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Friday, 25 September 2009

Lesvos 17 - 24 September 2009

A Speyside Wildlife holiday with Lesvos Birding's Steve Dudley

Guests: Daphne & David, Joan and June.

A week of fine weather but relatively active migration meant it was hard work searching out the pockets of migrants. Very few raptors moving but a couple of White Pelicans really added that special something.

Pithariou, September 2009 © Steve Dudley

Day 1, Thursday, 17 September

We meet up at Gatwick early in the morning and after the usual airport procedures, we are jetting off Lesvos!

We arrive an hour late at Mytilini but are soon on our way and some of us getting our first views of Lesvos and immediately see just how close Turkey is!

On route to the hotel we cut by the Kalloni Saltpans which are covered in Flamingos which look stunning in the bright sunlight.

We soon check in to the hotel and walk in to Skala Kallonis and have a delightful late light lunch to tide us over to the evening. Walking back to the hotel we see a Red-backed Shrike and 11 Bee-eaters ‘prüp’ overhead.

We collect our things and head off to Metochi Lake. We spy a couple more Red-backed Shrikes along the field edges, and a Whinchat, before arriving at the lake itself. And its full to the brim, not the usual autumn puddle Steve expected to find. Striped-necked Terrapins slide off the banks in to the water before resurfacing with just their snouts sticking out of the water. Several Spotted Flycatchers make sorties from various trees and reeds when David spots a bird flitting around the bottom of some tamarisks on a small island just in front of us. It’s a Cetti’s Warbler and we get great view as it hops around on the ground before flying off. A European Pond Terrapin is hauled up on a log on the far shore. There are several Moorhens in the tamarisks on the far side, and a couple of Little Grebes stick close to the far edge cover. June and Steve spot a Little Bittern as it lands in the tamarisks but completely disappears. We check the far end of the late and find more terrapins, some Marsh Frogs and a male Lesser Emperor dragonfly hawking along the stagnant channel. Daphne than spots a Snipe which crouches down to avoid detection by the marauding dog which is following us!

A gentle start to the holiday ends with dinner back in the village and a graceful retreat to our beds. It’s been a long day and the holiday will begin in earnest in the morning!

Day 2, Friday, 18 September

We wake to a bright, cloudless sky and meet up for a 0730 breakfast. Its already warming up quick, and after breakfast we are keen to make our way over to the Tsiknias River Mouth and get stuck in to some birds. We pull up and are greeted by already familiar call of Crested Larks. A party of Linnets fly over as we begin to scan the river mouth. Yellow-legged Gulls occupy the best roosting spots whilst a Grey Heron preens sat on a submerged branch and a Cormorant perches on a post. Steve spots a Curlew on the mud spit. We begin to head up river when a field full of Linnets and Goldfinches stops us. We grill the field but can find nothing else. As we drive slowly along the river a Black Stork flies past and lands briefly in front of us.

We take a quick look around the ford where there are several Little Ringed Plovers, White and Yellow Wagtails, House Sparrows and Corn Buntings around the puddles in the riverbed. We park the minibus and walk out towards the river mouth. A juvenile Red-backed Shrike pops up on the fence ahead of us and there are Northern Wheatears on the track and in the adjacent fields. The Lesser Grey Shrike from earlier is seen again, this time much closer giving better view. An Isabelline Wheatear is seen briefly on the track and swallows and martins buzz overhead as they eagerly push southwards.

We drop off the riverbank in to an open area with scattered tamerisks. Northern Wheatears and Crested Larks are everywhere. Steve picks up three Hoopoes feeding at the back of the sheep field and we get reasonable views through the scopes. Just around the corner we have brief views of a young male Lesser Kestrel before the sky above us fills with hirundines and the first of about 80 Alpine Swifts, including some incredibly low birds – low enough to see the white throat!

We move on to the eastern side of the saltpans. Over the hill behind us Daphne spies tow birds circling which turn out to be a Raven being mobbed by a Sparrowhawk. Across the pans there is a dense flock of feeding Avocets and group of Common Shelduck. The flamingos are distant from here, but their striking pink is still visible even at a distance.

