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Greece 2019

Mark Finn
April 19-27th

Our annual tour to the Greek island of Lesbos was affected by cool northerly wind in the first half of the week and a brief spell of summer sunshine in the latter stages. Despite this we ended up with 148 species which was higher than 2018. Kruper's Nuthatch was missed this year and by most other tour companies for unknown reasons - maybe the cold and wet weather the island had last winter. A good mix of migrants and resident birds were made during our stay. In total 990km travelled during the week along quite roads with impressive vistas and scenery. Our next tour to Lesbos is April 2020

April 19th: Skala Kalloni, Kalloni Pools, East River, Kalloni Saltpans, Napi Valley
Daily 70 New 70 Running 70
Weather: Sunny with a cold N wind 7-15C

After the flight and travelling from London to Lesbos via Athens it was a relief to get some rest and start birding at 0800 hours on the 19th. The weather was to play its part today with a cool and unseasonal north wind having a major impact on the northward migration of birds. Our first stop was literally on our doorstep at Kalloni Pools where recent management work has revealed areas of water like the old days of the 1990's. The group quickly located Squacco and Purple Herons, Glossy Ibis, Barn Swallow, House Martin and a single Black Stork. A scan offshore into the Gulf of Kalloni revealed two Great Crested Grebes, Yellow-legged Gulls and a Common Tern. The recent winter weather has had an effect on the dirt roads and river crossings making it impossible in places. I decided to visit the East River where we connected with typical birds of farmland on Lesbos notably Crested Lark and Corn Bunting whilst the wetter areas attracted Common Nightingale and Cetti's Warbler. On reaching the East River a walk down towards the point was productive for Sedge and European Reed Warblers, Eurasian Hoopoe and rather oddly two Little Bitterns flying in off the gulf. On reaching the beach a view of the point added Common and Sandwich Terns, Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls, Greater Flamingo and a Great Cormorant. A bonus offshore were at least three Black-necked Grebes in summer plumage. Next on the agenda was Kalloni Saltpans an important staging point for migratory birds. En route nice views of a male Eurasian Marsh Harrier. At the first pools good numbers of Greater Flamingo and Wood Sandpipers. In the muddy fringes a few Ruff and Black-headed and Western Yellow Wagtails feeding on insects. By the race track Northern Wheatear and Whinchat posed on posts whilst a flock of migrant Spanish Sparrows showed in a bush. Before leaving the saltpans Black-headed Wagtail were noted feeding on a grassy bund. I decided to head inland towards the Napi Valley where we observed a White Stork along the way. On arrival in the valley a male Pied Flycatcher was noted with a pair of attractive Masked Shrikes in a thorny bush. Overhead we located Common Buzzard, Short-toed Eagle and a Peregrine Falcon. A walk along the valley added Woodchat Shrike, Great and Eurasian Blue Tits, Common Blackbird and two Red-rumped Swallows. A return to the valley after lunch added little of note so I headed up the road to a vista with views towards Turkey. This proved to be a good move as sightings of Eurasian Kestrel, Ruddy Shelduck, Sardinian Warbler and Common Stonechat followed. Back down the road stopping at a farm with varied habitats and a stream. This proved to be good for European Turtle Dove, Black-eared Wheatear, Eastern Subalpine Warbler, Cirl Bunting and a Eurasian Jay. Final stop was the pans again with Eurasian Spoonbill and Sand Martin added to the list. A great first days birding in Lesbos.

April 20th: Kalloni Pools, Achladeri, Skamioudi, Polichnitos, Agia Fogas, Road to Agiasos, Kalloni Saltpans
Daily 63 New 19 Running 89
Weather: Sunny spells with a cool NE wind 7-16C

A quick look at Kalloni Pools added Common Moorhen and a calling Little Grebe. Our main objective was to visit the extensive pinewoods of southern Lesbos in search of Kruper's Nuthatch. Before reaching the main road outside Skala Kalloni a search of the salt-flats added Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Little Egret and Greater Flamingo. Achladeri was next with a stop at the river for views of Common Nightingale and singing Cetti's Warblers. In the open fields great views of Woodchat and Masked Shrikes, European Greenfinch, Cirl Bunting and Common Whitethroat. A Common Cuckoo flew past and into cover and a Eurasian Jay was briefly observed. Next stop was up the road and a walk into the forest with calling European Serin, Great and Blue Tits and Short-toed Treecreeper the latter being rather scarce this year. On the cliffs a Northern Raven showed well. A visit to Skamioudi was productive for Pied Avocet, Yellow-legged Gull, White Wagtail and two Great Cormorants. Further west the lagoons at Polichnitos had a few Black-necked Stilts and a pair of Black-tailed Godwits. I decided to visit the peninsula of Agia Fogas which juts out into the sea. The entrance road had a fall of Common Swifts and at least two Alpine Swifts. At the point Yelkouan Shearwaters were common offshore, a Whinchat dropped in off the sea, and in the scrub Sardinian and Eastern Subalpine Warblers. Our journey back towards Kalloni took us through the centre of the island a sparsely populated area with poor roads and spectacular vistas. A slow drive added Long-legged and Common Buzzards and a Middle Spotted Woodpecker. We ended the day at Kalloni Saltpans which was excellent as the group added Marsh Sandpipers, flocks of Gull-billed Terns and an increase in numbers of Pied Avocets. On the connecting track which was just about passable a fitting finale took place with sightings of Eurasian Marsh and Montagu's Harriers and a very close male Red-footed Falcon. I filled up with fuel and went back to base with a Great Egret resting on the pools a little bonus at the end of the day.

