20 September -2 October 1996
Having read about the birding in Lesbos in the springtime and the array of birds to be seen, my wife and I thought about a holiday there, but, being busy in the spring decided to go in autumn. With the autumn migration in flill swing we hoped to obtain an impressive list. Lesbos has been watched quite extensively in spring but there is little information about autumn there. Friends of ours went in spring 1996, returning with a holiday bird list of 135 species.
After consulting Richard Brookes' book Birding in Lesbos and obtaining site information from our friends, we left Manchester airport at 7. 10am on 20 September fbll of enthusiasm. Three and a half hours later we arrived to beautiful sunshine in Lesbos and one hour after that we were in our hotel 'Kalloni II'.
The hotel is near a marsh and on one side, in spring, a lake appears which is good for waders. When we arrived the area was dry. We set Out on foot along the seashore to the marsh. Within minutes we had a crested lark in view. This was to become the bird of the holiday - they were everywhere. Willow warblers were also seen every day in their warm yellow autumn plumage - at times there seemed to be one in every bush. Other birds of note were woodchat shrike, red-backed shrike and short-toed lark. A total of 21 species were seen on the first day which impressed us as on the drive from airport to hotel we had seen little bird activity.
This day saw us hiring bikes to get a feel for the area and go further afield. As we cycled there were crested larks in every field, willow warblers in every bush. We soon got to know the crested lark's call - a 'du ee' as it took flight. We arrived at a rocky outcrop on the outskirts of DAFIA, locked the cycles and walked up the rocky hillside. There seemed to be a lizard on every rock warming itself in the sunshine, but little else. Then we heard a bird calling we could not identify. After searching we saw it on top of a stone - a rock nuthatch. This was our first new tick of the holiday. We had a picnic next to a dried-out river bed more willow warblers. We spent the afternoon walking through olive groves but nothing of note, only a jay which we tried to turn into a hoopoe. At the end of the day we had seen 17 species with a running total of 26.
We hired a car at 55,000 drachmas for a week - in the spring our friends had booked their car when they booked the holiday and paid 96,000 drachmas, so it pays to wait until you're there and shop around. Off we set in our 8OOcc Subaru with our tourist map heading for SIGRI. Some of the roads are little better than tracks, but drive careflilly and you'll have no problems. There was little traffic and the scenery was magnificent. We were disappointed with the amount of birds seen at stops along the way, though we still got our quota of crested larks and willow warblers. After lunch at SIGRI we had little to add to our total. We kept our eyes skywards on the return journey hoping to see raptors riding the thermals in the mountainous terrain and sunshine. No luck, but we scanned a flock of perhaps 200-300 hirundines with our binoculars and came up with number two tick for the holiday - an Alpine swift standing out against the house martins and swallows. Feeling slightly better we motored along until a bird flew across the road in front of us. We parked the car and after a few minutes' scanning saw a black-eared wheatear standing on the same rock as a male wheatear, also a charm of goldfinches feeding on thistle seeds. We had seen 22 species that day, with two new ticks and a running total of 33.
This day saw us setting off for the pretty seaside resort of MOLWOS. Crested larks bid us good morning and we saw little else, until a small raptor flew over the hillside and we had tick number four - a lesser kestrel. We viewed it for approximately 15 minutes, noticing its active flight on springy wing tips. Back in the car and doing about 30km an hour on one of Lesbos' infamous tracks we spotted a bird perched on top of a lone fig tree. Getting the 'scope on it we noted a rusty-toned bunting with a grey-blue head. This was one of the birds we had come to Lesbos to see - a Cretzchmar's bunting. We could not pronounce its name, but we know now what it looks like - tick number five. After taking photographs of the Turkish fort in MOLIVOS we drove through an olive grove, seeing nothing of note, then stopped for a drink. We were seeing willow warbler after willow warbler when a raptor came into view over the immediate hillside. We noted the white 'position lights' at the wing joint and watched it for over ten minutes quartering the hillside below, reminding us of the booted eagles we saw in Majorca. On the way back, at 'DERBYSHIRE,' we had excellent views of a marsh harrier quartering the salt pans. We noticed a flock of approximately 40 white birds in one of the far distant pans. The 'scope revealed tick number six - greater flamingo - giving us a total of 22 species for the day, with three new ticks and a total of 37 for the holiday.
Driving to the spa resort of THERMI we saw nothing of note. Called in at the village of PETRI, a pretty seaside resort. At THERMI we saw our second booted eagle of the holiday. Having a disappointing list for the day we again visited the salt pans at DERBYSHIRE on the way back. As soon as we arrived we had an osprey flying within 20 yards of the car -brilliant views for ten minutes while he fished. Then out with the 'scope picking up our first duck of the holiday - a male garganey, with five mallards. Then tick number seven, a great white egret standing in a flock of little egrets. A disappointing start to the day, but finishing on a high note with 23 species seen, 46 for the holiday with one new tick.