We wander down the track and find more Crested Larks, Corn Buntings, a Red-backed Shrike and a Whinchat. Viewing the pans again we can now see at least three Greenshank, four Curlew and both Little and Great White Egrets.

It/s getting warm now so move off in to the shade of Achladeri Forest. No sooner are we in the trees when Steve spots our first Krüper’s Nuthatch. There are plenty of birds flitting around and maybe up to four nuthatches feeding low down on tree trunks, flitting from trunk to trunk treecreeper-style. Woodlark puts in a brief appearance, as does a Short-toed Treecreeper and a Cirl Bunting sings its rattle song from the pine tops.

We have lunch at the sea-side Ancient Pyrra taverna. Its lovely here in the shade with the cool breeze coming off the sea. So lovely in fact e make sure we have a nice, slow lunch before heading back in to the heat of the day!

We make back in to the forest, this time walking slowly along a forest track. It’s deathly quiet. Rock and Woodland Graylings flit around us, but the place is largely bird free. We spend some time enjoying a powder-blue Small Skimmer resting on the track before heading back to he minibus when Steve spots a couple of Krüper’s Nuthatches in the tree right above us. We get wonderful views of this diminutive nuthatch, the male is particularly showy making up for the poor views earlier. Arriving back at the minibus two birds appear in the cloudless blue sky above the tree-covered hillside to our left. A Raven is being mobbed by another bird – Eleonora’s Falcon exclaims Steve pointing out the salient features. But the sighting is too brief as the falcon disappears over the ridge of the hill.

We move on around the corner to the Vouvaris River Mouth. A couple of Grey Herons are disturbed from the pines by the bridge and a couple of Kingfishers chase each other before a female Sparrowhawk flies over. At the river mouth there are several Cormorants and up to four Grey Herons, but little else.

We make our way around to Kalloni Saltpans. All the flamingos are in the northwest corner and the late afternoon light is fabulous lighting up the whole scene. A quick count estimates there are over 800 flamingos! There is constant changing within the flamingos. Some are feeding with their up-side-down head busy in the water. Others walk around serenely. Occasionally one flashes its underwings showing its vivid red armpits. Four Black Storks flap lazily behind the flamingos before alighting on a distance pan. Daphne spies distant Short-toed Eagle before Steve points another falcon coming over the pans which turns out to be our second Eleonora’s of the afternoon!

Its been a hot yet thoroughly rewarding day as we head off back across the fields, funding our second Lesser Grey Shrike of the day, on our way back to the hotel. After a rest and freshen up we walk in to the village for another enjoyable evening.

Lesser Grey Shrike, nr Kalloni Saltpans, September 2009 © Steve Dudley

Day 3, Friday, 19 September

We wake to the now familiar sounds of sheep bells, cockerels and braying donkeys! After breakfast we head out into an overcast morning which is bliss, and head towards Metochi lake. We stop to view a couple of Whinchats on the fence when Steve spots a two Turtle Doves alight on an overhead wire. The scope is soon trained on them and we get excellent views before they fly off followed by three more. A huge flock of Goldfinches swarm the dead thistles in a dry field and a single Red-backed Shrike is sat in a nearby tree.

At the lake we see the usual Little Grebe and Moorhens and the Common Snipe from Thursday is still happily probing the mud fringe. We walk along the track through the fields and soon find a couple of Jays and get excellent views of their black caps which mark them as a different race to the Jays back home. We can here Middle Spotted Woodpeckers mocking us from within the olive groves which hold only sparrows and the occasional Willow Warbler for us to actually see.

