Greece 2017

Mark Finn
April 22nd-29th

Our annual visit to the Greek island of Lesbos was once again enjoyable and produced some interesting birds during our stay. Kalloni Saltpans and the adjacent fields were alive with migrants on their further north and east into Europe. A steady flow of waders was enjoyable as the winter water levels made seasonal pools in many areas. The two 'special birds' of Lesbos, Cinereous Bunting and Kruper's Nuthatch were both seen well. Along the west coast at Sigri a steady passage of flycatchers and warblers plus a few migrant raptors made it a highly enjoyable week.
April 22/23: London, Athens, Kalloni Pools, East River, Kalloni Saltpans, Kalloni, Napi Valley.
Weather: Rather mixed with a northeast wind 18C.

The majority of the group met up at Heathrow and travelled to Lesbos via Athens. On arrival we picked up the minibus and headed to Skala Kallonis our base for the week. On the morning of the 23rd we started the birding week with a look at Kalloni Pools and a walk along the marsh towards the main road. The hotel itself attracted Barn and Red-rumped Swallows and House Martins many of which were building nests. In the pools we had extended views of Black Stork, Glossy Ibis, Garganey and Little Egrets and dozens of Squacco Herons. A bonus came in the form of a Little Bittern in flight and Black-winged Stilts busy with nest building. The walk towards the marsh produced a group of Kentish Plovers and singing Cetti's Warblers. Back for breakfast and then towards the East River which is reached by tracks running through extensive agricultural fields. One of these had recently been mown and attracted Western and Black-headed Wagtails, Whinchats and in the hedgerows the only Red-backed Shrike of the tour, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and Common Whitethroat. A stop at the ford added Wood and Common Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plover and several Woodchat Shrikes perched in riverside bushes. Within the reeds we could hear the distinctive songs of Great Reed Warblers. Next on the agenda was Kalloni Saltpans a huge complex of pans, fields and bushes and probably the most important bird habitat on Lesbos. The first field attracted a flock of Collared Pratincoles and a few Greater Short-toed Larks and Red-throated Pipits, and a few Marsh Harriers drifting over the fields. I had heard that a flooded field was attracting lots of birds so I went along to have a look. It was an amazing experience and the first time it had been flooded for several years (the water levels dropped quickly during the week). A careful scan provided the group with views of Ruddy and Common Shelducks, Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Wigeon, Garganey, Glossy Ibis, Common Tern and array of waders including Ruff, Marsh and Curlew Sandpipers, Little and Temminck's Stints and overhead hunting Short-toed Eagles. We decided to visit the eucalyptus trees near Kalloni for lunch and a chance to observe European Scops Owls. Ian located an owl which gave us prolonged views at its roost site. Also in the vicinity were Eurasian Hoopoe, Common Chiffchaff and Raven. We ended the day by walking along a section of the Napi Valley which allowed us views of Eastern Orphean Warbler, Masked Shrike and the commoner woodland birds of Lesbos.

April 24th: East River, Ipsilou Monastery, Sigri, Meladia Valley.
Weather: Sunny with variable winds 21C.

Before breakfast a visit to the East River with a Little Owl perched on an old farm building en route. At the mouth of the river we looked into the Gulf of Kalloni recording Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes, Common, Little and Whiskered Terns and a surprise find in the form of a Bar-tailed Godwit. The bushes were alive with the songs of Common Nightingale, Sedge Warbler and Corn Bunting whilst the road held Crested Larks in numbers. Back to base for breakfast followed by a trip west towards the coastal village of Sigri. En route the villages held Eurasian Jays, Collared Dove, Hooded Crow and House Sparrow. The first stop in a valley dominated by cliffs and trees proved to be very productive. The rocky area held Eastern Black-eared Wheatears, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Petronia and Eurasian Crag Martins. Common Buzzards were also around hunting over the forest edge. Ipsilou Monastery is not faraway with the lower entrance road having singing Woodlarks. I drove up the east side and parked up on the opposite west side. To my amazement a Cinereous Bunting came into view and sang just a few metres away from us. The birding got better as a male Semi-collared Flycatcher was located and Eastern Subalpine Warblers appeared to be in almost every bush. A walk around the road system added a Rock Nuthatch and eventually a Cretzschmar's Bunting singing his 'Beethoven Fifth' from the top of a bush. We dropped down into Sigri to explore one of the coastal areas for birds. In Sigri village a flock of Eurasian Jackdaws and in the harbour our first European Shag of the tour. In the fig trees Collared and Spotted Flycatchers, Lesser Whitethroat, European Reed Warbler and Sedge Warblers. A quick scan offshore produced a few Yelkouan Shearwaters wheeling past in small flocks whilst the shoreline attracted Ruddy Shelduck and Little Ringed Plover. Beyond Sigri is the Meladia Valley and we made stops at the old sanatorium and along the road itself. It proved to be good for raptors with sightings of Short-toed Eagle, Lesser Kestrel and Eleonora's Falcon. A bonus came in the form of a 'rufous' Common Cuckoo and finally a flock of Spanish Sparrows. Returned to base via a different route after an interesting day in the wild west.

April 25th: Kalloni Saltpans, Metochi, Petra Harbour, Kavaki, Molivos, Skala Sikaminias, Napi Valley.
Weather: Sunny with a cool north wind 24C.

