Greece, Lesvos - April 23rd - May 1st 2009

Published by Bob Buckler (bobbuckler49 AT

Participants: Bob Buckler and eight participants


Wingspan Bird Tours made yet another great tour of this Aegean island gem with a group of 8 intrepid wing-spanners: The group participants were: Denise Chamings, Ann Osborne, Chris and Sandra Woodruff, Ken and Margaret Smith, Barbara Priest and David Davidson


A good deal of rain had fallen during early spring and wild flowers covered every square meter of the uncultivated land. Seasonal pools were full but despite the promise of a great birding trip it did not fully materialize as we had to work hard to find some of the annual migrants that usually grace the pools and flower meadows; several species that were normally present did not turn up at all during our stay.

Bird-watching highlights

Day 1 - Thursday 23rd April

As we stepped from the plane at Mytiline Airport we were greeted by a cold north-easterly breeze and only 13 degrees, not quite what we expected from this island in the sun! As we drove towards Skala Kalloni it was obvious that a lot of rain had fallen in recent weeks, the island was verdant with new growth, wild flowers flourished along the roadside and many roadside pools held plenty of water. We quickly arrived at our hotel and after checking in we met in the car park for our first birding excursion but not before admiring the song of our local Nightingales and having great views of the resident Spanish Sparrow.

We walked the few meters to the Kalloni Pool and began to start our list as we caught site of Hooded Crow, Barn Swallow, House Martin and Yellow-legged Gull along the lane. The pool had plenty of open water but it was too deep for waders, egrets and herons, we managed to see Garganey, Mallard, Moorhen, Little Grebe and Squacco Heron. Passerines were found in the tamarisk scrub and included Cetti’s and Great Reed Warblers, Greenfinch and Goldfinch, Crested Lark and Corn Bunting.

For the last half hour we drove the short distance to the Tsiknias River where we had good views of four Slender-billed Gulls, a single Mediterranean Gull, a single Common Ringed Plover, Common Shelduck, Little, Common and Sandwich Terns, Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper and a Glossy Ibis. We drove up river to the bridge, where we added Sand Martin and then on to the Komares River and back through Skala Kallonis to our hotel. Along the way back we logged Marsh Harrier and more Terns, with fading light we returned to the hotel just in time for dinner, well satisfied with our first birding outing.

Day 2 - Friday 24th April

We awoke to a clear blue sky and a chilly north easterly breeze, so fleeces were the order of the day. Our early morning excursion took us to the salt pans and in particular a track on the western edge of the pans. Along the track we searched nearby open ground for a reported Spur-winged Plover and after about half an hour this superb bird appeared. In the meantime we logged many new species for the trip, there were many Yellow Wagtails with varying degrees of head colour, ranging from the jet black (feldegg).to the brown of the nominate race. We also noted many Whinchats, several Red-throated Pipits, Greater Short-toed Larks, Montagu’s Harriers, Marsh Harrier and a Common Buzzard. Along the muddy fringe of the salt pans there were dozens of Wood Sandpipers, small groups of Ruff, and a couple of Curlew Sandpipers. We worked our way around the to the back of the pans and scanned the water meadows that lay beyond them, these flooded fields held many birds the most notable being Glossy Ibis (34), Great Egret (4), Purple Heron (2), Spotted Redshank (1), Squacco Heron (1) and Garganey (3).

After returning to the hotel for breakfast we set off to look at the eastern side of the pans, the sun had risen but so had the wind and it felt quite cold. From the track we logged Common and Little Terns, Avocet and impressive numbers of Little Egrets with (105) in one area alone. Mute Swan (3) was a good Lesvos tick and Black Storks numbered (4), White Storks (2) added to good numbers of Grey Herons. A distant Cuckoo reminded us that it was spring despite the cold conditions, the wind drove us off in the end and we set off for the Achladeri pine woods. A short walk, in warmer conditions, and a very short wait was rewarded with excellent views of Kruper’s Nuthatch which was followed by brief views of Short-toed Treecreeper after a fairly long walk into the woods. We spent a while looking for raptors from a prominent open area along the track and logged a couple of Short-toed Eagles and a Long-legged Buzzard. Returning to woods we decided to eat our picnic lunch and during which time we saw another Long-legged Buzzard, a third Short-toed Eagle and a Honey Buzzard. In the woods we had great views of the superb Masked Shrike, we also saw another good Lesvos bird in the shape of a Collared Flycatcher, then a pair of Woodchat Shrikes appeared and we had the briefest of views of a Cirl Bunting just before we left.