We take a turn which takes us along the bottom of a rocky hillside. Steve points out the constant calling of Rock Nuthatches. We stop in the shade of a tree to scan the rocks. The nuthatches calls are joined by the dry rattle song of a Cirl Bunting – we can’t see either of these either! We do find our first Agama lizard sitting typically atop a rock when Steve eventually spots a Rock Nuthatch on the topper most rock above us. Although not close the light is behind us and perfect for viewing the Rocky Nut and we can see clearly his bandit mask and buffy flanks. It bounces round the rocks a little with a second bird before disappearing. We move on only a few yards before finding a Common Whitethroat and a close Red-backed Shrike which has caught a grasshopper. The shrike sits still in a little bush before eventually starting to tear at the grasshopper. We view from the shade of a sweet-smelling fig tree before again taking to the open and the increasingly fierce sun. We pass through an open area with few birds and turn along another track by a new allotment building, its fresh paint gleaming in the strong sunlight. At the little bridge we see a second Common Whitethroat and another Red-backed Shrike before following the track down the back of the lake. Two Lesser Whitethroats appear and then disappear as suddenly as they had appeared and our walk is accompanied with by the constant plopping of terrapins dropping into the channel unseen. Arriving back by the southern end of the lake, Daphne spots a raptor in the sky. Steve gets on to the higher bird and proclaims it as a male Montagu’s Harrier whilst the other is a Common Buzzard. A Purple Heron then flies past – too fast for all our likings! Alas the group miss the Green Sandpiper Steve flushes from the end of the lake.

We move off north to the Kalloni Raptor Watch Point. The overcast morning has given way to the expected clear blue skies and increasingly hot sun. The watch point is at blessed with a covered picnic table for some to enjoy the shade. David and Steve stick it out in the sun and in between Rock Nuthatch appearances distant Red-footed and Eleonora’s Falcons are seen.

We arrive at Molivos and head up to the castle to enjoy the views over to Turkey and west across the bay to Ipsilou and the western end of the island. We move on down to the harbour where we enjoy a lovely relaxing lunch by the harbourside, with some of even trying a few new Greek seafood specialties for the first (and last!) time.

After an equally relaxing coffee we head off to Perasma. The reservoir holds 16 Little Grebes as wells as many drinking crows and lots of bathing Yellow-legged Gulls. A White Wagtail flies around noisily. Our walk finds only sparrows before Daphne spots another raptor. Steve gets his scope on to it and it’s now one, but two male Marsh Harriers that quickly head off south in tight circles. With no other birds obvious and only a few Red-veined Darters to occupy, we return to the minibus and head off east following the road below Mount Lepetimnos. The views are stunning as we drive below the highest montain on the island with each twist and turn of the winding road giving us breathtaking view after breathtaking view. Turkey to our left remains ever present and a hope that there are raptors winging there way across the narrow straight towards us.

Just before Lepetimnos village we pull over to enjoy the view across the north of the island and across to Turkey, which is just a stones throw away. Daphne asks if this is just a gull hovering nearby. Gulls don’t hover thought Steve and swinging round sees a Short-toed Eagle only a couple of hundred yards away and almost at our eye level, wind hovering in the increasing northerly breeze. We watch intently for several minutes as the bird hangs in the sky without flapping a single wing beat! It turns, glides and resumes its hover. After a short time it drops, hovers again, then drops further and out of sight clearly after prey. Wow! What a show. We head on along the road and after a couple of bends we come across the eagle again above us. We manage to find a safe place to pull over and we’re back out the bus and watching an equally absorbing spectacle, but this time from below and able to enjoy all the birds underside markings. We’re still watching the eagle when Steve spots a smaller raptor coming in from the right. ‘Goshawk!’ he shouts and we all get good views as it wheels past us and out of sight. Another Wow!

Short-toed Eagle, nr Lepetimnos, September 2009 © Steve Dudley

It’s getting late as we pull into the Napi valley and there’s only time for a couple of short stops. The first is at the north end and as we get out of the bus Steve spots a small eagle coming straight at us. ‘Booted Eagle!’ he exclaims as it banks right and flaps of rapidly south down the valley. Damn! That was far too brief a view! Several Cirl Buntings are singing but can we find one – no! Frustrated we head off south and are stopped in our tracks just north of Napi village when a Blue Rock Thrush flies across the road in front of us. We quickly turn off the road and are soon watching a male sat atop a rock occasionally singing. Times pressing so we board the bus as Steve spots a Sombre Tit but by the time the others are out its gone but both Daphne and Steve get brief views of a Black-eared Wheatear before we have to head move off.

We arrive back at the hotel to freshen up before dinner. The dining room has been transformed for a wedding party. After dinner we arrive back to find the guests just beginning to arrive for a 10pm start. It’s going to be a long, noisy night in the hotel!