Today I headed back towards the saltpans via the fields which held a Spur-winged Lapwing an annual but scarce migrant on Lesbos. A check of the flooded fields revealed a clear out of waders overnight and new additions in the form of a Black-headed Gull and two Common Snipe. After breakfast a visit to Metochi Lake and a Middle-spotted Woodpecker exploring a telegraph pole being an added bonus. On the lake Little Grebe, Common Moorhen and Eurasian Coot. A wide selection of warblers were within the reedbeds and Common Swifts came down to drink. Our journey took us north towards Petra and Kavaki which are next to the Aegean Sea. On arrival we quickly located our target bird the localised Ruppell's Warbler singing from a stunted bush. Across the road brief views of a Barred Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and a European Turtle Dove singing from a telegraph wire. Petra Harbour was next as it was unusually full of gulls feasting on discarded fish. Careful searching through the Yellow-legged Gulls produced sightings of Audouin's, Mediterranean and Slender-billed. Lunch was taken at Molivos without any further additions to the list so I pressed on along the coast towards Skala Sikaminias. A walk along the road eventually provided us with views of a Cirl Bunting, White Wagtail and a hunting Long-legged Buzzard. We ended the day back at the saltpans via the Napi Valley recording similar birds to previous visits earlier in the week.

April 26th: Kalloni Saltpans, Mesa, Achladeri, Skamnioudi, Skala Polichitos.
Weather: Sunny with light south winds 25C.

A return to the saltpans again and the birdlife has changed overnight. On arrival the group were greeted by a party of Red-footed Falcons perched on telegraph wires and dropping down to catch large insects. A quick check of the flooded meadows before returning to the hotel for breakfast produced nothing new. Afterwards I set off along the main road and made a stop at another section of the pans. To my surprise a Spur-winged Lapwing was feeding near the elevated hide. Careful scanning of the raised bunds produced Grey and European Golden Plovers and a single Ruddy Turnstone all three species being uncommon migrants. A stop at Mesa was made with similar birds to the saltpans and then onto Achladeri an area of pinewoods interspersed with poppy fields the latter being a spectacular sight. A surprise find in the woods was a Common Woodpigeon. A walk along the track took us towards a nest site of Kruper's Nuthatch an uncommon breeding bird of Lesbos. The group had excellent views of this tricky species as both adults were busy feeding young (they fledged a few days later). Other species in the area included singing Short-toed Treecreepers, Common Whitethroat and Spotted Flycatchers. Further south a check of the saltpans at Skamnioudi and Skala Polichitos had the common passage waders including good numbers of Common Greenshanks. On the way home a walk through the salt meadows at Kalloni added Tree and Red-throated Pipits and European Bee-eaters on the fence line.

April 27th: Petrified Forest, Sigri, Meladia Valley, Metochi.
Weather: Sunny with south winds 27C.

A later start today as I travelled west towards the petrified forest an interesting place for birds. On the entrance road a Chukar was seen feeding on a roadside bush, it promptly flew off into cover. Overhead a fleeting view of an Alpine Swift. It was obvious that a fall of migrants had occurred along the coast at nearby Sigri as the area was alive with Collared and Spotted Flycatchers. Further along the road Isabelline Wheatears were located in display flight. At the end of the road the parking lot had a pair of Little Owls, Eastern Black-eared Wheatears and a Rock Nuthatch which was nesting nearby. On the entrance to Sigri two male Golden Orioles were seen by Ian. On the coast road several Pied Flycatchers were seen along with the first Black-headed Buntings of the spring. The ford area held the same birds as two days before with the addition of a showy Purple Heron. Lunch was taken by the old Sigri sanatorium with singing Eastern Orphean and Subalpine Warblers for company. Further stops along the track by the church and old fig grove yielded a few more migrants. On the way home I dropped into Metochi again with the same birds as yesterday morning. Our final stop was the marsh near the hotel where Dominic picked up our only Eurasian Thick-knee of the tour.

April 28th: Metochi, East River, Napi Valley, Kalloni, Bandstand, Petra, Kalloni.
Weather: Warm and sunny with south winds 27C.

Out early this morning to visit Metochi and its extensive reedbeds. On arrival I found a good spot where we could watch Little Crakes at close range. In total we found five of these and a male Baillon's Crake which showed at very close range. In the reeds close views of Great and European Reed Warblers. Today was about clearing up species we had not seen or revisiting sites on Lesbos away from the west coast. Visits to the East River, Napi Valley and Bandstand had the same birds as before whilst a European Scops Owl showed well near Kalloni as it perched in the open for some-time. I returned to Petra where the Ruppell's Warbler showed even closer than before, the harbour was devoid of gulls and only had European Shags. I ended the day at the flooded fields where Spotted Redshanks and Curlew Sandpipers were observed in their breeding plumage. At the end of the day we were rewarded again as Dominic located a female Citrine Wagtail catching flies by the side of the East River - a fitting end to our time on Lesbos.

April 29th: Lesbos, Athens, Schinias, Grammatiko, Artemis Lagoon.
Final species total : 158.
Weather: Warm and sunny 27C.

We left Skala Kalloni early today in order to catch the 0655 flight to Athens. Left on time and arrived in the Greek capital fifty minutes later. Met up with a local guide and proceeded to our first birding stop at Schinias a wetland area which was used for the 2004 Olympic Games. The first lagoon held a few waders including Spotted Redshank and Wood, Marsh and Common Sandpipers. In the surrounding pool we tracked down Ferruginous Ducks a recent colonist to the area. Other new birds for the trip included Eurasian Magpie, Zitting Cisticola and Mute Swan. Next on the agenda was Grammatiko an area of reedbeds and woodland including extensive olive groves. This was an excellent area as the group watched a European Penduline Tit collecting nesting material. In the olive groves we added the commoner birds plus Sardinian Warbler, European Serin and a pair of Sombre Tits. Lastly a visit to Artemis Lagoon which is close to the airport. An unexpected bird was a female Tufted Duck along with nesting Little Ringed Plovers and Sand Martins hunting for insects. It was time to go to the airport and our flight home to London.

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