Called in at the DERBYSHIRE salt pans. Just the regulars, with greater flamingoes still in the same place. We spent the rest of the day in the pine woods looking for Kruper's nuthatch. After four hours walking all we had seen were a family of chaffinches, two willow warblers, and a kingfisher flying up a river running alongside the pines. We had a poor list for the day so went to the West River after dinner, stopping at a rocky outcrop near PARAKILA. At a river we saw a flock of ten plus corn buntings and another of 35 plus hooded crows while the outcrop rewarded us with blue rock thrush, rock nuthatch, buzzard and spotted flycatcher. A day total of 24, no new ticks and running total of 54 species.
After last night's success we returned to the West River and PARAKILA. Having left the hotel at 8.30am in beautiful sunny weather we got out of the car at West River to a storm blowing up. The heavens opened and we were back at the hotel by 9.30 like two drowned rats. At 12.30, the rain having stopped, we drove to the salt pans at POLICHNITOS where we noticed some waders among a flock of black-headed gulls. Using the 'scope, we counted 27 spotted redshanks and two redshanks - the complete opposite to home where you get two spotted with every 30 or 40 redshanks. Behind the salt pans Mary spotted a hoopoe - the first of the trip. We called in at the picnic area in the pine woods for another try at Kruper's nuthatch. Two hours later we had seen one wood warbler and a treecreeper. Back to the hotel in another rain storm. A total of 26 for the day, no new ticks and a running total of 58 species.
Our itinerary was to visit three monasteries - LIMONUS, IPSILOU and PEUVOLIS. We started at LIMONUS in fairly good weather, an interesting monastery with a good track to walk. We had not gone far when we spotted a cirl bunting, then a rock nuthatch, also a blue rock thrush on a monastery roof. On the way up to IPSILOU were a pair of wood larks at the roadside. At the top, low cloud reduced visibility but we made out pied flycatcher and tick number nine - a sombre tit. A long-legged buzzard flew, and then perched on rocks, in the valley below. Monastery number 3, PERIVOLIS, was unimpressive but looked good for birds -robin, blackbird and blackcap as we got out of the car, and a spotted or pied flycatcher in every tree. Mary noticed a woodpecker but it flew out of sight, unidentified. We drove to the side of the grove and waited in the car. Before long we were watching a middle spotted woodpecker feeding in the olive trees - tick number ten. We were seeing more birds from the car than when we got out. Called in at DERBYSHIRE: two kingfishers and a greater flamingo flock of 88. Three new ticks and a running total of 66.
Set off for AGIASSOS, a well known site for Kruper's nuthatch according to Birding in Lesbos. The town was quite an experience with one in three hills, streets slightly wider than one car and people everywhere. We passed the tower of Mount Olympus and the Sanatorium and reached the water trough where Kruper's nuthatch, after eating pine seeds, comes to drink - in theory. Like all Greek plumbing, the tap above the trough leaks, so there is a constant supply of fresh water. We positioned ourselves 50 yards away, sitting in the car so as not to frighten any birds coming to drink. An hour passed with nothing but a few funny looks from passers by wondering what two people were doing with binoculars focused on a dripping tap. Two hours, and the tap was losing its appeal. We decided that either the theory that Kruper's nuthatch has to drink regularly was a figment of Richard Brookes' imagination, or the Kruper's had found a new watering hole. After three hours of dripping taps we thought a toilet would be in order. We caught sight of a lesser kestrel as we returned to the hotel, turning a poor day into a mediocre one. In the late afternoon we saw lots a red-backed shrikes at West River and PARAKILA, ending with 18 species, one new tick and a running total of 67.
Went up into the hills at PETRI and were rewarded with 20 honey buzzards and 60 hooded crows on migration. The crows all landed on a rock face, then lifted off together and flew out to sea. We also had good views of a male redstart. A second long-legged buzzard at EFTALOU but little at the salt pans except the flainingoes. Strong winds made birding difficult. 18 species for the day, no new ticks - a running total of 69.
Getting into the Greek way of things, so a late start. We set off to see if the coastal resort of PLOMARI would yield anything different but failed miserably, except for a raptor too far off to identify. Passing a field, a gunshot went off and 120 hooded crows took to the air. We got all the common species but nothing of note. 19 species today, no new ticks and nothing to add to our running total of 69.
Our last day, so we revisited sites which had been rewarding. At West River we had good views of oliveaceous warbler - tick number 12 - and Orphean warbler, number 13. At RODITCHOS and MAKARA, a mountainous area not far from West River, we were fortunate to have three raptors in the air at the same time. Kestrel was easy to identify. We then sorted out buzzard, but had difficulty with the third, another buzzard. Returning, we met two birders on the bridge of Killoni Inland Pool, which was almost dry. They pointed out purple heron - tick number 15 - and a black redstart. A quick stop at the hotel and on to the salt pans. The greater flamingo flock had increased to 120 and gave an impressive flying display, showing pink and black wings. Our one and only tern, a whiskered, flew over the sea. Willow warbiers and crested larks were all over the place - we were seeing the birds of our first day on our last. The birders on the bridge told us that they had pulled up at the dripping tap site and a Kruper's nuthatch flew out in front of them - 'THAT'S BIRDING'!
76 species seen with 15 new ticks.
John and Mary Haldenby, Hull, UK