This was a family holiday booked last year through Olympic Holidays to get some hot sun that my wife craves for at least once a year. As it turned out it was a great relief to escape the pouring rain experienced in the UK over the previous months.
We left Birmingham airport just about on time at 05:55 and arrived at 13:00 local. We did not have any real plan of action other than the sites noted in a trip report by John Jennings from May 1998 (one of the few reports I could find). We were to be based in the far south of the island at Katelios, a very productive area according to the report. I realised of course that the timing of our visit was just about as wrong as you could get and would be relying on resident species.
One of my favourate birding websites is Fuglafrettir - the Icelandic site. Having visited there a few years ago, it brings back fond memories. On the site is a diary where the author has a guess as to which bird will be the first to be seen when visiting another country. He says that generally, crows are to be found at many airports. On landing we peered out of the windows to see what was about. In short - nothing.
It was not until we had got off the plane into the blast furnace like heat and were just about to enter the terminal building that the first bird was seen - a House Martin. Well that blew the Icelandic theory straight away. While waiting for the transfer to our accommodation, House Sparrow and Collered Dove were added to the list. Exciting stuff I'm sure you'll agree. The one hour transfer to Katelios produced nothing other than more House Martins and our first Barn Swallows. It must be the heat, I thought to myself.
After checking in to our excellent appartment at the Efrosini Village and unpacking, we went to the pool bar for a snack and a drink. While sitting in the shade enjoying an ice cold Mythos, we saw our first 'foreign' birds as a small group of Red-rumped Swallows came to drink from the swimming pool. Nice!
Jane and Grace then decided that it was time for a nap - no stamina, we'd only been up since 03:00. During the next few hours I birded the grounds of the complex - saw zillions of House Sparrows and an overflying Goldfinch. Still too hot. Later, from the balcony, when things cooled a little, birding started to improve a little with a pair of Common Buzzards soaring over the nearby hillside, a Blue Tit called and showed well from a fig tree and a high altitude group of Common Swifts included at least three Alpine, a lifer for me (and Jane if she had been awake). Not a great start but the hire car would be arriving tomorrow and we could get out and about.
I must point out here that Grace is a teenager who thinks that Jane and I are SAD. When I mentioned a few days later that Golden Eagles were a possible in the national park, she proceeded to call out 'GOLDEN EAGLE' just about every time she saw a bird that we had'nt. I think you get the picture.
Our hire car arrived, a brand new Fiat Panda with air-con. This turned out to be the most underpowered car I have ever driven - especially with the air-con working, and required thrashing without mercy to climb the many steep and winding roads on the island. Anyway, we decided on a bit of a road trip to check out any likely looking local birding sites in readiness for early morning visits. We took the coast road to Poros via Skala. A few SBJ's were briefly seen in flight, a Jay being the only definite tick of the journey. After a brief walk around Poros we returned to Katelios via the inland route. On the way we came across two man-made reed fringed reservoirs. a brief stop added Yellow-legged Gull to the list, a small group of which were loafing about on the reservoir nearest the road. This place looked well worth an early visit having a good range of accessible habitat. Further on and at much higher altitude, a Woodchat Shrike was seen sitting on a shotgun blasted road sign. This area was also deemed worth returning to early on. The rest of the afternoon and early evening were spent avoiding the 40 degree heat. Later on while eating at beach side resturant, at least three Scops Owls were heard singing in the many eucalyptus trees surrounding the village. Now where's that torch!
Up at 06:15 to visit the shrike area. Parked up and walked several goat tracks leading from the road. Even though it was only just light, there was very little about. Anything seen in flight tended to vanished immediately into deep cover on landing - very frustrating! Eventually I did manage to get a decent view of a Sardinian Warbler and a long distance view of a Blackbird in the valley bottom. So, on to the reservoir. On the water there was not a single bird, just swallows and martins hawking for insects. A walk up a goat track from the road produced a Turtle Dove, several very noisy Jays and a possible Whitethroat. The track eventually lead to the other reservoir. Again, nothing. Good grief!!