Day 4, Sunday, 20 September

We wake and breakfast to the sound of the local church bells calling the locals to prayer. This morning we head south long the eastern side of the Gulf of Kalloni taking the beach track from Achladeri to Skala Vasilikon. There are few birds other than Crested Larks in the fields and along track. Arriving at the small harbour of Skala Vasilikon we find four Mediterranean Gulls on the harbour wall – two adults and two first winter birds. Continuing south to Skaminioudi we come across several fields that have just been cut and are teeming with birds. The first is extraordinary as its crawling with Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Great Tits – all feeding on the ground along the cut rows in the open field! The second field is more typical being full of Yellow Wagtails bobbing between the rows of cut crop. Continuing on we get excellent views of an adult Woodchat Shrike feeding by the roadside form wires and a dead tree.

Mediterranean Gulls, Skala Vasilikon, September 2009 © Steve Dudley

We arrive at the Polichnitos Saltpans and are immediately in to the birds. The wind is picking up considerably and hampering viewing, especially with the scope, but there is plenty to look at. Kentish and Ringed Plovers feed in the drier pans along the roadside whilst Redshank, Greenshank, Ruff, Avocet, Ruff, Little Stint and Dunlin are all wading around the water areas of several pans. Over the fields opposite the pans we see a Lesser Kestrel all too briefly before it makes off! Back on the pans two ducks take flight and once resettled back on the pans turn out to a Pintail and a Shoveler. Two Black-winged Stilts are seen and then a juvenile Whiskered tern appears amongst the hawking Black-headed Gulls. The bunds are full of roosting gulls and dotted among them are Little and Great White Egrets, Grey Heron and Black Storks. The storks appear to be working their way along the pan and a couple of birds even wing their way off over the nearby hillside to try and find a thermal to lift them on their way south. Some chance in this string wind, and the two birds disappear low over the hills. In total we see at least 17 Black Storks, including several juvenile birds. Steve then manages to pick out a Slender-billed Gull feeding among the Black-headed. It’s a juvenile bird and we soon locate a second. We soon have them scopes and everyone can soon see the subtle difference between the Slender-billed and the Black-headed. Scoping the rest of the gulls Steve then spots a gleaming adult bird in the nearest group of feeding birds. This adult is feeding very actively and totally different to all the Black-headed. It stands tall dashing around, neck outstretched constantly picking at the water surface. Its clean white head and neck and gleaming, long blood-red bill stands out a mile. Searching some more Steve eventually picks out two more adults, this time both in winter plumage with the grey ear smudge.

We move off south through the town of Polichnitos and down towards the south coast. We brief stop at a river bridge sees no birds but plenty of Red-veined Darters and Small Skimmers. We arrive at Vatera and have a lovely lunch by the beach at the Hotel Vatera Beach. Here we have on eye on the sea and manage to pick out the occasional Scopoli’s Shearwater as they break the horizon in a steep arch as they wheel westwards.

We head on out to Agios Fokas. The river is very quiet but the headland holds a few Red-backed Shrikes, Spotted Flycatchers, Whinchat and Northern Wheatear. We get our first view of a Persian Squirrel in an olive tree and we spend some more time enjoying a couple of Red-veined Darters, this time seeing the red veins very clearly and Steve pointing out the blue lower half of the eyes which are diagnostic of the species. Arriving back at the minibus Steve spots a juvenile sat on the ground in an olive grove when we hear the diagnostic sound of Bee-eaters. We eventually see one bird sweeping across the sky nearby and unfortunately for us, out of view over the trees. Damn!

The wind is till strong and we drive the length of the Ambeliko Valley without seeing a single migrant. We arrive at the Panaghia Chapel under the eye of Mount Olympus were we stake out a leaking pipe for Krüper’s Nuthatch and Serin without success. A bonus though is brilliant views of our second Persian Squirrel which comes down the tree by the pipe to drink.

The wind and sun gets the better of us and we return early for a rest and freshen up before heading down in to the village for dinner.

Day 5, Monday, 21 September

After breakfast we head out west for the first time. Approaching Ipsilou we stop to watch a wind-hovering Short-toed Eagle before coming across a flock of Ravens circling the road over a dead dog! We arrive at Ipsilou. There is some cloud passing over but mount is still in full sun but the wind is strong. The Ravens are now over the mount having a dog fight with a male Peregrine.