We headed off back to the salt pans for another search, the wind had dropped and the temperature rose into the mid twenties and the birds kept on coming. A Couple of Temminck’s Stints gave us a good show and a flock of some 25 Whiskered Terns held 3 White Winged Terns, during the next hour many of this morning’s species were re-located. We had good close views of Olivaceous Warbler before setting off into the flat water meadows near the beach. During the next hour we watched many species and got the run-a-round from a Tawny Pipit, near the beach we watched a Stone Curlew, Greater Short-toed Larks (19), Whinchats and the ubiquitous pair, and my favourites, the Crested Lark and the Scorn Bunting.

For the last hour we visited the Tsiknias River which was very quiet, but we did see Little Stint, we moved on to the Kalloni Pool which we found also very quiet except for excellent views of a Reed Warbler and the finding of a superb bird for Lesvos, the Great Bittern. The views of the Bittern were brief, as they usually are with this species, but there was no mistaking this island beauty.

Day 5 - Monday 27th May

Another early breakfast and another fine morning to start another great day on this magical bird-watching island. Our destination today was Vatera at the southern tip of the island, a good place to search for migrant species and has been quite productive in recent years. We stopped briefly at the eastern side of the salt pans at Kalloni, the air was still, the pans were beautifully lit in morning light and the birds looked magnificent, especially the Greater Flamingos in flight. Several species were noted very close to us such as Kentish Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Wood Sandpiper, Red-throated Pipit, Whinchat, Yellow Wagtail and a Little Grebe. The air was alive with hirundines, a conservative estimation put the number of Barn Swallows at 2000! Then there were hundreds of both House Martins and Sand Martins and lesser numbers of Common Swifts.

We drove through ‘Derbyshire’ and noted 6 Black Storks in a small road side pool alongside a Great Egret, Grey Heron and a Little Egret, passing through Achladeri we turned onto the main road towards Mytiline and stopped after a couple of miles on a woodland track. Our target species was Serin which we noted after 30 seconds, but we also added Cirl Bunting and some lovely brightly coloured Chaffinches. A little further along the road we turned off and drove along the ‘old road’ through a tiny village called Diminios, we were able to stop and park anywhere we liked as the road was completely deserted. We made several stops taking short walks along the road which overlooked a quintessential babbling brook, our target birds were more likely to be seen in the UK than Greece but the scenery and habitat made a complete contrast to anything else found on Lesvos. We failed to see our target birds but we noted Collared Flycatcher, Kruper’s Nuthatch, Coal Tit and not much else.

We passed through Polichnitos (noting the ice-cream shop on the corner) and dropped down into Vatera stopping just beyond the bridge on the eastern river. There was a large movement of Greek army personnel and a stream of vehicles, including armoured trucks and tanks, passing us by, the noise and disturbance put paid to any serious birding. However, we did see, Common and Green Sandpiper, Reed Warbler, Kingfisher and a trickle of Alpine Swifts above us. We walked the river bank which was covered in a beautiful array of flowering plants and we ended up at the mouth of the river at the beach, a good place to take our lunch which we promptly did. A few small parties of Yelkouen Shearwaters were passing by and a single Cormorant flew across the bay, two Purple Herons flew in off the sea and several Red-rumped Swallows passed overhead, but little else caught our attention. Following the track to Agios Fokos we made a couple of stops to search for Sardinian Warbler, this species is extremely common in most of Europe, but on Lesvos it is hard to locate. We all got brief glimpses of the bird, unlike the views of Middle Spotted Woodpecker as one flashed across the road and only yours truly saw it.

On the return journey a visit to the aforementioned ice-cream shop was obligatory but not without a purpose because as we sat in the sunshine and ate our iced delights we watched the local, giant-Stork’s-nest for signs of life, we saw far more of House Sparrows in the nest than the single sitting Stork.

The Polichnitos salt pans were being battered by a strong wind coming off the sea which ruined our visit to a certain extent, however there were good numbers of Wood Sandpiper to look at. We also noted many Yellow Wagtails a few White Wagtails and a Red-backed Shrike.

It was late afternoon when we arrived back at Kalloni salt pans where we noted a small influx of waders, there were now 20+ Curlew Sandpipers, 10+ Little Stints and a good flock of 200 Ruff. On the flooded meadow we saw two Squacco Herons, several Glossy Ibis, a Great Egret, Whiskered Tern, White-winged Tern and a Marsh Harrier. On the return journey we stopped to look at a shrike on the telephone wire and it turned out to be a Lesser Grey Shrike to the great delight of the group, our first one and what a beauty. The last stop was at the mouth of the Tsiknias river where Common Terns loafed with a single Mediterranean Gull, a few Little Terns fished nearby and as we left 4 Slender-billed Gulls dropped in.

