the map reading skills, and we came back to Skala Kalloni via a new mountain road which added 45 minutes to our journey time. All very scenic but not intended, the only bird of note on the return a Black Stork at Kantri.
Wednesday 22nd June 2016
Today Bridgette was going diving near Kavaki so would be taking the car and I would be a foot soldier for the day. Before breakfast I headed out as usual along the beach but I didn’t see much, a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin was the best bird.
Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin
After breakfast I waved Bridgette off and decided I would walk to Metochi Lake hoping for some good birds there. I walked along the seafront and turned up along the edge of the Christou River. There were few birds around and a Stone Curlew was the best of them. A couple of Short-toed Eagles soared above the road bridge. The walk to Metochi was very hot and a bit further than I wanted to go in that heat and stupidly I’d only taken one small bottle of water. On the way up to the lake the only notable birds were a pair of Bee-eaters. Arriving at the lake hoping for rare herons or crakes the disappointment was high. On the lake itself was just 30 Mallards, a couple of Moorhens and a pair of Little Grebes with three juveniles, ten Yellow-legged Gulls came in to bathe, two Swifts flew over and in a nearby field four Black Storks stood under bushes seeking shade. Insects were rather more abundant with many dragonflies including VIOLET DROPWINGS and Black-tailed Skimmers and 50+ Painted Ladies and an Eastern Bath White. It seemed to take forever to trudge back to town, the only new bird was a Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, and I quickly ran out of water. By the time I got to the first beach bar in Skala Kalloni I was dehydrated and very ready for a bottle of water and a pint of beer.
I went back to the hotel and after a snack and a rest headed out again to the Tsiknias River. I was just too hot really but I did see my first Corn Bunting of the holiday. Also at the ford was an adult and a male Black-headed Wagtail. By the time I got back Bridgette had returned from diving.
We drove to Kalloni prior to going out for dinner. A pair of White Storks with at least one juvenile were on a nest in the centre of town. We went to the Eucalyptus tree stand known as the Scops Copse. Despite extensive searching we couldn’t find one but heard one calling from the other side of the road.
Thursday 23rd June 2016
INTO THE HILLS AND DOWN TO THE SEA
Today we skipped breakfast and headed in to the hills for a long day out, hoping the early start would at least give us some time in bearable temperatures. A SPUR-THIGHED TORTOISE was walking along at the edge of the road at Filia but unfortunately there was nowhere to stop for a better look. At a stop at Vigla, Rock Nuthatch, Woodchat Shrike and Black-eared Wheatear showed well.
Our next stop was the Petrified Forest, which was at the end of a very long road off of the main road. The Petrified Forest was created during intense volcanic activity that occurred throughout the north-eastern Aegean region 20 million years ago. The volcanic eruptions caused huge quantities of lava and ash to flow from volcanic vents, covering the centre of Lesvos around these vents with molten lava, so causing the forest to be preserved as fossils to this day.
When we arrived the car park contained our car, the gatekeeper’s car and a random friendly horse. We started the descent into the valley, again it was becoming very hot and there was very little shade. However besides being home to some impressive fossilised trees the valley was home to some even more impressive birds. Commoner birds included three Crested Larks, four Eastern Black-eared Wheatears, three Stonechats, a Goldfinch and three Blue Tits.
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear
Bridgette found a bird that she didn’t recognise but looked a bit like a Yellowhammer; I quickly joined her and was soon enjoying my first CINEREOUS BUNTING.
Further down the valley we found an adult and a juvenile Northern Wheatear. Then I spotted my top target in a low bush, a male CRETZSCHMAR’S BUNTING, it showed very well but light and heat conditions didn’t help photography at all. We decided at this point not to go any further down the valley as we would probably fry, so returned to the top and back into the sanctuary of our air-conditioned car.
We drove along the road back towards the main road with me walking every few hundred yards. I saw 20+ Crested Larks, seven Black-eared Wheatears but failed to find Chukar at all. I got back in the car and we stopped by a small pond near to the junction with the main road. An ISABELLINE WHEATEAR was on the wall here but only briefly before it flew off, and also three more CRETZSCHMAR’S BUNTINGS came in to drink.