We begin our accent and are soon watching a Rock Nuthatch feeding near its springtime nest site – a conical mud structure under a overhang on a rock face. Nearby a Sombre Tit feeds in a bush but it proves frustrating as it flits around and doesn’t real show itself properly.

We continue up the road and have good views of a Sparrowhawk and brief view of two Eleonora’s Falcons before arriving at the monastery. We take a quick look around the top seeing another Sombre Tit a little better than the last one and a female Cirl Bunting. The views from the top, like much of the island, are breathtaking. Perched on top of this conical mount we can see all round us and across the barren west of the island. After looking inside the monastery we head down the other side but see very little on our descent.

After failing to find any Chukar along the Petrified Forest road we head on in to Sigri for lunch and a visit the excellent Petrified Forest Museum – a bargain at only €5. We then head back eastwards through the Meladia Valley. We stop briefly for three Lesser Kestrels before reaching the river ford area. Here we have too little time to enjoy the loads of birds present – if only we had got here earlier! After good views of a Tawny Pipit by the track we enter the fig grove area to find lots of Red-back Shrikes, Spotted Flycatchers, Common Whitethroat, a couple of Blackcaps and the star for many, around a dozen Lesser Whitethroats. We get great views of all these, particularly the Lesser Whitethroats. The occasion is dampened slightly when the Wryneck Steve sees flying into the fig grove is lost deep in to the trees and with little time or chance of locating it we leave.

It’s a long drive back but Steve does one of those guide things and manages to spot a couple of Red-rumped Swallows miles away whilst driving! We stop and get great views as they feed over the valley.

We arrive back at the hotel, freshen up and are soon down in the village for another fulsome dinner before eagerly making for our beds looking forward to tomorrow!

Day 6, Tuesday, 22 September

We breakfasted at our usual time of 0730 and then made out at 0830. We had had a tip off that there was a Red-necked Grebe on the nearby sea and sure enough, within a few minutes Joan had spotted it and we were enjoying excellent views! A great start to the day.

We bumped along the track by the Tsiknias River, across the ford and across the fields towards the saltpans. Daphne spotted a hovering falcon so we stopped to find three splendid Red-foot Falcons, one in the air the other two sat up on nearby wires. We had our fill and continued to be stopped by more falcons, this time three Lesser Kestrels and a single Red-foot.

We arrived on the pans and views from the south road. All the flamingos were up but we couldn’t see what was disturbing them. Steve could see some birders intently watching something on the west side so we shot round to find they had a juvenile White Pelican! Now that would scare the living daylights out of the Flamingos! We watched the dark bird distantly when it took to the air. Up got most of the Flamingos as it headed east and began to circle. After a few minutes it changed course and drifted over westwards right past us and then continued to climb whilst drifting off southwest all the time and was lost to view. Wow!

We’d heard there had been another pelican at Polichnitos pans the previous day so we headed south. Our only highlight on our journey was a Hobby dog fighting with a group of Mediterranean Gulls off Skala Vasilikon, so it was pretty much straight to the pans and within minutes of arrival xxx had spotted the pelican in the middle of the pans. We watched as it seemed to catch fish after fish, swishing its enormous bill through the water and then tossing its neck back to move the fish form its sack. It was much paler than the Kalloni bird and the flesh around the eye was decidedly grey, not pink. It was looking suspiciously like a Dalmatian Pelican when it decided to take flight briefly showing the dark flight feathers contrasting with the underwing coverts. Our second White Pelican of the day! The bird settled next to one of the bunds and we continued to watch it off and on as we worked our way through what else was present – much as the other day with egrets, Grey Heron, Black Storks, plovers, Avocet, Redshank, Greenshank, Little Stint and Ruff. We moved on spotting four Mediterranean Gulls before picking up a moulting adult Little Gull feeding in the corner of one of the pans. Another highlight was a Weasel found by June working its way along the saltpans perimeter fence. We get great views when it runs out on to the track, stops briefly before bolting back in for cover!