White Stork

April 21st: Metochi, Ipsilou, Geo Park, Sigri, Faneromeni, Old Sanatorium, Kalloni
Daily 78 New 24 Running 113
Weather: Sunny with NW winds 8-19C

An earlier start today with a pre-breakfast trip to Metochi Lake which is a few kilometres up the road. On arrival in was a different landscape from 2018 with many reeds being cut down and banks raised. Despite this change the open water held Little Grebe, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Mallard and Grey Heron. A careful search of the banks revealed Purple Heron, Little Crake and several Black-headed and Western Yellow Wagtails. In the surrounding trees at least two male European Golden Orioles, Common Nightingale, Eurasian Reed and Cetti's Warblers. Back to base for breakfast and afterwards the road to Sigri which is located in western Lesbos. In an area of rocks and oak woods a stop was made at a viewing point where the group observed Black Stork, Common and Long-legged Buzzards, Red-rumped Swallows, Eurasian Crag Martin, Black-eared Wheatear and the unusual site of two Ruddy Shelducks perched upon a high exposed rock! It was time to head towards Ipsilou Monastery which is situated in an elevated position and surrounded by oak woods and rocky slopes. Parked up on the east side with sightings of Northern Raven and another odd observation with a Peregrine Falcon chasing an adult Eleonora's Falcon. At the top we walked down the west side which was sheltered from the wind which resulted in excellent sightings of the scarce Cinereous Bunting and Cretzschmar's Bunting giving their 'Beethoven fifth' type songs. We heard singing Willow Warblers and I had views of a female Blue Rock Thrush. The Geo Park is close to the monastery and a slow drive to the abandoned visitor centre was productive for Isabelline Wheatear and a pair of Rock Nuthatch nesting near the old farm. Our journey down to Sigri added the very localised Western Jackdaw and a single European Shag fishing in the shallow waters of the harbour. Lunch was taken at Faneromeni where the ford and adjacent reeds harboured Common Nightingale and Eurasian Reed Warblers. A walk along the road after lunch added a male Collared Flycatcher, Eurasian Jay, Lesser and Common Whitethroats and a male Whinchat. A flooded field had Wood Sandpiper and Black-winged Stilts. A visit to the old sanatorium added Wood Warbler and a calling Common Quail. Our last stop was at Kalloni with views of a roosting European Scops Owl a fitting end to the day.

April 22nd: Kalloni Pool, The Bandstand, Petra Harbour and Reservoir, Skala Sikaminia, Kalloni Saltpans, East River
Daily 85 New 12 Running 125
Weather: Sunny with a N wind 10-19C

The usual species were around Kalloni Pools as we set off towards the north coast of Lesbos. Our first stop was at The Bandstand which is a noted migration point for birds of prey. On arrival a Rock Nuthatch showed well along with Woodchat Shrike, Cretzschmar's and Cirl Buntings, European Greenfinch, Eurasian Linnet and Common Whitethroat. Overhead we noted single Common Buzzard and a Black Stork. It was onto Petra a coastal location with cliffs and clear blue seas. A check of the harbour area had vast numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls and European Shags. Further up the road another stop quickly added the rare Ruppell's Warbler, Eastern Subalpine Warbler, Blue Rock Thrush and a Chukar calling from an exposed rock. An adult Audouin's Gull was briefly seen followed by visiting Petra Reservoir which held little of note. The road along the north coast had views across to Turkey but little in the way of birdlife. After passing the odd village of Skala Sikaminia we headed back south across the island to the Kalloni Saltpans. Initially it was quiet although Elspeth located a Common Kingfisher flying down the outer canal (we later watched one perched in a bush on the East River also located by Elspeth). A check of the back road added a single Greater Short-toed Lark and a female Eurasian Marsh Harrier. At the end of the day a return to the saltpans proved to be very productive with sightings of Curlew Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Little Stint and Marsh Sandpipers. On sandy islands a few Common, Sandwich and Whiskered Terns completed an excellent days birding.