Day 6 - Tuesday 28th May

Ipsilou Monastery was our destination for the day and we made good progress having left the hotel at 8:30am arriving at 9:45am stopping only at the Eresos ‘crossroads’ to admire the Isabelline Wheatears found there. We wrapped up warm because it is always cold and windy up at the monastery, however, this visit proved to be quite the opposite, a clear sky and very still air that soon warmed up. We parked at the top of the hill on which this small monastery was built and walked down through the wooded hillside, the slope was very steep so that we could look into the canopy of the trees below us without straining our necks. One of our first birds that we encountered was a beautiful Little Owl that sat and watched us from the canopy, the bird was at eye level and regarded us with a nonchalant glance.

The whole wooded hillside acts as a migrant trap and with the right weather conditions can be ‘dripping’ with migrant warbler species, but having had clear overnight skies for the last few nights the migrants were few and far between. We counted the birds as we descended through the wood, Wood Warbler (7), Spotted Flycatcher (9), Pied Flycatcher (3), not a huge haul. Some of resident species added a little excitement to our morning, we watched Cinereous and Cretzchmar’s Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush, Black-eared Wheatear and a pair of Rock Nuthatches visiting their nest. The first of three singing Woodlarks took a while to find and more of the same Buntings were found on the lower treeless slopes.

What goes down must go up, now we were at the base of this high pinnacle we had to climb back up to the bus, we took the tarmac road at a gentle pace. Along the climb we notched one of our target species the Rock Petronia (Sparrow), but also saw Alpine Swift, Short-toed Eagle, Subalpine Warbler, Common Whitethroat and more buntings. Back at the top we looked down over sparse scrub on the eastern slope and found two Lesser Whitethroats and more Wood Warblers, we then took the bus down the western side stopping at an area that we had not searched yet. This proved to be rewarding as we had brief views of Chiffchaff, Common Redstart and a very distant Montagu’s Harrier.

Moving on we headed for Sigri and only stopped when we saw a group of six Lesser Kestrels feeding just above the hillside and to our delight a Red-footed Falcon flew high over the Kestrels whilst we had the Kestrels in view. We then drove through Sigri and took the coastal track towards Eresos, parking just a kilometer outside Sigri to eat our picnic lunch. Our chosen site overlooked a dry riverbed, where earlier, other birders had seen a Rufous Bush Robin. We had several false alarms as similar sized species appeared, one in the shape of a female Red-backed Shrike and two Great Reed Warblers. There were also several Whinchats and many Crested Larks. After about an hour we decided to go, we gave the Bush Chat one more chance to show up and he kindly obliged giving the briefest of views as he flew from one bush to another.

The wind began to pick up and the afternoon temperature required fleeces but we still enjoyed a couple more stops in the Maladia valley. We added Blackcap to our trip list and noted Woodchat Shrike, Bee-eater, lots more Whinchats and several flycatchers to our day list. Our journey back to Skala Kalloni was relatively uneventful except for a stop at the river in Skala Eresos. From the bridge we saw Little Ringed Plover, Common and Wood Sandpipers and two Little Bitterns. We arrived back at 5:30pm giving just enough time for a short outing for those that wanted to and five of us set off to the Komares river on the west side of town. We walked across the salt marsh to the mouth of the river noting Yellow Wagtail, Red-throated Pipit, Wood Sandpiper, Greenshank, Little Egret and Common Tern. Lastly we drove upriver and parked just above the bridge where we watched Kentish Plover and more Wood Sandpipers, we called it a day at 6pm and headed back into town.

Day 7 - Wednesday 30th May

Our last full day and we intended to make the most of it; we were up and out by 6:30am our first destination was the river Tsiknias. At the river mouth there were a few Common Terns and not much else so we drove up to the ford and crossed over to the track that leads to the salt pans. We logged many species but failed to see anything new for our list, the dull overcast skies and chilly conditions did not help our cause so we bid a hasty retreat and headed back for breakfast.

At 9am we were back on the road passing through Kalloni before turning north on the track alongside the upper section of the Tsiknias river, we searched the sandy banks and riverside vegetation for a Great Snipe that had been seen the previous day but we had no luck, a few Wood Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plovers and good views of Great Reed, Cetti’s and Olivaceous Warblers was all we had.