Juvenile White Pelican, Polichnitos Saltpans, September 2009 © Steve Dudley

We move away from the pans heading north. Near Skamnioudi we find a recently bailed field that is covered with Yellow Wagtails and Northern Wheatears amongst which we find four Tawny Pipits including one obliging bird close to the minibus. Our last stop before lunch is in olive groves near Skala Vasilikon to look for Middle Spotted Woodpecker. Within a few minutes we can hear at least one bird chattering away. As we walk through the groves Steve spots a woodpecker flying in to an open olive tree but it vanishes. Typical. Walking back we hear another woodpecker laughing at us and see a Balkan Wall Lizard on the track before finding a dead fox under one of the olive (our noses spotted it first!).

Tawny Pipit, nr Skamnioudi, September 2009 © Steve Dudley

After lunch at the Ancient Pyrra Taverna we head up through Napi Valley and down Platania. We stop when Steve sees a Sombre Tit fly across the track, but we can relocate the bird but do get good views of Rock Nuthatch. We stop again a little further along the track for another Sombre Tit, but again fail to see it but get great views of a feeding Woodlark. We park up in order to take a walk to look for Sombre Tit when Steve immediately spots one on the nearby fence. We see it on off and on as it feeds around the oaks here. We also enjoy a couple of Spotted Flycatchers flitting around the bottom of the trees, hunting for insects for the dead branches under most of the oaks. Driving back along the track we see a fabulous Cardinal butterfly basking at the base of a wall.

We drive back down Napi Valley and stop at some large rocks by the roadside. Within seconds Steve has found our quarry – Blue Rock-thrush. A male is perched atop a large rock peering down at us. We move up the road a little and scope the bird in better light and find a second closer male on a wall. With the better light we can see they are both clearly blue! We enjoy them for a few minutes and also get brief views of another Sombre Tit.

We head off in to the Potamia Valley where we find 34 Little Grebes on the reservoir and standing by the river bridge we witness a flock after flock of House Sparrows whizzing up the valley past us and in to the olive grove to roost. A Spotted Flycatcher sallies from the top of a nearby tree, a male Cirl Bunting and a couple of females come down to a puddle in the otherwise dry riverbed and our second Hobby of the day streaks through the sky.

With time getting on we head back to the hotel, still managing to squeeze in a male Peregrine dashing over the Christou River Mouth before arriving back at the hotel and heading in to the village for dinner.

Day 7, Wednesday, 23 September

For our last full day we head west after breakfast. Our first stop is by the Ioannis Chapel just west of Parakila. Pulling up we immediately find a Sombre Tit drinking from the water fountain by pull-in! Its only a few metres away and we get great views. We continue west and then head south past Apothika to Makara. This area is open and desolate. Crested Larks bound and there is the odd Rock Nuthatch here and there as we drive slowly in our search for Chukar. Nothing. Daphne then spots a bird on a fence below us. It’s a fabulous male Black-eared Wheatear and it performs brilliantly for us as it feeds along the fence line. A Red-backed Shrike and Common Whitethroat also put in an appearance whilst we enjoy the wheatear. A little further along the track Steve spies a shrike with white wing patches flying up the slope’ ‘Lesser Grey Shrike’ he shouts as it lands on a fence post and poses for us to watch it! Further along the track we come across a pair of Stonechats and more Rock Nuthatches (there’s so many on this island!). We arrive near the southward end of the headland overlooking the narrow mouth of the Gulf of Kalloni. We walk out to the headland itself to view across to the eastern headland and the island of Garbias. There’s a flock of Jackdaws noisily wheeling around the sky, but apart from a few more Red-backed Shrikes there are no migrants. Arriving back at the minibus we hear a Middle Spotted Woodpecker mocking us from a nearby fig grove. Are we ever going to see them?!

Rock Nuthatch, Makara, September 2009 © Steve Dudley

We drive back up to the main road and continue west towards Pithariou Reservoir near Eresos. Short of the reservoir Steve yells ‘woodpeckers!’, screeches to a halt and points at an olive tree just metres from the minibus. There in full view are two Middle Spotted Woodpeckers! They hop around for about 30 seconds before flying off. Hooray! We’ve nailed them at last!