We drove back to Antissa and bought snacks and drinks before returning to the monastery at Ipsilou where we drove up to the top. The view was brilliant and the monastery was very impressive; however there were few birds, just two Black-eared Wheatears of note and a Persian Squirrel.
We decided to drive down to Skala Eresos for lunch, we had been recommended Sounatso and it proved to be very nice. We enjoyed an alfresco meal looking out to sea. The food was good and as an added bonus 20+ YELKOUAN SHEARWATERS passing by were my third lifer of the day. I only had views with my bins as taking a scope and tripod in to lunch may have been bad form but they were close enough to tick. Afterwards Bridgette decided swimming fully clothed was a good idea as our swim kit was in the car, probably not such a good idea in practise but at least she cooled down. Then she dripped through the town back to the car.
We made a couple of recommended stops on the way home but neither were very productive in the heat of the day. A Middle Spotted Woodpecker at Mesotopos and an Eastern Black-eared Wheatear at Sideras were the best I could find. It had been a good day though with three new birds and a good bit of the island seen.
Friday 24th June 2016
An early start as usual saw me out at first light and heading towards the Tsiknias River. Three Linnets and a Fan-tailed Warbler were new for the holiday, at the Lower Ford a Spanish Sparrow was only the 4th of the week and an EASTERN ORPHEAN WARBLER which popped up in a bush beside the water was a life tick.
After breakfast we headed out with only loose plans for the day. Kalloni Saltpans was our first stop and we drove down to the far end of the pans nearest to the sea. Four Bee-eaters showed well here and looking back across the pans we had panoramic views of 500+ Greater Flamingos, four Dalmatian Pelicans, two Black Storks and a host of waders terns and gulls. We drove around to the hide and I found four Slender-billed Gulls together with 10+ Black-headed Gulls and 10+ Little Terns.
Next we decided to try Platania, which turned out to be a good call, but the tracks there weren’t really made for our little car. Driving down through a scrubby area to the olive groves we started to see a lot of shrikes, the eventual count was two Woodchat Shrikes and 5+ juvenile Masked Shrikes. Stopping beside the olive groves we got out and walked amongst the trees. A large greyish warbler gave tantalising glimpses of being something good, and when it finally perched and gave itself up, it was very good – my first OLIVE-TREE WARBLER, 2nd lifer of the day. Then I found a little flock of four tits, I soon realised that they were all SOMBRE TITS, lifer No 3 today. After a very good hour here we headed back to the Imerti for lunch.
After lunch we decided to stay fairly local so drove the short distance to the Potamia Bridge. It was very overgrown with not many birds, however an EASTERN SPADEFOOT TOAD was new. In nearby olive groves was two Woodchat Shrikes and the briefest adult Masked Shrike, which was a pity. We also checked the Potamia Reservoir, the only birds were 143+ Yellow-legged Gulls coming in the bathe and an Emperor dragonfly was new.
That evening there was a traditional Greek party laid on by the hotel with a buffet, drinks and Greek dancing attended by almost all of the hotel guests for the last night of the holiday. It was a fun way to finish our first experience in this very friendly country.
Saturday 25th June 2016
We were going home today but had a late afternoon flight so there was no rush to get going. I had a final early morning walk to the Tsiknias River, best birds were three Black Storks, seven Black-capped Jays, a male Black-headed Wagtail and a male Black-headed Bunting. I returned for breakfast then it was time to pack. A final tick was a tiny green TREE FROG, the size of a grape on our patio.
Driving to the airport we saw 500+ Greater Flamingos, an Avocet, a Black-winged Stilt and four Slender-billed Gulls from the coach as we drove past Kalloni Saltpans for the last time, fortunately quite slowly due to traffic. We had an uneventful flight back to Gatwick where I ticked Buzzard and Coot as airport ticks. Then the long drive back home followed through busy traffic most of the way.
Mike & Bridgette King © 2016