Greater Flamingo

April 23rd: Faneromeni, Old Sanatorium, The Chapel, Meladia Valley, Filia, Kalloni Saltpans
Daily 85 New 9 Running 134
Weather: Rather cloudy with SE winds 8-19C

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A Blackcap near the hotel was the first new bird for the tour. Afterwards I headed in a westerly direction towards Sigri and the Faneromeni area. On arrival it was obvious a fall of birds had occurred overnight. A walk from the ford towards the junction was particularly rewarding for flycatchers which included many Collared, European Pied and Spotted. Other species present included Common Nightingale, Great Reed Warbler, Eurasian Hoopoe and Whinchat. A diversion to the beach area added Common and Wood Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plover, and offshore a group of Yelkouan Shearwaters. A Black-crowned Night Heron was new for the list as it looked for somewhere to roost. At the Old Sanatorium raptors were apparent including Long-legged and Common Buzzards, Peregrine Falcon and a male Montagu's Harrier. A walk around the garden added Eurasian Linnet and Wood Warbler and a singing Black-eared Wheatear in the mature fig tree. Further up the track leading towards The Chapel a Little Owl was located by Jo sitting on a broken stonewall. Lunch was taken by the chapel where we were entertained by Short-toed Eagles and Long-legged Buzzards hunting the rocky hillside. A surprise find was a male Ruppell's Warbler and a male Common Redstart. Next stop was at the flooded ford with recent weather patterns exposing the river side and vegetation. This was productive for Willow, Sedge and European Reed Warblers, European Pied and Collared Flycatchers, Woodchat Shrike and nearby a singing Eastern Orphean Warbler. Back to Kalloni with visits to Filia and Kalloni Saltpans. At the latter the group added Little, Whiskered and White-winged Terns and Temminck's Stints to the bird list.    

April 24th: Metochi, Kalloni Saltpans (various areas), Achladeri
Daily 83 New 6 Running 140
Weather: Rather mixed with cloud and sunny periods on a S wind 10-21C

Today was mainly spent in and around the Kalloni area with visits to saltpans, marshes and pinewoods to the south. The first birding spot was at Metochi where Lynda located a male Little Crake which showed well as it preened in sunlight. Also present were Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, Eurasian Jay and a male Red-footed Falcon near the hotel. It was time to visit the main saltpan complex with the main channel attracting Little and Temminck's Stints, Wood and Marsh Sandpipers and Common Terns. At the end of the track a scan of the gulf added Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes and migrating flocks of Western Yellow Wagtails. I decided to walk a short way into the sheep fields which was productive for Ruddy Shelduck, Greater Short-toed Lark, Black-headed Wagtail, Ruff and Kentish Plover. In acacia bushes we located singing Eastern Olivaceous Warblers. A visit to the eastern end of the pans was planned with a walk down a track adjacent to them. This proved to be very productive with sightings of Slender-billed and Black-headed Gulls, Common, White-winged and Little Terns, Eurasian Spoonbill, Eurasian Curlew, Common Greenshank, Curlew Sandpiper and a single Black Stork. A bonus came when a rather tatty Osprey was seen fishing in the canal. Information came in for birds near the 'salt mountain' so I headed in that direction and onto the back road towards the East River. This was good for migrating Collared Pratincoles, Whinchat and Red-throated Pipits taking water from a rather muddy puddle. Lunch taken at the river mouth with Alpine Swifts dropping down to drink and a rather noisy Common Whitethroat in full song. Early afternoon saw us in the pinewoods of Achladeri where similar birds to a few days ago were seen. Back to the saltpans with little change of sightings apart from Black-crowned Night Herons, Ringed Plover and Temminck's Stints. Back to base and a scan into the marsh where we located Eurasian and Little Bitterns and Purple Herons a fitting end to the day.

Black-eared Wheatear

April 25th: Ipsilou, Faneromeni, Old Sanatorium, Kalloni Saltpans
Daily 86 New 3 Running 143
Weather: Early cloud giving way to sunny spells on a SE wind 8-22C

Today we headed westwards again to visit the Ipsilou area where Woodlarks were in full song and showing well on stunted bushes. The usual birds of this rather harsh environment were present in good numbers. Further down the road we were lucky to locate a male Red-backed Shrike perched on a wire fence. Faneromeni was next on the agenda where a wide range of migrants were in the olive groves and fields. European Pied, Collared and Spotted Flycatchers, Wood and Great Reed Warbler, and Blackcap were observed whilst a few Alpine and Common Swifts came down to lower levels. A visit to Faneromeni Beach and the adjacent reed and river area proved to be productive with great views of a European Penduline Tit, Sedge Warbler and Black-headed Wagtails. After lunch another trip to the Old Sanatorium added nothing of note so I headed back to Kalloni. The birds at the saltpans had decreased in numbers although views of a female harrier species were inconclusive. Back to base via the river area where Red-throated Pipits were feeding close to the bandstand.

April 26th: Filia, Petra Reservoir, Polichnitos, Achladeri, Kalloni
Daily 67 New 5 Running 148
Weather: Early rain showers giving way to sunny spells on a N wind 6-22C

Our last full day in Lesbos was spent trying to find species which we had missed earlier in the week. I started the day by visiting the oak woods and fields above Filia which provided up with views of Eastern Bonelli's Warblers, Eurasian Wren and a European Robin in song, the latter two species being rather scarce on the island. Next was Petra Reservoir which was rather void of birds apart from a group of European Turtle Doves perched on wires. Late morning the group were in and around the southern saltpans of Polichnitos where a few waders were present including Wood Sandpiper, Kentish Plover and Pied Avocet. I decided to head back to base filling up with fuel near Kalloni when a flock of European Bee-eaters flew overhead calling. Last stop was near the hotel where a male Pallid Harrier showed briefly in flight as it searched fields for prey. The end to another tour of Lesbos.

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