Driving up Pithariou Reservoir besides the dry riverbed there are a few Willow Warblers flitting from bush to bush. We see another Stonechat and more Red-backed Shrikes before we arrive below the dam. There are Red-veined Darters everywhere. After a little while we spy two raptors high over one of the peaks – Short-toed Eagle and Long-legged Buzzard – but they are too far away for decent views. We park by the ford and get great views of a pair of Cirl Buntings coming down to drink. The submerged frogs in the ford occasionally leap up trying to catch one of the many pairs of ovipositing Red-veined Darters. We head up to the top of the damn to view the reservoir. ‘Wow! its deep’ exclaims Steve. Its too deep to reveal the muddy bar at the foot of the dam and there is little exposed mud around the edges. Joan spots a couple of Little Grebe and White Wagtail below before we make our way up the east side to the monastery. We park to view the monastery. The water surface is empty. Steve sees something on the shoreline. What is it? He discerns it’s a falcon of some sort having a drink. It turns to reveal a white face and distinct moustache. Hobby he thinks as it takes to the air its large size and all dark underwings revealing it as an Eleonora’s Falcon! It wheels around right in front of us and be great fabulous views for a couple of minutes before it heads off up the valley. Wow!

We head into Skala Eresou and have lunch at the delightful Soulatso Fish Taverna. It was all nice and quiet, views over the calm sea when the whole place suddenly filled up with enough Greeks to fill three of the local tavernas! The noise levels quadrupled! The taverna owner was straight on the phone to call for reinforcements to help cope with the sudden rush. We ate our lunch leisurely and enjoyed the chatter of the Greeks around us. Daphne observed that each table had only been given a single menu each, ‘to slow them down when ordering’ she quipped.

We said our farewell to the taverna owners and relocated to Bar Agua, the main lesbian bar, for coffee and ice cream. After a little more relaxation we resumed our birding at the nearby River Vergias. From the road bridge we viewed the water which was teeming with Striped- necked Terrapins and fish. There were Several Moorhens and a Kingfisher briefly appeared.

We headed further west in to the Meladia Valley. This is a desolate, yet stunning, landscape. A wide valley plain surrounded by hills with little in the way of bushes – just bare ground, rocks and the ubiquitous ‘chicken-wire bush’. We drove slowly in search of Chukar – again nothing – but saw plenty of Red-backed Shrikes, Stonechat and Spotted Flycatchers. Stopping for one wheatear which was clearly mobbing a snake with a Crested Lark, Steve found himself looking at an juvenile Isabelline! We got great views as the bird kept standing taller and opening its wings and calling whilst standing on a boulder. The snake was out of view but the wheatear was having making its own threat clear.

Still with no Chukar we headed up the Meladia River track and, lo and behold, we soon flushed a covey of 18+ Chukar from the roadside and got excellent views as some sat up and looked down at us from the ridge above. This was the largest flock Steve had ever seen on Lesvos beating the previous 11 which was only a few hundred metres from here!

We turn around at a farm which was full of Corn Buntings and House Sparrows and headed back down to the fig grove. Within a minute of parking up Steve had found a Tree Pipit feeding in the shadow of one of the fig trees. We all eventually great views, including with the scope, as the pipit crept around slowly picking at the leaf litter.

The trees, as two days ago, were busy with warblers, Red-backed Shrikes and Spotted Flycatchers. New was a single Olivaceous seen briefly when a flock of 17 Rock Doves swept past us. We enjoyed the birds here for a further 45 minutes before bidding farewell to one of our favourite sites of the week and began the drive back home.

Over dinner we each voted for our favourite place and favourite bird and shared our holiday magic moment. The Meladia Valley got more votes (David and Steve) pipping the Kalloni Saltpans (Daphne – for the Flamingos), Polichnitos Saltpans (Joan) and Ancient Pyrra (June – the seaside taverna we used twice). The flamingo being flushed by the White Pelican yesterday, with them wheeling around against the dark hillside showing off their shape and colour brilliantly was a clear favourite with three of us sharing it as our magic moment (June, Joan and Steve) with David picking today’s brilliant views of the Eleonora’s Falcon and Daphne going for the amazing Short-toed Eagle she found on our second day only after she had first identified it as a gull! No single bird got the accolade of bird of the week. David plumped for the ever-present Rock Nuthatches; Daphne for today’s Eleonora’s Falcon; Joan for the wind-hovering Short-toed Eagle from day two; June for yesterday’s Polichnitos White Pelican; whilst Steve felt today’s Tree Pipit in Meladia summed up Lesvos brilliantly – it was full of little surprises.