It was starting to get quite hot by now so I decided to head back. On the way I came across a steep sided valley that was still in full shade - worth a look. After a short while a single bird flew out of cover and landed on the ground not twenty yards away - Orphean Warbler.YES!. After 'high-fiving' my imaginary companion I continued down the track but saw nothing else. Closer to 'home' a glimpse of a low flying raptor caused an emergency stop (Fiat Panda's have very good brakes). I was lucky to pick up the bird again and was well chuffed to see three Lesser Kestrels. The rest of the day was spent on a beautiful beach reading a good book and watching seaplanes re-filling their water tanks in the bay after dumping it on local hill fires. More of this later.
A site-seeing day to some caves, which were good, near the town of Sami. Had a late lunch there and found a few Yellow-legged Gulls in the harbour. Our return journey took us past the entrance road to the national park(possible Golden Eagles), so up we went. Near the top is a radar station for the Greek airforce after which the road became a little too rough for my liking since I was told by the Avis rep. who delivered the car that I would not be insured off-road. This was definitely off-road so I 'bottled' it despite being called a wimp by the ladies. We stopped a few times on the way down but saw nothing but a couple of Common Buzzards and later on an overflying Raven. At night after dinner the Scops were in fine voice and we managed to get the briefest of in-flight views of one. This was a lifer for Jane and I but Jane said that we couldn't 'have it'as it could have been anything. Spoilsport!
After consuming far too much ouzo the night before, getting up early was out of the question. I spent most of the day hungover on our shaded balcony feeling sorry for myself and reading. A visit from a Sparrowhawk caused much alarm amongst the local swallows and martins.
Not up early enough to travel far so decided to bird a local track I had seen on the way to the beach mentioned earlier. The area consisted of small river - dry, but with lots of bankside vegitation and mature trees and a scrubby hillside that would remain in shade until 09:30 ish. First area nearest the road bridge produced a couple of Great Tits, a nice Sombre Tit and a number the most nervous warblers I have ever come across. I wasted so much time here trying to identify them that by the time I started up the track the sun was emerging over the hillside. I was not surprized to see nothing but lots of Jays, a Blackbird and a few Sardinian Warblers. Dishearted and not a little annoyed with myself at wasting time, I went back to the appartment via Ano Katelios adding Chaffinch and Greenfinch to the rapidly expanding trip list. We had decided on a trip out to Lixouri, visiting the Livardi marshes on the way. On arrival I was a little surprised to see that a small area of the marsh still contained water and was quite hopeful of a few birds. We parked up and scoped the area finding only a small group of Little Egrets and a couple of Grey Herons in and around the water. To be fair, the heat haze made viewing very difficult through a scope. A short walk down the road produced Crested Larks, a single Corn Bunting and a Zitting Cisticola. About half way along the marsh area is a side road which leads to a quarry. This area produced good numbers of Woodchat Shrikes, a Kestrel, two Common Buzzards and the best bird of the day - Lesser Grey Shrike, a life tick for both of us. The rest of the day brought no new birds or many birds at all really. We returned to Argostoli using the very cheap car ferry (approx &6 for car and passengers)which cut the long and tedious drive in half.
Did nothing but slob out by the pool nearly all day. The Scops' were very vocal in the village again that night but difficult to pin down.
An early morning visit to a likely looking area spotted on the way back yesterday. Again very quiet with little movement. Excellent close views of a pair of Common Buzzards and a family group of Woodchat Shrikes. Sitting patiently under a small olive tree eventually produced Sardinian and Orphean Warblers. A single Blackbird and several Jays were the only other birds seen during my three hour visit. This was the last time I ventured out early morning - there didn't seem much point in loosing sleep for nothing, I was on holiday after all.
Later, we all went down to the beach noted earlier. My wife's frantic gesturing from the sea to look inland revealed a fine pair of Elanora's Falcon seeing off a Common Buzzard - Excellent. A single Yellow-Legged Gull flow over the beach some fifty pages of book later.