Passing through Paraskevi and Napi we entered a wide valley with gently rolling hillsides, the wooded valley floor was broken by open areas of grass meadows and farm buildings. We parked the bus overlooking this scenic vista and our first bird was a Hoopoe found sitting in a nearby tree, next we found Rock Nuthatch, Cretzchmar’s Bunting, Black-eared Wheatear, Turtle Dove and a Jay.

We stopped at a couple of places along this lovely valley hoping to find Olive-Tree Warbler and during our search we added Common Cuckoo, Masked and Woodchat Shrikes, Cirl Bunting and heard a Thrush Nightingale but despite a thorough search the bird failed to show and neither did the Olive Tree Warbler. At the head of the valley we turned onto a dirt track and made our way to another Olive grove where the elusive Warbler was known to frequent, we had great views of Golden Oriole but not the warbler. It began to rain so we decided to head back up the valley and take our lunch at the salt pans, what a good decision that turned out to be. The weather improved, blue sky appeared and the temperature rose, soon it was obvious that the recent heavy low cloud and rain had forced many birds to drop from the sky and rest a while in the salt pans. At the eastern end of the pans we could see many Whiskered and White-winged Terns, we found a single Black Tern and three Spoonbills which were located high up in the sky as they made their descent onto the marsh in the distance.

Next we watched a real gem at close quarters, a male Citrine Wagtail and whilst watching the wagtail out popped a Little Crake just a few meters from us. We headed to the west side stopping several times to look at the large flocks of waders that had newly arrived, there were Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Greenshank and Wood Sandpiper all in good numbers and we also picked up Stone Curlew and Slender-billed Gull a little further along the track. For lunch we sat at the beach café, drinking hot coffee and devouring our picnic, even then the birds kept on coming, a beautifully marked Pallid Harrier flew along the beach straight passed us!

We then walked the large sheep field at the southern side of the salt pans and at one stretch of water we found six Common Ringed Plover, and singles of Dunlin and Temminck’s Stint, there we also Glossy Ibis, Wood Sandpiper, Red-throated Pipit and lots of Yellow Wagtails. Heading back towards the Tsiknias river we spent a pleasant hour watching recently arrived migrants in the shape of Lesser Grey Shrike (3), Red-backed Shrike (2), Bee-eater (6), Whinchat (6), Common Whitethroat and Black-headed Bunting. The sky was full of thousands of hirundines and we noted Montagu’s and Marsh Harriers, a Hobby, two Short-toed Eagles, Long-legged Buzzard and a second Pallid Harrier. It’s hard to believe that so many species can be seen in such a short space of time.

Back at the Tsiknias river-mouth we found Slender-billed Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Sandwich Tern, Little Tern and Common Tern. As we made the short trip back to the hotel we had a little time to reflect on the vast amount of different species we had seen during the day, 4 Shrikes, 4 Buntings, 6 Terns, 7 Warblers, 13 Waders, 3 Herons, the list goes on, we logged 95 species during the day!

Day 8 - Thursday 1st May

Our last day began with breakfast at 7am and by 8:30am we were at the Metochi Lake in beautiful light, fantastic scenery and a plethora of birds, what a great way to spend our last morning. We spent an hour or so watching Little Crakes, Little Bittern, Squacco Heron and a good variety of warblers. Bee-eaters flew over and Golden Orioles called from nearby trees as we left this superb venue. We took the tracks to the Potomia river and spent a couple of hours walking along the river bank hoping to catch a glimpse of Middle Spotted Woodpecker, without success. En-route we came across a great sight of some 30 Turtle Doves feeding on freshly ploughed earth in an olive grove. Birds were scarce on the ground so we move to another section of the river and watched a small Bee-eater colony for a time, we also had good views of a Great Reed Warbler before moving off to the salt pans at Kalloni.

Along the west track leading onto the pans we finally bumped into a small flock of Collared Pratincoles hawking insects above the water meadows, just above them there was also a single Red-footed Falcon. Just 100 meters away we found a Marsh Sandpiper very close to the roadside and affording great views for the group, so within 30 minutes we had added three new species for the trip and very good ones at that. It was fast approaching the time to leave the pans and to head off back to the hotel to finalize our packing before setting off to the airport for our return home.

Species Lists

The species list shown below includes birds seen during the following week, April 30th – May 6th.