Day 8, Thursday, 24 September

We’re heading home today so we have a late breakfast and after farewells to the hotel staff we head over to the Tsiknias River for a last look. Near the river mouth we find a Grey Heron feeding in the shade of the Tamarisk bushes and across the fields a second heron is perched atop a thin pine! We head in to the fields and find a cut field teeming with Yellow Wagtails. We stop for a scan and find a Common Kestrel and there, perched in top of a fig tree, an adult Long-legged Buzzard. Even without the scopes (which are packed for the flight) we can see its pale head and tail. We decide to wait to see if it flies and continue watching the field in the meantime. In addition to the wagtails we find some Corn Buntings, a Northern Wheatear and a Lesser Grey Shrike hunting from overhead wires and a nearby fig. All the wagtails suddenly take to the air calling in panic when a male Peregrine sweeps past us just low over the ground and close enough for us to here the ‘swoosh’ as it passes! It fails to catch anything and pulls up and regains height before stooping again at something in a nearby field. Wow! The buzzard meanwhile hasn’t moved. A Little Owl is calling from nearby buildings and we get fabulous views of a flyby Black Stork. Steve then notices that the Long-legged Buzzard has gone! He spots it flying along the field and we all get on to it as it rises to perch on top of a telegraph pole. It takes flight again and we can now see its very long wings giving it a very un-Common Buzzard-like shape.

Times passing and we head off to the saltpans to bid farewell to the Flamingos. They are in one of the middle pans and their numbers are greatly reduced.

We drive across the island to Mytilini and are soon checking in at the airport. A couple of hours later we are on our way and in what seems like next to no time we are bidding each a fond farewell and go our separate ways with the memories of a fabulous holiday swimming around in our heads.


Little Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Scopoli’s Shearwater


White Pelican

Little Egret

Great White Egret

Grey Heron

Purple Heron

Black Stork

Greater Flamingo

Common Shelduck



Short-toed Eagle

Booted Eagle

Marsh Harrier

Montagu’s Harrier


Eurasian Sparrowhawk

Common Buzzard

Long-legged Buzzard

Lesser Kestrel

Common Kestrel

Red-footed Falcon


Eleonora’s Falcon




Black-winged Stilt


Little Ringed Plover

Kentish Plover

Ringed Plover

Little Stint



Common Snipe


Common Redshank


Green Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper

Mediterranean Gull

Black-headed Gull

Slender-billed Gull

Yellow-legged Gull

Whiskered Tern

Rock Dove


Collared Dove

Turtle Dove

Little Owl

Alpine Swift


European Bee-eater



Middle Spotted Woodpecker

Crested Lark


Sand Martin

Barn Swallow

Red-rumped Swallow

House Martin

Tawny Pipit

Tree Pipit

Yellow Wagtail

White Wagtail



Isabelline Wheatear

Northern Wheatear

Black-eared Wheatear

Blue Rock-thrush


Cetti’s Warbler

Olivaceous Warbler

Lesser Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat



Willow Warbler

Spotted Flycatcher

Long-tailed Tit

Sombre Tit

Blue Tit

Great Tit

Krüper’s Nutchatch

Western Rock Nuthatch

Short-toed Treecreeper

Red-backed Shrike

Woodchat Shrike

Lesser Grey Shrike



Hooded Crow


House Sparrow





Cirl Bunting

Corn Bunting



Large White

Southern Small White

Clouded Yellow

Southern White Admiral

Red Admiral

Painted Lady


Woodland Grayling

Eastern Rock Grayling

Common Meadow Brown

Small Copper

Holly Blue

Common Blue


Blue Emperor

Lesser Emperor

Small Skimmer

Red-veined Darter


Lesvos Cicada (heard)

Red Fox (RIP)


Persian Squirrel

Marsh Frog

Balkan Wall Lizard

Glass Lizard (RIP)

Stripe-necked Terrapin

European Pond Terrapin