A Little Owl was heard at night in town.
We were awoken very early on by the sound of low overflying helicopters and radial engined aircraft. There was a strong smell of burning in the air. From our balcony we saw that pretty much all the surrounding hillsides were on fire and that many properties higher up would be in danger. The aircraft naturally concentrated on protecting these properties, leaving the heavily vegitated hillsides to burn. At this hour the fires were about two miles away but obviously getting closer. As a result of the fires, there were large numbers of raptors seen in the area. A maximum of eight Common Buzzards were seen at one point with Lesser and common Kestrel, Sparrowhawk present at various times. A brief view of a pale buffy-brown hawk later proved to be a Levant Sparrowhawk as it flew by our appartment at about twenty five metres. Great,another life tick!
We continued to watch the fire's progress throughout the day and by about 6pm it was clear that we were at risk. We packed the valuables - scope, bins, cameras etc. into a suitcase and headed for the beach in town. This is where we stayed all night along with many other people from our complex and the surrounding properties.
We returned to our appartment at 06:30 to find the whole of the poolside area turned into a makeshift refugee camp. It transpired that the whole of the nearby resort of Skala had been evacuated in the middle of the night due to the fire and billowing dense smoke. Thankfully the fires were now all but out. Nobody had been seriously hurt and few properties damaged - good news indeed. The fire had burnt to within fifty metres of our complex after it managed to jump the road between us and Ano Katelios. We all retired to bed for most of the day.
A trip out to Fiskardo in the far north of the island and the only place not destroyed by the massive earthquake in 1953. Renouned for it's old Venetian architecture and stamping ground for the rich and famous. What we found was a very expensive tourist trap heaving with people. Very little of the buildings could be seen as just about every open space was covered with huge parasols for tourists to eat and drink under. A new bird was added however. On climbing the steps back to the car park a pair of Hooded Crows were heard and then seen in the shade of a large fig tree.
The Scops' again proved elusive in town that night.
A trip to Argostoli to do some shopping and visit the lagoon which is a nature reserve with a visitor centre - which was closed. Nothing of great interest except the Mute Swan cygnates, which although only half grown, had almost completely white plumage. Also present were a flock of very sad looking domestic docks and geese whose wings had been clipped in such an appalling manner it looked like a chain-saw had been used to complete the task. Walking further around the lagoon produced five Coots, billions of House Sparrows and a few Chaffinches and Goldfinches - all of which were incredibly nervous. later, while walking across the sunken bridge that creates the lagoon, we were fortunate to see a Loggerhead Turtle at very close range.
That night it became clear that the Scops' were quite mobile before it got dark, afterwhich they tended to stay in a single tree singing happily away. I had a plan.
We all did very little except pack our belongings and read by the pool until going down town for an early dinner. My plan was to stand below one of the trees where the Scops' had been singing from for most of the week before it became completely dark and then play the IDentify Birds 'Eurasian Scops Owl Singing' file on my mobile phone at full blast. I'd tried this previously in the dark but got no result. So, standing just off the road under a large eucalyptus tree I started to play the file while the ladies stood nearby pretending not to know me. RESULT! Within about ten minutes I had no less than three Scops Owls flying into and around my tree giving excellent views. Even Jane had to agree that we could have these - another life tick.
Going home day. We were all happy to be leaving as we had become quite bored. No dramas at the airport, all very smooth and efficient. Left early and arrived back in the UK even earlier due to a tailwind.
And what was the first bird seen on landing on English soil?.....a Carrion Crow.
In short, Kefalonia is a beautiful well kept island and a lovely place for a holiday but if you like birding as something to do while on holidaying on a Greek island, go to Lesbos. We visited there at roughly the same time of year in 2005 and saw nearly ninety species in less than a week.
Red Rumped Swallow
Alpine Swift (L)
Wellow Legged Gull
Lesser Grey Shrike (L)
Levant Sparrowhawk (L)
Scop's Owl (L)
(L) Life list bird.