1 Little Grebe
2 Cory’s Shearwater
3 Yelkouan Shearwater
4 Great Cormorant
5 European Shag
6 Eurasian Bittern
7 Little Bittern
8 Black-crowned Night-Heron
9 Squacco Heron
10 Little Egret
11 Great Egret
12 Grey Heron
13 Purple Heron
14 Black Stork
15 White Stork
16 Glossy Ibis
17 Greater Flamingo
18 Spoonbill
19 Mute Swan
20 Ruddy Shelduck
21 Common Shelduck
22 Garganey
23 Mallard
24 Pintail
25 Osprey
26 Honey Buzzard
27 Short-toed Eagle
28 Western Marsh Harrier
29 Montagu's Harrier
30 Pallid Harrier
31 Northern Goshawk
32 Eurasian Sparrowhawk
33 Common Buzzard
34 Long-legged Buzzard
35 Lesser Kestrel
36 Common Kestrel
37 Red-footed Falcon
38 Eurasian Hobby
39 Eleonora’s Falcon
40 Peregrine Falcon
41 Common Quail
42 Chukar
43 Spotted Crake
44 Little Crake
45 Common Moorhen
46 Eurasian Coot
47 Pied Avocet
48 Black-winged Stilt
49 Stone Curlew
50 Collared Pratincole
51 Common Ringed Plover
52 Little Ringed Plover
53 Grey Plover
54 Kentish Plover
55 Spur-winged Lapwing
56 Sanderling
57 Little Stint
58 Temminck’s Stint
59 Dunlin
60 Curlew Sandpiper
61 Ruff
62 Marsh Sandpiper
63 Common Greenshank
64 Spotted Redshank
65 Green Sandpiper
66 Wood Sandpiper
67 Common Sandpiper
68 Mediterranean Gull
69 Little Gull
70 Black-headed Gull
71 Slender-billed Gull
72 Yellow-legged Gull
73 Sandwich Tern
74 Gull-billed Tern
75 Little Tern
76 Whiskered Tern
77 Black Tern
78 White-winged Tern
79 Common Tern
80 Rock Dove /Feral Pigeon
81 Eurasian Collared Dove
82 European Turtle Dove
83 Common Cuckoo
84 Little Owl
85 Eurasian Scops Owl
86 Common Swift
87 Pallid Swift
88 Alpine Swift
89 European Bee-eater
90 European Roller
91 Common Kingfisher
92 Eurasian Hoopoe
93 Middle-sp. Woodpecker
94 Greater Short-toed Lark
95 Crested Lark
96 Wood Lark
97 Sand Martin
98 Eurasian Crag Martin
99 Barn Swallow
100 Red-rumped Swallow
101 House Martin
102 Tawny Pipit
103 Tree Pipit
104 Red-throated Pipit
105 Yellow Wagtail
106 Yellow Wagtail
107 Yellow Wagtail
108 Yellow Wagtail
109 Citrine Wagtail
110 Grey Wagtail
111 White Wagtail
112 Winter Wren
113 Rufous Bush Robin
114 European Robin
115 Common Nightingale
116 Thrush Nightingale
117 Common Redstart
118 Whinchat
119 European Stonechat
120 Isabelline Wheatear
121 Northern Wheatear
122 Black-eared Wheatear
123 Blue Rock Thrush
124 Eurasian Blackbird
125 Mistle Thrush
126 Cetti's Warbler
127 Sedge Warbler
128 Eurasian Reed Warbler
129 Great Reed Warbler
130 Eastern Olivaceous
131 Olive-tree Warbler
132 Icterine Warbler
133 Subalpine Warbler
134 Sardinian Warbler
135 Ruppell’s Warbler
136 Eastern Orphean Warbler
137 Lesser Whitethroat
138 Common Whitethroat
139 Blackcap
140 Wood Warbler
141 Willow Warbler
142 Common Chiffchaff
143 Spotted Flycatcher
144 Pied Flycatcher
145 Collared Flycatcher
146 Sombre Tit
147 Coal Tit
148 Eurasian Blue Tit
149 Great Tit
150 Kruper’s Nuthatch
151 Western Rock Nuthatch
152 Short-toed Treecreeper
153 Golden Oriole
154 Red-backed Shrike
155 Lesser Grey Shrike
156 Woodchat Shrike
157 Masked Shrike
158 Eurasian Jay
159 Eurasian Jackdaw
160 Hooded Crow
161 Northern Raven
162 Common Starling
163 House Sparrow
164 Spanish Sparrow
165 Rock Petronia
166 Common Chaffinch
167 European Serin
168 European Greenfinch
169 European Goldfinch
170 Eurasian Linnet
171 Cirl Bunting
172 Cinereous Bunting
173 Cretzschmar’s Bunting
174 Black-headed Bunting
175 Corn Bunting